Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today called California legislators “courageous” for their early morning vote for a state budget compromise which blended program cuts with tax hikes and various reforms, some more real than others.
** NEW YORK TIMES SETTLES WITH LOBBYIST AND FRIEND OF MCCAIN. According to the National Journal’s Hotline Oncall, the New York Times will acknowledge tomorrow in a special “Note To Readers” that its sensational story early last year about a purported affair between Senator John McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman went, as we say, somewhat off the tracks.
The New York Times and Washington lobbyist Vicki Iseman have settled her defamation lawsuit in which she claimed that the newspaper had falsely suggested she had engaged in a romantic and unethical relationship with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. In Friday’s editions, the Times is scheduled to issue a brief “Note to Readers” explaining that its story, published a year ago this month, did not “intend to conclude” that Iseman had engaged in an affair with McCain, or had acted unethically on behalf of her clients.
Iseman filed the $27 million lawsuit in Richmond, Va., federal court in late December. She dropped the litigation Thursday afternoon. No money changed hands. Iseman had previously told National Journal she wasn’t looking for money but wanted to see her reputation restored “as an honest broker in the political arena.”
In one of the most sensational stories of the presidential campaign, the Times published a 3,000-word, front-page article a year ago this month suggesting that the little-known telecommunications lobbyist had an affair with McCain during his first run for the White House in 1999. The story did not provide any evidence of an affair, but said that McCain’s top aides became convinced that the relationship was romantic and took steps to keep McCain and the lobbyist apart.
The story generated massive publicity. The Times was accused of publishing a salacious and unfair story. Even its own ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, joined in the criticism. Hoyt wrote, “If a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair… it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.”
In a later series of interviews with National Journal, Iseman, 41, strongly denied having had an intimate relationship with McCain. A partner in the lobbying firm Alcalde & Fay, Iseman said in the interviews that the Times made her out to look like “a prostitute,” someone who had used a romantic relationship to win legislative favors.
In its “Note to Readers,” the Times will say: “An article published on February 21, 2008, about Sen. John McCain and his record as an ethics reformer who was at times blind to potential conflicts of interest included references to Vicki Iseman, a Washington lobbyist. The article did not state, and The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Sen. McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust.”
A joint statement issued by the Times and Iseman said, “The Times has maintained that the article was an accurate, important examination of the record of Mr. McCain… as an ethics reformer who was at times blind to potential conflicts of interest.” The statement further noted that in dealing with Iseman, the story “focused on the fact that some top McCain advisers had confronted the senator with their concerns that the relationship had become romantic.”
To resolve the case, the statement said, “Ms. Iseman has accepted the Times’ explanation… that the article did not state, and The Times did not intend to conclude, that Ms. Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with Senator McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust.”
** WHO’S BIPARTISAN? A new AP poll credits Barack Obama for reaching across the aisle to Republicans. Though, of course, the Republicans who are left after two national elections of widespread Democratic victories are mostly too conservative to reach back.
Not surprisingly, Congressional Republicans get very bad numbers for US voters for their stance on the economic crisis.
The AP survey reports 62% of U.S. adults believe President Obama is cooperating “about the right amount” with GOPers in Congress, while 27% think the same about the GOP’s work with Obama.
Conversely, 64% of adults believe Congressional GOPers are not cooperating enough with the POTUS, and only 30% believe Obama is not collaborating enough with GOPers. Another 6% and 5% believe the POTUS and GOPers, respectively, are working together too much.
These figures mirror the approval ratings for each group on the economy. Approximately two-thirds of adults, 68%, approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, and 27% disapprove. Only a third, however, approve of how GOPers in Congress are handling the economy, while 59% disapprove. The economic numbers for Congressional Dems are split nearly evenly — 49% of adults approve, and 45% disapprove.
** SOME CALIFORNIA BUDGET NOTES. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign the new state budget tomorrow. The budget totals $15 billion in spending reductions, $12.8 billion in temporary tax increases, $11.4 billion in borrowing (nearly half that from future Lottery proceeds) and a $1 billion reserve. It covers the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30th, and the next fiscal year. So unless the economy further craters, we’re through with budget fights for this year.
Praise the Lord.
Just to be clear, the open primary provision passed as part of the deal with state Senator Abel Maldonado will go on the ballot for voter approval in 2010. It won’t be part of a likely special election on May 19th, when other fiscal portions of the new budget must be approved by voters. Following its fairly likely passage – it should have passed the last time it was on the ballot, a story for another day – the open primary system would then go into effect in the elections of 2012.
Schwarzenegger has rescinded stop work orders on billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects around the state. He is also halting the move to fire 20,000 state employees.
That doesn’t meant that there won’t be lay-offs, as state Labor Secretary Victoria Bradshaw explained after Schwarzenegger’s noon press conference. The state is eliminating two paid holidays – Columbus Day and Lincoln’s Birthday – and instituting one unpaid “furlough” day per month for all state workers. That’s down from the original two furlough days per month that Schwarzenegger successfully ordered over the objections of public employee unions and state Controller John Chiang.
But the new furlough procedure is only set for about half the state workforce so far, those represented by the Service Employees International Union. There will be negotiations around the other half of the workforce. As a result, it’s not yet clear how many workers will be laid off. That number is somewhere “between zero and 10,000.”
President Barack Obama is making his first international trip as president, to Canada, which is about to withdraw its hard-fighting 2500-troop contingent from Afghanistan.
** SCHWARZENEGGER LIVE WEBCAST THIS MORNING ON END OF CALIFORNIA BUDGET CRISIS. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will hold a press conference on the end of California’s budget crisis this morning in the Capitol.
** FIRST TRANS-RUSSIA SHIPMENT OF SUPPLIES TO U.S FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN ON ITS WAY. The first shipment of supplies for US forces fighting in Afghanistan to cross the new Russian supply route left the Latvian port of Riga early today. The shipment will cross Russia and go through the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan before entering Afghanistan.
The new Russian supply route for US forces in Afghanistan is occasioned by the increasing turmoil in Pakistan, where supply lines for the effort in Afghanistan have been increasingly disrupted.
** CALIF0RNIA BUDGET CRISIS ENDS AS LEGISLATURE PASSES “SPATARO DEAL.” California’s chronic budget crisis, deeply exacerbated by the global economic crisis, came to an end for now early this morning when the Legislature passed a compromise budget of program cuts, tax hikes, and various reforms, real and otherwise, to close a $42 billion deficit over 18 months.
The final shape of the deal was negotiated over a lunch yesterday between moderate Republican state Senator Abel Maldonado and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two men met over lunch at the posh but not pretentious Sacramento restaurant called Spataro, located just a few blocks from the Capitol. Outside on the patio, over cigars, they worked out what proved to be the final shape of the bill.
They both agreed on what have been longstanding political priorities for both: A move to an open primary system and an end to legislative pay increases during budget deficit years. They also agreed to halt legislative pay when the budget is late, but that was clearly a contingent proposal, which, not surprisingly, most legislators did not go along with.
Maldonado also won on a move to eliminate the proposed gas tax hike, which will be made up for with a slight increase in the income tax and Schwarzenegger’s blue pencil on several hundred million dollars in spending.
Schwarzenegger has long championed an open primary, which now goes to voters for approval without the need to gather signatures, as he had to do with his passed-the-second-time-round redistricting reform initiative.
And it could benefit Maldonado, who would otherwise have trouble winning a statewide Republican nomination. As he did in 2006, when Schwarzenegger did not campaign for him in his losing race for state controller against hard right candidate Tony Strickland, who went on to lose to Democrat John Chiang.
This ends what Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg notes is the longest continuous Senate session in history, nearly 46 hours. And marks a bitter defeat for the far right faction which presently dominates the California Republican Party. Making use of California’s near unique two-thirds vote requirement for passage of a budget, they nearly manipulated the state right off a fiscal and governance cliff. Now they will gather in convention this weekend, just across the street from Capitol Park, and contemplate a future which already found their ranks declining notably in comparison to those of independents and Democrats.
Schwarzenegger will not be on hand for that. He will be at the National Governors Assocation meeting. And will also appear on Sunday TV shows to discuss his and California’s near miss experience with political mortality.
The chief spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan says the 50% increase in US forces there will make a big difference.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama makes his first foreign trip today as president of the United States. To our neighbor and ally Canada. In Ottawa, he will be greeted by and meet first with Governor General Michaëlle Jean, the Queen of England’s representative in Canada and the nation’s official head of state as member of the British Commonwealth.
Then he proceeds to Parliament Hill where he will be greeted by and meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada’s head of government, and top parliamentary officials. He’ll spend a few hours meeting with Harper and others, discussing amongst other topics Canada’s decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. Unlike some US allies there, the Canadian forces have been in the thick of much of the fighting against resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda forces.
Obama will also meet with Canadian opposition leader Michael Ignatieff and with US Embassy staff.
Back in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden holds various meetings, then heads over to Langley to swear in Californian Leon Panetta as the new CIA director.
And in Brussels, Belgium, Defense Secretary Bob Gates starts the NATO defense ministers summit. Afghanistan is his prime topic of discussion.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE. No, it is no longer Groundhog Day.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, after marathon sessions over the past several days broken only by a brief return to Los Angeles to see his family, will comment late this morning on the passage of a new budget by the California Legislature.
Details to follow.
** CALIFORNIA: THE FAR RIGHT’S RITUAL DANCE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF. Yes, it is Groundhog Day. Again. California governance is poised on the edge of a cliff, for the sixth day in a row one Republican vote shy of passing a budgetary mix of spending cuts, tax increases, borrowing, and various reforms, real and otherwise, to plug the state’s $41-plus billion gap over 18 months. Meanwhile, an increasingly conservative Republican Party in this state Barack Obama carried by 24 points dances about in a ritual purification ceremony, promoting non-existent budget solutions and launching coups against conservative party leaders who prove too pragmatic for the true believers.
Before getting to the unintentionally fascinating Republican politics, a word about the state budget. California has had a chronic budget problem dating back to the relatively short-lived dot-com boom, when it took on unsustainable spending programs and tax cuts, with both parties taking part in the party. Then Governor Gray Davis ended up going along, though he had told me he wouldn’t. The pressure from his own party was very strong.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger was swept into office in the 2003 recall, prompted mainly by Davis’s handling of the state’s electric power crisis early in the decade, the former action superstar promptly cut the car tax, to massive public approval. (Davis made two mistakes, incidentally, in the electric power crisis, which saw brief blackouts and skyrocketing rates in a partially deregulated system. First, in looking to Bill Clinton’s regulators (who didn’t help) and not immediately moving to long-term power contracts as the crisis began — Davis and his advisors shortsightedly didn’t want even a small increase in electric rates — and, later, in not moving very aggressively against merchant power generators manipulating the system.)
This combination of spending increases and tax cuts created a structural budget deficit, routinely papered over with accounting legerdemain and borrowing. The state made some progress, but everything went decidedly south with the advent of what is now the global economic crisis. Unlike the federal government, which can print money and borrow from China, as it did for eight years under George W. Bush, California has to balance its budget every year, or at least do a fairly convincing job of faking it. And unlike the federal government — and all but two other, much smaller states — California has the near unique requirement of a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature to pass a budget or increase a tax. But not to cut a tax.
Enter the Republicans, who are getting more and more conservative as their ranks shrink. …
** AFGHANISTAN: RUSSIA TO THE RESCUE. In a very positive sign for the US effort in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that transit of US and NATO non-military supplies through Russia to troops in Afghanistan will begin within days.
Ironically, this comes on the 20th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Kabul. And the man who commanded those Soviet forces, retired Lieutenant General Boris Gromov, warned the US today that a military surge in Afghanistan will not solve its problems there.
With our putative ally Pakistan increasingly unstable and jihadists carrying out many successful attacks on supply lines and convoys there — they seem to blow up the route over the legendary Khyber Pass every other week — alternative means of supply are increasingly necessary to sustain the US and NATO effort in Afghanistan.
That means, one way or another, Moscow, which can provide transit through its own territory and guarantee transit through Central Asian nations formerly part of the Soviet Union. There’s been a major dance underway for weeks on this, unreported by the conventional media, naturally. …
** “POST-PARTISANSHIP”: HOW IT WORKS, HOW IT DOESN’T. Back in 2007, when he was still an underdog candidate for president jousting with John Edwards (remember him?), Barack Obama said that he liked the “post-partisan” posturings of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the idea that people should set aside their partisan differences to solve big issues. Now, as president, he’s adopted much the same tack, to the dismay of hyper-partisans of all stripes.
They ought to be dismayed, because it works. To a point.
But not in a linear sense.
Let’s take a look at how it went in California, and how it may go in Washington. … From my February 12th column.
** OH, ABOUT THAT “END” OF THE OBAMA HONEYMOON … From my February 9th column.
** SMOOTH SAILING FOR PANETTA. … From my February 6th Huffington Post column.
** OBAMA IN THE TANK. … From my January 29th column.
** OBAMA AND THE CALIFORNIA WAY ON CLIMATE. … From my January 27th column.
** “MAC IS BACK?” HEY, IT NEVER LEFT. MACINTOSH TURNS 25. … From my January 24th column.
** OBAMA AND HIS COMMANDERS. … From my January 23rd column.
** OBAMA: RIDING WITH HISTORY. (NOTE: As Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, this column was the featured column on the top of the front page of the Huffington Post.) … From my January 19th Huffington Post column.
** ANOTHER DAY: 24 AND THE AGE OF OBAMA. … From my January 13th column.
** 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, which I know as a former DemRussia advisor, the channel is very interesting nonetheless. With U.S. cable news chattering away as it does, this sort of respite can be informative. 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.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in two wars in the region, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. Based in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, Al Jazeera is very influential and more than a bit controversial.
Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer. The NWN live link to AJ does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** SCHWARZENEGGER’S CALIFORNIA. Here is my series of five columns on the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger for the Los Angeles Times in debate with Pulitzer Prize-winning former Times reporter/editor Bill Boyarsky, whose columns are also included.
Among them is what I’m sure is the first piece examining Schwarzenegger’s legacy as governor of California. Since he will actually be governor of California until 2011. No technology known to be disruptive to the space/time continuum was used in its preparation.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND NATIONAL ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. After crashing over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, crude oil is trading in the $36 to $37 per barrel range.
The drop of $111 per barrel since the record high over the summer comes on acknowledgment that the weak US and global economy will cut future demand and on the easing of previous geopolitical tensions in the Middle East surrounding a supposed attack on Iran.
Your posts are welcome in the Forum.