.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

My Photo
Name:
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.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Will the Supreme Court strike back at Obama’s overreach?

George Will writes in The Washington Post:

During Watergate, Henry Kissinger’s mordant wit leavened the unpleasantness: “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” President Obama often does both simultaneously, using executive authoritarianism to evade the Constitution’s separation of powers and rewrite existing laws.

Last week, however, the Supreme Court took a perhaps-momentous step toward correcting some of the constitutional vandalism that will be Obama’s most significant legacy. The court agreed to rule on Obama’s unilateral revision of immigration law.

Seeking reelection in 2012, Obama stretched the idea of “prosecutorial discretion” — supposedly “on an individual basis” — to cover a delay in efforts to deport more than 1 million persons who were brought to the United States illegally as children. But he said that with this he had reached the limit of his powers: “If we start broadening [this executive action], then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally.”

In 2014, however, he expanded the sweep and protections of that program. His executive fiat would have shielded perhaps 4.5 million illegal immigrant adults with children who are U.S. citizens or lawful residents. His expansion made them eligible to work and receive Social Security retirement and disability benefits, Medicare, the earned-income tax credit, unemployment insurance, driver’s licenses, etc.

Led by Texas, a majority of states (26) asserted standing to sue because of the costs of complying with the new policy. When they won an injunction, the Obama administration appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The administration lost there, too, and then asked the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of Obama’s action. The court should not, and probably will not, rule for the president.
 
The court has asked to be briefed on a matter the administration must be reluctant to address; the Justice Department requested that the court not insert a “constitutional question” into the case. The question the court will consider is: Did Obama’s action violate the “ take care clause ”?

Obama has sworn to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” which says the president shall “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Josh Blackman of the South Texas College of Law in Houston and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington says that only three times has the court relied on the take care clause to limit executive actions, and the justices have never asked for a briefing on this clause.

In their brief, the states argue that “Congress has created a detailed, complex statutory scheme for determining” who qualifies for “lawful presence” in this country. No statute empowers the executive to grant this status to any illegal immigrant it chooses not to deport, let alone to confer “lawful presence” status on a class of many millions.

The states say presidents cannot “change an alien’s statutory immigration classification.” So, Obama is not merely exercising discretion in enforcing the Immigration and Nationality Act. He is altering this act so that previously prohibited conduct no longer violates the act.

Executive overreach has been increasing for decades. For example, although the Troubled Asset Relief Program was for financial institutions, the George W. Bush administration diverted more than $17 billion for auto companies. Obama’s usual justification for his unusually numerous acts of unilateral legislating is that Congress refuses to act on this or that subject. But regarding who qualifies for legal status and for the right to work, Congress has acted with notable specificity. Obama simply wants to grant to millions of people various benefits in violation of Congress’s will as written into law.

For seven years, Obama has treated the take care clause as a mild suggestion. He considers it insignificant compared with his virtuous determination to “work around” Congress to impose his policies regarding immigration, health care, education, contraception, welfare, gun control, environmentalism, gay rights, unauthorized wars and other matters.

Both leading Democratic presidential candidates praise Obama’s radical understanding of the Constitution’s Article II presidential powers. The leading Republican candidate would replace the Constitution’s 7,591 words with the first-person singular pronoun: He promises many unilateral presidential wonders, including a global trade war and a holier national vocabulary: “If I’m president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores.”

But no Obama executive action has yet repealed Article III’s judicial powers. So, come June we will learn whether the judicial branch will do its duty by policing the borders of the separation of powers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Obama Is a Man of Political Paradox

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:


When President Barack Obama makes his final State of the Union address Tuesday, one of the guests seated in the box of first lady Michelle Obama will be Edith Childs. Mrs. Childs enjoyed a brief period of fame when, at an early Obama campaign stop in South Carolina in 2007, she energized the small crowd by starting the chant, “Fired up! Ready to go!”


That became something of a rallying cry for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign and aptly captured the excitement that accompanied his historic victory run.


Over time, the excitement gave way to the more sober realities of governing amid deep partisan divisions. His election will always be a historic one, but what is most striking as Mr. Obama makes his final visit to the well of the House of Representatives are the many paradoxes that have come to mark his presidency.


He has never become either wildly popular or broadly unpopular with the country. His job-approval rating in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in December stood at a mediocre 43%. Over the seven years he has been in office, it has never gone above 61%—a level reached only in his early months in office—and never below 40%. It has generally hovered just below 50%.


He has never reached either the periods of high popularity enjoyed by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton or the levels of unpopularity endured by his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose job-approval rating stood at 34% at this point in his presidency.


The power of his Democratic Party has declined significantly during his time in office. It has lost 13 seats in the U.S. Senate and 69 in the House, as well as 11 governorships, 910 state legislative seats and the majorities in 30 state legislative chambers.


Yet he remains the Democrats’ strongest figure. He generates higher positive feelings among Americans than either of his would-be Democratic successors, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and higher than any of his potential Republican successors. His support among African-Americans remains rock solid. His support among young people and Hispanics is diminished, but still strong. The electoral coalition that can win the White House for Democrats remains identified with him.


Some of the key positions he espouses—action on guns and climate change, keeping troops out of the Middle East, preserving the main elements of his health-care overhaul—are more popular among Americans than is his advocacy for them. Indeed, public polling suggests that attaching his name to a policy position means that some Americans, who otherwise might voice support for it, will oppose it.
How can these paradoxes be explained?


It may be that Mr. Obama was simply destined to serve in a time of unprecedented ideological division in the nation and a near-even split of partisan power in Washington, a situation that limits everybody’s latitude. Perhaps the divides have been too deep for anybody to overcome. Or perhaps he has so far failed to find the voice or the political operating style that would allow him to continue that sense of unity that greeted his election and inauguration.


Perhaps his big twin early achievements—a big economic stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act—were always bound to be polarizing. Or perhaps his inability in those early days to win any bipartisan support for them set a polarizing precedent that has stuck.


Perhaps recovery from the twin traumas he inherited—a costly war in Iraq and a financial crisis that produced broad aftereffects—left the country both angry and cynical.


Mr. Obama serves at a time when virtually every institution, save for the military, is falling in Americans’ esteem.


There’s one other little-discussed but inescapable question: Has Mr. Obama always confronted a ceiling in how widely he would be loved or even accepted because he is the nation’s first African-American president?


In any case, this is where he stands at the beginning of his eighth year. Both Messrs. Reagan and Clinton used a final year to overcome earlier traumas, achieve some goals and rise in public esteem. Mr. Obama now has the same opportunity.


The political math suggests little chance of big domestic legislative achievements in an election year, with Congress controlled by the opposition party. But the Republicans now running Congress—House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—have shown they are willing and able to get at least some things done with Democrats.


Most of the big goals that could be achieved—ratifying a Pacific trade deal, for example, and formally authorizing the fight against Islamic State—lie in the foreign-policy zone. Maybe that is where Mr. Obama can get fired up and ready to go for his stretch run.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Why former Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel’s coming out against the White House matters (Hagel also said he felt micro-managed — something that Gates, Panetta and other defense officials have all expressed.)

From The Washington Post:

When Chuck Hagel resigned as defense secretary last year, the narrative was clear: President Obama and he did not see eye-to-eye on how to prosecute the war against the Islamic State, so Hagel needed to go. White House officials, speaking anonymously, said at the time that the president had lost faith in Hagel’s ability to lead — a charge that Hagel’s advisers brushed aside.

Now, a little over a year later, Hagel is swinging back. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine published Friday, he said he remains puzzled why White House officials tried to “destroy” him personally in his last days in office, adding that he was convinced the United States had no viable strategy in Syria and was particularly frustrated with National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who he said would hold meetings and focus on “nit-picky” details.

“I eventually got to the point where I told Susan Rice that I wasn’t going to spend more than two hours in these meetings,” Hagel told Foreign Policy. “Some of them would go four hours.”

Hagel said the administration struggled with how to handle Syria — hardly a surprise, given the way Obama said in August 2012 that it would be a “red line” for the United States if Syria moved or used its chemical weapons stockpiles, but did not intervene militarily the following year when Syria did so. Hagel said that hurt Obama’s credibility, even if declared stockpiles eventually were removed through an agreement reached with Damascus.

“Whether it was the right decision or not, history will determine that,” Hagel told Foreign Policy. “There’s no question in my mind that it hurt the credibility of the president’s word when this occurred.”

The White House declined to comment on the article. However, an administration official disagreed anonymously with many assertions in Hagel’s interview. Waiting before launching cruise missiles provided a window for the chemical weapons agreement reached, the official said.

Hagel is far from the first former Pentagon chief in Obama’s administration to later criticize the president and his staff. But he just might be the most unlikely. A former Republican senator from Nebraska, he saw eye-to-eye with Obama on many national security issues before he was nominated. Like Obama, he also was a strong critic of President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq — one of the first in the Republican Party.

The two men also still have a friendly relationship, Hagel told Foreign Policy. Nonetheless, he just took several large steps down the same road as Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, who preceded Hagel at the Pentagon and later laid out their grievances in memoirs written after they left office.

Gates, who served for both President George W. Bush and Obama, wrote in a book released early last year that he was “seething” and “running out of patience with on multiple fronts” with the administration. All too often, he wrote, “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military leaders.”

Panetta followed last fall with his own book, saying Obama had a “frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause” and too frequently “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.” In an interview promoting the book, he added that the president had “kind of lost his way” and was partly to blame for the collapse of the Iraqi government last year because he didn’t press harder to keep American troops in the country in 2011, ahead of a complete military withdrawal.

Hagel, for his part, told Foreign Policy that he got “the hell beat out of him” figuratively at the White House for delaying in signing transfer orders to release detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when he had concerns about the individuals involved. He also said he felt micro-managed — something that Gates, Panetta and other defense officials have all expressed.

“There is a danger in all of this,” Hagel told Foreign Policy, referring to White House micromanagement and the administration’s expanding national security staff. “This is about governance; this isn’t about political optics. It’s about making the country run and function, and trying to stay ahead of the dangers and the threats you see coming.”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Nonprofits and Governors Clash Over Syrian Refugees - As states push back, settlement groups say they plan to continue helping new arrivals find homes, jobs and assistance aid

From The Wall Street Journal:

The debate over Syrian refugees in the U.S. is stoking an unusual struggle between nonprofit groups helping people from broken lands and governors in about two dozen states who object to their arrivals.

Once the Department of Homeland Security clears refugees after reviews by multiple agencies, the heavy lifting falls to nine resettlement agencies, all nonprofits, and their hundreds of local offices and affiliates. The agencies, many with religious affiliations, perform a range of tasks, from meeting Syrian refugees at airports to helping them find jobs and apartments. They also aid families in navigating states’ public-assistance systems and enrolling children in schools.

But lately, these groups have found themselves at odds with many governors, almost all Republicans, who are voicing concerns about Syrian refugees or actively trying to halt their settlement, citing possible security risks in the wake of the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. Perpetrators included Europeans radicalized after travel to Syria, and French officials said one attacker posed as a Syrian refugee in order to enter Europe.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, shortly after the attack, announced an executive order barring state agencies from any involvement in accepting Syrian refugees.

“Until the federal government and Congress conducts a thorough review of current screening procedures and background checks, we will take every measure available to us at the state level to ensure the safety of Georgians,” he said at the time.

That didn’t stop World Relief, an agency based in Baltimore, from placing a Syrian family in Atlanta. Joshua Sieweke, who heads World Relief’s Atlanta office, said Thursday the Syrian family is still waiting to hear if the state will grant basic benefits like food stamps and Medicaid. Mr. Deal is waiting for an opinion from the state attorney general, his spokeswoman said.
 
The Obama administration plans to bring in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the current fiscal year, part of an overall rise to 85,000 refugees from around the world, up from 70,000 the prior fiscal year. Proponents have said refugee screening, which can take years, is the most intensive vetting process for any travelers to the U.S.

Those reviews may include several hours of interviews with the U.N. refugee aid agency, which also collects personal documents and could take months to complete its security review. The U.N. agency also scans applicants’ irises. From there, the U.S. reviews include interviews and screening by multiple intelligence and security agencies. Syrians go through an added security layer with classified details, according to the State Department.

The State Department pays the resettlement agencies $2,025 per refugee to cover the cost of helping them for their initial 30 to 90 days in the U.S. After that, the Department of Health and Human Services offers support, though the amount differs from state to state.

A State Department representative said the agency gives state refugee coordinators detailed reports each month on recent and coming arrivals. Each quarter, the State Department provides lists of refugees who could be sent to given states because of family or personal contacts there. But personal details regarding individual refugees are considered confidential.

Although nonprofits have helped refugees for decades, the 1980 Refugee Act solidified the resettlement process, said Courtland Robinson, deputy director at the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Back then, the U.S. had an influx of refugees from Communist regimes in Southeast Asia.

Officials with resettlement groups said they were surprised by the states’ positions because they are accustomed to bipartisan support for their work. “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Mark Hetfield, the chief executive at HIAS Inc. Previously known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the New York-based resettlement agency traces its roots to 134 years ago, when it helped Jews escape pogroms in Russia and what is now Eastern Europe. Today, it helps refugees from around the world, including Syria.

Catholic Charities in Indianapolis challenged Indiana by settling a Syrian refugee family there this month. The family, with two small children, had lived in a refugee camp in Jordan, according to Greg Otolski, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

A spokesman for Gov. Mike Pence said in a recent statement that Indiana would “continue to suspend its participation in the resettlement of Syrian refugees until the federal government takes action to address the concerns raised about this program.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission sought a temporary restraining order in federal court to block refugees. But a judge denied the latest request, ruling that concerns about terrorist infiltration are too speculative.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is supporting federal legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) that would give governors the ability to reject refugeconcerns.es over security concerns.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

John Kasich vs. ‘Obscurity’ - The popular Ohio governor on his mix of social gospel and conservative economics and why he’ll eventually break out of the GOP presidential scrum.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Ohio hasn’t voted for a presidential loser since 1960 and it may decide the 2016 election, at least if the winner is a Republican: The GOP probably can’t make the Electoral College arithmetic work otherwise, and no Republican ever has won without carrying the swing state. The sitting two-term governor of Ohio also happens to be running for the White House—but he says, “You know what my rival is? Obscurity. Nobody knows me.” This is strange.

John Kasich is also the rare candidate-governor who remains popular among voters at home; Quinnipiac puts his job approval at 62%, his highest ever. He has a strong governing record, national experience and bipartisan appeal. On paper, he’s formidable. And yet Mr. Kasich is polling nationally in eighth place, at 2%, according to the Real Clear Politics average, and he’s fifth in New Hampshire at 7%, having slipped from 13% this summer. So why hasn’t he broken out of the Republican scrum?

That’s the one question that defines this anti-orthodox primary season—and not merely for Mr. Kasich. “I do think that the electorate, no question, is extremely frustrated, and they don’t want the same old, same old,” says the governor, who dropped by the Journal this week. “But if you get on an airplane, do you want somebody that’s never flown a plane before?”

So what to make of the Donald J. Trump phenomenon? “I don’t think it has any depth to it,” Mr. Kasich says. “It’s sort of like if your football team hasn’t won a game, they’re 0 and 6 or they’re 1 and 7, and you go to the game, and you’re sitting there with your buddy, and you say, ‘I think they ought to just pick that guy out of the stands. Our quarterback is a bum.’ ” He could be talking about the Cleveland Browns.

“I think, I believe, maybe I’m wrong, that experience and a record are going to matter at the end,” he continues. “Maybe it won’t. Maybe we’ll change 100 years of American politics. I don’t know.”
By the way, Mr. Kasich adds, “I am just talking to you realistically about how you win. You come into Ohio yelling and screaming, you can’t win. You will not win Ohio. I mean, I know Ohio. I won 86 out of 88 counties. I had 26% of the African-American vote, 51% of union households—and I started off in a war with the unions, right?”

***


Mr. Kasich served in the House for 18 years, six as chairman of the Budget Committee, where he was the architect of the 1997 balanced-budget agreement between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. “We would not have balanced the budget without his leadership,” the former speaker writes in an email. Mr. Gingrich adds that he regards Mr. Kasich as one of the four “Republican visionaries” of the 20th century, in the company of Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and Mr. Gingrich.

Since he re-emerged as governor in 2010, Mr. Kasich is one of the livelier characters of American politics, and one of the few who retains the capacity to surprise. His far-ranging, free associative and sometimes undisciplined talk often doesn’t stop until he’s interrupted.

When Mr. Kasich announced his presidential candidacy in July, he began by joking about the delivery of his twin daughters: He said the obstetrician told him: “Can you shut up? I’m a little busy right now.”

He then riffed—this is a partial list—on “this whole business of the American dream,” Iwo Jima, his father “John the Mailman,” a boat trip to England from Belgium, Islamic State, coal mining, “the Civil War—you remember reading about it?,” recreational narcotics (opposed), John Sununu, Ohio Stadium, a balanced-budget amendment and “the power of very big ideas”—as well as “two wonderful African-American fellows” he met at a Wendy’s, something called the Common Sense Initiative and, finally, “the Lord,” who “will record what you’ve done for another in the book of life.”

This manic energy is physical as well as intellectual. Mr. Kasich’s personal-space perimeter requires four or five extra feet than normal to accommodate the gestures, the sweeps, the waves, the pirouettes. He’s a human windmill.

Mr. Kasich is trying to merge traditional conservative economics with his social gospel. “I’m the hardest person to beat,” he says, “because I’m the hardest person to label.” He frequently speaks of the homeless, the mentally ill and the sick, of drug addicts and ex-cons, of “people living in the shadows.” He challenges Republicans to show sympathy for Americans who aren’t like them, especially the poor and minorities. “If you look at the record,” he says, “the record is loud and clear about who I am, and what I believe, and what my values are, and the conservative nature of how I’ve solved problems.”

As Mr. Kasich tells it, “because I care about these programs”—to combat substance abuse, for instance—“it just sends a message, and it’s inadvertent. I didn’t do this to do this, because I’ve taken a lot of grief on all this stuff. It’s giving people a sense that maybe this guy cares a little bit about me, maybe he understands some of my problems.”

Mr. Kasich first visited the Journal as governor in July 2011, six months after being inaugurated along with a crop of reform-minded executives across the Midwest. He complained that he wasn’t getting Scott Walker-style media credit for his budget, which curbed collective-bargaining and the power of state and local public-employee unions—a program he said was much stronger than Wisconsin’s. Even for Mr. Kasich, the hyperbole was operatic.

He had sensed, wrongly, that union trustbusting was as much in demand among the buckeyes as the badgers. Mr. Kasich’s approval rating dipped as low as 35%, and that fall a ballot question repealing the union reforms passed 62% to 38%.

Mr. Kasich dismissed this rout as a nonevent when he returned to the Journal in May 2012. He spent his first 20 minutes chronicling, in minute detail, his “exotic animal reform”: A suicide in Zanesville had recently let loose dozens of lions, Bengal tigers and bears, plus a baboon, from a private zoo. Mr. Kasich was trying to pass the state’s first pet species ownership restriction law. The distance from pushing major labor reforms to pacifying the Ohio veld seemed to indicate the evanescence of his ambitions.

Then again, Mr. Kasich went on to be re-elected by a two-to-one margin. The Democrats couldn’t field a credible candidate, but as he sees it, voters rewarded him for results.

In his first term, despite the labor defeat, he closed an $8 billion budget deficit, repealed the estate tax, cut income-tax rates, tightened welfare requirements and deregulated. He closed the Ohio corporate-welfare bureaucracy and replaced it with a public-private corporation that is “the best economic development entity, I believe, in the country.” The Ohio economy, a basket case under his predecessors, is creating more jobs than the average for Great Lakes states and has diversified into shale energy, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, biotech and logistics.

He says the credit raters once told him, “There’s no way you can fix Ohio. It’s dead.” The governor’s response? “I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no! Think of us as a basketball player who’s 7 feet tall but doesn’t know how to dribble.’ ” As president, Mr. Kasich says he’d start conducting ball-handling drills. Invoking his 1990s and Ohio experiences, he explains that “if it’s worked twice, it ought to work thrice, and I think the plan is very reasonable.”

Mr. Kasich is proposing what he calls a “shock and awe” economic package: tax reform to lower the top individual income rate to 28%, the corporate rate to 25% and capital gains to 15%; reform of entitlements and the bureaucracy to cut the growth of spending and balance the budget in eight years; deregulation; and control of the border. “The No. 1 thing,” he says, “is economic growth.”

In an era of polarization, Mr. Kasich says he’d revive a prelapsarian state of comity. “My program wouldn’t be just partisan. I know I could get some Democrats to vote for this kind of stuff,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve had a president in a very, very long time, since Clinton, that actually knew how to deal with a legislature.” The governor then tells a story about dealing with Democrats in Ohio, detours into human trafficking, highway funds and the gas tax. Then, back on subject: “This president doesn’t know how to do it and I’m not sure Bush did it. He really had a great personality, but I am not convinced he really knew how. There’s a certain technique: it’s calling their mom; it’s calling their kids; it’s bringing them into your office; it’s letting them ride in the car.”

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he adds. “There ain’t anybody else running that knows how to do this.”

***


Perhaps Mr. Kasich’s candidacy is under-kindled because he is identified with the “Republican Establishment,” or what’s left of it, in an outsider’s year. “When anybody ever says, ‘Well, you seem more moderate,’ ” the governor observes, “I go, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait a minute here, let’s talk about—do you think cutting taxes is conservative? Do you think balancing budgets is conservative? Do you think school choice is conservative? Do you think welfare reform is conservative? You just kind of don’t like my tone, don’t you?’ ”

Mr. Kasich’s tone won’t satisfy modern hyperpartisans who favor politics red in tooth and claw. But what’s notable is how sui generis—and occasionally, how liberal—his conservatism is. Mr. Kasich isn’t the kind of Republican who wants to retreat on social issues like abortion, climate change or child tax credits. Instead, he has philosophically inconsistent positions, all equally strongly held.

Speaking of tone, Mr. Kasich can be self-righteous. He dismisses arguments he finds uncongenial with phrases like “Are you kidding me?” and “Come on,” and he’s quick to impugn the motives of critics. He also tends to weaponize his Christian convictions, as if those critics are blaspheming.

These two weaknesses, if that’s what they are—his policy schisms and instinct for moral censure—combined in his 2013 decision to have Ohio join the new Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Other Republican governors did too, but Mr. Kasich bypassed opposition in the state legislature by using an arcane outside board, and he then toured the country insulting anyone who dissented.

The sentimental narrative that the apostle John Kasich rolls out is that when you get to the pearly gates, St. Peter isn’t going to ask what you did to keep the government small. But he will ask what you did for the poor. The governor instructs his critics to consult Matthew 25, where Jesus tells his followers to help “the least of these brothers.” As recently as January, in an address before Montana legislators who opposed Medicaid expansion, he insinuated that they were responsible for killing “a guy who froze to death.”

Mr. Kasich opened Medicaid to able-bodied working-age adults with no dependent children. We wondered, given that resources are scarce, why not instead use taxpayer dollars to help the more than 40,000 Ohioans with developmental disabilities on Medicaid waiting lists—22,000 with immediate needs? The average wait time for these extra “waiver” services is about six years.

“As a result of having expanded it, I now have the resources to treat mental health and drug addiction,” Mr. Kasich replies, before noting that “we now have a program where if you’re developmentally disabled, we can try to get you as mainstreamed as possible. So I’m not so sure that your numbers are right but I’d be glad to check.”

When we follow up, Mr. Kasich says his expansion is “providing resources dramatically for everybody, for the mentally ill, for the drug addicted, for the working poor and probably for the developmentally disabled. And like I say, our biggest increase in our budget this year was for the developmentally disabled.”

Afterward a spokesman sends an email suggesting that the Ohio waiting lists aren’t “the best measure,” because parents pre-emptively add their children to get a jump on wait times. “Part of the reason the list is what it is,” he adds, “is because the previous governors did such a poor job.”

To his credit, Mr. Kasich has worked to make Medicaid less dysfunctional. The point is that rather than make holier-than-thou lectures, Mr. Kasich might find more traction among Republicans if he assumed that most Americans are arguing in good faith, even those who disagree with him—or Him.

Mr. Kasich’s chance is due north. “If I get destroyed in New Hampshire, then that’s the end of the game. But I don’t think that’s going to happen, ’cause I have too good of ground game up there. That’s how you win elections, with the ground game. I’ve got the best ground game in the state,” he says. “So the question is do they identify our voters and deliver them. That’s how you win elections.”

The author Mr. Rago is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.

Amen!: Can Washington Unite on Fighting Islamic State? - Can Washington Unite on Fighting Islamic State?

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama clearly intended his Sunday night address from the Oval Office to pull the nation together behind his strategy for fighting Islamic State. But in the narrower political world around him, it actually seems to have had the opposite effect: It appears to have widened, or at least cast in sharper relief, deep divides over the nation’s strategy for dealing with the group and the terror threat it has spawned.

Even accounting for the fact that we are in a political season, that is a striking disconnect on a subject on which the country has in the past been able to come together. The San Bernardino terror attacks—and terrorism is what they were, all now agree—weren’t nearly of the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks, but it may be time for national leaders to come together to forge the kind of unified response seen then.

It’s hard to imagine a less unified national front that than the one that emerged Monday, when, a day after Mr. Obama urged Americans not to turn against Muslims in the wake of recent terror attacks, leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed a flat ban on all Muslims entering America.

That radical proposal seemed only to underscore Mr. Obama’s warning against irrational hatred, and was immediately denounced by many other Republicans. But more substantively, there remains a real philosophical divide between the president and his critics on the parallel question of how to fight ISIS directly. Mr. Obama is prescribing more of a slow-but-steady approach to dealing with ISIS. His critics are advocating more of a fast-and-furious attempt to knock out ISIS and, by extension, its terror threat.

Mr. Obama thinks the rush-to-action approach carries more risk than reward. In particular, he worries about the danger of America being sucked into another large and open-ended ground commitment in the Middle East. And that, he fears, would create anew the appearance of the West imposing its will on the region, feeding the ISIS narrative of infidels versus Islam and generating new recruits among angry young Muslims.

The president’s critics consider him complacent amid a real and growing danger. They think he’s unwilling either to admit that his reluctance to engage in the Syrian civil war created the chaos in which ISIS has flourished, or to make the kind of military commitment that could correct that error and extinguish the self-proclaimed Islamic State caliphate. The president spoke Sunday night about a plan to “destroy” ISIS, but his previous talk about containing the group led critics to doubt his resolve.

Any quest to bridge these divides is complicated by the fact that the ISIS fight now has become entangled with even more divisive topics: immigration, refugee policy and gun control.

On this front, the president didn’t do himself any favors with his initial response to those wanting to stop the plan to absorb a few thousand of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing the horror of the multisided civil war in their country. He appeared to belittle more than acknowledge the terror concerns of those who called for a halt to the refugee acceptance process.

Mr. Obama had a good argument for moving ahead with the plan: that resettling refugees already requires a vigorous screening process that can last up to two years. But that point was largely lost in the president’s portrayal of opposition to resettlement as a reversal of American values of openness and compassion.

Similarly, Mr. Obama’s Sunday-night attempt to argue the merits of new gun control at the same time he was explaining his strategy for dealing with ISIS won’t do much to help the effort to build consensus on other elements of the fight against ISIS.

Meantime, Republicans running to take Mr. Obama’s job are showing more interest in highlighting divisions than bridging them. Responses to Mr. Obama’s address were almost vitriolic—and masked the fact that the GOP candidates themselves are deeply divided on an approach to the ISIS threat. Some—Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in particular—want a more aggressive military response to ending the civil war in Syria, which has created the vacuum into which ISIS has stepped, while Sen. Ted Cruz argued just last week that the U.S. has “no dog” in that fight.

Some Republican presidential candidates want to arm Syrian rebels and restore National Security Agency powers to conduct anti-terror surveillance at home; Mr. Cruz and his colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, have opposed those steps.

Yet there is more unity within and across party divides than this political rhetoric suggests. Mr. Obama actually has significantly stepped up the pace of military action in Syria in recent weeks, particularly in aerial attacks on its oil-smuggling financial lifeline. And all sides agree that inserting a giant American ground force isn’t the way to win the ISIS fight.

It may be time for a bipartisan summit meeting to build those areas of agreement into a unified, bipartisan approach like the kind forged—for a time—after the 9/11 attacks. As Mr. Obama said Sunday night, “we have always met challenges…by coming together around our common ideals as one nation, as one people.” Right now, that seems a long ways off.

TThe Republican Party faces this problem, that they don’t want Trump, but the alternative might be Cruz, and they don’t want that either.

From the PBS Newshour:

MARK SHIELDS:  Ted Cruz has just been right up to Donald Trump’s left shoulder. Donald Trump insinuates, as David puts it, that Barack Obama may not be a total American because he won’t say radical Muslim terrorist, or extremist, and he won’t use that term, he won’t, in other words, give it the religious component, and he says, there is something going on there, he says.

Well, Ted Cruz calls him an apologist for radical Islam instead. Now, it’s one thing, Judy, if I disagree with you and say you’re mistaken or you’re ill-informed. When I start demonizing your motives — and he does that. He does that in speech. He’s sort of Donald Trump with better academic credentials, a better haircut and probably 60 I.Q. points.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, other than that, what would you add about Ted Cruz?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, Cruz is interesting because he’s universally unpopular.

MARK SHIELDS: Universally.

DAVID BROOKS: In the law firm, at school, among the Republicans — when he was working with George W. Bush’s campaign, he could not get a serious job after that, because everyone said, I will not work with that guy.

He comes to the Senate, Republican senators, if they had a vote between some Democrat to be majority leader and Ted Cruz, they would vote for the Democrat. He is just unpopular. And he’s used that unpopularity to his benefit in this campaign. Look, they all hate me.

And so, if you’re running an anti-Washington campaign, the fact that everyone who works with you hates you suddenly becomes a plus.

The other interesting is, for a guy who runs on principle, he’s extremely tactical. He’s very deft at moving this way and that. And so the Republican Party faces this problem, that they don’t want Trump, but the alternative might be Cruz, and they don’t want that either.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Another Syrian refugee family has arrived in the Atlanta area

From the AJC's Political Insider:

Another Syrian refugee family has arrived in the Atlanta area, becoming the first to relocate to Georgia from their war-torn nation since Gov. Nathan Deal joined more than two dozen of his counterparts in vowing to halt their resettlement.

Their arrival also raises the possibility of a legal showdown. The Deal administration has ordered state employees not to process applications for benefits — including food stamps — for new Syrian refugees coming to Georgia. That has triggered a sharp warning from the Obama administration, which told Georgia it must rescind its order to comply with federal law.

Mohammad and Ebtesam, who asked that their full names not be published to protect relatives still living in Syria, applied to the state Thursday for food stamps and Medicaid.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Merkel, While Refusing to Halt Migrant Influx, Works to Limit It

From The New York Times:

BERLIN — With as many as one million refugees having arrived in Germany this year, Chancellor Angela Merkel has found herself increasingly isolated in Europe and markedly less popular at home than she was during the crisis over the euro this spring.

So far, she has rejected all requests — the loudest from her own conservative bloc — to limit the influx of newcomers. Even as Germany runs short of physical shelter, she argues that it is both uncharitable and physically unworkable to halt the human flow into a country with thousands of miles of land borders and a post-Nazi obligation to liberally offer asylum.
 
Yet what she and other European leaders have quietly done over recent weeks is tighten asylum policy, restrict family reunions for refugees and mount campaigns to keep people from setting out for Europe. Balkan nations on the migrant trail that leads north from Turkey and Greece to Germany and Sweden have been encouraged to bar all but Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees.
 
The new policy of steering or reducing the human flow culminates in a summit meeting of the 28-nation European Union with Turkey on Sunday. A measure of Ms. Merkel’s need to ease the refugee burden is that European leaders called the meeting in Brussels despite the terror alerts in that city after the deadly attacks in Paris on Nov. 13.
 
In exchange for better patrolling its Aegean coastline with Greece and cracking down on human smuggling, Turkey seeks three billion euros, about $3.2 billion, to help care for the 2.2 million mostly Syrian refugees it now houses. In addition, Europe is likely to pursue stalled negotiations on Turkish membership in the European Union and extend visa-free travel to many Turks.
 
Ms. Merkel used to oppose European Union membership for Turkey, and Europe has had many misgivings about human rights under Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
 
But the expected agreement with Turkey — still being haggled over — is a measure of Ms. Merkel’s pursuit of pragmatic goals no matter how contradictory her policy appears.
 
“They urgently need Turkey, and without Turkey, they cannot possibly reduce the pressure on their borders,” said Jan Techau, the director of Carnegie Europe, a think tank in Brussels. Germany and the European Union are “playing nice” with Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Techau said, “when they pretty much all disdain him. It is an enormous political compromise. It is not pretty at all. But in the end, there really is not much else left.”
 
Ms. Merkel has also shifted on the refugee issue, said Daniela Schwarzer, director of the Europe program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
 
“Definitely, she is changing the very liberal and nonconditional stance that she took in the summer, when she said we will take in the Syrians, we need to,” Dr. Schwarzer said. “The rhetoric has changed.”
 
Beyond the shortage of physical shelter and needing to use volunteers to provide refugee care that was once regarded as a state task, Ms. Merkel is keenly aware not just of the slide in her approval ratings — from 75 percent last spring to about 50 percent now — but also of the rise of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party.

The party now regularly polls above the 5 percent hurdle any party must clear to get into state or federal parliaments. In eastern Germany, the anti-Islam Pegida movement, once fading from view, draws thousands to weekly marches in Dresden.
 
Ms. Merkel’s stance on refugees has scrambled German politics. Leftists who have criticized her last week praised her steadfastness in sheltering the needy. In a speech to Parliament, the chancellor said that it would be a “gigantic mistake,” and that history would not forgive Germans, if they gave up on the refugee crisis after just a few months.
 
Conservatives have called ever louder for a limit, and — less publicly — muttered about replacing Ms. Merkel, who just completed a decade in power.
 
Yet there are few if any alternatives, and there is little sign so far that Ms. Merkel will face much overt hostility at the December congress of her Christian Democratic party, after a public scolding from her conservative Bavarian partner at his party’s congress in Munich this month.
 
Even after the Paris attacks, older Germans in particular fear a shift to the right in their country more than Islamist terrorism, from which they have so far been spared a large attack.
 
“My great fear is that there is a big lurch rightwards,” said Dietrich Roth, 63, a retired official from Aachen who was in Berlin to attend a seminar. Another attendee, Dieter Wittig, 74, of Cologne, noted — as many Germans currently do — that the country “is split into two camps.” One camp, susceptible to rightist scaremongers, already fears “that the influx is not stopping, and that millions more are just sitting on packed suitcases,” he said.
 
A greater influx would most likely strengthen nationalist and populist tendencies in countries like Poland and France, Germany’s most important neighbors.
 
In France, the National Front of Marine Le Pen is likely to do well in regional elections in December. Poland has already elected a conservative government, which has broken its predecessor’s promises of accepting a few thousand refugees, Dr. Schwarzer said.
 
An agreement to distribute 160,000 refugees among European Union countries is foundering, although Ms. Merkel has repeatedly cast it as essential.
 
This week, what has become a familiar ploy played out. Ms. Merkel rejected quotas for refugees. A day later, her interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, contradicted her, telling the Austrian daily Der Standard that Europe should set an annual intake per country and bar new entries once those quotas were met.
 
Mr. de Maizière’s suggestion “is clearly a way to introduce the notion of upper limits,” without appearing to cave to Bavaria, Dr. Schwarzer said.
 
Consensus will become ever more vital as Europe wrestles with the multiple challenges of refugees, Islamist terror and war in Syria and Ukraine. Germany, still wary of military engagement abroad, took almost two weeks after the Paris attacks to offer air surveillance, a frigate and refueling aircraft for the French assault on the Islamic State, Dr. Schwarzer said.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How Many Refugees the U.S. Takes In and Where They Go - This year’s number would include 10,000 Syrians

From TheWall Street Journal:
 
The U.S. government accepts thousands of refugees each year and provides cash, medical and rental assistance to them through nine nonprofit resettlement agencies.

The number of refugees accepted, which is set annually by the president, reached a peak of 142,000 during the Balkan wars in 1993.

It was 80,000 between 2008 and 2011, dropped to 76,000 in 2012 and has been at 70,000 since 2013.

This fiscal year, the U.S. plans to accept 85,000, including 10,000 Syrians. That is a fraction of the more than four million Syrians displaced by war since 2011.

Most refugees are referred to the U.S. by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The screening process—involving the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and Defense Department—is more rigorous than that for the millions of foreign visitors and thousands of foreign students who come to the U.S. each year, advocates say.

For Syrians, the vetting period on average has taken 18 to 24 months.

Since October 2011, California has received the most Syrian refugees, 257, followed by Texas, with 240, and Michigan, with 210, according to the State Department.

Resettlement agencies place the arrivals in clusters in areas where the cost of living is low and jobs are available, or where they already have family.

“All Syrian refugees who do have ties in the U.S. are placed with their tie,” said Lindsey Sharp, associate director of resettlement for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

However, most Syrians who have arrived so far don’t have relatives in the U.S., agencies said. Still, some of these newcomers are happy to be safe in the U.S. and are working to adjust to life in a new country.

Ramez Aldarwish, 37 years old, arrived with his wife, Nor, and their two young children in New Haven, Conn., in August.

In Syria, gunfire and rocket attacks were erupting at night, leaving the family in a state of terror, Mr. Aldarwish said.

“They were bombing people, innocent people, women, children and kids,” he said.

Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in New Haven helps secure benefits for the family, but that assistance eventually will end.

Mr. Aldarwish, who only speaks Arabic, was concerned about finding work, but he recently got a part-time job as a butcher.

While he is still concerned about supporting his family in America, he has faith.

“We depend on God,” Mr. Aldarwish said. “God will help.”

Americans are increasingly skeptical of Muslims. But most Americans don’t talk to Muslims

From The Washington Post:

Americans are more skeptical than ever of how Islam squares with their values and way of life -- and yet very few Americans actually seem to interact with Muslims at all.

Those are findings from separate surveys from the Public Religion Research Institute that suggest that how Americans perceive Muslims is tied more to headlines than personal experiences. The nonprofit just release its annual American Values Survey, which found that Americans' perceptions of Islam have turned "sharply negative over the past few years."

A majority of Americans (56 percent) say the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life -- an uptick in recent years.

(PRRI has asked this question four times since 2010, according to polling archives. Their most recent survey was conducted in September and early October, before the Paris attacks and before GOP presidential candidates amped up their rhetoric when it comes to Islam and terrorism.)

But Robert Jones, the founder and CEO of PRRI, pointed out in an interview that aired Sunday with public radio news magazine Interfaith Voices that Americans are basing those opinions largely on people they don't interact with.

"Muslims make up only about 1 percent of the U.S. population," he told host Maureen Fiedler, "and they're also heavily concentrated in just a few cities around the country."

Before 9/11 in fact, Jones said, most Americans hadn't really thought much about Islam.

That's changed, of course. At first Americans gave Muslims what Jones called a kind of "grace period," largely thanks to President George W. Bush emphatically declaring America is not at war with Islam (a point Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton likes to make but Republican candidates have disagreed with).

But as the years in the war on terror dragged on, Americans' perceptions have soured about a culture and religion they still remain largely separate from.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Noonan: Uncertain Leadership in Perilous Times

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes—

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—

In the days after Paris Emily Dickinson’s poem kept ringing through my mind as I tried to figure out what I felt—and, surprisingly, didn’t feel. I did not, as the facts emerged and the story took its full size, feel surprised. Nor did I feel swept by emotion, as I had in the past. The sentimental tweeting of that great moment in “Casablanca” when they stand to sing “La Marseillaise” left me unmoved. I didn’t feel anger, really. I felt grave, as if something huge and terrible had shifted and come closer. Did you feel this too?

After the pain of previous terror incidents, from 9/11 straight through to Madrid 2004 (train bombings, 191 dead), London 2005 (suicide bombers, 52 dead) and Paris 10 months ago (shootings, 17 dead), the focus was always on the question: What will the leaders—the political and policy elite—think? This attack immediately carried a different question: What will the people think, Mr. and Mrs. Europe on the street, Mom and Pop watching in America? What are the thoughts and conclusions of normal people who are not blinkered by status, who can see things clear?

I feel certain that in the days after the attack people were thinking: This isn’t going to stop. These primitive, ferocious young men will not stop until we stop them. The question is how. That’s the only discussion.

Madrid and London took place during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and could be taken as responses to Western actions. The Charlie Hebdo massacre was in its way a story about radical Islamic antipathy to the rough Western culture of free speech. But last week’s Paris attack was different. It was about radical, violent Islam’s hatred of the West and desire to kill and terrorize its people. They will not be appeased; we won’t talk them out of it at a negotiating table or by pulling out of Iraq or staying out of Syria. They will have their caliphate, and they will hit Europe again, as they will surely hit us again, to get it.

So again, the only question: What to do?

On this issue the American president is, amazingly, barely relevant. The leaders and people of Europe and America will not be looking to him for wisdom, will, insight or resolve. No commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces can be wholly irrelevant, but to the extent one can be, Mr. Obama is. He has misjudged ISIS from the beginning—they were not, actually, the junior varsity—to the end. He claimed last week, to George Stephanopoulos, that ISIS has been “contained.” “I don’t think they’re gaining strength,” he said just before Paris blew.

After the attacks Mr. Obama went on TV, apparently to comfort us and remind us it’s OK, he’s in charge. He prattled on about violence being at odds with “universal values.” He proceeded as if unaware that there are no actually universal values, that right now the values of the West and radical Islam are clashing, violently, and we have to face it. The mainstream press saw right through him. At the news conference, CNN’s Jim Acosta referred to the “frustration” of “a lot of Americans,” who wonder: “Why can’t we take out these bastards?” The president sighed and talked down to him—to us. He has a strategy and it’s the right one and it’s sad you can’t see it.

Let him prattle on about climate change as the great threat of our time.

All he can do at this point is troll the GOP with the mischief of his refugee program. If he can’t work up a passion about radical Islamic violence, at least he can tie the Republicans in knots over whether they’re heartless bigots who want to prevent widows and children from taking refuge from the Syrian civil war.

This is a poor prioritizing of what faces us. The public is appropriately alarmed about exactly who we might be letting in. It would be easy, and commonsensical, to follow their prompting and pause the refugee program, figure out how to screen those seeking entrance more carefully, and let in only the peaceable. If that takes time, it takes time.

If Mr. Obama had wisdom as opposed to pride and a desire to smack around the GOP—a visit to Capitol Hill this week showed me he’s thinking a lot more about them than they are about him—he would recognize the refugee issue as a distraction from the most urgent priorities.

Those would include planning for and agreeing on how to deal with both the reality and the aftermath of a parade of possible horribles on which we should once again concentrate—anything from shootings in Times Square to suicide bombings in Washington to a biological device in, say, Greeley, Colo. It would include planning for any military activity that might likely follow such an event or events.

If what we are experiencing now results in an epic collision, are we ready?

Deeper attention now will go to candidates for the presidency. Hillary Clinton Thursday delivered a speech on her strategy to face the current crisis; it sounded a lot like Mr. Obama’s strategy, whatever that is.

But Paris should have impact on the Republican debate that has cropped up the past month about defense policy. It’s been approached as a question of spending. That may quickly come to look like the wrong approach.

Exactly what is needed now in terms of America’s defense, what is needed to deal with a possible parade of horribles? What might be needed down the road? There is a possible grim short term, and a possible grim long term. Who is thinking all this through? Are they getting the resources they need?

The Director of the FBI, James Comey, doesn’t feel he has the manpower to do what needs to be done to find and track bad guys.

What’s going on with intelligence, what’s their need?

There will be powerful public support now for spending—wisely, discerningly—whatever is needed for the short term, and a possible long term.

Finally, continued travels through the country show me that people continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude. In interviews and question-and-answer sessions, people often refer to Reagan’s “optimism.” That was his power, they say—he was optimistic.

No, I say, that wasn’t his power and isn’t what you miss. Reagan’s power was that he was confident. He was confident that whatever the problem—the economy, the Soviets, the million others—he could meet it, the American people could meet it, and our system could meet it. The people saw his confidence, and it allowed them to feel optimistic. And get the job done.

What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this. We can do it.

Who will provide that? Where will it come from? Isn’t it part of what we need in the next president?

The War on Islamic State - To prevail, the West must settle on military tactics, cut off oil money, counter propaganda, strategists say (For military planners, destroying the terrorist group’s headquarters and crippling its fighting force is a relatively simple assignment, say strategists: It would require some 40,000 troops, air support and two months of fighting. The problem is what do to after taking responsibility for won territory. With the recent experience of Afghanistan and Iraq, that is a job no Western leader wants.)

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Paris attacks and the downing of a Russian airliner have heightened determination in Moscow, Paris and Washington to defeat Islamic State, a challenge easier said than done.

Many strategists say military advances will show little progress unless more work is done to eliminate the militant group’s financing, counter its propaganda and cut a diplomatic deal among world powers on Syrian rule.

For military planners, destroying the terrorist group’s headquarters and crippling its fighting force is a relatively simple assignment, say strategists: It would require some 40,000 troops, air support and two months of fighting.

The problem is what do to after taking responsibility for won territory. With the recent experience of Afghanistan and Iraq, that is a job no Western leader wants. Many officials, especially in Europe, believe a full-scale military response would help Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by broadcasting an image of Westerners seizing Arab lands, attracting more followers to the militants’ cause.

“Drawing us into a ground war with them is a trap,” said a French government official. “Frankly, I doubt it would go very well.”

The options short of a ground invasion are limited. After fighting Islamic State for more than a year through airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, military officers, diplomats and analysts agree there is no easy formula for victory.

Western allies are developing ways to escalate their operations and shift tactics. France is stepping up air attacks and bringing in 24 planes on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which will arrive in the eastern Mediterranean next week to triple French air power in the region.

The U.S. military has developed options to accelerate the fight against Islamic State, including measures designed to strengthen local partners—Kurdish forces, for example, in Iraq and Syria—against the militants.

The U.S. also is considering creation of a base in Iraq to launch raids on Islamic State leaders; tripling the number of special operation forces working in Syria; and expanding the list of Islamic State targets by risking additional civilian casualties in more aggressive airstrikes.

Derek Chollet, a former Pentagon official with the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. think tank, said taking more aggressive steps, such as sending U.S. forces to the front lines to call in airstrikes, could help in the fight but will take time. Entering into a ground war, he said, could be a mistake.

“We made a lot of decisions as a country in the wake of 9/11, in the fever of fear and the desire to do something decisive, that we are still digging ourselves out of,” he said.

Some strategists say Islamic State may be more vulnerable than it appears. The group seems to have challenged the world, said Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank in London. Islamic State has picked fights not only in the Middle East, but with the U.S., Russia and France. This week it baited Beijing by killing a Chinese hostage.

“They think this is their time in history, their victory is divinely assured,” Mr. Clarke said. “From a strategic point of view, they are making every mistake.”

The Paris attacks—along with the bombing of a Russian plane and attacks in Turkey—have raised the prospect of an alliance between Moscow and the West.

Whether the gestures of solidarity over the past week will continue is an open question. Russian aggression in Ukraine looms in the background. Many Western officials say Europe and the U.S. can’t ignore the annexation of Crimea or Moscow’s support for Ukraine separatists.

And, on Syria, the diplomatic rift remains between Russia, which sees the government of President Bashar al-Assad as the best bulwark against chaos in the region, and the West, which believes the Assad regime is to blame.

“There is the potential for this to work,” said a senior official in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “But you have to start any talk about any sort of coalition with a common objective, and we don’t yet have a common objective.”

European diplomats and scholars say both sides may now be willing to compromise. “This string of attacks have had a catalytic effect,” said Marc Pierini, a former European Union diplomat and scholar at the think tank Carnegie Europe. “Something is happening that is entirely new.”

 Ian Kearns, the director of the European Leadership Network think tank, said Europe must provide stepped up military support for the moderate opposition fighting the Assad regime in Syria, to both slow the flow of refugees to Europe and to increase bargaining power with Russia.
“The Europeans have to wake up and align their interest and values,” he said.

Cash-rich militants

Much of Islamic State’s strength comes from controlling vast areas of territory in Syria and Iraq, enabling a flow of taxes, oil profits and extortion money. Unlike al Qaeda, which needed foreign financing, Islamic State is largely self-sufficient.

The group doesn’t depend on the global financial system, so cutting off its money supply is difficult. Access to cash allows Islamic State to pay its fighters and bureaucrats, run municipal services, bribe tribes into cooperation and fund its global propaganda operation.

Syrian oil fields are one of its largest revenue sources. Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department estimated Islamic State earned as much as $1 million a day selling oil, which is smuggled to Turkey’s black market or sold locally to domestic refineries.

Since the beginning of its air campaign in Syria, the U.S. has struck Islamic State oil production facilities, which militants have largely been able to repair.

The Pentagon, defense officials said, has by design struck oil facilities to damage, not destroy them. The U.S. had hoped to expel Islamic State without laying waste to the economic infrastructure of Syria and Iraq. The loss of refineries and wells would make economic recovery difficult, military officials said.

Officials are now weighing more damaging attacks. The Pentagon announced this week the bombing of 116 tanker trucks near the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzour. French officials said they hoped the oil production facilities hit in their airstrikes this week won’t be so easily repaired.

The job of stopping the flow of oil revenues, officials said, is exceeded only by the task of heading off militants bound for Europe, which requires tightening borders. On Friday, the European Union ordered stricter border controls on its perimeter, a move intended to broaden the systematic police checks of EU citizens and improve the ability of authorities to track potential terror suspects.

The West also faces polished recruitment efforts by Islamic State propaganda machine, officials said. Islamic State operatives have made a big push via social media to project a positive vision of life in its so-called caliphate—both to residents of territory it controls, as well as to Muslims abroad.

U.S. and European officials say the West hasn’t been effective in countering Islamic State propaganda because, in part, it lacks the credibility and immediacy of messages relayed by friends and relatives connected to Islamic State. One way might be to have defectors tell their stories, scholars say.

“I think we are really struggling countering the narrative,” said Colin Clarke, a Rand Corp. political scientist who studies terrorist groups. “I don’t know if we thought long and hard about it, or devoted enough resources.”

Some commentators have raised the prospect of using cyberattacks to cut off Islamic State from the Internet, disrupting its ability to post videos or employ social media.

The reach of U.S. cyberweapons remain one of the military’s closest secrets, making it difficult to know how effective they would be against Islamic State’s decentralized propaganda campaign. The U.S. military is wary of deploying cyberweapons because once they are used, the Chinese and Russian military would get a good look and develop countermeasures, military officials have said.

U.S. lawmakers have pressured social media companies such as Twitter Inc.TWTR-0.19% to close accounts used by Islamic State militants or supporters. The companies have moved to block these accounts, but militants can quickly open new ones using different personal information.

Signs of success

Pentagon officials say the current U.S. military strategy shows signs of success. They cite as examples the Kurdish offensive in Sinjar—which had been held by Islamic State—and the drone strike that killed Islamic State executioner known as “Jihadi John.”

To build on that progress, U.S. defense officials said, they have developed a series of so-called accelerants with the potential to advance the fight.

Pentagon planners, for example, are looking at potentially tripling the number of Special Operations Forces in Syria from the 50 the White House has said are headed there now.

The new teams would help arm the Syrian Arab Coalition, a loose group of Arab fighters who work closely with Kurdish forces in Syria.

The new approach is what one Pentagon official described as “drop, op and assess.” Ammunition is dropped, an operation is planned and conducted, and U.S. forces assess the performance of local fighters before providing them more ammunition.

After conversations with their French counterparts, some U.S. officials believe France would be willing to contribute some special forces, particularly if troops can be freed from Africa—a decision perhaps more difficult after Friday’s attack in Mali.

The fight against Islamic State in Iraq has its own unexpected roadblocks, including ones set by Baghdad. U.S. military officials say their Iraqi counterparts are blocking the deployment of Apache attack helicopters and the establishment of a base for American special operation forces to launch raids in Iraq and, potentially, in Syria.

The base would be used for “expeditionary targeting,” Pentagon jargon for teams of commandos assigned to hunt Islamic State leaders. The Iraqi officials opposed to the deployment of Apache helicopters and the new base are also against the return of American troops, U.S. officials said, because of worries of a domestic backlash, particularly from Shiite militia groups.

The U.S. also wants Iraq to appoint a new commander to oversee its war operations and serve as a counterpart to the new U.S. three-star commander, Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland. U.S. officials say such an appointment would streamline efforts against Islamic State and make the Iraqis more focused and accountable.

Naseer Muneer, a spokesman for the Iraqi Defense Ministry, said Iraq and U.S. already work closely together. He disputed the idea that Iraqis were blocking the Apache helicopters and said no official request for a commando base had been made.

Military planners are looking at ways to increase the number of airstrikes against Islamic State by changing a policy to protect against civilian casualties in Islamic State-held territory. Currently, jets in the U.S.-led coalition won’t drop a bomb if the military believes there is any risk of accidentally killing civilians.

Easing this policy would open up more Islamic State targets for attack, officials said. But many military leaders believe it would alienate the very population the West needs to win to their side.

U.S. military officials say the overall changes under consideration so far are a refinement rather than a change in strategy against Islamic State.

“There is only one thing that is going to beat these guys and that is a ground army,” said a military official. “And there are only two ways to do that: provide one yourself or rely on someone else’s. It is either invade Syria or do what we are doing.”

A Washington Post investigation reveals how Bill and Hillary Clinton have methodically cultivated donors over 40 years, from Little Rock to Washington and then across the globe. Their fundraising methods have created a new blueprint for politicians and their donors.

See article in The Washington Post.

Democrat John Bel Edwards Upsets GOP Candidate in Louisiana Governor Race

From The Wall Street Journal:

BATON ROUGE, La.—Democrat John Bel Edwards pulled off an improbable win in the Louisiana governor’s race on Saturday, by running as a centrist who could right the state’s fiscal ship and by capitalizing on the unpopularity of Republican Sen. David Vitter.

In a Deep South state that has been solidly Republican, Mr. Edwards received 54.8% of the votes cast in the gubernatorial runoff election with 89% of the precincts counted.

Mr. Vitter conceded the election and said he wouldn’t run for re-election as U.S. senator in 2016.

Mr. Edwards, 49 years old, is the first Democrat elected statewide in Louisiana since 2008. The state representative from Amite, La., also gave Democrats a glimmer of hope after steep losses in 2014 gubernatorial and legislative races.

Mr. Vitter, one of the most powerful and well-funded politicians in the state, had seemed a shoo-in when he announced a gubernatorial run nearly two years ago. But Mr. Vitter spent much of the monthlong gubernatorial runoff talking about his past “very serious sin” rather than his conservative bona fides.

In the first majority-Muslim U.S. city, residents tense about its future

From The Washington Post:

Karen Majewski was in such high demand in her vintage shop on a recent Saturday afternoon that a store employee threw up her hands when yet another visitor came in to chat. Everyone wanted to talk to the mayor about the big political news.

Earlier this month, the blue-collar city that has been home to Polish Catholic immigrants and their descendents for more than a century became what demographers think is the first jurisdiction in the nation to elect a majority-Muslim council.

It’s the second tipping for Hamtramck (pronounced Ham-tram-ik), which in 2013 earned the distinction becoming of what appears to be the first majority-Muslim city in the United States following the arrival of thousands of immigrants from Yemen, Bangladesh and Bosnia over a decade.

In many ways, Hamtramck is a microcosm of the fears gripping parts of the country since the Islamic State’s attacks on Paris: The influx of Muslims here has profoundly unsettled some residents of the town long known for its love of dancing, beer, paczki pastries and the pope.

“It’s traumatic for them,” said Majewski, a dignified-looking woman in a brown velvet dress, her long, silvery hair wound in a loose bun.

Around her at the Tekla Vintage store, mannequins showcased dresses, hats and jewelry from the mid-20th century, and customers fingered handbags and gawked at the antique dolls that line the store, which sits across the street from Srodek’s Quality Sausage and the Polish Art Center on Joseph Campau Avenue, the town’s main drag.

Majewski, whose family emigrated from Poland in the early 20th century, admitted to a few concerns of her own. Business owners within 500 feet of one of Hamtramck’s four mosques can’t obtain a liquor license, she complained, a notable development in a place that flouted Prohibition-era laws by openly operating bars. The restrictions could thwart efforts to create an entertainment hub downtown, said the pro-commerce mayor.

And while Majewski advocated to allow mosques to issue calls to prayer, she understands why some longtime residents are struggling to adjust to the sound that echos through the city’s streets five times each day.

“There’s definitely a strong feeling that Muslims are the other,” she said. “It’s about culture, what kind of place Hamtramck will become. There’s definitely a fear, and to some degree, I share it.”

Saad Almasmari, a 28-year-old from Yemen who became the fourth Muslim elected to the six-member city council this month, doesn’t understand that fear.

Almasmari, the owner of an ice cream company who campaigned on building Hamtramck’s struggling economy and improving the public schools, said he is frustrated that so many residents expect the council’s Muslim members to be biased. He spent months campaigning everywhere in town, knocking on the doors of mosques and churches alike, he said.

“I don’t know why people keep putting religion into politics,” said Almasmari, who received the highest percentage of votes (22 percent) of any candidate. “When we asked for votes, we didn’t ask what their religion was.”

Past clashes with present

Surrounded by Detroit, Hamtramck is Michigan’s most densely populated city, with about 22,000 residents occupying row after row of two-story, turn-of-the-century bungalows packed into two square miles. Polish Catholic immigrants began flocking to Hamtramck, which was originally settled by German farmers, in 1914 when the Dodge brothers opened an auto assembly plant in town.

While the city’s Polish Catholic population has shrunk from 90 percent in 1970 to about 11 percent today, in part as the old residents have moved to more prosperous suburbs, Polish American culture still permeates the town.

Labor Day, known as Polish Day here, is marked with music, drinking and street dancing. The roof of the Polish cathedral-style St. Florian Church peaks above the city landscape, and a large statue of Pope John Paul II, who visited the city in 1987, towers over Pope Park on Joseph Campau Avenue. The Polish pope’s cousin, John Wojtylo, was a Hamtramck city councilman in the 1940s and 1950s, according to local historian Greg Kowalski.

The once-thriving factory town now struggles with one of the highest poverty rates in Michigan. In 2009, American Axle shut down its plant in Hamtramck, laying off hundreds of workers. There is a new class of entrepreneurs, including Igor Sadikovic, a young Bosnian immigrant who plans to open a coffee shop with an art gallery by next summer, and Rebecca Smith, who owns a handbag store that employs Muslim women.

But the new businesses have not been enough to offset the loss of a manufacturing base and reductions in state revenue sharing. Since 2000, Michigan has twice appointed an emergency manager to the city, which has an annual operating budget of $22 million.

Hamtramck’s exceedingly low home prices and relatively low crime rate have proved especially attractive to new immigrants, whose presence is visible everywhere. Most of the women strolling Joseph Campau Avenue wear hijabs, or headscarves, and niqabs, veils that leave only the area around the eyes open. Many of the markets advertise their wares in Arabic or Bengali, and some display signs telling customers that owners will return shortly — gone to pray, much in the same way Polish businesses once signaled that employees had gone to Mass.

Tensions rise in volume

Many longtime residents point to 2004 as the year they suspected that the town’s culture had shifted irrevocably. It was then that the city council gave permission to al-Islah Islamic Center to broadcast its call to prayer from speakers atop its roof.

“The Polish people think we were invading them,” said Masud Khan, one of the mosque’s leaders, recalling that time in an interview earlier this month. “We were a big threat to their religion and culture. Now their days are gone.”

The mosque, which attracts about 500 people for its Friday prayer services, has purchased a neighboring vacant limestone building in the heart of the city that once was a furniture store. The mosque’s leaders plan to put a minaret — a spire — on the building and use it to continue broadcasting a call to prayer five times a day.

The private sale enraged city leaders, including the mayor, who sees the area as key to commercial growth. Mosque leaders estimate that the 20,000-square-foot building will hold up to 2,000 people once the renovation is finished next year.

The town’s transformation caught Mike Bugaj off guard. When the Hamtramck native left to join the Air Force in 1972, the city was widely referred to as “Little Warsaw.” When he returned from the military in 1995, “the Muslims were here,” said Bugaj, who is of Polish and Native American descent.

The new majority Muslim council has Bugaj worried that old traditions, like the Polish festival and Fat Tuesday’s paczki day, soon will be wiped away.

He and other residents are “concerned about what they would want to change, that they could mistreat women,” said Bugaj, who wore feather earrings and a T-shirt with wolves on it. “Don’t come over to America and try to turn people to your way of thinking.”

Wayne Little, who has been a pastor for nearly 40 years at Corinthian Baptist Church, said many of the city’s African American residents are also waiting to see whether the new Muslim-majority city council will represent their interests.

“They are clannish and stick together. . . . The jury is out on them.” Little said.

But Hamtramck’s Muslim population is hardly a monolith — the city is about 23 percent Arabic, 19 percent Bangladeshi and 7 percent Bosnian. The predominantly Muslim groups don’t intermingle much because of language differences, according to Thaddeus Radzilowski of the Piast Institute, a census information center.

Adding to the city’s burgeoning diversity are the young, white hipsters who have begun to migrate here from surrounding areas for the food, bars and art shows.

On a recent Saturday, about 40 people crowded into a one-room studio to sip wine from red Solo cups and enjoy a watercolor exhibition by African American artist Olayami Dabls as reggae music thumped in the background. The nudity and sexuality portrayed in Dabls’s paintings provided a startling contrast that afternoon to the handful of veil-clad Muslim women poring over produce at the Yemeni-owned grocery store visible across the street through the window.

Even some residents who are nervous about the new council speak of the city’s diversity with pride, noting the eclectic mix of restaurants and the fact that at least 27 languages are spoken in Hamtramck schools.

Frank Zacharias, an elderly Polish American usher at St. Ladislaus, the Catholic parish across the street from the mosque, is intimately familiar with life on Hamtramck’s streets, which he tromped for 28 years as a mail carrier before retiring. The changes have stunned him, he said.

“It was hard at the beginning,” he said, referring to 2004, when the mosque began the call to prayer.

But, he added: “They’re human. You gotta live with them. Hamtramck is known for diversity.”

University of Michigan at Dearborn professor Sally Howell, who has written a book on Michigan and U.S. Muslims, said that although some outsiders have equated the election results with “a sharia takeover,” that is not a fear she hears expressed by Hamtramck’s non-Muslims.

It all boils down to “a fear that this city council won’t represent the community,” Howell said. Her own sense, she said, is that it will.

The discord intensified in the weeks before the election, beginning when several senior citizens living in an apartment complex complained about the volume of the 6 a.m. call to prayer from a nearby mosque.

Susan Dunn, who was on her fifth unsuccessful run for city council, raised the issue before the governing body.

“I have my own rights, as well,” she said while baking her son’s birthday cake in her kitchen. “I’m not a hater. It wasn’t a calculated move.”

At one point as she spoke, a mosque close to Dunn’s house began broadcasting the call to prayer. “You try reading a book in your back yard while your dog is barking to that,” Dunn said, clearly exasperated.

On the eve of the vote, then-candidate Almasmari sent a photo of a flier he said he had found on the street to Majewski, the mayor, and Dunn. “Let’s get the Muslim out of Hamtramck in November 3rd. Let’s take back our city,” it read. The photo of the flier, which was illustrated with images of three white candidates, including Dunn, began circulating on Facebook. Dunn said she had nothing to do with it.

Then, after the election, a Muslim community organizer upset many residents when he praised the composition of the new council.

“Today, we show the Polish and everybody else,” said Ibrahim Algahim in an address to fellow Muslims that was captured on video.

Muslim community activist Kamal Rahman said he empathizes with the older residents’ concerns and has been working to help unify the town by meeting with city leaders.

Rahman, who in 1986 became one of the first Bengalis to attend a Hamtramck high school, said he considered moving to a mostly white Detroit suburb but decided against it once he discovered that a Ku Klux Klan group also had an address there. Instead, he built a five-bedroom home next to a Yemeni mosque just outside of Hamtramck, and sends his children to charter schools in the city.

Rahman encourages other Muslims to watch their language, because it can seem threatening.

“It sends the wrong message. If I were white, I would feel scared,” he said.

Unneighborly acts

As he sat in a Yemeni restaurant neatly dressed in a blue dress shirt and dark blue striped tie, Almasmari, the council member, recalled feeling shaken in the weeks leading up to the election, when he discovered that dozens of the yard signs touting his candidacy had been spray-painted with an “X.”

On a boarded-up building on the city’s main street, a poster to re-elect council member Anam Miah had been partially covered with big block letters — “DON’T VOTE” — and a swastika was drawn on Miah’s forehead.

But Almasmari insists that longtimers’ fears are unfounded. Already, he said he has scheduled a meeting with residents who wish to talk about their concerns — economic, educational and otherwise.

“People talk about Muslims by talking about ‘them,’ but we’re not going to be as single-minded as people think,” said Almasmari, a married father of three who covered his Facebook profile picture last week with the French flag filter.

Back in her vintage shop down the block, Majewski said she sympathizes with the stories of immigrants in search of a better life. It is a subject the mayor knows something about, having specialized in immigration and ethnicity when she earned her doctorate in American culture at the University of Michigan, said Majewski, who works at UM’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy.

A few minutes later, she pointed to a large, vacant building down the street that she said had once housed a popular department store. It was purchased by a Yemeni immigrant and has sat empty for two years, she said.

“It creates a lot of resentment and drags down the property values. That’s a real source of tension,” Majewski said. “Is that ethnic? . . . What do you call that? Can you criticize his lack of action? There’s certainly an ethnic element, the feeling that they don’t care about the city. How do you disentangle those?”

She paused to tell a shopper that the red plaid shirt he was trying on looked like a good fit before concluding aloud that the new conflicts in Hamtramck have less to do with ethnicity and religion and more about to do with what it means to be a good neighbor.

“We live on top of each other,” she said. “You can pass your plate through the window to the person next door.”