President Barack Obama, appearing today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House, announced that US combat operations in Afghanistan will end this spring.
** QUICK HITS. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met at length today and agreed to speed up the transition away from reliance on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. What had been expected to be the end of US combat operations this coming summer now occurs in the spring. More announcements are due on a residual force, if any, after 2014, and any new status of forces agreement (under which US troops would be free from prosecution and there is agreement about custody of prisoners). Iraq, now closely aligned with Iran, refused a status of forces agreement with the US, so there is no residual force after the better part of a decade of war in Iraq. … As part of his push on the California budget, Governor Jerry Brown this afternoon directed that retroactive tax credits claimed under the state’s enterprise zone program for workers hired years earlier be eliminated. Brown tried to get rid of the controversial enterprise zone program last year, but its advocates in the legislature blocked him. … While Brown has been having fun with the budget (actually, I think he has been having fun), his predecessors (and successors) have been sharing fun pictures. Former Governor Gray Davis and former First Lady Sharon Davis have been swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean. And former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger went shopping for cowboy boots today in Texas, where he’s promoting his latest movie The Last Stand, which opens in a week.
** JERRY BROWN’S NEW BUDGET FOR POST-CRISIS CALIFORNIA: DISCIPLINE BEGETS OPPORTUNITY. Don’t look now, but California has gotten back on track. I’ve been writing about this emerging reality for the better part of a year, but the rest of the fact-based media has acknowledged it’s reality now with the chronic state budget crisis over and the new state budget balanced. California’s economy continues to be in recovery, though still with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, dwarfed only by its low-tax/low-regulation neighbor Nevada.
California’s generation-long chronic budget crisis is over, but, while the sun is shining, metaphorically speaking, happy days aren’t here again. (To reference the Democratic Party’s New Deal theme song.) Not just yet.
With an eye to how California’s recovery can be a precursor to recovery in Washington, Governor Jerry Brown presented his new state budget proposal on Thursday morning. He says that thanks to the landslide passage of his Prop 30 revenue initiative and past budget cuts which were three times as large as the new temporary tax hikes, the state budget is at last balanced, with a small budget surplus and minor budget reserve of $1 billion. When Brown took office, the state faced a $26.6 billion budget deficit and estimated annual gaps of roughly $20 billion, as the state reeled from the great global recession and the defeat of an unpopular temporary tax program.
Brown’s state budget got quite respectful reviews from both sides of the aisle, with Democrats lauding the end of the state’s chronic budget deficits and Brown’s new Prop 30 revenues and Republicans pleased by his insistence on reining in new spending initiatives. The 74-year old governor unveiled the fiscal plan in a very lively hour-long press conference, betraying no ill effects from his recently concluded prostate cancer treatments. He got no push-back from any media critics, either, including his devoted enemy of nearly 40 years, Sacramento Union-turned-Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters.
Here’s a sampling of headlines. New York Times: “Back From the Fiscal Abyss, California Balances Its Budget.” Wall Street Journal: “State’s Rare Sight: A Budget Surplus.” San Jose Mercury News: “California Gov. Jerry Brown Wins Praise For Eliminating Budget Deficit.” Orange County Register: “Brown Releases Restrained State Budget.”
Brown’s new budget adds $2.7 billion a year to K-12 education, with per pupil spending up $2,700, partly making up for losses in recent years. It also adds a half billion to the University of California and California State University systems.
He is holding the line in other areas, addressing California’s “wall of debt” — which he says was nearly $35 billion when he took office and will get down to a little over $4 billion in the next few years — rather than restoring programs ravaged during the recession.
“It’s very hard to say no,” Brown noted. “That’s basically my job. It’s like a governor on a machine. When a machine tries to exceed a certain speed, the governor then depresses the speed. That is the metaphor for 2013.
“I accept my role of saying no. Yes, there is inequality and hardship. but I want to take the money we do have and put it into our schools and colleges and help people help themselves. Education is the social program that I think will give us the biggest return on our investment.”
He won’t restore funding for a variety of programs cut during the great global recession.
“That kind of yo-yo political economy is not good,” he said. “You give benefits, then yank them back when times are bad. I want to advance the progressive agenda, but consistent with the amount of money the people made available.”
But Brown is expanding Medi-Cal, known as Medicaid nationally, as part of the implementation of President Barack Obama’s national health care law.
As Brown’s Prop 30 provides a rising tide for all schools, he is pursuing a rebalancing of education funding designed to bolster support for poor schools and schools with large numbers of students who struggle with English. He also aims to end most categorical spending programs, giving spending control to local school boards and administrators, something which some teachers union leaders are already balking at.
Says Brown: “40 percent of our students are low-income; over 20 percent are challenged in speaking English. We have to disproportionately fund schools that have disproportionate challenges. As Aristotle said, treating unequals equally is not justice.”
As for higher education, Brown says he wants teaching resources to be deployed more effectively. Brown is a fellow alum of UC Berkeley, and has long had his criticisms of how the great public university conducts itself. UC, he says, needs to ramp up online teaching. And it needs to have its professors spend more time in the classroom.
Expect to see more of Brown at UC and CSU board meetings in the future. He was a very active participant in the latest UC Board of Regents meeting, as one regent told me with more than a small degree of surprise, but he thinks that his message didn’t really get across on that occasion.
Now that he’s through his characteristic period of immersion in the details of a new proposal, and with Prop 30 in place as a sort of antithesis to the old Prop 13 era, Brown is surfacing with bigger picture thoughts about how it all fits together. …
** NEW SURVEY: OBAMA DEFYING TREND OF SECOND TERM PRESIDENCIES, SO FAR. A new Gallup Poll survey indicates that, so far at least, President Barack Obama is showing signs of bucking an historic trend in which second term presidents are less popular than they were in their first terms.
Obama, of course, has not yet begun his second term. That won’t happen for another week and a half.
But his job approval rating is notably up since the run-up to his re-election, and considerably higher than it was in the last year or so before his re-election.
Only two presidents of the past seven had higher numbers in their seconds terms than in their first: Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.
Obama in some ways is a blend of both, so he has a shot at joining them. What complicates matters, of course, is the ongoing extreme hyper-partisanship, especially in the Republican Party, and gross dysfunctionality of the political and media cultures.
On the eve of a new term, President Barack Obama’s approval rating currently stands at 56% in the latest three-day Gallup Daily tracking average — seven percentage points higher than the average of his monthly approval ratings (49%) for the first 48 months of his administration, between January 2009 and December 2012. Despite this popularity boost, if Obama’s second-term average approval rating eclipses his first-term average, it would buck the historical trend — only two out of seven post-World War II presidents have had higher approval ratings in their second than in their first term. …
Despite a noticeable upward trend in his approval ratings since the 2012 election, President Obama’s approval ratings could begin to slip as the wear and tear of the second term take hold, a result some consider inevitable for any second-term president due to public fatigue with the presidential administration, scandal, or political agenda setbacks. In other words, Obama could face the supposed “second-term curse,” whereby his political capital is greatly diminished over the additional term, a result so common to twice-serving administrations that it has been given a name. …
There is no sure way to overcome the “second-term curse,” but these data show it can be avoided, or at least its impact mitigated. Interestingly, the three presidents who finished their second term in the lowest regard (aside from Nixon, who resigned his office before the end of his term) — Truman, Johnson, and Bush — were plagued by ongoing and seemingly growing military conflicts in far-away countries. Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton — the only two-term presidents to finish their time in office with average approval ratings above 50% — presided over strong economic growth and as such were rewarded with the American public’s strong support. Even so, Eisenhower didn’t avoid the “curse.”
President Obama is currently in between these two places — economic growth is slow and unsteady, but the unpopular war in Afghanistan is on schedule to wind down. Beyond that, Obama will need to focus on the issues most important to Americans in order to remain popular, such as finding ways to make politics “work” or appear to work.
Working in Obama’s favor is that his first-term approval rating average was below average, leaving open the possibility that he will hit his stride in his second term rather than his first, however uncommon that scenario has been in the past. While the probability that Obama can build his popularity in his second term is not high historically speaking, it is hardly impossible.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai met late Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before joining Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for dinner.
** NEW COLUMNS COMING UP … JERRY BROWN’S NEW BUDGET and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA AT 50: A TIMELESS EPIC RESTORED WITH TIMELESS LESSONS IN STORE.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received the intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
Today is a day of summitry with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Obama and Biden held an expanded bilateral meeting with Karzai in the Cabinet Room.
Obama is now holding a restricted bilateral meeting with Karzai in the Oval Office.
At 9 AM Pacific, Obama and Biden meet for lunch with Karzai in the Old Family Dining Room.
At 10:15 AM Pacific, Obama and Karzai hold a joint press conference in the East Room.
This afternoon, Biden continues his meetings on the gun control issue in the wake of the latest massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, discussing matters with video game industry representatives in the Eisenhower Executive Office Bldg.
The National Rifle Association late yesterday attacked Biden and Obama for their efforts, and denied any possibility of compromise on gun control.
National Rifle Association president David Keene insists that public policy should focus on mental illness rather than guns in the wake of the latest massacre.
In what is shaping up to be a rather low-key second inaugural, Obama will take the oath of office using not one but two bibles, which belonged to Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln.
The inaugural ceremony takes place on January 21st, which is Martin Luther King Day. And it takes place in the month of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which of course began the process of freeing African American slaves.
Perhaps then it is fitting that Steve Spielberg’s Lincoln led the way Thursday in the Academy Awards nomination announcements with 12 Oscar nominations. The film is about Lincoln’s drive to pass the 13th Amendment, which finally abolished slavery.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Syria, Iraq, AfPak, and the South China Sea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: The Persian/Arabian Gulf is ten hours ahead of Pacific time and Afghanistan is eleven and a half hours ahead of Pacific time. The time in Manila, on the South China Sea, is fifteen hours ahead of Pacific time.
Governor Jerry Brown unveiled his new state budget proposal on Thursday, which eliminates California’s chronic budget deficit for the first time in a generation.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Sacramento.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
Brown’s proposed California state budget, which eliminates the state’s chronic budget deficit, got respectful reviews from both sides of the aisle yesterday, with Democrats lauding the end of the state’s chronic budget deficits and Brown’s new Prop 30 revenues and Republicans pleased by his insistence on reining in new spending initiatives.
The 74-year old governor unveiled the fiscal plan in a very lively hour-long press conference today, betraying no ill effects from his recently concluded prostate cancer treatments. He got no push-back from any media critics, either, such as his devoted enemy of nearly 40 years, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters.
** WHY THE HAGEL BATTLE MADE MORE SENSE FOR OBAMA THAN THE RICE BATTLE. …
From my January 9th essay.
** CALIFORNIA’S FUTURIST AGENDA: A TALE OF THREE GOVERNORS. … From my January 4th essay.
** THE CLIFFS WE AREN’T FALLING FROM (AND ONE FROM WHICH WE ARE). … From my December 15th column.
** EXIT SUSAN RICE. … From my December 13th column.
** WHERE THE DEMOCRATS GO NEXT, OR, PIVOTING WITH HILLARY. … From my December 10th column.
** FROM THE NOTEBOOK: OBSERVATIONS ON JERRY BROWN’S PROP 30 VICTORY. … From my December 5th essay.
London is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the world’s first underground railway, known as the Tube, one of the signature accomplishments of the Victorian Age emulated round the world.
** FROM GOVERNATOR TO MOONBEAM. … From my January 3rd, 2011 feature.
** 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 AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in major military operations in the region, and the Arab awakening underway, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. 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.
** 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 from the Russia Today channel. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the state-run 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 $93 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $59 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity, and down about $21 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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