The F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, seen in this promotional video, was killed today in a vote by the US Senate, 58-40. A Lockheed Martin facility in Southern California is a major contractor.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … ANOTHER ’60S ANNIVERSARY: THE UR-ACTION BLOCKBUSTER GOLDFINGER.
** QUICK HITS. Recession, what recession? California-based Apple’s revenues and profits were up sharply for the quarter concluded on June 30th, on the strength of increased laptop and smartphone sales. … California’s prison inmate population would be cut by more than 25,000 in the latest state budget deal, through rehabilitation programs, home detentions, and ending some paroles. … California’s state university trustees voted today to increase student fees by 20% and cut pay by instituting two unpaid furlough days a month. … Following a meeting in the White House between President Barack Obama and Democratic committee members, the House Energy & Commerce Committee could vote on a health care reform bill by the end of the week. A bill has already passed Ways & Means.
** BIG LOSSES FOR CALIFORNIA’S PUBLIC PENSION FUNDS. California’s two biggest public pension funds, the Public Employee Retirement System and the State Teachers Retirement System, have both just reported huge losses over the past year, around 25% each according to the funds, though the absolute numbers indicate much higher losses than that.
The California Public Employees Retirement System has just reported that its giant investment fund lost $56.2 billion in the 12 months ended June 30, ending the fiscal year with $180.9 billion in assets. The fund reported a preliminary investment return of minus 23.4 percent for the year.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System reported that its portfolio shrank by $43.4 billion over the same period to end the fiscal year at $118.8 billion. It reported a preliminary loss of 25 percent.
(The investment returns reported by the funds are calculated using a more complex formula than a simple percentage return based on market value.)
You’ll recall that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger likes to say — well, “likes” may be too strong — that the world has lost one-third of its wealth.
Public pensions were expanded during Gray Davis’s governorship, sold to the Legislature by the pension funds and public employee unions on the basis that stock market earnings would more than make up for the additional spending. Obviously, there is a problem with that scenario.
The funds say they have enough to continue to meet their obligations now, which they will do, but must raise contributions in the future.
** SENATE KILLS F-22 STEALTH FIGHTER EXPANSION. After President Barack Obama threatened to veto defense appropriations, the US Senate voted this morning to kill a $1.8 billion expansion of the troubled F-22 Raptor program. The program has been capped at the 187 fighters currently in service or production by Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
The aircraft, which has problems in certain types of weather, is far more high-performance than anything it will encounter anywhere in the world, and costs $150 million per airframe. Defense Secretary Bob Gates urged that it be killed off, arguing that it conflicts with actual missions needed and with the plan to expand the Army.
A Lockheed Martin facility in Palmdale, California is one of the major facilities that has been used to produce the F-22, which was first seen close up, as I mentioned some time back with regard to product placement, in the movie Transformers.
** SOTOMAYOR SUPPORT FIRM AFTER SENATE HEARINGS LAST WEEK. The new Gallup Poll shows support for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor about where it was before the hearings. 55% support the New York federal judge’s confirmation, while 36% oppose it.
According to the new USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted July 17-19, 36% of Americans are against the Senate voting to confirm Sotomayor. This is also similar to the 33% that took this position in the July 10-12 Gallup survey, but is up slightly from the 28% who were opposed after she was first nominated by President Barack Obama in May. Since May, support for Sotomayor has been stable in the mid-50s, but opposition has grown as the percentage with no opinion has dropped by half.
Initial support for Sotomayor was similar to that seen for other recent Supreme Court nominees. However, the subsequent eight-percentage-point increase in opposition to her serving on the Supreme Court is on the high side when compared with other recent nominees, thus producing the relatively high level of opposition measured in the most recent survey. With only 9% of Americans expressing no opinion about Sotomayor’s fate, the lowest seen for any nominee, she now garners more opposition than any Supreme Court nominee of the past two decades, except for the unsuccessful Harriet Miers.
Still, in the more than two decades of Gallup polling on Supreme Court nominees, no nominee with at least 50% support from the American public failed to win confirmation. The 55% now supporting her is slightly lower than the 60% who favored John Roberts in 2005, but is comparable to the slight majorities who supported Samuel Alito (54%) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (53%) prior to those justices’ confirmations.
What this actually means is that opposition to Sotomayor is now beginning to track with the base Republican vote in the country.
Nevertheless, several Republican senators have announced that they will vote for her confirmation, and more are expected to follow suit. The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to confirm her on July 28th.
President Barack Obama pushed for universal health care yesterday, and continues today.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama has had his daily intelligence and economic briefings and met with senior advisors in the Oval Office.
At 10:05 AM Pacific, Obama delivers brief remarks on health care reform in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.
At 10:20 AM Pacific, Obama meets with Democratic members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee in the Roosevelt Room.
At 1:30 PM Pacific, Obama meets with Secretary of Defense Bob Gates in the Oval Office.
At 4:30 PM Pacific, Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host an event celebrating country music in the East Room.
Obama is pushing hard on universal health care legislation now moving though the Congress.
Vice President Joe Biden is in Ukraine today, promising that as the US moves into a closer relationship with Russia that it will not forsake its new ally. Biden goes to Georgia, whose military was shattered last summer after a brief war with Russia, next.
Biden is meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, the famed “gas princess,” in Kiev. She was part of the Orange Revolution which installed a pro-US government in the former Soviet republic on the border of Russia. But more recently, she has become more aligned with the Russian point of view.
Biden is also meeting with parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych.
The White House ceremony honoring Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on the 40th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up her trip to India.
She made deals opening the door to big sales of nuclear reactors and military equipment to India. But Clinton made little headway on arms control or climate change.
Following Clinton’s visit, the head of the Indian armed forces comes to the US for six days.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has no scheduled public events today. He will have private discussions on California’s chronic-turned-chaotic budget crisis.
The Big 5 group of Schwarzenegger and Democratic and Republican legislative leaders announced last night that they have arrived at agreement on a new budget to deal with the state’s $26.3 billion deficit.
The plan includes $15.5 billion in cuts and $4.7 billion in borrowings from local government, with a variety of financial maneuvers mostly making up the balance. State workers continue to receive three unpaid “furlough” days per month, about a 15% pay cut.
The plan has no new taxes and does include changes Schwarzenegger demanded in welfare and in-home social service programs. Education is promised repayment in the future for cuts in the present (thanks to the Prop 98 proportional spending requirement), but the promise is not written into the constitution.
As such, it’s a budget that could have been arrived at weeks ago, as various bottom lines both political and constitutional have long been evident.
It’s opposed by police groups who fear early releases from prisons (largely of folks who will be released anyway) and already financially-strapped local governments.
Legislative leaders are briefing their party caucuses and hope to bring the deal to a vote on Thursday.
** WHY THE BIG FADE FOR BRUNO? Bruno, the follow-up to ace comedy star Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 smash hit Borat, is one of the most hyped movies of the year. It’s gotten so much publicity it feels like it’s about to come out on DVD. But after a fast start on Friday, July 10th, the mockumentary about a gay Austrian fashionista has been fading badly ever since. This past weekend, it’s down 73% from the opening weekend.
Why the big fade? It’s actually not much of a mystery.
Once you see the movie, the only mystery is why it wasn’t predicted in the first place. …
** HILLARY’S BACK! (OR NOT). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ballyhooed address Wednesday to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington fell decidedly flat. For a few fairly obvious reasons.
First, President Barack Obama, like a number of other presidents before him, starting with Thomas Jefferson, is his own secretary of state. Second, Obama has already laid out America’s new geopolitics, in a series of major addresses in Prague, Cairo, Moscow, and Accra, Ghana, as well as in announcements here in the US on new policies with regard to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Thus making Clinton’s speech an exercise in echo. Third, Obama has other very powerful geopolitical counselors, including Vice President Joe Biden (whom a mutual friend told me when he was tapped for the ticket really wanted to be secretary of state), a coterie of special envoys reporting to the White House, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones, the former NATO commander and Marine Corps commandant.
And fourth, Clinton has been neatly mouse-trapped by Obama. She and her husband have been moved off the political gameboard by Team Obama. As I expected when I wrote about her appointment here on the Huffington Post when it was rumored last November. … From my July 15th column.
** DIMINISHING RETURNS FOR OBAMA’S SUMMITEERING? President Barack Obama returned early Sunday morning from a near week-long international tour that took him to a key summit in Moscow, a G-8 summit, and his first appearance in Africa as president. But some suggested, with his poll numbers down a bit and media attention mostly elsewhere, that his summiteering is having diminishing returns.
Perhaps. But I think it has at least as much to do with the media culture.
American media, especially cable TV news, is moving more into infotainment mode, stuck on a few areas. Geopolitics has never been its strong suit, and political coverage is mostly focused on food fights. Which was unfortunate, as following on to his addresses in Prague and Cairo, Obama gave the final two of his advertised four major speeches on his new geopolitics last week, in Moscow and in Accra, Ghana. … From my July 12th column.
** OBAMA DOES MOSCOW, AND VICE VERSA. Flying to Italy Wednesday morning for the troubled G-8 summit, President Barack Obama departed Moscow after a very intriguing summit with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
This was the so-called “Reset Summit” to bring American/Russian relations out of the neo-Cold War depths they’d sunk to last year. It certainly succeeded at that, and at some other things as well, especially with regard to sharp reductions in nuclear weapons, aid for the US effort in Afghanistan, and a pullback on NATO expansion, a longtime thorn in the side of Russia. But other sticking points remained, on a US anti-missile shield and on Iran.
All amidst some notable intrigue, some of it generated from the Obama side. …
Unlike most of the rest of Europe, Russia is hardly in the grip of Obamamania. He’s certainly more popular than George W. Bush or John McCain, but that’s damning with faint praise. … From my July 8th column.
** OBAMA’S CONSEQUENTIAL FIRST 4TH: NOKO, AFPAK, IRAQ, RUSSIA, PALIN (PALIN?!) … From my July 4th column.
** THE GOP’S PALIN FOOD FIGHT: WHY NOW? … From my July 2nd column.
** TRANSFORMATIVE: LE CINEMA DE MICHAEL BAY. … From my June 29th essay.
** STAR TREK FIRSTS … 43 YEARS ON. … From my June 23rd essay.
** OBAMA AND THE AYATOLLAH. . … From my June 19th column.
** OBAMA’S CRISIS MANAGEMENT: NORTH KOREA, AGAIN. … From my June 12th column.
** REMEMBERING AMERICA: OBAMA’S D-DAY SPEECH AND TWO DAYS IN JUNE. … From my June 8th column.
** REPOSITIONING AMERICA: OBAMA’S CAIRO SPEECH AS THE ULTIMATE IN EVENT MARKETING. … From my June 4th 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, 2008, crude oil is trading around $65 per barrel.
This is up about $31 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program.
Your posts are welcome in the Forum.