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Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Advocates Seek to Delay Deportations for Millions

From The New York Times:

[A]dvocates want the White House to halt deportations for most of the estimated 11 million immigrants here illegally by vastly expanding a 2012 program of deferrals for young people who came when they were children.

After Republican leaders in the House of Representatives said they would not take up an immigration overhaul this year, Mr. Obama said last month that he would use executive authority to expand deportation protections and make other fixes to the ailing immigration system. While White House officials and Mr. Johnson have been working to stem a surge of illegal border crossings in Texas, they have also been considering what changes the president can make on his own and how many illegal immigrants to include.

Since legislation failed on Capitol Hill, immigrant advocacy groups have turned their focus to the president, demanding that he halt most deportations. While officials say they are looking at a broad menu of options, some legal advisers doubt that the president has the authority to grant sweeping protections and work permits to all immigrants here illegally.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Obama Is Seen as Frustrating His Own Party - As I have always noted, his lack of being engaged is beyond anything I have ever witnessed. No wonder he leads from behind.

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The meeting in the Oval Office in late June was called to give President Obama and the four top members of Congress a chance to discuss the unraveling situation in Iraq.
 
But Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, wanted to press another point.
 
With Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, sitting a few feet away, Mr. Reid complained that Senate Republicans were spitefully blocking the confirmation of dozens of Mr. Obama’s nominees to serve as ambassadors. He expected that the president would back him up and urge Mr. McConnell to relent.
 
Mr. Obama quickly dismissed the matter.
 
“You and Mitch work it out,” Mr. Obama said coolly, cutting off any discussion.
 
Mr. Reid seethed quietly for the rest of the meeting, according to four separate accounts provided by people who spoke with him about it. After his return to the Capitol that afternoon, Mr. Reid told other senators and his staff members that he was astonished by how disengaged the president seemed. After all, these were Mr. Obama’s own ambassadors who were being blocked by Mr. McConnell, and Secretary of State John Kerry had been arguing for months that getting them installed was an urgent necessity for the administration.
 
But the impression the president left with Mr. Reid was clear: Capitol Hill is not my problem.

To Democrats in Congress who have worked with Mr. Obama, the indifference conveyed to Mr. Reid, one of the president’s most indispensable supporters, was frustratingly familiar. In one sense, Mr. Obama’s response was a reminder of what made him such an appealing figure in the first place: his almost innate aversion to the partisan squabbles that have left Americans so jaded and disgruntled with their political system. But nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him.

In interviews, nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama’s approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office.
 
Grumbling by lawmakers about a president is nothing unusual. But what is striking now is the way prominent Democrats’ views of Mr. Obama’s shortcomings are spilling out into public, and how resigned many seem that the relationship will never improve. In private meetings, Mr. Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, has voiced regular dismay to lawmakers and top aides about White House operations and competency across a range of issues, according to several Democrats on Capitol Hill.
 
“Maybe if something isn’t working, you’d say, ‘What can I do better?’ ” said Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, expressing dismay that the president seemed to have little interest in taking a warmer approach with Democrats. “Maybe we wanted something different. But it kind of is what it is.”
 
Asked to characterize his relationship with the president, Mr. Manchin, a centrist Democrat who has often been a bridge builder in the Senate, said: “It’s fairly nonexistent. There’s not much of a relationship.”
 
Few senators feel a personal connection to the president.
 
“In order to work with people, you need to establish the relationship first before you ask for something,” said Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent member of the Democratic caucus. “And I think one of the things the White House has not done well and the president has not done well is the simple idea of establishing relationships before there is a crisis.”
 
Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who was an early supporter of Mr. Obama’s presidential bid, said that if her fellow Democrats were hoping for Mr. Obama to transform into a Lyndon B. Johnson late in his second term, they should quit waiting.
 
“For him, eating his spinach is schmoozing with elected officials,” she said. “This is not something that he loves. He wasn’t that kind of senator.”
 
White House officials flatly reject the idea that Mr. Obama has failed to build deep ties with Democrats on Capitol Hill.
 
“The president is fighting to get Democrats elected and keep the Senate this fall because the stakes are too high for the American people,” said Amy Brundage, the White House deputy communications director. “We’re focused on making the case about Democrats’ commitment to building on the progress we are seeing in the economy and growing the middle class, and we will continue to work in close partnership with the Democratic leadership throughout the fall.”
 
Regarding the meeting with Mr. Reid, White House aides said that the senator had caught the president off guard by abruptly shifting the conversation away from a sober discussion of the security threats in Iraq. Later, Mr. Obama called Mr. McConnell to press him to clear the way for more confirmations.
 
The aides also cite 18 meetings this year that the president has held with groups of lawmakers, not including one-on-one phone calls or meetings. They say administration advisers routinely consult Democrats when crafting policy on climate change, the Affordable Care Act and the economy.
 
They point to four social events for Democrats that the president hosted this year, and said Mr. Obama had extended 250 invitations to members of Congress for bill signings so far this year.

But in interviews, several Democrats said that small talk at large, formal White House gatherings was not the kind of relationship they had in mind.

“I can count them on both hands, and they’re big,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, referring to the number of times he has been to the White House since he took office in 2011, and to the size of the events. “It’s more the interaction that I think has been somewhat lacking — the personal.”

Early in his presidency, Mr. Obama largely outsourced his relations with congressional Democrats to Rahm Emanuel, his hyper-energetic first chief of staff. In the meantime, some Democrats say, they have just learned to accept the president’s solitary nature and move on.


If there was an opportunity amid the Washington paralysis for Mr. Obama to build relationships, it might have been during his frequent golf games. But only twice in more than 180 rounds has the president invited members of Congress to play with him, and only one Democratic official — Senator Mark Udall of Colorado — has joined a presidential foursome.

Democratic senators, for their part, do not always show up at White House events. Twelve were invited to a St. Patrick’s Day reception this year, for example, but only one showed up.

Aides tried to encourage Mr. Obama to broaden his invitation list, to the White House and the links, but the idea went nowhere.

Several people noted that Mr. Obama’s path to the White House helped prevent the kind of close relationships that other presidents forged with Democrats.

Unlike Mr. Clinton, who worked hard as a candidate to court every Democrat he could — from county chairmen to the socialite Pamela Harriman and Vernon Jordan, the superlawyer — Mr. Obama presented himself as unencumbered by the kind of close ties to the Democratic establishment that would mark him as a creature of Washington.

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, who said he had a “closer personal relationship with Mr. Obama than most” of his colleagues, said that while he was satisfied that the president had tried to reach out, Mr. Obama would never be a “creature of Washington” like Mr. Clinton. “I don’t think that was ever in the cards, and I still don’t,” Mr. Durbin said.

Another point of tension between Senate Democrats and the White House has been the extent of the president’s participation in the party’s effort to retain the Senate this fall. A group with ties to Mr. Reid has established a “super PAC” to compete with the efforts by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to tip control of the Senate to Republicans.

But the White House and Democrats have sparred over conditions that the administration has put on the president’s participation, and Mr. Obama has no appearances currently scheduled for the group.

The back and forth is reminiscent of the 2008 campaign, when Mr. Obama and his aides made a decision that he would not appear on stage side by side with Democratic lawmakers, given the low popularity of Congress.

That thinking has continued in the White House. Members of Congress are usually invited to Mr. Obama’s speeches, but they sit in the audience. The result is that Democratic members are robbed of a triumphant picture with the president that they can show their family members, while the White House sacrifices the loyalty of a once grateful lawmaker.

“The White House has something in common with the rest of America, and that is disdain for Congress,” Ms. McCaskill said. “It is hard to blame them.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In Turkey, a late crackdown on Islamist fighters

From The Washington Post:

Before their blitz into Iraq earned them the title of the Middle East’s most feared insurgency, the jihadists of the Islamic State treated this Turkish town near the Syrian border as their own personal shopping mall.
And eager to aid any and all enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey rolled out the red carpet.

In dusty market stalls, among the baklava shops and kebab stands, locals talk of Islamist fighters openly stocking up on uniforms and the latest Samsung smartphones. Wounded jihadists from the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front — an al-Qaeda offshoot also fighting the Syrian government — were treated at Turkish hospitals. Most important, the Turks winked as Reyhanli and other Turkish towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms across the border.

“Turkey welcomed anyone against Assad, and now they are killing, spreading their disease, and we are all paying the price,” said Tamer Apis, a politician in Reyhanli, where two massive car bombs killed 52 people last year. In a nearby city, Turkish authorities seized another car packed with explosives in June, raising fears of an Islamic State-inspired campaign to export sectarian strife to Turkey.

“It was not just us,” Apis said. “But this is a mess of Turkey’s making.”

Initially a close Assad ally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan broke with Damascus after the Syrian leader launched a bloody assault on opponents in 2011. Erdogan quickly emerged as a leading voice calling for international action to topple the Syrian leader.

But for Erdogan, a charismatic autocrat once filled with notions of building a neo-Ottoman sphere of influence across the Middle East, the move to tactically support a broad swath of the Syrian opposition has backfired, resulting in one of a series of recent setbacks for him at home and abroad.

Meanwhile, Turkish calculations in the Syrian conflict are fast evolving. The Turks have started cooperative talks with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish separatist group whose brothers in arms have fought a long guerrilla war against Turkey. The reason for the possible new alliance: The PYD controls a swath of Syria and is fighting against the Islamic State.

But Turkey’s about-face may be too little, too late.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The World the Great War Swept Away - In 1914, Europe was prosperous and what followed was unimaginable.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

In this centennial year of the Great War some things have not been said, or at least I haven't heard them. Among them:

All the smart people knew the war would never come. The continent to which war came was on such an upward trajectory in terms of prosperity, inventiveness and political culture that it could have become—it arguably already was—a jewel of civilization. And the common man who should have wept at the war's commencement instead cheered.

John Keegan went into these points in his classic history "The First World War," published in 1998.

His first sentence is beautiful in its simplicity: "I grew up with men who had fought in the First World War and with women who had waited at home for news of them." His father and uncles saw combat, his aunt was "one of the army of spinsters" the war produced.

His overall assessment is blunt: "The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict." Leaders who lacked "prudence" and "good will" failed one after another to stop an eminently stoppable train of events that produced a conflagration. That was tragic not only in terms of loss of life, and psychological, physical, emotional and even spiritual injury to survivors, but because the war destroyed a rising, bettering world: "the benevolent and optimistic culture of the European continent." It of course also left "a legacy of political rancor and racial hatred so intense" that it guaranteed the world war that would follow 20 years later, which by Keegan's calculation was five times as destructive of human life. Auschwitz and the other extermination camps "were as much relics of the First as the Second world war." "They have their antecedents . . . in the fields where the trenches ran."

World War I didn't do nearly as much material damage as World War II. No big European city was destroyed in World War I, and the Eastern and Western fronts ran mostly through forests and farmlands, which were quickly returned to use at the war's end. "Yet it damaged civilization, the rational and liberal civilization of the European enlightenment, permanently for the worse and, through the damage done, world civilization also."

Prewar European governments, imperial ones included, paid formal and often practical respect "to the principles of constitutionalism, the rule of law and representative government." Confidence in those principles all but collapsed after the war: "Within fifteen years of the war's end, totalitarianism, a new word for a system that rejected the liberalism and constitutionalism which had inspired European politics since the eclipse of monarchy in 1789, was almost everywhere on the rise." To Russia came communism, to Germany Nazism, to Italy fascism and Spain Francoism. All these infections spread from a common wound: the dislocation and death of the great war.

The world swept away had been a rising and increasingly constructive one, where total war was unimaginable: "Europe in the summer of 1914 enjoyed a peaceful productivity so dependent on international exchange and cooperation that a belief in the impossibility of general war seemed the most conventional of wisdoms."

Informed opinion had it that the disruption of international credit that would follow war "would either deter its outbreak or bring it speedily to an end." And the business of Europe was business. Industrial output was expanding; there were new goods and manufacturing opportunities, such as the production and sale of internal-combustion machines. There were new profit centers, new sources of raw materials, including precious metals. Populations were increasing. Steamships and railways were revolutionizing transport. Capital was circulating. "Belgium, one of the smallest countries in Europe, had in 1914 the sixth largest economy in the world," thanks to early industrialization, new banking and trading methods, and industrial innovators.

Europe was increasingly international—independent nations were dealing and trading with each other. "Common Christianity—and Europe was overwhelmingly Christian by profession in 1914 and strongly Christian in observance also"—found frequent expression in philosophical and political pursuits, including the well-being of labor. Movements to restrict working hours and forbid the employment of children were going forward. European governments were spurred by self-protectiveness: Liberalized labor laws were a way to respond to and attempt to contain the power and appeal of Marxism.

"Europe's educated classes held much of its culture in common." They knew Mozart and Beethoven and grand opera. " Tolstoy was a European figure," as were Victor Hugo, Balzac, Zola, Dickens, Shakespeare, Goethe and Dante. High-school students in England were taught French, and French students German. Study of the classics remained universal, scholars from all the countries of Europe knew Homer, Thucydides, Caesar and Livy. All shared the foundational classics of philosophy, Aristotle and Plato.

Europe as a cultural entity was coherent and becoming more so. By the beginning of the 20th century tourism "had become a middle-class pleasure" because of railways and the hotel industry that followed.

But Europe was also heavily armed. All countries had armed forces, some large and costly ones led by influential, respected figures. What do armies in peacetime do? Make plans to kill each other just in case. Keegan: "[A] new era in military planning had begun; that of the making of war plans in the abstract, plans conceived at leisure . . . and pulled out when eventuality becomes actuality." What do soldiers who've made brilliant plans do? Itch to use them. Europe's armies came to see their jobs as "how to assure military advantage in an international crisis, not how to resolve it."

Soon enough they had their chance.

As you read of the war and its aftermath, you are always stopped by this fact: There is no recorded instance of masses of people gathering together to weep the day it was declared. They should have. The beautiful world they were day by day constructing was in jeopardy and ultimately would be consumed. Yet when people heard the news they threw their hats in the air, parading and waving flags in every capital. In Berlin "crowds thronged the streets shouting, cheering, singing patriotic songs." In London the same. In St. Petersburg thousands waved banners and icons. In Paris, as the city's regiments pushed off, "an immense clamour arose as the Marseillaise burst from a thousand throats."

Western Europe hadn't had a big and costly ground war since 1871. Maybe they forgot what war was. Surely some would have liked the drama and excitement—the interruption in normality, the break in the boring dailiness of life. Or the air of possibility war brings—of valor, for instance, and shown courage. Camaraderie, too, and a sense of romantic engagement with history. A sense of something to live for—victory.

Once a few years ago a reporter who had covered wars talked about this with a brilliant, accomplished, famously leftist editor in New York. At the end of a conversation on a recent conflict the reporter said, quizzically: "Why is there so much war? Why do we do that?"

"Because something's wrong with us," the editor replied.

I told him it was the best definition of original sin I'd ever heard.

Fighters abandoning al-Qaeda affiliates to join Islamic State, U.S. officials say

From The Washington Post:

U.S. spy agencies have begun to see groups of fighters abandoning al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Africa to join the rival Islamist organization that has seized territory in Iraq and Syria and been targeted in American airstrikes, U.S. officials said.

The movements are seen by U.S. ­counterterrorism analysts as a worrisome indication of the expanding appeal of a group known as the Islamic State that has overwhelmed military forces in the region and may now see itself in direct conflict with the United States.

“Small groups from a number of al-Qaeda affiliates have defected to ISIS,” as the group is also known, said a U.S. official with access to classified intelligence assessments. “And this problem will probably become more acute as ISIS continues to rack up victories.”

The influx has strengthened an organization already regarded as a menacing force in the Middle East, one that has toppled a series of Iraqi cities by launching assaults so quickly and in so many directions that security forces caught in the group’s path have so far been unable to respond with anything but retreat.

U.S. officials attribute the Islamic State’s rapid emergence to factors both psychological and tactical. Its core group of fighters honed their skills against the armies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the United States when it occupied Iraq. The group has used raids and ransoms to stockpile weapons and cash. And its merciless reputation triggered rampant defections among Sunni members of Iraq’s security forces already disenchanted with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Even before its assault on Kurdish territories in northern Iraq this month, analysts said the Islamic State had shown an almost impulsive character in its pursuit of territory and recruits, with little patience for the elaborate and often time-consuming terror plots favored by al-Qaeda.

Counterterrorism analysts at the CIA and other agencies have so far seen no indication that an entire al-Qaeda node or any of its senior leaders are prepared to switch sides. But officials said they have begun watching for signs of such a development.

The launching of U.S. airstrikes has raised new questions, including whether the bombings will hurt the Islamic State’s ability to draw recruits or elevate its status among jihadists. “Does that increase the spigot or close it?” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity and noted that U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere have crippled al-Qaeda but also served as rallying cries against the United States.

Longer-term, U.S. officials expressed concern that the Islamic State, which so far has been focused predominantly on its goal of reestablishing an Islamic caliphate, may now place greater emphasis on carrying out attacks against the United States and its allies.

President Obama was careful to depict the strikes as part of a humanitarian mission to protect endangered Iraqis, including members of a Christian sect, encircled with scant supplies on a northern Iraq mountaintop. Obama also referred to the presence of U.S. personnel in the region and stopped short of authorizing a broader assault against the Islamic State.

Still, the strikes triggered widespread calls for retaliation among militant groups online. A prominent figure on a well-known jihadist forum, Shumukh al-Islam, wrote Friday that the airstrikes should prompt fighters to unite against the United States.

“The mujahideen must strike and seek to execute proactive operations in their own home, America, to discipline America and its criminal soldiers,” the jihadist, Abu al-Ayna al-Khorasani, wrote, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant postings.

U.S. officials said the defections to the Islamic State have come primarily from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based group that has launched several bombing plots targeting the United States, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which had seized territory in northern Mali before facing strikes carried out by France last year.

“It’s not to the point where it’s causing splintering within the affiliates,” said the senior U.S. counterterrorism official. But the defections have accelerated in recent months, officials said, and also involve fighters from groups in Libya and elsewhere that are not formally part of al-Qaeda.

U.S. officials estimate that the Islamic State has as many as 10,000 fighters, including 3,000 to 5,000 from countries beyond its base in Iraq and Syria. Its ranks have swelled with the emergence of the civil war in Syria — a country relatively easy to reach from both in the Middle East and Europe — as a larger magnet for jihadis than Afghanistan or Iraq were. The group has also attracted critical support from disenfranchised Sunni residents in Mosul and other Iraqi cities, civilians who have lost patience with the government of Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki but may not embrace the hard-line agenda of the Islamic State.

The group has not been linked to any known plot against the United States, but Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. testified in January that the group “does have aspirations for attacks on the homeland.”

U.S. officials have said about 100 Americans have either traveled to Syria or tried to. Among them was a former Florida resident, Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who returned undetected to the United States for several months this year before departing again for Syria and detonating a suicide bomb. Abusalha was not tied to the Islamic State, but officials believe that as many as a dozen Americans have linked up with the group.

The Islamic State traces its origin to al-Qaeda in Iraq but broke from the terrorist network this year after being criticized for its tactics — including the slaughter of civilians — and refusing instructions to cede the fight in Syria to a separate al-Qaeda ally known as al-Nusra.

Since then, the Islamic State has amassed arms, cash, fighters and territory at a breathtaking rate. In July, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, took the pulpit at the largest mosque in Mosul, declaring himself the “caliph” of the Muslim world and urging followers to flock to his organization.

In doing so, Baghdadi fulfilled an ambition articulated by his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2006. It also marked a significant departure from the al-Qaeda playbook.

Al-Qaeda’s commander in Yemen, Nasir al Wuhayshi, has written letters to subordinates cautioning against prematurely declaring Islamic rule even in small villages — in part out of fear that failing to hold territory or enforce Islamic law would lead the group to lose face with the local population.

Baghdadi’s lack of restraint appears to have expanded his appeal, according to U.S. officials who said the group’s expanding territory, aggressive reputation and roster of experienced fighters account for its momentum.

“They are demonstrating just how advantageous it is to a ­terrorist-insurgent group to be fighting in the field for years and years as they have been in Iraq and Syria,” said Daniel Benjamin, a professor at Dartmouth University who previously served as the top counterterrorism official at the State Department.

“Their skill at maneuver is really kind of extraordinary compared to groups you would compare them to,” including al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Yemen and Mali, Benjamin said. “They are not constrained by that fear of failure other al-Qaeda groups have shown,” he added, or the group’s tendency to “spend years preparing single attacks.”

Whites to be in minority at schools

From The Washington Post:

For the first time, U.S. public schools are projected this fall to have more minority students than non-Hispanic whites, a shift largely fueled by growth in the number of Hispanic children.

Non-Hispanic white students are still expected to be the largest racial group in the public schools this year at 49.8 percent. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, minority students, when added together, will now make up the majority.

About one-quarter of the minority students are Hispanic, 15 percent are black and 5 percent are Asian and Pacific Islanders. Biracial students and Native Americans make up an even smaller share of the minority student population.

The shift brings new academic realities, such as the need for more English language instruction, and cultural ones, such as changing school lunch menus to reflect students’ tastes. But it also brings up some complex societal questions that often fall to school systems to address, including issues of immigration, poverty, diversity and inequity.

Unlike previous midterm election years, no dominant theme has emerged for 2014

From The Washington Post:

This is an election about nothing — and everything. Unlike in previous midterm election years, no dominant national theme has emerged for the 2014 campaign, according to public opinion surveys as well as interviews last week with scores of voters in five key states and with dozens of politicians and party strategists.

Even without a single salient issue, a heavy cloud of economic anxiety and general unease is hanging over the fiercely partisan debate. Listening to voters, you hear a downbeat tone to everything political — the nation’s economy, infrastructure and schools; the crises flaring around the world; the evolving culture wars at home; immigration laws; President Obama and other elected leaders in Washington.

Over the past 20 years, every midterm election has had a driving theme. In 1994, Newt Gingrich led Republicans to power in a backlash against President Clinton’s domestic agenda. In 1998, it was a rebuke to Republicans for their drive to impeach Clinton. Terrorism motivated voters in 2002, while anger over the Iraq war propelled Democratic gains in 2006. And 2010 turned into an indictment of Obama’s economic stewardship and, for many, his health-care plan.

As long as it has been polling, Gallup has asked voters to state their “most important problem.” For the first midterm cycle since 1998, no single issue registers with more than 20 percent of voters. Immigration was the top concern for 17 percent of those Gallup surveyed in July, while 16 percent said government dissatisfaction and 15 percent the economy.

The result could be an especially unpredictable final 12 weeks of the campaign. With voter turnout expected to be low and several big races virtually tied, campaigns everywhere are searching for pressure points — by taking advantage of news events or colorful and, at times, highly parochial issues — to motivate their base voters to go to the polls.

Democrats, who are eager to drive African Americans to the polls, have been sounding the alarm over threats to impeach Obama, even though Republican House leaders insist that is not a real possibility.

The lack of a dominant issue also means that campaigns could be more susceptible than in other years to events this fall. Republicans believe, for instance, that if Obama signs an executive order granting legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, as White House officials have indicated he might, it will create a huge backlash against Democrats.

And after a summer dominated by problems around the globe — a downed plane in Ukraine, war in the Middle East and the return of U.S. bombs in Iraq — continued trouble abroad could further dampen support for the president and his party.

There is hope in the uncertainty for both parties. Democrats believe they have an opening to use wedge issues, such as same-sex marriage, access to birth control and abortion, to rally opposition against Republicans. Republicans, meanwhile, see the potential to expand their opportunities and turn what they expect to be a good year into a great one.

Democrats believe the question that drove voters in 2012 will do so again this fall: Which party is on your side? Democratic candidates are using a more populist pitch than in previous years, touting such proposals as increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and pay equity for women.

“It’s about the fight for working-class and middle-class people contrasted with a fight by Republicans for those at the top,” said Joel Benenson, who served as Obama’s campaign pollster.

The party’s rhetoric about the growing divide between the rich and the poor has become more strident. Even in Republican-leaning states, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a liberal who talks tough about Wall Street, has emerged as a popular surrogate this summer.

Candidates are grappling with voters’ deeply rooted disgust with politicians and apathy toward affairs in Washington. Republicans are banking on voters placing blame squarely on Obama.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that 51 percent of all Americans disapprove of the job that their own member of Congress is doing — a record high in a quarter century of Post-ABC polling on this question.

Neil Newhouse, Mitt Romney’s pollster during the 2012 campaign, warned that Republicans should not see the president’s sagging summer poll numbers as evidence of sure disaster for Democrats.

“Republicans made this mistake two years ago when Democrats managed to get voters to the [polls] who were not enthusiastic and lukewarm toward the president,” he said. “Republicans are reading the tea leaves a little too early.”

“A couple years ago in a presidential debate, Governor [Mitt] Romney said Russia was our biggest threat coming up in the future and the president kind of laughed it off and the media kind of laughed it off,” Atwood said.

“I’m on the Intelligence Committee, so I can’t tell you everything,” a smiling Warner replied, winning laughs from the crowd. “Obama isn’t the first president hoodwinked by Putin,” Warner added, offering an impersonation of former President George W. Bush’s comment about looking into Putin’s eyes to get “a sense of his soul.”

A large share of those spots have been focused on the Affordable Care Act. In the first four months of the year, 35 percent of broadcast and national cable TV ads in Senate races took aim at the health-care overhaul, according to data analyzed by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Yet polls suggest relatively few voters have cited their opposition to the law as their animating issue.

“It’s really remarkable that six months ago, it was all about Obamacare,” said William J. Bennett, a former Reagan administration official who hosts a talk show on conservative radio. “Nine out of 10 calls we’d get, if we asked people about their biggest problem, it was Obamacare. Now we can go a week without talking about it on the program.”

In interviews across North Carolina, voters frequently praised the Affordable Care Act. Anna McAllister, a Republican-leaning independent, said the new law has made her reconsider her view of Obama.

“I still don’t think he’s my favorite,” McAllister said of the president, “but it’s helped.”

Nevertheless, discontent with the president suffused nearly every conversation with dozens of voters in North Carolina, which Obama won in 2008 and lost in 2012.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Iraq's Yazidis, minority religious sect in northern Iraq, flees approach of militants ISIS

From The Wall Street Journal:

Linked to Zoroastrianism and rooted in beliefs in the oneness of good and evil, the Yazidi faith is sometimes regarded as unusual or heretical, leading to a history of repeated persecutions, Mr. Lazheen said. Yazidis are so used to having to pick up and flee, he said, that they don't record their religion or sacred texts in writing but spread them through song and chant.

The Islamic State considers Yazidis to be devil worshippers. As with Christians across northern Iraq, the Islamist militants swept into the Yazidis' towns and gave them stark ultimatums: Convert to Islam or be killed. Hundreds of Yazidi women across Sinjar were captured as "war booty" as they attempted to flee, displaced residents said. No one had information on those women's circumstances.

Steven Brill writes: "In the deep-red, Bluegrass state, the Affordable Care Act is an unlikely hit. Just don’t call it by that name." - Obamacare is a massive new government income-redistribution program providing health insurance, through subsidies and the expansion of Medicaid, to millions of people who could not otherwise afford it. Across the country, 87% of all those who bought insurance on the exchanges got subsidies, while everyone who got added to the Medicaid rolls got coverage for free.

Steven Brill, who a year ago wrote Time’s special report “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” is writing a book about the business and politics of health care, to be published this year by Random House

Steven Brill writes in Time:

Obama’s Legacy or Albatross?

Across the country, however, polls continue to show that more people disapprove of Obamacare than approve of it. The difference in Kentucky is not just about a website that functioned well from the start.

[Kentucky Governor Steven] Beshear and his team did a smarter job setting expectations and anticipating hurdles. For example, they were unafraid to acknowledge how complicated buying health insurance would be for consumers, let alone consumers buying it for the first time. Rather than tout, as the President did, that logging on to Kynect would be as simple as buying an airplane ticket online, the Kentucky team prepared from the start to guide people through the complicated process of buying insurance, especially for the first time.

They took full advantage of federal funds available to deploy specially trained assistants–those Kynectors, like the ones who helped the Browns–at all enrollment centers to guide consumers through the process. And unlike the federal exchange, they included on their website a tool for people to search for insurance agents who could help them enroll (and be paid by the insurance companies for doing so). In fact, 44% of the Kentucky enrollees on the exchange used an agent.

More important, Beshear’s basic sales pitch was better because, unlike Obama, the Kentucky governor was unafraid to highlight what Obamacare really is: a massive new government income-redistribution program providing health insurance, through subsidies and the expansion of Medicaid, to millions of people . . . who could not otherwise afford it.

Across the country, 87% of all those who bought insurance on the exchanges got subsidies, while everyone who got added to the Medicaid rolls got coverage for free.

Enroll America, a nonprofit organized by Obamacare advocates to encourage people to enroll nationally, reported that many people did not even know that generous subsidies were available to help pay for premiums. Enrollment would have been even higher, the report concluded, if officials had done more to highlight the subsidies and emphasize the low cost of getting coverage.

Of course, in a political climate where anything that smacks of income redistribution is a liability, that was something the Obama team was not likely to do. Beshear–whose state is so disproportionately poor that 80% of the people coming to Kynect got Medicaid–had no such compunctions.

That also may explain why, while Obamacare may not help McConnell or hurt Grimes, it is not likely to generate the same kind of partisan loyalty for Obama and Democrats generally that Medicare and Social Security did. Unlike those two entitlement programs, which are for everyone, Obamacare is a program for the uninsured and the underinsured. That’s a minority of Americans, maybe 25%. Everyone else gets health insurance from their employers, is protected by Medicare or was poor enough to qualify for Medicaid before the law expanded it.

Border crisis exposes dilemma for Republicans as it energizes conservatives

From The Washington Post:

As lawmakers returned home to begin a month-long summer recess this week and prepare for the final stretch of a competitive mid-term campaign, the debate over how to handle the recent influx of Central American children and families across the southern border has pushed immigration back to the national political forefront and presented a sharp conundrum for Republicans.

The crisis has empowered conservatives, whose more restrictionist views on the crisis and the broader issue of dealing with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country have taken precedence in the party. House Republicans are pushing for more deportations, and several of the party’s prospective 2016 White House contenders are moving to align themselves with the GOP’s pro-enforcement wing.

The tough rhetoric can help Republicans with their goal of making the mid-terms a referendum on Obama’s leadership in their bid to win the Senate. And it helps aspiring presidential candidates as they seek early support among conservatives who will be important in deciding the nomination.

But the strategy runs counter to the party’s announcement — after losing the presidential race two years ago — that its future depends largely on broadening its appeal to minority groups and that its viability as a national force in 2016 and beyond depends on making inroads with Latinos, one of the fastest-growing voting blocs.

Last week, the GOP-led House voted to authorize millions of federal dollars to send National Guard troops to the border to stem the influx of minors from Central America, moved to overturn an anti-trafficking law meant to protect the children and voted to end an Obama administration program that has postponed the deportations of more than half a million young immigrants.

The moves by the Republicans were met with outrage among immigrant rights groups, but GOP lawmakers touted their actions as a response to a border fiasco of Obama’s making and a bid to present the White House’s potential executive action on immigration as an unconstitutional power play.

House leaders had already decided this summer to abandon efforts to pursue broader legislation — a decision that prompted the White House to lay the groundwork for executive action that some advocates say could defer deportations of up to 5 million immigrants.

[Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.)] recent comments reflect a rightward tilt among several of the party’s presidential candidates, particularly those who, like Paul, have sounded a more centrist tone in the past.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), for instance, announced plans to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, calling the Obama administration’s response to the current crisis inadequate. Perry was criticized by conservatives during his failed 2012 presidential bid for backing in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants.

Another potential White House contender, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), was among the Senate group that authored the bipartisan immigration legislation passed by the chamber last year. But amid fierce opposition from conservatives, who called the bill an unfair amnesty for illegal immigrants, Rubio has focused his message heavily over the past year on border enforcement.

Why Lamar Alexander’s vote for immigration reform didn’t sink him

From The Washington Post:

Sen. Lamar Alexander voted for comprehensive immigration reform. And he lived to tell the tale.

The Tennessee Republican easily won his primary Tuesday against a conservative insurgent who sought to bury him over his vote -- a candidate who was backed by the same forces that helped topple Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), including conservative radio host and immigration hardliner Laura Ingraham.

His survival is a testament to an emerging political reality: Republicans who support reform can survive the conservative backlash. It was also another demonstration of how much immigration has been overshadowed on the trail by other issues -- in Tennessee, by health care and the economy.

Alexander is one of three Republican senators who voted for this session's sweeping reform bill, which included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, then faced re-election this year. The other two -- Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Susan Collins (Maine) -- also skated to primary wins and avoided extended bouts over their votes. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), another reform advocate, also won.

A big part of why Alexander didn't fall victim to immigration broadsides has to do with the contours of Tennessee politics: Immigration is simply not the decisive issue there, experts say.

A Vanderbilt poll released in May showed 68 percent of Tennessee voters said illegal immigrants working in the United States should be allowed to stay, either as guests or eventual citizens.

The poll was taken before the surge of young immigrants on the Southwest border became a huge national story. But it provides a snapshot of the state's feelings under normal circumstances.

Alexander's team said he was rarely asked about immigration on the campaign trail. "People for the most part are blaming the president. They are not buying the line that unpassed law is responsible for the border crisis," said Alexander spokesman Jim Jeffries.

The Senate bill Alexander voted for was crafted by a bipartisan "Gang of Eight." Lawmakers who spearheaded the legislation always viewed winning the support of both parties as key to getting the bill passed. That spirit of collaboration is seen as political asset in Tennessee, observers say.

Throughout the campaign, Alexander, a Senate dealmaker with relationships across the partisan divide, resisted running on a deeply conservative platform and matching Carr's combative pitch. Instead, he touted his high ratings from the National Rifle Association and antiabortion groups, but did so without changing his low-key persona. He also called on actor Fred Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, to cut an ad for him.

Alexander’s campaign playbook echoes the example of his political mentor, former Senate majority leader Howard H Baker Jr., who passed away in June. Baker, who was known for his ability to find consensus, hired Alexander as an aide in the late 1960s.

Even at a time of sharp polarization nationally, the spirit of Baker's willingness to work with the other side, embodied by Alexander, is alive and well in Volunteer State politics.

"Alexander, [Sen. Bob] Corker, [Gov.] Bill Haslam -- they are all out of the Howard Baker mold," said Geer.

In the campaign, Alexander touted his efforts to resist the president on health care -- an issue that has consistently animated conservatives. That helped combat the perception that he's been to cozy with Democrats. Meanwhile, his first ad cast him as a "problem solver" and mentioned his efforts to bring the auto industry into the state, allowing him to tap into the voter concerns over the economy.

His success was helped along by Carr's shortcomings as a candidate. National tea party groups never embraced him, seeing little or none of the natural talents that propelled previous tea party stars like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

College professor Dave Brat's playbook against Cantor was similar to Carr's. He focused heavily on Cantor's support for immigration reform. He was an underdog who national tea party leaders declined to support. Ingraham campaigned for both men.

But Cantor's loss was more the result of a perfect storm of immigration and other factors. He lost touch with the district, elevated Brat's profile and fell victim to a populist nerve Brat struck. It all happened in the smaller and more volatile universe of a congressional district, not a statewide campaign.

In an interview on Wednesday, Ingraham acknowledged the limits of her surrogacy and cautioned not to read too much into primary outcomes.

"My show airs on six stations in Tennessee," she said. "I’ve given [Brat] a bigger platform to speak from and I think that has helped him. But I’m not the candidate. I’m concerned about the future of the country and believe the establishment is misreading the pulse of the electorate. Just because John Boehner or Lindsey Graham survive primaries doesn’t mean people think things are going well.”

But primary wins and losses -- specifically, fears of the latter -- have been one of the biggest factors fueling House Republicans' hesitation to take up immigration reform. The success of Alexander, Graham, Collins and Ellmers could be just the evidence pro-reform Republicans have been desperately searching for to coax House leaders into action.

Frustration over stalled immigration action doesn’t mean Obama can act unilaterally

Editorial from The Washington Post:

STYMIED BY congressional paralysis, President Obama is reportedly considering unilateral action to address — though surely not fix — the nation’s immigration policy mess and the more recent surge of minors streaming across the southwestern border.

The president’s frustration is understandable. Faced with a genuine humanitarian crisis, Congress’s failure to pass a workable fix is unconscionable. In the Republican-controlled House, the GOP bowed to its most extreme lawmakers in passing measures that have zero chance of becoming law — and would have paved the way for deportations of blameless young people raised in this country after being brought here by their undocumented parents. In the Senate, the intransigence of both parties yielded no bill at all.

Obstinate, hopelessly partisan and incapable of problem-solving, Congress is a mess. But that doesn’t grant the president license to tear up the Constitution. As Mr. Obama himself said last fall: “If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws.” To act on his own, the president said, would violate those laws.

Mr. Obama now seems to be jettisoning that stance in the name of rallying his political base. He is considering extending temporary protection from deportation to millions of illegal immigrants, including the parents of U.S.-born children and others who have lived in the United States for years. Conceivably, this would give Democrats a political boost in 2016. Just as conceivably, it would trigger a constitutional showdown with congressional Republicans, who could make a cogent argument that Mr. Obama had overstepped his authority.

The president should think twice. Some of the same Democrats and pro-immigrant advocates urging him to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation would be outraged if a Republican president took a similarly selective approach to enforcing the laws — say, those that guarantee voting rights or prohibit employment discrimination. Mr. Obama’s instincts — “we’re also a nation of laws” — were and remain correct.

Even without congressional action, the president can do certain things to ease the immigration crisis. He can ensure that the tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children who have streamed into the country are treated humanely and accorded due process in the immigration courts under existing law.

He can push ahead with a plan under review to screen such children in Honduras — where many come from — so they don’t risk their lives crossing Mexico to reach the United States.

And as long as Congress fails to provide sufficient funds to cope with the flood of underage kids, the president can transfer enforcement resources to the border from the interior.

Mr. Obama’s own vacillations have not helped cope with the crisis. He was right to identify a 2008 anti-trafficking law as a key source of the problem. Inadvertently, that law has encouraged thousands of Central American children to try to reach the United States by granting them access to immigration courts that Mexican kids don’t enjoy; the effect has been months-long backups in the courts. Initially, the president said he would propose changes to the law to hasten deportations. Faced with opposition from Democrats, he backed down days later.

The right response to the collapse of the U.S. immigration system is for Congress to fix the law. The House had a vehicle to do just that by taking up the legislation passed by the Senate last year. But it does not follow that Congress can be ignored based on its failure to act. The right response to lawmakers who won’t solve the immigration mess is to replace them with ones who will.

Alexander's Win Keeps Senate Incumbents' Record Perfect - Twenty Senators From Both Parties Have Won in Primaries So Far This Year, None Have Lost

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—With most of the year's competitive Senate primaries now over, here's one way to score it so far: Incumbents, 20; Challengers, 0.

The results have underscored the strong advantages and durability that incumbents carry into elections. The latest example came Thursday, as Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee overcame several challengers to win his Republican primary election.

His win, combined with that of Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) earlier this week, means no Senate Republican incumbent will lose a fight for renomination this year, a first since 2008.

For Obama, Iraq Move Is a Policy Reversal - President Was Early Opponent of Iraq War and Made a Campaign Pledge to End It

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama stepped in front of the cameras on Thursday to utter words he hoped he would never say as commander in chief.

"I've therefore authorized targeted airstrikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq," Mr. Obama said in a statement from the White House. "Today America is coming to help."

The return to military engagement in Iraq is a reversal for Mr. Obama, whose early opposition to the war that toppled Saddam Hussein, and his promise to end it, fueled his long-shot campaign for the White House.

It also puts a spotlight on what has become a familiar feature of the Obama presidency, in which the leader of the most powerful military in the world has become defined by his reluctance to use it.
 
The last time Mr. Obama authorized military strikes was in Libya in March 2011. Even then, with the U.S. leading a coalition of nations, he showed himself to be a reluctant warrior.
Just as Mr. Obama touted the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq during his re-election campaign, White House officials initially pointed to the intervention in Libya as a model for the kinds of coalitions that could sustain a military intervention. A recent surge in violence there has quieted that view.
 
In every military decision Mr. Obama has faced since taking office, people in the room say the burden of proof lies heavily with officials advocating the use of force. Mr. Obama pulled back at the last minute on U.S. military strikes against Syria last summer in response to President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons, a move he previously said would cross a "red line."
 
Repercussions from that decision have rippled across the globe. U.S. allies have questioned whether the U.S. would continue to back them, and the president since has had to personally reassure leaders from Europe to the Middle East and Asia as to America's steadfastness.
 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Surprise: Fewer Uninsured Face Fines as Health Law's Exemptions Swell - Almost 90% of Uninsured Won't Pay Penalty Under the Affordable Care Act in 2016

In a post I will do in a day or so Steven Brill notes what we always knew (and Obama sold as a way to help cut deficit rather than being truthful):  Obamacare really is a massive new government income-redistribution program providing health insurance, through subsidies and the expansion of Medicaid, to millions of people who could not otherwise afford it.  He also notes that across the country, 87% of all those who bought insurance on the exchanges got subsidies, while everyone who got added to the Medicaid rolls got coverage for free.

And as legislating from the White House, below is more of the same.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Almost 90% of the nation's 30 million uninsured won't pay a penalty under the Affordable Care Act in 2016 because of a growing batch of exemptions to the health-coverage requirement.

The architects of the health law wanted most Americans to carry insurance or pay a penalty. But an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation said most of the uninsured will qualify for one or more exemptions.

Daphne Gaines expects to be one of them. She said recently she got an electricity shut-off notice, which is one way Americans can get out of paying a fine. "I don't think I should have to pay any penalty," said Ms. Gaines, 52 years old, of Jasper, Ala., who works part time at a church preschool and a drug-recovery clinic.

The Obama administration has provided 14 ways people can avoid the fine based on hardships, including suffering domestic violence, experiencing substantial property damage from a fire or flood, and having a canceled insurance plan. Those come on top of exemptions carved out under the 2010 law for groups including illegal immigrants, members of Native American tribes and certain religious sects.
 
The exemptions are worrying insurers. The penalties were intended as a cudgel to increase the number of people signing up, thereby maximizing the pool of insured. Insurers are concerned that the exemptions could make it easier for younger, healthier people to forgo coverage, leaving the pools overly filled with old people or those with health problems. That, in turn, could cause premiums to rise.
 
The Obama administration argued before the Supreme Court in 2012 that the individual mandate was an essential component of the law's insurance-market changes, and the court narrowly upheld it on the grounds it is a tax. Now, Republicans who oppose the law say the administration has undermined that requirement with the exemptions and should waive the mandate entirely.
 
"If your pajamas don't fit well, you don't need health insurance," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and president of the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. "It basically waives the individual mandate."

Gaza Tension Stoked by Unlikely Alliance Between Israel and Egypt - Strategy of Squeezing Hamas Was Effective, but Helped Lead to Open Warfare, Officials Believe

From The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. encouraged Israel and Egypt to forge a close security partnership. What Washington never anticipated was that the two countries would come to trust each other more than the Americans, who would watch events in Gaza unfold largely from the sidelines as the Israelis and the Egyptians planned out their next steps.

The seeds of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict were sown in 2012, when Hamas broke ranks with longtime allies Syria, Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah and threw its support behind the rebels fighting to unseat President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war.
 
Hamas, which ruled Gaza for the past seven years, came to rely on cash supplied by Qatar transferred through Egypt, with the assent of Mr. Morsi, and on revenue from smuggling goods through tunnels reaching into Egypt. As long as Hamas controlled cross-border attacks, Israel tolerated the Islamist movement at its southern doorstep, Israeli officials said.
 
That pressure got dialed up when Mr. Morsi was deposed and Mr. Sisi rose to power. Israeli officials knew Egypt was as committed as they were to reining in Hamas when Mr. Sisi sent word earlier this year that his forces had completely destroyed 95% of the tunnels under Egypt's border with Gaza.
 
The revelation that Hamas was equally abhorrent to Mr. Sisi as it was to the Israeli government spurred efforts to reward him. Israel used its clout in Washington to lobby the Obama administration and Congress on his behalf, in particular arguing against a U.S. decision to cut off military aid to Egypt, Israeli officials said.
Mr. Sisi followed Israel's lobbying effort closely and was appreciative, the Israeli official said.
 
Cooperation with Israel is highly sensitive in Egypt and Egyptian officials declined to discuss in detail the partnership between the neighbors against Hamas.
 
In Gaza, there was shock at the events unfolding in Cairo.
 
Under the protective umbrella of Mr. Morsi's Islamist-led government, Hamas had imported large quantities of arms from Libya and Sudan, as well as money to pay the salaries of government officials and members of their armed wing, Israeli and U.S. officials said. His successor abruptly changed that.
 
"One day we had been sitting having great conversations with Morsi and his government and then suddenly, the door was shut," Ghazi Hamad, Hamas's deputy foreign minister, said in an interview last month.
 
Yet when Mr. Sisi closed nearly all of the tunnels along Egypt's border with Gaza but didn't compensate for the loss of those avenues by allowing the passage above ground of needed supplies, some Israeli officials said they privately began to raise alarm bells about the severity of Cairo's decisions.
 
"They actually were suffocating Gaza too much," one Israeli official said.
 
In Gaza, the situation grew desperate.
 
At the start of the year, Hamas realized that Egypt's campaign to destroy the tunnels was edging it toward bankruptcy.
 
In April, Hamas abruptly agreed to form a government of technocrats under Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, reconciling with the group that governed the West Bank after years of rivalry.
 
The growing dangers about Hamas's precarious position were flagged to Washington by the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, Michael Ratney. He saw the pressures building in the spring and concluded that Hamas was in desperate straits, unable to pay salaries to its 40,000 government workers in Gaza, and was now reaching out to the Palestinian Authority to try to relieve the pressure.
 
Mr. Abbas privately told diplomats afterward that he never expected Hamas to agree to the unity deal.
 
Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader in Gaza, said the group's inability to cover its monthly payroll forced it to reach out to the Palestinian Authority and Qatar, which pledged $60 million for three months. But U.S. and Israeli officials said Arab banks wouldn't make the transfer.
 
At the height of Hamas's distress, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in the West Bank in June and subsequently found dead. Israel quickly concluded that Hamas was responsible and rounded up its activists in the West Bank, infuriating the group's armed wing in Gaza.
 
After the abduction, which U.S. officials believe was carried out by Hamas members without the approval of their leaders in Gaza, Israeli intelligence officials warned policy makers that "overly pressuring Hamas will lead to a conflagration," according to another senior Israeli official.
 
Palestinian officials told diplomats they were making a last-ditch effort to get the money for salaries to Gaza, believing that doing so might help defuse tensions but nothing came of it, diplomats said.
 
Rocket fire from Gaza escalated, and Israel began to respond with airstrikes.
 
U.S. officials, who tried to intervene in the initial days after the conflict broke out on July 8 to try to find a negotiated solution, soon realized that Mr. Netanyahu's office wanted to run the show with Egypt and to keep the Americans at a distance, according to U.S., European and Israeli officials.
 
The Americans, in turn, felt betrayed by what they saw as a series of "mean spirited" leaks, which they interpreted as a message from Mr. Netanyahu that U.S. involvement was neither welcomed nor needed.
 
Reflecting Egypt's importance, Mr. Gilad and other officials took Mr. Sisi's "temperature" every day during the war to make sure he was comfortable with the military operation as it intensified. Israeli officials knew television pictures of dead Palestinians would at some point bring Cairo to urge Israel to stop.
 
"We knew we could not do something that went beyond what they could digest," a senior Israeli official said of the Egyptians. Egypt's view mattered more than America's, Israeli officials said.
 
When a tentative deal finally came together in Cairo to stop the fighting, Washington found itself outside looking in on the Israeli-Egyptian partnership once again.
 
The Obama administration knew from Palestinian contacts earlier this week that representatives of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians were working on a new cease-fire proposal but didn't know details because they were left largely out of the discussions.
 
Key American officials said they first heard about the breakthrough from Twitter and the media, rather than from their Israeli or Egyptian counterparts.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

President Carter to Gov. Deal: All right, Governor, you need say no more about it. I'll take over now and finish young Jason off for you . .

Jim Galloway writes in the AJC's Political Insider:
 
Given that we dinged Gov. Nathan Deal for coming close to labeling Jimmy Carter as an anti-Semite, it’s only fair to note that anything the former president says or does at this point can reflect on grandson Jason Carter’s Democratic campaign for governor.

That includes these paragraphs from a Foreign Policy article that Jimmy Carter has co-authored with Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland – and a former U.N. high commissioner for human rights. From the pair:
There is no humane or legal justification for the way the Israeli Defense Forces are conducting this war. Israeli bombs, missiles, and artillery have pulverized large parts of Gaza, including thousands of homes, schools, and hospitals. More than 250,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinian noncombatants have been killed. Much of Gaza has lost access to water and electricity completely. This is a humanitarian catastrophe.
There is never an excuse for deliberate attacks on civilians in conflict. These are war crimes. This is true for both sides. Hamas’s indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians is equally unacceptable. However, three Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets, while an overwhelming majority of the 1,600 Palestinians killed have been civilians, including more than 330 children. The need for international judicial proceedings to investigate and end these violations of international law should be taken very seriously.
Then there’s this paragraph toward the end of the piece:
Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognizing its legitimacy as a political actor — one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people — can the West begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons. Ever since the internationally monitored 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine, the West’s approach has manifestly contributed to the opposite result.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Republicans’ increasing reliance on white voters may not spell electoral doom just yet

Chris Cillizza writes in The Washington Post:

It’s a widely accepted idea that Republicans are sitting on a demographic time bomb: The GOP is getting whiter and whiter in terms of the voters it attracts even as the country is growing increasingly diverse.

Marisa Abrajano, an associate professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, doesn’t dispute that basic notion in a new study of the electorate. But she does suggest that the time bomb may well have a very long fuse — and that in the time before it explodes, Republicans could actually benefit electorally from a consolidation of the white vote.

“Given that whites still make up about three-quarters of the voters in the nation and will likely be the clear majority for decades to come, there is every reason to believe that whites will have a real say in who governs,” writes Abrajano in “Will Immigration Spark a White Backlash in America?” “Indeed the white population’s growing allegiance to the Republican Party points to a very different short term future — one that might more likely be highlighted by Republican victory than by Democratic dominance.”

As the title of Abrajano’s study suggests, she ties these demographic shifts closely to the ongoing debate over immigration — and, specifically, what to do about undocumented immigrants — and the effects on our politics.

That’s a particularly relevant conversation at the moment, given the crisis of undocumented children flooding the country’s southern border and the recently concluded debate over how much federal money to devote to solving that problem.

Republicans in Congress — particularly the House — have been resistant to passing any sort of broad-scale immigration reform legislation or, of late, dedicating the billions of dollars sought by President Obama to address the problems at the border.

That resistance — which conservatives in the House insist is based on a desire to see the border secured before the topic of what to do with the 11 million people here illegally can be debated — has led to significant handwringing among the party’s strategist class, which worries that the Republicans’ policies make them look unwelcoming to Hispanics.

Those fears were at least partly realized in the 2012 election. Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, down from John McCain’s 31 percent in 2008 and far from the 40 percent that George W. Bush won in 2004. Just one in every 10 people who voted for Romney was not white; more than four in 10 Obama voters were non-white.

Those numbers were particularly frightening for Republicans because the white vote comprised just 72 percent of the overall electorate in 2012 — the lowest mark in modern presidential history.

Abrajano suggests that a much more overlooked number from the 2012 election might be more telling in terms of how immigration — and the policies the two parties propose to address it — will affect elections in the near term. That number is 20 — the percentage-point margin by which Romney beat Obama among white voters.

That was the second-largest margin among white voters for a Republican presidential nominee in three decades. (Only Ronald Reagan in 1984 won the white vote by a larger margin, and the Gipper did that in an election in which he was carrying 49 states against Walter Mondale.)

“In 1980 white Democrats dominated white Republicans numerically,” Abrajano argues. “As immigration’s impact on America has grown, whites have fled to the Republican party in ever larger numbers. The end result is that the principal partisan choice of white America has been totally reversed.”
In essence, she argues, the prominence of immigrants and immigration issues as well as the two parties’ varying responses to those issues have made it increasingly likely that the white vote will continue to consolidate behind Republican candidates in the near to mid-term.

The past two elections suggest that Abrajano may be on to something. Not only did Romney hit a near-historic high in the white vote in 2012, but Republicans won the white vote in the 2010 midterms by 23 points — a massive margin considering that whites comprised 77 percent of the overall electorate.

The coming 2014 midterms will put Abrajano’s theory to the test again. Over the past two years, House Republicans have failed to act on a comprehensive immigration reform package passed by the Senate and, most recently, have engaged in an extended contretemps about how much money to allocate to the border crisis. The lines between the two parties have grown even starker on immigration. Under Abrajano’s hypothesis, this should drive the white vote even more heavily for Republicans in 2014 as the party is increasingly seen as the home for those concerned about immigration and its effects on society.

What neither Abrajano nor almost any other right-minded political scientist or analyst is arguing is that over the long term the whitening of the Republican Party is a good thing, electorally speaking, for the GOP. Instead, Abrajano is suggesting that with Hispanics still voting in dramatically lower numbers than their share of the population, Republicans’ increasing reliance on white voters may not equal electoral doom. At least not yet.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Perry Says Secure Borders Needed to Protect Against Terrorists, Criminals

From The Wall Street Journal:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry Sunday said the debate over how to handle the surge of unaccompanied children into the U.S. from Central America is distracting attention from the more important issue of protecting Americans from the entry of common criminals and terrorists.

“What we are substantially more concerned about in the state of Texas, and I would suggest to you across this country” are people “coming into the U.S. illegally and committing substantial crimes,” Mr. Perry said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Last month, the Republican governor announced plans to deploy as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to the state’s border with Mexico, at an initial cost of $38 million. “The people of the state Texas will feel that at least the leadership in the state of Texas is doing something to try to make their community safer,” Mr. Perry said Sunday.

The governor said that 203,000 people who have crossed the Mexican border since 2008 have ended up in Texas jails. “These individuals are responsible for over 3,000 homicides and 8,000 sexual assaults,” he said, repeating figures he has cited repeatedly in recent weeks. The governor added that there has been a rise in illegal immigration from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria, “countries that have substantial terrorist ties.”

Mr. Perry’s homicide figures have come under scrutiny in recent weeks, but the governor said he stood by the numbers.

Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, echoed the idea of a rising criminal and terrorist threat posed by what he called the nation’s “porous” southern border. “Clearly our enemies understand that it is a weakness,” Mr. Rogers said on CNN. He noted that U.S. authorities in 2011 said they had foiled an Iranian plan to “infiltrate people into the U.S. to kill the Saudi ambassador.”

Long simmering disputes over national immigration policy have returned to the fore recently in response to an influx of immigrants from Central America. Since October, 57,000 unaccompanied children from the region have entered the U.S., fleeing violence in their home countries.

President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to stem the surge of unaccompanied children and their families. The money would fund new detention facilities, more immigration judges to process cases, overtime pay for Border Patrol agents and aid to help Central American countries repatriate the people sent home.

As lawmakers showed no signs of being able to reach an agreement on how to deal with the influx of Central Americans, Mr. Obama Friday said the executive branch would act alone on a bundle of executive actions to help undocumented immigrants.