“They are clearly trying to avoid this event,” said Granite State GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen.
** LARRY CRAIG TO MAKE SATURDAY ANNOUNCEMENT. Idaho Senator Larry Craig, at the center of a firestorm of controversy after the revelation of guilty plea in a Minneapolis airport men’s room incident, will announce his future plans tomorrow. He is under very heavy pressure from fellow Republicans to announce his resignation from the US Senate.
** SCHWARZENEGGER CANCELS U.K. TRIP, POSTPONES INDIA TRADE MISSION. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has just cancelled his late September trip to the UK to keynote the British Conservative Party conference. He has also postponed a planned fall trade mission to India.
In a statement, Schwarzenegger said: “While I am confident that we will be able to accomplish quite a bit before the end of the legislative session, I need to maintain the flexibility to call a special session.”
The former action movie superstar will speak to the Tory conference in Britain via satellite.
** SCHWARZENEGGER IN SAN DIEGO. In his event just webcast earlier from San Diego, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared with a panoply of leaders from business, civic institutions, the medical field, labor, and local government to reiterate his — and their — stand for a universal health care program in California. It was all quite familiar to NWN readers. Schwarzenegger took a few questions from local press (and one British reporter, who asked about greenhouse gases), and nothing new was brought forth. Schwarzenegger says he remains confident that something significant will be achieved, and as reported here yesterday, is back negotiating with Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata.
** DIANA, 10 YEARS ON. On this Friday of Labor Day weekend, it’s the tenth anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, an event that transfixed much of the world. I found much of the ’90s Diana worship somewhat mystifying, but no less real for that. I met her once, and she seemed very nice and charming, but aside from being aware that she was the most famous woman in the world, I don’t remember much about it. She used her celebrity for causes, of course, such as AIDS and land mines, and forged a powerful bond with the British public after her divorce, which surprised the royal family which assumed that her celebrity derived principally from all the globally broadcast pomp and circumstance of the Royal Wedding. How wrong they were can be seen again in last year’s best film, The Queen, for which Helen Mirren won a very well-deserved Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth and Michael Sheen a British Academy Award nomination for his role as Tony Blair.
What would have become of Diana? Her fairy tale arc of Sloane Ranger to Princess of Wales made her world-renowned in Act I. Her divorce and emergence as “the people’s princess,” in Blair’s famous phrase (actually crafted by spin doctor Alastair Campbell) made her even more of a global icon in Act II. Would Act III have seen her married to her boyfriend of the time, Dodi Fayed, which would have made the playboy son of an Egyptian billionaire stepfather to the future King of England?
That’s the scenario that tantalizes those who see conspiracy in the Princess Di’s death following that late night chase by papparazzi through the streets of Paris. But it all happened on the fly. I was acquainted somewhat with Fayed, and once stayed at his beach house. The son of the billionaire owner of Harrod’s, Mohammed al-Fayed, Dodi Fayed was a playboy, a thrower of big parties he didn’t always pay for, as you see in the link above, a film producer who brought cash to the table rather than a particular expertise.
He was a nice man, fun, short, plain, clearly someone who would be utterly thrilled to be running around with the glamorous and ultra-famous princess. He was also not a very strong personality. When the photographers became a problem that night in Paris 10 years ago, he wasn’t prepared to deal with it. A getaway car and driver were hurriedly arranged on the spot — rather than pre-planned as you might do if you have large resources and are squiring around the most famous woman in the world — and disaster ensued. But that can be life in the fast lane.
** CALIFORNIA POWER ALERT CONTINUES. A heat wave continues to strike much of the state. Today’s forecast peak electric power demand is 2000 megawatts below the record established in last year’s heat storm, in which levels were reached that had not been forecast for another five years. You can track peak electric power demand in near real time via Cal ISO (California Independent System Operator).
** AL QAEDA’S AMERICAN PRISONERS STILL NOT LOCATED. American troops are now in the midst of a 109th day of searching for the remaining two US soldiers captured by Al Qaeda in an ambush south of Baghdad. They have had no luck so far. A video put out by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq claims that all three men were executed after being captured. But, with the exception of the Californian found floating in the Euphrates River, that claim can’t be confirmed. The US high command in Baghdad has revealed that ID cards for the other two American prisoners were found in an Al Qaeda safehouse on June 9th.
The death of Princess Diana is reported on BBC World News 10
years ago tonight in the Pacific time zone. She died in the early
morning hours in Paris on August 31, 1997, occasioning an
enormous wave of grief around the world.
** CALIFORNIA ELECTRIC POWER CRISIS AVERTED. Peak electric power demand in California today was 47,843 megawatts, more than one thousand megawatts below the forecast peak of 49,105 megawatts. Which in turn is well over a thousand megawatts less than the record established during last summer’s unprecedented heat storm.
** POSSIBLE CALIFORNIA POWER CUT-0FF TO BUSINESS THIS AFTERNOON. With the current heat wave greatly affecting some parts of the state, California’s grid manager may have to cut electric power to some voluntary business members of the state’s conservation corps. Perhaps some of our core enviro friends who think that energy efficiency alone will solve the power problems of a growing state — and have opposed all liquefied natural gas projects — will rethink their positions.
The union did this after learning that one-third of their members are actually Republicans.
Clinton won the relatively small United Transportation Union endorsement earlier this week after losing the coveted International Association of Firefighters Association to Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.
** NO VOTE TODAY ON SCHWARZENEGGER HEALTH CARE PLAN. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez’s strategist Steve Maviglio checks in with this: “The Assembly will NOT vote on the Governor’s health care plan today. We are talking with the Governor about health care reform and making progress.” This is called a movida.
** MILITARY SPLIT ON IRAQ. Further reflecting the fact that the nation’s military leadership is not at all sure about the latest course in Iraq, General David Petraeus’s long-awaited report in mid-September on the success, or lack of same, of the “surge” in Iraq will be accompanied by other reports, both public and private — though you can bet those will be leaked — by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chief of staff of the Army, and the head of US Central Command, of which Petraeus is a part. Those reports, by Marine General Peter Pace, Army General William Casey, and Navy Admiral William Fallon, are very likely to be less positive than whatever Petraeus comes up with.
In short, according to Pentagon sources, the military will make it clear that it is President George W. Bush’s strategy that is being pursued in Iraq.
** TEST VOTE ON CALIFORNIA HEALTH CARE. As first reported on NWN, last week, the state Assembly is scheduled to have a test vote today on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s preferred version of universal health care reform today. The vote, triggered by Speaker Fabian Nunez, is a drill intended to demonstrate to the governor that his plan, with its various mandates and fees on businesses and medical providers (which are, of course, also businesses) has no Republican support in the Assembly. Which would be consistent with what Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines told me months ago.
So far, the dynamics around the health care and redistricting reform and water policy issues are playing out as anticipated in a column here early in the week. Something major on health care, the stickiest of the issues, remains quite possible. And what precisely that is still remains to be worked out amongst the leaders.
** CALIFORNIA POWER ALERT CONTINUES. With a heat wave striking much of the state, as discussed yesterday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is calling for more sparing use of electric power by consumers. You can track peak electric power demand in near real time via Cal ISO (California Independent System Operator).
** AL QAEDA’S AMERICAN PRISONERS STILL NOT LOCATED. American troops are now in the midst of a 108th day of searching for the remaining two US soldiers captured by Al Qaeda in an ambush south of Baghdad. They have had no luck so far. A video put out by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq claims that all three men were executed after being captured. But, with the exception of the Californian found floating in the Euphrates River, that claim can’t be confirmed. The US high command in Baghdad has revealed that ID cards for the other two American prisoners were found in an Al Qaeda safehouse on June 9th.
On this second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, here is video footage from “storm chasers” Mike Theiss and Jim Reed, extreme weather photographers who went into the center of the hurricane as it struck Gulfport, Mississippi.
** SCHWARZENEGGER MEETS TOMORROW WITH GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON CLIMATE CHANGE. While negotiations over California policy on redistricting reform, health care, and water continue, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will meet tomorrow morning in the state Capitol with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the federal republic’s equivalent of the US secretary of state. Steinmeier, who will have just been in Norway, is coming to discuss climate change strategy with Schwarzenegger.
Germany’s new conservative Chancellor (the German title for prime minister) Angela Merkel pushed President George W. Bush hard on climate change issues at the recent G8 summit in a German resort. Schwarzenegger will be a key participant in next month’s UN meeting on climate change in New York.
** SCHWARZENEGGER CALLS FOR ENERGY CONSERVATION AS CALIFORNIA POWER USE SPIKES. California’s summer has been much more mild this year than last, when a sustained heat storm pushed the electric power grid to new records of peak demand that had not been anticipated for at least another five years.
But today and tomorrow, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is asking Californians to look to their power use with an eye toward conserving. Not wanting to repeat anything like the scores of deaths caused by last summer’s heat storm, he’s declared heat emergencies in several counties around the state, and the grid manager, the California Independent System Operator (Cal ISO), has declared a power alert.
** MCCAIN LEAD NARROWS IN HOME STATE ARIZONA. A new Arizona State University poll shows Senator John McCain’s lead in the Arizona Republican presidential primary is down sharply. It’s McCain 24%, Mitt Romney 19%, Rudy Giuliani 18%, and Fred Thompson 17%.
McCain became the first Republican senator to call for the resignation of Idaho’s Larry Craig, who pled guilty to “lewd conduct” in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman became the second. Craig has resigned from all his Senate committees, but not from the Senate itself.
** RUDY PLUGS A GAP. Despite his stature as hero of 9/11, former New York Mayor and Republican presidential frontrunner Rudy Giuliani has come under fire repeatedly from the firefighters union and some other 9/11 first responders and victims for allegedly overstating his role and for making a series of mistakes. Giuliani recently had to back away from what he called a misstatement regarding how much time he’d spent at Ground Zero, former site of the World Trade Center.
Today in South Carolina his presidential campaign unveiled a new group, First Responders for Rudy. Its national chair is Howard Safir, who previously served as both Police and Fire Commissioner for New York City. Joining Safir on the national team are U.S. Congressman David Reichert (R- Washington) and So9uth Carolina State Firefighters’ Association Executive Director Jim Bowie.
Reichert, the former sheriff of King County in the state of Washington, will serve as national chair of Law Enforcement for Rudy. Bowie, who worked at the South Carolina Fire Academy for 16 years, will serve as national chair of Firefighters for Rudy. Others are joining as co-chairs, and state chapters of the group are being organized, especially in the early states in next year’s nomination contest.
This is obviously designed to counter the criticism of Giuliani, which strikes at the heart of his appeal. It will be interesting to see how successful it is. Safir, a former veteran federal agent who once headed the Witness Security program, was appointed to both his posts in New York City by Giuliani.
** HURRICANE KATRINA PLUS TWO. On this second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush is in New Orleans, the only American city in the modern era nearly destroyed. While he talks things up, thousands of people still live in FEMA trailers and most of the schools aren’t ready for the new school year. The trial balloon around the appointment of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose department presided over the debacle of disaster assistance, to replace Alberto Gonzales as US attorney general, appears to have been shot down.
** CALIFORNIA HEALTH CARE REFORM. WHERE NEXT? Not surprisingly, as has been previously discussed on NWN, Republican legislators have no intention of voting for fees or taxes or whatever one wants to call them on businesses and medical providers to finance universal health care in California. That was reported first yesterday on NWN after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic and Republican legislative leaders held their “Big 5″ meeting. Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reports that 20% of Californians have no health insurance. When they get sick and get health care, we nonetheless pay for it through emergency rooms.
If there is to be a dramatic expansion of health coverage in the Golden State, unless Schwarzenegger has a great trick up his sleeve, it will be done with legislation that requires only a majority vote of the Legislature. The first half of Schwarzenegger’s funding plan, the employer mandate that can be satisfied if the employer does not provide health insurance by paying an in lieu fee, requires only a majority vote, as the history of John Burton’s SB 2 shows. (It was enacted in 2003 and knocked out very narrowly by referendum in November 2004 only following Schwarzenegger’s late intervention against it.) But the Legislature’s lawyers say that his fee on medical providers requires a two-thirds vote as a tax. So that is the question. Is that assessment correct? If so, only some version of the Democrats’ plan, which is not universal and does not have the medical provider fee, is doable.
** AL QAEDA’S AMERICAN PRISONERS STILL NOT LOCATED. American troops are now in the midst of a 107th day of searching for the remaining two US soldiers captured by Al Qaeda in an ambush south of Baghdad. They have had no luck so far. A video put out by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq claims that all three men were executed after being captured. But, with the exception of the Californian found floating in the Euphrates River, that claim can’t be confirmed. The US high command in Baghdad has revealed that ID cards for the other two American prisoners were found in an Al Qaeda safehouse on June 9th.
Last night was the second total lunar eclipse in less than six
months. Here is footage shot in England in March 2007.
** WEEKEND BOX OFFICE FINAL. A NEW SPY MOVIE CHAMP IN THE OFFING, WITH POLITICAL OVERTONES. The final numbers for the weekend domestic movie box office are in, and The Bourne Ultimatum has already shot past its predecessor, The Bourne Supremacy, and the highest-grossing Bond film in the US, Casino Royale. The latest Bourne, which captures the political zeitgeist with its distrust of clandestine cowboy operations, grossed $185.3 million through the weekend. The previous film topped out at $176.2 million. Casino Royale, last year’s smash reboot of the Bond franchise with Daniel Craig as the new Bond — which was itself influenced by the characterization of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and the more frenetic and realistic action movie style of the Bourne pictures — topped out at $167.4 million.
The Bourne Ultimatum is well on its way to being the highest grossing spy movie of all time in the US. It will finish with well over $200 million in domestic box office.
Meanwhile, The Simpsons Movie, which features a character called President Arnold Schwarzenegger, is up over $170 million. And Michael Moore’s Sicko, his high hopes documentary about the woes of the US health care system and wonders of socialized medicine, is slowly edging towards $24 million as it finishes out its run, which is well short of its backers’ hopes.
My old boss, former Senator Gary Hart, said last week that there is something that even in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union early in the last decade suggests not simply an anti-Soviet dynamic, but an anti-Russian dynamic. Hart, who knew former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev quite well and has traveled to Russia more than 100 times, advocated, during the Clinton years, that the US supplant its now obviously highly problematic reliance on Arab oil with long-term deals with Russian oil sources. But that was rejected.
Russia wasn’t looking for handouts, says Hart, but expertise. A long-term energy alliance would certainly not have hurt. Now, with the advent of the Bush Administration, and the obvious enmity towards Russia of Vice President Dick Cheney, a leading advocate of a policy of encirclement of Russia and its near abroad. a resurgent Russia is repaying past slights.
** WILDER FOR OBAMA. Former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, the first elected black governor of a Southern state, is preparing to campaign aggressively for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. The Southern primaries for Democrats have huge numbers of African American voters. Wilder is a very important symbolic figure, as well as a very formidable figure on the stump.
** FIRST LABOR UNION ENDORSEMENTS FOR PRESIDENT. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and New York Senator Hillary Clinton draw first blood in the competition for labor endorsements in the presidential campaign.
The longshot Dodd gets the biggest prize so far in the form of the International Association of Firefighters. The IAFF, quite prominent in post-9/11 controversies in New York, has declared the destruction of Rudy Giuliani’s frontrunning Republican presidential candidacy its top political priority. This is something of a setback for Hillary Clinton, whose campaign had hoped to have the firefighters with her from the get-go. Clinton gets the smaller and much less well-known United Transportation Union.
** NO NEW HEALTH CARE PROGRESS YET IN CALIFORNIA. Incidentally, someone, somewhere, amongst the corps of reporters who cover the Capitol full time must have reported that there was no apparent progress — at least on health care reform — in the Big 5 meeting of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders I reported on this morning. That’s because the Republicans are against it. As I believe I’ve mentioned. Once or twice. Not that that means there can’t be a bill.
Top Gear is about … cars. But it’s not one of those car shows about fiddling with engines and all that. It’s about the fun of cars. It’s quite amusing, it’s witty, it’s not changed for the American audience, so you get to wonder who these British rock stars driving a run-of-the-mill Chevy in time trials around the track at an old RAF base are, and so on. And it has Jeremy Clarkson, who I find hysterical. (For some reason, the featured BBC America photo is one of the other presenters, the also amusing Richard Hammond.) Clarkson is, or at least, pretends to be something of a conservative curmudgeon who takes subtle digs at Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, is anything but a green and is, let’s say, an avoider of the politically correct, writes quite well (as his Sunday columns in the Times of London attest) and drives even better.
If I were to come up with a dream fun job, it’d be his. I mean, wouldn’t you want to race somebody traveling by train and jetliner from London to the Alps in a Ferrarri?
And yes, NWN is going a bit Brit again, partly because Britain is my Rodina (mother country), albeit a quarter of a millennium removed, and largely because there is a very significant 10th anniversary nearly upon us.
** RANKS OF HEALTH CARE UNINSURED INCREASE, HILLARY COMMENTS. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who spearheaded an unsuccessful drive for expanded health coverage during her husband’s presidency: “Today’s new Census Bureau data reporting that now 47 million Americans have no health insurance, an increase of over 2 million people, demonstrates the urgent need to cover every American. When I began the fight for universal coverage almost fifteen years ago, there were 37 million people uninsured. It was an outrage then and with ten million more people uninsured today, it is an even deeper outrage today. … I look forward to announcing my plan to achieve this long overdue goal next month.”
** ROMNEY DISAPPEARS LARRY CRAIG. Mitt Romney removed US Senator Larry Craig from his Republican presidential campaign web site following the revelation of the veteran Idaho senator’s guilty plea on a charge of lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. Craig had just resigned as Idaho chairman of the Romney campaign, and as the former Massachusetts governor’s Senate co-chairman, a post he shared with Utah Senator Bob Bennett, who was himself a character in the classic All The President’s Men. Craig, a social conservative and longtime opponent of gay rights, provided a ringing video endorsement of Romney as a champion of family values. But that has disappeared from the Romney video archives.
With the exception of Fred Thompson, who is working on getting his candidacy airborne, all the top Republican candidates have been beset by embarrassing arrests of some of their top backers, as this column on the right-wing Town Hall notes. John McCain’s Florida co-chairman was arrested for soliciting sex in a men’s room. And Rudy Giuliani’s South Carolina chairman was arrested as a major cocaine trafficker. Then there are the multiple legal woes of Giuliani’s longtime compadre Bernie Kerik, his one-time NYPD driver who was appointed by President Bush to be US secretary of homeland security. But that’s another story.
As much as some gloat over the woes of Craig, you have to have sympathy for closeted gays in a Republican Party which employs a fundamentalist jihad on a number of issues such as taxes and sexuality. Some readers will say that they should become Democrats. But if one is not comfortable surrounded by the various agendas of labor unions, environmentalist groups, and left-liberal ideologues, that’s not an attractive option, either.
** AL QAEDA’S AMERICAN PRISONERS STILL NOT LOCATED. American troops are now in the midst of a 106th day of searching for the remaining two US soldiers captured by Al Qaeda in an ambush south of Baghdad. They have had no luck so far. A video put out by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq claims that all three men were executed after being captured. But, with the exception of the Californian found floating in the Euphrates River, that claim can’t be confirmed. The US high command in Baghdad has revealed that ID cards for the other two American prisoners were found in an Al Qaeda safehouse on June 9th.
The action is returning to Sacramento today with a “Big 5″ meeting of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders on health care and other priority items and the launch of a hard-hitting new TV ad pressing for health care reform.
The California Endowment, the state’s largest health care foundation, has a $6 million advertising campaign on pressing for comprehensive health care reform this year. As of today it will feature a new “Code Blue” TV ad on a system in crisis. California Endowment chief Dr. Bob Ross shows up at the Capitol with an ambulance as stage prop to preview the new ad, which will play up a crisis atmosphere in a state with challenged emergency rooms, costs going up, and nearly a million kids with no insurance. The organization notes that 69% of Californians are unhappy with the health care system and want it changed, but only 6% think it’s very likely to happen in this legislative session, which is slated to end September 14th.
State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata is not in that small, optimistic group. In various comments yesterday to Capitol beat reporters, Perata struck a tone that can only be described as morose. He lamented the “bruising and battering” of the state budget fight and predicted that nothing of particular note will happen before the session closes. Told that Schwarzenegger is contemplating keeping the Legislature around in special session to deal, if need be, with any or all of the priority issues of health care, redistricting reform, and water policy, Perata persisted in his gloomy mood.
Actually, the failure of the Senate conservative Republican holdouts to make any real changes in the deal offered them a month before they finally acquiesced to the state budget, and the internal fallout in that caucus, will make it easier next year to get Republican votes when needed. And the budget fight, such as it was, was not nearly so hard-hitting as most of those in the past.
With his trademark optimism, Schwarzenegger seemed late last week to believe he could get Republican votes for his health care reform measure, which the Legislature’s lawyers, at least, believe requires a two-thirds vote to impose a fee, which many believe is a tax, on health care providers as part of its undergirding funding. That was always unlikely, at best. While Schwarzenegger has done a good job of winning business support and/or acquiescence with regard to comprehensive change, he runs afoul of the Republicans’ ideological anti-government faction. The Democrats’ plan does not require a two-thirds vote for passage.
This prompted Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez to pull a play — first reported on NWN last Friday — of saying that he will force a vote on Schwarzenegger’s plan, after first endeavoring to at last get it into bill form.
What this burst of reality checking and posturing on those two sides has done is point up the need for high-level action. Hence the Big 5 session today, which will focus mostly, but not entirely, on health care, the most complex of the three big issues before the Capitol.
With Democrats angry over the right-wing budget stall, prospects for big moves this year on water policy, never great — given environmentalist shibboleths against dam construction and new water conveyance, even in a state beset by the greenhouse effect, with a population projected to increase more than a third by 2050 — are further diminished.
But redistricting reform is easily within all the parties’ grasp.
Indeed, they will have few excuses and a lot of explaining to do if it does not happen. Since Perata and Nunez have previously pledged to make it happen, the Republicans have always said they want it and are committed to it, and Schwarzenegger has been for it since before he became governor.
And without redistricting reform, there is no change to term limits.
Earlier this year, Perata devised an Iraq War withdrawal advisory measure for next February’s ballot, in part to stimulate turn-out and aid the passage of the term limits change measure without which he loses his post. Following earlier passage in the Senate, it got by in the Assembly yesterday on a 43-32 vote.
So the stage is set for action on at least one of the three major issues, and perhaps more.
Chertoff is a former federal judge, a Harvard Law grad who clerked for a US Supreme Court justice and later served as assistant attorney general. But it’s hard to believe that President Bush would appoint him. Chertoff presided over the debacle of Hurricane Katrina. After New Orleans was nearly destroyed, it took days to get needed supplies into the Superdome, site of previous Super Bowls, where many congregated. The majority Senate Democrats would have a field day doing a Hurricane Katrina expose, and would also likely grill Chertoff on civil liberties abuses they will say he went along with as homeland security chief.
Pointedly, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton referenced the upcoming second anniversary of Katrina in discussing who should be the next attorney general. I’ve made a few calls, and don’t know who Bush will appoint. Meanwhile, Solicitor General Paul Clement will serve as acting attorney general. It may a long temporary tenure.
** TOM MCCLINTOCK AIRBRUSHES HIS FACTUAL ERROR ABOUT CALIFORNIA’S BUDGET DEAL. Last Tuesday, the right-wing California budget holdouts’ intellectual leader, state Senator and former candidate for governor, lieutenant governor, and state controller Tom McClintock wrote an online column expressing his dismay about the swift end of the the budget stall once the Legislature returned to session.
In the course of it, he made several factual errors, including one even he had to admit was wrong. I pointed them out in my column the following day. Late that afternoon, he changed his column to correct one of the most glaring errors. In so doing, the senator pretended he’d never made the mistake — a mistake which raises the question of what he knows about what he says — in the first place.
McClintock wrote: “Yesterday (Monday) rumors of a “deal” circulated but were denied by the Republican leadership. This afternoon, with very little notice, a bare majority of the Senate Republican caucus decided that further negotiations were unlikely to produce any additional progress. Abel Maldonado and Richard Ackerman ultimately combined with the Democrats and voted out this budget.”
But he expressed a spurious satisfaction. “The transportation and housing bond funds,” he wrote, “are to be exempt for two years from the impact of the Governor’s AB 32, which makes the use of concrete all but impossible due to its release of massive quantities of carbon dioxide.”
I pointed out that he is wrong on three counts. First, former Governor-turned-Attorney General Jerry Brown never sued or threatened to sue on the infrastructure bonds package passed last November, for which he campaigned and which McClintock himself opposed. Brown was then and continues now to prod local governments to account for greenhouse gas emissions in planning processes. That’s what McClintock and company tried and failed to stop. Second, “the Governor’s AB 32” (Callifornia’s landmark climate change law) simply does not make the use of concrete impossible. And third, the face-saving deal for Republicans on environmental lawsuits did not include the housing bonds, contrary to McClintock’s representation.
It’s pretty hard to confuse the housing bonds with the water bonds. Although he was so hasty in changing his column that he may have made another mistake.
Because the water bonds which passed last year, part of a move by environmental groups, were not part of the face-saving budget deal, either. What is part of the budget deal is the flood control bonds. Which Brown also had no intention of suing over.
Italy’s foreign minister recently criticized US tactics in Afghanistan, saying that they have caused hundreds of Afghan civilian deaths, something that is “morally unacceptable.”
The issue seems to be around the widespread use of American air power in close-in air strikes. Three British soldiers were killed last week in a “friendly fire” incident involving a US unit in trouble calling in air support.
** AL QAEDA’S AMERICAN PRISONERS STILL NOT LOCATED. American troops are now in the midst of a 105th day of searching for the remaining two US soldiers captured by Al Qaeda in an ambush south of Baghdad. They have had no luck so far. A video put out by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq claims that all three men were executed after being captured. But, with the exception of the Californian found floating in the Euphrates River, that claim can’t be confirmed. The US high command in Baghdad has revealed that ID cards for the other two American prisoners were found in an Al Qaeda safehouse on June 9th.
Former Senator and Law & Order star Fred Thompson continues his shakedown cruise for a post-Labor Day announcement.
Those dastardly Floridians didn’t really think they’d get away with jumping their presidential primary ahead of California’s, did they? Over the weekend, the national Democratic Party moved to eliminate all of Florida’s delegates to next summer’s nominating convention in Denver if the state persists in its plan for a January 29th presidential primary. It’s one of the issues shaping the week ahead in presidential politics.
In this week leading into Labor Day weekend, never the most action-packed in the year before the action presidential election, the presidential campaign looks to focus on three major developing areas. The ongoing struggle over the definition of the latest phase of the Iraq War, the timing of the early primaries, and the development of Fred Thompson’s long-in-the-making candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.
First to Mr. Thompson and his nascent campaign, once said to be readying an announcement around the 4th of July, now seemingly set for an announcement not long after Labor Day.
Now on his third campaign manager, Thompson continued his run-up to a formal candidacy last week with appearances at the Midwest Republican Leadrership Conference in Indianapolis and the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City. He didn’t make a lot of headlines at either appearance. At the VFW, he was overshadowed by Democrat Barack Obama, appearing the same day, who tried the time-honored trick of telling the crowd what they did not want to hear. Namely, that he will begin a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
Thompson, of course, took an opposite tack, arguing to stay the latest course.
It was no surprise who got more attention. While most of the crowd didn’t like the substance of what Obama said, they responded respectfully.
It’s looking now, although it’s hard to be sure with the repeated almost launches, like Thompson will formally announce his candidacy for president via an online video. Then he will follow up with a tour of early primary and caucus states. His first appearance in a Republican presidential debate is likely to be in late September.
Needless to say, he won’t take part in the Texas Republican straw poll on August 31st.
While at times earlier this year in this lengthy run-up to candidacy, Thompson has appeared to be close to or even in the lead — in the Rasmussen robopoll, which uses automated calling of poll respondents — he now seems to be running significantly behind Rudy Giuliani in national polls. As in the latest Fox News poll, in which Giuliani leads Thompson, 29% to 14%.
But national polls can turn very quickly depending upon the results of the early contests, and Thompson and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are highly competitive in the early states of Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, and New Hampshire.
Speaking of the early states, Florida is trying to crash its way into the first group of four, with its legislature and governor adopting a plan to move the Sunshine State’s presidential primary to January 29th, a move that might cause an accordion effect with the first four. But on Saturday, the national Democratic Party moved to enforce party rules and block the move, with the party’s rules and bylaws committee, meeting in Washington, voting unanimously to strip all national convention delegates from Florida should it persist in the move.
That would turn the Florida primary, at least on the Democratic side, into nothing more than a so-called beauty contest …
Sean Connery turned 77 this weekend. Seen receiving the 2006 American
Film Institute Life Achievement Award, Connery rather subtly retired
from acting early this summer by declining to reprise his role as the
father of Indiana Jones in the new sequel now filming.
** CONNERY AT 77. Sean Connery turned 77 this weekend. In June, he essentially retired from acting by finally deciding not to reprise his role in the latest Indiana Jones film, which is now shooting and will be released in May 2008.
In 1989′s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the third in the series which began with Raiders of the Lost Ark, still my favorite action movie, in 1981, Connery played Harrison Ford’s dad. As director Steven Spielberg put it, who better to play Indiana Jones’s father than James Bond. Fittingly, Ford presents Connery with the 2006 American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in the video you see above.
Connery starred in the first two movies I can ever remember watching, Goldfinger and Marnie. He is, of course, the first and arguably best of the Bonds, and defined the role, and for many around the world, the nature of masculinity itself in a sharply etched yet subtle fashion. He did that in not only the Bond films, but also in such films as The Longest Day, The Wind and the Lion, The Anderson Tapes, The Molly Maguires, The Man Who Would Be King, Robin and Marian, A Bridge Too Far, The Great Train Robbery, Outland, Highlander, The Name of the Rose, The Untouchables, The Hunt For Red October, The Russia House, Robin Hood, Rising Sun, First Knight, The Rock, Entrapment, Finding Forrester, and his last film, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which he assayed a most formidable 72-year old action hero named Alan Quatermain, H. Rider Haggard’s Victorian Age creation, who fittingly dies in the end. Or does he?
Sean Connery introduces himself to the world as “Bond, James Bond” in Dr. No.
I’ve met quite a few movie stars, including most of the actors who’ve played Bond and the governor of California, many years before he became governor, but I’d have to say that the only one I was ever nervous about meeting was Sean Connery. Perhaps because I had too much time to think about it, having learned I was invited to a dinner party he was attending. I overcompensated by appearing less than thoroughly impressed, which didn’t fool him for a second as I’m sure he’d seen the technique many times before. He was forceful, opinionated, and charming, and effortlessly held the field amongst a group of people who were the furthest thing from laid back personalities.
Connery was knighted in 2000 by Queen Elizabeth on the nomination of Prime Minister Tony Blair. If he has retired, it’s unfortunate, as you’ll see from the speech above. His absence from the new Indy picture is to be lamented.
The Democrats’s rules and bylaws committee in Washington voted unanimously to enforce the strictest possible sanction on Florida for the move: The removal of all its delegates to the Democratic National Convention next summer in Denver, Colorado.
A presidential nomination is won by winning the majority of convention delegates. This would be a huge blow, and would turn Florida into a so-called beauty contest rather than a real presidential primary.
Florida’s move was prompted by seeing first California, then New York, move presidential primaries to February 5th. Florida has 30 days to rethink the move before the sanction becomes permanent.
It may have been a sign. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s web site crashed in the midst of the live webcast of yesterday’s state budget signing ceremony. Perhaps it marked the late-breaking bad karma of this budget process, or of the line item vetoes yet to be unveiled.
While Schwarzenegger’s web site was soon up and running again — press secretary Aaron McLear, apologizing to Net viewers for the inconvenience, said the mishap was due to a brief “problem with our database” — there was more serious grumbling to come, and even some real pain, in the $703 million in line item vetoes Schwarzenegger promised over a month ago to seal a budget deal.
The sharpest pain may be in the governor’s elimination of $55 million to help the homeless mentally ill. Most accounts are that the program has been a good start, and Schwarzenegger himself has praised it. Beyond the humanity of the program, deranged people living on the street have become a significant problem in several California cities, notably San Francisco, where they have become a blight on the tourist experience.
The state investing in programs like this is good business. But Schwarzenegger cut it, in what may be a sign that further major budget cuts will be slashing not so much into the elusive “waste, fraud, and abuse” as into programs of need.
Our friends on the far right, ever attuned to the symbolic, are upset about Schwarzenegger not cutting $6 million for the University of California’s labor center, which they view as a hotbed of socialism. The one reader who commented on the right-wing Flash Report site yesterday railed against this, urging the political demise of the “Austrian socialist” and “illegal immigrant.” That would be California’s movie superstar-turned-centrist Republican governor.
Schwarzenegger actually did cut it once — perhaps mindful of the fact that it was used to organize against him when he ran in the 2003 recall — but probably found it more trouble than it’s worth for the relatively small amount of money involved.
One very large amount of money is the more than $300 million eliminated from MediCal spending. It’s described by administration officials as a cut that won’t impact the health care caseload of low-income people who use the program. Why not? Because the program has been overfunded.
How long has that been going on?
There are certainly significant efficiencies to be found in state government, as there are in any very large organization that has been little examined for many years. That was the point of Schwarzenegger’s California Performance Review (CPR).
Unfortunately, the CPR fell victim to internal fighting in the earlier version of the Schwarzenegger Administration. I don’t recall a group of conservative Republican senators making a big fuss over that.
Of course, the CPR certainly wasn’t perfect. For one thing, while it was doing an effective job of identifying possible efficiencies in government operations and spending — a project that takes time — its charge didn’t seem to extend to an inventory of another form of government spending. Tax expenditures are tax breaks. Sometimes they stimulate economic development, and sometimes they simply don’t.
The conservative Republican holdouts actually fought hard behind the scenes to preserve one of the most questionable big tax breaks, that for yacht owners. Which actually matches up pretty well on a dollar-for-dollar basis with the program for the mentally ill homeless. Perhaps the homeless can live on the yachts when their owners aren’t off sailing.
“Obama recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world,” Brzezinski said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”
“He has a sense of what is historically relevant, and what is needed from the United States in relationship to the world. “Being a former first lady doesn’t prepare you to be president. President Truman didn’t have much experience before he came to office. Neither did John Kennedy,” Brzezinski said.
Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy approach is “very conventional,” Brzezinski said. “I don’t think the country needs to go back to what we had eight years ago.”
“There is a need for a fundamental rethinking of how we conduct world affairs,” he added. “And Obama seems to me to have both the guts and the intelligence to address that issue and to change the nature of America’s relationship with the world.” Brzezinski called for talks with America’s foes, saying: `What’s the hang-up about negotiating with the Syrians or with the Iranians? “What it in effect means is that you only talk to people who agree with you.”
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Brzezinski saw that they had created what could become their own Vietnam, and moved to back the Afghan resistance. A Polish emigre, he had previously encouraged dissident movements throughout Eastern Europe and championed the creation of the US Rapid Deployment Force, more closely associated now with Ronald Reagan. He was a sharp critic from the beginning of the Bush Iraq policy and favors a policy of engagement with all national actors in the Middle East.
** POTENTIAL REFUNDS IN MANIPULATION OF CALIFORNIA’S ELECTRIC POWER MARKET. The electric power crisis that gripped California in 2001 in the wake of a semi-deregulation of its market was later shown to have been in part due to manipulation by merchant power generators such as the late Enron Corp. Well after the fact, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered some refunds of payments by California utility ratepayers to the companies. A federal court of appeals in San Francisco today issued a ruling that could potentially return $1.3 billion.
California’s attorney general had asked the court to reverse FERC’s refusal to grant refunds on short-term electric power purchased in the Pacific Northwest during that period. The attorney general argued before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that FERC erred in excluding the purchases from refund eligibility. The court agreed and sent the case back to FERC for reconsideration.
In a statement, Attorney General Jerry Brown said: “Today’s decision is a major victory for California ratepayers. I encourage FERC to promptly refund the more than one billion that was stolen from the people of California.”
The question is how public Pace and other top brass, some of whom have criticized the Iraq mission from the beginning, will be with the theater commander, Army General David Petraeus, coming up with his long-awaited report in mid-September. The theater commander, of course, is out-ranked by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which consists of the commanding officers of each of the principal US armed forces — Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
But Petraeus is the pick of the White House, and the various aspects of post 9/11 combat have been directed on a much more political basis than is the norm, with regional combatant commands and theater commanders taking direction from the secretary of defense and the White House, and, in the case of the Afghan invasion, with the CIA running most of the show.
Pace steps down as JCS chairman this fall. In the wake of controversy over his disparaging views of gays, he was not renominated by President Bush. But the deeper reason was thought to have been the likelihood that his Senate hearing would have turned into a major inquiry into how the Iraq War has been run. Now, it may also have been that Pace was too far out of phase with the White House on the Iraq policy.
** SCHWARZENEGGER WEB SITE CRASHES IN MIDST OF STATE BUDGET SIGNING CEREMONY. Well, this is a first. In the midst of a live webcast of the California budget signing ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s web site crashed. I’ve made inquiries but have no explanation as of yet.
UPDATE: Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear apologizes for the inconvenience and says they had a brief “problem with our database.”
** WHAT’S A LITTLE ELBOWING AMONG FRIENDS? Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez called Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office this morning to request bill language for the Schwarzenegger health care plan. If he doesn’t get it, he’s saying that the governor’s concept paper — which is what he’s produced to date — will be submitted today to the legislative counsel for translation into bill form. Nunez then would schedule a vote on the governor’s plan for late next week. The analysis previously from the legislative counsel’s office is that it needs a two-thirds vote for passage.
It’s changing dramatically in Congress, as well. Before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, marking the end of the Cold War, the Senate and House were dominated by veterans. Now they are a decided minority. 68% of the Senate and 48% of the House were vets in 1991. Today, according to the Military Officers Association of America, it’s 29% of the Senate and 23% of the House. My personal observation is that some of the most hawkish people I’ve ever met would never have worn a uniform in their youth.
** PRESIDENT BUSH, GRAHAM GREENE, AND THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE. President George W. Bush’s speech Wednesday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City was most interesting, of course, for his invocation of the specter of Vietnam, the analogy he’s long resisted, as the reason to stay the latest course in Iraq. But it was also intriguing as a look into his state of mind.
In the speech, he prefaced his call to avoid a Vietnam-style bloodbath in Iraq (and his view of Vietnam requires a certain ideological cast of mind as to the causes of the killing) by discussing the work of British novelist Graham Greene. In particular, Greene’s 1955 novel “The Quiet American.” In that novel, Greene presages the coming American intervention in Vietnam. At the time, the first Indochina War was going on between the French colonialists and the Communist nationalists. But Greene, who’d been a journalist in Vietnam, saw the coming American intervention years before the American public had a clue.
Bush clearly identifies with the character Alden Pyle, a man who turns out to be a CIA agent, who Bush says is seen in the novel as “a symbol of American purpose, patriotism, and dangerous naivete.”
Which, of course, as Bush very well knows, is what many people say of Bush himself. The president clearly relishes the description of Pyle as he states it.
Bush quotes from a character in the novel saying: “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.”
Which would be the best spin on what Bush’s critics say of him.
It’s intriguing that the president identifies with Alden Pyle, who he describes as the main character in the novel. Actually, though he is the titular character, he is not the main character. The main character is the man making the rather waspish observations about Pyle, an older British journalist named Fowler who befriends the idealistic young American. Until Pyle makes a serious play for Fowler’s mistress, Phuong, who has a much more pragmatic view of romantic relationships than Pyle is used to. In the latest movie version, Michael Caine plays Fowler and Brendan Fraser plays Pyle.
Pyle, it turns out, is in Vietnam to build a “third force” alternative to the French colonialists and the Communists. Built around a strong man, of course, which was to be the American strategy in the 1960s after the French had lost and gone home.
Which brings us, in a particularly smooth segue, to yesterday’s National Intelligence Estimate. Issued by the U.S. director of national intelligence, whose office oversees the CIA and the rest of the alphabet soup of what is somewhat amusingly referred to as the Intelligence Community, this NIE (they’re issued periodically on major topics) is the best official amalgamation of judgment about the current state of play in Iraq.
Here are what I would describe as the pull quotes:
There have been measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq’s security situation since our last National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in January 2007. The steep escalation of rates of violence has been checked for now, and overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks. Coalition forces, working with Iraqi forces, tribal elements, and some Sunni insurgents, have reduced al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s (AQI) capabilities, restricted its freedom of movement, and denied it grassroots support in some areas.
However, the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among
civilians, remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively. There have been modest improvements in economic output, budget execution, and government finances but fundamental structural problems continue to prevent sustained progress in economic growth and living conditions.
We assess, to the extent that Coalition forces continue to conduct robust
counterinsurgency operations and mentor and support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), that Iraq’s security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months but that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance. Broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments.
This is, frankly, a rather grim assessment. What the director of national intelligence, Admiral McConnell, is saying is that the surge strategy has succeeded only in halting the rate of the escalation of violence, and that the level of violence in Iraq remains very high. (The NIE doesn’t repeat some military claims of a 50% cut in violence.) That Al Qaeda in Iraq — which did not exist in Iraq in any significant way prior to the ouster of Saddam — has been dealt setbacks but retains a potent striking ability. (Witness our ongoing inability to account for the Americans captured over two months ago.)
The Iraqi government continues to be a disaster area, there is no reconciliation of the various factions, there has been none of the needed reforms to improve the state of governance in the country, and the government can’t provide needed basic services to its citizens.
In other words, the surge is stalling. Iraq is at stalemate. A new plan is needed.
With regard to high-ranking individuals, support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has plunged. She now has a 39% job approval rating, with 37% disapproval.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein is just a bit behind Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in job approval, with 56% approval to 28% disapproval. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer is about ten points behind Schwarzenegger, who might run against her in 2010, in job approval, 48% to 33%.
** SCHWARZENEGGER SIGNS STATE BUDGET, LIVE WEBCAST AT NOON. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signs the California state budget at 12 noon today in the ornate Rotunda of the Capitol. The event will be webcast live.
** AL QAEDA’S AMERICAN PRISONERS STILL NOT LOCATED. American troops are now in the midst of a 102nd day of searching for the remaining two US soldiers captured by Al Qaeda in an ambush south of Baghdad. They have had no luck so far. A video put out by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq claims that all three men were executed after being captured. But, with the exception of the Californian found floating in the Euphrates River, that claim can’t be confirmed. The US high command in Baghdad has revealed that ID cards for the other two American prisoners were found in an Al Qaeda safehouse on June 9th.