Holdover FBI Director Robert Mueller today gave a rather tortured, as it were, rationale for not closing the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison.
** QUICK HITS. President Barack Obama and ex-Vice President Dick Cheney (strangely more public now than when he held office as perhaps the least popular veep in history) give dueling national security speeches tomorrow. Cheney will again argue that Obama, now under fire from the left for various moves in the area, is too squishily lefty to defend America. … Over 2 million Pakistanis are now refugees in their own country in the wake of the ongoing Obama-urged offensive against the Taliban. … In what should surprise no one, California Republican legislators this afternoon held a press conference announcing their drive for big budget cuts in a cuts-only approach to the chronic budget crisis. And again, chronically, refused to specify any such cuts, instead laying out a sketchy long-term process. … The Bay Area Council, joined by such groups as the New America Foundation and Courage Campaign, today urged a California constitutional convention to deal with the state’s highly dysfunctional system of governance. But the con-con, should it occur, wouldn’t even begin for at least six months after the next governor is elected, in other words, for at least two years. No solutions for the near term.
** CALIFORNIA POLITICIANS GET 18% PAY CUT. After a raft of stories of big increases in pay and perks over the last few years under the Capitol Dome — recall how the 2008 term limits reform initiative went down after revelations of luxury spending by legislative leaders from their political campaign funds – the state commission setting compensation for state legislators and constitutional officers this morning voted to cut salaries by 18%.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed the commissioners needed to accomplish the pay cut, naturally applauded the move: “The California Citizens Compensation Commission took the right action today in voting to reduce the salaries of the state’s elected officials by 18 percent. The people of California have spoken loud and clear: they want the state to live within its means and do not want any more government waste or pay raises for California’s elected officials. I completely agree and that is why I have cut back in my own office and ordered layoffs of state employees to save money.” Schwarznegger had previously reduced pay in his office by 9.3%.
** SCHWARZENEGGER CONFIRMS OBAMA OKAY ON CUTS. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, after meeting this morning in Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, confirmed reports that the Obama Administration has backed away from its earlier stance that proposed budget cuts take the state out of compliance with federal law. As part of the emergency budget, Schwarzenegger cut wages for home health care workers organized by the Service Employees International Union, which got an opinion from the Obama Administration that billions in economic recovery funds could be blocked by the move.
At his press availability following this morning’s meeting with Sebelius, Schwarzenegger said: “Just wanted to say that we had a terrific meeting with Secretary Sebelius about some of the confusions there were regarding the economic stimulus money and those confusions were cleared up this morning. We are very happy to report that they will bring to California the billions of dollars that were promised through the economic stimulus package.”
** OBAMA’S BIG GITMO SETBACK. In another blow to President Barack Obama’s plan to close the notorious prison at Guantanmo Bay, the US Senate this morning voted 90 to 6 against moving any terror suspects to the United States. The Senate previously voted to deny $80 million in funding to close down the facility.
This should be something of a wakeup call to our friends on the left about the difficulty of dealing with public opinion on such things. People are embarrassed by Gitmo, which is a major stain on American’s global image. But don’t want suspected terrorists anywhere near them, even in SuperMax prisons, even though convicted criminals live in housing developments.
Obama will address the Guantanamo issue tomorrow is a major speech on national security.
** SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS ON THE MOVE. The famed 49ers football franchise, first to win five Super Bowls, looks like it’s moving from the City by the Bay.
The City of Santa Clara, down the Peninsula from the San Francisco, and the 49ers yesterday reached agreement on a financing package for a new 68,500-seat stadium. There will still need to be a public vote in Santa Clara ratifying the deal, and an environmental impact report.
The franchise’s negotiations with the administration of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom over the past few years have been fruitless. But it’s not a total loss for the mayor, as he went to Santa Clara University.
** CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS. The key state budget compromise-related initiatives in yesterday’s special election all went down to defeat as expected. None of them were close. Right now, the turnout looks like it was around 23%.
There will be calls for a constitutional convention to rejigger the state’s system of governance, which is clearly dysfunctional. Between the intractable ultra-government and anti-government factions producing gridlock in a Legislature with little expertise and a two-thirds vote requirement on key fiscal matters, a governor who’s become seen as “one of them” after many months of closeted negotiations, largely autopilot budgeting locked in by initiative, a deracinated press corps that has gone from above average to a hollow and underinformed shell, and an underinformed electorate uninterested in elections not involving Barack Obama, the system is overripe for reform. Don’t expect it to happen any time soon.
It’s unclear how the necessary mechanism would actually be triggered. And the electorate is showing no aptitude for complex solutions – for one thing, a big majority is against getting rid of the anachronistic two-thirds requirement on budget and revenue matters – and less interest in bothersome elections.
What’s likely on the reform front? More muddling. Whether it’s forward or not depends on how quickly Obama turns the economy around. In the short term, expect a state budget bloodbath, with the ranks of the principal victims including those public employee unions who advertised against yesterday’s package from the right in hopes of promoting the left.
Meanwhile, in LA, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa saw his ally Judy Chu, a state Board of Equalizations member, defeat his former ally Gil Cedillo, a state senator, in the special congressional election to replace new Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. That’s the good news for the mayor.
The bad news for the mayor, which is much more important, is that his handpicked candidate for Los Angeles city attorney, Councilman Jack Weiss, was badly beaten in yesterday’s run-off by Carmen Trutanich. The final tally, in a very low turnout election, is Trutanich 56%, Weiss 44%. Villaraigosa and his political operation went all out for Weiss, who finished first in March, but were crushed by a coalition of those disgruntled with the mayor’s leadership, spearheaded by the police.
This comes after the defeat of the mayor’s solar initiative in the first round of LA voting, and his own desultory re-election with 55% of the vote against a field of fringe candidates.
Villaraigosa now gets to deal with his city’s big budget deficit. His only consolation is that it is proportionately smaller than the budget deficit that now must be dealt with by his would-be rival, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, another gubernatorial hopeful who has his own problems with his own police. Newsom recently cancelled yet another out-of-state trip to promote his political career, the first time that’s happened in a long while.
President Barack Obama announced the new national policy on vehicle fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions modeled on the California plan in yesterday’s event in the White House Rose Garden.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama has received his daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
At 7 AM Pacific, Obama attends the first quarterly meeting of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board in the Roosevelt Room.
At 11:15 AM Pacific, Obama meets with senior advisors in the Oval Office, then at noon Pacific participates in a credentialing ceremony for foreign ambassadors in the Oval Office.
At 1:30 PM Pacific, Obama signs the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act in the East Room.
At 2:45 PM Pacific, he calls the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from the Oval Office.
At 4:30 PM Pacific, Obama hosts a reception for Democratic and Republican members of the House and their guests.
Behind the scenes today, Obama is also focusing in on his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. He apparently still has six or more candidates in play. The pick may come next week. Or it may not.
Obama is also closely monitoring the Pakistani Army offensive against the Taliban, which he and his advisors urged upon President Asif Ali Zardari. The Pakistani government is reporting significant progress in the operations which have displaced some 1.4 million refugees.
Vice President Joe Biden is in the Balkans, where he visits Belgrade, Serbia.
As anticipated in a very low turnout special election, California voters rejected the key state budget compromise-related initiatives in yesterday’s special election.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Washington and Sacramento today.
He meets this morning with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the former governor of Kansas.
Schwarzenegger and Sebelius will discuss the drastic cuts made to California’s budget which violate federal rules for matching funds. He will ask the Obama Administration for flexibility so that California can make the cuts.
Afterwards, Schwarzenegger holds a press avail outside the Department of Health and Human Services, then flies to Sacramento.
This afternoon, Schwarzenegger meets with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders in the Capitol to discuss California’s worsened budget crisis in the wake of yesterday’s failure of the special election initiatives.
** 24 AND THE TORTUOUS POLITICS OF TORTURE. The longtime hit TV series 24 has just wrapped a tumultuous seventh season in the midst of national debate about the past national policy of interrogation by torture of terror suspects. And, while 24 returned to past form as a crackling thriller, it’s done it in the midst of presenting a running debate about torture, mostly coming down on the side of torture.
Which, in its way, is appalling. There’s one thing, though. Torture may be more popular than many of us would like to think. …
** ANGELS AND DEMONS AND RELIGIOUS POLITICS. The sequel to one of the most controversial movies in recent memory is opening this weekend. And the collective response is a mild “hmm.” … From my May 15th column.
** WHAT DOES OBAMA’S AFGHAN COMMAND CHANGE MEAN? For the first such change in wartime since Harry Truman replaced General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War in 1951, Barack Obama is replacing General David McKiernan in Afghanistan. Obama is moving both to change a stalemated war in Afghanistan and to scale back expectations there.
In the process, the Obama Administration is signaling that there will be no massive military surge preferred by General David Petraeus, as well as, seemingly, an end to nation-building fantasies and a preference for more special operations while searching for compromise.
McKiernan, the commander of conventional ground forces for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is being replaced by a rather controversial special operations expert, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. As head of Joint Special Operations Command, McChrystal oversaw the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. … From my May 13th column.
** THE HYPE FLU’S BIG FADE. Remember that big, dangerous swine flu threat that the cable culture was going on about round the clock, still scaring the sweat out of people a week ago? Why, it’s going to … er, never mind.
It was all very breathless and alarming. … From my May 11th column.
** STAR TREK‘S NEW COMING-OF-AGE SAGA FOR GENERATION O. Let’s get the straight-up politics out of the way up front. Barack Obama, as he says himself, grew up on Star Trek. And both the new Spock, young Heroes TV star Zachary Quinto, and the classic Spock, Leonard Nimoy, each of whom star in the new movie, backed him for president, with Quinto campaigning around the country.
Obama even flashed the Vulcan hand sign — not so easy to do the first few times you try — at Nimoy at an Obama fundraiser in, for those of you who were johnnies-come-lately, January 2007.
Now for the part that’s not quite so obvious. This Star Trek hinges on the original captain of the Enterprise. But not the one you’re thinking of.
In rebooting the saga, the new stewards of Star Trek have neatly set up a classic coming-of-age journey for a new generation, the Obama generation. … From my May 8th column.
** OBAMA’S TROUBLED AFPAK SUMMIT. … From my May 6th column.
** OBAMA’S CRISIS MANAGEMENT: OF FLU AND AFPAK. … From my May 4th column.
** THIS X DOESN’T MARK THE SPOT. WOLVERINE MISSES THE SERIES’ DEEPER THEMES. … From my May 2nd column.
** OBAMA’S DEEPENING AFPAK CRISIS. … From my April 30th column.
** OBAMA’S CALIFORNIA: ANGST AND IRONY FOR WINNING DEMOCRATS. … From my April 28th column.
** OBAMA’S EARTH DAY ENERGY DECLARATION: CALIFORNIA MAY BE THE NATIONAL MODEL HE SAYS, BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH. … From my April 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.
** 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 last fall, prior to the global economic meltdown, 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. Having crashed over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, crude oil is trading in the $60 to $61 per barrel range, a seven-month high.
This is up about $26 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, due in part to some positive economic signs and in part to geopolitical jitters over Pakistan.
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