POLITICS (National): Obama, economy improving, approval rating declining: "Obama's Puzzle: Economy Rarely Better, Approval Rarely Worse".... 

* New York Times:  "Obama's Puzzle: Economy Rarely Better, Approval Rarely Worse" - From the NYT:

WASHINGTON — President Obama will pronounce on the state of the union for the fifth time on Tuesday, and never during his time in office has the state of the economy been better — yet rarely has he gotten such low marks from the public for his handling of it.

Not only have economic indicators shown progress toward pre-recession health, but many forecasters are predicting what one called “a breakout year” for growth. A new study from a Federal Reserve economist even put a more benign spin on a negative trend, the shrinking labor force, by attributing the decline not to discouraged unemployed workers who have quit looking for jobs, but to the first baby-boomer retirements.

Demand for labor is up and the unemployment rate is below 7 percent for the first time since November 2008. Consumers, buoyed by rising home prices and stock values, are spending more; so are businesses. Exports are growing as Europe regains health. The fiscal drag from state and federal spending cuts has abated. And contrary to Republicans’ claims, many forecasters do not see the health care law as “a job-killer.”

Economically speaking, said Scott A. Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West, “the state of the union is the best we have seen in years.”

Mr. Obama and his speechwriter could not phrase it better, or simpler. Yet taking credit is complicated, given the clear evidence in national polls that most Americans are not in a mood to give him any.


One of the president’s biggest challenges this year is to change that.......................


SACRAMENTO: SB 601, gambling industry, state Senate approval; Department of Toxic Substances Control, $243,000 fine, hazardous waste hauler; editorial, Fair Political Practices Commission, Gov. Jerry Brown, California Legislature....

***Various items relating to doings in and/or around the Capitol....

* Los Angeles Times (PolitiCal):  "Senate supports review of California gambling industry, related taxes"

* Sacramento Bee (editorial):  "FPPC showed its mettle; now Brown and Legislature should act"

* Los Angeles Times:  "Hazardous waste hauler fined $243,000 for abandoning drums of toxics"


POLITICS/TRANSPORTATION: Jerry Brown, California high-speed rail project, commentary (Dan Walters): Gov. Brown increasingly desperate to save bullet train"....

* Sacramento Bee (Dan Walters):  "Gov. Brown increasingly desperate to save bullet train" - From the Bee:

Desperate times, it’s been said, call for desperate measures. The oft-quoted phrase originated with ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who declared, “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable…”

Gov. Jerry Brown, without uttering the words, has adopted it as his guiding credo to keep alive his bullet train project that otherwise would die a natural death. Faced with a Sacramento judge’s insistence that the restrictive language of a 2008 ballot measure authorizing the project meant what it said, Brown has become increasingly desperate to begin constructing a small portion.

The state has not been able to sell voter-authorized bonds because of Judge Michael Kelly’s ruling. And it faces deadlines for using federal funds, as well as putting up the state’s share. At first, the Brown-controlled High-Speed Rail Authority pooh-poohed the ruling and said it could easily comply. However, it couldn’t, because it couldn’t say how it would finance a “useable segment” of the project, and Kelly evidently wasn’t buying its efforts to redefine the term as being just the short, unelectrified stretch in the San Joaquin Valley.

Then Brown said he wanted to use $250 million of “cap-and-trade” fees on business, meant to reduce carbon emissions, apparently to meet the deadline for putting up the state’s share of the project costs this spring without bond money. But that tactic has run into opposition in the Legislature and from its budget analyst, Mac Taylor, who says that it may be illegal.

Brown’s latest act of desperation occurred late Friday, when his administration asked the state Supreme Court to, in effect, seize the case from Kelly and accept the tortured logic on the project’s legality that Kelly has been unwilling to swallow.


Meanwhile, the tiny approval margin of the bond issue has morphed into strong opposition in statewide polls as costs have escalated and project management has proven erratic.

It’s become Brown’s ego trip, rather than something that Californians want and need........

Read more here:

POLITICS (National, Local/Bay Area): President Obama, State of the Union speech tonight, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee: "Mayor Ed Lee to be guest of first lady for State of the Union".... 

* San Francisco Chronicle (City Insider):  "Mayor Ed Lee to be guest of first lady for State of the Union" - From the Chronicle:

When President Obama addresses the nation Tuesday, Mayor Ed Lee won’t have to strain to hear. He is going to have a prime seat in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box.

Continuing a long-standing tradition where, as the White House describes it, “extraordinary Americans who exemplify the themes and ideals laid out in the State of the Union Address” are invited to join the first lady in her viewing box for the speech, Lee is going take a seat near Michelle Obama; Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; and Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president.

The White House wasn’t didn’t specify why Lee was being recognized at the president’s address, but he shares support of immigration reform and a higher minimum wage with the president. The Obama administration said Lee, the city’s first Asian-American mayor, was among the guests who “represent the stories of millions of Americans across the country, who are working hard to better their communities, improve their own economic outcomes and help restore opportunity for all.”


Among those who will be joining Lee in the first lady’s box this year are Jason Collins, the 12-year NBA veteran who in April became the first male player in major American team sports to come out openly as gay, and Boston Marathon bombing survivors Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman.

Lee called it “an honor” to join the first lady for the address.................



SACRAMENTO: Department of Fair Employment and Housing, investigation of job-discrimination watchdog's own personnel practices: "California equal opportunity watchdog under investigation for unfair hiring, promotions"....  

* Sacramento Bee:  "California's equal opportunity watchdog under investigation for unfair hiring, promotions" - From the Bee:

California’s job-discrimination watchdog faces an investigation into its own personnel practices after a state panel concluded it twice promoted an employee into jobs for which she wasn’t qualified.

Department of Fair Employment and Housing officials said during a recent hearing that they didn’t violate civil service laws requiring state jobs go to the most qualified applicants. But the State Personnel Board, which enforces the government’s merit principle, said in a ruling published Monday that the case raises “serious concerns that civil service laws and rules pertaining to the selection of qualified candidates are being willfully ignored or disregarded by DFEH’s personnel and management staff.”

The five-member panel ordered its auditors go back to the department to look for “any other violations of the civil service rules” going back to 2009 and to determine whether any individuals should be disciplined.

The decision heightens scrutiny of Director Phyllis Cheng’s department, which handles workplace and housing discrimination complaints..........................