A day of political maneuvering in London today left things still unsettled in the wake of Thursday’s UK elections resulting in a hung parliament. The third place Liberal Democrats completed another day of negotiation with the first place Conservatives without reaching agreement. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, leader of the second place Labour Party, announced that he is stepping down, which could clear the way for a Lib/Lab coalition.
** QUICK HITS. Unnamed top Obama Administration officials today said that Faisal Shahzad, the naturalized American citizen who is the chief suspect in the botched Times Square car bombing, went back to his native Pakistan prior to the attack for the purpose of gaining training and support from the Taliban. … Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, giving a commencement address today at Emory University in Atlanta, made a pointed quip: “I was also going to give a graduation speech in Arizona this weekend. But with my accent I was afraid they would try to deport me.”
** UPDATING CALIFORNIA 2010: WHITMAN PRIMARY LEAD NOW IN LOW SINGLE DIGITS IN NEW PUBLIC POLL. I mentioned this morning that a new public poll was coming out showing the gap in the race for the Republican nomination for governor tightening even beyond the private polls I’ve reported, with billionaire Meg Whitman clinging to a lead over super-rich state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.
At noon on ABC’s TV station in Los Angeles, a new poll by Survey USA was released.
It has the race now within the margin of error of the poll.
It’s Whitman 39%, Poizner 37%.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago, this poll had the race at Whitman 49%, Poizner 27%. That was consistent with private polling I reported the previous Friday, just prior to the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles, which kicked off a round-robin of reports of a closing GOP primary race. A Los Angeles Times reporter e-mailed about my report; shortly thereafter an unsourced item appeared on the joint LA Times/Capitol Weekly web site.
** BRITAIN’S TANGLED ELECTION AFTERMATH: PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN WILL STEP DOWN. As the first place Conservatives and third place Liberal Democrats continue talks to see if they can form a coalition government, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is stepping down. This will clear the major impediment to coalition talks between second place Labour and the Lib Dems, who have far more in common ideologically.
It would have been very difficult for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who won the debates, to pursue an alliance with the unpopular Gordon Brown still at the helm.
U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he will step down as Labour Party leader by September and that the party will begin formal talks with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.
Brown also said he will not seek re-election as party head. He made the announcement at a brief news conference Monday outside 10 Downing Street. He declined to answer reporters’ questions.
** CALIFORNIA 2010: GETTING TIGHTER … Received word this morning that a public poll is about to come out showing serious tightening in the race for the Republican nomination for governor, beyond what I’ve reported with regard to the private polls.
President Barack Obama this morning nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, saying she would demonstrate the same independence, integrity and passion for the law exhibted by retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
** MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK. A big week ahead in presidential politics, and in California politics.
In presidential politics, President Barack Obama has just unveiled his unsurprising choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, Solicitor General Elena Kagan. Major new economic statistics will be out this week, and Obama will continue promoting his recovery theme.
In addition, Obama has the ongoing Gulf oil disaster to attend to and a burgeoning international terrorism investigation into the botched car bombing of New York’s Times Square.
And there is more geopolitics, including a Washington summit this week with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, beginning negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, and the unsettled governance situations in Iraq and in Britain, America’s closest ally.
In California, as I’ve been saying for weeks, it is now apparent to all that there is a real race underway for the Republican gubernatorial nomination between billionaire Meg Whitman, once the overwhelming frontrunner, and super-rich state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.
Poizner is using illegal immigration, what I call the alienation factor in the GOP race, to continue pressing his new advantage against Whitman. Today he goes to the Mexican border with an LA congressman; he also launches a tough new ad contrasting his hardline position with Whitman. For her part, she’s trying to hit back with an ad featuring Latino bete noir Pete Wilson, the former governor who pushed the draconian Prop 187 to victory in 1994.
Meanwhile, allies of Jerry Brown in the Democratic Party are piling on Whitman with a tough new ad on her unethical Goldman Sachs ties.
The GOP race for the nomination to face Senator Barbara Boxer is fully joined as well. Ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina picked up big new backing last week from the right and center of her party, will gain more this week, and is well-positioned against the putative frontrunner, ex-Congressman Tom Campbell. The Whitman camp helped persuade Campbell to drop out of the governor’s race and make a third stab for the Senate. Otherwise, Whitman would already be behind in her primary fight.
And in governmental action, the chronic state budget crisis worsened last week with word that April revenues were $3.6 billion below forecast. The Legislature had resisted Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entreaties for action, in part on the basis that revenues had been running above forecast in previous months. But now, on aggregate, they are about a billion less than expected so far this year.
Perhaps now there will be some action, especially with Schwarzenegger presenting the annual May revise of his budget proposal.
Back to presidential politics.
Obama’s Supreme Court appointee, Kagan, was his colleague at the University of Chicago Law School in the ’90s. She went on to become the dean of the Harvard Law School. Obama then made her solicitor general of the United States, in which post she represents the U.S. government in cases before the Supreme Court. She’s expected to be confirmed.
The far right in the Republican Party was further emboldened over the weekend when Utah Senator Bob Bennett, a conservative Republican, became the first sitting U.S. senator I can recall in the modern era to be defeated in a state party convention. Bennett, who aroused the wrath of the far right by supporting the Wall Street bailout and by being insufficiently conservative for the Tea Party crowd, finished third in balloting at the Utah Republican Party convention in Salt Lake City. Only the top two candidates at the state convention make it onto the Utah primary ballot.
Bennett first came to public view in All The President’s Men — he was head of a Washington PR firm that provided cover to CIA operatives and employed Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt — and went on to be head of public relations for Howard Hughes’s Summa Corp. before entering politics.
The further to the right the Republicans are pushed, the readier will be the Democratic recovery from their own problems of late.
Speaking of problems, the latest attempt to stanch the ongoing Gulf oil disaster failed Saturday when a giant containment box ran afoul of icy deep water conditions. Another techno-fix attempt will be made, but it seems likelier that this will become America’s worst environmental disaster.
Now to domestic terrorism with a burgeoning international dimension.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Sunday that the Pakistani Taliban were involved in last weekend’s botched car bombing in New York’s Times Square. The suspect, who has apparently admitted his role to the FBI, received some forms of training while in his native Pakistan last year.
As he is the son of a former Pakistani Air Force general, this is leading to suspicion, a familiar one, that elements of the Pakistani security apparatus are aiding jihadist activities. Given that the U.S. has pushed Pakistan, with significant success, to go after the jihadists in its midst, any linkage to an attempted attack on New York would be very complicating.
Perhaps even more complicated than that is the U.S. relationship with our man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai. Obama is urging that the pressure on Karzai, with whom he meets this week in Washington, be less public and more private. A major offensive is slated to kick off in June in Kandahar Province, the historic stronghold of the Taliban movement since its inception in the mid-1990s.
At least in Afghanistan, the U.S. knows who it has to deal with. In Iraq, the governance situation remains unresolved two months after national parliamentary elections. While it’s clear that the dominant Shiites would prefer to ignore the fact that the moderate Sunni party actually finished first, albeit far short of a majority, there are signs that a coalition government will emerge. Which we’ll follow throughout yet another week of maneuvering.
In Britain, where Thursday’s national election did not lead to a conclusive result, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders are continuing to explore a potential coalition government. There are deep ideological gulfs between the two parties.
The Conservatives finished first in last Thursday’s national popular vote, with 36%, followed by Labour with 29% and the Liberal Democrats with 23%. In the UK’s first past the post system of parliamentary elections, the Tories are only 20 seats short of a majority.
Labour and the Lib Dems, which have far more in common ideologically as parties of the left and center-left, won a combined 52% of the popular vote. Yet combining their seats yields a greater number than the Tories, but less than a majority.
Prime Minister Gordon, Brown, still the leader of the Labour Party, remains in power for now. He’s watching as Conservative leader David Cameron tries to woo Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, whose personal popularity in the country did not translate into a major electoral breakthrough for his party.
If the Tory/Lib Dem talks fail — and there are major ideological differences on immigration, nuclear weapons, European integration, and electoral reform in the form of proportional representation (with the Tories on the conservative end of each of those issues) — those pushing for a Lib/Lab coalition will have to work out the question of the premiereship and gain the votes of a few minor parties. Where might the necessary 11 votes come from? The Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties and a couple of very small left-wing parties.
Global stocks zoomed higher Monday on a wave of euphoria after European ministers and bankers agreed on a rescue for debt-ridden Greece and the beleaguered euro currency.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington today.
At 7 AM Pacific, Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Solicitor General Elena Kagan appeared in the East Room, where the president announced his appointment of Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Obama then received the daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
At 9:05 AM Pacific, Obama meets with his Intelligence Advisory Board in the Oval Office.
At 10 AM Pacific, Obama meets with senior advisors in the Oval Office.
At 10:30 AM Pacific, Press Secretary Gibbs is joined by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, and Ambassador to Afghanistan General Karl Eikenberry in delivering a press briefing.
At 11:30 AM Pacific, Obama reviews BP efforts to stop the disastrous Gulf oil rupture in the Situation Room.
At 1 PM Pacific, Obama meets with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in the Oval Office.
At 1:30 PM Pacific, Obama meets with Energy Secretary Steven Chu in the Oval Office.
Obama is also monitoring geopolitical crises in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Georgia today.
Schwarzenegger delivered the commencement address at Emory University in Atlanta this morning.
He then held an event promoting the Atlanta After School All Stars program.
… THE CALIFORNIA AS FIRST “FAILED STATE” DEBATE: SCHWARZENEGGER, DAVIS, WHITMAN, AND JERRY BROWN. … From my March 2nd column.
Here is my series of five columns on the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger for the Los Angeles Times in debate in fall 2008, prior to the global economic meltdown, with Pulitzer Prize-winning former Times reporter/editor Bill Boyarsky, whose columns are also included. You can listen to my video webchat last spring with Schwarzenegger here.
** MEG WHITMAN’S TITANIC CAMPAIGN FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA. What has a record $70 million in primary spending gotten billionaire Meg Whitman? A plummeting Republican primary lead over state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, not long ago dismissed as a hapless figure by the state’s diminished press corps. And a lot more trouble besides.
Today the Democratic Party and Jerry Brown, the de facto nominee, are intervening with a tough new TV ad against Whitman, hitting her on ethics and Goldman Sachs.
It’s been a wild slide of a ride for the “inevitable” Meg Whitman these past few weeks.
Three weeks ago, I revealed on my blog, New West Notes, that private polling showed her once 50-point primary lead over Poizner had been cut in half. A week ago, I revealed that Poizner was going up on the air with a rugged TV ad attacking Whitman, a controversial former Goldman Sachs board member, for her deep linkages to the investment banking house. On Tuesday, I revealed that private polling showed Whitman’s lead cut further, to 10 points or less. All these things came as shocks to most.
Kudos, incidentally, to Poizner, who made his fortune as a Silicon Valley inventor and entrepreneur, and his gritty team. … From my May 7th column.
** “GOLDMEG SACHS WHITMAN” ROILS THE CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S RACE. It’s the relationship that won’t go away, and it comes at a bad moment for billionaire Meg Whitman in her unlikely quest for governor of California. Her vaunted megabucks exercise in branding — actually an attempt to appropriate the eBay brand — is turning into something quite different and damaging. She’s become GoldMeg Sachs Whitman.
Even before her Republican primary rival, super-rich state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, began airing a tough new TV ad over the weekend hitting Whitman for her deep involvement with Goldman Sachs, Whitman’s lead in the GOP primary had slid precipitously. Once ahead by an astonishing 50 points, thanks to her many months of unanswered advertising, her lead over Poizner in private polling had slipped down into the teens prior to the advent of the new ad. … … From my May 3rd column.
** IS OBAMA FINALLY PIVOTING TO THE ECONOMY? … From my April 29th column.
** PUNDITS, BLOGGERS, ACTIVIST LEADERS THINKING OF RUNNING FOR HIGH OFFICE? THINK AGAIN. … From my April 27th column.
** CALIFORNIA STORY: BROWN, BOXER, AND (UN)CONVENTION(AL) POLITICS. … From my April 21st essay.
** JERRY BROWN’S LONG AND WINDING ROAD. … From my April 15th column.
** OBAMA’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY AND THE RUSSIAN RESURGENCE. … From my April 12th column.
** OBAMA’S BIG NEW AFPAK PROBLEMS. … From my April 7th column.
** HOW JERRY BROWN CLEARED THE DEMOCRATIC FIELD FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA. … From my December 9th, 2009 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, 2009 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, 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.
** 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 $79 per barrel.
This is up about $45 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity.
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