The fraud allegations are coming fast and furious in the aftermath of last Thursday’s Afghanistan presidential election. Preliminary results, expected on the weekend, have been delayed till at least Tuesday.
** QUICK HITS. I can tell you the books that President Barack Obama is supposedly reading on his vacation. They’re all quite serious. As are those book lists issued by all politicians, including some I am quite certain barely read. Now, when I relax, I don’t tend to read really serious books. And neither do you … Yes, I know about the polls showing Jerry Brown with big leads over Gavin Newsom in a Democratic gubernatorial primary, not only statewide in California but also in San Francisco, the city which Newsom serves as mayor. (He’s currently out of town again for three days, this time visiting Mexico.) Readers know my view of this “race.” I’ll be explaining, from past notebook material, some bad framing/spinning of polls that has gone on lately, which appeared to benefit Newsom, who was actually in the same place he is now. …
** U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER TO APPOINT SPECIAL PROSECUTOR ON SELECTED TORTURE CASES. Attorney General Eric Holder will reportedly appoint a special prosecutor to look into a dozen potential instances of violation by CIA officers and contractors of the nation’s anti-torture laws. This will not be a wide-ranging inquiry.
Holder is poised to name John Durham, a career Justice Department prosecutor from Connecticut, to lead the inquiry, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the process is not complete.
Durham’s mandate, the sources added, will be relatively narrow: to look at whether there is enough evidence to launch a full-scale criminal investigation of current and former CIA personnel who may have broken the law in their dealings with detainees. Many of the harshest CIA interrogation techniques have not been employed against terrorism suspects for four years or more.
The attorney general selected Durham in part because the longtime prosecutor is familiar with the CIA and its past interrogation regime. For nearly two years, Durham has been probing whether laws against obstruction or false statements were violated in connection with the 2005 destruction of CIA videotapes. The tapes allegedly depicted brutal scenes including waterboarding of some of the agency’s high value detainees. That inquiry is proceeding before a grand jury in Alexandria, although lawyers following the investigation have cast doubt on whether it will result in any criminal charges.
** ANOTHER DELAY ON CALIFORNIA’S PRISON REFORM LEGISLATION. The state Assembly was to have followed the state Senate’s lead late last week to pass legislation needed to reduce prison inmate rolls by 27,000. This is a key part of the latest rickety state budget, amounting to some $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion.
But Assembly Democrats could not muster enough votes, even on a simple majority vote basis, deep into Thursday night. They didn’t try again on Friday, nor over the weekend, waiting for Monday to take up the bill again.
But just before noon, Speaker Karen Bass signaled another delay, issuing this statement: “Work is moving forward on a revised plan to increase public safety, improve the effectiveness of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and reduce state budget costs. There were a number of calls and meetings throughout the weekend with various stakeholders, including law enforcement. Those conversations are continuing. When we arrive at a responsible plan that can earn the support of the majority of the Assembly and makes sense to the people of California, we will take that bill up on the Assembly floor. We will provide advance notice when a vote on the public safety package is to be scheduled.”
** MAD MEN REVIEW: “LOVE AMONG THE RUINS.” Mad Men is a show about themes and characters. Not so much about plot. The action tends to be slow and usually subtle, with pieces moving into place over time. Recapping the show can make it sound like a soap opera, and it’s much more than that. Yet in all reviews of Mad Men, there will be substantial spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the episode yet, you’ve been warned.
This third season’s theme of change kicked into gear in “Love Among the Ruins.” But that change is tempered by confusion, and ever shadowed by the overhang of the past.
The episode, named after a Robert Browning poem about the ruins of a once great capital and the need to choose love over passing glory, starts off with a big dose of the coming ’60s sexual energy and closes with a reverie about finding peace through touching the earth, followed by a brief coda of mentor Don Draper and protege Peggy Olsen working together.
In between, we learned more about the characters and the changes taking place in this pivotal year. And tapped into very contemporary themes about corporate disarray and aging parents. … From my new column.
MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK.
A slow week on tap in presidential politics with President Barack Obama on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. And ostensibly a more eventful week in California politics, with the state Legislature back in session. However, despite promises, the Legislature is having real trouble getting major things done, even long-promised things requiring only a majority vote.
Obama, as has been discussed here, is suffering a bit from over-exposure. Well, more than a bit.
This week, the White House promises little news from the president. His job approval rating, despite illusory crowing to the contrary from the right, huffing and puffing from the center, and hand-wringing hysteria from the left, is in the mid-50s.
But it’s time for a time-out for Obama to reclaim the upper hand on health care and economic messaging. And a number of things are shaking out on the geopolitical front.
Chief among them, of course, is the Afghan presidential election. Which was a success in that it actually happened. It’s clear now that, prior to various moves of the past few months, including the Marine offensive Obama ordered in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban would have thoroughly disrupted the vote. As it was, they depressed turnout through intimidation.
Now the struggle to define the election’s results is underway in earnest, even as those results are delayed. Allegations of elections fraud against the president inherited by Obama, George W. Bush favorite Hamid Karzai, are rampant.
Preliminary results were expected on the weekend, then delayed till Tuesday. We’ll see when some numbers actually come out. Karzai’s principal challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister who was a close associate of assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in the war against the Soviets and later in the struggle against the Taliban — while Karzai served as a fundraiser outside the country — is gaining a lot of traction with his charges in the election’s aftermath.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens this week in California politics. The Legislature is in session till September 11th (and perhaps after to consider a proposal from a state tax reform commission, assuming there is one).
Schwarzenegger’s plan to reduce crowding conditions, and the state budget by more than a billion dollars per year, by reducing the prison inmate population by 27,000 was brought up last Thursday in the Legislature.
It had to pass on a Democrats-only vote, as conservative Republicans do not want to be on record supporting such cuts.
The bill passed the state Senate, 21 to 19, but stalled in the state Assembly. Even though Democrats have an overwhelming majority and mostly safe seats, not enough votes were mustered.
The Assembly will take up the bill again this week, supposedly on Monday. Without it, the state’s rickety budget is again very out of balance. These sorts of reforms have been called for by legislative Democrats for years. But quite a few are balking when it can actually happen, including three Democratic Assembly members who are running for state attorney general and don’t want to be attacked as “soft on crime.”
They shouldn’t worry about that, because it’s unlikely they can beat the only major woman running, San Francisco District Attorney and major Obama backer Kamala Harris.
The irony is that legislative Democrats have consistently voted for various tax increases, which they knew could not be passed, as well as a single-payer health care system, naturally without getting around to voting for taxes to fund it. But when they have a chance to actually get something enacted, it’s not happening, at least so far.
Which will it be? Easy symbolic politics, with the fallback of knowing there are no consequences as it’s not real, or actual politics?
We’ll also see how things go on water policy, supposedly a major area of focus in the remaining days of this year’s rendition of the Legislature. And on public pensions, the obligations for which appear to be wildly out of whack with their current funding.
In the California governor’s race, unannounced frontrunner Jerry Brown, the former-governor-turned-attorney general, is working away at his job, as is Republican hopeful Steve Poizner, the state insurance commissioner. Ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a Republican presidential campaign chair, is touring local Republican groups. And San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who’s trying to run for the Democratic nomination, is out of state again, this time in Mexico for the first three days of the week on a trip funded by Pacific Gas & Electric, the big utility company.
The Obamas are off to Martha’s Vineyard, where they arrived yesterday, for the president’s first vacation since his inauguration.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama, along with First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha, is in Martha’s Vineyard this week on vacation.
Obama has no scheduled public events today.
Obama will receive his daily intelligence and economic briefings in the morning.
Obama is playing tennis in the morning and golf in the afternoon. He’ll also be doing some reading.
In lieu of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’s daily White House briefing, Bill Burton holds the daily briefing at the Oak Bluffs School in Martha’s Vineyard at 7:30 AM Pacific.
In the afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden delivers closing remarks at the White House Conference on Gang Violence Prevention and Crime Control.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, ever hopeful of action on water policy in the midst of a drought, delivers remarks this morning at the Star Bend Setback Levee groundbreaking ceremony in Yuba City, a rural community about 40 miles north of Sacramento.
Schwarzenegger expedited funding for this local and regional flood control project last year. Prior to his getting involved, virtually nothing had been done to shore up the state’s aging levee system in decades.
** OBAMA AND THE AFGHAN ELECTION: WHAT IT MEANS, WHAT IT DOESN’T. The Obama Administration should be sighing with a sense of relief after the presidential election in Afghanistan. However, for those with nascent/encroaching nation-building fantasies, what happened with the Afghan election should be thoroughly disabusing.
The Taliban failed in their threat to halt the election, and were unable to pull off any of the promised spectacular attacks demonstrating a strong military capability. But that’s to be expected, as some 300,000 US, NATO, and Afghan troops were fanned out across the county to prevent just that. Better to keep our eyes on the real world goals in Afghanistan: Denying it as a base to Al Qaeda, and moving on in the mission of dampening Islamic opposition to America.
While we slid by in this election, it would be a huge mistake to imagine that we are any closer to realizing persistent nation-building fantasies in Afghanistan. It’s nowhere near a 20th century democracy, much less a 21st century democracy. Perhaps a 19th century democracy. But for the powerful forces ever insistent on dragging it back into the Dark Ages. … From my August 20th column.
** MAD MEN: “OUT OF TOWN” … SEASON 3 OPENER SATISFYING NOT SCINTILLATING. … From my August 18th column.
** MAD MEN RETURNS: THE ‘60S ADVERTISING DRAMA IS A TIME TUNNEL TO THE PRESENT. The much acclaimed, if not so much watched, Mad Men makes a welcome return for its third season Sunday night. I’ve found the series, now the flagship show on AMC, a channel once best known as a reliable source for late night viewings of Commando, to be very compelling from the beginning, if not exactly action-packed.
There are a number of ways to view Mad Men. For my own part, I can take it as a period piece, a sort of time capsule of the early ’60s, at once relatively close yet far enough away to be intriguing for its unfamiliarity. Or as an evocation of style, with the sort of glamour and cool associated with JFK and the early Bond films, in this case a New York variant including chain smoking, constant drinking, and sexual play continually tinged with sexual harassment.
It’s a character study, as well, for the surface glitter of the persuader class and those who attend them masks confusion and lack of identity. That could also make it a cautionary tale, albeit one set during the height of the post-war expansion of American affluence.
Which makes it, in turn, a meditation on the American Dream. Not entirely unlike The Sopranos, on which Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner served as an Emmy-winning writer and producer. Well, except for the fact that Mad Men protagonist/anti-hero Don Draper is a charismatic and enigmatic New York ad man, not a perpetually depressed, poetically crude New Jersey mob boss. … From my August 14th essay.
** SOTOMAYOR, OBAMA, AND THE LOOMING REPUBLICAN RACE PROBLEM. … From my August 13th column.
** WHEN SHOULD GAY MARRIAGE ADVOCATES TRY TO REVERSE CALIFORNIA’S PROP 8? … From my August 11th column.
** OBAMA’S CAIRO ADDRESS: TWO MONTHS ON. … From my August 5th column.
** IS OBAMA GETTING OVEREXPOSED? … From my July 28th column.
** ANOTHER ‘60S ANNIVERSARY: THE UR-ACTION BLOCKBUSTER GOLDFINGER. … From my July 21st essay.
** 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 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 in the $74 to $75 per barrel range.
This is up over $40 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity.
Your posts are welcome in the Forum.