President Barack Obama unveiled his $75 billion mortgage relief program, which he says will keep nine million people from losing their homes, today outside Phoenix.
** DEALING. Still no state budget resolution in California, but the haggling is underway in earnest. Republican state Senators Abel Maldonado and Dave Cox have both put themselves on offer, which remidns of an old politically incorrect joke which I won’t mention. Maldonado had lunch today with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, his old ally who Maldonado blames for leaving him in the lurch in his losing 2006 Republican primary campaign for state controller against hard right legislator Tom Strickland. Who naturally lost, and in the way of California politics, is now Maldonado’s Senate colleague.
** FED OFFERS RUGGED ECONOMIC OUTLOOK. The Federal Reserve, American’s central bank, downgraded its economic forecast for the year.
In economic projections released by the central bank, the Fed’s Open Market Committee said it expected that the economy would contract by 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent this year, that unemployment would rise to 8.5 to 8.8 percent and that inflation would remain under greater pressure. Bleak economic data reflecting a sharpening slide in housing, trade, industrial production, spending and employment rates “more than offset” any potential impact from an economic stimulus plan, the Fed said, forcing it to cut its economic outlook.
Get ready for Stimulus II.
** THE NEWSOMS: EXPECTING. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and his new wife Jennifer Siebel confirmed today that they are expecting a baby. Just in time for him to take a crack at running for governor?
** SCHWARZENEGGER SAYS: KEEP PUSHING ON BUDGET COMPROMISE. BOXER CHIMES IN. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger held a hastily called Capitol press conference at 12:45 PM in which he said he will keep pushing for the one additional needed Republican vote in the state Senate to pass the budget compromise.
He said that, regardless of the fact that the far right instituted a coup very late last night deposing state Senator Minority Leader Davie Cogdill, he will not re-open negotiations on the fundamentals of the budget. He is, of course, open for adjustments needed to secure the final needed vote, either from Abel Maldonado or Dave Cox, or both.
Schwarzenegger praised Cogdill repeatedly for showing the character to make needed compromises for the good of the state, and said he is certain he remains on board.
Schwarzenegger has been talking with Maldonado and Cox throughout, but neither has yet finally committed to the budget compromise, for which the portion pertaining to tax hikes is the sticking point for doctrinaire conservatives.
Notably, however, Cox abstained last night when the bill was brought up for a test vote. (Maldonado voted no, but he’s already signaled he will vote for it if he gets what he wants. When he’s sure what that is, naturally.) And both men opposed the ouster of Cogdill as minority caucus leader.
As for the idea on the far right that the budget can be balanced without any tax increases?
“If you think you can do this budget without any increase in revenues,” Schwarzenegger declared, “then you have a big math problem. Anyone that runs around and says this can be done without raising taxes, I think has not really looked at it carefully to understand this budget, or has a math problem and has to go back and take Math 101.”
As I noted in my new column, Schwarzenegger will not be at this weekend’s California Republican Party convention.
In other action, US Senator Barbara Boxer was in and around the Capitol today, appearing at a scheduled Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) breakfast and seminar on the the impact of the Obama economic recovery program on California. She later appeared at a press conference with Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, declaring that it’s time for “the minority to stop holding California hostage.”
** NEW POLL: OBAMA AND TERRORISM. The new Pew Research poll of American voters shows decidedly positive ratings for his policies on terrorism, along with the now familiar divisions in the electorate.
When I say this is a center/left country, I don’t mean it’s a left/liberal country. There are reasons why 24 and Jack Bauer have been a hit throughout this decade.
Americans approve of Obama’s handling of the threat of terrorism by more than two-to-one (50% approve vs. 21% disapprove), while 29% offer no opinion. Yet opinion is much more closely divided over Obama’s decision to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in the next year. Fewer than half (46%) approve of the decision while 39% disapprove.
There are wide partisan differences over Obama’s Guantanamo policy, as there were with many of the major anti-terrorism policies of the Bush administration. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (64%) support the president’s decision to close Guantanamo, while 69% of Republicans oppose this decision.
By a wide margin (59% to 25%), the public says that his administration’s policies will make the chance of another major terrorist attack on the United States less likely rather than more likely. However, while majorities of Democrats (76%) and independents (62%) say that the Obama administration’s policies will make another terrorist attack less likely, just 29% of Republicans agree. Nearly half of Republicans (47%) say Obama’s policies will make another attack more likely.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted February 4-8 among 1,303 adults reached on landlines and cell phones, finds little change in the public’s long-term attitudes regarding a number of anti-terrorism policies. The public is divided on the issue of government surveillance of suspected terrorists; 50% say that it is generally right for the government to monitor telephone and email communications of suspected terrorists without court permission, while 45% say this is generally wrong. Opinions about this issue have changed little in the past three years.
Similarly, views have remained stable about whether the use of torture is justified in order to gain important information from suspected terrorists. More than four-in-ten say such tactics are often (16%) or sometimes (28%) justified; a majority says torture is rarely (20%) or never (31%) justified. Public attitudes regarding the use of torture against suspected terrorists have been largely unchanged since 2004.
There are continuing partisan differences over both warrantless wiretaps and torture of suspected terrorists. By greater than three-to-one (74% to 23%), Republicans say it is generally right for the government to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists without prior court permission. By contrast, a majority of independents (56%) view this policy as generally wrong, as do half of Democrats.
Opinions about the use of torture against suspected terrorists also differ widely by party, as has been the case over the past four years. While 43% of Democrats say torture is never justified, 15% of Republicans and 30% of independents hold that view.
Republicans and Democrats also disagree about whether the government’s anti-terror policies generally do not go far enough in adequately protecting the country, or go too far in restricting civil liberties. As was the case a year ago, a plurality (42%) says that anti-terrorism policies have not gone far enough to protect the country, while 36% say they have gone too far in restricting civil liberties. Nearly six-in-ten Republicans (59%) say anti-terrorism policies have not gone far enough to protect the country, compared with 38% of independents and the same percentage of Democrats.
** CALIFORNIA: THE FAR RIGHT’S RITUAL DANCE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF. Yes, it is Groundhog Day. Again. California governance is poised on the edge of a cliff, for the sixth day in a row one Republican vote shy of passing a budgetary mix of spending cuts, tax increases, borrowing, and various reforms, real and otherwise, to plug the state’s $41-plus billion gap over 18 months. Meanwhile, an increasingly conservative Republican Party in this state Barack Obama carried by 24 points dances about in a ritual purification ceremony, promoting non-existent budget solutions and launching coups against conservative party leaders who prove too pragmatic for the true believers.
Before getting to the unintentionally fascinating Republican politics, a word about the state budget. California has had a chronic budget problem dating back to the relatively short-lived dot-com boom, when it took on unsustainable spending programs and tax cuts, with both parties taking part in the party. Then Governor Gray Davis ended up going along, though he had told me he wouldn’t. The pressure from his own party was very strong.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger was swept into office in the 2003 recall, prompted mainly by Davis’s handling of the state’s electric power crisis early in the decade, the former action superstar promptly cut the car tax, to massive public approval. (Davis made two mistakes, incidentally, in the electric power crisis, which saw brief blackouts and skyrocketing rates in a partially deregulated system. First, in not immediately moving to long-term power contracts as the crisis began — he and his advisors shortsightedly didn’t want even a small increase in electric rates — and, later, in not moving very aggressively against merchant power generators manipulating the system.)
This combination of spending increases and tax cuts created a structural budget deficit, routinely papered over with accounting legerdemain and borrowing. The state made some progress, but everything went decidedly south with the advent of what is now the global economic crisis. Unlike the federal government, which can print money and borrow from China, as it did for eight years under George W. Bush, California has to balance its budget every year, or at least do a fairly convincing job of faking it. And unlike the federal government — and all but two other, much smaller states — California has the near unique requirement of a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature to pass a budget or increase a tax. But not to cut a tax.
Enter the Republicans, who are getting more and more conservative as their ranks shrink. …
President Barack Obama has ordered 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in John McCain’s home state of Arizona today. He has his daily intelligence/national security briefing in Phoenix, then goes over to Mesa to unveil his plan to deal with the housing crisis.
The Obama housing crisis event will be at 9:15 AM Pacific, and will be roadblocked on all cable news nets. The plan apparently is to use at least $50 billion from the second half of the already approved Wall Street bailout to help troubled homeowners avoid foreclosures. And also keep those loans as assets rather than liabilities for the financial institutions involved.
Mesa is in the Phoenix metropolitan area, and metro Phoenix is one of the hardest-hit areas of the country with regard to the housing crisis.
Arizona, of course, is now a swing state in presidential politics. McCain had difficulty holding on to his home state against Obama, and he won’t be running again for president.
Vice President Joe Biden, who joined Obama yesterday in Denver for the signing of the $787 billion economic recovery bill, is back in Washington today. He has a private session with the current Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, as part of the Obama Administration’s assessment of which timetable for US withdrawal from Iraq should be adopted.
The administration is getting some blowback on yesterday’s decision to send 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan. While the public supports the US combat effort there, the decision to send more troops is supported by only about 34%. (With about that many suppporting current troop levels.) The effort is not well understood, and Obama chose to announce the decision – one of the most important of his presidency – in a written statement. (Which you see below.)
In addition, the move to mount a military surge in Afghanistan comes in the midst, not at the end, of a strategic review of US options in Afghanistan. While it’s likely that Obama will pull back from the Bush/Cheney nation-building option – which Bush, ironically, campaigned against when he was first elected in 2000 – it’s not at all clear, as I’ve pointed out in columns, what the strategy is.
Russia has shelved, for now at least, plans to provide Iran with a new state of the art air defense system.
But Obama got some more good news with regard to Russia and Iran. Moscow has decided to shelve, at least for now, plans to provide Iran with perhaps the most advanced air defense system in the world. Obama wants Russia to pressure Iran on its probably nuclear weapons program and to help in Afghanistan. Russia’s already said it will help in Afghanistan. Of course, there are things it wants, too.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE. Yes, it is Groundhog Day. Again.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holds private talks in and around the Capitol on California’s chronic budget crisis. He is trying, along with legislative leaders, to lock down a budget deal. It’s tantalizingly close.
They are one Republican vote shy in the Senate. Two are on board but a third is needed as the Democrats are one down after the election of Mark Ridley Thomas last November to the LA County Board of Supervisors. Perhaps an irony for labor, which spent millions to secure the seat for Thomas, but could use his vote in the Senate now. It’s a staunchly Democratic seat, but the special election is still a ways off. Central Coast Senator Abel Maldonado and suburban Sacramento Senator Dave Cox are dealing to become that needed third Republican vote.
Meanwhile, the state Senate Republicans have a new leader. The very conservative Dave Cogdill, who replaced the conservative Dick Ackerman just last year, was himself replaced in the middle of the night by the extremely conservative Dennis Hollingsworth.
Why? Because Cogdill is for tax increases to balance the budget. What is Hollingsworth’s alternative? He told a reporter late last night that he may have to think about it for a few days.
Hollingsworth, one of the formal ballot proponents of the anti-gay marriage Prop 8, majored in dairy science while attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He was Riverside County regional director for the Farm Bureau prior to his election to the Legislature. His district office is in the retirement community of Murrieta.
He was backed by 11 members of the 15 member Senate Republican caucus, including himself. Four Republicans opposed his ascension: Maldonado, Cox, Roy Ashburn, and Cogdill.
** AFGHANISTAN: RUSSIA TO THE RESCUE. In a very positive sign for the US effort in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that transit of US and NATO non-military supplies through Russia to troops in Afghanistan will begin within days.
Ironically, this comes on the 20th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Kabul. And the man who commanded those Soviet forces, retired Lieutenant General Boris Gromov, warned the US today that a military surge in Afghanistan will not solve its problems there.
With our putative ally Pakistan increasingly unstable and jihadists carrying out many successful attacks on supply lines and convoys there — they seem to blow up the route over the legendary Khyber Pass every other week — alternative means of supply are increasingly necessary to sustain the US and NATO effort in Afghanistan.
That means, one way or another, Moscow, which can provide transit through its own territory and guarantee transit through Central Asian nations formerly part of the Soviet Union. There’s been a major dance underway for weeks on this, unreported by the conventional media, naturally. …
** “POST-PARTISANSHIP”: HOW IT WORKS, HOW IT DOESN’T. Back in 2007, when he was still an underdog candidate for president jousting with John Edwards (remember him?), Barack Obama said that he liked the “post-partisan” posturings of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the idea that people should set aside their partisan differences to solve big issues. Now, as president, he’s adopted much the same tack, to the dismay of hyper-partisans of all stripes.
They ought to be dismayed, because it works. To a point.
But not in a linear sense.
Let’s take a look at how it went in California, and how it may go in Washington. … From my February 12th column.
** OH, ABOUT THAT “END” OF THE OBAMA HONEYMOON … From my February 9th column.
** SMOOTH SAILING FOR PANETTA. … From my February 6th Huffington Post column.
** OBAMA IN THE TANK. … From my January 29th column.
** OBAMA AND THE CALIFORNIA WAY ON CLIMATE. … From my January 27th column.
** “MAC IS BACK?” HEY, IT NEVER LEFT. MACINTOSH TURNS 25. … From my January 24th column.
** OBAMA AND HIS COMMANDERS. … From my January 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.
** ANOTHER DAY: 24 AND THE AGE OF OBAMA. … From my January 13th 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 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. After crashing over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, crude oil is trading in the $35 to $36 per barrel range.
The drop of $112 per barrel since the record high over the summer comes on acknowledgment that the weak US and global economy will cut future demand and on the easing of previous geopolitical tensions in the Middle East surrounding a supposed attack on Iran.
Your posts are welcome in the Forum.