Here’s raw footage of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform collapsing into the Gulf Mexico as it burns. The rig exploded on April 20th, killing 11 men. BP has admitted in the last day that more oil is spewing into the Gulf and less oil is being siphoned away than it had previously claimed.
** QUICK HITS. Tea Party leader Rand Paul, who won his Kentucky GOP Senate primary in a landslide then promptly opined in favor of racial discrimination, is in meltdown mode, having just canceled his appearance on Meet The Press. … White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced during his daily briefing that President Obama, already slated to appear at big fundraisers next Tuesday night in San Francisco for Senator Barbara Boxer, will tour solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, a major success story for the economic recovery act, in Fremont. … Obama is searching for a new national intelligence director. Some say that Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper is the leading candidate. As director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency during the Bush/Cheney Administration, Clapper supported the notion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Another candidate for DNI is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Mike Vickers, a former Green Beret-turned-CIA officer who was featured in the hit film Charlie Wilson’s War. He was the young expert who came up with appropriate weapons to be used in the covert war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Hmm, let’s see: Very off-target advice in a great historical event. Very on-target advice in a great historical event. What to do?
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: BILLIONAIRE MEG WHITMAN BATTLES BACK AGAINST THE STEVE POIZNER SURGE. Yes, it is the 30th anniversary of the launch of a little movie called The Empire Strikes Back.
** CALIFORNIA 2010: POLLS, SPIN PATROLS, THOSE VALIDATING PPIC NUMBERS, AND MORE INTERESTING THINGS THAN THAT. Since first revealing on April 16th that the Republican primary race for governor of California was closing dramatically, I’ve kept on top of the numbers. As should now be apparent, I have very good contacts in state, national, and international politics.
On Monday, I reported that billionaire Meg Whitman was fighting back against the surge of super-rich state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. And that her lead, which had diminished so sharply as to be nearly non-existent (and in one sounding was briefly a narrow deficit), was in the high single digits, and possibly a bit higher, thanks to a boost over the weekend. In the upcoming column, I’ll explain why that happened.
In the meantime, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), one of the last remaining major public polls, finally released its long awaited poll, which was published in newspapers yesterday, having come off embargo late the night before. I took note of it yesterday morning, but since it essentially said what I’d already reported, didn’t delve too deeply at the time.
Whitman leads Poizner 38% to 29% In the PPIC poll, with the balance undecided. In March, Whitman led Poizner by 50 points, 61% to 11%.
Democrat Jerry Brown leads them both.
Whitman’s support has dropped at least 17 points across all demographic groups, with the sharpest declines among those who are not college graduates (29 points) and those whose annual household incomes are at least $80,000 (28 points). Support for Poizner has increased sharply across demographic groups, but a plurality in each group would still vote for Whitman.
Now, as you may have heard and may recall from previous reporting, Whitman chief strategist Mike Murphy, who presided over the historic debacle known as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Year of Reform” special election package of four statewide initiatives back when he was still Schwarzenegger’s chief strategist in 2005, has been doing an enormous amount of spinning on the polling situation. So much so that he has been pretzelized.
When Poizner had closed to within 20 points or so, Murphy claimed that he was really 31 points behind, trotting out a memo from pollster John McLaughlin. Who had a bad experience with Murphy in 2005, with Murphy citing McLaughlin’s polling as he continued to insist that the doomed initiatives were really in good shape.
When Poizner had closed to within single digits, Murphy claimed that Whitman had a lead in the high double digits. Then, with the PPIC poll about to come out, Murphy touted a poll commissioned by Whitman ally Joel Fox, a pro-business/anti-tax lobbyist, which purported to show that Whitman was 18 points ahead. The difference being that the Fox poll was more recent and hence more accurate than the PPIC effort.
Now that the PPIC poll is out, Murphy, who not surprisingly is into Twitter, has been twittering and skittering furiously. He claims that Whitman is really 25 points ahead now, and told Democratic operative Steve Maviglio, who had twittered that the race was within the polling margin of error, that he was behind the curve. That that’s what it had been a week earlier. Which, of course, was when Murphy was claiming that Whitman had a double digit lead. Oops. Pretzelized.
Well, PPIC, like the Field Poll, has a few problems. One big problem is that the poll is conducted over a week-long period. As a result, these polls — which also come out far too infrequently for the fast-paced post-modern political era, being linked to the old newspaper era — don’t pick up sudden shifts.
But the PPIC poll does pick up a Whitman move over last weekend, which is why Poizner is seen as nine points behind rather than closer.
A more recent poll, as in completed the night before last, that I’ve seen has Whitman 10 points ahead of Poizner. She might be a little bit higher than that.
As I said, I’ll explain what happened to move her back ahead in the race, albeit by a dangerous margin that is vastly less than it used to be.
In the meantime, let’s look at a few other PPIC numbers. In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is out front with 25% to ex-Congressman Tom Campbell’s 23%. Far right Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore has 16%. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer leads all of them.
Now to issues.
For starters, Prop 14, the open primary, is on cruise control headed to victory, leading 60% to 27%. I’ve looked at the competitive situation, and there isn’t much to change the course of this Arnold Schwarzenegger-backed measure. Its political support is far broader than that, incidentally, but this campaign may err, if at all, on the side of caution in terms of spelling it all out.
Unfortunately, despite having plenty of time to conduct the poll, PPIC did not measure any other initiative on the June ballot.
It did look at the marijuana legalization measure targeted for the November ballot, and the findings are decidedly mixed. 49% yes, 48% no. That’s really not where you want to start out with such a controversial measure.
Here are a few highlights:
Majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (55%) favor legalization. Thirty-four percent of Republicans are in favor. Most San Francisco Bay Area residents (56%) are in favor. Residents in other regions are either divided or opposed. Most Latinos (62%) oppose legalization. A majority of whites (56%) are in favor. Men (54%) are more likely to be in favor. Less than half (42%) of women favor legalization. Support for legalization decreases with age. 56 percent of adults aged 18–34 are in favor compared to 42 percent aged 55 and older.
And what do California voters think of the state’s chronic budget mess? Somewhat surprisingly, given Schwarzenegger’s low job approval rating, his budget plan gets pretty good marks.
Californians are also divided over Schwarzenegger’s May budget revision for the next fiscal year, which proposes big cuts in health and human services, as well as cutting spending for prisons and state employee compensation. The governor says his plan will maintain spending levels for K–12 education and increase funding for higher education. The plan includes no new taxes. After reading a brief description of the plan to 829 survey respondents, PPIC finds that 46 percent of Californians are satisfied with the plan and 43 percent are dissatisfied. Most Californians are concerned (40% very concerned, 40% somewhat concerned) about the impact of spending cuts in the governor’s plan. Yet they are divided (46% yes, 49% no) about whether tax increases should be included.
Of the four main spending categories of the state budget, Californians are the most willing to consider a tax increase to spare K–12 education from budget cuts (69%), while just over half would pay higher taxes to maintain current funding levels for higher education (54%) or for health and human services (54%). A large majority (79%) opposes paying higher taxes to spare prisons and corrections from budget cuts.
Californians would consider some other ways to raise revenues: 67 percent favor raising the top rate of the state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians and 58 percent would favor raising state taxes paid by California corporations. Residents are much less likely to support extending the state sales tax to services that are not currently taxed (35%) or increasing the vehicle license fee (28%).
So the usual split personality with regard to spending and taxes.
If you want to know why I paid so little attention to the recent state tax reform commission, which came up with a complex plan that includes lower rates for the highest income Californians, look no further than the 67% support for higher taxes for such folks. I’d kind of guessed that. The proposal wasn’t going anywhere.
And if you want to know why I give short shrift to the idea of raising the vehicle license fee (aka car tax), please note the 28% support for that frequently proposed idea.
When I suggested to then Governor Gray Davis that a car tax hike was a logical move, at least from an arithmetic if not political standpoint, to help balance a wildly out of control state budget in 2003, he was not, let’s say, enthusiastic. He knew it was wildly unpopular. As indeed it was, proving to be a significant factor driving his recall. And Schwarzenegger knew that cutting the subsequently raised car tax was a wildly popular idea.
** NEW SURVEY ON OBAMA AND WHITES: BIG GENDER GAP AND EVEN BIGGER EDUCATION GAP. Here’s a pretty good way to find a supporter of President Barack Obama. Find a white woman with at least some post-graduate education. There’s little more than one chance in three that she doesn’t back Barack.
That’s one key takeaway from Gallup’s new parsing of their current and historical research data.
Approval of President Barack Obama among white U.S. adults has held fairly steady around the 41% mark in 2010, after a gradual decline from 62% in January 2009. At the same time, a gender gap among whites, averaging six percentage points, has persisted throughout Obama’s presidency. Thus far in May, his approval rating is 44% among white women vs. 39% among white men.
The white gender gap in views of Obama is not evident among all demographic subgroups. Rather, there is a distinct socioeconomic cast to it. Gallup Daily data collected thus far in May find white men and white women with no college background holding similar views on Obama. The slight gender gap that exists among whites with some college experience (41% approval among women vs. 37% among men) expands moving up the educational ladder to 10 points among those with at least some postgraduate education.
The widening gender gap that occurs among whites as education increases is mainly the result of increasing approval among women at each educational threshold — surging to 62% among postgraduates. By contrast, approval among white men is fairly steady up to the college graduate level, and then it increases significantly among postgraduates.
In the end, however, white views of Obama are remarkably similar to white views of then President Bill Clinton at a similar period in his presidency.
With the difference that college grad and post-grad white men are slightly more supportive of Obama now than they were of Clinton then.
One might ask how much these differences have to do with Obama himself — as opposed to his Democratic Party affiliation. The ratings of President Bill Clinton provide some insight into this. In the fall of 1993, when Clinton’s approval rating among whites (then 44%) was similar to Obama’s today, approval for Clinton among whites ranged from 36% among men with a college degree to 62% among postgraduate women — almost identical to the pattern now seen for Obama.
In contrast, white approval of George W. Bush was similar without regard to educational level. Until you get to the post-grad level, where it drops significantly.
White women also liked Bush less than white men.
By contrast, on average over the course of George W. Bush’s entire presidency, approval of Bush among white men and women varied relatively little by education, although approval among men was consistently higher at each level.
President Barack Obama commended the Senate late yesterday for moving closer to bringing Wall Street reform legislation to a final vote during remarks in the Rose Garden. After Obama’s remarks on the breaking of the filibuster, the Senate passed the bill itself.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington today.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have received the daily intelligence and economic briefings and met with senior advisors in the Oval Office.
At 7:45 AM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks and signs a presidential memorandum on green vehicles in the Rose Garden.
Obama will order the development of new fuel efficiency standards for vehicles beyond the 2016 model period he established in his new fuel efficiency standards of last year. And trucks, which use 20% of of on-road transportation fuels, will be included.
At 9:30 AM Pacific, Obama and Biden have lunch in the Private Dining Room.
Obama is savoring a major victory last night. The U.S. Senate passed the Wall Street reform bill, 59 to 39.
Four Republicans voted for the bill: Scott Brown of Massachusetts (who incited much consternation when he won the late Ted Kennedy’s seat in January), Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snow, and Iowa’s Charles Grassley. Two Democrats voted against: Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold and Washington’s Maria Cantwell.
The Senate version of the bill doesn’t address the too big to fail issue. Now it goes back to the House, where an earlier version already passed, for reconciliation.
Obama is also looking for a new director of national intelligence. The DNI oversees the myriad of U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, which is now headed by Californian Leon Panetta, a former longtime congressman who was White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, as well as a frequently rumored gubernatorial candidate.
Obama is looking for a new national intelligence director. Admiral Dennis Blair is leaving after a series of intelligence failures, as well as turf battles with CIA Director Leon Panetta, the veteran California politician.
The outgoing director of national intelligence, retired Admiral Dennis Blair, repeatedly tangled with the affable Panetta, first insisting that he should have his own station chiefs in U.S. embassies around the world — the CIA station chief has always been the top spook in-country — and opposing the expansion of Predator drone strikes against jihadist cadre favored by Panetta and the White House.
The barely foiled Christmas bombing in the skies over Detroit proved to be the clincher against Blair.
First, it was the National Counterterrorism Center, which he oversees, which failed to connect the dots on the bomber.
Second, Blair announced that his office’s new High-Value Interrogation Group should have taken over questioning of the suspect from the FBI. There was one slight problem. That group was not yet operational. Oops.
In other action … Biden meets with Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh.
And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the midst of a three-nation tour of Asian countries, meeting with leaders of Japan, China, and South Korea.
But her trip, which was to have largely focused on global economic matters, notably the adjustment of China’s currency to help the trade imbalance with the U.S., is now inevitably dominated instead by the March 26th sinking of a South Korean Navy ship.
An international investigation, which the Obama Administration endorses, concluded on Wednesday that the ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo attack.
Speaking today in Tokyo after meeting with Japan’s foreign minister, Clinton harshly condemned North Korea for the attack. The international community, she said, will formulate a strong response over the next week.
Speaking today in Tokyo, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan was sunk on March 26th by a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. Clinton said there can be no “business as usual” as the international community formulates its response.
North Korea, in its inimitable fashion, has threatened war if there are any retaliations for the submarine attack on the Cheonan, a 1200-ton corvette. This is a ship that is a little less than 300-feet long, smaller than a frigate or destroyer but far larger and more capable than a patrol boat. It’s about the size of a World War II destroyer escort.
Obama is also monitoring geopolitical crises in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. (See my new column, linked below, on Afghanistan and Pakistan.)
In Iran, officials are gauging reaction to their agreement with Turkey and Brazil to swap lightly enriched uranium for further enrichment to use in their medical reactor, and to a reported draft agreement on UN sanctions against Iran.
The sanctions won’t be brought to a vote in the UN Security Council till June.
In Iraq, maneuvering continues around the future government, the shape of which is still undetermined more than two months after the March 7th national parliamentary elections.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who lost the election, vowed today that the election’s winner, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s more secular Sunni party, will never get the opportunity to form a government.
Unfortunately for Maliki, the Iraqi constitution gives Allawi’s party the right to take the lead role in attempting to form a government. Maliki and his allies have tried numerous maneuvers to eliminate the Allawi victory. Now he’s into stonewalling.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger secured the agreement with electric car pioneer Tesla Motors to manufacture its Model S sedan at a factory in California in 2008. Last night, that turned out to be at Toyota’s just closed NUMMI plant in the Bay Area city of Fremont.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Los Angeles and Redding today.
At 10:30 AM, he participates in the groundbreaking for the Veterans Home of California in Redding.
Late yesterday, as I mentioned then, Schwarzenegger helped preside over a major announcement in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Fremont.
There he and Lieutenant Govenor Abel Maldonado joined Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at the site of the just closed NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.) auto plant. That plant, the last auto plant in California, closed at the beginning of April as part of Toyota’s retrenchment around the world in the wake of the global economic meltdown and the nearly collapsed General Motors withdrawal from the joint venture.
Its closure was cited as supposed evidence of a hostile business climate in California.
Yesterday’s announcement was real evidence of something else, the state’s emerging greentech future.
Electric car pioneer Tesla and Toyota are forming a joint venture, and reopening the plant.
Toyota is anteing up $50 million to help Tesla buy the plant. There the two companies will make a new electric car, the model as yet undisclosed. They will also make the Tesla Model S, a luxury mid-sized sedan which is the follow-on to Tesla’s acclaimed electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster.
Schwarzenegger worked hard and closely with Toyota’s leadership to keep the Fremont plant from closing, putting together a package of incentives. But Toyota’s volume collapsed around the world in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown and the company had to close factories in many places.
Schwarzenegger has also worked closely with Tesla, the Silicon Valley start-up, helping promote the company with his purchase of one of the original sports cars, constantly mentioning the Tesla, and assisting the company with its plans. (In addition to his fondness for the car and its greentech potential, Schwarzenegger is friendly with Tesla co-founder Musk and Tesla board member Steve Westly, the former state controller.) Tesla looked at a number of potential manufacturing sites, and seemed close to settling on the LA County city of Downey.
But Tesla CEO Musk and Toyota CEO Toyoda had met secretly last month in Los Angeles, where they rode around LA in Musk’s Tesla sports car and talked. They kept talking. The deal came together suddenly yesterday.
Elon Musk, incidentally, was recently cited by Iron Man director Jon Favreau as an inspiration for Robert Downey, Jr.’s interpretation of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Favreau made the connection in his article on Musk as part of the Time 100 issue of the world’s most influential figures.
Musk is a notable innovator and entrepreneur in online finance (PayPal), new vehicles (Tesla), renewable energy (SolarCity), and rocketry and commercial space exploration (SpaceX, which will play a major role in resupplying the International Space Station after the retirement of the space shuttle). He’s engaged to rising 24-year old English actress Talulah Riley, who, among other credits, featured in a memorable two-parter on Doctor Who and appears in Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming Inception.
After the groundbreaking for the new veterans home in Redding, Schwarzenegger will also hold private talks on the state’s chronic budget crisis.
On Friday, Schwarzenegger unveiled his revised state budget proposal for the 2010-11 fiscal year.
With the budget $19 billion in deficit, Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating the welfare system and big cuts to health care programs.
He hopes to at last negotiate his way to long sought budget and pension reforms.
… 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.
** AFTER THE AFGHAN SUMMIT: FIVE KEY THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT OBAMA’S PROBLEMATIC PLANS. Now that the pomp and circumstance of last week’s Washington summit between the Obama Administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has faded, what is the state of things?
Not very good. Really, not very good at all.
With the much telegraphed U.S., NATO, and Afghan offensive in Kandahar Province — heartland of the Taliban since the movement’s mid-1990s inception in the midst of Afghanistan’s lengthy post-Soviet chaos — on tap for June, the Taliban aren’t exactly cowering in their caves waiting to lose. In fact, they say they’re launching their own offensive.
A sad milestone was reached on Tuesday. With a morning suicide attack against a U.S. military convoy in Kabul, the 1000th American has been killed in action in Afghanistan.
** MEG WHITMAN’S WILD WEEK THAT WAS. Is billionaire Meg Whitman having fun yet? She’s certainly had a careening week in her once seeming juggernaut of a bid to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California.
In any car race, the worst moment is not when the trailing car pulls up in the rear view mirror, it’s when you can no longer see it in the rear view mirror. That’s because it’s alongside.
I’ve been reporting for weeks on her steep slide in private polling on her Republican primary race against super-rich state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who was once dismissed by nearly all as a hapless speed bump in the race. That culminated here on the Huffington Post in “Meg Whitman’s Titanic Campaign for Governor of California.”
After a lot of denial of the truth by her chief strategist Mike Murphy and others in the well-paid Whitman camp, this week they had to face facts. This week began with a stark bit of reality. … From my May 15th column.
** IRON MAN‘S POST-MODERN HOWARD HUGHES IS BACK AND CONFUSED. The biggest movie of the summer may already be in theaters. It’s Iron Man 2, of course, sequel to 2008’s surprise smash hit starring Robert Downey, Jr. as that billionaire technologist/arms dealer-turned-peaceloving action hero Tony Stark. (Be aware that there are a few spoilers.)
Iron Man has cultural and political roots that elevate it beyond a simple action flick, and in Downey, a seemingly quirky choice, it has the post-modern Howard Hughes it needs. Downey’s old friend Warren Beatty has always said that casting is the key, and nowhere is that more obvious than with Downey. In the hands of a conventional action star or leading man, Tony Stark would not be nearly so interesting a character. … From my May 13th essay.
** MEG WHITMAN’S TITANIC CAMPAIGN FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA. … From my May 7th column.
** “GOLDMEG SACHS WHITMAN” ROILS THE CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S RACE. … 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.
** 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 $70 per barrel.
This is up about $36 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity.
However, it is down one-fifth from just over two weeks ago. European economic activity is slowing again, there are still major worries about the Greek bail-out, and American inventory is increasing.
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