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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, August 30, 2009

The Reagans and the Kennedys -- How they forged a friendship that crossed party lines.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

It was the summer of 1985, a year after the second Reagan landslide, and there was a particular speech coming up that was important to the president and first lady. It was a fund-raiser for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, which at the time was relatively new and the only presidential library that didn’t have an endowment. The event was at Ted Kennedy’s house. The senator had asked the Reagans to help out. The families had struck up a friendship a few years before; in 1981 the Reagans had been delighted by Rose Kennedy, whom they had hosted for her first visit to the White House since her son Jack was president.

And so, June 24, 1985. I had worked on the speech, to my delight—JFK had been a childhood hero—and Reagan went off in a happy mood, waving his cards at Pat Buchanan, the director of communications. "I bet you love my speech, Pat!" he said as he bounded out of the West Wing.

. . . .

"Which is not to say I supported John Kennedy when he ran for president, because I didn't. I was for the other fellow. But you know, it's true: When the battle's over and the ground is cooled, well, it's then that you see the opposing general's valor.

"He would have understood. He was fiercely, happily partisan, and his political fights were tough, no quarter asked and none given. But he gave as good as he got, and you could see that he loved the battle.

. . . .

"And when he died, when that comet disappeared over the continent, a whole nation grieved and would not forget. A tailor in New York put a sign on the door: 'Closed due to a death in the family.' The sadness was not confined to us. 'They cried the rain down that night,' said a journalist in Europe. They put his picture up in huts in Brazil and tents in the Congo, in offices in Dublin and Danzig. That was one of the things he did for his country, for when they honored him they were honoring someone essentially, quintessentially, completely American.

. . . .

And so grace met grace, and a friendship that had already begun deepened. On Wednesday, the day after Ted Kennedy died, Nancy Reagan gave a telephone interview to Chris Matthews on "Hardball." "We were close," she said of their friendship, "and it didn't make any difference to Ronnie or to Ted that one was a Republican and one a Democrat." "I'll miss him very much," she said. "I'm sure we'll all miss him."

Edward Moore Kennedy, 1932-2009, rest in peace.

No one questioned Kennedy's commitment to the liberal agenda. Yet few senators have ever authored more bipartisan bills & reaching across the aisle.

In an 8-23-04 post, quoted in a 4-2-05 post, I did a post about one of my favorite Republicans, Christine Todd Whitman, entitled "Christie Whitman: Former N.J. governor and Bush Cabinet member says religious extremists have taken over GOP & the administration in which she served."

In those posts I wrote in part:

The years 2006 and 2008 can be the Democrats' chance to recover. Why?

Without acknowledging Zell Miller -- but agreeing with what he says in his book to the effect that much of America agrees that the [Democratic] party has veered too far to the left -- the party is veering to the middle.

But the GOP is Washington, like the GOP in Georgia, is forgetting for the moment that the pendulum is always swinging. Thus the GOP is not listening to Ms. Whitman's message that the GOP has veered too far to the right.

This and hubris will do them in. Our task at hand is to make it sooner rather than later.

In The Washington Post Ms. Whitman has this to say about Sen. Kennedy and what President Obama should do to right his ship:


Chair of the Republican Leadership Council; governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001

If he wants to regain ground on the health-care debate, climate change and the other legislative initiatives he has identified, President Obama needs to start by rebuilding some bridges within his party. The squabbling among Democrats is bitter, with the attacks from the more liberal end of the party on the more moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats reaching a fever pitch. Obama might keep in mind the legacy of Sen. Edward Kennedy and reach out to those Blue Dog Democrats as well as moderate Republicans to find common ground. Kennedy was an ardent partisan with a 90 percent liberal lifetime voting rating from the liberal watchdog group Americans for Democratic Action. No one questioned his commitment to the liberal agenda or his party. Yet few senators have ever authored more bipartisan bills and were known for so consistently reaching across the aisle. The president should refuse to push through legislation on strictly partisan votes and should seek the types of bipartisan compromise he promised to broker.

With polls showing that President Obama is losing ground, Pew Research Center sums up the current situation with the Obama presidency.

The following statement by Scott Keeter, director of survey research at Pew Research Center, appears in The Washington Post:

President Obama had a better honeymoon with the public than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. But it's over now. His ratings are approaching his electoral margin.

This summer slump is a product of his own actions and political forces outside his control. Obama campaigned for strong government action on the economy and health care, and most of his voters agreed with this direction. But Obama's efforts to expand the role of government have alienated many of those who did not vote for him but nonetheless gave him high marks when first he took office.

Pew Research's political values survey this spring showed no surge in public demand for more government. Indeed, anti-government sentiment, which had been building for years, was heightened by the financial bailout and stimulus program. Moreover, it was inevitable that Obama eventually would have to take responsibility for the economy, which -- despite a few "green shoots" -- remains grim.

The health-care debate has taken a toll on the president's popularity as well as that of his party. Americans remain ambivalent, desiring most of the major elements in the reform proposals but simultaneously worrying about too much government control of health care. Obama can influence whether and how reform passes, and whether it passes at all will affect his approval rating. Democrats in Congress fear that passing an unpopular health care package will be politically costly, but as Clinton's 1994 experience demonstrated, they have good reason to fear that failure on health care could also be costly.

I have now seen it all: Republican National Committee Uses New Scare Tactic on Health Reform

From The Washington Post:

The Republican National Committee suggested in a recent fundraising appeal that Democrats might use an overhaul of the health-care system to deny medical treatment to Republicans.

A questionnaire accompanying the mailing says the government could check voting registration records, "prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health-care rationing system." It asks, "Does this possibility concern you?"

U.S. Sets Metrics to Assess War Success

From The Washington Post:

The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to calm rising public and congressional anxiety about its war strategy.

Lawmakers set [a September 24] deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding, holding President Obama to his promise of "clear benchmarks" and no "blank check."

Since then, skepticism about the war in Afghanistan has intensified along with the rising U.S. and NATO casualty rates, now at the highest level of the eight-year-old conflict.

The administration's concern about waning public support and the war's direction has been compounded by strains in the U.S. relationship with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Facing their own public opinion problems, both appear increasingly resentful of U.S. demands for improved performance in the face of what they see as insufficient American support.

Although some Republican leaders in Congress have said that they would support adding troops to the 68,000 the United States will have in Afghanistan by the end of this year, many leading Democrats have questioned whether the administration's strategy of expanded economic and military support for both countries is working, and whether the likely increased toll in U.S. lives is justified.

Supreme Court to Revisit ‘Hillary’ Documentary

From The New York Times:

The Supreme Court will cut short its summer break in early September to hear a new argument in a momentous case that could transform the way political campaigns are conducted.

The case, which arises from a minor political documentary called “Hillary: The Movie,” seemed an oddity when it was first argued in March. Just six months later, it has turned into a juggernaut with the potential to shatter a century-long understanding about the government’s ability to bar corporations from spending money to support political candidates.

The case has also deepened a profound split among liberals, dividing those who view government regulation of political speech as an affront to the First Amendment from those who believe that unlimited corporate campaign spending is a threat to democracy.

At issue is whether the court should overrule a 1990 decision, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates. Re-arguments in the Supreme Court are rare, and the justices’ decision to call for one here may have been prompted by lingering questions about just how far campaign finance laws, including McCain-Feingold, may go in regulating campaign spending by corporations.

After Century of Big Growth, Tide Turns in Florida

From The New York Times:

[For a century Florida has] welcomed thousands of newcomers every week, year after year, becoming the nation’s fourth-most-populous state with about 16 million people in 2000.

Imagine the shock, then, to discover that traffic is now heading the other way. That’s right, the Sunshine State is shrinking.

Choked by a record level of foreclosures and unemployment, along with a helping of disillusionment, the state’s population declined by 58,000 people from April 2008 to April 2009, according to the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Except for the years around World Wars I and II, it was the state’s first population loss since at least 1900.

Recall what once passed for normal. Florida grew from 2.8 million people in 1950 to 6.9 million in 1970, and by about three million people each decade after that. Even during stagflation in the ’70s, Florida added about 200,000 people a year. More recently, from 2004 to 2006, Florida added about 1,100 people a day, as housing construction’s proportion of the state economy grew to twice the national average.

[A]s cities like Detroit well know, declines in population also compound downturns and hurt quality of life. Florida, in particular, was not built for emptying. Its government, since a 1924 constitutional amendment banned a state income tax, relies heavily on sales and property taxes, which are more closely linked with population growth.

Without it, and as housing prices and property tax revenues have fallen, municipalities have been forced to scramble.

Already, the state’s hold on retirees is weakening, with thousands of disenchanted “halfbacks” moving to Georgia and the Carolinas in recent years.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

History repeats itself: Afghanistan President Karzai portraying himself as the only candidate willing to stand up to the dictates of U.S.

From The New York Times:

A little over 24 hours after the polls closed, President Obama stepped out on the White House South Lawn last week to pronounce the Afghanistan presidential elections something of a success.

But now, as reports mount of widespread fraud in the balloting, including allegations that supporters of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, illegally stuffed ballot boxes in the south and ripped up ballots cast for his opponents, Mr. Obama’s early praise may soon come back to haunt him.

[Obama administration] officials have made no secret of their growing disenchantment with Mr. Karzai, who is viewed by the West as having so compromised himself to try to get elected — including striking deals with accused drug dealers and warlords for political gain — that he will be a hindrance to international efforts to get the country on track after the election.

But Mr. Karzai, in a feat of political shrewdness that has surprised some in the Obama administration, has managed to turn that disenchantment to an advantage, portraying himself at home as the only political candidate willing to stand up to the dictates of the United States, according to Western officials.

Bush was the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the republic. Obama is not helping on deficit.

From The Washington Post:

During last year's campaign, President Obama vowed to enact a bold agenda without raising taxes for the middle class, a pledge budget experts viewed with skepticism. Since then, a severe recession, massive deficits and a national debt that is swelling toward a 50-year high have only made his promise harder to keep.

The Obama administration has insisted that the pledge will stand. But the president's top economic advisers have refused to rule out broad-based tax increases to close the yawning gap between federal revenue and government spending and are warning of tough choices ahead.

Republicans are already on the attack, accusing Obama of plotting to break his no-tax vow, the same political transgression that cost Democrats control of Congress under former president Bill Clinton and may have cost president George H.W. Bush his job. Democrats say Obama is highly unlikely to break the pledge before next year's congressional election and observe that it would be safer to wait until his second term if a tax increase becomes unavoidable.

"If you rule out inflating our way out of the problem and defaulting on the debt, there are two ways: Cut spending or raise taxes," said William G. Gale, an expert on fiscal policy at the Brookings Institution. With more than 80 percent of federal spending devoted to politically untouchable programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he said, "it's going to be really hard to make significant headway on the spending side. So that means you've got to think about taxes."

Spending cuts were a big part of the solution the last time the nation faced such a towering debt. In the aftermath of World War II, with the debt exceeding the country's entire economic output, the government slashed military expenditures. Within two years, Washington was spending less than it took in. Fifteen percent inflation also helped by reducing the real value of the debt. When the country went to war again in Korea and then Vietnam, tax increases helped keep the budget largely in balance and the debt continued to fall.

Today's problem is more complex. Obama not only faces the fallout from the worst economic downturn in 30 years, but also inherited the debt piled up by his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush. Bush invaded Iraq and approved an expensive new prescription drug benefit for the elderly while pushing through one of the biggest tax cuts of the post-war era -- worth an estimated $1.6 trillion in foregone revenue by the time the provisions expire next year. This was the first time the United States had not adjusted its fiscal policy to meet its wartime needs, according to "The Price of Liberty," a book on war financing by Goldman Sachs vice chairman Robert D. Hormats.

After running surpluses in the late 1990s, the government began spending far more than it took in, forcing the Treasury to increase borrowing from China and other creditors. During the Bush administration, the portion of the debt held by the public jumped from just over $3 trillion to nearly $6 trillion. Federal rescue efforts in the face of last fall's financial meltdown have rapidly driven the debt higher. Today it stands at nearly $7.4 trillion, or about 52 percent of the overall U.S. economy.

"There's no question in my view that Bush was the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the republic," said David M. Walker, the comptroller general under Bush who now advocates for deficit reduction. Obama "was handed a bad deck," he said. "But the question is, are you making it better or not? And so far the answer is no."

Obama campaigned on a promise not to raise taxes for anyone earning less than $250,000 a year -- about 97 percent of taxpayers. As part of the pledge, he said he would keep some of the Bush tax cuts, including a new 10 percent rate for the lowest bracket, a higher tax credit for children and a lower penalty for married couples filing jointly. He planned to let other Bush tax cuts that benefit mainly the wealthy expire, a move that would raise rates for the top two income brackets.

With unemployment now expected to top 10 percent, the government will be forced to spend more on unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicaid and other safety-net programs. With wages more deeply depressed, tax collections have fallen further than expected.

The result: deficits of well over $1 trillion through 2011, which will push the debt to 71 percent of the economy by the end of Obama's first term -- the highest since 1954 -- and cause the debt to keep rising in the years beyond.

[T]he fastest-growing budget category is one Obama cannot touch: interest payments on the debt. These are likely to rise as the world demands higher interest rates in return for continuing to sate Washington's voracious appetite for credit. The White House projects interest payments will quadruple by 2019, when debt service will account for nearly the entire budget deficit. At that point, much like a family that has run up big credit card balances, the debt will continue to grow even if the nation all but stops borrowing money.

"We are entering a dangerous debt cycle," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "We don't know when interest rates will go up, but when they do, you can see that they will have a huge impact."

Friday, August 28, 2009

This worries me so much: A Virginia Model For a GOP Comeback?

From The Washington Post:

The late-night hotel desk clerk in Salem, Va., -- after my long drive from Washington down the Shenandoah Valley -- wanted to talk political philosophy. He intended to support Republican Bob McDonnell for governor in November on Madisonian grounds. "I vote both parties, but I don't want anyone having all the control." Obama, in his view, needed to be checked and balanced.

This is the durable tendency of Virginia politics. Since 1977, the political party that has won the presidency has, in every case, lost the Virginia governorship in the next election. This pattern of cussedness is holding, at least for the moment. McDonnell, Virginia's former attorney general, is currently well ahead of his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds, in one poll leading by 15 percentage points among likely voters.

David Brooks on Ted Kennedy

From The New York Times:

Kennedy never abandoned his ambitious ideals, but his ability to forge compromises and champion gradual, incremental change created the legacy everybody is celebrating today: community health centers, the National Cancer Institute, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Meals on Wheels program, the renewal of the Voting Rights Act and the No Child Left Behind Act. The latter law, by the way, has narrowed the black-white achievement gap more than any other recent piece of legislation.

Kennedy’s life yields several important lessons. One is about the nature of political leadership. We have been taught since, well, since the days of Camelot to admire a particular sort of politician: the epic, charismatic Mount Rushmore candidate who sits atop his charger leading transformational change.

But the founders of this country designed the Constitution to frustrate that kind of leader. The Constitution diffuses power, requires compromise and encourages incrementalism. The founders created a government that was cautious so that society might be dynamic.

Ted Kennedy was raised to prize one set of leadership skills and matured to find that he possessed another. He possessed the skills of the legislator, and if you ask 99 senators who was the best craftsman among them, they all will say Kennedy. He knew how to cut deals. He understood coalitions and other people’s motives and needs.

I once ran into John McCain after a negotiating session with Kennedy on an immigration bill they had co-sponsored. McCain was exhausted by the arduous and patient way his friend negotiated. In my last interview with Kennedy, I asked about big ideas, and his answers were nothing special. Then I asked about a minor provision in an ancient piece of legislation, and his command of the provision and how it got there was jaw-droppingly impressive.

There is a craft to governance, which depends less on academic intelligence than on a contextual awareness of how to bring people together. Kennedy possessed that awareness.

NYT Headline: Abuse Issue Puts the Justice Dept. and C.I.A. at Odds -- WSJ Headline: Probe of CIA Imperils Interagency Trust

Leon E. Panetta, left, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, tried to persuade Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., right, to drop plans to investigate the treatment of C.I.A. detainees.

An 8-26-09 post was entitled "Past CIA activity has already been condemned & prohibited; this will most definitely have a chilling effect: Decision Sets Off Storm of Protest."

The post noted that Obama already has his plate full at the moment: a battle to save his health-care plan, fortify the war effort in Afghanistan, restart Middle East peace negotiations, lay the groundwork for sanctions against Iran, close the Guantanamo Bay prison, bring the U.S. into a global climate-change effort, and end a global recession.

Obama and Rahm Emanuel and wrong, very wrong, and doing the country and the CIA a great disservice in allowing Holder's investigation to go forward. Obama will be distracted; his leadership further eroded.

Here is The New York Times article, and here is The Wall Street Journal article whose headlines are noted as the caption of this post.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

The Justice Department's decision to investigate CIA interrogation practices increased tension between the agencies and prompted a sense of betrayal among some CIA officers, current and former officials said.

Rivalries had raged since the early days of the Central Intelligence Agency's World War II-era forerunner, the Office of Strategic Services, and the trust built in the wake of the 9/11 attacks could be shattered by the investigation, these people said.

The Washington Post reports:

About five weeks ago, faced with a crucial decision on how to react to brutal CIA interrogation practices, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. concluded that it would be all but impossible to follow President Obama's mandate to move forward, rather than investigate divisive episodes from the Bush "war on terror."

Holder notified the White House that he was reluctantly leaning toward naming a prosecutor to review whether laws had been broken during interrogations -- the very thing Obama had said he wanted to avoid. And the word Holder got back, according to people familiar with the conversations, was that the decision was up to him.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Asia comes out on top in latest American cash giveaway. No problem, & pattern continues. We gave Chrysler to Europe's Fiat. Africa is next in line.

From The New York Times:

The cash-for-clunkers program turned out to be a boon for Asian automakers and the small cars they specialize in.

While American government officials hailed the monthlong program, which ended this week, as an overall stimulus to the economy, the biggest winner was Toyota, which accounted for 19 percent of all sales and had two of the top three best-selling models.

Alleged Drug Ties of Top Afghan Official Worry U.S.

From The New York Times:

It was a heated debate during the Bush administration: What to do about evidence that Afghanistan’s powerful defense minister was involved in drug trafficking? Officials from the time say they needed him to help run the troubled country. So the answer, in the end: look the other way.

Today that debate will be even more fraught for a new administration, for the former defense minister, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, stands a strong chance of becoming the next vice president of Afghanistan.

In his bid for re-election, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has surrounded himself with checkered figures who could bring him votes: warlords suspected of war crimes, corruption and trafficking in the country’s lucrative poppy crop. But none is as influential as Marshal Fahim, his running mate, whose trajectory in and out of power, and American favor, says much about the struggle the United States has had in dealing with corruption in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Past CIA activity has already been condemned & prohibited; this will most definitely have a chilling effect: Decision Sets Off Storm of Protest

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama is battling to save his health-care plan, fortify the war effort in Afghanistan, restart Middle East peace negotiations, lay the groundwork for sanctions against Iran, close the Guantanamo Bay prison, bring the U.S. into a global climate-change effort, and end a global recession.

Now, he faces a political outcry over the Central Intelligence Agency, triggered by Attorney General Eric Holder's decision Monday to appoint a prosecutor to examine whether to bring charges against agency interrogators.

The divisions could hamper Mr. Obama's attempt to move ahead on, and seek Republican support for, a range of tricky domestic and foreign-policy matters. White House officials tried Monday to distance the president from the Holder decision, and to play down the political implications.

In a written statement, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Mr. Obama wants "to look forward, not back" on matters regarding the conduct of the fight against terrorism. The White House emphasized Mr. Holder's decision that any interrogator who "acted in good faith and within the scope" of the Bush-era Justice Department's legal guidance on interrogation policies wouldn't be prosecuted.

But opponents of the attorney general's decision to pursue interrogators who may have gone out of those bounds remained critical.

Edward M. Kennedy, 1932 - 2009

Very good video from The New York Times. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and a member of one of the country's most influential political families, was one of the most effective senators in American history.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dumb and dumber: Senate Democrats Consider Tactic to Push Through Government Health Plan with Simple Majority

If a public plan option becomes law other than in the regular way, and further is done without a full fleshing out, hearings and public discussion and vetting, most assuredly it will be the Democratic Party's death knell in the 2010 midterm elections.

Despite the current talk, I don't think our party is ready to go down that route.

From The New York Times:

Senate Democrats said Sunday that they were fleshing out plans to pass health legislation, particularly the option of a new government-run insurance program, with a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes that would ordinarily be needed to overcome a filibuster.

Democrats have begun to talk openly of using a procedure known as budget reconciliation to pass a health bill in the Senate with a simple majority, assuming no Republican support. To do that, under Senate rules, they would probably need to show that the public plan changed federal spending or revenues and that the effects were not “merely incidental” to the changes in health policy.

Obama’s Team Is Lacking Most of Its Top Players

From The New York Times:

As President Obama tries to turn around a summer of setbacks, he finds himself still without most of his own team. Seven months into his presidency, fewer than half of his top appointees are in place advancing his agenda.

Of more than 500 senior policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation, just 43 percent have been filled — a reflection of a White House that grew more cautious after several nominations blew up last spring, a Senate that is intensively investigating nominees and a legislative agenda that has consumed both.

While career employees or holdovers fill many posts on a temporary basis, Mr. Obama does not have his own people enacting programs central to his mission. He is trying to fix the financial markets but does not have an assistant treasury secretary for financial markets. He is spending more money on transportation than anyone since Dwight D. Eisenhower but does not have his own inspector general watching how the dollars are used. He is fighting two wars but does not have an Army secretary.

He sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Africa to talk about international development but does not have anyone running the Agency for International Development. He has invited major powers to a summit on nuclear nonproliferation but does not have an assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation.

Blame is being freely passed around. After several early nominees were discovered to have failed to pay some taxes, the White House tightened its vetting. The Senate Finance Committee has a former Internal Revenue Service official helping to go through many nominees’ taxes. And Republican senators are holding up nominees like John McHugh for Army secretary to influence what happens to the detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The Finance Committee argued that fault lay elsewhere. Scott Mulhauser, a spokesman for the panel, said it had approved 14 of 16 nominees whose paperwork was received before July. But officials said the process had become so intrusive that many candidates declined to be considered.

“Anyone who has gone through it or looked at this process will tell you that every administration it gets worse and it gets more cumbersome,” Mrs. Clinton said last month. “And some very good people, you know, just didn’t want to be vetted.” She added: “You have to hire lawyers, you have to hire accountants. I mean, it is ridiculous.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What? Following the law. I can't believe it: Firms focus on worker documentation - Businesses wary as Immigration Enforcement agency announces audits.

From the ajc:

Faced with what one Atlanta immigration lawyer calls an “enforcement tsunami,” more local companies are running legal checks on their hiring practices and documentation of employees.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials last month informed Congress that the agency is auditing employers nationwide to see whether they are hiring undocumented workers.

Fines for paperwork violations range from $110 to $1,100, and knowingly hiring undocumented workers can cost a company up to $11,000 per violation.

Immigration attorneys say enterprises in areas such as manufacturing, hotels and hospitality, construction, and janitorial services face additional scrutiny because of past problems with illegal workers.

Health-Care Battle Helps GOP Climb Out of Morass

From The Washington Post:

When Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) left the Republican Party in April to become a Democrat, the situation for the Grand Old Party was so dismal that even one of Washington's most vocal Republican bashers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), declared that "our country needs a strong, diverse Republican Party."

But after looking as if they would drift into irrelevance, Republicans are showing signs of being energized. The party's grass-roots activists, at times moribund during last year's presidential campaign, have mobilized against President Obama's agenda, vastly outnumbering Democrats at some of this month's health-care town hall meetings.

After badly trailing the campaign of then-Sen. Barack Obama in raising money last year, the Republican National Committee has raised more than the Democratic National Committee this year, figures released last week show. Ahead of next year's elections, several potentially strong GOP candidates, including popular Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, have decided to run for seats in the Senate. In this year's gubernatorial races, polls show the GOP candidates ahead in both New Jersey and Virginia.

What has emerged in the last few months is a more confident GOP. Republicans, who earlier this year thought they could not block a Democratic health-care reform bill and should focus on simply stopping one of its more liberal components -- a government-run insurance option -- have set their sights on forcing the president to dramatically scale back his proposal.

"Republicans are digging out of a pretty big hole and we're not yet back to parity, but it's headed in the right direction," said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a leading figure in the party who is considering a 2012 presidential run. "The mood of the grass roots has gone from one of discouragement and confusion in some cases after the last election cycle to one of concern about the direction of Obama to one of hope and optimism for a Republican comeback."

Strategists in both parties caution that increasing anxiety about Obama's agenda has not translated into enthusiasm for Republicans.
A few Republicans are declaring next year's elections will be like those in 1994, when a completely out-of-power GOP won back control of the House and Senate.

"I think the party has its greatest opportunity in the last 40 years," said Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

Other Republicans are more cautious.

"We're still a long way away from the elections," said Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the No. 2 House Republican. "I don't necessarily think that when you look at the governor's races in our state and others, it's a Republican wave or a Democrat wave. . . . It was a historic election, and the public was wrapped up in this notion of change, but now I think what people are beginning to see is that all change is not good change."

Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?

From The New York Times:

[The Lyndon B. Johnson] model — a president who aspired to reshape America at home while fighting a losing war abroad — is one that haunts Mr. Obama’s White House as it seeks to salvage Afghanistan while enacting an expansive domestic program.

In this summer of discontent for Mr. Obama, as the heady early days give way to the grinding battle for elusive goals, he looks ahead to an uncertain future not only for his legislative agenda but for what has indisputably become his war. Last week’s elections in Afghanistan played out at the same time as the debate over health care heated up in Washington, producing one of those split-screen moments that could not help but remind some of Mr. Johnson’s struggles to build a Great Society while fighting in Vietnam.

“The analogy of Lyndon Johnson suggests itself very profoundly,” said David M. Kennedy, the Stanford University historian. Mr. Obama, he said, must avoid letting Afghanistan shadow his presidency as Vietnam did Mr. Johnson’s. “He needs to worry about the outcome of that intervention and policy and how it could spill over into everything else he wants to accomplish.”

By several accounts, that risk weighs on Mr. Obama these days. Mr. Kennedy was among a group of historians who had dinner with Mr. Obama at the White House earlier this summer where the president expressed concern that Afghanistan could yet hijack his presidency. Although Mr. Kennedy said he could not discuss the off-the-record conversation, others in the room said Mr. Obama acknowledged the L.B.J. risk.

“He said he has a problem,” said one person who attended that dinner at the end of June, insisting on anonymity to share private discussions. “This is not just something he can turn his back on and walk away from. But it’s an issue he understands could be a danger to his administration.”

Another person there was Robert Caro, the L.B.J. biographer who was struck that Mr. Johnson made some of his most fateful decisions about Vietnam in the same dining room. “All I could think of when I was sitting there and this subject came up was the setting,” he said. “You had such an awareness of how things can go wrong.”

Without quoting what the president said, Mr. Caro said it was clear Mr. Obama understood that precedent. “Any president with a grasp of history — and it seems to me President Obama has a deep understanding of history — would have to be very aware of what happened in another war to derail a great domestic agenda,” he said.

Afghanistan, of course, is not exactly Vietnam. At its peak, the United States had about 500,000 troops in Vietnam, compared with about 68,000 now set for Afghanistan, and most of those fighting in the 1960s were draftees as opposed to volunteer soldiers. Vietnam, therefore, reached deeper into American society, touching more homes and involving more unwilling participants. But the politics of the two seem to evoke comparisons.

Just as Mr. Johnson believed he had no choice but to fight in Vietnam to contain communism, Mr. Obama last week portrayed Afghanistan as the bulwark against international terrorism. “This is not a war of choice,” he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars at their convention in Phoenix. “This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.”

But while many Americans once shared that view, polls suggest that conviction is fading nearly eight years into the war. The share of Americans who said the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting slipped below 50 percent in a survey released last week by The Washington Post and ABC News. A July poll by the New York Times and CBS News showed that 57 percent of Americans think things are going badly for the United States in Afghanistan, compared with 33 percent who think they are going well.

That growing disenchantment in the countryside is increasingly mirrored in Washington, where liberals in Congress are speaking out more vocally against the Afghan war and newspapers are filled with more columns questioning America’s involvement. The cover of the latest Economist is headlined “Afghanistan: The Growing Threat of Failure.”

Richard N. Haass, a former Bush administration official turned critic, wrote in The New York Times last week that what he once considered a war of necessity has become a war of choice. While he still supports it, he argued that there are now alternatives to a large-scale troop presence, like drone attacks on suspected terrorists, more development aid and expanded training of Afghan police and soldiers.

His former boss, George W. Bush, learned first-hand how political capital can slip away when an overseas war loses popular backing. With Iraq in flames, Mr. Bush found little support for his second-term domestic agenda of overhauling Social Security and liberalizing immigration laws. L.B.J. managed to create Medicare and enact landmark civil rights legislation but some historians have argued that the Great Society ultimately stalled because of Vietnam.

Mr. Obama has launched a new strategy intended to turn Afghanistan around, sending an additional 21,000 troops, installing a new commander, promising more civilian reconstruction help, shifting to more protection of the population and building up Afghan security forces. It is a strategy that some who study Afghanistan believe could make a difference.

But even some who agree worry that time is running out at home, particularly if the strategy does not produce results quickly. Success is so hard to imagine that Richard Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan, this month came up with this definition: “We’ll know it when we see it.”

The consequences of failure go beyond just Afghanistan. Next door is its volatile neighbor Pakistan, armed with nuclear weapons and already seething with radical anti-American elements.

“It could all go belly up and we could run out of public support,” said Ronald E. Neumann, a former ambassador to Afghanistan and now president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. “The immediate danger is we don’t explain to Americans how long things take. I certainly get questions like, ‘Is the new strategy turning things around? Is the civilian surge working?’ We’re not going to even get all of those people on the ground for months.”

Others are not so sure that the new strategy will make a difference regardless of how much time it is given. No matter who is eventually declared the winner of last week’s election in Afghanistan, the government there remains so plagued by corruption and inefficiency that it has limited legitimacy with the Afghan public. Just as America was frustrated with successive South Vietnamese governments, it has grown sour on Afghanistan’s leaders with little obvious recourse.

Lt. Col. Douglas A. Ollivant, a retired Army officer who worked on Iraq on the National Security Council staff first for Mr. Bush and then for Mr. Obama, said Afghanistan may be “several orders of magnitude” harder. It has none of the infrastructure, education and natural resources of Iraq, he noted, nor is the political leadership as aligned in its goals with those of America’s leadership.

“We’re in a place where we don’t have good options and that’s what everyone is struggling with,” Colonel Ollivant said. “Sticking it out seems to be a 10-year project and I’m not sure we have the political capital and financial capital to do that. Yet withdrawing, the cost of that seems awfully high as well. So we have the wolf by the ear.”

And as L.B.J. discovered, the wolf has sharp teeth.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Peggy Noonan: Pull the Plug on ObamaCare -- It's the best cure for what ails the Obama presidency.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

(I write as if health-care reform or insurance reform or whatever it's called this week is already a loss, a historic botch, because it is. Even if the White House wins, they lose, because the cost in terms of public trust and faith was too high.)

Every big idea that works is marked by simplicity, by clarity. You can understand it when you hear it, and you can explain it to people. Social Security: Retired workers receive a public pension to help them through old age. Medicare: People over 65 can receive taxpayer-funded health care. Welfare: If you have no money and cannot support yourself, we will help as you get back on your feet.

These things are clear. I understand them. You understand them. The president's health-care plan is not clear, and I mean that not only in the sense of "he hasn't told us his plan." I mean it in terms of the voodoo phrases, this gobbledygook, this secret language of government that no one understands—"single payer," "public option," "insurance marketplace exchange." No one understands what this stuff means, nobody normal.

And when normal people don't know what the words mean, they don't say to themselves, "I may not understand, but my trusty government surely does, and will treat me and mine with respect." They think, "I can't get what these people are talking about. They must be trying to get one past me. So I'll vote no."

In a more beautiful world, the whole health-care chapter could become, for the president, that helpful thing, the teachable moment. The president the past month has been taught a lot by the American people. It's all there in the polls. He could still step back, rethink, say it didn't work, promise to return with something better.

When presidents make clear, with modesty and even some chagrin, that they have made a mistake but that they've learned a lesson and won't be making it again, the American people tend to respond with sympathy. It is our tradition and our impulse.

Right now Mr. Obama's gift is his curse, a Congress dominated by his party. While the country worries about the economy and two wars, the Democrats of Congress are preoccupied with the idea that this is their moment, now is their time, health care now, "Never let a good crisis go to waste," the only blazingly memorable phrase to be uttered in the new era.

It's not especially pleasurable to see history held hostage to ideological vanity, but it's not the first time. And if they keep it up, they'll help solve the president's problem. He'll have a Republican congress soon enough.

Damn: White House to Boost 10-Year Deficit Forecast to $9 Trillion (2009 budget deficit to be the widest since World War II as a % of the economy)

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration will raise its forecast for the 10-year federal budget deficit to about $9 trillion from $7.1 trillion, a senior administration official said.

The latest measurement puts the White House in line with previous updates from the Congressional Budget Office.

By any measure, the 2009 budget deficit is expected to be the widest since World War II as a percentage of the economy.

Obama left it up to Congress to draft a plan. At times it has seemed as though any old “reform” would be all right with him.

Bob Herbert writes in The New York Times:

[This week the president went on a radio program and guaranteed] that health care reform would get done.

The president may be sanguine, but the same cannot be said of the general public, including some of Mr. Obama’s most ardent supporters. The American people are worried sick over the economy, which may be sprouting green shoots from Ben Bernanke’s lofty perspective but not from the humble standpoint of the many millions who are unemployed, or those who are still working but barely able to pay their bills and hold onto their homes.

This is the reality that underlies the anxiety over the president’s ragged effort to achieve health care reform. Forget the certifiables who are scrawling Hitler mustaches on pictures of the president. Many sane and intelligent people who voted for Mr. Obama and sincerely want him to succeed have legitimate concerns about the timing of this health reform initiative and the way it is unfolding.

The president has not made it clear to the general public why health care reform is his top domestic priority when the biggest issue on the minds of most Americans is the economy. Men and women who once felt themselves to be securely rooted in the middle or upper middle classes are now struggling with pay cuts, job losses and home foreclosures — and they don’t feel, despite the rhetoric about the recession winding down, that their prospects are good.

People worried about holding on to their standard of living need to be assured, unambiguously, that an expensive new government program is in their — and the country’s — best interest. They need to know exactly how the program will work, and they need to be confident that it’s affordable.

Mr. Obama, who has a command of the English language like few others, has been remarkably opaque about his intentions regarding health care. He left it up to Congress to draft a plan and he has not gotten behind any specific legislation. He has seemed to waffle on the public option and has not been at all clear about how the reform that is coming will rein in runaway costs. At times it has seemed as though any old “reform” would be all right with him.

It’s still early, but people are starting to lose faith in the president. I hear almost daily from men and women who voted enthusiastically for Mr. Obama but are feeling disappointed. They feel that the banks made out like bandits in the bailouts, and that the health care initiative could become a boondoggle. Their biggest worry is that Mr. Obama is soft, that he is unwilling or incapable of fighting hard enough to counter the forces responsible for the sorry state the country is in.

More and more the president is being seen by his own supporters as someone who would like to please everybody, who is naïve about the prospects for bipartisanship, who believes that his strongest supporters will stay with him because they have nowhere else to go, and who will retreat whenever the Republicans and the corporate crowd come after him.

People want more from Mr. Obama. They want him to be their champion. But they don’t feel that he is speaking to them in a language that they understand. He is seen as more comfortable speaking the Wall Street lingo. People don’t feel that the voices of anxiety are being heard.

Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe the economy really is turning around. Maybe Mr. Obama is working on a bipartisan deal that will take us a few small steps down the road to real health care reform.

It’s possible that we’ve been without mature leadership for so long that it’s difficult to recognize it when we see it. Mr. Obama has proved the naysayers wrong time and again. But if it turns out that this time he’s wrong, hold onto your hats. Because right now there is no Plan B.

Afghan Election Poses New Tests for Washington

From The New York Times:

Obama administration officials hoped the Afghan election would demonstrate that eight years after the American invasion, the country was stable enough to justify an expanded commitment of money and troops from an increasingly skeptical American public.

Instead, the election did more to underscore the challenges Afghanistan faces, particularly if the election goes to a runoff, as seems increasingly likely, between President Hamid Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

Western officials . . . were clearly concerned on Friday that a second round of voting could extend the paralysis of a government that already barely functions and deepen ethnic tensions, in the worst case, to the point of a north-south civil war.

Friday, August 21, 2009

2009 Ga. Ass'n of Democratic County Chairs Dinner is Sat. in Dublin. I sure wish I could be there. A good time will be had by one and all.

I encourage everyone to attend the Georgia Association of Democratic Party Chairs Dinner this weekend at the DuBose Porter Training Center in Dublin. The 28th Annual Richard B. Russell Public Service Award will be presented to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

I have a ticket, but earlier today I got a call confirming that the birth of grandchild no. 4 is definitely going to prevent my being able to attend. Sally pulled out of town a couple of hours ago and I am wrapping up work and will leave in the morning after my Saturday morning group run (assuming I don't get the 3:00 a.m. call).

I especially hate to miss this year because all of the politicians will be out in force I assure you.

This is a great group, and a good time -- with a good meal and glass of wine to boot -- is always had by one and all. Humor is often on the agenda as evidenced by the following part of a 7-7-05 post:

If you missed last year's gala affair, you missed the following one-liners from the evening:

Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond (attired in a white dinner jacket): "It's been a thrill getting to see so many of my friends and acquaintances tonight. And it's been fun meeting some of you I haven't met before, including that guy who looked me right in the eye and said 'Hey waiter, how about bringing me another drink.'"

State Chairman Bobby Kahn was quick to pick up on Commissioner Thurmond's waiter remark and have some good fun with the good Commissioner by saying: "Commissioner, if you need to leave early tonight, we'll understand. We know you've got to get that rented tux back to Wal-Mart."

And Secretary of State Cathy Cox, the recipient of the 2004 Richard B. Russell Award -- in addition to rallying the troops with a powerful stump speech -- noted that Michael Thurmond had endeared himself to her a couple of years ago when he said, "I'm talking about 'the' Cathy Cox, you know, the pretty one."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This chapped me off this a.m.: One of nation's most powerful unions fires a warning shot at Democrats -- AFL-CIO tells them how they must vote.

Big Labor's attempt to play hardball is going to backfire. The message: if you vote against the public option, you are roadkill.

Were I a congressman, I would tell Big Labor that it can take a hike; neither Nancy Pelosi, the AFL-CIO, nor any other person or entity other than my constituents and my conscience dictate how I vote.

Watch this play out and witness some serious push back.

We can't go back in; such a move would be unpalatable to most Americans and Iraqis.

From The Washington Post:

Despite a recent U.S. focus on tension between Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq, Wednesday's strikes [in Baghdad] suggest that the sectarian fight between Shiites and Sunnis over dominance of the country remains far from over.

U.S. military officials in Baghdad said there is little they can do in response to the surge in violence other than pressure Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to be more cautious as his government takes control of the country's security. Senior American officials have criticized Maliki for recent decisions that they consider overconfident and impulsive. Since the June 30 urban drawdown, his government has sharply restrained the mobility and authority of U.S. troops and his security forces have begun removing blast walls along major roads, declaring the capital safe.

Retired Col. Peter Mansoor, a senior adviser to the top American commander in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, said the Iraqi government is unlikely to ask the U.S. military to reestablish its presence in Baghdad.

"Regrettably, I think we can't go back in," he said, adding that such a move would in any event be unpalatable to most Americans and Iraqis. "The Iraqi government got ahead of itself. It is declaring the war over when it is far from over."

His comments echoed those of other U.S. military officials, who say the United States has reached a point of diminishing returns in its ability to influence Iraqi decisions.

It was only a matter of time that we reached same conclusion as Russia: A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting.

From The Washington Post:

A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Progressives' hero & Obama thorn Howard Dean: "We all voted for change we can believe in. If we don't get it, we'll get some more change in 2010."

From The Washington Post:

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean is emerging as a thorn in the side of a White House that effectively swept him out of Washington, regularly challenging President Obama and Congress as he crisscrosses the country preaching his progressive vision for universal health care.

Although he is lending voice and brand to the liberal cause in the intraparty health-care debate, Dean hardly considers himself a spoiler. Rather, he sees his role as fighting for progressive values, asserting again and again that health-care reform without a government-run insurance option is hardly reform at all.

"We all voted for change we can believe in. If we don't get it, we'll get some more change in 2010," Dean roared . . . .

[In his appearances, many of which are organized by the Service Employees International Union and] which are not coordinated with the administration, Dean is helping to fuel what could become a calamity for the White House.

"What Howard is doing is principled but destructive," said a Democratic strategist and former Dean adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the intraparty debate. "If health-care reform goes down because of the public option, it's going to be the liberals that bring it down, the Democrats doing it to themselves."

Dean received a hero's welcome when he addressed hundreds of progressive bloggers last week at the Netroots Nation convention in Pittsburgh. He was their favored messenger in 2004, when his innovative campaign fueled the rise of the "Net roots" in the Democratic Party. Now, five years later, Dean is speaking for them again.

Sen. Grassley: People are signaling that Congress ought to slow up & find out where we are & don't spend so much money & don't get us so far into debt

From The Washington Post:

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a key Republican negotiator in the quest for bipartisan health-care reform, said Wednesday that the outpouring of anger at town hall meetings this month has fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort.

After being besieged by protesters at meetings across his home state of Iowa, Grassley said he has concluded that the public has rejected the far-reaching proposals Democrats have put on the table, viewing them as overly expensive precursors to "a government takeover of health care."

Grassley said he remains hopeful that he and five other members of the Senate Finance Committee can draft a better, less costly plan capable of winning broad support from Democrats and Republicans. But as the group, known as the Gang of Six, prepared to continue talking via teleconference late Thursday, Grassley said the members may be forced to reassess the breadth of their efforts in light of public concerns.

"Not just on health care, but on a lot of other things Congress has done this year, people are signaling that we ought to slow up and find out where we are and don't spend so much money and don't get us so far into debt," he said . . . . The Finance Committee group is still discussing a "comprehensive" plan for extending coverage to millions of uninsured families, he said, but revisiting that approach would be "a natural outcome of what people may be getting from the town hall meetings."

As the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, Grassley has the potential to attract GOP votes by giving his blessing to a bill, and congressional Democrats and the White House consider him the key to winning bipartisan support for President Obama's top domestic priority.

"Not everyone is coming to the town hall meetings because of health care. It's kind of the straw that broke the camel's back," Grassley said. "They're seeing the stimulus not working. They're seeing the Federal Reserve shoving money out of the airplane not working. They're seeing big increases in the deficit coming. Then they see a trillion-dollar health-care bill, and they think it's not good for the country."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Praise the Lord: Obama Sees ‘Positive Steps’ in Mideast; Mubarak Agrees.

At the White House, President Barack Obama and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt were optimistic about restarting Middle East peace talks.

President Obama said Tuesday that he saw “movement in the right direction” on the thorny issue of Israeli settlement construction in Palestinian areas, and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a visitor to the White House, said prospects for restarting Middle East peace talks were good.

The leaders’ cautiously optimistic comments coincided with a sign that the Israeli government was trying to lower tensions with the United States on the settlement issue. That signal was in the form of an announcement by Israel’s housing minister that his government had not given final approval for any new housing projects in the West Bank since it took office in late March.

But see this article entitled "Netanyahu's Defiance of U.S. Resonates at Home -- Polls Show Resistance to Settlement Freeze" in The Washington Post.

Rahm Emanuel et al. are causing Obama to lose the trust & confidence of the American people: Democrats Seem Set to Go It Alone on a Health Bill

And yes, it is not just Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod. Obama himself has participated from day one in the health care debacle, risking his majority in the House of Representatives during midterms elections next year on a plan his administration never formulated after running on a platform of change, in this case, any change, even if it is not thought out and financially sound, just pass something.

Obama's administration is headed for doing the same thing it did it did only eight days after Obama's inauguration, when Mr. Obama won House passage of the terrible and special-projects laden stimulus bill that did little to timely stimulate the economy. He won a rousing victory for a new president, but won without a single Republican vote.

As with such and other legislation he has passed, he has done so with the feeling that there is need to negotiate with Republicans. This is politics as usual. But Obama ran on change, and much of the 2008 vote was against politics as usual.

From The New York Times:

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the heated opposition was evidence that Republicans had made a political calculation to draw a line against any health care changes, the latest in a string of major administration proposals that Republicans have opposed.

“The Republican leadership,” Mr. Emanuel said, “has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.”

The Democratic shift may not make producing a final bill much easier. The party must still reconcile the views of moderate and conservative Democrats worried about the cost and scope of the legislation with those of more liberal lawmakers determined to win a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurers.

On the other hand, such a change could alter the dynamic of talks surrounding health care legislation, and even change the substance of a final bill. With no need to negotiate with Republicans, Democrats might be better able to move more quickly, relying on their large majorities in both houses.

Democratic senators might feel more empowered, for example, to define the authority of the nonprofit insurance cooperatives that are emerging as an alternative to a public insurance plan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lack of Medicare Appointee Puzzles Congress

From The New York Times:

President Obama has made health care his top priority. He says the cost of Medicare and Medicaid is “the biggest threat” to the nation’s fiscal future. But to the puzzlement of Congress and health care experts around the country, Mr. Obama has not named anyone to lead the agency that runs the two giant programs.

The agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is the largest buyer of health care in the United States. Its programs are at the heart of efforts to overhaul the health care system. If it had an administrator, that person would be working with Congress on legislation and could be preparing the agency for a new, expanded role.

“The vacancy stands out like a sore thumb,” said Dr. Denis A. Cortese, president of the Mayo Clinic, often cited by the White House as a health care model.

“In effect,” Dr. Cortese said, “Medicare is the nation’s largest insurance company. The president and Congress function as the board of directors.

“Under a strong administrator, it could take the lead in making major changes in the health care delivery system, so we’d get better outcomes and better service at lower cost.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

From the contents of & how the stimulus bill was passed to this health care debacle, it may be that Obama is brilliant at becoming, not being, pres.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Govern knowing we are a big, strong, mighty nation, a colossus that is, however, like all highly complex, highly wired organisms, fragile, even at places quite delicate. Don't overburden or overexcite the system. America used to have fringes, one over here and the other over there. The fringes are growing. The fringes have their own networks. All sorts of forces exist to divide us. Try always to unite.

These are things one always wants people currently rising in government to know deep in their heads and hearts. They are the things the young, fierce staffers in any new White House, and the self-proclaimed ruthless pragmatists in this one, need to hear, be told or be reminded of.

The big, complicated, obscure, abstruse, unsettling and ultimately unhelpful health-care plans, proposals and ideas keep rolling out of Washington. Five bills, thousands of pages, "as it says on page 346, paragraph 3, subsection D." No one knows what will be passed, what will make its way through House-Senate "conference." They don't even know what the president wants, what his true agenda is. He never seems to be leveling, only talking. Everything's open to misdirection and exaggeration, and everything, people fear, will come down to some future bureaucrat's interpretation of paragraph 3, subsection D, part 22.

What a disaster this health-care debate is. It strains, stresses and pierces, it unnecessarily agitates and is doomed to be the cause of further agitation. Who doubts the final bill will be something between a pig in a poke and three-card Monte?

Which is too bad, because our health care system actually needs to be made better.

There are smart and experienced people who say whatever the mess right now, the president will get a bill of some sort because he has the brute numeric majority. A rising number say no, this thing has roused such ire he won't get much if anything. I don't know, but this is true: If he wins it, will be a victory not worth having. It will have cost too much. It has lessened the thing an admired president must have from the people, and that is trust.

It is divisive save in one respect. The Obama White House has done the near impossible: It has united the Republican Party. Social conservatives, economic conservatives, libertarians—they're all against the health-care schemes as presented so far. They're shoulder-to-shoulder at the barricade again.

The president seemed like a man long celebrated as being very good at politics—the swift rise, the astute reading of a varied electorate—who is finding out day by day that he isn't actually all that good at it. In this sense he does seem reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, who was brilliant at becoming president but not being president. (Actually a lot of them are like that these days.)

Also, something odd. When Mr. Obama stays above the fray, above the nitty-gritty of specifics, when he confines his comments on health care to broad terms, he more and more seems . . . pretty slippery. In the town hall he seemed aware of this, and he tried to be very specific about the need for this aspect of a plan, and the history behind that proposal. And yet he seemed even more slippery. When he took refuge in the small pieces of his argument, he lost the major threads; when he addressed the major threads, he seemed almost to be conceding that the specifics don't hold.

When you seem slippery both in the abstract and the particular, you are in trouble.

Looking back, a key domestic moment in this presidency occurred only eight days after his inauguration, when Mr. Obama won House passage of his stimulus bill. It was a bad bill—off point, porky and philosophically incoherent. He won 244-188, a rousing victory for a new president. But he won without a single Republican vote. That was the moment the new division took hold. The Democrats of the House pushed it through, and not one Republican, even those from swing districts, even those eager to work with the administration, could support it.

This, of course, was politics as usual. But in 2008 people voted against politics as usual.

It was a real lost opportunity. It marked the moment congressional Republicans felt free to be in full opposition. It gave congressional Democrats the impression that they were in full control, that no one could stop their train. And it was the moment the president, looking at the lay of the land, seemed to reveal he would not govern in a vaguely center-left way, as a unifying figure even if a beset one being beaten 'round the head by the left, but in a left way, without the modifying "center." Or at least as one who happily cedes to the left in Congress each day.

Things got all too vividly divided. It was a harbinger of the health care debate.

I always now think of a good president as sitting at the big desk and reaching out with his long arms and holding on to the left, and holding on to the right, and trying mightily to hold it together, letting neither spin out of control, holding on for dear life. I wish we were seeing that. I don't think we are.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Loose Network of Activists Drives Reform Opposition

From The Washington Post:

The rowdy protests that threaten President Obama's health-care reform efforts have been spurred on by a loose network of activists -- from veteran advocacy groups with millions of dollars in funding to casual alliances of like-minded conservatives unhappy over issues from taxes to deficits to environmental laws.

Most of the groups helping to organize protests view the proposed health-care overhaul as just one part of a broader assault by government on free markets and individual liberty, their leaders say. Conservatives portray the movement as largely organic, fueled by average citizens alarmed at the direction the country has taken since Obama moved into the White House.

"I think what we've been able to do is reach out to an audience that no one has spoken with before, people who have never been involved," said Eric Odom, 29, a Chicago Web developer who heads a fledgling protest group called the American Liberty Alliance. "They've been pushed to the edge and feel they can no longer stay at home."

Several of the biggest efforts are led by established veterans in the conservative movement, whose organizations receive heavy funding from industry groups and sympathetic billionaires.

One of the most prominent organizers is FreedomWorks, a Washington-based advocacy group headed by former House majority leader Richard Armey (R-Tex.) that is also pushing to defeat Democratic climate-change legislation. FreedomWorks's major financial backers have included MetLife, Philip Morris and foundations controlled by the archconservative Scaife family, according to tax filings and other records.

Odom's fight began last summer with protests in favor of offshore oil drilling. Then came the "tea parties" earlier this year, featuring boisterous rallies against Obama's stimulus package and automaker bailouts.

Now, drawing on more than 40,000 members via e-mail, Odom tracks hundreds of planned health-care protests by Zip code and uses Facebook and Twitter to link up activists. Earlier this month, he hosted a conference call with more than 200 participants.

The outlines of the anti-reform movement are still jagged, with few formal connections among the activist groups or with mainstream political organizations, such as the Republican National Committee. But interviews with group leaders and numerous town hall participants also make clear that increasing coordination has boosted turnout at many of the meetings, and it has focused the messages of many protesters.

One of the most visible groups is Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax and anti-regulation group known for opposing smoking restrictions and for trying to cast doubt on global warming. The group launched a project called "Patients First" in June and has been conducting bus tours around the country to drum up opposition to the health-care legislation.

Armey has come under fire from Democrats for leading FreedomWorks while working at DLA Piper, a firm lobbying on behalf of New Jersey pharmaceutical company Medicines Co. Armey announced Friday that he was quitting DLA Piper to protect it from "spurious attacks" over his role as a lobbyist.

Leaders of conservative groups and at the RNC have sought to distance themselves from some of the most provocative protest tactics, including shouting down lawmakers or carrying signs equating Obama to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. But these leaders also are unabashed in defending an aggressive posture; FreedomWorks features a quote from Armey on its Web site: "If you are going to go ugly, go ugly early."

The complex forces at play in the unrest were visible at town halls last week hosted by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.). At a meeting in the city of State College, Pa., hundreds of protesters gathered outside a convention hall, chanting and holding colorful picket signs bearing the logos of various conservative groups. Americans for Prosperity brought a "Patients First" bus emblazoned with a giant red hand and the slogan: "Hands Off Our Health Care!"

But the scene inside was calm. Many attendees were local residents who said they were motivated to turn out not by conservative groups but by personal opposition to Democratic health-care policies.

Rahm Emanuel is emerging as perhaps the most influential White House chief of staff in a generation. But with prominence comes a high degree of risk.

From The New York Times:

Seven months after moving into his office in the West Wing, Mr. [Rahm] Emanuel is emerging as perhaps the most influential White House chief of staff in a generation. But with his prominence in almost everything important going on in Washington comes a high degree of risk.

As the principal author of Mr. Obama’s do-everything-at-once strategy, he stands to become a figure of consequence in his own right if the administration stabilizes the economy and financial markets, overhauls the health care system and winds down one war while successfully prosecuting another.

If things do not go well — and right now Mr. Obama’s political popularity is declining, his health care legislation is under conservative assault, the budget deficit is at an eye-popping level and Afghanistan remains volatile — it is Mr. Emanuel whose job will be on the line before Mr. Obama’s.

“He’s about to be tested; he’s spinning a lot of plates over there and he breaks a lot of china,” said Joel Johnson, a close friend and fellow veteran official of the Clinton White House. “They’ve had some good success early on, but they’ve got a number of major pieces of the agenda in the queue, and it’s going to be really difficult.”

The caricature of Mr. Emanuel as a profanity-spewing operative has given way to a more nuanced view: as a profanity-spewing operative with a keen understanding of how to employ power on behalf of a new president with relatively little experience in Washington.

Although relentlessly deferential to the president, Mr. Emanuel is clearly more chief than staff. While some predecessors husbanded their authority, lest it be diluted, friends said he believed the more someone used power, the more power that person had.

He knows how to pull all the levers of influence in Washington — raising money, mobilizing interest groups and harvesting the latest policy ideas from research groups. At the same time, his relentless campaign-style approach sometimes leaves some colleagues worried they spend too much time reacting to events.

At times, it seems as if Mr. Emanuel is White House chief of staff, political director, legislative director and communications director all rolled into one. He has fingers in almost every decision, like who gets invited to social events at the White House and how to shape economic and foreign policy.

He carries a notecard in his pocket with a list of things to accomplish and marks them off obsessively. He requires cabinet secretaries and all West Wing departments to submit written reports each week and returns them with terse notes in the margins.

“He can juggle 20 or 25 things in one day, in part by delegating and in part by picking only the things that matter,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican congressman recruited by Mr. Emanuel to serve in the cabinet.

What comes through in interviews with roughly 60 people in the White House, on Capitol Hill and around Washington is an intense engagement built on a series of testosterone-driven aphorisms:

“Put points on the board.”

“In politics, you’re either pitching or catching.”

“A man never stands as tall as when he is on all fours kissing” rear ends.

In other words, take what victories you can, stay on the offensive and do not be afraid to stroke big egos to advance the president’s agenda.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

New life for downtown Macy’s building

An artist's rendering of proposed renovations to the exterior of 200 Peachtree Street.

The glamorous, 14-foot-high teardrop chandeliers in the former Macy's building downtown soon will sparkle again. They will be the backdrop for a special events space called The Atrium that is scheduled to open in February.

I did a 7-19-08 post entitled "What great news: Historic Macy's building on Peachtree, formerly Davison's, to become shops and restaurants in $30 million redo. Please do it right!"

Today the ajc brings us up to date. For those who remember Davison's, Davison-Paxon’s and Rich's (or, as someone commented on my July 2008 post, remembers her grandmother calling it the Davison-Paxon Company), the following article from the ajc is presented in full:

The glamorous, 14-foot-high teardrop chandeliers in the former Macy’s building downtown soon will have a new reason to sparkle.

Even in this gloomy economy.

Within the year, the memorable fixtures will help illuminate weddings, parties and special events.

Construction started this week that will transform the three main shopping floors of the 82-year-old building on Peachtree Street into an events venue.

The Grand Atrium and The Gallery events spaces are scheduled to open in early 2010, along with two restaurants, Meehan’s Public House and Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint. Later, a traveling exhibits venue will open on the ground floor.

A team of 25 investors, led by Robert Patterson, is rebranding the building as 200 Peachtree. Their hope is the once grand centerpiece of downtown will be revived as a key element of downtown economic life, six years after Macy’s left.

But the decision to pursue a multi-use plan also reflects the reality that downtown’s glory days as a shopping district are long gone. Various post-Macy’s ideas for retail in building haven’t panned out.

“People come downtown to do things, not necessarily shop,” said Patterson, a native Atlantan who has worked in real estate. “Retail has been hard hit, especially apparel, which in the past was on an aggressive expansion. It seems to be taking a couple of years off.”

Although hidden in the modern skyline, the Macy’s building is beloved by some for its architecture.

“With its base of two-story arched openings, unadorned upper floors and prominent cornice, the massive block closely follows the prototype of the Italian Renaissance palazzo,” the American Institute of Architects said in a 1992 guide to the architecture of Atlanta.

Chief architect Philip Trammell Shutze is also well known to Atlantans for his work on the historic Swan House in Buckhead, among other notable buildings.

The Macy’s building cost $6 million to build in 1927. It was then the largest department store south of Philadelphia and among the first to have air conditioning, according to the Atlanta History Center.

The store opened as a Davison-Paxon’s, a banner it wore for decades, even though it was owned by New York-based R.H. Macy & Co. It took the Macy’s name in 1985.

Most department stores were founded in America’s downtowns, but they bolted for the suburbs following residential populations and the rise of malls.

Macy’s one-time rival, Rich’s, closed its downtown store in 1991. Macy’s closed its doors on Peachtree in 2003. Since then, downtown’s retail scene has veered toward tourists.

[Two holiday traditions associated with Rich's were the Great Tree and the Pink Pig. My grandkids still ride the Pink Pig each Christmas. Unlike Davison-Paxon's or Davison's, Rich's was an Atlanta-based department store. Dick Rich, an acquaintance of my aunt and uncle who lived in Decatur in the fifties and sixties, ran the organization during my youth. Under his leadership, Rich's opened its first suburban store at Lenox Square in 1959, Georgia's first shopping mall. What an event that was. (Date from Wikipedia.)]

A few national retailers remain clustered around the Peachtree Center office towers. Many national chains that opened downtown for the 1996 Olympics later pulled out. The shops remaining at Underground Atlanta mostly cater to visitors, as do those near other downtown attractions.

Ideas floated for the Macy’s space after the store closed included condos, the civil rights museum, a Target and a gallery of retail shops with a food court. Two prominent developers, Kim King and the foundation of Tom Cousins, almost bought it but got cold feet.

The store landed on the Atlanta Preservation Center’s list of “most endangered” historic places in 2007.

“The biggest challenge is that we’ve got a lot of square footage, and a lot of it is not on Peachtree Street,” he said. Patterson said he has 142,000 square feet to lease over the three main floors. He will convert several of the original arched windows into entrances, but that still leaves large blocks of windowless space inside -- better for events, his group concluded.

In fact, since it closed the Macy’s building periodically served as a place for parties and a training center for Delta Air Lines employees.

To be sure, said Patterson, uses for the building could evolve if the economy improves.

Given the hard economic times, and the fact the building was mostly empty since Macy’s vacated it in 2003, downtown boosters like Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson are excited to see its revival.

“The building was dark for a number of years,” Robinson said. “I think they’re spending the right amount of capital. They are preserving the real character of the building. I’m encouraged at what they have been able to accomplish in what admittedly is the most difficult environment since the 1930s.”

The cost of the makeover is approximately $16 million, roughly the same price investors paid to gain control of the bottom three floors, Patterson said.

The investors group, called 180 Peachtree Retail LLC, bought the bottom floors about a year from Peachtree Carnegie, which owns the top five floors. Those are leased to a data center, Atlanta’s 911 service and an architecture firm.

The Macy’s building isn’t the first downtown space to change strategies due to the economy. The Glenn Hotel, a few blocks away at Marietta and Spring streets, transformed some of its underperforming restaurant into event space.

Mark Vaughan, chief sales and marketing officer for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, doesn’t worry about the meeting space hitting at a time when the convention business is hurting.

“It fills a void for us,” he said, noting the building is “almost a whole square block, connected to the Westin (Peachtree Plaza hotel), on our showcase street in the city. That creates more activity and more vibrancy along Peachtree Street.”

“It gives us one more cool thing on Peachtree Street to get excited about,” agreed Ed Walls, general manager of the signature hotel. He said he looks forward to partnering with 200 Peachtree on booking the meeting space.

Patterson said he hopes that the aging Peachtree landmark will become “a real hub of activity for years to come. A center of excitement. That’s what downtown is all about.”


*Restaurants: A Meehan’s Public House, from 101 Concepts, opens in January. Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint by Global Concessions, operator of One Flew South in the airport, opens in March. Atlanta has approved valet parking on Peachtree St. for the restaurants.

*Event spaces: The Grand Atrium and The Gallery on the mezzanine and lobby levels.

*Traveling exhibit space on the terrace level. Developers are seeking a naming rights sponsor and Exhibit Consortium will manage it.

*The renovations are being handled by architecture firm CNNA and construction firm R.J. Griffin & Co.

*Office: Top five floors are leased to a data center, Atlanta’s 911 service and an architecture firm.

Source: 200 Peachtree.


The teardrop chandeliers that are a trademark of the former downtown Macy’s building once hung in the chain’s flagship Herald Square store in New York. They were removed during World War II to conserve energy. After the war the chandeliers reappeared in the downtown Atlanta Davison’s, which became Macy’s in 1985.

Well I'll be damn. Thanks Rep. Westmoreland. This is the first thing I have ever thought you said that was worth sharing with my readers.

From the LaGrange Daily News:

U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, one of President Obama’s most vocal critics, said he does not believe the health-care bill being debated in Congress includes provisions for a “death panel,” where a group would decide whether the elderly and infirm are worth the cost of medical expenses.

The second-term Republican congressman from Grantville said he is opposed to the plan, but doesn’t believe the nation’s elderly would be in danger.

[On another topic,] Westmoreland said that unlike the “birther” movement, he’s taking the president’s word that he was born in the United States.

“All I can do is take him at his word,” Westmoreland said. “I think if he wasn’t a U.S. citizen, the McCain campaign would have more than looked into it.”

Illegal Immigration Enters the Health-Care Debate -- An Issue 'No One Wants to Touch'

From The Wall Street Journal:

VALLEJO, Calif. -- A health clinic in this blue-collar city north of Oakland, partly funded by the county, is saving local hospitals thousands of dollars in emergency-room visits by treating uninsured patients who suffer only non-urgent ailments.

A watchdog group is now calling on county officials to cut funding for clinic patients who can't prove they are in the U.S. legally, a debate certain to surface in the national health-care overhaul.

With congressional proposals already stirring raw emotions, few supporters are eager to add the incendiary issue of illegal immigration. A provision in the House's health-care-overhaul bill rules out federal funding for illegal immigrants.

But in many ways, illegal immigration is at the nexus of two key health issues: the uninsured and ballooning costs.

Roughly half of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. don't have health insurance, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group. [Only half; this is not my experience. I would put the percentage much, much higher. But I do respect Pew's research.] Like others who can't afford medical care, illegal immigrants tend to flock to hospital emergency rooms, which, under a 1986 law, can't turn people away, even if they can't pay. Emergency-room visits, where treatment costs are much higher than in clinics, jumped 32% nationally between 1996 and 2006, the latest data available.

The role illegal immigrants play in U.S. health-care costs is "one hot button that no one wants to touch," says Stephen Zuckerman, an economist at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

As in emergency rooms, patients aren't asked about their immigration status.

Costs at such primary-care centers are probably 10% to 15% the cost of treatment in a hospital emergency room, says Paul Mango, head of the health-care practice at McKinsey & Co.

Residents have since complained to a 19-member county-appointed watchdog group about taxpayer money La Clínica going to health care for people living in the U.S. illegally. Neither the clinic nor the Sutter [hospital] emergency room ask people their immigration status.

"All we can ask them is their name, date of birth and chief complaint," says Ms. Hammons, the Sutter emergency-department manager. "Heavens, we don't deny anybody treatment. You are required to see anyone who shows up at the emergency department."

Mike Reagan, a Solano County supervisor who originally voted for the clinic's funding, now says the facility should erect a "firewall" to prevent taxpayer money from going to illegal immigrants. "I'm not in favor of rewarding illegal behavior in any form," he says.

This will be a classic, another gunfight at the O.K. Corral -- Governor’s Race Exposes Republican Rift in Texas

From The New York Times:

The battle shaping up in the Texas Republican Party over whether [Gov. Rick Perry] deserves another four years mirrors the larger conflict between the Republicans’ moderate and conservative wings on the national level, strategists say.

“This is a civil war,” Mr. Perry said in an interview, “brother against brother.”

Mr. Perry’s opponent is Kay Bailey Hutchison, the state’s senior senator. On most issues, Ms. Hutchison is also a steady conservative hand, but her tone is more moderate, her positions on social issues are more nuanced, her votes on government spending are more pragmatic.

“I do not want a governor who is going to narrow our base, make it dwindle,” Ms. Hutchison said in a speech this week. “That is what has happened at the national level, and that is not going to happen in Texas.”

“I will work to build the Republican Party,” she added, “not make it narrower. I am for Ronald Reagan’s big tent.”

Elected to the Senate 16 years ago, Ms. Hutchison, now 66, has wanted for a long time to be governor. She pulled out of the governor’s race in 2006 only after several major Republican donors persuaded her that Mr. Perry would not run for a third term.

Ms. Hutchison argues that Mr. Perry’s aggressive courtship of conservatives has alienated moderates, independents and minorities.

Some of those people fear that the rightward tilt of the state party organization leaves an opening for a Democrat to win back the governorship for the first time since Ann Richards captured it 19 years ago.

Mr. Perry, on the other hand, enjoys strong support from evangelical leaders and the voters who usually turn out heavily in the primaries: members of antitax groups, religious conservatives, creationists, foes of abortion and a variety of other Texans opposed to big government.

Ms. Hutchison has amassed $12.5 million for her run, to Mr. Perry’s $9.3 million. Though she has yet to resign from the Senate to stump full time, her campaign is already in high gear, its press office producing daily attacks on the governor.

But the senator was largely silent for the first half of the year, and her early reluctance to engage Mr. Perry has hurt her, Republican strategists say. Several recent polls suggest that he now has a significant lead among primary voters.

The Obama administration and the drug firms: Armey knew about these strange legislative bedfellows. He must have thought he could work both sides.

From The New York Times:

Dick Armey, the former House Republican leader, has quit his job with the lobbying firm DLA Piper amid complaints from its drug company clients about his work opposing President Obama’s health care overhaul.

His departure is the latest example of the confusing entanglements arising from the health care debate.

To review the facts of this case: the drug companies who helped defeat the Clinton administration health care effort 15 years ago have now turned on Mr. Armey, who then was one of their most important Congressional allies. Now, having cut a deal with this administration to limit their share of the costs, the drug companies are on the other side. Foreseeing new profits from the expansion of health coverage, they are spending as much as $150 million on advertisements to support the president’s plan.

To their embarrassment, however, Mr. Armey has continued to oppose the plan as the chairman of the independent conservative group FreedomWorks. The group has helped turn out rowdy demonstrators at town-hall-style meetings with lawmakers around the country.