Tony Blair’s record-setting tenure as a Labour prime minister of
Britain is examined in Part I of this highly critical CBC documentary.
** BLAIR AND WHAT HE MEANS. Arguably the premier politician on the planet, Tony Blair and his departure this week as prime minister of the United Kingdom prompt some thinking about the nature of politics and the state of play as America slowly begins tapping toward the exits in Iraq. Rather than write a biography or even a huge essay on Tony Blair, which I obviously haven’t the time to do, I’ll be bringing these questions up from time to time. They’re of particular import as the Bush era grinds agonizingly to its close. And, of course, Blair is a key ally of California’s governor.
The CBC documentary is very critical, not the way I would do it, and comes at Blair from the left. But it’s valuable because it’s well-done, providing a chronological view, and it provokes thought. How wide a net does a leader need to cast in making decisions? What is an acceptable level of sleaze in political fundraising? How did Iraq go so wrong?
Blair, as you may know, reinvented a moribund political party, won three national elections, the only Labour politician to do so, beginning with his landslide win in 1997, largest in 165 years, and quickly became a major world figure. (As the new Mideast envoy, he’s continuing on the global stage and will continue to be a key player with regard to that part of the world which has become so overwhelmingly important in US presidential politics.)
Probably only Bill Clinton of the world’s politicians can hope to match Blair in terms of political skills, intelligence, speaking ability, and durability. Under Blair, Britain “modernised” as “Cool Britannia,” and indicators on the economy, the environment, and crime continued to improve throughout his decade-plus as British prime minister. He made Britain a more inclusive society. And he settled the bloody, decades long conflict in Northern Ireland. Blair and Clinton formed a strong working partnership as Blair became a global player.
Fatefully, Blair became quite the interventionist abroad. He took Britain to war, in one form or another, five times. First when he and Clinton decided to conduct an air war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq when the Iraqi dictator proved intransigent on weapons inspections and other matter. Next when, at Blair’s determined instigation, NATO launched an air war to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and bring down the Serbian dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. Then Blair intervened in the African nation of Sierra Leone, with British forces landing to end a brutal civil war.
Then came 9/11, and Blair, who had formed an unlikely friendship with George W. Bush, was quick to spring to America’s side. British resources, notably intelligence, and forces, including its crack special ops forces, were instrumental in helping America overthrow the Taliban’s theocratic dictatorship in Afghanistan and rout Al Qaeda from its redoubt.
Then came Iraq. And that’s a matter for tomorrow.
** THE AIR BOARD FLAP. It’s hard to make out exactly what’s going on with the shake-up late this week at the California Air Resources Board. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was unhappy about the board’s decision to defer air quality action in the Central Valley for more than a decade, which made his promise to sue the US Environmental Protection Agency unless it grants California its customary waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement the state’s landmark law cutting tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases look more than a little dodgy. There is a dispute over who is responsible for the board’s rather paltry opening round of regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Some say the board was doing what top staffers in the Governor’s Office wanted. Others say no.
What is clear is that Arnold Schwarzenegger knows that the implementation of California’s climate change plan will require a blend of strong regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the development of new technologies, and the use of market mechanisms in the form of a cap and trade system.
The plan, although it has its origins in a gubernatorial executive order two years ago, with much work done by Schwarzenegger’s Climate Action Team, is largely arising from AB 32, the law authored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who was relatively new to the issue, and former LA Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, who authored the tailpipe emissions law discussed below. Nunez and Senate leader Don Perata are left-liberals who wanted the law to focus primarily on command and control regulatory solutions. Schwarzenegger, as a centrist Republican, is more market-oriented. His office offered a raft of amendments to the bill last year before it was signed.
But when I read the proposed law, it was clear that it was actually rather vague. And that it could accommodate a baseline regulatory approach coupled with the flexibility of market mechanisms in the form, among other things, of a carbon trading market. Schwarzenegger did sign the bill without further heavy amending. So the task since then has been to develop the exact blend of regulation and market. I think the differing sides are pretty close, probably closer than some advocates believe.
** THE CALIFORNIA BUDGET. The Legislature’s budget conference committee began bridging the gap yesterday, with Democrats scaling back on their upgraded spending hopes and agreeing to many of the cuts proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Legislative Republicans want more cuts, but haven’t been especially forthcoming about what they might be.
Meanwhile, the state’s constitutional deadline of June 30th comes today and leaves at midnight. It’s a deadline almost always honored by the breach rather than the observance. Here’s what state Controller John Chiang has to say about how the state will fund things before the Legislature adopts a new budget and departs for a summer vacation.
Chiang: “The State has enough cash to pay bills that come due at the end of June and we can keep payments flowing for some essential services. But despite having cash on hand, starting July 1, I am prohibited from making payments to school special education programs, community colleges, local governments, small businesses and state vendors until a budget is in place.”
Nevertheless, Chiang, on behalf of the state, still has the authority to pay for basic funding for schools, health and welfare programs required by federal law, constitutional obligations, state employee payroll, and continuous legislative appropriations. The elected officials won’t get paid, however.
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