Another exiled ex-prime minister has returned to Pakistan, but
the troubled nation’s media crackdown continues.
** KEY MOVES COMING IN PAKISTAN CRISIS. Former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both now returned from exile, are slated to meet later this week to discuss their next moves. They’re not really allies, of course, as one is much more the secularist liked by the West and the other a more religious figure backed by the Saudis. Their mutual interest is that they are both opposed to President Pervez Musharraf, who says he will at last step down as army chief of staff on Wednesday and then be sworn in as a civilian president on Thursday.
If Sharif and Bhutto both boycott the elections Musharraf has rescheduled for January, the elections will lack legitimacy and Musharraf will be in even deeper trouble, perhaps bait for a military coup. Which would probably need a civilian face. But whose? If they join forces and contest the election, they could win. But then who would be in charge? If one contests the election and the other boycotts, well … It’s too bad that the apparent US plan of forging a Musharraf-Bhutto alliance in Pakistan — America’s key frontline ally in the Terror War and the only Islamic nuclear power — is in tatters. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden is reportedly about to issue another message.
** NO PUFFS OF WHITE SMOKE OVER THE CALIFORNIA CAPITOL. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in private discussions about his still pending agenda today in Sacramento, and is now in a “Big 5″ meeting with Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, and Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman. That meeting is focused on water policy. But nothing is emerging on water or health care reform so far today. Not surprisingly.
Meanwhile, earlier today, also unsurprisingly, Schwarzenegger announced that he has signed the ballot arguments promoting four Indian casino tribe gambling compacts that appear on next February’s ballot. Unsurprising because these compacts represent deals he negotiated with the tribes, which were in turn ratified by the Legislature. They’re up for a public vote because a couple of rival tribes, along with some horse racing interests and the hotel and restaurant workers union — for a variety of reasons — want the deals undone and gathered enough signatures to place four referenda on the ballot to try to do just that. Thus suspending the implementation of the compacts in the interim, which also has the effect of depriving the state of anticipated revenue from the deals.
Joining Schwarzenegger as official ballot sponsors of the gambling compacts is state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, a Democrat, and Gene Gantt of the California Fire Chiefs Association. Signing the ballot argument against the compacts are California Federation of Teachers president Marty Hittelman, John Gomez of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization, and Lenny Goldberg of the California Tax Reform Association.
** OIL PRICE EASES SOME ON SIGNS OF INCREASED OPEC PRODUCTION. After shooting over $99 per barrel, near a record high, earlier in the day, crude oil closed today at $97.67 per barrel. According to Bloomberg News, there are signs of increased OPEC production. Saudi Arabia seems to have increased production about 5%, and Iraq’s oil production, with the immediate threat of a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq abated, is up as well.
The Saudis, incidentally, along with Syria, will be at the Israeli/Palestinian peace conference tomorrow at Annapolis. Saudi Arabia is increasingly injecting itself into various hot Middle East-related situations.
** OBAMA AND CLINTON ROCK AND ROLL IN IOWA. Hillary Clinton jabbed at Barack Obama last week about his seemingly thin foreign policy experience. “Now voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face,” Clinton said. Clinton belittles Obama’s notion that spending part of his youth growing up in Indonesia, and having a father from Kenya, has relevance as far as being president in today’s world.
Obama has just fired fired back in an interview with ABC News for tonight’s Nightline. “You know, we must be doing pretty well in Iowa. She wasn’t paying much attention to what I said before then.
“I think the fact of the matter is that Sen. Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn’t work out, in which case she says she has nothing to do with it. There is no doubt that Bill Clinton had faith in her and consulted with her on issues, in the same way that I would consult with Michelle, if there were issues,” Obama said. “On the other had, I don’t think Michelle would claim that she is the best qualified person to be a United States Senator by virtue of me talking to her on occasion about the work I’ve done.”
Incidentally, there is a new Zogby poll that shows Clinton trailing all the major Republican candidates, while Obama and Edwards lead all the Republicans. But I don’t buy the poll. For it is not a Zogby telephone poll, it’s an online poll, with a group that has self-selective qualities. As longtime readers know, I don’t buy online polls and I don’t buy robo-polls.
** SCHWARZENEGGER CONFERS PRIVATELY WITH LEGISLATIVE LEADERS. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in California’s Capitol today for private discussions with legislative leaders on still unresolved water policy and health care issues.
Coming into the week, the situations remained in the very familiar status quo, which I can either write about repetitively, or not.
On water, Schwarzenegger, Republicans, and some Democrats want more water storage, above and below the ground. Most Democrats are either opposed to dams or are skeptical. An almost deal last week between Schwarzenegger and state Senate leader Don Perata foundered, as it were, over the dam issue. Would the Legislature get to vote every year — in a vote requiring two-thirds — to keep appropriating funds for dams? That would be a relatively easy way to stall dam construction.
On health care, legislative Republicans are out of it and it’s between Schwarzenegger, who wants all Californians to be required to buy health insurance, and Democrats, who are skeptical about that. Their hang-up, if you will? That health insurance is increasingly expensive and that a mandate will both force people already struggling to spend a huge chunk of their income on the insurance and further drive up the cost of that insurance. So the compromise efforts have centered around a complex series of measures to mitigate the expense through various subsidies.
** PAKISTAN CRISIS: MUSHARRAF TO STEP DOWN AS ARMY CHIEF WEDNESDAY, BE INAUGURATED AS CIVILIAN PRESIDENT THURSDAY. President Pervez Musharraf says he will resign as the chief of staff of Pakistan’s military on Wednesday in advance of his swearing in as president on Thursday. A new supreme court, packed with Musharraf loyalists after the old one was dissolved under his “emergency” rule, certified his election last week.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan yesterday, greeted by adoring crowds in his home base of Lahore. Musharraf ousted him eight years ago, sending him into exile in Saudi Arabia. But Sharif has returned under Saudi sponsorship. He and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto both filed papers today to run in an election now scheduled for January. But both say they will likely boycott the election if Musharraf continues his rollback of democracy in Pakistan, which includes a media crackdown.
Can Bhutto and Sharif form a working alliance? Bhutto is more the secularist, while the Saudi-sponsored Sharif is more religious. Sharif reportedly once tried to have himself declared “commander of the faithful.”
** OPRAH HITS THE ROAD FOR OBAMA NEXT MONTH. Oprah Winfrey will campaign with Barack Obama next month, hitting three key early states the weekend after next.
On December 9th, she’ll campaign with the Illinois senator in Iowa. On December 10th, she’ll campaign with him in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Polling shows that Winfrey is by far the best celebrity endorsement to have. She’s especially popular with women, who are the core of Hillary Clinton’s support. Whether she can shake some of that support loose is the question.
** TRENT LOTT RESIGNS. Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, the number two Republican in the Senate, is going to resign at the end of the year. This makes him part of an exodus of six Republicans senators. The others are not seeking re-election. Why resign now? CNN says it’s because a new law is about to go into effect barring lobbying by former senators for two years. The current law has only a one-year ban.
Governor Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Chairman, is expected to pick among the state’s Republican congressmen. Who might run on the Democratic side? The most popular Democrat in the state is former state Attorney General Mike Moore, who you may recall from Michael Mann’s award-winning film The Insider on whistle-blowing and the tobacco industry. Moore won big suing the tobacco industry.
** STATING THE OBVIOUS: L.A. TIMES SAYS VILLARAIGOSA NO LONGER FRONTRUNNER FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA. The Los Angeles Times reports today that LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is no longer the frontrunner for governor in 2010. While I like Villaraigosa, as longtime readers know I didn’t think he was the frontrunner. He certainly wasn’t in polls.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer, bringing you English-language, jargon-free, fast-paced coverage of global and Russian news from the new Russia Today channel.
You probably already know about CNN International, BBC World, and Al Jazeera. Russia Today, which also features culture, entertainment, and sports, is based in Moscow and is owned and operated by the TV Novosti division of Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti.
While it’s quite foolish to expect to see, say, criticism of Vladimir Putin on Russia Today, the channel is very interesting nonetheless. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND U.S. ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Crude oil is trading in a range of $97 to $99 per barrel.
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