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Cracker Squire


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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.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Professor Galloway brings us up to date on recent trend in U.S. Senate races in Georgia.

Jim Galloway writes in the AJC's Political Insider:

Georgia is the only state in the Union in which a senatorial victory is defined as 50 percent plus one vote.

We trade in our senators like we once recycled the family station wagon: A chromed Ford, then a finned Chevy, then a Ford again, in an endless cycle of buyer’s enchantment and remorse.

Herman Talmadge, a Democrat, was replaced in 1980 by Republican Mack Mattingly, who was subbed out in 1986 by Democrat Wyche Flower, who was beaten in 1992 by Republican Paul Coverdell. Coverdell won two elections, but died shortly after the second, and was replaced for four years by the nominally Democratic Zell Miller, who was traded in for a 2004 model Republican Johnny Isakson.

Sam Nunn, a Democrat, was the last Georgia senator to serve out multiple terms. He retired in 1996, to be replaced by Max Cleland, another Democrat — who was promptly beaten by Chambliss in 2002.

Following Fowler’s defeat in ‘92 — a Libertarian threw the race into a run-off held two days before Thanksgiving — Democrats tried to put a damper on the turnover by lowering the bar of victory to 45 percent plus one vote.

Republicans howled heresy. And years later, at the same time it passed a measure to require voters to produce photographic ID, a Republican-conquered Legislature restored the rule of “50 percent plus one.”

Republicans have already expressed regret for their approval of early voting in Georgia, which the local Obama campaign has mastered with astounding efficiency.

So there is a tendency to wonder whether Republicans are victims of the law of unintended consequences when it comes to the “50 percent plus one” rule as well.

David Brooks: "This campaign was about which party could reach out from its base & occupy that centrist ground. Democrats now control the middle."

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

There are two major political parties in America, but there are at least three major political tendencies. The first is orthodox liberalism, a belief in using government to maximize equality. The second is free-market conservatism, the belief in limiting government to maximize freedom.

But there is a third tendency, which floats between. It is for using limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility. This tendency began with Alexander Hamilton, who created a vibrant national economy so more people could rise and succeed. It matured with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Republicans, who created the Land Grant College Act and the Homestead Act to give people the tools to pursue their ambitions. It continued with Theodore Roosevelt, who busted the trusts to give more Americans a square deal.

Members of this tradition have one foot in the conservatism of Edmund Burke. They understand how little we know or can know and how much we should rely on tradition, prudence and habit. They have an awareness of sin, of the importance of traditional virtues and stable institutions. They understand that we are not free-floating individuals but are embedded in thick social organisms.

But members of this tradition also have a foot in the landscape of America, and share its optimism and its Lincolnian faith in personal transformation. Hamilton didn’t seek wealth for its own sake, but as a way to enhance the country’s greatness and serve the unique cause America represents in the world.

Members of this tradition are Americanized Burkeans, or to put it another way, progressive conservatives.

This tendency thrived in American life for a century and a half, but it went into hibernation during the 20th century because it sat crossways to that era’s great debate — the one between socialism and its enemies. But many of us hoped this Hamilton-to-Bull Moose tradition would be reborn in John McCain’s campaign.

McCain shares the progressive conservative instinct. He has shown his sympathy with the striving immigrant and his disgust with the colluding corporatist. He has an untiring reform impulse and a devotion to national service and American exceptionalism.

His campaign seemed the perfect vehicle to explain how this old approach applied to a new century with new problems — a century with widening inequality, declining human capital, a fraying social contract, rising entitlement debt, corporate authoritarian regimes abroad and soft corporatist collusion at home.

In modernizing this old tradition, some of us hoped McCain would take sides in the debate now dividing the G.O.P. Some Republicans believe the G.O.P. went astray by abandoning its tax-cutting, anti-government principles. They want a return to Reagan (or at least the Reagan of their imaginations). But others want to modernize and widen the party and adapt it to new challenges. Some of us hoped that by reforming his party, which has grown so unpopular, McCain could prove that he could reform the country.

But McCain never took sides in this debate and never articulated a governing philosophy, Hamiltonian or any other. In Sunday’s issue of The Times Magazine, Robert Draper describes the shifts in tactics that consumed the McCain campaign. The tactics varied promiscuously, but they were all about how to present McCain, not about how to describe the state of country or the needs of the voter. It was all biography, which was necessary, but it did not clearly point to a new direction for the party or the country.

The Hamiltonian-Bull Moose tendency is the great, moderate strain in American politics. In some sense this whole campaign was a contest to see which party could reach out from its base and occupy that centrist ground. The Democratic Party did that. Senior Democrats like Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and Jason Furman actually created something called The Hamilton Project to lay out a Hamiltonian approach for our day.

McCain and Republicans stayed within their lines. There was a lot of talk about earmarks. There was a good health care plan that was never fully explained. And there was Sarah Palin, who represents the old resentments and the narrow appeal of conventional Republicanism.

As a result, Democrats now control the middle. Self-declared moderates now favor Obama by 59 to 30, according to the New York Times/CBS News poll. Suburban voters favor Obama 50 to 39. Voters over all give him a 21 point lead when it comes to better handling the economy and a 14 point lead on tax policy, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

McCain would be an outstanding president. In government, he has almost always had an instinct for the right cause. He has become an experienced legislative craftsman. He is stalwart against the country’s foes and cooperative with its friends. But he never escaped the straitjacket of a party that is ailing and a conservatism that is behind the times. And that’s what makes the final weeks of this campaign so unspeakably sad.

Show host Dick Williams was beyond the pale today with two of his snoddy and inappropriate comments on The Georgia Gang.

Back in March in a 3-3-08 post I wrote:

Although I might be old-school, I still consider without question Bill Shipp to be the Dean of Georgia Politics and Journalism. When he was a regular on The Georgia Gang, I rarely missed a show. Alas, he’s now off and two of the regulars are professional lobbyists who spend much of their time shilling their causes.

After a couple of comments today by show host Dick Williams, I might have a hard time tuning in again anytime soon.

Comment No. 1:

The endorsement of Obama by retired General Colin Powell was brought up. Without doubt many Americans as I do greatly admire and respect this person who served as Secretary of State under President Bush II, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff under President Bush I, national security adviser to President Reagan, and who has often been mentioned as a Republican presidential candidate himself (and I might add, who I have been praying throughout this campaign will become a member of Obama's cabinet).

Williams's response: The only reason Powell endorsed Obama was race.

As we know, Powell's own son Michell is a surrogate for McCain, and Powell himself has donated to McCain's campaign on a couple of occasions this year. Race, just race? I don't think so Mr. Williams. Your comment was a pathetic, childish and inappropriate.

Comment 2:

Jeff Dickerson was lamenting Georgia's high unemployment rate.

Williams's response was something like: That's good. They'll have plenty of time to stand in line waiting to vote for Obama.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

$150,000 Wardrobe for Pretty Woman Sarah Palin May Alter Tailor-Made Image

From The New York Times:

Sarah Palin’s wardrobe joined the ranks of symbolic political excess on Wednesday, alongside John McCain’s multiple houses and John Edwards’s $400 haircut, as Republicans expressed fear that weeks of tailoring Ms. Palin as an average “hockey mom” would fray amid revelations that the Republican Party outfitted her with expensive clothing from high-end stores.

[Campaign finance reports show] that the Republican National Committee spent $75,062 at Neiman Marcus and $49,425 at Saks Fifth Avenue in September for Ms. Palin and her family.

Advisers to Ms. Palin said on Wednesday that the purchases — which totaled about $150,000 and were classified as “campaign accessories” — were made on the fly after Ms. Palin, the governor of Alaska, was chosen as the Republican vice-presidential candidate on Aug. 29 . . . .

Republicans expressed consternation publicly and privately that the shopping sprees . . . would compromise Ms. Palin’s standing as Senator McCain’s chief emissary to working-class voters whose salvos at the so-called cultural elite often delight audiences at Republican rallies.

[An elitist] image is unhelpful at this late stage of the general election, Republicans said, especially when many families are experiencing economic pain, and when the image applies to a candidate, like Ms. Palin, who has run for office in part on her appeal as an outdoors enthusiast and former small-town mayor who scorns pretensions.

“It looks like nobody with a political antenna was working on this,” said Ed Rollins, a Republican political consultant who ran President Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984. “It just undercuts Palin’s whole image as a hockey mom, a ‘one-of-us’ kind of candidate.”

McCain is right in asking: "How do you cut income taxes for 95% of Americans when more than 40% pay no income taxes right now?"

From The Wall Street Journal:

Barack Obama's tax plan [that] would give tax cuts to people who currently pay no income taxes . . . [is known in tax parlance as a "refundable tax credit," and such proposals] have become increasingly common in recent years, supported by both parties. Sen. McCain himself uses them as the cornerstone of his health-care plan.

"Traditional welfare is frowned upon by the public, and government spending is similarly frowned upon," said Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. "So politicians are looking at new ways to deliver targeted benefits ... and by delivering it through the IRS, it sounds far more palatable to the public."

Refundable tax credits have become increasingly popular over the past two decades, as a series of tax breaks have allowed more households to eliminate their income-tax liability altogether. President Bill Clinton's welfare overhaul relied on expanding the earned-income tax credit, which is for low-income working individuals and families and is designed to provide an incentive to work. President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts increased an existing child tax credit, and made it refundable so households that didn't pay taxes could receive it.

Currently, 62% of households pay income taxes, down from 82% in 1984. Some 57 million tax filers don't pay any federal income taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

Sen. Obama, who says he wants to give 95% of all households tax relief, makes his case by saying that he is offering most Americans tax relief. His plan counts on raising taxes on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and families who make more than $250,000 a year.

The senator from Illinois has proposed a series of refundable tax credits, including a $500 refund to low- and middle-income workers to offset Social Security payroll taxes; a $4,000 tax credit for college students paying tuition and performing community service, regardless of whether they pay income taxes; and a tax credit covering 50% of child-care expenses up to $6,000 a year. The plan also offers a refundable 10% mortgage-interest tax credit for taxpayers who don't itemize their deductions, and an expansion of the earned-income tax credit that would give single workers as much as $555 annually, up from $175 currently.


From The Wall Street Journal:

Barack Obama's advisers, responding to criticism by Republican nominee John McCain that the Democratic candidate's tax plan is equivalent to "welfare," clarified that his proposed tax credits would require beneficiaries to be employed or to have been recently employed.

A McCain adviser, meanwhile, retreated from a pledge by the Arizona senator that his administration would balance the budget in four years.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Speech That Could Close the Deal

David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post:

We have completed the "Survivor" phase of the presidential campaign, in which pundits and pollsters waited for one of the candidates to make a gaffe in the debates so they could vote him off the island. Now, with just over two weeks left, maybe we can focus on the issue of leadership for a country in deep, deep trouble.

Despite Barack Obama's big lead in the polls, he hasn't yet made a decisive case for how he would govern in this time of crisis. His demeanor is cool and calm, his intellect razor-sharp, and if smart guys were automatically good leaders, it would be game, set and match for Obama.

But leadership is something more mysterious, and it comes in odd packages -- the brooding, depressive Abraham Lincoln; the patrician Franklin Roosevelt; the genial ex-actor Ronald Reagan; the priapic good ol' boy Bill Clinton. What is inside the Obama package? We still need to know more.

Over the next two weeks, Obama should help the country visualize what his administration would look like. He should show how he would step up to the economic crisis, an unfolding disaster that we so often compare to the Great Depression that the analogy is losing its horrific impact. What sorts of people would Obama appoint to his Cabinet? How would he deal with two wars, as commander in chief rather than as political campaigner?

The country is looking for two conflicting qualities in the next president -- change and stability. Obama certainly embodies the former. He launched his campaign by styling himself as the change agent who could reach across racial and party divisions. But what kind of change? Oddly, for the great rhetorician, the vision thing has been a bit fuzzy in recent weeks. Obama should reveal what's in his head and heart by expressing more of the big ideas that would animate an Obama presidency.

The stability theme is a harder one for Obama, but it's likely to be crucial in bringing home the victory the pollsters are predicting. The country is frightened, more now than it was a few months ago. People want reassurance that Obama, for all his talk about change, isn't going to overturn the apple cart. A dream television spot in the final week would be a fireside chat between Obama and his sometime economic adviser Warren Buffett. That would close the deal, I suspect.

Balancing change and stability in foreign policy is Obama's biggest challenge -- and John McCain's greatest opportunity. An "October Surprise" that dramatized the need for experienced leadership would obviously help McCain. But even here, Obama can use the next two weeks to send the message that there will be "a steady hand at the tiller," to use one of McCain's signature lines.

The best way for Obama to signal continuity would be to do publicly what I'm told he has already begun privately -- which is to express confidence in the two key leaders at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Centcom's commander, Gen. David Petraeus.

Members of Obama's inner circle have discussed the possibility of asking Gates to stay on for a transitional year or so; Obama's key defense adviser, former Navy secretary Richard Danzig, has even floated the idea directly. This transition would make sense for the country, and Gates would probably say yes. As for Petraeus, Obama is said to have signaled that he would listen carefully to military advice about Iraq and Afghanistan rather than make radical changes.

Obama could embrace both continuity and change abroad by endorsing some of Petraeus's new ideas about the way forward in Afghanistan. Far from the "surge to victory" image conveyed by McCain's rhetoric, Petraeus is looking for ways to negotiate with and co-opt the insurgents. He wants to explore truces and alliances with the tribal warlords who make up the insurgent "syndicate" -- so that they are taken off the battlefield without a new war. That's what Petraeus did in Iraq, and it's a strategy Obama could support for Afghanistan.

The temptation for Obama will be to sit on his lead and avoid taking the risk of defining his leadership in sharper terms. For a man of lesser ambition, that play-it-safe strategy might make sense. But Obama is something different. At his best, he seems to think beyond the political calculus of how to get elected to the deeper problem of how to lead and govern. Over these next two weeks, Obama should step on the accelerator, not the brake.

Obama: "My biggest boneheaded move." -- Will gun-toting, churchgoing white guys pull the lever for Barack Obama?

From The New York Times:

For a guy who just four years ago was running his first statewide campaign, Barack Obama has made startlingly few missteps as a presidential candidate. But the moment Obama would most like to take back now, if he could, was the one last April when, speaking to a small gathering of Bay Area contributors, he said that small-town voters in Pennsylvania and other states had grown “bitter” over lost jobs, which caused them to “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.” That comment, subsequently posted by a blogger for the Huffington Post, undercut one of the central premises of Obama’s campaign, an argument he first floated in his famous 2004 convention address — that he could somehow erode the tired distinctions between red states and blue ones and appeal to disaffected white men who had written off national Democrats as hopelessly elitist. Instead, in the weeks that followed, white working-class primary voters, not only in industrial states like Pennsylvania but also in rural states like Kentucky and West Virginia, rejected his candidacy by wide margins, and he staggered, wounded, toward the nomination.

“That was my biggest boneheaded move,” Obama told me recently. . . . “How it was interpreted in the press was Obama talking to a bunch of wine-sipping San Francisco liberals with an anthropological view toward white working-class voters. And I was actually making the reverse point, clumsily, which is that these voters have a right to be frustrated because they’ve been ignored. And because Democrats haven’t met them halfway on cultural issues, we’ve not been able to communicate to them effectively an economic agenda that would help broaden our coalition.

“I mean, part of what I was trying to say to that group in San Francisco was, ‘You guys need to stop thinking that issues like religion or guns are somehow wrong,’ ” he continued. “Because, in fact, if you’ve grown up and your dad went out and took you hunting, and that is part of your self-identity and provides you a sense of continuity and stability that is unavailable in your economic life, then that’s going to be pretty important, and rightfully so. And if you’re watching your community lose population and collapse but your church is still strong and the life of the community is centered around that, well then, you know, we’d better be paying attention to that.”

Spending Surge Pushing Deficit Toward $1 Trillion - Unfortunate mindset is if we spend $700 billion to bail out Wall St., why not a bundle on Main St.

From The Washington Post:

Congressional leaders and both presidential candidates are proposing billions of dollars in tax breaks and other measures to stoke economic growth, a surge in spending that could send the federal deficit soaring toward $1 trillion this year, creating the deepest well of red ink since the end of World War II.

The government already has embarked on an unprecedented spending spree to halt the implosion of the U.S. financial system and is borrowing money at levels that some economists fear could undermine the nation's economic security for years to come. Congress could consider additional spending as soon as next month, potentially digging the nation's hole even deeper.

[W]ith options for a second round of stimulus spending starting at $52 billion -- the size of the package proposed earlier this week by Republican presidential candidate John McCain -- it's not hard to imagine the deficit rising to $1 trillion. That would approach 7 percent of the economy, a yawning budget hole not seen since 1946.

Some economists say that prospect should dampen talk of further spending.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thousands Face Mix-Ups In Voter Registrations -- In New Databases, Many Are Wrongly Flagged as Ineligible

From The Washington Post:

Thousands of voters across the country must reestablish their eligibility in the next three weeks in order for their votes to count on Nov. 4, a result of new state registration systems that are incorrectly rejecting them.

The challenges have led to a dozen lawsuits, testy arguments among state officials and escalating partisan battles. Because many voters may not know that their names have been flagged, eligibility questions could cause added confusion on Election Day, beyond the delays that may come with a huge turnout.

The scramble to verify voter registrations is happening as states switch from locally managed lists of voters to statewide databases, a change required by federal law and hailed by many as a more efficient and accurate way to keep lists up to date.

But in the transition, the systems are questioning the registrations of many voters when discrepancies surface between their registration information and other official records, often because of errors outside voters' control.

The issue made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which yesterday blocked a challenge to 200,000 Ohio voters whose registration data conflicted with other state records.

The changes stem from the Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress in 2002 in the aftermath of the deadlocked presidential race two years earlier. The law provided millions of dollars for states to upgrade voting equipment and procedures, and to create the centralized databases, which allow voters in most states to check their registrations and polling places on the Internet.

The electronic lists have been coming online gradually, and for 31 states, this will be the first time they are used in a presidential election.

As the databases are implemented, voters' names and other information are verified against state driver's license records or Social Security records to determine their eligibility. Federal law allows each state to decide what constitutes a match -- whether it will accept nicknames, for example.

By federal law, anyone whose name is flagged must be notified and given a chance to prove his or her eligibility. But voting rights experts say voters are not always alerted, and even if they are, some may decide to simply skip the election. If questions about eligibility remain on Election Day, those voters are entitled to cast a "provisional" ballot. But which of those ballots are ultimately counted depends on local and state rules.

In Georgia, the database has so far labeled 2,600 people as noncitizens.

Democrats Hope to Defy Odds in Mississippi

From The New York Times:

Mississippi has not elected a Democrat to an open Senate seat since 1947, but that is not stopping the Democratic Party from heavily financing a major effort here, one of a handful of states — including North Carolina, Minnesota and possibly Oregon — it thinks it can pull from Republicans this fall in a reach for the filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.

More than $3 million has been spent by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to support [Former Mississippi Governor Ronnie] Musgrove; turn on a television here and the candidates can be found flailing at each other’s ethics, morals and probity in what local analysts say is a never-seen-before barrage of negative advertisements.

Mr. Musgrove has inched up in the polls and one recent survey showed him statistically even with the Republican incumbent, Roger Wicker, a former congressman appointed in December to fill the Senate seat vacated by Trent Lott.

The odds for a Democratic pickup, however, out of all the states in play, may be longest in Mississippi.

Yes! Smart guy -- Looking Ahead, Obama Builds Ties With 'Blue Dogs'

From The Washington Post:

Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas is not likely to bring Barack Obama many votes on Nov. 4. Neither is Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee or Rep. Allen Boyd, a farmer from the Florida Panhandle.

But the three could play a big role in the success or failure of the next president, one reason Obama took a break from campaigning last week to call each of them, among the leaders of the "Blue Dog Coalition," a group of conservative-leaning Democrats who are committed to balancing the federal budget. The group's 49 members already wield significant power in the House, and their ranks are expected to expand in the next Congress.

"He said he planned to be the next president and he wanted to work with us," Ross said in recounting his conversation with Obama before the House approved a $700 billion economic rescue package. "He also recognized that we had the numbers to block or clear" legislation coming from the White House if he is elected.

Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill see Obama's early relationship-building as evidence that he is determined to take office with a legislative plan in place.

For the Blue Dogs, a partnership with Obama provides a pathway out of an ideological cul-de-sac that the group backed into by insisting that the House adopt budget rules linking every spending increase or tax cut to a specific spending cut or new revenue source. Even many in the group concede that the standard was difficult to meet and caused friction among House Democrats, as well as open warfare with the Senate.

Sex Scandal Shakes Race for Congress in Florida

From The New York Times:

The Florida congressman who succeeded Mark Foley after he resigned because of a sex scandal is now embroiled in a sex scandal of his own . . . .

The congressman, Tim Mahoney, a Democrat, agreed to a $121,000 settlement with a former mistress who worked on his staff and was threatening to sue him . . . .

The revelation, first reported by ABC News, could cost Mr. Mahoney his House seat. His South Florida district is conservative, and he was already in one of the most competitive races involving an incumbent Democrat.

Mr. Mahoney was elected two years ago after the resignation of Representative Foley, a Republican, whose lewd Internet messages to Congressional pages created a national outrage.

Obama is almost universally favored over McCain outside the United States

From The Washington Post:

BY NOW it is well known that if the rest of the world had a vote, Barack Obama would be the next U.S. president. Polls and studies by the Pew foundation, BBC and the Gallup organization have shown that Europeans, Latin Americans, Africans and Asians not only favor Mr. Obama overwhelmingly over John McCain but believe he will improve U.S. relations with the rest of the world. Americans seem to be attracted by such findings; polls here show that many voters are concerned about the deterioration of U.S. prestige during the Bush administration and want the next president to restore it.

Pollsters Debate 'Bradley Effect' -- Election Seen as Test of Theory That Black Candidates' Leads in Polls Aren't Real

From The Washington Post:

Not long ago, it was considered political gospel: Be wary of polls when an election involves an African American candidate, because many whites will voice support but then vote for the white opponent.

Now, poll-watchers are asking whether that could be skewing the numbers as Democrat Barack Obama, the first African American presidential nominee, moves ahead of Republican John McCain.

Most experts say they do not believe that the phenomenon, known as the "Bradley effect," is at work in this election. But some disagree. And if the effect has disappeared, it is not clear whether that is because polling techniques have improved or because the country has become more tolerant about race.

The phenomenon got its name a generation ago, after former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley (D), an African American, lost the 1982 gubernatorial race in California despite leading his white opponent in the polls on the eve of the election. Some experts suspected at the time that a portion of white voters, reluctant to appear biased, had essentially lied to pollsters about which candidate they were supporting. But whether Bradley lost because of hidden racism has never been clear.

Atlanta used to be the South's banking center. It shifted to Charlotte. This could change again. My brother Dan comments on Wachovia . . .

Charlotte could lose up to to 4,500 banking jobs. My brother Dan comments on what this means to Charlote -- a city I came to love and respect while attending Davidson College some 20 miles to the north -- in this 10-9-08 clip from NBC Nightly News.

MoveOn Grows Up -- What Started Online in '98 Has Transformed Liberal Politicking

From The Washington Post:

MoveOn, the enfant terrible of online politicking, is growing up, turning 10 years old last month. And it has become far more than a purveyor of vituperative e-mail blasts. During the 2006 midterm elections, for instance, the online organization -- with a full-time staff of 23, most of whom work from home -- spent $28 million advocating for Democratic candidates through its political action committee, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. In contrast, the National Rifle Association, with a staff of about 500 housed in its expansive headquarters in Fairfax, spent $11 million through its PAC.

As the battle between Obama and McCain heated up this summer, MoveOn witnessed its largest increase in membership -- adding a million new members in three months, bringing its total to 4.2 million.

Not bad for a group that started off as an online petition to stop the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Created in September 1998 by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, the petition asked Congress to censure Clinton and "move on" to other domestic issues.

Know our next President -- Obama: From Outsider To Politician

It is not short, but it is definitely worth reading. It is from The Washington Post, and begins:

The taunting began as soon as Barack Obama joined the Illinois Senate in January 1997. He had expected to face some skepticism as a political neophyte, but not such outright hostility.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Housing Pain Gauge: Nearly 1 in 6 Owners 'Under Water'

From The Wall Street Journal:

The relentless slide in home prices has left nearly one in six U.S. homeowners owing more on a mortgage than the home is worth, raising the possibility of a rise in defaults -- the very misfortune that touched off the credit crisis last year.

The result of homeowners being "under water" is more pressure on an economy that is already in a downturn. No longer having equity in their homes makes people feel less rich and thus less inclined to shop at the mall.

And having more homeowners under water is likely to mean more eventual foreclosures, because it is hard for borrowers in financial trouble to refinance or sell their homes and pay off their mortgage if their debt exceeds the home's value. A foreclosed home, in turn, tends to lower the value of other homes in its neighborhood.

About 75.5 million U.S. households own the homes they live in. After a housing slump that has pushed values down 30% in some areas, roughly 12 million households, or 16%, owe more than their homes are worth, according to Moody's Economy.com.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

It's show appreciation time for Marshall's voting (with the Minority Leader) to bailout Wall Street: House GOP Leader Boehner to stump for Goddard.

Although I was very opposed to the vote to bail out Wall Street, I would never vote against my friend Congressman Jim Marshall just because of this. Travis Fain's informs us in The Macon Telegraph that Boehner is coming to Georgia to stump for Goddard.

Boehner relied on Marshall's work among the Blue Dog Democrats in getting the bail out passed. Truly, in Washington as elsewhere, no good deed goes unpunished.

The Dean says that Gov. Perdue sees Richardson for what he is: A tyrant who has intimidated his fellow lawmakers into letting him stay in office.

After giving Governor Perdue hell and full credit for a myriad of the State's ongoing problems, Bill Shipp writes:

To Perdue's everlasting credit, he sees House Speaker Glenn Richardson for what he is: a tyrant without an ounce of judgment who has intimidated his fellow lawmakers into letting him stay in office.

As a result, Richardson & Co. despise Perdue and are determined to trip him up, no matter what he tries. In bygone days, lawmakers worked closely with the governor, no matter whom, to solve budget problems so the state could continue to move forward.

You'll find no such spirit of cooperation in the House of Richardson, which makes one wonder why Democratic leaders are asking for a special session of the General Assembly. The donkeys must like to hear Richardson rant against Perdue. That likely would be the only tangible result of a special session.

Tom Friedman on Palin’s Kind of Patriotism

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

Criticizing Sarah Palin is truly shooting fish in a barrel. But given the huge attention she is getting, you can’t just ignore what she has to say. And there was one thing she said in the debate with Joe Biden that really sticks in my craw. It was when she turned to Biden and declared: “You said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America, which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that’s not patriotic.”

What an awful statement. Palin defended the government’s $700 billion rescue plan. She defended the surge in Iraq, where her own son is now serving. She defended sending more troops to Afghanistan. And yet, at the same time, she declared that Americans who pay their fair share of taxes to support all those government-led endeavors should not be considered patriotic.

I only wish she had been asked: “Governor Palin, if paying taxes is not considered patriotic in your neighborhood, who is going to pay for the body armor that will protect your son in Iraq? Who is going to pay for the bailout you endorsed? If it isn’t from tax revenues, there are only two ways to pay for those big projects — printing more money or borrowing more money. Do you think borrowing money from China is more patriotic than raising it in taxes from Americans?” That is not putting America first. That is selling America first.

I can understand someone saying that the government has no business bailing out the financial system, but I can’t understand someone arguing that we should do that but not pay for it with taxes. I can understand someone saying we have no business in Iraq, but I can’t understand someone who advocates staying in Iraq until “victory” declaring that paying taxes to fund that is not patriotic.

How in the world can conservative commentators write with a straight face that this woman should be vice president of the United States?

Whether or not I agree with John McCain, he is of presidential timber. But putting the country in the position where a total novice like Sarah Palin could be asked to steer us through possibly the most serious economic crisis of our lives is flat out reckless. It is the opposite of conservative.

Labor Woos Whites for Obama

From The Wall Street Journal:

Republicans have dominated presidential elections for a generation by targeting white working-class voters with a conservative message on social issues. Organized labor has a secret weapon it hopes will win them back for Sen. Barack Obama: a fast-growing outfit called Working America.

The little-noticed group formed by the AFL-CIO has no role in workplaces or contract bargaining and collects no mandatory dues. What it does is sign up members, 2.5 million so far, and persuade them to vote Democratic.

Working-class whites are important because they make up just about half of the electorate. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows Sen. Obama has built a six-point lead over Sen. John McCain in part by cutting his deficit among these voters to 11 points.

Two weeks ago, when Sen. Obama trailed Sen. McCain by 18 points among this group, the presidential race was essentially tied, according to the WSJ/NBC poll.

Some of Sen. Obama's gains in the polls come as voters hold Republicans responsible for the economy. And in the past month, as turmoil has roiled Wall Street, Working America has sought to reinforce the Democratic message that Sen. Obama is better prepared to help the economy than Sen. McCain.

Working America's 450 paid employees are mostly going after white, working-class voters in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. With leaflets, phone calls and personal visits, they urge those voters to focus on economic issues like taxes, health care and education -- where Sen. Obama polls well -- and less on issues like religion and guns, on which many of them are closer to Sen. McCain.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bailout Votes and the Economy Threaten to Overwhelm Other Issues

From The New York Times:

Members of Congress headed home this weekend to try to persuade constituents that they did the right thing on the economic bailout plan, a momentous vote that injected an unpredictable new element into the climactic final weeks of the campaign season.

The legislative, economic and political drama surrounding the approval of the $700 billion effort to free up credit markets obscured some of the other bitter conflicts and notable accomplishments of the 110th Congress — the first Democrat-controlled Congress since 1995. Analysts and lawmakers were left wondering what the race-by-race impact of the bailout would be.

Will lawmakers who supported the plan that initially sparked public outrage be pummeled or praised? Will those who nearly doomed the initiative and sent the markets spiraling down suffer at the hands of Americans whose portfolios took a hit, or be rewarded as guardians of tax dollars? Will those who switched their votes during a frenzied week be labeled as flip-floppers or lawmakers who saw the error of their ways?

While the next month will clarify the political ramifications of the bailout, the high-profile end-of-session vote and the economy in general are threatening to overwhelm the campaign dialogue — overshadowing the war in Iraq, energy costs, health care and other issues that could have risen to the top of the agenda.

Despite the persistent partisan tensions, the leaders of the two parties came together in the final days of the session to put together the bailout measure at the behest of the Bush administration. But they had serious problems trying to get the rank and file to join them on a vote many lawmakers compared in magnitude to a vote for war or the 1998 vote to impeach President Clinton.

Lawmakers in both parties, particularly those considered most vulnerable to losing their seats in November, balked at the idea of rapidly agreeing just weeks away from their re-elections to spend up to $700 billion from the Treasury to help out high-finance executives.

Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, acknowledged that the proposal was a “challenger’s dream,” allowing anyone running against an incumbent to rail freely against a proposal that left a sour taste with the public.

On the initial House vote, most of the so-called vulnerable lawmakers in both parties voted no, despite pleas for help from the leadership and the White House. On Friday, many of those in the toughest races as well as House members running for Senate rejected the measure again, though a handful of embattled lawmakers switched their votes.

The fact that the party hierarchy and both presidential candidates came down so clearly in favor of the bailout could dilute its impact in the Congressional races.

Still, independent advocacy organizations and challengers themselves will still make use of it — even if they share a position with their opponent.

Pressured to Take More Risk, Fannie Hit a Tipping Point

Today's New York Times has an excellent article recounting how Fannie Mae’s new chief executive, under pressure from Wall Street firms, Congress and company shareholders, took additional risks that pushed his company, and, in turn, a large part of the nation’s financial health, to the brink.

Quotes such as the following from the article show (1) the reason for the title of the previous post in that the White House, Wall Street and Capitol Hill were all complicit in this mess, and (2) in part why -- other than the increase in the FDIC insurance as noted in my 10-2-08 post -- I do not like the $700 billion Wall Street bailout legislation:

“I’m not worried about Fannie and Freddie’s health [in the context of Fannie and Freddie having their lending standards adjusted by the White House so they could purchase as much as $40 billion in new subprime loans], I’m worried that they won’t do enough to help out the economy,” the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said at the time. “That’s why I’ve supported them all these years — so that they can help at a time like this.”

America to Washington: We don't trust you to fix the problem, we suspect you may have caused it.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The failure of the first bailout bill was an epic repudiation of the Washington leadership class by the American people. Two weeks ago the president of the United States, the speaker of the House, the secretary of the Treasury and the leadership of both parties in Congress came forward and announced that the economy was in crisis and a federal bill to solve it urgently needed. The powers were in agreement, the stars aligned, it was going to happen.

And then the phones began to ring, from one end of Capitol Hill to the other. And the message in those calls was, essentially: We don't trust you to fix the problem, we suspect you may have caused it. Go away.

It was an epic snub, aimed at both parties. And the bill tanked.

We have simply, as a nation, never had a moment like this, in which the American people voted such a stunning no-confidence in America's leaders in a time of real and present danger. The fate of the second bill is unclear as I write, but the fact that it has morphed from three pages to roughly 450, and is festooned with favors, will do nothing to allay public suspicions about the trustworthiness of Congress. This, as a background, could not have helped Mr. Biden.

We have never seen an economic meltdown like this? We've never seen a presidential meltdown like this. George W. Bush's weakness is not all lame-duckship. In the last year of his presidency Ronald Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow and helped change the world. In the penultimate year of his presidency, Bill Clinton sent U.S. troops, successfully, into Kosovo.

After the first bailout failed, Mr. Bush spoke like a man who was a mere commentator, not the leader in a crisis.

We witness here a great political lesson. When you are president, it matters—it really matters—that a majority of the people support and respect you. When you squander that affection, you lose more than mere popularity. You lose the ability to lead when your country is in crisis. This is a terrible loss, and a dangerous one, for the whole world is watching.

Young aides to Reagan used to grouse, late in his second term, that he had high popularity levels, that popularity was capital, and that he should spend it more freely on potential breakthroughs of this kind or that. But Reagan and the men around him were wiser. They spent when they had to and were otherwise prudent. (Is there a larger lesson here?) They were not daring when they didn't have to be. They knew presidential popularity is a jewel to be protected, and to be burnished when possible, because without it you can do nothing. Without the support and trust of the people you cannot move, cannot command. You are left, like Mr. Bush, talking to an empty room.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

GOP Strategists Whisper Fears Of Greater Losses in November

From The Washington Post:

With the party already struggling to generate enthusiasm for its brand, Republican strategists fear that an outpouring of public anger generated by Congress's struggle to pass a rescue package for the financial industry may contribute to a disaster at the polls for the GOP in November.

"The crisis has affected the entire ticket," said Jan van Lohuizen, a Republican consultant who handled the polling for President Bush's reelection campaign. "The worse the state's economy, the greater the impact."

Republicans are trying to defend at least 18 House seats in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, economic trouble spots that double as election battlegrounds. Rising unemployment, the meltdown in the housing market, and a credit crunch besieging consumers and manufacturers alike were factors in Sen. John McCain's decision Thursday to pull campaign resources out of Michigan.

The pessimism in the GOP ranks reflects a striking shift in momentum in the four weeks since the Republican National Convention, when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made her national debut and rallied conservatives, helping to fuel the perception that longer-shot Democratic targets were drifting out of reach.

"If you turn the clock back two or two and half weeks, you could make a plausible argument that if a couple of things go our way we will lose three to four Senate races," said one Republican strategist. "Now we will lose six to eight." Polling in most Senate races over the past 14 days has shown a five-point decline for the Republican candidate, the strategist said.

The picture in the House is similar.

With a month left before election, GOP camp aims to shift focus from economy to Obama's character.

From The Washington Post:

Sen. John McCain and his Republican allies are readying a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama's character, believing that to win in November they must shift the conversation back to questions about the Democrat's judgment, honesty and personal associations, several top Republicans said.

With just a month to go until Election Day, McCain's team has decided that its emphasis on the senator's biography as a war hero, experienced lawmaker and straight-talking maverick is insufficient to close a growing gap with Obama. The Arizonan's campaign is also eager to move the conversation away from the economy, an issue that strongly favors Obama and has helped him to a lead in many recent polls.

Being so aggressive has risks for McCain if it angers swing voters, who often say they are looking for candidates who offer a positive message about what they will do. That could be especially true this year, when frustration with Washington politics is acute and a desire for specifics on how to fix the economy and fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is strong.

Moments after the House of Representatives approved a bailout package for Wall Street on Friday afternoon, the McCain campaign released a television ad that challenges Obama's honesty and asks, "Who is Barack Obama?" The ad alleges that "Senator Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes. Ninety-four times. He's not truthful on taxes." The charge that Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes has been called misleading by independent fact-checkers, who have noted that the majority of those votes were on nonbinding budget resolutions.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's performance at Thursday night's debate embodied the new approach, as she used every opportunity to question Obama's honesty and fitness to serve as president. At one point she said, "Barack Obama voted against funding troops [in Iraq] after promising that he would not do so."

Surviving 90 minutes on a stage with Biden did not transform Palin into a plausible president.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes in The Washington Post:

Early in last night's vice-presidential debate, Sarah Palin said that she might not answer the questions as moderator Gwen Ifill posed them. This was the Alaska governor's way of saying she was going to stick to the talking points she had stuffed into her head, no matter what the subject.

When Palin described John McCain's health-care plan, she talked about his offer of a $5,000 tax credit so families could buy insurance. She failed to mention that McCain would pay for the credit by taxing existing insurance benefits. Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden -- politely -- pounced on her omission, warning that McCain's plan could lead millions to lose their insurance coverage. Palin didn't come back to defend her running mate.

Nor did she come back when Biden challenged her false claims about how many times Barack Obama had voted for tax increases. Palin just plowed forward, piling one attack on top of another, with leavening references to "Joe Six-Pack" and "hockey moms."

Oh, yes, she did correct Biden on one thing. When he said the Republican energy slogan is "drill, drill, drill," she quickly reminded him that "the chant is drill, baby, drill." Thanks for clearing that up.

Last night's debate took place at the moment when a majority of American voters had decided that Palin was unprepared to be president if she were called upon to assume the office. Surveys by The Post and ABC News and by the Pew Research Center both found that doubts about Palin have risen sharply since the beginning of September.

The key to understanding how McCain chose Palin as his running mate was provided by the New York Times last weekend when it described an episode in which he "tossed $100 chips around a hot craps table." Americans are increasingly uneasy about the gamble they might take by putting Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Expectations for Palin were so low that the mere fact that she managed to keep talking and to keep assailing Obama will be rated as a great victory by McCain's lieutenants. But it was Biden who knew what he was talking about, who could engage in argument and who showed he actually understood the issues. In recent interviews with CBS anchor Katie Couric, Palin came off as profoundly uninformed, as someone who had given little thought to the issues that will matter. Nothing Palin did last night changed that. Those rooting for her were relieved. Those who doubted her readiness going in were not persuaded by her endless repetition of the word "maverick."

Palin has also brought out the very worst in McCain, forcing him to -- and I do not use this word lightly -- lie about her. In an interview broadcast Wednesday, National Public Radio's Steve Inskeep asked McCain if there would be "an occasion where you could imagine turning to Governor Palin for advice in a foreign policy crisis?"

McCain replied: "I've turned to her advice many times in the past. I can't imagine turning to Senator Obama or Senator Biden, because they've been wrong."

" Many times in the past?" McCain met Palin only twice before he selected her. What McCain said could not be true. And would anyone who listened to her last night really consult Palin on foreign policy?

This week, McCain's backers signaled their fears that Palin would fail by trying to discredit the debate in advance. Although it has been known at least since July that Gwen Ifill was writing a book on "Politics and Race in the Age of Obama," the usual right-wing attack squad waited until two days before the debate to mount a campaign to the effect that Ifill's book project turned her into a biased moderator. In her measured questioning, Ifill showed that the attack was nonsense.

The core issue, of course, is the contrast between how Obama and McCain chose their running mates. Say what you will about Joe Biden -- and last night, he was far from being either the gaffe machine or the windbag so many predicted would appear on stage -- no one loses sleep at the idea of his being in the Oval Office. Obama picked a vice president more likely to help him govern the country than win the chance to do so.

As for McCain, he found himself in a political hole and threw the dice with Palin. At the time of her selection, voters were often compared with "American Idol" watchers who put personality and stage presence above everything else. But it turns out that Americans take the presidency very seriously. And surviving 90 minutes on a stage with Biden did not transform Palin into a plausible president.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Supreme Court Won't Reconsider Ban on Execution for Child Rape

From The Washington Post:

The Supreme Court yesterday declined to revisit its June decision that imposing the death penalty on child-rapists is unconstitutional, although two justices said they would have reopened the case and two others sharply criticized the majority.

The state of Louisiana and the Justice Department had asked the court to reconsider the 5 to 4 decision because the justices had not been presented with what the state and federal government considered an important fact: that Congress in 2006 made child rape a capital offense under military law.

No one argued that point -- it seems none of the parties even knew it at the time -- before the majority ruled at the end of the term that there was no evidence of a national consensus in favor of putting child-rapists to death.

But that was only part of the court's reasoning. It also said that in its "independent judgment," child rape could not be compared to murder in terms of warranting the death penalty, just as the court had held that raping an adult did not merit execution.

Today, the same five justices said that the opinion would be amended to reflect the existence of the military law but that it did not bear upon their reasoning.

This is what we need to do for the present: "A greater stabilizing source would be to insure all deposits in transaction accounts, without limits."

From The New York Times:

[T]he biggest impact would be on small-business customers, which often must have more than $100,000 in cash to meet payroll requirements and other needs. If the insurance coverage is increased to $250,000, about 68 percent of all small-business deposits will be insured, according to Oliver Wyman data. Today, about 51 percent of small-business deposits are protected.

Indeed, the move will likely strengthen the competitive position of smaller banks, which are being elbowed out by giants like Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase. Small-business customers have flocked to those institutions, thinking their money is safer because they are “too big to fail.” Some consider keeping deposits in community banks more risky: Despite their local touch, they may be too small for the government to save.

Others, however, question how much the measure will really help. One reason is that customers most likely to pull their money tend to be midsize corporations that keep more than $250,000 in cash in an account.

“A greater stabilizing source would be to insure all deposits in transaction accounts, without limits,” said Michael Poulos, an Oliver Wyman consultant. That would cover about 81 percent of small-business deposits, “but that would look like a giveaway to businesses, rather than helping mom-and-pop with a big C.D.”

William M. Isaac, who was the chairman of the F.D.I.C. between 1981 and 1985, said that lifting the limit to $250,000 is “all show, no substance.” “It doesn’t do what needs to be done,” he said. “It might make somebody’s grandmother feel good, but that is not the problem that we have in the financial world: banks won’t lend to other banks.”

For more than a decade, the banking industry pressed the government to increase its insurance coverage. Congress last raised the limit on insured deposits in 1980, to $100,000 from $40,000. But despite years of rising prices, lawmakers resisted increasing the cap.

The concern was that raising the limit would increase the moral hazard, giving banks and customers incentives to take more risk than they otherwise would take. But with the banking industry under siege, that view appears to have changed.

All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills.

From The New York Times:

The House jealously guards its power to originate tax bills. The Constitution says, “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills.”

The Senate version of the bailout package is technically an amendment to a House bill that would require group health insurance plans to provide equivalence, or parity, in the coverage of mental and physical illnesses.

Insurers often charge higher co-payments and set stricter limits for mental health care than for the treatment of physical illnesses. The bill would outlaw such discrimination, and the government could impose an excise tax on health plans that violated the new requirement.