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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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Deploys Army to Deport Colombians - President’s critics say he is seeking scapegoat as he deports more than 1,000 citizens of neighboring country

From The Wall Street Journal:

CARACAS—Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, struggling with falling approval ratings and a deepening economic crisis, has found what critics say is a convenient scapegoat for his country’s woes: neighboring Colombia.

In recent days, Venezuela deported more than 1,000 Colombian citizens and closed key border crossings in the frontier state of Táchira, where Mr. Maduro declared martial law in several municipalities. The actions were allegedly aimed at cracking down on rampant smuggling of price-controlled Venezuelan goods into Colombia, a flow that aggravates shortages in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s armed forces were also deployed to root out what the government called a host of illegal activity. Mr. Maduro blamed that on what he said was an inflow of more than 10,000 Colombian immigrants a month.

Government figures show considerable movement both ways across the border, with Colombians crossing over to buy subsidized goods even as some Venezuelans go the other way toward Colombia’s more robust economy.

The emergency decree in Táchira, details of which were printed in Venezuela’s Official Gazette on Monday, bans unauthorized public assembly or protest, gives authorities free range for warrantless search and seizure and heavily restricts cross-border commercial activity.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Joe Biden Is Leaning Toward a 2016 Run says the WSJ. This could an interesting made in heaven race: Biden vs. Kasich. Two good and deserving candidates (and I have never liked anchor babies and favor amending the 14th, as hard as that would be, and legislation in the intereim).

From The Wall Street Journal:

Vice President Joe Biden, who has long been considering a presidential bid, is increasingly leaning toward entering the race if it is still possible he can knit together a competitive campaign at this late date, people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Biden still could opt to sit out the 2016 race, and he is weighing multiple political, financial and family considerations before making a final decision. But conversations about the possibility were a prominent feature of an August stay in South Carolina and his home in Delaware last week, these people said. A surprise weekend trip to Washington to meet with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), a darling of the party’s liberal wing, represented a pivot from potential to likely candidate, one Biden supporter said.

Some party insiders worry Mr. Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration, in particular, has led to unforced errors that could haunt an eventual Republican nominee. In a radio interview last week discussing Mr. Trump’s call for ending “birthright citizenship,” the constitutional guarantee of citizenship for children of immigrants born in the U.S., former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush used the term “anchor babies” to describe the American-born children of undocumented immigrants. Mr. Bush, a fluent Spanish speaker who trumpets his ability to campaign in Latino neighborhoods, later defended his use of a term, which is offensive to many Hispanics.

“Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I’ll use it,” Mr. Bush said to reporters who pressed him about his language during a campaign stop in New Hampshire.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I've been telling my non-political spouse Sally for a little shy of a year that he's my man; now she is beginning to understand a bit. If I had to vote tomorrow . . . -- Kasich to pick up major endorsement from Alabama governor

From The Washington Post:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination with a unique message of compassionate conservatism and cultural inclusion, will pick up a head-turning endorsement Monday in the Bible Belt.

Alabama Gov. Robert J. Bentley (R) plans to endorse Kasich at a campaign event in Birmingham, according to a Kasich campaign official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose the plans.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

I would say, if this was goal, mission (somewhat) accomplished: This was an opportunity to demonstrate that their network is not, as its critics have charged, a blindly loyal propaganda division of the Republican Party. - Fox News Moderators Bring a Sharpened Edge to the Republican Debate Stage

From The New York Times:

CLEVELAND — Dredging up old misstatements. Questioning someone’s temperamental fitness to be president. Suggesting that someone else might let a woman die rather than allow her to have an abortion.
 
The Republican presidential candidates’ debate on Thursday night was notable for its pointed accusations, and for the sometimes-awkward glowering and silences that followed.

And that was just the moderators.
 
The triumvirate of Fox News anchors who ran the two-hour event — Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier — seemed to have one mission above all else in questioning the 10 would-be presidents they faced across the stage at the Quicken Loans Arena: Make them squirm.
  
There was more than just good television at stake. For the journalists of Fox News, the debate offered a potential defining moment in front of millions of people, during one of the most anticipated political events of the year. This was an opportunity to demonstrate that their network is not, as its critics have charged, a blindly loyal propaganda division of the Republican Party, that Fox journalists can be as unsparing toward conservatives as they are with liberals, and that they can eviscerate with equal opportunity if they choose.
 
From the opening moments of the debate, the moderators knew where to turn the screws.
 
The debate Fox held at 5 p.m. with the candidates who did not have strong enough poll numbers to qualify for the prime-time event at 9 — disparaged by some watchers as the “kiddie table” or the “junior varsity team” — was not much gentler toward its participants.
 
As if it were not humiliating enough to be addressing a virtually empty basketball arena — there was no audience for them because Fox decided to allow spectators only for the main event — the candidates were subjected to some jarring questions right off the bat.
 
Essentially, the subtext was this: You’ve got to be kidding, right?
 
To Gov. Bobby Jindal: Almost no one in Louisiana likes you. To Rick Perry, the former Texas governor: You can’t possibly think anyone would vote for you after your last presidential campaign.

To Jim Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia: Aren’t you too old? To George E. Pataki, the former New York governor: Who are you again?
 
Only toward the end did the moderators’ focus wander in a series of softly lobbed questions about God.
 
By the time the debate was winding down, the moderators seemed to realize the toll they had exacted. In her closing remarks, Ms. Kelly asked the candidates if they were relieved the debate was over.

“They don’t look relieved,” she said, answering her own question. “They’re like, ‘Get me out of here.’ ”

David Brooks: 3 U.S. Defeats: Vietnam, Iraq and Now Iran

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

The purpose of war, military or economic, is to get your enemy to do something it would rather not do. Over the past several years the United States and other Western powers have engaged in an economic, clandestine and political war against Iran to force it to give up its nuclear program.
 
Over the course of this siege, American policy makers have been very explicit about their goals. Foremost, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Second, as John Kerry has said, to force it to dismantle a large part of its nuclear infrastructure. Third, to take away its power to enrich uranium.
Fourth, as President Obama has said, to close the Fordo enrichment facility. Fifth, as the chief American negotiator, Wendy Sherman, recently testified, to force Iran to come clean on all past nuclear activities by the Iranian military. Sixth, to shut down Iran’s ballistic missile program. Seventh, to have “anywhere, anytime 24/7” access to any nuclear facilities Iran retains. Eighth, as Kerry put it, to not phase down sanctions until after Iran ends its nuclear bomb-making capabilities.
 
As a report from the Foreign Policy Initiative exhaustively details, the U.S. has not fully achieved any of these objectives. The agreement delays but does not end Iran’s nuclear program. It legitimizes Iran’s status as a nuclear state. Iran will mothball some of its centrifuges, but it will not dismantle or close any of its nuclear facilities. Nuclear research and development will continue.
 
Iran wins the right to enrich uranium. The agreement does not include “anywhere, anytime” inspections; some inspections would require a 24-day waiting period, giving the Iranians plenty of time to clean things up. After eight years, all restrictions on ballistic missiles are lifted. Sanctions are lifted once Iran has taken its initial actions.
 
Wars, military or economic, are measured by whether you achieved your stated objectives. By this standard the U.S. and its allies lost the war against Iran, but we were able to negotiate terms that gave only our partial surrender, which forces Iran to at least delay its victory. There have now been three big U.S. strategic defeats over the past several decades: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran.
The big question is, Why did we lose? Why did the combined powers of the Western world lose to a ragtag regime with a crippled economy and without much popular support?
 
The first big answer is that the Iranians just wanted victory more than we did. They were willing to withstand the kind of punishment we were prepared to mete out.
Further, the Iranians were confident in their power, while the Obama administration emphasized the limits of America’s ability to influence other nations. It’s striking how little President Obama thought of the tools at his disposal. He effectively took the military option off the table. He didn’t believe much in economic sanctions. “Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure,” he argued.
 
The president concluded early on that Iran would simply not budge on fundamental things. As he argued in his highhanded and counterproductive speech Wednesday, Iran was never going to compromise its sovereignty (which is the whole point of military or economic warfare).
The president hoped that a deal would change the moral nature of the regime, so he had an extra incentive to reach a deal. And the Western, Russian and Chinese sanctions regime was fragile while the Iranians were able to hang together.
 
This administration has given us a choice between two terrible options: accept the partial-surrender agreement that was negotiated or reject it and slide immediately into what is in effect our total surrender — a collapsed sanctions regime and a booming Iranian nuclear program.
 
Many members of Congress will be tempted to accept the terms of our partial surrender as the least bad option in the wake of our defeat. I get that. But in voting for this deal they may be affixing their names to an arrangement that will increase the chance of more comprehensive war further down the road.
Iran is a fanatical, hegemonic, hate-filled regime. If you think its radicalism is going to be softened by a few global trade opportunities, you really haven’t been paying attention to the Middle East over the past four decades.
 
Iran will use its $150 billion windfall to spread terror around the region and exert its power. It will incrementally but dangerously cheat on the accord. Armed with money, ballistic weapons and an eventual nuclear breakout, it will become more aggressive. As the end of the nuclear delay comes into view, the 45th or 46th president will decide that action must be taken.
 
Economic and political defeats can be as bad as military ones. Sometimes when you surrender to a tyranny you lay the groundwork for a more cataclysmic conflict to come.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Desert Storm, the Last Classic War - Twenty-five years after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the lessons of the Gulf War remain urgent, even in today’s chaotic Middle East

Richard N. Haass writes in The Wall Street Journal:

It was mid-July 1990, and for several days the U.S. intelligence community had been watching Saddam Hussein mass his forces along Iraq’s border with Kuwait. Most of us in the administration of President George H.W. Bush—I was then the top Middle East specialist on the National Security Council—believed that this was little more than a late-20th-century version of gunboat diplomacy. We figured that Saddam was bluffing to pressure his wealthy but weak neighbor to the south into reducing its oil output.

Iraq was desperate for higher oil prices, given the enormous cost of the just-concluded decadelong war with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran and Saddam’s own ambitions for regional primacy. Saddam’s fellow Arab leaders, for their part, were advising the Bush administration to stay calm and let things play out to the peaceful outcome they expected. In late July, Saddam met for the first time with April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and her cable back to Washington reinforced the view that this was all an elaborate bit of geopolitical theater.

But by Aug. 1—25 years ago this week—it had become apparent that Saddam was amassing far more military forces than he would need simply to intimidate Kuwait. The White House hastily assembled senior staff from the intelligence community and the Departments of State and Defense. After hours of inconclusive talk, we agreed that the best chance for avoiding some sort of Iraqi military action would be for President Bush to call Saddam. I was asked to pitch this idea to my boss, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and the president.

I rushed over to Gen. Scowcroft’s small West Wing office and brought him up to speed on the deliberations. The two of us then walked over to the East Wing, the living quarters of the White House (as opposed to the working part). President Bush was in the sick bay, getting a sore shoulder tended to after hitting a bucket of golf balls. I briefed him on the latest intelligence and diplomacy, as well the recommendation that he reach out to Saddam.

We were all skeptical that it would work but figured that it couldn’t hurt to try. The conversation shifted to how best to reach the Iraqi leader—a more complicated task than one might think since it was 2 a.m. on Aug. 2 in Baghdad.

We were going through the options when the phone rang. It was Robert Kimmitt, the acting secretary of state, saying that his department had just received word from the U.S. ambassador in Kuwait that an Iraqi invasion was under way. “So much for calling Saddam,” said the president grimly.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the first major crisis of the post-Cold War world had begun. Looking back on that conflict, which stretched out over the better part of the following year, it now has a classic feel to it—very much at odds with the decidedly nonclassic era unfolding in today’s Middle East. But the Gulf War is still worth remembering, not only because its outcome got the post-Cold War era off to a good start but also because it drove home a number of lessons that remain as relevant as ever.

Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait had taken us by surprise, and it took a few days for the administration to find its bearings. The first National Security Council meeting chaired by the president on Aug. 2—the day of the invasion—was disheartening since the cabinet-level officials couldn’t reach a consensus on what to do. To make matters worse, the president said publicly that military intervention wasn’t being considered. He meant it only in the most literal sense—i.e., that it was premature to start going down that path—but the press interpreted him to mean that he had taken a military response off the table. He hadn’t.

As the meeting ended, I went over to Gen. Scowcroft, who looked at least as worried and unhappy as I did. We quickly agreed that the meeting had been a debacle. He and the president were about to board Air Force One for Aspen, where the president was to give a long-scheduled speech on nuclear weapons and meet with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Gen. Scowcroft asked me to produce a memo for himself and the president outlining the stakes and the potential courses of action, including a U.S.-led military response. I returned to my office and typed away. “I am [as] aware as you are of just how costly and risky such a conflict would prove to be,” I wrote. “But so too would be accepting this new status quo. We would be setting a terrible precedent—one that would only accelerate violent centrifugal tendencies—in this emerging post-Cold War era.”

A second NSC meeting was held when the president returned the next day. It was as focused and good as the first one had been inchoate and bad. The president wanted to lead off the session to make clear that the U.S. response to this crisis would not be business as usual, but Gen. Scowcroft, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (filling in for James Baker, who happened to be in Siberia with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze) and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney all argued that once the commander in chief spoke, it would be impossible to have an open and honest exchange.

The president reluctantly agreed to hold back. Instead, those three top advisers opened the meeting by making the strategic and economic case that Saddam couldn’t be allowed to get away with the conquest of Kuwait. Nobody dissented. A policy was coming into focus.

The next day (Saturday, Aug. 4), much the same group (now including Secretary Baker) met at Camp David for the first detailed discussion of military options. Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led off, after which Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf (who oversaw U.S. Central Command) gave a detailed assessment of Iraq’s military strengths and weaknesses, along with some initial thoughts about what the U.S. could do quickly. What emerged was a consensus around introducing U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia to prevent a bad situation from getting far worse—and to deter Saddam from attacking another oil-rich neighbor. A delegation headed by Mr. Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates would go to Saudi Arabia to make the arrangements.

The U.S. had already put economic sanctions in place and frozen the assets of both Iraq and Kuwait (in the latter case, to ensure that they wouldn’t be looted). The U.N. Security Council—including China and the Soviet Union, with their vetoes—had called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from all of Kuwait.

After the meeting at Camp David, everyone but the president hustled back to Washington. He didn’t return until the next afternoon. Gen. Scowcroft called to tell me that he couldn’t be there when the president’s helicopter touched down and asked me to meet Marine One and let the president know what was going on. I hurriedly summarized the latest on a single page and borrowed a navy blazer, arriving on the South Lawn just moments before the president.

Once on the ground, President Bush motioned me over and read my update on the military and diplomatic state of play. He scowled as we huddled. Saddam was showing no signs of backing off, and the president had grown tired of assurances from Arab leaders that they could work things out diplomatically if just given the chance. The president was also frustrated with press criticism that the administration wasn’t doing enough. After our brief discussion, he stalked over to the eagerly waiting White House press corps and unloaded with one of the most memorable phrases of his presidency: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

The stage was thus set for the next six months. Diplomacy and economic sanctions failed to dislodge Saddam. In mid-January, Operation Desert Shield—the deployment of some 500,000 U.S. troops, along with their equipment, to the region to protect Saudi Arabia and prepare to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait—gave way to Operation Desert Storm. The administration not only won U.N. assent for its bold course but also assembled a global coalition, stretching from Australia to Syria, for the military effort. In the end, it took six weeks of air power and four days of land war to free Kuwait and restore the status quo that had prevailed before Saddam’s invasion.

Multilateralism constrains the U.S., but it can yield big dividends. Broad participation ensures a degree of burden-sharing. Due to contributions from the Gulf states and Japan, the Gulf War ended up costing the U.S. little or nothing financially. Multilateralism—in this case, the support of the U.N. Security Council—can also generate political support within the U.S. and around the world; it supplies a source of legitimacy often judged missing when the U.S. acts alone.

Even successful policies can have unforeseen negative consequences. Our one-sided military victory in the Gulf War may have persuaded others to avoid conventional battlefield confrontations with the U.S. Instead, urban terrorism has become the approach of choice for many in the Middle East, while other enemies (such as North Korea) have opted for nuclear deterrence to ensure that they stay in power.

Limited goals are often wise. They may not transform a situation, but they have the advantage of being desirable, doable and affordable. Ambitious goals may promise more, but delivering on them can prove impossible. The U.S. got into trouble in Korea in 1950 when it was not content with liberating the south and marched north of the 38th parallel in an expensive and unsuccessful attempt to reunify the peninsula by force.

In the Gulf War, President Bush was often criticized for limiting U.S. objectives to what the U.N. Security Council and Congress had signed up for: kicking Saddam out of Kuwait. Many argued that we should have “gone on to Baghdad.” But as the U.S. learned the hard way a decade later in Afghanistan and Iraq, getting rid of a bad regime is easy compared with building a better, enduring alternative. In foreign lands, modest goals can be ambitious enough. Local realities almost always trump inside-the-Beltway abstractions.

There is no substitute for U.S. leadership. The world is not self-organizing; no invisible hand creates order in the geopolitical marketplace. The Gulf War demonstrated that it takes the visible hand of the U.S. to galvanize world action.

Similarly, there is no substitute for presidential leadership. The Senate nearly voted against going to war with Iraq 25 years ago—even though the U.S. was implementing U.N. resolutions that the Senate had sought. The country cannot have 535 secretaries of state or defense if it hopes to lead.

Be wary of wars of choice. The 1991 Gulf War—unlike the 2003 Iraq war—was a war of necessity. Vital U.S. interests were at stake, and after multilateral sanctions and intensive diplomacy came up short, only the military option remained. But most future U.S. wars are likely to be wars of choice: The interests at stake will tend to be important but not vital, or policy makers will have options besides military force. Such decisions about the discretionary use of force tend to be far harder to make—and far harder to defend if, as is often the case, the war and its aftermath turn out to be more costly and less successful than its architects predict.

The historical impact of the Gulf War turned out to be smaller than many imagined at the time—including President Bush, who hoped that the war would usher in a new age of global cooperation after the collapse of the Soviet empire. The U.S. enjoyed a degree of pre-eminence that couldn’t last. China’s rise, post-Soviet Russia’s alienation, technological innovation, American political dysfunction, two draining wars in the wake of 9/11—all contributed to the emergence of a world in which power is more widely distributed and decision-making more decentralized.

Those days seem distant from what we now face in the Middle East, with virtual anarchy in much of the region and jihadist extremists holding large stretches of territory. But the Gulf War is not just ancient history. Its main lessons are still well worth heeding.

Economic sanctions can only do so much. Even sweeping sanctions supported by much of the world couldn’t persuade Saddam to vacate Kuwait—any more than they have persuaded Russia, Iran or North Korea to reverse major policies of their own in recent years. Moreover, sanctions against Iraq and Cuba demonstrate that sanctions can have the unintended consequence of increasing government domination of an economy.

Assumptions are dangerous things. The administration of George H.W. Bush (myself included) was late in realizing that Saddam would actually invade Kuwait—and too optimistic in predicting that he would be unable to survive his defeat in Kuwait. Just over a decade later, several assumptions made by a second Bush administration proved terribly costly in Iraq. So did later rosy assumptions made by the Obama administration as it pulled out of Iraq, staged a limited intervention in Libya, encouraged the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and called for regime change in Syria.

The Gulf War looks today like something of an anomaly: short and sharp, with a clear start and finish; focused on resisting external aggression, not nation-building; and fought on battlefields with combined arms, not in cities by special forces and irregulars. Most unusual of all in light of what would follow, the war was multilateral, inexpensive and successful. Even the principle for which the Gulf War was fought—the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by military means—has been drawn into question recently by the international community’s passivity in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

It is a stretch to tie the events of 1990-91 to the mayhem that is the Middle East today. The pathologies of the region—along with the 2003 Iraq war and the mishandling of its aftermath, the subsequent pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, the 2011 Libya intervention and the continuing U.S. failure to act in Syria—all do more to explain the mess.

The Gulf War was a signal success of American foreign policy. It avoided what clearly would have been a terrible outcome—letting Saddam get away with a blatant act of territorial acquisition and perhaps come to dominate much of the Middle East. But it was a short-lived triumph, and it could neither usher in a “new world order,” as President Bush hoped, nor save the Middle East from itself.

Dr. Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of several books, including “War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars.”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

As Medicare and Medicaid Turn 50, Use of Private Health Plans Surges

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — As Medicare and Medicaid reach their 50th anniversary on Thursday, the two vast government programs that insure more than one-third of Americans are undergoing a transformation that none of their original architects foresaw: Private health insurance companies are playing a rapidly growing role in both.
 
More than 30 percent of the 55 million Medicare beneficiaries and well over half of the 66 million Medicaid beneficiaries are now in private health plans run by insurance companies like the UnitedHealth Group, Humana, Anthem and Centene. Enrollment has soared as the government, in an effort to control costs and improve care, pays private insurers to provide and coordinate medical services for more and more beneficiaries.
 
Although the programs remain highly popular with patients, skeptics question whether the use of private plans will save the government money in the long run and worry that the plans may skimp on care. But both programs served as foundations for the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which, like the newer versions of Medicare and Medicaid, uses a combination of government money and private insurance to provide coverage.
 
This week, the White House is using the half-century anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid to portray the Affordable Care Act as a logical extension of the two social insurance programs, which are part of the fabric of American life. Administration officials hope that President Obama’s health care program will one day be as widely accepted as Medicare and Medicaid are now.
 
“The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid and built a model that helped fill some of the gaps between Medicare and Medicaid,” Jason Furman, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview Wednesday. “At the same time, it is rooted in the private sector and competition.”
 
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill creating Medicare and Medicaid on July 30, 1965, he made clear his ambitions for the programs: They would extend “the miracle of healing to the old and to the poor.” The legislation fulfilled decades of Democratic dreams, but, unlike the Affordable Care Act, it was passed with votes from a substantial number of Republicans.
“They believed that commercial health insurance had failed the elderly, and they wanted to replace it with social insurance, as a first step toward similar coverage for the rest of the population,” said Theodore R. Marmor, a Yale professor and historian of Medicare.
 
In the original versions of Medicare and Medicaid, beneficiaries could go to any doctor who would take them, and the government would pay providers a fee for each service. By contrast, in private managed-care plans, beneficiaries use a network of doctors and hospitals, and the federal or state government pays insurers, which receive a fixed amount per member per month.
 
The original setup of Medicare and Medicaid began to change in the early 1980s after Congress and the Reagan administration created incentives for private insurers to contract with Medicare. Enrollment rose and fell as federal officials tinkered with reimbursement rates.
 
In the last decade, as private insurers accelerated their marketing of Medicare plans and baby boomers accustomed to managed care reached retirement age, enrollment in the private Medicare plans, called Medicare Advantage, surged. About 99 percent of beneficiaries now have the option to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, and the average beneficiary has a choice of more than a dozen plans.
 
In interviews, Medicare beneficiaries expressed a high degree of satisfaction with the original government-run program and the private alternatives, which include health maintenance organizations and other forms of managed care.
 
“For seniors on fixed income, an H.M.O. provides the best bang for the buck,” said Ann E. Mason, 74, of Rochester.
 
Like many older Americans, she found that a Medicare Advantage plan offered better value than the combination of traditional Medicare and a supplementary insurance policy to fill gaps in Medicare, for expenses like co-payments and deductibles.
 
Ann C. Dorsey, 65, of Atlanta, qualified for Medicare several years ago after she developed a rare heart tumor and became disabled. She has invited insurance agents to her home to explain their plans and says she is pleased with her Cigna H.M.O.
 
“Anybody who doesn’t look at Medicare Advantage is nuts,” said Ms. Dorsey, who said she saved at least $1,000 a year because of lower out-of-pocket expenses. But, she said, before selecting a plan, beneficiaries need to do their homework, comparing benefits, physician rosters and prescription drug lists of different plans.
 
Yet even with managed care, big questions remain about how to finance Medicare and Medicaid for the next 50 years.
 
In Congress and in state legislatures, which help pay for Medicaid, the costs continue to cause anxiety. Under the Affordable Care Act, more than half the states have expanded eligibility for Medicaid, and state officials have enrolled most new beneficiaries in private plans.
 
In many states that expanded Medicaid, enrollment has far surpassed expectations, evidently because state officials underestimated the demand for insurance and the proportion of eligible low-income people who would sign up.
 
Michigan, for example, has signed up 600,000 people in 16 months — more than it expected to enroll in five years. Nearly 80 percent of the new beneficiaries are in private managed-care plans.
 
Congress did reduce payments to private Medicare Advantage plans in the Affordable Care Act, to help offset the cost of the legislation, and insurers predicted that enrollment would decline. Instead, it has increased to 16.6 million people, from 11 million in 2010. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the number will reach 30 million by 2025.
 
Experts say that private plans are not for everyone.
 
“Medicare Advantage plans are often more stingy with benefits,” said Judith A. Stein, who has represented hundreds of beneficiaries as the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Medicare Advocacy. “We have seen many cases in which people who are really sick cannot get coverage for nursing or therapy at home or in a skilled nursing facility — coverage that they would be able to get if they were in traditional Medicare.”
 
Improper payments, including fraud, still bedevil Medicare and Medicaid, irking beneficiaries and politicians. The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, says that improper payments cost the federal government $60 billion in Medicare last year, or 10 percent of program spending, and $17.5 billion in Medicaid, or 6.7 percent.
 
Last month, the Justice Department, in a nationwide sweep, accused 243 people of Medicare fraud schemes involving more than $700 million in billings for services that were unnecessary or never provided. Among those charged were 46 doctors and other professionals who offered home health care, psychotherapy, physical therapy, diagnostic tests and prescription drugs.
 
For Medicare and Medicaid, paying for the rising cost of prescription drugs remains a daunting challenge.
 
“Medicare Advantage provides great coverage,” said Nancy R. Corey, 68, a retired schoolteacher in Dayville, Conn. “But drug costs have skyrocketed. I’ve spent as much on my main medications in the first six months of this year as I did in all of 2014.”
 
With Medicaid rolls climbing to record levels, especially in states that expanded eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid officials also face a huge challenge finding enough doctors. In many states, doctors have been reluctant to accept Medicaid patients, in part, they say, because the fees are low.
 
Elizabeth A. Persaud, 36, of Alpharetta, Ga., who has a form of muscular dystrophy, receives home and community-based services through Medicaid. A personal attendant helps her get out of bed, shower, eat and go to work.
 
Medicaid is a boon that allows her to preserve her independence, Ms. Persaud said, but she added: “It is difficult to find doctors in my area who accept Medicaid. I often have to have someone drive me far away to see a specialist.”
 
Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, said that Medicaid plans were “once the scourge of poor communities,” taking money without providing much care. But now, she said, they provide invaluable services to people with severe physical and mental health problems, as states often require those services in their contracts with insurers.
 
“The care is light-years better than what a Medicaid beneficiary would face if she had to go find an orthopedist, a rheumatologist or a podiatrist or get specialty drugs on her own,” Ms. Rosenbaum said.
Many Medicare patients agree.
 
In a comment echoed by other Medicare beneficiaries, Judith M. Anderson, 69, of Chicago said: “After a lifetime of an utterly boring personal health care history, I was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. Without Medicare, I would be bankrupt and probably dead by now. I had three surgeries and chemotherapy and paid less than $1,000 out of pocket. I love Medicare.”

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Georgia Democrats drop Jefferson, Jackson from annual fundraiser - Why don't you go ahead and drop the name Democrat while you're at it Ms. DeHart

From the AJC's Political Insider:

For decades, the state Democratic party’s largest annual fundraiser has been called the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, in honor of the two U.S. presidents credited with founding the party.
No more.

Rebecca DeHart, executive director of the state Democratic party, confirmed this morning that the names of the two presidents have been discarded from the upcoming event.

“We switched the name. Almost three-quarters of the states have already done it,” DeHart said. The Connecticut Democratic party did so on Wednesday, citing the two presidents’ status as slave-owners and Jackson’s authorship of the Trail of Tears that removed Cherokees and other Native Americans from Georgia and other states.

Ditto for Georgia. “It was probably a little bit of all of that,” DeHart said. “We want something that’s a little more inclusive and a little more Georgia-centric.”

Come on Mr. Presient, do you really mean it? And if so, to where? To Europe and Greece - Obama: ‘Africa is on the move’

From The Washington Post.

Democratic Party Machinery Shows Rust - Leaders worry losses of state, local offices create shortage of top candidates


From The Wall Street Journal:

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Democrat Chris Redfern was confident of his re-election chances, and with good reason. Voters in his state House district had elected Democrats for decades, and he was Ohio’s Democratic Party chairman.

Yet on election day, Mr. Redfern lost to a tea-party Republican, a defeat that drove him from politics into a new line of work, running an inn and winery.

Mr. Redfern’s political exit came amid a string of midterm-election losses by Democrats in Ohio and nationwide that reflected a deeper problem: As the party seeks its next generation of candidates, the bench has thinned.

A tepid economy and President Barack Obama’s sinking approval ratings contributed to some of the Democratic losses last fall. The setbacks also revealed a withering of the campaign machinery built by Mr. Obama’s team more than seven years ago. While Democrats held the White House, Republicans have strengthened their hand in statehouses across the U.S.

Democrats maintain a significant electoral college advantage as shifting U.S. demographics tilt their way. This spring, a Pew Research Center analysis found that 48% of Americans either identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, compared with 39% who identify with Republicans or lean Republican.

But many Democrats worry that GOP success capturing state and local offices will erode that advantage before they have a chance to rebuild.

“If you don’t have a well-funded state party, if you don’t have state infrastructure, then you’re just whistling past the graveyard,” Mr. Redfern said. From his new perch in the hospitality industry, he described leading the state party as the “worst job in politics.”

After two presidential victories, Mr. Obama presides over a Democratic Party that has lost 13 seats in the U.S. Senate and 69 in the House during his tenure, a net loss unmatched by any modern U.S. president.

Democrats have also lost 11 governorships, four state attorneys general, 910 legislative seats, as well as the majorities in 30 state legislative chambers. In 23 states, Republicans control the governor’s office and the legislature; Democrats, only seven.

Such losses help shape the future: An ousted state lawmaker doesn’t run for Congress; a failed attorney general candidate loses a shot at the governor’s office. As a result, the flow of fresh political talent rising to statewide and national prominence in the years ahead won’t be as robust as Democrats hope.

The party’s failure to elect more governors, for example, has shrunk the pool of potential Democratic presidential candidates, one reason few have challenged Hillary Clinton for the 2016 nomination.

For now, the two parties wield their influence in competing branches of government: Republicans in control of Congress, using state-level dominance to draw congressional districts friendly to GOP candidates; and Democrats in the White House, using their demographic advantage nationwide.

In few places are the Democrats’ troubles more apparent than in Ohio, the perennial presidential battleground state twice won by Mr. Obama. Ohio Democrats lost every statewide contest in the November midterms, allowing the GOP to build supermajorities in both legislative chambers. Democrats won just a quarter of races last year for county commissioner—the local masters of land-use rules, as well as county roads, jails and a host of other government services.

The losses in Ohio are the consequences of failing to develop a strong corps of local officeholders and the campaign machinery to support them, Democrats in the state say.

One reason Democrats have struggled to recruit candidates for higher office is that the pipeline has been choked off by a redistricting process dominated by the GOP. In Ohio, a five-member state committee made up of elected officials draws the district lines for state legislative seats that serve as a springboard to higher office.

The Ohio League of Women Voters, which has been studying redistricting for decades, says district boundaries now favor Republican candidates—just as in the past, Democrats drew lines that benefited their party, according to Carrie Davis, executive director.

An independent study of Ohio’s redistricting process in 2011 concluded: “The party in power used the process to gain maximum political advantage.” Today, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state Legislature 2 to 1.

With a shallow bench, Ohio’s Democratic candidate for governor, Ed FitzGerald, a former mayor and county executive, faced little opposition in the party primary. Once nominated, bad news undermined his candidacy, including the revelation that he drove for years without a valid driver’s license. He lost by 30 percentage points in November to incumbent Gov. John Kasich.

Mike Zickar, chairman of the Wood County Democratic Party, said members of his executive board confided to him that even they didn’t vote for Mr. FitzGerald, instead leaving the top of the ballot blank.

Without an inspiring candidate at the top of the ticket, Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections couldn’t rely on a broad network of volunteers, the kind of force that boosted Mr. Obama to wins in Ohio in 2008 and 2012. The state party mustered three paid field staff members; two years earlier, with Mr. Obama’s re-election bid in full swing, the number was 600.

“I offered to do more, work-wise, but nobody ever contacted me,” said Loree Resnik, a neighborhood team leader during Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign.

Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who lost her bid for secretary of state last year, said Democrats asked for a visit by Mr. Obama or first lady Michelle Obama, an invitation the White House said was never received.

“We would have loved to have the president come into Ohio,” Ms. Turner said. “They didn’t come…I’m not going to mince words about it. We needed help in 2014, and we did not get it.”

White House officials said the president did all he could to boost fellow Democrats, headlining dozens of fundraisers and appearing at a handful of campaign events during the midterm campaign. They said he was willing to do more but few candidates wanted to share a stage with the president, whose popularity was slipping at the time.

Obama campaign officials said the president’s campaign staff shared voter files, data and volunteer lists with Ohio Democrats. But they acknowledged that the energy and manpower that boosted Mr. Obama’s White House bids in 2008 and 2012 couldn’t be easily replicated in last year’s midterm elections.

“People have a false expectation that because Obama was able to create all this enthusiasm that it was directly transferrable to the next campaign,” Aaron Pickrell, a top Obama campaign official in Ohio, said of Democrats’ struggles in 2014. “It doesn’t mean that Obama can just flip a switch and say, ‘Now go work for these people.’”

Ohio’s Democrats are trying to regroup. This spring in Columbus, party officials began training candidates for local office on everything from how to ask their friends for money to when to put up yard signs.

During a Saturday morning session, candidates for city councils, mayor and the state Legislature watched PowerPoint presentations and lobbed questions at Democratic officials about the nuts and bolts of campaigning.

Ms. Turner, the former candidate for secretary of state, told the few dozen Democratic hopefuls that “the glitz and the glamour seem to be on the federal level…but this is where the rubber meets the road.”

In nearby Union County, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, who succeeded Mr. Redfern, joined a statewide listening tour aimed at re-energizing the party. One conclusion, detailed in a report by state Democratic leaders: We need better candidates.

Written in the aftermath of Mr. FitzGerald’s defeat, the report said: “A strong bench of effective public servants at all levels comprises the heart of a strong state party.” A priority for the state party will be “recruiting and cultivating candidates who connect with voters, win elections at all levels, and once they enter office, make a difference on the issues that matter most in the lives of their constituents.”

Democrats are quick to say they will rebound, just as the GOP bounced back from setbacks in 2006 and 2008. At the same time, some Democrats say the party can’t ignore its state-level defeats.

“We have a little bit of blue in the West Coast. A little bit of blue in the Northeast, and occasional blue elsewhere. But, boy, it’s a bright red map in all of those big, square states,” said former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle. “That’s where I do worry about recruiting and building a bench and finding ways to connect with real voters. We’re not doing a very good job of that.”

On the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton has assured local Democrats that she is aware of past setbacks and is committed to making the party more competitive at all levels. More states need a “permanent Democratic Party,” she has said.

Earlier this month in Iowa City, Mrs. Clinton mentioned Iowa Republican Joni Ernst’s victory over the Democratic candidate in the 2014 race to succeed longtime Democratic senator Tom Harkin. “I want to help rebuild the Democratic Party in Iowa because you can’t have a loss like having Tom Harkin retire and not be really motivated to get other Democrats in there,” she said.

Some Democrats blame Mr. Obama, saying his political machine, Organizing for Action, was good at electing him president but has done little for other candidates.

“That did hurt the Democratic Party, because a lot of money went into OFA that might have ordinarily gone into the Democratic National Committee,” said Howard Dean, a former DNC chairman.

The Obama team “basically ignored” the party, said Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Obama’s defenders said he has left a lasting legacy by modernizing campaigns with data and technology.

“The tools and the tech culture that defined the Obama operation are now ingrained here at the party,” Mo Elleithee, the former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said before leaving the job last month.

Mr. Pepper, Ohio’s party chairman, meanwhile told Democratic activists during his state tour: “Every volunteer who gets excited about Hillary Clinton, we can’t let them leave a year later. Every piece of information we enter into the voter file, we keep and learn from not just to win in ’16, but to win in ’18.”

The enemy of my enemy is ... How does that go? -- Man, this thing sure is complicated, our involvement with Muslims fighting muslims: Turkey strikes Kurdish militants in Iraq, ends truce of more than 2 years

From The Washington Post:

Turkish warplanes struck Kurdish militants in northern Iraq early Saturday, expanding and complicating the air war launched by Turkey against the Islamic State in Syria the day before.

The strikes targeted weapons-storage facilities and camps belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, at its Mount Qandil headquarters in the remote mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, according to a government statement.

There were also strikes for a second night in a row against the Islamic State in Syria, indicating that Turkey is now actively engaged in the war against the militants after months on the sidelines.

The strikes against Kurds in Iraq opened a second front for Turkey, effectively ending a two-year truce with the PKK that had been a signature achievement of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The PKK issued a statement saying that the cease-fire, which had already been strained by a number of PKK attacks in Turkey, is now off. “This truce has no meaning anymore,” it said.

The targeting of Kurdish militants will also complicate the United States’ air war against the Islamic State, which has relied heavily on a PKK-allied group of Syrian Kurds to make advances in northern Syria.

The United States, like Turkey, has designated the PKK a terrorist organization, but unlike Turkey it does not apply the label to the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, thereby making cooperation possible.

“There is no connection between these airstrikes against PKK and recent understandings to intensify US-Turkey cooperation against ISIL,” he added, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

So keen was the Obama administration to secure Turkish cooperation against the Islamic States that it would be unlikely to object to Turkey also taking on Kurdish militants, said Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Turkey just pulled the carpet from under the Kurds,” he said. “In the name of fighting terrorism . . . Turkey now has carte blanche to act against the PKK because it is also is acting against ISIS.”

The attacks stirred up tensions between Turkey and Kurdish groups across the complex spectrum of alliances and rivalries spanning the territories in Turkey, Iraq and Syria that Kurds claim as their homeland.

Report: Obama administration policy shift could ‘substantially transform’ immigration system, lower deportations

From The Washington Post:

The Obama administration’s profound shift in its enforcement of immigration laws could “substantially transform” the nation’s immigration dragnet, reducing deportations and protecting nearly 90 percent of the illegal migrants already here, a new report says.

As The Washington Post reported this month, the Department of Homeland Security has taken steps to ensure that the majority of the United States’ 11.3 million undocumented immigrants can stay in this country. The changes are designed to hasten the integration of long-term illegal immigrants into society rather than targeting them for deportation.

With little fanfare, DHS has since January been training thousands of immigration agents nationwide to change their everyday enforcement of immigration laws. The new policies direct agents to focus on three priority groups of illegal migrants — convicted criminals, terrorism threats or those who recently crossed the border — and leave virtually everybody else alone.

The policy changes are separate from the court fight over President Obama’s highly publicized executive action on immigration. That battle centers on the constitutionality of a program that would officially shield as many as 5 million eligible illegal immigrants from deportation, mainly parents of children who are U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. A federal judge put the program, known by the acronym DAPA, on hold in February after 26 states sued.

Although the new measures DHS is taking do not grant illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, advocates for immigrants say their lives could be changed in numerous ways, including making them less fearful of driving so they don’t get stopped by police.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

David Ignatius: Let Greece leave the eurozone

David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post:

The Greek financial crisis has eased — for now. But many skeptics share the worry of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble that the bailout plan may not work, and that the only way to restore competitiveness and growth is a Greek exit from the euro.

Schäuble was blasted as a heartless German for insisting, even after the rescue package was agreed to on July 13, that “the better solution for Greece” could be a “Grexit,” as it’s known. He had earlier proposed a five-year “timeout” for Greece from the common currency. For these heretical views, he was portrayed by a cartoonist as a black-clad terrorist with a knife at Greece’s throat.

But maybe Schäuble has a point: What’s the greater cruelty? Prolonging Greece’s agony with a plan that maintains its euro zone membership but cripples it with unpayable debts and perpetual insolvency? Or taking the painful but relatively quick cure of restoring the drachma and letting it fall to a level where Greece can again be competitive and prosperous?

The bailout plan calls for reform measures that would be difficult, even if the government and public genuinely supported them. But, in fact, Greece’s government and its people abhor the imposed terms of the bailout. That became clear in the July 5 referendum when 61 percent voted “no” on terms that were easier.

The bailout plan may rescue Europe — by restoring German-French amity and signaling that the currency union is intact. But it won’t rescue Greece. It will leave its uncompetitive economy in the financial version of an intensive care unit, surviving on the life support of new loans and fiscal transfusions.
 
The kinder approach might be to let Greece leave the euro zone, in what might be called an assisted transition. A devaluation of the drachma to, say, 50 percent of the euro’s value would make Greece instantly competitive and a magnet for investment. But the devaluation shouldn’t go too far. The European Central Bank could pledge to intervene in currency markets to support the drachma and prevent it from falling by, say, 70 percent or more.

A gentle Grexit would also include the kind of “haircut” — in debt forgiveness and rescheduling — that’s almost impossible if Greece retains the euro. This was Schäuble’s point on July 16, when he told German radio: “No one knows at the moment how this is supposed to work without a debt haircut, and everyone knows that a debt haircut is incompatible with membership in the monetary union.” This honest and probably accurate statement brought new calls for Schäuble’s resignation.

Generations of experience have taught economists that currency devaluation, though a severe shock to the system, usually produces beneficial results — and often fairly quickly. Exports become much more competitive (in the case of Greece, tourism becomes a bargain). A virtuous cycle should ensue: Revenues grow, confidence rises and, eventually, domestic demand returns. The country and some of its businesses might default on their debts, but most creditors would have no choice but to renegotiate terms if they want any repayment. It’s no panacea: Inflation often follows a devaluation; and as prices rise and the currency falls, savings can be wiped out.

But the process usually restores growth. Perhaps the best example is Argentina. Like Greece, Argentina thought in the 1990s that it could boost its weak economy by having an inflexible currency. For Argentina, it was a one-to-one peg with the dollar. Things went well until corruption and mismanagement made the peg unsustainable.

Crunch time came in 2001, when Argentina defaulted on its debts and floated its currency. Its peso fell roughly 75 percent. But recovery began in 2003, and Argentina’s real gross domestic product per capita has now roughly doubled from the crisis years. A debt haircut was part of Argentina’s rebound. It was a nasty negotiating process, but bondholders eventually accepted deals that repaid only about 30 percent of the paper value.

If Greece returned to the drachma, a similar process might occur. The country’s euro-denominated debts would roughly double, measured against the drachma. This burden would be insupportable. So creditors would have to do what the bailout so far has shielded them from — renegotiate the debt to a manageable level and put a newly competitive Greece on the path to recovery, at last.

Reforms might be easier, too, in a new Greece that had decided to set its own course. But as Schäuble discovered, Euro-correctness seems to prevent serious discussion of this option.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

An Expert View: Accept the Deal but Move to Contain Iran - Nicholas Burns, a former point man on Iranian nuclear matters, advocates effort to contain Tehran’s regional ambitions

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Nicholas Burns was there when Iranian nuclear diplomacy was born—a birth that occurred, as is little remembered now, during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Mr. Burns was undersecretary of state and the diplomatic point man on Iranian nuclear matters in the second Bush term, when the U.S. initially teamed up with European nations and offered to negotiate. The Iranians didn’t take up the offer at the time, and Mr. Burns ultimately turned the task over to incoming Obama administration officials.

But the experience gave him some perspective on Iranian nuclear matters—and the fact he now is out of government gives him some objectivity. So what is his advice now that a deal designed to limit Iran’s nuclear program has been struck, amid wide controversy over its merits?

Accept the deal, imperfect as it is, as the best option available now on the nuclear front and promptly move onto a “parallel track” strategy of containing Iran’s regional ambitions, with a heavy dose of U.S. leadership.

The theory here is that the new agreement, while it certainly doesn’t end Iran’s nuclear program, accomplishes its core goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon over the next decade.

“If you look through this deal, these are substantial restrictions on Iran,” says Mr. Burns. “The probability of Iran getting a nuclear device in the next 10 years is extremely low.”

Much of the criticism of the deal, in Israel in particular, derives from the fact that slowing and shrinking Iran’s nuclear program this way falls well short of the original diplomatic goal, which was to end entirely Iran’s ability to enrich uranium—the “zero enrichment” goal. While that was plausible years ago, when Iran had a couple of hundred centrifuges to enrich uranium, Mr. Burns says it is an implausible goal now that it has some 19,000.

“If I could get an ideal solution, or you could, where the Iranians submitted to every demand we had, I would take that,” he says. “In a real world, you have to make real-world decisions.”

Which leads to the second line of criticism: that the deal, even if it does succeed in stopping Iran’s nuclear program for a decade, will enrich Tehran by lifting international economic sanctions while doing nothing to prevent it from using newfound riches to make more trouble in the region.

Here is where Mr. Burns thinks there are grounds for action, taken jointly by those who like the deal and those who hate it—notably Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states. Implicitly, this strategy doesn’t embrace the idea that a nuclear deal with the international community will moderate Iranian behavior. In a sense, it guards against the opposite result.

That effort would start by renewing a commitment that was made first by President Jimmy Carter and then renewed by President Ronald Reagan in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution. “We should say the security of the Persian Gulf is a vital interest of the United States…and put the Iranians on notice that we’re not going to tolerate any diminution of American influence in the Persian Gulf,” Mr. Burns says.

The U.S. also would declare anew that it is going to protect oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, which runs past Iranian territory. It would back up that pledge with a “major effort” to upgrade the defensive capabilities of the Saudis and other Gulf states.

U.S. officials point out that military spending by the Gulf Arab states already outstrips Iran’s many times over, so the upgrade wouldn’t simply be a matter of sending more arms. Rather, it would be working more closely with the Saudis and other Gulf states to make that military equipment knit together better, and making clear it would be used in coordination with the U.S.

The next step in containment would be to get past the current poisonous period in relations with Israel. “The U.S. estrangement of Israel has gone on too far and for too long,” Mr. Burns says. “Our identity of interest with Israel is so important that the White House has to narrow that gap with the Israelis.” That should begin, he says, by expanding Israel’s “qualitative edge” in armaments over its neighbors.

But such steps wouldn’t be enough to deter Iranian mischief-making in venues as far-flung as Yemen and Syria. That would require an intangible addition to the containment formula: A forceful reassertion of American interest in playing a leading role in the region.

“It’s not just money or weapons,” Mr. Burns says. “It’s credibility. They have to see that we will take steps to protect our allies and our interests.” For America’s friends, he adds, “this isn’t Yankee go home. This is Yankee come back.”

I really like this guy: Ohio’s Kasich poised to join big field of GOP candidates

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post:

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. John Kasich joined the 2016 presidential race Tuesday, carrying a message of fiscal conservatism and social welfare compassion that he hopes will shake upthe Republican Party and vault him into contention for the party’s nomination.

“I am here to ask you for your prayers, for your support, for your efforts because I have decided to run for president of the United States,” the two-term governor told a cheering crowd at a rally on the campus of Ohio State University.

Kasich was joined onstage by his wife and daughters.

His announcement follows months of travel to the early primary and caucus states. Kasich has sought out prospective donors around the country and assembled campaign and Super PAC staffs that include longtime advisers and veteran strategists who are newcomers to his inner circle.

Kasich served in the House for 18 years and was chairman of the Budget Committee at a time when Washington balanced the federal budget for the first time in a generation. He spent another decade in the business world before winning the governorship in 2010. He won reelection in a landslide last November after his Democratic opponent imploded a few months before the general election.

He begins the race far back in the pack, according to most polls. But as the governor of one of the nation’s most important general election states, and with a political style unlike that of others in the race, Kasich’s advisers say they believe he can become a credible threat to win the nomination. His detractors question whether he has the discipline required to win a long and grueling presidential race.

Kasich’s entry rounds out the largest Republican presidential field in modern memory, with at least 16 candidates seeking the nomination. It is a race that includes well-known names and political novices alike. With Kasich, the field includes four sitting governors, four sitting senators, at least four former governors and one former senator.

Collectively, the 2016 field is far more experienced and seen as politically heftier than the group of Republicans who sought the GOP nomination four years ago, setting up a contest in which the winner could be seen as having defeated the best the party has to offer.

So far, however, none of the candidates has truly broken out or broken through, save for businessman Donald Trump. No one, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the son and brother of presidents who has amassed in excess of $110 million for his campaign and Super PAC, has been able to come close to taking charge of the race.

Trump has dominated the campaign since his entry last month and his skills as a showman have made him the center of attention, for good or ill. The flamboyant reality TV star has found an audience with his harsh rhetoric about illegal immigration and his criticisms of the political leaders, including President Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bush and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday evening showed Trump leading the others in the race with 24 percent support. He is, however, anything but a traditional front-runner, if he can be called that. Many Republicans doubt Trump has the staying power or the breadth of appeal to win the GOP nomination.

In recent weeks, he has produced one controversy after another, the latest coming when he appeared to disparage Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as not being a hero just for being captured and held prisoner during the Vietnam War.

That controversy in particular has left in question whether he can sustain the level of support shown in the new poll and there were hints in the Post-ABC poll that the controversy over his McCain comments already has begun to affect his numbers.

But just who will emerge as finalists in the GOP competition remains a matter of debate and conjecture. Beyond Bush, the names most often cited as possible long-distance runners are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is in second place in the Post-ABC poll and leads polls in Iowa, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has natural campaign skills and who argues that he would contrast favorably against HillaryClinton in a general election.

The field is so large that not everyone now running will be invited onto the stage at the first debate, which will be held on Aug. 6 in Cleveland. Fox News, which is hosting that event, has declared that only the top 10 candidates, based on a group of national polls, will qualify. Those who do not will have the opportunity to participate in other forums that week.

At this point, there are two races underway. One is a contest among some of the most conservative candidates for supremacy in Iowa. The other is a largely separate contest among those candidates seen as less conservative and more acceptable to the party establishment who doubt they can win in Iowa and will need to finish strongly in New Hampshire to stay alive.

It is the New Hampshire contest that is most attractive to Kasich, according to his advisers. He has spent the past two years separating himself from some of the harder edges of the conservative movement. He has said often that he wants to define what it means to be a Republican.

In Ohio, he engineered an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, in contrast to many Republican governors. He has championed spending more money on such things as treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. He cites his religious faith as motivating him to help those in need. He has said he is open to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants

At this point, there are two races underway. One is a contest among some of the most conservative candidates for supremacy in Iowa. The other is a largely separate contest among those candidates seen as less conservative and more acceptable to the party establishment who doubt they can win in Iowa and will need to finish strongly in New Hampshire to stay alive.

It is the New Hampshire contest that is most attractive to Kasich, according to his advisers. He has spent the past two years separating himself from some of the harder edges of the conservative movement. He has said often that he wants to define what it means to be a Republican.

In Ohio, he engineered an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, in contrast to many Republican governors. He has championed spending more money on such things as treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. He cites his religious faith as motivating him to help those in need. He has said he is open to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

In his first term, he signed a bill that restricted collective bargain rights for public employee unions, along the lines of legislation that caused a partisan political eruption in Wisconsin under Walker. When Ohio voters rejected the plan in a later ballot initiative, Kasich accepted defeat and has not clashed seriously with the unions since over those kinds of issues, though he and organized labor have been at odds over spending and taxes.

Kasich’s top priorities as both a House member and governor have been spending and taxes. He will point to his record in Ohio of eliminating a budget deficit, reducing unemployment and cutting taxes as evidence of how he would attempt to govern as president, though Ohio’s economy has benefited from national forces and the bailout of the automobile industry in addition to state actions.

In advance of Tuesday’s announcement, the governor’s Super PAC released two videos, the first a five-minute introduction of the prospective candidate that stresses his record on both fiscal and national security issues, and a one-minute ad that highlights his work in helping to bring about a balanced budget. As a House member, he was a key lieutenant of then-speaker Newt Gingrich in the years after Republicans took control of that chamber in the 1994 elections.

Kasich is in danger of not qualifying for the Cleveland debate, given his current standing in the polls. Advisers hope that his late announcement will give him the kind of political bounce that could boost him into the top 10 in the polls. But with Trump commanding so much attention right now, that could prove difficult.

Kasich’s longer term hope is to rise relatively quickly in New Hampshire and to be seen as a serious contender there by the early fall. He will spend the next several days in the Granite State holding town hall meetings.

His advisers believe he can connect directly with voters better than his rivals with a message that is compassionate, upbeat and with a personality that is direct, occasionally prickly and rarely reserved or hesitant.

Kasich ran for president in the 2000 cycle but never found an audience. He quit the race in the summer of 1999, one of the earliest dropouts of that campaign.
_______________

See also The Wall Street Journal on Kasich

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The 2016 Contest Begins to Take Shape - Hillary tries pointillism, while the GOP contends with an embarrassment of riches.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The weekend will be dominated by back-and-forth on the Iran deal. The administration will argue that some agreement was necessary and this was the best that could be got. They will continue their almost childlike insistence that it proves President Obama is either Ronald Reagan (he negotiates with foes) or Richard Nixon (he reaches out to adversaries).

There will be plenty of serious criticism of the deal, accompanied by a generalized sense that the U.S. probably got taken—because Mr. Obama always wants it too much. As with the opening to Cuba, Mr. Obama put his face on it too early, put his name on it too hard, talked about it too much in public, let his aides give background interviews saying this is a crucial effort, a historic gambit, part of the president’s visionary legacy. The adversary sees this, the need and the want—they watch the news too!—and proceeds accordingly.

Mr. Obama is an odd one in that when there are rivals close by, in Congress for instance, with whom he could negotiate deals, he disses them in public, attacks their motives, yanks them around with executive orders, crushes them when possible. But when negotiating with actual tyrants he signals deference, hunger. I leave it to others to explain what it means when a man is bullying toward essentially good people and supplicating toward bad ones. But the sense is he always wants it too much and is consequently a poor negotiator, and this will have some impact on U.S. and world reaction.

Hillary Clinton has given her tentative support. The day before the deal was announced she gave a big economic speech, at the New School in New York.
I wanted to think along with it, but Mrs. Clinton doesn’t give you much to think to. She offers policy clumps wrapped in general sentiments. There was policy jargon—“consumer economy,” “quality, affordable child care,” “paid family leave,” “our fiscal outlook is sustainable.” In the tired rhetoric department there were “currents of change” and getting “our country moving.” There were a few fleeting shots at Republican candidates, which provided the speech with a kind of leavening cynicism.

She seemed at times to knock Mr. Obama, or at least distance herself from him. Wall Streeters who tanked the economy in the late 2000s got off with “limited consequences—or none at all.” Who’s been in charge since 2008? She made two references to rising health-care costs. I thought we took care of that.

There was a thought worthy of unpacking, which had to do with the “short-termism” that dominates CEOs’ thinking; they are enslaved to a “quarterly capitalism” that leaves them focused on the share price and the next earnings report at the expense of longer-term investment. This is true: They’re all squeezing too tight and missing the big picture because in the general rush of demands they can’t afford to see it. I’m not sure what a president can do about it, but it’s not bad to talk about such things.

Along the way she smuggled in a campaign theme: “I want to have principled and pragmatic and progressive policies.” I suspect we’ll be hearing more of the three P’s.

There was a nice thought nicely expressed: At its best, “public service is planting trees under whose shade you’ll never sit.” That was pretty.

It was a pointillist policy-dot speech meant to add up to a portrait of meaning. The meaning was clear: More progressivism, please. Also: There’s little substantial difference between Bernie Sanders and me other than that Goldman SachsGS0.61% likes me, which only proves my range. The left doesn’t have to bolt away.

A concern for her campaign has to be Mrs. Clinton’s robotic delivery, as if she’s never there in the moment but distanced from herself. As if she’s thinking: I don’t fully believe this, but more important, do I seem to believe it? She seems to be overcoached by people who keep telling her to be natural. But why would someone in public life for more than 30 years need to be instructed in naturalness? I don’t understand her discomfort and wonder what it suggests or portends. You can argue she’s a strong leader; she may be the next president, she may be the acknowledged head of her party, but she is a poor campaigner—a poor giver of interviews and speeches, which is now most of what campaigning is. At the end of the day this will mean something.

Meanwhile, Scott Walker announced in Waukesha, Wis. There is still something fresh and awake about him. He’s not all dinged up and slump-shouldered, even though he’s been a target for so long. His subliminal message—actually, it’s liminal—has two parts: I wasn’t born into it, I’m normal like you—but I’ve achieved a great deal, maintained my seriousness, and been a brave governor.

He made his announcement in the increasingly popular casual manner, in shirt sleeves with an open collar and casual slacks. They’re all trying to express intimacy by removing barriers—podiums, teleprompters. But that’s superficial. You can make a connection in a suit behind a podium if you sound as if you’re thinking and speaking honestly and with depth. All this physical symbolism has gotten carried away. John Kasich is next. I’m hoping he won’t announce in a T-shirt and underpants.

What is most interesting about Mr. Walker is that he has remained in the top tier, often in the top three, while being less in the public eye recently than other candidates. His years as embattled Wisconsin governor have given him a hold on the Republican imagination. As he spoke I thought: He’s from the Republican wing of the Republican Party—blunt, direct, unadorned, Midwestern. His message was workmanlike: “I know how to fight and win.” He is a reform conservative, believes in federalism, is hard-line on foreign policy: Mr. Obama says climate change is the greatest threat to future generations, but “the greatest threat to future generations is radical Islamic terrorism.” Vladimir Putin, like Lenin, probes his adversaries with bayonets: “If you encounter mush, push; if you encounter steel, stop.” Mr. Walker will run hard on his Wisconsin record: “We lowered taxes by $2 billion. In fact we lowered taxes on individuals, employers and property. In fact, property taxes are lower today than they were four years ago. . . . How many governors can say that?”

All this will make him highly competitive for the nomination. Is it suited to the mood of the nation in the general election?

Mr. Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, soon John Kasich: They are going to be flooding the hustings very soon, and they’re going to hit Republicans on the ground as an embarrassment of riches—interesting, accomplished figures, all with a case to make. They’ll have the money to last because they pretty much all have rich backers. It is going to be hard for Republicans to make up their minds. This primary is going to go longer and end later than anyone knows.