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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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Only in America can one of the culprits emerge a big winner. But do we want the U.A.W. to have such influence in our huge investment in this industry?

From The New York Times:

In the devastating slump that has forced two of Detroit’s automakers to the brink of bankruptcy, the United Automobile Workers union stands to become one of the industry’s few winners.

According to restructuring plans proposed this week, the union will have more than half the stock in Chrysler and a third of General Motors, meaning it will have tremendous influence, with the government, in determining the future of the companies.

The prospect of a big ownership stake for the U.A.W. in G.M. has angered holders of billions of dollars in bonds, who stand to get only a fraction of the restructured company. As for Chrysler, the banks, hedge funds and others that lent it money have been promised only cash, not stock.

“We believe the offer to be a blatant disregard of fairness for the bondholders who have funded this company and amounts to using taxpayer money to show political favoritism of one creditor over another,” a group of G.M. bondholders said in a statement this week.

The U.A.W. members at both automakers stand to lose some of their pay and benefits, but the cuts are not as deep as those faced by airline and steel workers when their companies went bankrupt. Under proposed deals devised by the Treasury Department, U.A.W. pensions and retiree health care benefits would largely be protected.

The U.A.W. has derived its leverage in part from the support of a Democratic president and Congress. But it also results from a long-term strategy to build support in Washington that stretches back more than 60 years.

[T]he pressure that bondholders and other investors might put on the U.A.W. has been mitigated by Democrats’ support.

G.O.P. Debate: A Broader Party or a Purer One? -- The dominance now enjoyed by Democrats could prove transitory.

From The New York Times:

A fundamental debate broke out among Republicans on Wednesday over how to rebuild the party in the wake of Senator Arlen Specter’s departure: Should it purge moderate voices like Mr. Specter and embrace its conservative roots or seek to broaden its appeal to regain a competitive position against Democrats?

Politics are cyclical; not long ago Karl Rove, at the time the chief political adviser to President George W. Bush, was boasting about the Republican Party enjoying a permanent majority.

The dominance now enjoyed by Democrats could prove equally transitory. Several Republicans said Democrats could suffer a backlash if economic policies pushed by Mr. Obama failed to lift the country out of a recession.

“These policies that he is pursuing expanding the size of the government are going to be policies which the country will find hard to accept when they look at the levels of debt and the levels of spending that they require,” said Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A GOP Sen. on Specture move: "We can’t continue to fold our philosophical tent into an umbrella under which only a select few are worthy to stand."

Maine GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe writes today about the departure of his friend Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to the Democratic Party, and in the process shares the following quote from President Reagan:

“We should emphasize the things that unite us and make these the only ‘litmus test’ of what constitutes a Republican: our belief in restraining government spending, pro-growth policies, tax reduction, sound national defense, and maximum individual liberty. As to the other issues that draw on the deep springs of morality and emotion, let us decide that we can disagree among ourselves as Republicans and tolerate the disagreement.”

Democrats should read the second sentence and take heed.

I have a Twitter account, but this is not a Twitter message: Tonight I am going to eat pork. Please do likewise. To heck with China and Russia.

The New York Times has an article entitled "Pork Industry Fights Concerns Over Swine Flu" that notes in part:

Several countries on Tuesday announced that they were banning some or all pork products from the United States, angering trade negotiators and hog farmers. To date, countries including the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Ecuador have banned pork from the United States, with Mexican pork exports also covered by most of those bans.

China banned pork from certain states, and Russia banned all meat imports, not just pork, from certain states.

The challenge, the officials say, is persuading those countries to reverse the restrictions so they do not become permanent.

“If you don’t reverse bad policy quickly, people get used to it,” said Allen F. Johnson, a former chief agriculture trade negotiator for the United States trade representative and now a consultant.

While it may be too soon to know how the swine flu outbreak will affect pork sales, early indications are mixed. Pork sales at Wal-Mart are down by high single digits, a spokeswoman said. However, pork sales have remained constant at Publix, a grocery chain based in Florida.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Back to you Mr. Galloway.

Jim Galloway of the AJC's Political Insider -- author of the best and most informative political blog in Georgia -- today has a video at this link of a water tower in Columbus that ruptured over the weekend. The video, like the one below showing the shear force and power of flowing water, is worth watching.

As Jim knows, all politics and no play makes Jim and Sid dull boys.

The below video shows a road at Baymeadows, a local subdivision where we ride bikes on weekends, after a damn broke a couple of weeks ago when we had about 15 inches of rain in a record amount of time, resulting in this and surrounding counties being declared disaster areas by Gov. Perdue.

GOP's Sen. Specter Switches Parties -- And yes, he will still vote against the Employee Free Choice Act!!

From The Wall Street Journal:

Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, increasingly isolated from his party, said Tuesday he is switching parties and will run for re-election in 2010 as a Democrat.

The move gives Democrats control of 59 votes in the Senate, leaving them one shy of 60 needed for procedural control of the chamber. One senate seat remains unfilled, in Minnesota, where a close recount remains tied up in court. But analysts say Democrat Al Franken is favored to win that legal battle in the coming weeks, giving Democrats the majority they are seeking.

But Mr. Specter cautioned that he wouldn't be an "automatic 60th vote" in the Senate for Democrats. To back that assertion, he said he wouldn't be changing his position against the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize. Earlier this year, Mr. Specter said he would vote against the legislation if it were brought to the Senate floor.

Mr. Specter, who provided President Barack Obama the critical vote for his $787 billion stimulus plan, faced a powerful challenge in 2010 from former Rep. Pat Toomey, who hoped to unseat Mr. Specter in a Republican primary.

Timeline: G.M. proposes to pare its American workforce to 38,000 union employees & 34 plants, compared with 395,000 & 150 plants at its peak in 1970.

From The New York Times:

G.M. said it would eliminate another 21,000 factory jobs, close 13 plants, cut its vast network of 6,500 dealers almost in half and shutter its Pontiac division.

By the time it is finished, G.M. expects to have only 38,000 union workers and 34 factories left in the United States, compared with 395,000 workers in more than 150 plants at its peak employment in 1970.

This plan is a far cry from G.M.’s strategy of just a year ago, when it was waging a spirited battle with Toyota for the title of world’s largest automaker.

Where once G.M. had a 50 percent share of the market for new vehicles in the United States, the company hopes to at least hang on to its current 18 percent share.

According to one opinion in The Wall Street Journal:

Pressing the accelerator and brake simultaneously creates a lot of noise while getting you precisely nowhere. General Motors' latest restructuring proposal could be described in the same way.

Bondholders would find themselves minority shareholders in a strange beast controlled by Washington and union members. With 90% bondholder approval needed for this new proposal, it looks like a nonstarter. Still, should it fail and GM enter Chapter 11, the government will at least be able to say it tried.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I like it: Weaker candidate Eric Johnson confirms he will run for governor, prompting stronger candidate and close friend Jack Kingston to bow out.

From the AJC's Political Insider:

[With State Sen.] Eric Johnson of Savannah moving up to the Republican race for governor, . . . U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah formally removed his name from the list of suspected GOP candidates for governor, declaring that he would run for another term in Congress instead.

Kingston and Johnson are excellent friends, and there was talk of a pact between the two. If one ran, the other wouldn’t. I was reminded today that Johnson served as Kingston’s first campaign chairman 18 years ago.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

If legislating without regard to facts constituted a crime, Georgia lawmakers would be staring down a life sentence.

In a 4-9-09 post entitled "States Look to Raise Taxes -- Not Georgia though; with tax receipts tanking, let's lower taxes. School districts & education in this State be damned," I addressed some of the topics further addressed today by Maureen Downey in an editorial for the AJC entitled "Tax cuts made at risky time and with no sense." The editorial reads:

To understand the skewed priorities of our state Legislature, imagine that you come home to discover that your house is ablaze.

Do you pour water on it? Or gasoline?

The General Assembly would choose gasoline.

This year, faced with rapidly declining tax revenues that threaten to deepen in the months to come, legislators were forced to cut state budgets to the bone, compromising education, law enforcement, transportation, environmental protection and other state responsibilities.

And while they were doing so, they recklessly approved tax cuts that the Atlanta-based Georgia Budget and Policy Institute estimates will strip state coffers of an additional $116 million during the upcoming fiscal year and a total of $1.2 billion by 2012.

And lawmakers did so without any evidence that proposed tax breaks will generate jobs, spur the economy or improve the state’s bottom line. In fact, they voted for bills where the evidence was clearly to the contrary.

For example, one of the provisions in House Bill 481 gives a $2,400 tax credit to employers who hire and retain the unemployed. While that might sound reasonable on its surface, an unbiased, professional fiscal analysis requested by the Legislature suggests that HB 481 represents a colossal waste of money.

The analysis found that the bill would lead to 1.5 percent employment growth and generate $55 million in revenues, but would ultimately cost the state $850 million. Even without a calculator on hand, lawmakers had to understand that the math of spending $850 million to make $55 million is a bad deal for taxpayers.

If legislating without regard to facts constituted a crime, Georgia lawmakers would be staring down a life sentence. The additional tax cuts, combined with already plummeting government revenue from sales taxes, property taxes and income taxes, create a time bomb that will detonate in the next few years, and the chief victims will be Georgia’s towns, neighborhoods and schools.

The cutbacks will be felt by Georgians who drive on state roads, who send their kids to local schools and who expect government to meet its basic obligations to keep citizens safe.

In fact, if all the tax breaks passed by legislators are signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue, the state could confront a $3 billion hole in 2012 without the safety net of federal stimulus dollars or state reserves, which helped soften the impact of budget shortfalls this year.

And while legislators insist that the intent of all the tax cuts is to create jobs, the likely outcome will be more furloughs and layoffs of state employees.

“We will be reducing services when Georgians need them most,” said Sarah Beth Gehl, deputy director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. “When these breaks take effect on July 1, the economy will not be rosy. Georgians are still going to be unemployed. They are going to need job training and Medicaid and food stamps. These tax cuts are going to further reduce our ability to provide those services.”

In one of the worst breaches of legislative diligence, the General Assembly gave its blessing to an eleventh-hour amendment cutting long-term capital gains taxes by 25 percent for gains in 2010 and by 50 percent after that. Capital gains are profits from the sale of stocks, mutual funds, bonds and other investments such as vacation real estate, antiques and fine arts.

In defending the out-of-the-blue tax break, state Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) said the reduction would help the many Georgians who own stocks.

“Cutting the capital gains tax is one of the best things we can do to help our economy,” he said.

What Rogers failed to acknowledge is that most Georgians, like most other Americans, own stocks only through employee-sponsored retirements plans.

While half of all U.S. households now own stock, about two-fifths of this stock is held in 401(k)s and IRAs. Only about 20 percent of Americans own individual stocks outside an employee-sponsored plan. The capital gains and dividend income within those retirement accounts won’t get any tax benefit from Rogers’ reduction in the tax rates on capital gains, because they are taxed as ordinary income.

So who will see a boon from a capital gains tax break?

A very wealthy few. People in the top 10 percent of the income spectrum own about 70 percent of taxable stocks. In its analysis of the capital gains tax break, the Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy concluded that 77 percent of the tax cut would go to the very richest 1 percent of Georgians.

The Legislature contends that this investment class will use the money to reinvest, spurring a trickle-down effect that jump-starts the stock market and eventually creates job opportunities.

However, these are far from conventional economic times. “I think that trickle-down is not likely to have very much flowing in the trickle,” says Emory law professor and foreclosure expert Frank Alexander. “Because those who will receive the greatest benefit from the state’s capital gains tax break have become quite leveled in the last three years and seen serious hits to their portfolios. They are going to take those capital gains and cover their own debts and losses.”

In its 2003 report “Economic and Revenue Effects of Permanent and Temporary Capital Gains Tax Cuts,” the Congressional Research Service concluded:

“A capital gains tax cut appears the least likely of any permanent tax cut to stimulate the economy in the short run; a temporary capital gains cut is unlikely to provide any stimulus.”

The problem isn’t just that lawmakers approved tax breaks that target a limited few. By repealing Homeowner Tax Relief Grants, they eliminated a tax break that helped far more Georgians.

For most homeowners, the end of the grants means a $200 to $300 increase in property tax bills. In effect for nearly a dozen years, the grants reduce Georgia property taxes by about $430 million a year. Now that money will come out of the pockets of homeowners.

In the end, a baffled Alexander says the Legislature set the stage for a longer and deeper recession in Georgia because of its inexplicable choices and its indifference to the housing collapse.

“We are going to see prices here decline further, and recovery -- when it does begin -- will be much longer here than in other parts of the country,” he predicted.

The Gainesville Times Editorial Board: Barnes may be the one party member with enough statewide appeal to win back former "blue dogs."

The following is a portion of an editorial from the Gainesville Times:

[Former Gov. Roy Barnes] has maintained a high profile as a lawyer and could seek to ride the national Democratic tide back into office. Barnes said he would decide by June if he would join the race, but clearly the pressure is growing on him to do so.

Democrats are hungry for a chance to get back into power in Georgia and Barnes may be the one party member with enough statewide appeal to win back former "blue dogs" who have turned to the GOP in recent elections. He also may be the only Democrat who could raise enough money to challenge what is likely to be a well-funded, well-backed Republican nominee.

Barnes, appearing last week in Cumming at the Lanier-Forsyth Rotary Club, struck a populist, nonpartisan tone that might be a precursor to the kind of campaign he could conduct should he decide to run.

"The agenda is controlled by lobbyists," Barnes said. "It’s the personal politics of greed at its worst and we’re paying for it. ... For years, we had this whole idea that the common good overcame any individual interest and I’m afraid that has slipped away from us."

Such a centrist tone might work for any candidate in the race. The theme in Georgia and elsewhere in the next election cycle could be "throw the bums out" in light of the ongoing economic mess that has the nation and state reeling with job and income losses.

Obama Off to Solid Start, Poll Finds -- But Release of Memos on Detainee Interrogations Reveals Deep Partisan Split

It is more than a partisan split. It was a mistake.

As I noted in a 4-24-09 post entitled "I would not have done the release: In Obama's Inner Circle, Debate Over Memos' Release Was Intense -- Fear That an Outcry Could Obstruct Larger Agenda ,"

From The Washington Post:

Barack Obama's performance in the first 100 days of his presidency draws strong public approval in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, but there is decidedly less support for his recent decision to release previously secret government memos on the interrogation of terrorism suspects, an initiative that reveals deep partisan fissures.

Secretary of State Karen Handel talks about her bid and throwing her hat, I mean bonnet, into the ring for Governor.

Fox 5 has interviewed all the the Republican candidates for governor, and this is the interview with Secretary of State Karen Handel. The Fox 5 writeup on the interview is here.

Handel has defended the photo ID election law, and unlike many in my party, I have never had a problem with this. But if the party in power were really concerned with voter fraud, it would address absentee voting.

Handel has gone a step further by calling for Georgians to be required to prove their citizenship to register to vote, and I certainly don't have a problem with this.

"The Democrats are arguing that that's an unfair burden. We've got the photo ID at the ballot box to ensure the highest degree of integrity. We've got to have that same degree of integrity at the registration point," said Handle. Amen I say.

A decent interview, but like Oxendine, Handle needs to stay where she is. She is just not cut out of gubernatorial cloth.

And her main cheerleader, Governor Perdue, was also the cheerleader for DOT Commissioner Gena Evans, make that, former DOT Commissioner Gena Evans.

Oxendine wants to get rid of State income tax

Fox 5 has interviewed all the the Republican candidates for governor, and they can all be found at this link.

Statements made during the interview by state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine on state taxes most assuredly will come back to bite him in the rear as the campaign kicks into full swing.

Perhaps ignoring the exit of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle from the race from governor and wanting to one-up Cagel, Oxendine called for eliminating not just the corporate income tax, but all income taxes.

Cagel, you recall, during this past legislative session sought to end Georgia's corporate income tax, which in better times has helped fill the state's coffers with more than $700 million each year. Cagel said wiping out this tax would help Georgia stay competitive with neighboring states.

This position was the subject of a 2-22-09 post entitled "This is irresponsible. Ga. governments -- the state, counties, cities & school districts -- needs more revenue, not less. - Corporate tax breaks urged," that provided in part:

At this particular time this attempt is irresponsible. The State of Georgia, cities, counties and school districts need more tax revenues, not less.

I have been the attorney for the Douglas-Coffee County Economic Development Authority for years, and our success in recruiting industry is the envy of many Georgia cities and counties. Never has our corporate income tax, to my knowledge, even been brought up as a problem or consideration by any company we have recruited.

In the Fox 5 interview Oxendine calls for a complete rewriting of Georgia's tax code and the elimination of the state income tax.

"There are many other ways. A lot can be done. Obviously the sales tax, we need to look at what should be exempt from the sales tax and what should not be," said Oxendine.

While I agree that what should be exempt from sales tax should be examined, is the complete elimination of the state income tax really the issue Oxendine wants to run on. Has he really thought this through? (The topic of what should be exempt from sales tax that did not get the reception it deserved this past legislative session in a bill introduced by my friend Rep. Chuck Sims, but I predict it will in time.)

In the Other Georgia many dread receiving their property tax bill more paying income taxes. But look what happened to House Speaker Glenn Richardson's plan for swapping property taxes for an enhanced state sales tax. Counties, cities and school districts joined forces to oppose it, and it crashed and burned despite a carefully orchestrated statewide series of public hearings designed to promote the concept.

And, as noted in a 7-19-08 post entitled "The Speaker's plan for swapping property taxes for an enhanced state sales tax might have been a fiscal disaster this year if it had been in place":

James Salzer writes in the AJC's Political Insider:

The original plan proposed by House Speaker Glenn Richardson last year - swapping property taxes for an enhanced state sales tax - might have been a fiscal disaster this year if it had been in place, according to critics of the plan.

Sales tax collections were down 8.6 percent during the final quarter of fiscal 2008 compared with the same period in 2007. Sales taxes are currently the second most important source of revenue for the state, just below income taxes. With the economy slowing, sales have fallen faster than income.

That is exactly the scenario that critics of Richardson’s plan warned of.

My take that is old news: Oxendine is an overachiever having become Georgia's Insurance Commissioner. Remember 2005 when Oxendine bowed out of the race for lieutenant governor following (in my opinion at least) confirmation by Ralph Reed that he was running.

Regardless of who is running, and while the ranks are admittedly thin at the present, Oxendine should reconsider giving up his present office. Regardless, I feel most confident in predicting I will never address him as Governor Oxendine.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Damn. Hillary not only steps up to the plate, but she knocks it out of the ballpark.

Food for thought: If Barnes jumps in, will that plus possibility of a GOP replacement cause DuBose Porter to reconsider his race for governor

Travis Fain of The Macon Telegraph today reports:

A Dublin City Council member has thrown his hat into the ring to replace longtime state Rep. DuBose Porter in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Matt Hatchett, a local businessman and council member since 1999, would stand for election next year, when Porter has said he will run for governor. Hatchett said in a news release that he will run as a Republican. Porter is the House’s top-ranking Democrat.

From the Cracker Squire Archives: As of late our heritage and history have gotten knocked a bit too much for my liking.

I read in the AJC that as this year’s legislative session closed, and with little publicity or dissent, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 27 designating April as "Confederate Heritage and History Month."

The bill, which drew controversy before failing two years ago, declares that every April "shall be set aside to celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government," and all those who contributed "to the cause which they held so dear."

Looking at the General Assembly's Web site on legislation that has been signed or vetoed by the Governor, it appears that this legislation that was sent to the Governor on April 14 has been neither been signed into law nor vetoed. I might be missing something, but this was based on looking at this Web site Saturday morning. And April is almost over.

This action, or lack thereof, reminds me of a post I did a couple years ago. It is a 3-30-07 post is entitled "As of late our heritage and history have gotten knocked a bit too much for my liking."

As noted in a 3-18-07 post entitled "Some sage advice from the Dean: Georgia legislators moving toward deepening the racial divide," I was opposed to this year's proposed legislation that was would have designated April as Confederate Heritage and History Month.

That said, I also think our heritage and history have gotten knocked around a bit too much lately for my liking in much of the discussion and criticism of this ill-conceived legislation.

My feelings about our heritage and history are reflected in the following 8-29-04 post:

The Gwinnett Daily Post has an article entitled "Plan for mock lynching of a Confederate flag stirs controversy." And damn well it should.

It seems as though this guy from Florida -- a no-good Yankee carpetbagger no doubt -- has got it in his mind to hold a mock lynching of a Confederate flag as part of an art exhibition at a Gettysburg College art gallery early next month.

There is a minor movement afoot to cancel the show. Count me in.

Of all places, Gettysburg, a sacred place where both sides fought valiantly and lost thousands and thousands of lives. I took my three girls there, and hope to take my grandkids there one day.

I voted with the majority (the vote was 3-to-1) in the nonbinding referendum that approved our present flag, almost a replica of the Confederate national flag, the Stars and Bars. And I am proud of our present flag, not just because it is a part of our heritage and disguishes us from say Nevada, but because it is one good-looking flag.

I also liked the looks of the flag the legislature adopted in 1956 that contained the St. Andrew’s cross. I also like the looks of the flag the legislature replaced in 1956, but not as much as I did the looks of the 1956 flag.

(Andrews was the brother of Simon Peter, was supposedly the first-called disciple, and was reportedly crucified by the Romans on an X-shaped cross, claiming he did not feel worthy to be crucified on a regular cross as Jesus was.)

Am I glad we changed flags? You dern right I am. We had no choice. Congress could outlaw "white only" signs, but not what the Confederate battle flag based on the St. Andrews cross had come to be – a symbol of rascism and hatred. Unfortunately, to many Americans it conjured up memories of lynchings, the KKK and nightriders, Jim Crowism, etc.

It had to go and I am glad it is behind us. Changing it took courage. We won’t hear about it next week, but Sen. Miller almost lost re-election to a second term as governor for trying to change the flag during his first term.

And we all know it contributed to Roy Barnes’ defeat. Barnes has said: "Of course, I knew there was a chance [that changing the flag] would affect my re-election, but I also knew that the time had come to do it. We had watched what was happening in South Carolina and Mississippi. I didn't want the flag to divide Georgia more than it already had. It was the state government that changed the flag in 1956, and it was our responsibility to correct that mistake.''

I am happy the Stars and Bars has no such connotation. To try to give it such would be a mistake and injustice to the South’s history and heritage. As the Confederate national flag, Stars and Bars is part of our history as are our ancestors who fought with valor to the end, regardless for which side.

Just as the we now sing that great anthem The Battle Hymn of Republic which was the Union's marching song, we should not forget what the colors blue and grey represent, or let the song Dixie go the way of the Edsel and Oldsmobile, and not appreciate the book and movie Gone with the Wind.

And as far as I am concerned, neither should our Confederate Monuments in counties such as my own and so many others in Georgia and the South; the statutes that line the streets in Richmond, Virginia; and those on state capitols throughout the South, be regarded as other than part of our region's history.

The Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression -- call it what suits you -- is part of our history. The Confederate flag is part of that history. The carpetbagger and not our history is who needs to be lynched.

We'll take the good news whereever we can find it: Indonesia’s Voters Retreat From Radical Islam

From The New York Times:

From Pakistan to Gaza and Lebanon, militant Islamic movements have gained ground rapidly in recent years, fanning Western fears of a consolidation of radical Muslim governments. But here in the world’s most populous Muslim nation just the opposite is happening, with Islamic parties suffering a steep drop in popular support.

In parliamentary elections this month, voters punished Islamic parties that focused narrowly on religious issues, and even the parties’ best efforts to appeal to the country’s mainstream failed to sway the public.

Conservatives once called her an angry black woman, but by focusing on her domestic persona, Michelle Obama has engineered a political transformation.

From The New York Times:

Vogue magazine, the fashion world’s chronicler of first ladies, bedecked Hillary Rodham Clinton in black velvet and Laura Bush in blue silk. But not Michelle Obama. She insisted on choosing her own dress (a sleeveless, magenta silk number) and using her own hair and makeup stylists for the glossy photograph splashed across Vogue’s March cover.

Indeed, the new first lady is methodically shaping her public image, and in ways that extend far beyond fashion.

She has given coveted interviews primarily to women’s magazines and news outlets that have allowed her to highlight her domestic side: her focus on motherhood and her efforts to settle her family in the White House; her interest in gardening and healthy living; her affinity for mixing off-the-rack and designer goods; and her efforts to open up the White House to ordinary Americans.

Mrs. Obama’s aides meet regularly with the president’s senior communications team and select public events that will maximize her message. She sticks closely to her script, delivering lively, brief speeches that rarely stray from her prepared remarks and steer clear of controversy. She talks about her support for volunteerism and military families, but seldom discusses race, her keen interest in influencing public policy or her place in history as the first African-American first lady.

By focusing on her domestic persona and harnessing the fascination with her family, the first lady and her communications team have emerged as the key architects of one of the most remarkable political transformations in years. Only 10 months ago, Mrs. Obama was described as an angry black woman by some conservatives and as a liability to her husband. Now, she is widely admired for her warmth, and her vibrant and accessible manner, and her race seems almost an afterthought to many Americans. She has the highest favorability ratings of any incoming first lady since 1980, and is even more popular than the president.

The image that Mrs. Obama is projecting, however, fails to fully reflect the multifaceted first lady. A Harvard-trained lawyer and former hospital vice president, she is also a tough-minded professional who cares deeply about influencing public policy and sometimes promotes legislation at her events. Her top aides, for example, are often immersed in policy discussions in the West Wing that are not publicized by the White House.

Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff attends the morning meeting run by Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, and her policy director often sits in on weekly briefings with the president’s domestic policy adviser.

Some political analysts believe Mrs. Obama hopes that her surging popularity will ultimately allow her greater latitude to operate more openly in policy realms that she cares about.

“She’s building up enormous goodwill,” said Paul Costello, who served as an adviser to the former first lady Rosalynn Carter. With such strong support, Mr. Costello said, she might ultimately feel confident enough to “push the envelope.”

For now, Mrs. Obama seems perfectly comfortable with her public persona.

With Isakson, Cagle, Burkhalter, Olens and now Westmoreland out, what about Kingston?

In a 4-19-09 post I wrote:

I think there is a 50-50 chance that if Westmoreland opts to stay in Congress, Kingston will be willingly pushed into seriously considering making a run for governor. As is the case with Barnes, he has been on his own listening tour.

The list of GOP possible candidates who have declined to date to run for governor: U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson; Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle; Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens (who is running for Attorney General instead, or should I just say, who is running for Attorney General); House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter; and now U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland.

My reference to Kingston in the post is, of course, to 1st District U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah.

Heck. I was hoping to kill 2 birds with one stone. Get him out of Congress & have him lose governor's race: Westmoreland won’t run for governor

The AJC reports:

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who had briefly been considered a strong contender in the Republican race for governor, is not getting into the race after all.

Friday, April 24, 2009

(1) Business leaders will see Barnes as best bet to get something done; (2) Will Kahn allow Barnes to cut his ties with Kahn?; & (3) Baker's record.

Tom Crawford of Capitol Impact writes:

The Cagle pullout probably ensures that former governor Roy Barnes, who still hasn’t made a public announcement of his plans, will finalize his intentions to run again. More importantly, Barnes could get a monetary boost from business leaders fed up with the Republicans’ inability to pass a transportation funding mechanism - they could see Barnes as the best bet for getting something done, even if he does happen to be a Democrat.

Barnes has been traveling around the state to talk up his candidacy, and he is being told by party activists that they won’t support him unless he cuts his ties with political mastermind Bobby Kahn, who is blamed for the 2002 loss to Sonny Perdue and the subsequent collapse of the Georgia Democratic Party. Would Barnes actually do such a thing? More importantly, would Bobby allow him to do it?

Attorney General Thurbert Baker would be considered the most serious challenger to Barnes in the Democratic primary, but after 12 years in office it would be difficult for the average voter to tell you who Baker is or what he ever accomplished. Baker rarely took a stand on anything, which doesn’t leave him with much of a platform to run on.

I would not have done the release: In Obama's Inner Circle, Debate Over Memos' Release Was Intense -- Fear That an Outcry Could Obstruct Larger Agenda

From The Washington Post:

As President Obama met with top advisers on the evening of April 15, he faced one of the sharpest policy divides of his young administration.

Five CIA directors -- including Leon E. Panetta and his four immediate predecessors -- and Obama's top counterterrorism adviser had expressed firm opposition to the release of interrogation details in four "top secret" memos in which Bush administration lawyers sanctioned harsh tactics.

On the other side of the issue were Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and White House counsel Gregory B. Craig, whose colleagues during the campaign recall him expressing enthusiasm for fixing U.S. detainee policy.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had said he supported the disclosures because he saw the information's release as inevitable and because the White House was willing to promise that CIA officers would not be prosecuted for any abuse. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen sided with Gates.

Seated in Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's West Wing office with about a dozen of his political, legal and security appointees, Obama requested a mini-debate in which one official was chosen to argue for releasing the memos and another was assigned to argue against doing so. When it ended, Obama dictated on the spot a draft of his announcement that the documents would be released, while most of the officials watched, according to an official who was present. The disclosure happened the next day.

Obama's aides have told political allies that the last-minute conversation, which ended around 9:30 p.m., demonstrated the president's commitment to airing both sides of a debate that was particularly contentious. But it also reflected widespread angst inside the White House that a public airing and repudiation of the harsh interrogation techniques that the last administration sought to keep secret would spark a national security debate with conservatives that could undermine Obama's broader agenda.

Bush's cowboy diplomacy days are over. Obama, look after USA, not world views here. Don't close Guantánamo: Yemen Dispute Slows Closing of Guantánamo

From The New York Times:

The Obama administration’s effort to return the largest group of Guantánamo Bay detainees to Yemen, their home country, has stalled, creating a major new hurdle for the president’s plan to close the prison camp in Cuba by next January, American and Yemeni officials say.

American officials are wary of sending detainees to Yemen because of growing indications of activity by Al Qaeda there.

The developments are significant for the Obama administration because the 97 Yemeni detainees make up more than 40 percent of the remaining 241 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Georgia is featured again in The New York Times, this time good: One Town’s Rare Ray of Hope: New Auto Plant

West Point mayor Drew Ferguson IV stands in the middle of downtown West Point, Ga., where the new KIA auto plant is scheduled to open later this year.

From The New York Times:

While much of the rest of the country remains mired in the depressing gray of recession, this rural town [West Point] of fewer than 3,500 people on the Georgia-Alabama border, about 80 miles southwest of Atlanta, has somehow managed to draw the winning ticket in the nation’s economic lottery.

A new Kia Motors Corporation automobile manufacturing plant is opening here this year, an event that many residents of this former mill town, where life had slowly been ebbing away, can only describe as heaven-sent.

Foreign automakers have flocked to the South, drawn by huge incentives offered by state officials, cheaper labor costs and the nonunion environment. (In the case of Kia, which is based in South Korea, state and local officials doled out some $400 million in tax breaks and other incentives.) But this year, Kia’s is the only car factory scheduled to open in the country, drawing workers to one of the few regions now with concrete hopes of quickly escaping the economic downturn.

Kia has hired only 500 people at this point, but is working its way through more than 43,000 applications it accepted online last year. Supply companies that will feed the plant are increasing their hiring in the area, too.

Hourly jobs, which are not unionized, in contrast with those at the Ford and General Motors plants that recently closed in the Atlanta area, are still expected to pay about $15 to $27 an hour.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

David Brooks pens a masterpiece: Obama will seem like an impostor and a manipulator if he imposes responsibility on everybody but himself.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

We’ve all heard liberal speeches on the economy. The central concern is inequality. Power and wealth tend to concentrate at the top of society, so government must stand as a countervailing power. It must defend the people against the powerful to ensure fairness and opportunity for all.

It is interesting, therefore, that when President Obama summarized his economic policies in a speech at Georgetown last week, he departed from this story line and worldview. Obama’s chief concern was not inequality. It was irresponsibility. Obama didn’t sound like an economic liberal at Georgetown. He sounded like a cultural conservative.

America once had a responsible economic culture, Obama argued. People used to save their pennies to buy their dream houses. Banks used to lend by “traditional standards.” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used to stick to their “traditional mandate.” Companies like A.I.G. used to limit themselves to the “traditional insurance business.”

But these traditions broke down, Obama continued. They were swamped by irresponsibility. Businesspeople chased “short-term profits” over long-term investments. Smart people spent more time manipulating numbers and symbols than actually making things. Americans consumed too much and saved too little. America became corrupted by “excessive debt,” “reckless speculation” and “fleeting profits.”

Obama vowed to end this irresponsibility and the cycle of boom and bust. It’s time to get back to basics, he said. He embraced tradition, order and authority. He quoted the New Testament and argued that it is time that the U.S. built its economic house on rock and not sand.

If Republicans aren’t nervous, they should be. Obama is arguing for his activist agenda not on the basis of class-consciousness, which is alien to America, but as a defense of middle-class morality, which is central to it. Obama is positioning the Democrats as the party of order, responsibility and small-town values. If he pulls this mantle away from the Republicans, it would be the greatest train robbery in American politics.

Obama then went on to describe his remedy in the soothing, understated manner of a country doctor prescribing a few small procedures. The country has been on an irresponsible bender, so his administration will have to “clear away” a few toxic assets, “reassess” the viability of Chrysler and General Motors, and “create rules that punish shortcuts” on Wall Street.

His view was clear. The market is dynamic and important, but it makes people reckless, parochial and dangerously shortsighted. The market needs adult supervision — a leadership class made up of people who appreciate the market but who also have committed themselves to public service, and who therefore take the long view and are more conscious of the public good.

Obama is building this new leadership class. His administration has become a domestic I.M.F., consisting of teams of experts who can swoop in and provide long-term solutions when systems — finance, housing, health care, education, autos — have broken down.

When the members of this new establishment are confronted with a broken system — whether it involves hospitals, energy, air pollution or cars — their approach is the same. They aim to restructure incentives in order to channel the animal drives of the marketplace in responsible directions.

Obama is taking enormous risks. Even F.D.R. decided to concentrate on the banking crisis in his first year and put other issues off until 1934 and beyond. Obama is doing everything at once. And yet in this speech, and in his heart, his approach seems self-evident, reassuring and almost mundane. As explication, the Georgetown speech was a small masterpiece.

The first danger for the Obama administration, of course, is that his teams of experts may not be as farsighted as they believe. It may not be so easy to out-think the market. His advisers are like jugglers who have thrown knives in the air. It’ll get harder when they start coming down.

Moreover, for an administration that puts responsibility at the center, it is not itself very responsible. Federal spending is the leverage the administration uses to gain control over sector after sector, and yet this money is all borrowed.

Obama imposes hard choices on others, but has postponed his own. He presented an agenda that bleeds red ink a trillion dollars at a time. Now he seems passive as Congress kills his few revenue ideas (cap and trade) and spending cuts (agricultural subsidies). Huge fiscal gaps are opening this decade that can’t be closed by distant entitlement reform. They can’t be closed by cynical Potemkin cuts, a few million at a time.

This is not a matter of economics only, but credibility. Obama understands that this is primarily an authority crisis. A system Americans have trusted — the market — has failed in important ways. He has found a theme and bids to reassert authority. But he will seem like an impostor and a manipulator if he imposes responsibility on everybody but himself.

Monday, April 20, 2009

An Atlanta Editorial Voice May Move to the Right

From The New York Times:

In the 1950s and ’60s, under Ralph McGill, The Atlanta Constitution infuriated conservative white readers with its liberal views, especially on segregation.

[Last week The Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced that] most of the editorial board will be replaced in May, a move that could create a different — and perhaps less liberal — voice for one of the country’s leading regional papers.

Ms. [Cynthia] Tucker and three others will leave the board, but will continue to write their columns. The paper’s editor, Julia Wallace; the senior managing editor, James Mallory; and the publisher, Doug Franklin, will join the editorial board, a role they did not play before. Andre Jackson, who joined the board last year, will become the editorial editor. In addition, the paper recently hired two conservative columnists.

To some longtime readers inside and outside the paper, the changes add up to a stance that will be more conservative over all, and more averse to controversy.

“I think they’re trying not to offend,” said Kenneth Edelstein, a blogger and former editor of Creative Loafing, an Atlanta alternative weekly. “It’s definitely a move to the right, and it’s a real change for a paper that was the most important progressive voice in the South for a long time.”

Atlanta had two papers, the more liberal Constitution and the more conservative Journal, until their parent company, Cox Enterprises, merged them in 2002.

Good news: Obama’s Revenue Plans Hit Resistance in Congress

From The New York Times:

President Obama is running into stiff Congressional resistance to his plans to raise money for his ambitious agenda, and the resulting hole in the budget is threatening a major health care overhaul and other policy initiatives.

The administration’s central revenue proposal — limiting the value of affluent Americans’ itemized deductions, including the one for charitable giving — fell flat in Congress, leaving the White House, at least for now, without $318 billion that it wants to set aside to help cover uninsured Americans. At the same time, lawmakers of both parties have warned against moving too quickly on a plan to auction carbon emission permits to produce more than $600 billion.

[This part is good:]

The difficulty in winning support for tax changes in isolation has also convinced the administration that a broader rewriting of tax laws is the best approach, perhaps as soon as next year.

“All roads in the future lead to tax reform,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Food for thought for announced Democratic candidates for governor if Barnes does announce.

Whether it is fair or not, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is a wounded animal, damages goods. He is not on life support yet, but he is definitely wounded. And his political health wasn't that great even before his physical health announcement given the transportation issues of this past legislative session.

Given the possibility that Barnes might announce, Rep. DuBose Porter and Attorney General Thurbert Baker now need to be thinking whether they want to jump to the second spot from aspiring for the top spot in the event of such an announcement. Doing so immediately following a Barnes's announcement would be better than waiting for the polls and pundits, etc.

David Poythress probably won't consider this, but he won't be a player in 2010 anyway.

It's rather rare, but the Cracker Squire disagrees with the Dean on something of importance to the Empire State of the South; & (2) Gov. Kingston?

Today Bill Shipp, Georgia's Dean of Politics and Journalism who has forgotten more Georgia political history than most of us even know, has an interesting column on Georgia's 2010 gubernatorial race that you will not want to miss.

I agree with several points made therein, but disagree with one important one. Such points and my reaction follow, Shipp's statements being in italics and my reactions in bold.

The run-up to the election for governor next year is beginning to feel like a replay of 1998. Agree.

Four years later, Barnes ran a milquetoast re-election campaign . . . . Agree.

Former Gov. Barnes . . . is expected to announce for governor shortly. The optimist in me says I agree. The realist says while I hope so, probably no one -- including Roy and Marie Barnes -- knows for sure sure. But I sure hope Shipp is right. I believe the odds are high, much, much higher, than they were two months ago. But not 100% quite yet.

A solid Republican candidate would seem a shoo-in to win. Despite Gov. Perdue's weak record and poor performance, Georgia is a very red state. A conservative with a decent reputation and passable moral standards (say, Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens) ought to waltz into the Capitol after weathering a mean primary with a dozen Republicans chasing the prize. Disagree. No way Dean. The only way a Republican candidate would have a big advantage is if Barnes does not run. If Barnes runs, Barnes is our next governor.

Today Jim Wooten writes in the AJC:

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, whose 3rd Congressional District extends from metro Atlanta to the Columbus area, is rethinking an earlier decision to remain in Congress. “When this came about [Lt. Gov. Cagle dropping out for health reasons], I started getting phone calls saying ‘you need to reconsider,’ ” said Westmoreland, a strong conservative who served as minority leader in the Georgia House, a leadership post he resigned in 2003 to run for Congress. He was elected in 2004. His district is solidly Republican and he wins there handily.

Westmoreland will take his time making a decision—- though the landscape is such that all serious candidates will be declared by the GOP state convention that starts May 15 in Savannah. “I just don’t want to get sucked into things that are not really real,” he says of the phone calls.

Since 57 percent of the vote is now in the 28-county metro Atlanta area, a congressman from the other Georgia -- 1st District U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah, for example -- has to weigh seriously whether it’s possible to gain the name recognition to be a major candidate in metro Atlanta.

For politicians, timing is often everything. The woods are filled with those who wanted to be governor -- and never felt comfortable that the time was right to plunge in.

Forget where the votes are (and not saying this isn't important, very important). I think there is a 50-50 chance that if Westmoreland opts to stay in Congress, Kingston will be willingly pushed into seriously considering making a run for governor. As is the case with Barnes, he has been on his own listening tour.

Enough of the warning shots and this ludicrous releasing of the pirates; shoot to sink and kill the bastards: NATO Warships Thwart Pirate Attack

From The Wall Street Journal:

NATO warships and helicopters pursued Somali pirates for seven hours after they attacked a Norwegian tanker, NATO spokesmen said Sunday, and the high-speed chase only ended when warning shots were fired at the pirates' skiff.

Both ships deployed helicopters, and naval officers hailed the pirates over loudspeakers and finally fired warning shots to stop them, Cmdr. Fernandes said, but not before the pirates had dumped most of their weapons overboard. NATO forces boarded the skiff, where they found a rocket-propelled grenade, and interrogated, disarmed and released the pirates.

The pirates can't be prosecuted under Canadian law because they didn't attack Canadian citizens or interests and the crime wasn't committed on Canadian territory.

"When a ship is part of NATO, the detention of person is a matter for the national authorities," Cmdr. Fernandes said. "It stops being a NATO issue and starts being a national issue."

The pirates' release underscores the difficulties navies have in fighting rampant piracy off the coast of lawless Somalia. Most of the time foreign navies simply disarm and release the pirates they catch due to legal complications and logistical difficulties in transporting pirates and witnesses to court.

Pirates have attacked more than 80 boats this year alone, four times the number assaulted in 2003, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau. They now hold at least 18 ships -- including a Belgian tanker seized Saturday with 10 crew aboard -- and over 310 crew hostage, according to an Associated Press count.

Obama is all over the map. He needs to narrow his focus (and budget), and then make his focus happen: Despite Major Plans, Obama Taking Softer Stands

From The New York Times:

President Obama is well known for bold proposals that have raised expectations, but his administration has shown a tendency for compromise and caution, and even a willingness to capitulate on some early initiatives.

It was inevitable that Mr. Obama’s lofty pledge to change the ways of Washington would crash into the realities of governing, including lawmakers anxious to protect their constituents and an army of special-interest lobbyists.

Mr. Obama has not conceded on any major priority. His advisers argue that the concessions to date — on budget items, for instance — are intended to help win the bigger policy fights ahead. But his early willingness to deal or fold has left commentators, and some loyal Democrats, wondering: where’s the fight?

“The thing we still don’t know about him is what he is willing to fight for,” said Leonard Burman, an economist at the Urban Institute and a Treasury Department official in the Clinton administration. “The thing I worry about is that he likes giving good speeches, he likes the adulation and he likes to make people happy.”

So far, he said, “It’s hard to think of a place where he’s taken a really hard position.”

In some of his earliest skirmishes, Mr. Obama eventually chose pragmatism over fisticuffs.

Yes! -- Delta Air Ends Use of India Call Centers

From The Wall Street Journal:

Delta Air Lines Inc. said Friday it has stopped using India-based call centers to handle sales and reservations, making it the latest U.S. company to decide the cost benefits of directing calls offshore are outweighed by the backlash from customers.

Delta said it stopped routing calls to India-based call centers over the first three months of the year. Customers had complained they had trouble communicating with Indian agents, the airline said. Last month, Chrysler LLC said it would move its customer-service center back from India.

"It is fundamentally cheaper to do it in India, but there's also the question of whether it's better to do it cheaper or better to do it better in terms of the relationship with your customers," said Ben Trowbridge, chief executive of Alsbridge Inc., a Dallas-based company that advises on outsourcing.

Call-center representatives in India earn roughly $500 a month, or about one-sixth the salary of their U.S.-based counterparts, he added.

Delta's move also reflects the need for airlines to streamline their sales and reservation operations as customer-call volume dwindles amid the ongoing recession. And, as layoffs mount in the U.S., it could be a smart public-relations move for companies to cut their outsourced business before eliminating payroll positions.

Last week, SLM Corp., the student lender known as Sallie Mae, said it would return to the U.S. 2,000 jobs it outsources in India, the Philippines and Mexico. The jobs, mostly call-center and information-technology positions, were recently moved overseas as part of a plan to trim 4,000 jobs from the company's overall U.S. payroll of 12,000 employees.

Delta was one of a handful of carriers, including U.S. Airways Group Inc. and UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, that sent parts of their telephone-based sales and reservation duties offshore earlier in the decade as they scrambled to cut costs after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when demand for travel plummeted.

Delta isn't pulling back from the use of all foreign call centers. It will keep some Jamaica and South Africa centers, which haven't generated such vociferous complaints.

U.S. Airways said it is reducing the number of calls it routes through call centers in El Salvador and Guatemala. "We're finding call volume to be down right now so are able to bring more calls on shore," Valerie Wunder, a U.S. Airways spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

And United said earlier this year it is also moving some India-based phone work back to the U.S.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

SB 200 could also provide more opportunities for corruption and political meddling in the awarding of lucrative highway construction contracts.

Tom Crawford of Capitol Impact has some scray thoughts that come from one place. His ability to accurately predict the future. This week he writes:

[O]ur elected representatives didn’t accomplish much, with one exception. They did pass a bill, SB 200, that could have an enormous impact on state politics and the balance of power at the capitol for many years to come.

SB 200 will drastically revamp the Department of Transportation, shifting much of the power over the agency’s $2 billion yearly budget to the governor and, to a lesser extent, the legislators. The office of governor, already one of the strongest in the country, becomes that much more powerful with the ability to control which highways get built and which do not.

There could be a darker side here: by turning over so much power to the governor and the General Assembly, SB 200 could also provide more opportunities for corruption and political meddling in the awarding of lucrative highway construction contracts. Those were the factors that prompted Gov. Carl Sanders to put the current DOT structure in place in the 1960s.

SB 200 creates a new position at DOT, planning director, that will be filled by the governor. The planning director will have the most important job at DOT because he or she will draw up the list of highway projects authorized for construction, subject to review by the governor.

After the governor has refined the project list, the General Assembly then chooses the projects it wants to fund, so long as the total amount spent on them doesn’t exceed 20 percent of the available funds. By controlling what’s on the list of transportation projects, the governor will have a very big stick for threatening lawmakers who aren’t voting his way on other legislation.

Perdue’s ultimate goal in getting SB 200 adopted may be to facilitate the awarding of major contracts to private companies that want to take over the construction and management of public highways in Georgia. One of the world’s leading private developers of toll roads is Cintra, an international conglomerate based in Spain. Cintra has built and operated such major American highways as the Chicago Skyway and the Indiana Toll Road.

When Perdue flew to Spain last September with a contingent of business leaders - at the same time that Georgia motorists were struggling to cope with a severe gasoline shortage - one of the companies he met with was Cintra. That could be the ultimate legacy of SB 200 - Georgians paying high tolls to drive on highways owned by a European conglomerate. You heard it here first.

If he really means it, he will have a field day and this could be his legacy: Obama Pledges to Cut Dozens of 'Wasteful' Programs

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama promised Saturday to eliminate dozens of government programs that have been shown to be "wasteful or ineffective" and said he will call on his cabinet to hunt their budgets for more.

"There will be no sacred cows, and no pet projects. All across America, families are making hard choices, and it's time their government did the same," Mr. Obama said in his weekly radio and video address.

UPDATED 4-20-09: Susan Boyle: The frumpy virgin who's slaying them on YouTube

The link.

All politics and no fun makes Johnny a dull boy.

I know we have all seen or will see this, but I want to record it for posterity on my blog. It's been a rough week at the office or I would have done this earlier (having waited, I cannot embed it; embedding has been disabled by request).

The lyrics follow the below article from cnet news:

She has the eyebrows of a Roman Emperor. She has the square shoulders of one of his centurions. And she walks like a bouncer who had one too many years in the NFL.

When Susan Boyle stepped onto the stage of "Britain's Got Talent" this past weekend, the audience laughed and the judges could barely stop their cheeks from bulging through a guffaw.

Here was a self-confessed, never-been-kissed, unemployed 47-year-old Scotswoman who, when she saw herself on television, said she was mortified that she "looked like a garage."

She told the judges she wanted to be a professional singer. Simon Cowell (yes, he) looked like he wanted to ask her to clean his car.

She insisted she wanted to be like Elaine Page, a diminutive English singer who has starred in "Evita," amongst other musicals. The audience choked.

Then Susan Boyle began to sing.

Frankly, she hasn't stopped. More than 6 million people have already turned to YouTube to see what all the fuss is about. They're crying in Calcutta. They're bawling in Brussels.

Why? Because watching someone so far removed from anyone's physical conception of a star finally get an audience for her extraordinary voice is as moving an experience as you're likely to enjoy this year.

Here all the unrealized hopes and dreams that so many harbor till their death are laid bare in an operetta of just a few minutes.

Here is a woman who suffered mild brain damage at birth, who was laughed at in school, and who has probably been laughed at for most of her 47 years because she lived with her mother, because she lives with her cat, and because she doesn't look like friends are supposed to look.

Yes, she is now famous. She will get a recording contract. And, one suspects, she might not enjoy it all as others might.

But if, on watching the YouTube clip, you do not spontaneously burst into tears (I give you at the most 30 seconds into her performance), then you are either an alien creation of Ray Kurzweil or you should pop along to your local shrink for some considerable surgery.

Les Miserables I Dreamed a Dream lyrics (only the parts in bold were sung):

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came

And still I dream he'll come to me
That we will live
the years [our life] together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.


UPDATE from The Washington Post in an article entitled: "Suddenly Susan: Singer's Town Is Agog."

Friday, April 17, 2009

If Perdue signs bill, immigration laws will tighten

From the AJC:

Georgia’s crackdown on illegal immigration will continue if Gov. Sonny Perdue signs into law a measure approved by the General Assembly requiring more jail checks that could lead to deportation.

Georgia law already requires jailers to check legal status and report any illegal immigrants charged with a felony, DUI or driving without a license. Under House Bill 2, jailers also would be required to alert federal agents when they encounter an illegal immigrant charged with misdemeanors of a “high and aggravated nature.”

In addition, the bill requires that public employers and contractors use a federal database to verify that new hires are not illegal immigrants, and that those who receive public benefits — from welfare to a business license — are in the U.S. legally. Local governments that don’t comply could lose state road-building money, the measure says.

I love it; an emotional rallying point: Turning Tables, U.S. Troops Ambush Taliban With Swift and Lethal Results

The New York Times has a great article you owe it to yourself to read. It describes how the infantryman’s war in Afghanistan is often waged on the Taliban’s terms, but a patrol from the First Infantry Division reversed the routine. The ambush, on Good Friday, has become an emotional rallying point for our soldiers in Kunar Province.

Good job men! America loves you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Cagel fallout is indeed getting interesting: Rep. Jack Kingston might run?

From the AJC's Political Insider:

The name of U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston has also been bandied about as a possible, new contender.

But when we approached a Kingston contact, we were told that the Savannah congressman is waiting to see whether state Sen. Eric Johnson, also of Savannah and currently in the race for lieutenant governor, would shift his candidacy and run for governor.

That required a phone call to the Johnson campaign.

“At this point, we’re keeping all our options open,” said Derrick Dickey, a Johnson strategist. That means yes, Johnson is considering the move.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

If it is OK with Sen. Bob Corker of Tenn, it is OK with me. He is on top of this matter (and anybody but Nardelli): Fiat CEO May Get Top Chrysler Job

From The Wall Street Journal:

Asked Wednesday whether he aimed to become CEO of the [combined Chrysler-Fiat] company, Mr. Marchionne [Fiat's CEO] said he was "ready to do whatever is necessary to turn around Chrysler."

Mr. Marchionne's comments raise questions about the future of Robert Nardelli, the CEO installed by Chrysler's majority owner, Cerberus Capital Management LP, in 2007. The private-equity firm is expected to give up all or most of its equity in Chrysler under its reorganization, which opens the door for Fiat to name new management.

Mr. Nardelli's turn as head of Chrysler was seen as a chance for the executive to rehabilitate his reputation. He joined Chrysler after a rocky stint as CEO of Home Depot Inc. He had tense relations with shareholders of the home-improvement chain and left amid controversy over his pay. [Formerly he was with General Electric. I do not care for the guy.]

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, one of the staunchest critics of U.S. auto makers, said Wednesday he would support a revamped Chrysler controlled by European executives, adding such an arrangement might be the only way to ensure the company's survival. "I've always assumed that Fiat would totally control this deal," he said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), one of the U.S. auto industry's top allies in Washington, also said she wouldn't oppose Mr. Marchionne becoming Chrysler's CEO.

I don't know if I would have said it that way Mr. Poythress

Former Adjutant General David Poythress, a Democrat running for governor, said, “Casey Cagle would have been a formidable opponent in the general election but we all know that state-wide political campaigns can be volatile. Candidates may come and go, but I’m in the governor’s race until the last vote is counted and expect to be the next governor of Georgia.”

(From same AJC Gold Dome Live article referenced in previous post.)

I wish the Lt. Gov. Cagel Godspeed through his health journeys. This has to be rough and emotional on him and his family.

I was going to post this headline from the AJC's Gold Dome Live several hours ago and things keep coming up: "Cagle drops out of governor’s race."

According to the article:

“I’ve been diagnosed with some serious nerve and bone problems and a degenerative spinal condition,” [Cagel] told reporters at a Capitol news conference. ” The issue could be hereditary or it could be the result of an old injury, but the unfortunate reality is that it requires immediate surgical treatment.”

Cagle said he will have the surgery and would run for re-election next year to his current job. Running for lieutenant governor is generally seen as less strenuous than running for governor, which is essentially a full-time job.

No big surprise to me in this InsiderAdvantage Georgia poll

From InsiderAdvantage Georgia:

Q: If you were voting in the Democratic primary, who would you vote for if the choices were:

Roy Barnes (35%)
Thurbert Baker (11%)
DuBose Porter (3%)
David Poythress (2%)
Undecided/No opinion (49%)

Until no state can, let's get our share: Georgia almost lowest for pork-barrel spending, watchdog group says

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that the nonprofit, nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste’s 2009 Congressional Pig Book lists 10,160 projects nationwide at a cost of $19.6 billion for fiscal 2009. But Georgia’s per capita spending on what CAGW defines as pork is actually well below the national average. Georgia is 50th among the states on the group’s “Pork per Capita” list with $15.14 being spent per resident.

Illegal Immigrants' Increased Birthrate Exacerbates Issue

From The Washington Post:

[T]he number of children born in the United States to illegal immigrants rose from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008.

Because any child born in the United States has a right to citizenship, the growing presence of these children is likely to complicate the debate over immigration policies aimed at their parents.

The growing presence of children of illegal immigrants in schools has also fueled concern over the cost of illegal immigration in many area communities where the foreign-born population has risen rapidly in the past decade.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This won't fly with rank & file; business oppposes (surprise): Labor Groups Reach an Accord on Immigration

From The New York Times:

The nation’s two major labor federations have agreed for the first time to join forces to support an overhaul of the immigration system, leaders of both organizations said on Monday. The accord could give President Obama significant support among unions as he revisits the stormy issue in the midst of the recession.

John Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Joe T. Hansen, a leader of the rival Change to Win federation, will present the outlines of their new position on Tuesday in Washington. In 2007, when Congress last considered comprehensive immigration legislation, the two groups could not agree on a common approach. That legislation failed.

The accord endorses legalizing the status of illegal immigrants already in the United States and opposes any large new program for employers to bring in temporary immigrant workers, officials of both federations said.

“The labor movement will work together to make sure that the White House as well as Congress understand that we speak about immigration reform with one voice,” Mr. Sweeney said in a statement to The New York Times.

But while the compromise repaired one fissure in the coalition that has favored broad immigration legislation, it appeared to open another. An official from the United States Chamber of Commerce said Monday that the business community remained committed to a significant guest-worker program.

“If the unions think they’re going to push a bill through without the support of the business community, they’re crazy,” said Randel Johnson, the chamber’s vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits. “There’s only going to be one shot at immigration reform. As part of the trade-off for legalization, we need to expand the temporary worker program.”

The common labor position is also unlikely to convince many opponents that an immigration overhaul would not harm American workers. When Obama administration officials said last week that the president intended to push Congress this year to take up an immigration bill that would include a path to legal status for the country’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, critics criticized the approach as amnesty for lawbreakers.

The two labor federations have agreed in the past to proposals that would give legal status to illegal immigrants. But in 2007 the A.F.L.-C.I.O. parted ways with the service employees and several other unions when it did not support legislation put forth by the Bush administration because it contained provisions for an expanded guest-worker program.

Thousands of immigrant farm workers and other low-wage laborers come to the United States through seasonal guest-worker programs that are subject to numerical visa limits and have been criticized by employers as rigid and inefficient. Many unions oppose the programs because the immigrants are tied to one employer and cannot change jobs no matter how abusive the conditions, so union officials say they undercut conditions for American workers. Highly skilled foreign technology engineers and medical specialists also come on temporary visas.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thanks U.S. Navy. America needed that. God Bless America!! -- Cargo Ship Captain Is Rescued

Capt. Richard Phillips, right, stands alongside Cmdr. Frank Castellano after being rescued Sunday

Photo and caption from The Wall Street Journal.

Although under federal law we can bring the captured pirate back to the United States for prosecution, I say throw him overboard to the sharks and be done with him.

Gingrey, after badmouthing Obama & kissing fat guy Rush Limbaugh's tail, says he is shocked, not just surprised, that the F-22 is in big-time jeopardy

Good show Doctor. Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey, whose district encompasses Lockheed Martin in Marietta where the F-22 goes through final assembly, scores big.

From The New York Times:

Back in the 1980s, the argument for a new stealth jet — what became the F-22 fighter — went like this: The Soviet Union is going to improve its combat aircraft. This new plane will be the American response.

Contractors for the F-22 were chosen in April 1991. Seven short months later, the Soviet Union disappeared.

But the F-22 soldiered on. The huge program is well into its third decade, and with critics battling it all the while, the case for its continued existence has been freshened up from time to time. It got new names that were more self-justifying, morphing into the F-22A Raptor. (“F-22” indicated a fighter jet of the outmoded anti-Soviet type; “F-22A” draws attention to its air-to-ground attacking, which is more useful in modern theaters of war. “Raptor” just sounds tough.)

Recently politicians from Georgia, where the Raptor is built, have pointed out that the program supports thousands of jobs. Of course, one politician's jobs program is another’s Bridge to Nowhere. The Raptor has been savaged as a relic from a bygone era, with cost overruns that soar over other big defense projects (see chart).

The latest to take on the F-22A is Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has noted that the United States, in the midst of waging two long wars, has yet to use the Raptor for a single mission in either of them. Last week he said he wanted four and no more. Each costs about $140 million.

So the F-22A girds for battle, not in the air but on Capitol Hill.

Dismissal for Stevens, but Question on ‘Innocent’

Although this case represents some of the worst and most unfair prosecutorial misconduct I have ever known about, I cannot agree with Mr. Stevens’s chief lawyer, Brendan Sullivan (who is a great lawyer who some of you might remember represented Col. Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair; and I am proud to say attended mine and Sally's wedding reception years ago with his lovely and beautiful wife Lila), who says: “His name is cleared. He is innocent of the charges as if they had never been brought.”

From The New York Times:

When a federal trial judge tossed out the ethics conviction of former Senator Ted Stevens last week, his lawyers promulgated the story of an innocent man victimized by unscrupulous prosecutors.

But the five-week trial of Mr. Stevens offered a different version of him, and only a discrete part of that was directly affected by the discovery of repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct.

The disclosures that prosecutors had withheld information from the defense did little to erase much of the evidence that Mr. Stevens, who had been a powerful and admired political figure in Alaska, regularly and willingly accepted valuable gifts from friends and favor-seekers that he did not report.

Prof. Joshua Dressler of the Ohio State University law school said, however, that the failure to be convicted in a criminal trial does not, by itself, confer innocence on someone.

“The decision by the judge to dismiss the case is certainly not a statement that the defendant is innocent,” Professor Dressler said, “but that the prosecutors didn’t play by the rules, and for that reason alone we have to use this strong remedy” to deter other prosecutors from similar misbehavior.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Obama Falls Short of Dealing with Deficit -- He talks the talk of fiscal-responsibility even as he ignores economic reality.

This Wall Street Journal article tells how Obama talks as if he has that old-time fiscal-responsibility religion, but the president has yet to acknowledge blunt arithmetic reality. It notes:

U.S. President Barack Obama talks as if he has that old-time fiscal-responsibility religion. "If we confront this crisis without also confronting the deficits that helped cause it, we risk sinking into another crisis down the road," he has said. "As our interest payments rise, our obligations come due, confidence in our economy erodes and our children and our grandchildren are unable to pursue their dreams because they are saddled with our debts." But the president has yet to acknowledge blunt arithmetic reality: He almost surely will be unable to deliver on ambitious plans for federal spending while reducing the long-run budget deficit to a prudent level and keeping his pledge not to raise taxes on families with incomes under $250,000 a year.

This too will fail: Obama to Push Immigration Reform Bill Despite Risks

There will again be cry from the masses more vocal than the opposition to bailing out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. He does not, and America does not, need this right now.

From The New York Times:

While acknowledging that the recession makes the political battle more difficult, President Obama plans to begin addressing the country’s immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

States Look to Raise Taxes -- Not Georgia though; with tax receipts tanking, let's lower taxes. School districts & education in this State be damned.

From The Wall Street Journal:

A free fall in tax revenue is driving more state lawmakers to turn to broad-based tax increases in a bid to close widening budget gaps.

At least 10 states are considering some kind of major increase in sales or income taxes: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. California and New York lawmakers already have agreed on multibillion-dollar tax increases that went into effect earlier this year.

Fiscal experts say more states are likely to try to raise tax revenue in coming months, especially once they tally the latest shortfalls from April 15 income-tax filings, often the biggest single source of funds for the 43 states that levy them.

So what does Georgia do? As noted in a 4-4-09 post entitled "Unbelievable: Republicans work in tax relief for investors into a bill originally aimed at giving breaks to businesses that hire the unemployed," on the final day of the session Georgia lawmakers pass a capital gains tax cut, something I predict Gov. Perdue will not sign into law. And how bad is it? How about, real bad.

From the AJC's Gold Dome Live:

State tax collections were off $167 million in March, the fourth consecutive bad month for a government already trying to deal with the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression.

Collections were off 14.5 percent from March 2008. For the fiscal year, which ends June 30, tax collections are down $1 billion or 8 percent.

March’s decline was actually an improvement over February, when the tax take was off by about one-third.

The news comes only a few days after state lawmakers passed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that is balanced with $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money and $1.6 billion worth of spending cuts.

The poor collections in March included a 18.8 percent drop in income tax collections and a 5.9 percent decline in the sales tax take. Income and sales tax collections make up the largest share of the state’s income.

Collections have been off every month since November.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Oh well, win a few, lose a few. I think the Other Georgia lost on this one. -- Transportation ‘governance’ passes

The AJC's Gold Dome Live reports:

The Senate has agreed to the House’s version of of SB 200, the bill proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to re-write who controls the state’s $2 billion transportation budget.

It now goes to Perdue, and whether he will sign it is another question. The version passed had some 90 pages gutted from the original version. The Senate had earlier passed a version much closer to the 100-plus page original, which would have created a new authority, appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, with most of the real control over projects.

The House scaled that down to keep the DOT board in place with some of its powers. But it would give new powers to DOT’s division of planning, and have the division director appointed by the governor. Many had questioned whether the Senate would pass it, since the House put what considered by some a poison pill in it: The planning director would also have to be approved by the House Transportation Committee. It passed anyway.

Under the bill the Legislature would choose projects for up to 20 percent of all the state’s gas tax money. That could mean nearly all the new projects in the state’s budget, since large amounts of money are already spent on re-paving and repairing old projects and other costs.

Unbelievable: Republicans work in tax relief for investors into a bill originally aimed at giving breaks to businesses that hire the unemployed.

From the AJC:

The investor tax break was tacked on to a popular bill originally aimed at giving breaks to businesses that hire the unemployed.

The legislation, House Bill 481, gives $2,400 tax credits to employers who hire and retain the unemployed.

But Republican negotiators added an amendment cutting long-term capital gains taxes by 25 percent for gains in 2010 and by 50 percent after that.

Capital gains are profits from the sale of stocks, bonds, other investments and things like vacation real estate.

Perdue raised questions about the capital gains tax cut. He would have to sign it to become law.

“As Republicans, we don’t like taxes,” Perdue said. “But when you’re in a constrained situation in a balanced budget state with the challenges we have now, I will have to look at it in the light of that. There may be a better day to look at that in the future.”

Critics said the tax break would cost the state $340 million a year and would mostly benefit the highest wage earners in Georgia.

“This helps the rich and the super-rich,” said Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta). “This is fiscal irresponsibility at its highest.”

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Michael Thurmond comments on Thurbert Baker's decision to enter 2010 race for governor.

From the AJC's Political Insider:

“The last thing that the Georgia Democratic party needs is at this point in time is an extensive, controversial and divisive primary season, especially in the governor’s race,” said state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, who is also vice-chairman of the party.

Uh-oh! China Vies to Be World’s Leader in Electric Cars

The New York Times reports that in a new threat to Detroit, China is investing heavily in hybrid and electric-vehicle technology with a plan built on research, recharging stations and incentives.