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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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I am a lawyer; please explain the logic: The FHA goes upmarket -- Washington's latest benefit for the not-so-poor

From The Washington Post:

Created during the depths of the Great Depression, the Federal Housing Administration has a long history of supporting homeownership in the United States. In recent decades, its mission has been to enable lower-income Americans to tap otherwise inaccessible mortgage credit. Purchasers who meet certain qualifications can get a house with a lower-than-usual down payment -- as little as 3.5 percent, currently -- and the FHA compensates the lenders for the added risk by agreeing to pay off defaulted loans. The money comes from buyers' insurance premiums, not tax revenue, but these deals are possible only because, in the final analysis, they're backed by the U.S. government.

One may debate the costs and benefits of the FHA's historical role. At relatively low upfront taxpayer cost, it has helped expand homeownership, even though many loans went sour over the years. But what must be debated, and indeed challenged, is the stepped-up use of the FHA to boost demand for, and hence the price of, houses in the current crisis. This is true not only because of the fiscal implications; the FHA's reserves are currently below the statutory minimum, raising the specter of an eventual taxpayer rescue. It is true also because of the regressive distributional implications; the FHA is increasingly helping people who are decidedly not poor to buy houses that are anything but modest.

Legislation last year nearly doubled the maximum mortgage the FHA could insure, to $729,750 for single-unit properties and almost $1 million for multi-unit ones. As a result, the FHA is moving into expensive markets, especially on the West Coast, in which it previously had little or no role. Even some fairly fancy condo buildings are now trumpeting FHA financing. As the New York Times reported recently, among those buying property with little or no money down, thanks to FHA, are investors and well-off people who could have come up with more equity.

Switzerland votes to prohibit the building of mosque minarets -- The latest sign of a backlash against Muslim immigrants in Western Europe

A poster of the conservative initiative

From The Washington Post:

Voters in Switzerland decided Sunday to ban the building of minarets, in a referendum that showed an unexpected level of resentment against Muslim immigrants in a country long known for discretion and tolerance.

Opinion polls in recent months had indicated that a majority of voters would reject the measure, fearful of an impact on the country's reputation and ability to do business in the Muslim world. But official results on Sunday showed a surprisingly strong 57.5 percent of those voting endorsed it, against 42.5 percent who opposed.

The ballot was the latest sign of a backlash against Muslim immigrants in Western Europe, where Christian voters appear increasingly eager to preserve their traditional ways in the face of expanded Muslim populations.

The Wall Street Journal has an article that has a quote utilizing a couple of adjectives:

[T]he Organization of the Islamic Conference, the biggest Muslim group with 57 member states, called the vote a "recent example of growing anti-Islamic incitements in Europe by extremist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist, scare-mongering ultra-right politicians who reign over common sense, wisdom and universal values."

The Swiss government, which waged an aggressive campaign against the initiative, has feared a backlash similar to that suffered by Denmark several years ago after the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

A number of Swiss companies, such as engineering group ABB Ltd and food maker Nestle SA, have large interests in Muslim countries. For instance, food maker Nestle SA has about 50 factories in the Muslim world and is the world's largest producer of halal food, or food permissible under Islamic law. Nestle has recently begun expanding its halal business in Europe, targeting the Continent's growing Muslim population.

"Nestlé cannot be associated with any form of discrimination," the company said in a statement.

In health-care reform, no deficit cure -- Debate rages over bill's impact on costs -- and how much that matters

From The Washington Post:

As the long battle over health care is rejoined in the Senate this week, experts remain deeply divided over whether the legislation would rein in soaring health-care costs or simply add millions of people to a system that is already driving the nation toward bankruptcy.

Optimists say the $848 billion package drafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) contains all the most promising ideas for transforming the health-care system and encouraging doctors and hospitals to work more efficiently. They say it would eventually reduce both private premiums and the swelling cost of government health care for the elderly and poor.

Even pessimists don't necessarily disagree. But they see scant evidence that those ideas would quickly bear fruit, and in the short term they fear that the initiative would leave Washington struggling to pay for a new $200 billion-a-year health program even as existing programs require vast infusions of cash to care for the aging baby-boom generation.

Those concerns were magnified by the release of Reid's bill, which the Senate will begin debating on Monday. Democrats were thrilled when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the package was fully "paid for" -- meaning lawmakers had identified spending cuts and tax increases sufficient to cover the cost of expanding coverage to 30 million additional people.

But the measure would not deliver on Democrats' most ambitious claims, the CBO found. While the package would not worsen the nation's record deficits, it would not significantly improve them, either now or in the future. Reid's bill would shave less than 2 percent from deficits projected to top $9 trillion over the next decade. And it would make only "small reductions" after that, the CBO said -- about 0.25 percent of GDP -- to deficits projected to balloon to roughly 14 percent of the economy by 2035.

"The hope that health-care reform would take care of our budget problem has evaporated," said Isabel Sawhill, a fiscal expert at the Brookings Institution.

Many budget experts also worry that lawmakers may not have the stomach to keep the new taxes and spending cuts intended to pay for the package. Republicans are already planning to offer an amendment to strike more than $400 billion in proposed Medicare cuts from the package, a move that would blow a huge hole in financing for the bill.

In merging bills drafted in committee, meanwhile, Reid significantly watered down two of the most important cost-containment provisions: a tax on high-cost health insurance policies that was opposed by labor unions and an independent commission that had been designed to automatically and methodically restrain Medicare spending. Senior White House officials have called those provisions critical, but House leaders are adamantly opposed to both.

"I do give them credit for shooting for deficit reduction as a target," said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the nonprofit Concord Coalition, which promotes a balanced federal budget. "But this bill is not bending the cost curve. Even if these things work, it's not of the magnitude that is needed to prevent us from going over the cliff."

Comment on the restoration of the historic Macy's building on Peachtree, formerly Davison's

It is very common for comments to be made to a post weeks or even months after the post, thus making it very unlikely the comment will be read by other readers. The following is a comment that was posted yesterday to an 8-15-09 post entitled "New life for downtown Macy’s building.", and is most definitely worth sharing (the photos are from the earlier post):

I am so glad that the old Davison's building is being saved. I am 66 years old now but I still remember the first day I went to work there in the display department. In a way it's sad that some things have to change. I do miss the Rich's building too. But the Davison's building was a southern showplace for all to enjoy. It had show windows all the way accross the front and on the side and with a huge corner window where we use to create the most beautiful displays. The main floor interior was a stately showplace, especially at Christmas. At Christmas the beautiful chandliers had the most beautiful trim and little red shades were on every light. The ground floor cosmetic and accessory ledges held the most beautiful manniquins dressed in fashions from all over the world. Each spring we transformed the store into a theme of some sort from around the world and it lasted for two weeks. Its nice to dream......Again I say "Thank You" for saving the old building. I hope to visit her again someday.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Good show Rumsfeld; I know your buddy Cheney is proud of you. -- Senate Report: Bin Laden Was 'Within Our Grasp'

From The Wall Street Journal:

Osama bin Laden was unquestionably within reach of U.S. troops in the mountains of Tora Bora when American military leaders made the crucial and costly decision not to pursue the terrorist leader with massive force, a Senate report says.

The report asserts that the failure to kill or capture Mr. bin Laden at his most vulnerable in December 2001 has had lasting consequences beyond the fate of one man. Mr. bin Laden's escape laid the foundation for today's reinvigorated Afghan insurgency and inflamed the internal strife now endangering Pakistan, it says.

Although limited to a review of military operations eight years old, the report could also be read as a cautionary note for those resisting an increased troop presence there now. More pointedly, it seeks to affix a measure of blame for the state of the war today on military leaders under former president George W. Bush, specifically Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary and his top military commander, Tommy Franks.

"Removing the al-Qaida leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat," the report says. "But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism."

The report states categorically that Mr. bin Laden was hiding in Tora Bora when the U.S. had the means to mount a rapid assault with several thousand troops at least. It says that a review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants "removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora."

On or about Dec. 16, 2001, Mr. bin Laden and bodyguards "walked unmolested out of Tora Bora and disappeared into Pakistan's unregulated tribal area," where he is still believed to be based, the report says. Instead of a massive attack, fewer than 100 U.S. commandos, working with Afghan militias, tried to capitalize on air strikes and track down their prey.

"The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines," the report said. At the time, Mr. Rumsfeld expressed concern that a large U.S. troop presence might fuel a backlash and he and some others said the evidence wasn't conclusive about Mr. bin Laden's location.

Nuclear power regains support -- Even green groups see it as 'part of the answer'

The partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant, shown this month [March 2009], set back nuclear power in U.S. for decades.

A 3-29-2009 post was entitled "Yes! Nuclear-Power Industry Enjoys Revival 30 Years After Accident."

The following is from the 11-24-09 issue of The Washington Post:

Nuclear power -- long considered environmentally hazardous -- is emerging as perhaps the world's most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.

It has been 13 years since the last new nuclear power plant opened in the United States. But around the world, nations under pressure to reduce the production of climate-warming gases are turning to low-emission nuclear energy as never before. The Obama administration and leading Democrats, in an effort to win greater support for climate change legislation, are eyeing federal tax incentives and loan guarantees to fund a new crop of nuclear power plants across the United States that could eventually help drive down carbon emissions.

From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors . . . .

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You have your hands full Obama. Leave the prison alone. -- Official Charged With Closing Guantánamo Quits

From The New York Times:

The Defense Department official in charge of closing the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has resigned after only seven months in the job, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Mr. Carter’s departure comes as the administration has acknowledged that it will not be able to close the prison by Jan. 22, the self-imposed deadline Mr. Obama announced immediately after taking office.

Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel in charge of detainee policy for Mr. Obama, also announced his resignation this month.

Not good. So much for nation building Mr. Cheney: Vote in Iraq reinforces divisions that have previously threatened to plunge country into civil war.

From The New York Times:

Iraq’s tortuous effort to hold its parliamentary election on schedule in January collapsed Monday, raising the prospect of a political and constitutional crisis next year as the United States begins withdrawing the majority of its combat troops.

The moves deepened a crisis that had fleetingly seemed resolved after months of wrangling over how to set up the vote, widely seen as a barometer of Iraq’s progress toward democracy.

The failure to agree on even the terms of the election has inflamed ethnic and sectarian tensions that had waned somewhat in the last year or so. The dispute underscored the depth of mistrust that remains despite improvements in security and campaign pledges by major coalitions to unite Iraq.

The Obama administration and the American commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, have long planned the withdrawal of American forces around the expectation that the election would take place in January.

The vote reinforced divisions that have previously threatened to plunge the country into civil war, with Sunnis feeling disenfranchised by a Shiite-led government.

And from The Washington Post:

Iraqi lawmakers on Monday approved an amended law to organize parliamentary elections next year, a ballot seen as crucial to U.S. plans to withdraw combat troops.

The law was pushed through by Shiite and Kurdish legislators over the objection of Sunni Arabs. Its passage was the latest turn in protracted efforts to agree on an election law that has roiled Iraqi politics and underscored the divisions that dominate political life here.

The voting also suggested a scenario that U.S. officials have dreaded: a repeat of the 2005 election in which Sunnis were aggrieved and effectively disenfranchised, setting the stage for civil strife.

The election law is key to U.S. plans to withdraw combat troops from Iraq next August, reducing the military presence from 115,000 troops to 50,000. But the timeline for that pullout depends on the success of the elections, which will choose a new parliament.

From the Cracker Squire Archives -- Cheney warns of quagmire in Iraq, circa 1994

From an 8-14-07 post:

[The above YouTube clip] is an interview with private citizen Dick Cheney after the Gulf War in which he explains why Bush I did not go on to Baghdad and take Suddam out after American troops and U.S. led forces liberated Kuwait. I predict we will see more of such.

It is very similar to a lecture I heard Mr. Cheney make that is the subject the following 10-4-04 post:

I have tried unsuccessfully to get what I am fixing to relate to Sen. Edwards' campaign prior to tonight's Vice Presidential debate. It concerns something Dick Cheney said while he was a private citizen on the lecture circuit about halfway between his service to Bush I as Secretary of Defense and becoming part of the Bush II team as Vice President.

What I heard I feel certain was said over and over as Mr. Cheney was on the lecture circuit across the country. Some of the same thoughts are in Bush I's book, but dern if you hear anything about it from the Kerry camp.

The lecture was at the Florida Theater in Jacksonville, Florida, as part of something called the Florida Forum Series. This series seeks to bring some of the world's most widely known public figures to Jacksonville, Florida, with the series benefiting Wolfson Children's Hospital.

The last lecture I attended there was in September 2002, and the lecturer was Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a fascinating evening program and presentation wise.

Anyway, when Cheney was in Jacksonville in the mid-90's, he had no reason to fabricate, exaggerate, etc. Bush I had been retired, and Bush II was still just a cowboy.

After a fascinating lecture, a person in the audience asked the following question: Mr. Secretary, after American troops and U.S. led forces liberated Kuwait, why did we stop at Iraq's southern border; why didn't we go on to Baghdad and take Suddam out.

I remember the respond as if it were this morning, someone having asked a question about which so many Americans such as myself had wondered.

Two reasons citizen Cheney said: First, the history of this region of the world and our own intelligence convinced us that as bad as Suddam was, his not being there would probably be worse. Without question the whole area could be rendered less stable, and just as surely civil war between the Shiites, Sunni and the Kurds would erupt, with more fighting and bloodshed than the liberation of Kuwait had involved.

And second and equally important reason he stated, was that the coalition was not with us; it strongly opposed and would not support going on to Baghdad. And just as was the case with the decision to retake Kuwait, having the coalition was deemed imperative.

But shift the clock forward several years, and Bob Woodward in his book Plan of Attack tells us that Cheney, unlike Powell, could not wait to get back to Iraq.

Thus if I were asking the questions tonight, I would ask the Veep how were things different in 1992 and 2002. If there were not WMD's and a link with bin Laden, had history changed; was having the coalition no longer important?

In a 9-23-04 post I provided another theory of mine as to why we went in, something I don't really think is true for reasons other than I just don't want it to be true (and even though I still feel I and the rest of America have blood on our hands). That post provided:

This whole thing sort of reminds me of something that happened in 1991 when the Vice President was Secretary of Defense, and is a pet theory of mine of providing at least part of the answer as to why Cheney was so bound and determined to invade Iraq and get Hussein, with or without supporting evidence, and with or without the coalition we had when we went in Kuwait.

After American troops and U.S. led forces liberated Kuwait and then stopped at Iraq's southern border, Bush I encouraged Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south to take matters into their own hands and get rid of Suddam.

Such groups, and especially the Kurds, did just that, rising in revolt against Suddam. But no help was forthcoming from America, as Bush I withheld American military support when their uprisings drew savage retribution from Baghdad.

It is something that I wish I could forget but cannot. I have never blamed Bush I for this per se; rather it is something I regard as America as a country getting blood on its hands.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alan Judd and James Salzer pen a classic in the AJC entitled "Glenn Richardson: Private, public stress form a 'perfect storm'"

Rarely does one come across such great reporting in an article written so close in time to the event about which it is reporting and yet be so thorough and insightful as one on Speaker Richardson that was posted this weekend in the AJC.

Congratulations on a job well done to Alan Judd and James Salzer.

Unlike many posts on this blog, I would not dare post part but not all of what these two journalists have so skillfully produced. Read the entire article at this link to the AJC.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Al-Qaeda in Iraq regaining strength

From The Washington Post:

The Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has rebounded in strength in recent months and appears to be launching a concerted effort to cripple the Iraqi government as U.S. troops withdraw, Iraqi and American officials say.

The gerrymandering of political districts means politicians of each party can now choose their own voters and never have to appeal to the center.

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

President Obama’s visit to China this week inevitably invites comparisons between the world’s two leading powers. You know what they say: Britain owned the 19th century, America owned the 20th century, and, it’s all but certain that China will own the 21st century. Maybe, but I’m not ready to cede the 21st century to China just yet.

Why not? It has to do with the fact that we are moving into a hyperintegrated world in which all aspects of production — raw materials, design, manufacturing, distribution, fulfillment, financing and branding — have become commodities that can be accessed from anywhere by anyone. But there are still two really important things that can’t be commoditized. Fortunately, America still has one of them: imagination.

But while our culture of imagination is still vibrant, the other critical factor that still differentiates countries today — and is not a commodity — is good governance, which can harness creativity. And that we may be losing. I am talking about the ability of a society’s leaders to think long term, address their problems with the optimal legislation and attract capable people into government. What I increasingly fear today is that America is only able to produce “suboptimal” responses to its biggest problems — education, debt, financial regulation, health care, energy and environment.

Why? Because at least six things have come together to fracture our public space and paralyze our ability to forge optimal solutions:

1) Money in politics has become so pervasive that lawmakers have to spend most of their time raising it, selling their souls to those who have it or defending themselves from the smallest interest groups with deep pockets that can trump the national interest.

2) The gerrymandering of political districts means politicians of each party can now choose their own voters and never have to appeal to the center.

3) The cable TV culture encourages shouting and segregating people into their own political echo chambers.

4) A permanent presidential campaign leaves little time for governing.

5) The Internet, which, at its best, provides a check on elites and establishments and opens the way for new voices and, which, at its worst provides a home for every extreme view and spawns digital lynch mobs from across the political spectrum that attack anyone who departs from their specific orthodoxy.

6) A U.S. business community that has become so globalized that it only comes to Washington to lobby for its own narrow interests; it rarely speaks out anymore in defense of national issues like health care, education and open markets.

These six factors are pushing our system, which was designed to have divided powers and to force compromises, into the realm of paralysis. To get anything big done now, we have to generate so many compromises — couched in 1,000-plus-page bills — with so many different interest groups that the solutions are totally suboptimal. We just get the sum of all interest groups.

So what do we do?

The standard answer is that we need better leaders. The real answer is that we need better citizens. We need citizens who will convey to their leaders that they are ready to sacrifice, even pay, yes, higher taxes, and will not punish politicians who ask them to do the hard things. Otherwise, folks, we’re in trouble. A great power that can only produce suboptimal responses to its biggest challenges will, in time, fade from being a great power — no matter how much imagination it generates.

Based on what is currently going on with regard to settlements on the West Bank, I truthfully could not believe Palin gave this response.

From a column by Frank Rich in The New York Times:

After the Palin-McCain ticket lost, conservative pundits admonished her to start studying the issues. If “Going Rogue” and its promotional interviews are any indication, she has ignored their entreaties during her months at liberty. Last week, Greta Van Susteren chastised Oprah for not asking Palin “one policy question,” but when Barbara Walters did ask some, Palin either recycled Dick Cheney verbatim (Obama is “dithering”) or ran aground. Her argument for why “Jewish settlements” should be expanded on the West Bank was that “more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead.” It was unclear what she was talking about — unless it was the “rapture” theology that requires the mass return of Jews to settle the Holy Land as a precondition for the return of Christ.

Stay tuned for Part II: Wall Street Finds Profits Again, Now by Reducing Mortgages

From The New York Times:

As millions of Americans struggle to hold on to their homes, Wall Street has found a way to make money from the mortgage mess.

Investment funds are buying billions of dollars’ worth of home loans, discounted from the loans’ original value. Then, in what might seem an act of charity, the funds are helping homeowners by reducing the size of the loans.

But as part of these deals, the mortgages are being refinanced through lenders that work with government agencies like the Federal Housing Administration. This enables the funds to pocket sizable profits by reselling new, government-insured loans to other federal agencies, which then bundle the mortgages into securities for sale to investors.

While homeowners save money, the arrangement shifts nearly all the risk for the loans to the federal government — and, ultimately, taxpayers — at a time when Americans are falling behind on their mortgage payments in record numbers.

The strategy has created an unusual alliance between Wall Street funds that specialize in troubled investments — the industry calls them “vulture” funds — and American homeowners.

But the transactions also add to the potential burden on government agencies, particularly the F.H.A., which has lately taken on an outsize role in the housing market and, some fear, may eventually need to be bailed out at taxpayer expense.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

(1) Timing is so, so important. (2) The Democratic Party is experiencing a little intraparty stress.

A 11-8-09 post entitled "The White House has gotten bad at listening, and now it's paying the price" provided in part:

In 2009, the Democrats who run the White House and Congress chose to go down one path at the exact moment voters went down a different one.

A president has only so much time. Mr. Obama gives a lot of his to health care. But the majority of voters in New Jersey and Virginia told pollsters they were primarily worried about joblessness and the economy. They're on another path, and they don't like the path he's chosen. A majority in a Gallup poll out Wednesday said they now think the president governs from the left, not the middle. The majority did not expect that a year ago.

Today The Wall Street Journal has an article entitled "Strains in Party Threaten Democrats' Plans -- Lawmakers Feel Pressure to Respond to Voters' Economic Pain as White House, Allies Focus Efforts on Passing Health Overhaul," that reads in part as follows:

The Democratic Party's broad ruling coalition is starting to fracture as lawmakers come under increasing pressure from the left to respond to voter anger over joblessness and Wall Street bailouts.
Tensions boiled over this week, with an angry party caucus meeting Monday in the House, and black lawmakers Thursday threatening to block legislation in protest of President Barack Obama's economic policies. Along the way, members of both parties grilled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner over his ties to Wall Street, and some called on him to resign.

The squabbling is turning up pressure on the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to respond, a challenge when their focus is on passing a health-care overhaul. That appears less important to voters than finding solutions to economic woes, suggesting the weak labor market could overwhelm Mr. Obama's domestic agenda.

"The 2008 election wasn't about health care. It was about the economy," said David Beattie, a Democratic pollster whose clients are running for office in competitive states including Colorado, Florida and Georgia. "But we've been addressing health care and energy. People are hurting, and they want something done to alleviate that."

My own frustration has been obvious in recent recents, and was noted in a little ink I got in an article by Aaron Sheinin in the 11-19-09 issue of the AJC.

In his article Aasron investigated how our gubernatorial candidates felt about the opt out provision of the so-called "public option," and he also reported on an early November poll of residents of 11 Southern states, including Georgia, about health reform in general.

In the article I was quoted as confirming the necessity of health care reform, but questioning the timing of the current health care debate in Congress, as follows:

Sid Cottingham, an attorney and Democrat in the south Georgia town of Douglas, calls health care "a freight train on the loose, and if we don't (pass reform) none of us are going to be able to afford it."

Cottingham, who publishes a political blog called "Cracker Squire," said the costs of the Democrats plan -- estimated between $900 billion and $1.2 trillion over 10 years -- might be too high coming on the heels of bailouts of Wall Street and automakers and the $800 billion federal stimulus plan.

"Bad facts make bad law and the timing has been bad for Obama," Cottingham said. "If there was ever a time for restraint . . ."

Hospital Falters as Refuge for Illegal Immigrants

This topic was the subject of an earlier 9-24-09 post entitled "Ground zero Grady clinic: An illegal immigrant from Honduras said she could only hope to make it “back to my country to die.” -- Start packing."

Today there is a follow-up article in The New York Times that reads in part:

[A]t a cost of about $50,000 a year [each, illegal immigrants have relied on Grady Memorial Hospital for dialysis for years.]

Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning, the 15 or so patients would settle into their recliners, four to a room, and while away the monotonous three-hour treatments by chitchatting in Spanish.

That all changed on Oct. 4, when the strapped public hospital closed its outpatient dialysis clinic, leaving 51 patients — almost all illegal immigrants — in a life-or-death limbo.

For Grady, which has served Atlanta’s poor for 117 years, it was an excruciating choice, a stark reflection of what happens when the country’s inadequate health care system confronts its defective immigration policy.

Like other hospitals, particularly public hospitals, Grady has been left to provide costly treatments to nonpaying illegal residents who most likely could not have obtained such care in their home countries. American taxpayers and health care consumers have borne the expense.

Over time, the mounting losses have compromised Grady’s charitable mission, forcing layoffs, increases in fees and the elimination of services.

“Years and years of providing this free care has led Grady to the breaking point,” said Matt Gove, one of the hospital’s senior vice presidents. “If we don’t make the gut-wrenching decisions now, there won’t be a Grady later. Then, everyone loses.”

Officials at Grady, which will provide more than $300 million in uncompensated care this year, estimate that as many as a fifth of its uninsured patients are illegal immigrants.

Some of the Grady dialysis patients have chosen to return to their countries, encouraged by the hospital’s offer of free airfare, cash payments, three months of paid dialysis and assistance in seeking insurance or other long-term remedies. Others are trying their luck in states where Medicaid policies may be less restrictive.

But most remain in Atlanta, taking full advantage of a last-minute offer by the hospital, in response to a lawsuit, to pay for three months of dialysis at commercial clinics. They are hopeful that the reprieve will buy time for the lawsuit to progress or for private dialysis providers to take them as charity cases.

What they fear, however, is that their already fragile lives will soon be reduced to a frenzied search for their next dialysis, most likely in an emergency room after a descent into crisis.

[I]llegal immigrants are not eligible for Medicare, and legal immigrants must wait five years to qualify. A few states use emergency Medicaid programs to cover ongoing dialysis for certain illegal immigrants, but Georgia discontinued the practice in 2006.

Two years ago, the Grady board, then dominated by political appointees, undercut its chief executive’s plan to close the dialysis clinic. The new board, now led by business leaders, hopes to save the hospital by convincing corporations and other potential donors that its fiscal discipline is worthy of support.

Business Sours on Overhaul as Legislation Veers to Left

From The Wall Street Journal:

Chances of business supporting the Obama administration's health overhaul are fading fast, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's bill took a liberal turn.

The Obama administration has courted small businesses from the start, and at times executives have shown favor toward Democratic plans such as the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee last month.

But when Mr. Reid decided to include a new public health-insurance plan in his bill and added a Medicare payroll tax increase for high earners, business groups said enough was enough.

Several industry groups are banding together to ask Congress to scrap the current bills and start from scratch on a health overhaul.

[H]ealth-policy experts say employers are unlikely to get quick relief for their most pressing concern -- steep annual increases in health-insurance premiums.

The Senate bill fines employers up to $750 a year for each employee if they don't offer a health-insurance plan, and these employees get a new government tax credit to buy insurance on their own. Employers that offer insurance but not an affordable plan are fined the lesser of $3,000 for each worker who gets a tax credit or $750 for every employee. Employers with fewer than 50 workers are exempt, and small firms would get new tax credits to offset the cost of providing insurance.

My law office provides health insurance for our employees. Many, many small businesses do not. It is expensive, very expensive. Although my office has fewer than 50 workers and thus would be exempt under the Senate bill, a $750 annual fine hardly has me shacking in my boots considering my firm pays $900 or so a month per employee for an employee's health insurance.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Christian Leaders Unite on Political Issues

From The New York Times:

Citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to civil disobedience, 145 evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders have signed a declaration saying they will not cooperate with laws that they say could be used to compel their institutions to participate in abortions, or to bless or in any way recognize same-sex couples.

“We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence,” it says.

The manifesto, to be released on Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, is an effort to rejuvenate the political alliance of conservative Catholics and evangelicals that dominated the religious debate during the administration of President George W. Bush. The signers include nine Roman Catholic archbishops and the primate of the Orthodox Church in America.

They want to signal to the Obama administration and to Congress that they are still a formidable force that will not compromise on abortion, stem-cell research or gay marriage. They hope to influence current debates over health care reform, the same-sex marriage bill in Washington, D.C., and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

They say they also want to speak to younger Christians who have become engaged in issues like climate change and global poverty, and who are more accepting of homosexuality than their elders. They say they want to remind them that abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom are still paramount issues.

Air Defense Push Inspired by 9/11 Gets a 2nd Look

From The New York Times:

The commander of military forces protecting North America has ordered a review of the costly air defenses intended to prevent another Sept. 11-style terrorism attack, an assessment aimed at determining whether the commitment of jet fighters, other aircraft and crews remains justified.

Senior officers involved in the effort say the assessment is to gauge the likelihood that terrorists may succeed in hijacking an airliner or flying their own smaller craft into the United States or Canada. The study is focused on circumstances in which the attack would be aimed not at a public building or landmark but instead at a power plant or a critical link in the nation’s financial network, like a major electrical grid or a computer network hub.

The assessment is partly a reflection of how a military straining to fight two wars is questioning whether it makes sense to keep in place the costly system of protections established after those attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Though the last of the air patrols above American cities were discontinued in 2007, the military keeps dozens of warplanes and hundreds of air crew members on alert to respond to potential threats.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sen. Lindsey Graham has a dern good point: Holder Defends Decision to Use U.S. Court for 9/11 Trial

From The New York Times:

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, . . . argued that Mr. Holder’s decision was a mistake [because] in the future, he said, interrogators facing a freshly captured terrorist would fear jeopardizing a later prosecution.

“If you’re going to prosecute anybody in civilian court, our law is clear that the moment custodial interrogation occurs, the criminal defendant is entitled to a lawyer and to be informed of their right to remain silent,” Mr. Graham said. “The big problem I have is that you’re criminalizing the war.”

But Mr. Holder argued that Mr. Graham was raising a “red herring” because the government has ample evidence to prosecute high-level terrorists like the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, should he be captured. For that reason, interrogators need not worry about giving such a detainee a lawyer in order to make sure that their initial statements after being captured could be used as evidence.

Charge him something, anything. Send him to Yemen: Born in U.S., a Radical Cleric Inspires Terror

From The New York Times:

In nearly a dozen recent terrorism cases in the United States, Britain and Canada, investigators discovered the suspects had something in common: a devotion to the message of Anwar al-Awlaki, an eloquent Muslim cleric who has turned the Web into a tool for extremist indoctrination.

Mr. Awlaki, 38, the son of a former agriculture minister and university president in Yemen, has never been accused of planting explosives himself. But experts on terrorism believe his persuasive endorsement of violence as a religious duty, in colloquial, American-accented English, has helped push a series of Western Muslims into terrorism.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., on Nov. 5, is only the latest suspect accused of perpetrating or plotting violence to be linked to the cleric.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

First Iraq won't do business with the West; now Afghanistan: Afghan minister accused of taking bribe -- Massive mining project awarded to Chinese firm

From The Washington Post:

The Afghan minister of mines accepted a roughly $30 million bribe to award the country's largest development project to a Chinese mining firm, according to a U.S. official who is familiar with military intelligence reports.

The allegation, if proved true, would mark one of the most brazen examples of corruption yet disclosed in a country where the problem has become so pervasive that it is now at the heart of Obama administration doubts over Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reliability as a partner. The question of whether Karzai can address his government's graft and cronyism looms large as he prepares for his inauguration Thursday for a new term, and as President Obama completes a months-long strategy review that will define the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after eight years of war.

Karzai is coming under intense international pressure to clear his cabinet of ministers who have reaped huge profits through bribery and kickback schemes. Although he announced a new anti-corruption unit this week, the president has been reluctant to fire scandal-tainted ministers in the past, and it is unclear whether he is ready to do so now. Meanwhile, Afghans' perceptions that they are ruled by a thieving class have weakened support for the government and bolstered sympathy for the Taliban insurgency.

In the case of the minister of mines, there is a "high degree of certainty," the U.S. official said, that the alleged payment to Mohammad Ibrahim Adel was made in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, within a month of December 2007, when the state-run China Metallurgical Group Corp. received the contract for a $2.9 billion project to extract copper from the Aynak deposit in Logar province. Aynak is considered one of the largest unexploited copper deposits in the world.

The selection of the Chinese firm, known as MCC, has angered some Afghan and American officials who worked on the bidding process with Adel. They say he was biased toward the company and did not give a fair hearing to the proposals of Western firms. But the issue has also gained urgency because the ministry is reviewing offers for another massive mining deal -- this time for an iron ore deposit west of Kabul known as Haji Gak -- for which MCC is the front-runner.

I wish they would think about America & not Europe: Democrats reject ban on using funds for U.S. facilities to house Guantanamo prisoners

From The Washington Post:

The Senate on Tuesday rejected an attempt to bar using funds from a defense spending bill to build or modify prisons in the United States to hold detainees from Guantanamo Bay, a move that suggested congressional Democrats may be lining up behind President Obama's vision for closing the military prison.

[T]he vote was markedly different from one in May, when the Senate voted 90 to 6 to strip funds from a bill to close the prison, with Democrats joining Republicans in saying that Obama had not produced an adequate plan for Guantanamo. On Tuesday, only two Democrats, Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, joined the GOP, along with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let's keep our eyes on this one to see if President Obama stands tough: U.S. Attorney Nominee Criticized Over Raids

From The New York Times:

Eleventh-hour criticism is arising over President Obama’s nomination for United States attorney in northern Iowa of a prosecutor who had a leading role in the criminal cases against hundreds of illegal immigrants arrested in a May 2008 raid at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

Those cases, the broadest use to date of tough criminal charges against immigrants caught working without authorization, were emblems of a crackdown on illegal immigration by the Bush administration.

In supporting the prosecutor, Stephanie Rose, Mr. Obama is following the recommendation of Senator Tom Harkin, the Democrat from Iowa who is an important ally — especially in the health care debate because he is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

[S]ome defense and immigration lawyers have said that felony identity-theft charges against the immigrants were excessively harsh, that immigration lawyers were not given adequate access to their clients, and that improper contact took place between prosecutors and one judge. They contend that possible civil rights and ethical violations by prosecutors should have been investigated.

Peggy Noonan advises President Obama on Afghanistan: Just the Facts, Mr. President

Jack Webb as Joe Friday in "Dragnet," circa 1955

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The president has been taking time thinking about Afghanistan. I cannot see why this is bad. If he's really thinking, he's not dithering—thought can be harder than action, weighing plans as hard as choosing and executing one. A question of such consequence deserves pondering. A president ought to summon and hear counsel before committing or removing American troops.

The president is not, apparently, holding serious discussions with the most informed and concerned Republicans from Capitol Hill and what used to be called the foreign-policy establishment, and this, if true, is bad. The cliché that politics stops at the water's edge is a fiction worth preserving. It's a story that ought to be true and sometimes is true. There seems to be something in this president that resists really including the opposition. Maybe it's too great a sense of self-sufficiency, or maybe he's bowing to the reigning premise that we live in a poisonously partisan age, that the old forms and ways no longer apply. But why bow to that? To bow to it is to make it truer. The opposition is full of patriots who wish their country well. Bow to that.

All will depend on the outcome. If his decision is sound and ends in success, history will not say he was indecisive and Hamlet-like. If his decision results in failure, history will not celebrate his wonderfully cerebral deliberative style.

President Obama will tell us his decision soon, probably in a speech. Because it will be big, and high-stakes, there will be people telling him he must do many things, including tug at the nation's heart strings and move it with his vision. He really shouldn't do this.

Now of all times, and in this of all speeches, sheer, blunt logic is needed. He must appeal not to the nation's heart but to its brain. America is not in a misty-eyed mood, and in any event when the logic of a case is made, when the listener's head is appealed to, his heart will become engaged, because the heart is grateful. He's talking to me like I'm a person who thinks, like I've got an IQ. Thank you, Mr. President!

It is a secret of politics, a deep inside secret known to so few that even the most experienced operatives are unaware of it, that people are thinking creatures. They're not "the masses," waiting to be manipulated. They think, they calculate. This is true now more than ever.


One day in October 1962, a young president had to tell America something dreadful. What had once been a friendly nation 90 miles from our shore, a nation we'd long and until very recently been used to seeing as peaceful and nonthreatening, was receiving from the Soviet Union nuclear weaponry that we had every reason to believe would be or were aimed at us. It was dreadful news—literally, dreadful.

The president had to tell his country, which didn't have a clue, all about it, and announce in the same speech what exactly he was going to do and why exactly his plan was the right one and deserved support.

That was a lot of pressure for one speech to bear. John F. Kennedy and his speechwriter Ted Sorensen bore it by being direct, densely factual and no-frills. Hard to imagine a speech beginning more bluntly than this:

"Good evening, my fellow citizens. This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere. Upon receiving the first preliminary hard information of this nature last Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., I directed that our surveillance be stepped up. And having now confirmed and completed our evaluation of the evidence and our decision on a course of action, this government feels obliged to report this new crisis to you in fullest detail."

He did, in a style that assumed the intelligence of those listening, that assumed as a matter of course their ability to follow an argument and absorb densely presented data.

It would be a real relief to hear this approach from anyone in public life today. Politicians in general no longer assume that we all more or less operate on the same intellectual level, with roughly the same amount of common sense. Instead they talk down to us.

Mr. Obama is in a drama not as urgent as Kennedy's, but every bit as consequential. The president needs to tell the public what his plan is, how he came to it, how it will work, why it will work, why we should back it, and why the world should view it with sympathy.

He will be talking to a nation full of people tested by a difficult and dramatic decade and anxious about their daily lives. But they will be willing to make a last great push if that push seems thought through, serious and credibly argued for with believable facts. Americans know their taxes at all levels of government are going to go up, as will future spending, as will the national debt. It is one thing to make a war decision in a time of plenty, with the optimism and daring such a time brings. It is another to make a war decision in a time of constriction, and the anxiety that brings.

Which gets us back to style.

"All we want are the facts, ma'am," the actor Jack Webb, playing Detective Joe Friday, used to say on the old TV show "Dragnet." He'd be interviewing the witness to a crime and she—and it was always a she—would wring her hankie, embellish and share her feelings. Joe Friday would stop her. He didn't need her emotion, he needed to hear what had happened to solve the crime: "All we want are the facts."

That is the phrase for the moment. The facts, and a sound interpretation of the facts, are the only thing that will satisfy the public.

All presidential decisions come within a context. My read of that context is that the days of foreign policy by sentiment are over. The country's mood now is intensely bottom-line. Americans aren't concerned about Afghanistan because they are swept by democratic feeling and certain world peace will be enhanced if Afghans are able to vote in honest elections. They aren't driven only by indignation that the Afghan government is corrupt, which it is. Americans have assumed for 40 years that every faraway country we give money to is corrupt, that the rulers and insiders skim off the top, or more commonly from the top and middle, allowing a little at the bottom go to their people in order to show off the new health-care hut to the credulous visiting Yanks. Americans put up with this on the assumption that in the end such aid does more good than harm. And Americans aren't motivated primarily by concern about Afghanistan's inadequate infrastructure. They're concerned about their own.

They want to know: What will make America, and the world, safer? Leaving or staying? Provisionally staying, or going in more deeply and broadly?

They want the facts, and then a plan. They'd be grateful to be able to believe in both.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Can't pass a 2nd stimulus bill (& thus continue to increase federal spending)? No problem. Put it in something called health care reform legislation.

From The Washington Post:

Wedged in the House health-care bill is $23.5 billion that looks a lot more like new federal stimulus spending than anything to do with national health-care reform.

The barely debated pot of money would allow Congress to continue pumping billions in new short-term aid to states to cover Medicaid costs that have increased with rising unemployment in the past year.

Medicaid relief for states comprised one of the biggest pieces of February's $787 billion federal stimulus package, but that funding will run out next year, halfway through states' next round of spending plans.

Under the Affordable Health Care for America Act, the federal government would continue to pay a higher share of all Medicaid costs -- 66 percent on average, up from 57 percent before the stimulus -- for an additional six months, and erase in one fell swoop a major chunk of states' projected shortfalls for the coming year.

House Republicans, who had repeatedly blasted the cost of the bill, never directly attacked the additional state funding in the final floor debate leading up to the Nov. 7 vote, even as they charged in other contexts in recent weeks that Democrats were trying to increase federal spending without introducing a second stimulus package.

So much for the power of incumbency -- Anti-Washington, throw-the-bums-out feelings held by many.

From The Washington Post:

In Pew Research Center's polling, just over half of Americans said they would like to see their members of Congress reelected next fall. Only 34 percent said they want most incumbents to be reelected in the midterms.

Pew describes those numbers as among the most negative in two decades of collecting data. They approach levels found in the run-ups to the 1994 and 2006 midterms -- elections in which there were significant seat changes in the House and Senate. In October 2006, 55 percent said they wanted to see their lawmakers reelected and 37 percent favored the reelection of most members of Congress; in October 1994, 49 percent favored the reelection of their own lawmakers and 29 percent backed reelection of Capitol Hill incumbents in general.

Even more troubling for incumbents is that independent voters are more down on their elected officials than partisans of either stripe. Only a quarter of independents want to see congressional incumbents reelected next year, while 42 percent support their own lawmakers in the midterms.

What's clear from this and other national polling as well as a variety of state data is that there is a widespread belief that politicians are not acting in the best interests of those they represent. This sentiment isn't terribly new, but the depth of these anti-incumbent feelings -- particularly among political independents -- makes it newsworthy.

While it's likely that any sustained sentiment of this sort will hurt Democrats more than Republicans, this sort of political environment is decidedly unpredictable and could lead to surprising defeats for presumed safe incumbents -- of both parties -- next November.

GOP Post II: Meet John Thune

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Some days the Republican Party seems to be going crazy. Its public image is often shaped by people who appear to have gone into government because they saw it as a steppingstone to talk radio.

But deep in the bowels of the G.O.P., there are serious people having quiet conversations. The people holding these conversations created and admired Bob McDonnell’s perfectly executed Virginia gubernatorial campaign. And now as they look to the future of their party, and who might lead it in 2012, the name John Thune keeps popping up.

As you may or may not know, Thune is the junior senator from South Dakota, the man who beat Tom Daschle in an epic campaign five years ago. The first thing everybody knows about him is that he is tall (6 feet 4 inches), tanned (in a prairie, sun-chapped sort of way) and handsome (John McCain jokes that if he had Thune’s face he’d be president right now). If you wanted a Republican with the same general body type and athletic grace as Barack Obama, you’d pick Thune.

The second thing people say about him is that he is unfailingly genial, modest and nice. He grew up in Murdo, S.D., population 612. His father was a Naval aviator in World War II and a genuine war hero. He was called back home after the war to work in the family hardware store and went on to become an educator, as did his wife.

John was a high school basketball star and possesses idyllic small-town manners, like the perfect boy in a Thornton Wilder play. He appears to be untouched by cynicism. In speeches and interviews, he is straightforward, intelligent and earnest. He sometimes seems to have emerged straight into the 21st century from a more wholesome time.

After high school, he attended Biola University, a small Christian college outside of Los Angeles. He then got an M.B.A. from the University of South Dakota and has spent his adult life ascending — as a Congressional staffer, South Dakota Republican Party chairman, the state railroad director, a member of the U.S. House, and now the Senate.

His positions on the issues are unremarkable. He is down-the-line conservative on social, economic and foreign policy matters. What’s notable is the way he talks about the issues and jumps off from them.

He is a gracious and ecumenical legislator, not a combative one. When you ask him to mention authors he likes, he mentions C.S. Lewis and Jeff Shaara, not political polemicists. The first person who told me I had to write a column about Thune was a liberal Democratic senator who really likes the guy.

Thune also possesses the favored Republican profile du jour: conservative at the roots but pragmatic at the surface. Like McDonnell, nobody can question Thune’s conservative bona fides. As a result, he doesn’t have to talk about them. Instead, he prefers to talk about what he calls the “economic cluster” of issues: job creation, balanced budgets and small-business-led growth.

He doesn’t have radical plans to cut the federal leviathan. He just wants to restrain the growth of government to bring deficits down. He doesn’t have ambitions to restructure the tax code. He just wants to lift burdens on small business.

He says his prairie background has given him a preference for small companies and local government. When he criticizes the Democrats, it is for mixing big government with big business: the bailouts of Wall Street, the subsidies to the big auto and energy corporations. His populism is not angry. He doesn’t rail against the malefactors of wealth. But it’s there, a celebration of the small and local over the big and urban.

Republican pros are attracted to Thune because he could rally the hard-core conservatives without scaring away the suburbanites. His weakness is that he’s never really worked outside of government, and he’s almost never shown a maverick side.

At the moment, Republicans are riding an emotional wave. Karl Rove had a piece in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal that captures the mood: Obama is being defined as a liberal. Independents are fleeing. The political tide is shifting.

That overstates things. Obama remains the most talented political figure of the age. After health care passes, he will pivot and pick some fights with his own party over spending. He’ll solidify his standing with independents, and if the economy recovers, he could go into his re-election with as much momentum as Ronald Reagan enjoyed in 1984.

Republicans are still going to have to do root-and-branch renovation if they hope to provide compelling answers to issues like middle-class economic anxiety. But in the meantime, people like Thune offer Republicans a way to connect fiscal discipline with traditional small-town values, a way to tap into rising populism in a manner that is optimistic, uplifting and nice.

GOP Post I: Pawlenty hasn't learned from Romney's mistakes

From The Washington Post:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is widely regarded as one of the Republican Party's rising national leaders. The runner-up to Sarah Palin to be John McCain's vice presidential running mate, he is a conservative whose blue-collar roots, amiable personality and two terms as governor of a traditionally Democratic state would seem to make him a natural in attracting the kind of swing voters who are always fought over in presidential elections.

But the Pawlenty who has stepped onto the national stage in recent months has said and done things that have other Republicans wondering about his instincts and his sure-footedness as a prospective 2012 presidential candidate. Pawlenty could learn from the earlier mistakes of one of his potential rivals for the GOP nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Pawlenty endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava in New York's 23rd congressional district, but he acted only after Palin had turned the special election into an intraparty test of strength.

Pawlenty said there is no deliberate effort to move to the right. "In general, I've governed as a conservative in Minnesota, so being conservative isn't like a new development or a revelation," he said.

Pawlenty, who has never been known as a red-meat political orator, acknowledged that he has been particularly rough in his criticism of Obama this year but offered no regrets on that front. "I don't think this is a time to mince words," he said.

Pawlenty earlier decided not to seek a third term as governor. He has established a political action committee and assembled a team of advisers who are among the best in the party, with roots in Iowa, an understanding of new technology, and a breadth of knowledge on the intersection of politics and policy.

The question is whether he and his team have been spooked by the influence of the most conservative wing of his party in presidential nominating politics. His advisers said no. "These are all unique circumstances in time, and they don't represent a strategic or calibrated effort to move to the right," one adviser said.

Still, there is something Romney-esque in all this. Four years ago, Romney lurched to the right in preparation for his presidential candidacy. He did it on social issues, where his prior support for abortion and gay rights left him vulnerable on his right flank. Pawlenty has a consistent record of opposition to abortion and gay marriage. In his case, he appears to be catering to the populist anger on the right, which is challenging the party establishment and attacking Obama in sometimes extreme language.

The real risk for Pawlenty, as Romney learned in his unsuccessful 2008 campaign, is losing his true voice and his authenticity. Once a candidate starts down that road, it can be hard to pull back.

This year, Romney has generally kept a lower profile. The view among strategists is that Romney has been shrewd in staying out of these flare-ups and trying to focus on big-picture issues. Pawlenty, being less known nationally and looking to attract attention to himself, has been reluctant to stay quiet.

The question is, with that need to raise his own profile, whether Pawlenty can prepare for a possible presidential campaign without sacrificing the best qualities that brought him to this point in his career.

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." The next two posts will serve as an introduction to two possible 2010 GOP presidential contenders.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Voter discontent is key in Atlanta's mayoral election -- Disaffected residents could be deciding factor

Eric Stirgus writes in the ajc:

The Rev. Timothy McDonald looked around the Park Tavern stage Wednesday and saw several familiar faces.

In 1989, many of them supported Maynard Jackson’s third successful bid for Atlanta mayor. A generation later, here they were again, united behind the mayoral candidacy of Kasim Reed, promising to help him win the Dec. 1 runoff against City Councilwoman Mary Norwood.

Since Jackson’s first mayoral victory in 1973, the first time a black candidate won the job, most African-American residents have looked at the city’s black leadership as a vital cog that has opened the doors to higher-paying jobs and fostered a better quality of life.

Over the years, a small minority has questioned the effectiveness of the city’s African-American leadership, but those voices are growing this year and could tip the scales to Norwood and make her the city’s first white mayor in 36 years.

Norwood won nearly one-quarter of all votes in majority black precincts on Nov. 3, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of election results shows. That support helped her capture nearly 46 percent of the vote citywide, besting the five other candidates on the ballot but still not enough to win the election outright.

The AJC analysis shows, however, that Norwood won or tied in just five of the 102 precincts in which African-Americans are the majority of all voters. Reed won or tied in 99 of those 102 precincts. Still, Norwood’s showing was better than most white mayoral candidates have fared among black voters.

The disaffected African-American voters are people such as Ora Cooks, a retired Clark Atlanta University professor who is active in civic affairs and is troubled by how city money has been spent. She is supporting Norwood, saying the candidate has been present for years in her community and backed its residents’ battle against a church that tore down a building in their neighborhood.

“In the South, we like face time. We like for folks to show up, and she’s been there,” said Cooks, 68, who lives in Oakland City.

Reed said he is aware of discontented black voters and recognizes he needs a larger percentage of their support to win the runoff. The former state senator said he needs to show black voters across the city the “personal attention” people such as Cooks demand.

“I think they’re coming [around to support me],” Reed said. “I think you will see a substantial shift the more I have an opportunity to campaign for them.”

Congress Has History of Reversing Cuts

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1997, Congress passed a budget law that mandated tough curbs on Medicare spending, setting up formulas to reduce doctor payments if broad spending targets were exceeded. But when the formula began taking a serious bite out of doctor reimbursements in 2002, Congress acted to reverse the cuts -- a step it has repeated five times since then.

That history shows why some critics believe billions of dollars in budget savings Congress is promising through its health-care overhaul might never materialize.

Under both Democrats and Republicans, Congress repeatedly has waived curbs it has tried to place on spending. It has given back other savings from the 1997 law to hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and other providers, most notably in 1999. More recently, Congress has twice switched off a cost-saving trigger that was contained in a 2003 bill establishing a Medicare prescription-drug benefit. Congress also frequently has waived budget resolution limits, as well as pay-as-you-go rules requiring offsets for tax cuts and entitlement spending.

The House bill passed last weekend trims government spending in several areas by more than $400 billion, through a combination of cuts falling largely on pharmaceutical makers, private health insurance companies and hospitals.

"Congress is notorious for passing Medicare savings, and then after the cuts take place and the political groups get activated, we restore all the money," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.). "The [new] cuts will never take place. ...In the next few years, they'll all be given back" with some exceptions.

Last month the Senate tried to debate a measure that would permanently change the 1997 cost-cutting formula, at a cost of $250 billion over a decade. But the move to open debate failed after getting support from only 47 senators. The odds of passing a permanent fix to the formula now appear dim, because lawmakers can't find a politically palatable way of offsetting the cost with tax increases or other spending cuts. Instead, they're likely to pass another short-term fix that might further add to the deficit.

GOP Senate Challengers Attack Rivals Recruited by National Republican Party, in Some Cases Pushing Candidates Rightward

From The Wall Street Journal:

Underdogs trying to ride a wave of anti-establishment fervor are mounting challenges to the Republican Party's hand-picked Senate candidates in several states.

The trend suggests that conservative surges in a New York House race and a Senate primary in Florida were not isolated incidents and pose a dilemma for the GOP. Party leaders have stopped endorsing candidates, and in some cases establishment candidates have shifted to the right.

Challengers are seizing on the fact that their rivals were recruited by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party organization that finds and vets candidates. They are presenting such links as evidence of coziness with party leaders unpopular with conservatives for supporting Wall Street bailouts and other spending programs.

The Club for Growth, a pro-business group that runs ads backing fiscal conservatives in Republican primaries, has jumped into the Florida contest to endorse former state legislator Marco Rubio, who is running against NRSC-endorsed Gov. Charlie Crist.

The challengers have created a dilemma for Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is running the NRSC's election efforts. He is defending open seats vacated by retiring senators in the four perennial battlegrounds of Ohio, Missouri, Florida and New Hampshire.

He began recruiting when Democrats were on the rise nationally. Then, GOP leaders wanted candidates who could appeal to independents and Democratic voters.

In the wake of the New York congressional race, in which a conservative candidate drove the official Republican from the contest, Mr. Cornyn said the NRSC wouldn't spend money in any primary. Aides say any additional endorsements are unlikely.

Returning Workers Face Steep Pay Cuts -- Wage Erosion Threatens to Slow Economic Recovery

From The Wall Street Journal:

Nearly a year after losing his job at a Vermont plywood maker, 40-year-old Robert Hudson is back at work. Here is the catch: His paycheck is half that of his old job -- and the same as when he was 18 years old.

In the past year, more than five million people exhausted their unemployment benefits, according to the government. Now, some are returning to work at jobs that pay considerably less than what they were earning before, a trend that threatens to slow an economic recovery.

Wages and benefits paid by private companies increased just 1.2% -- adjusted for inflation -- for the year ended September 2009, the smallest change since the U.S. began measuring in 1975, the government reported last week. Some economists expect the figure to continue downward in coming months and to turn negative for the first time since such records have been kept.

"These losses can become permanent because you have to start again and work your way up," said Till von Wachter, an economics professor at Columbia University in New York.

The wage cuts come as the unemployment rate, at 10.2%, is at its highest level in more than 26 years. To help those who can't find jobs after extensive searches, President Barack Obama has signed a measure adding 20 more weeks of federal unemployment benefits.

Those returning to work are taking an average 40% pay cut from their old jobs , estimated Kenneth Couch, an economics professor at the University of Connecticut.

In the past, Prof. Couch said, it has taken six years before people were earning an average of 80% of their old paycheck, with younger workers creeping closer to their old wages more quickly than older workers.

Report: Bill would reduce senior care -- Medicare cuts approved by House may affect access to providers

You would think that you get your financial data before, not after, passing legislation. But when you schedule a vote, and then debate what will be in the legislation, anything can happen.

From The Washington Post:

A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending -- one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system -- would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.

The report, requested by House Republicans, found that Medicare cuts contained in the health package approved by the House on Nov. 7 are likely to prove so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether.

Congress could intervene to avoid such an outcome, but "so doing would likely result in significantly smaller actual savings" than is currently projected, according to the analysis by the chief actuary for the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid. That would wipe out a big chunk of the financing for the health-care reform package, which is projected to cost $1.05 trillion over the next decade.

More generally, the report questions whether the country's network of doctors and hospitals would be able to cope with the effects of a reform package expected to add more than 30 million people to the ranks of the insured, many of them through Medicaid, the public health program for the poor.

In the face of greatly increased demand for services, providers are likely to charge higher fees or take patients with better-paying private insurance over Medicaid recipients, "exacerbating existing access problems" in that program, according to the report from Richard S. Foster of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Though the report does not attempt to quantify that impact, Foster writes: "It is reasonable to expect that a significant portion of the increased demand for Medicaid would not be realized."

The report offers the clearest and most authoritative assessment to date of the effect that Democratic health reform proposals would have on Medicare and Medicaid, the nation's largest public health programs. It analyzes the House bill, but the Senate is also expected to rely on hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts to finance the package that Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to take to the floor this week. Like the House, the Senate is expected to propose adding millions of people to Medicaid.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

2010 is election year; unemployment will be 10.5%; many will still be mad about health law, etc.; & Obama to tackle illegal immigration? No way.

Believe it. A divisive debate during an election year is just around the corner when Congress finishes passing a trillion dollar plus health reform bill during what, for Main Street, remains a recession.

A 6-24-07 post entitled "Senator Kennedy and President Reagan on the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986" reads as follows:

Senator Ted Kennedy said: "This amnesty will give citizenship to only 1.1 to 1.3 million illegal aliens. We will secure the borders henceforth. We will never again bring forward another amnesty bill like this."

[Actually, almost 3 million illegal immigrants were granted amnesty under this legislation, and the amnesty was followed by an explosion in illegal immigration.]

President Ronald Reagan said: "Future generations of Americans will be thankful for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people, American citizenship."

A 5-26-07 post entitled "The complicated mess we have with illegal immigration and how to solve the problem -- More on the 1986 legislation," reads:

A 5-25-07 post noted:

If you grant legal status to those here illegally without first securing the border, millions more will flood into our country illegally. That's exactly what happened with the flawed immigration law that was passed in 1986, and our country has been paying the price ever since.

Time said this about the 1986 legislation:

[T]he failed amnesty of 1986 [is] widely viewed as the genesis of the current crisis. The moment newly legalized farmworkers realized they had better options, they left for the cities instead of staying in low-paying agriculture jobs. Their exodus from the fields opened the door to an even larger wave of illegal immigration.

And another article in Time gives us these details about the legislation:

The immigration overhaul in 1986 was supposed to have fixed the root problem of an uncontrolled influx by making it illegal for U.S. employers to hire undocumented workers and offering an amnesty to illegal immigrants who had been here for five years at that point. Instead, the best estimates suggest that since then, the number of illegal immigrants has more than tripled.

The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act made it illegal for employers to knowingly hire undocumented workers and imposed penalties of up to $11,000 for each violation. But lawbreakers are rarely punished. In 2005 the government issued just three notices of intent to fine companies for employing illegal workers, down from 178 in 2000.

It's easy to understand why the idea of an amnesty [sparks] such a negative reaction. The country tried one with the 1986 law. Nearly 3 million people took advantage of it, and the amnesty was followed by an explosion in illegal immigration.

Today an article in The New York Times notes:

The Obama administration will insist on measures to give legal status to an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants as it pushes early next year for legislation to overhaul the immigration system, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Friday.

In her first major speech on the overhaul, Ms. Napolitano dispelled any suggestion that the administration — with health care, energy and other major issues crowding its agenda — would postpone the most contentious piece of immigration legislation until after midterm elections next November.

With unemployment surging over 10 percent and Congress still wrangling over health care, advocates on all sides of the immigration debate had begun to doubt that President Obama would keep his pledge to tackle the divisive illegal immigration issue in the first months of 2010.

Ms. Napolitano unveiled a double-barrel argument for a legalization program, saying it would enhance national security and, as the economy climbs out of recession, protect American workers from unfair competition from lower-paid, easily exploited illegal immigrants.

Under the administration’s plan, illegal immigrants who hope to gain legal status would have to register, pay fines and all taxes they owe, pass a criminal background check and learn English.

Drawing a contrast with 2007, when a bill with legalization provisions offered by President George W. Bush failed in Congress, Ms. Napolitano said the Obama administration had achieved a “fundamental change” in border security and enforcement against employers hiring illegal immigrants. She said a sharp reduction in the flow of illegal immigrants into the country created an opportunity to move ahead with a legalization program.

As noted above, the failed amnesty of 1986 is widely viewed as the genesis of the current crisis. The moment newly legalized farmworkers -- who were referred to as migrant workers during my earlier years -- realized they had better options, they left for the cities instead of staying in low-paying agriculture jobs. Their exodus from the fields opened the door to an even larger wave of illegal immigration.

And with the continuous wave of illegal immigrants that has followed (and only recently slowed because of the weak economy and stronger enforcement), the administration now -- even as unemployment is surging toward 10 1/2 percent -- feels that this is the time to move forward to protect American workers from unfair competition from lower-paid, easily exploited illegal immigrants. Frankly, I cannot connect the dots here, and need to study the administration's logic.

Like many Americans, I am conflicted on the topic of how to fix the illegal immigration problem other than border security being the first priority without regard to cost. (For two decades after the 1986 amnesty bill the government did nothing to secure the borders. It said it would, but the bill did not require it.)

But this much I know. Given our country's current situation, at this time middle America wishes the president and Congress would focus their attention on the deficit rather than health care reform with its $1.1 trillion price tag.

The timing for bringing yet something in addition to health care to the table for public debate could not be worse.

Many Americans still feel that the bailout of Wall Street was done on the back of Main Street. They did not see their non-UAW businesses and employers getting bailed out (while an American icon was handed over to an Italian car company), nor money being doled out to them to buy goods and services from their business or employer similar to the cash for clunker program.

For these Americans there is seething resentment, even anger, just below the surface, that will take time and an economic recovery to dissipate.

In 2007, the immigration reform failed as many members of Congress were bombarded with opposition from constituents and activist groups.

If (and I should probably say when) the administration brings immigration to the forefront (and there is more bipartisan support for this than the GOP wants to admit), hopefully the debate will be determined by our representatives hearing from their constituents and activist groups alone, and we will not experience what occurred in 2009: disruptive town hall meetings and tea parties.

If my preference is wrong in this regard, I fear the unfortunate August 2009 town hall meetings in retrospect may appear to be civil walks in the park, practice rounds for things to come. And of course if there are tea party rallies galore, this time there will be more than just your right wingers in attendance.

Part of this will probably because during the town house meetings a certain part of the population felt empowerment when they got to hold a mike and incoherently blow out an elected representative, even while the individual was being an embarrassment to all who knew him.

In 2007, the immigration reform failed as many members of Congress said they couldn't support a program of mass legalization in the face of opposition from constituents and activist groups critical of easing the road to legal immigration for those who had already violated the law.

That sentiment continues, but will be buttressed by the argument of how can Congress allow 12 million illegal immigrants to take jobs that should go to who are here legally.

Based on the results in Virginia and New Jersey, our work was already cut out for us. And now this . . . .

See also a short article in The Wall Street Journal.

That'll work: Ex-Rep. Jefferson (D-La.) gets 13 years in freezer cash case

The Washington Post reports that former congressman William J. Jefferson was sentenced to 13 years in prison Friday for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, the longest prison term ever handed down to a member of Congress convicted of corruption charges.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mr. Speaker, keep your head up high Sir.

In countless posts in different times I have described House Speaker Glenn Richardson as a tyrant and referred to him with such monikers as the "Czar" and the "Head Hawk."

Late today I literally shed tears for him upon reading about a recent event, and I pray and will continue to pray that he will be fine, both mentally and physically.

What I read is so, so sad, and to those who are near and dear to him, please know that your loved one is first and foremost a Georgian, and we all try to look after and take care of our own.

We expect so much of and give so little credit to our public servants, and seldom appreciate and fail to recognize the fish bowl in which they have to live.

(Aaron Sheinin has a report in the Gold Dome Live.)

The ingrats: Rebuilding Its Economy, Iraq Shuns U.S. Businesses

From The New York Times:

Iraq’s Baghdad Trade Fair ended Tuesday, six years and a trillion dollars after the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and one country was conspicuously absent.

That would be the country that spent a trillion dollars — on the invasion and occupation, but also on training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and on ambitious reconstruction projects in every province aimed at rebuilding the country and restarting the economy.

Yet when the post-Saddam Iraqi government swept out its old commercial fairgrounds and invited companies from around the world, the United States was not much in evidence among the 32 nations represented. Of the 396 companies that exhibited their wares, “there are two or three American participants, but I can’t remember their names,” said Hashem Mohammed Haten, director general of Iraq’s state fair company.

The trade fair is a telling indication of an uncomfortable truth: America’s war in Iraq has been good for business in Iraq — but not necessarily for American business.

Being seen as the occupier is just not good for business. Although the United States, legally speaking, has not been an occupying power since June 2004, when the Security Council formally ended occupation, many see it that way. Even Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has described Americans as occupiers to curry electoral support.

Being seen as the occupier is just not good for business. Although the United States, legally speaking, has not been an occupying power since June 2004, when the Security Council formally ended occupation, many see it that way. Even Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has described Americans as occupiers to curry electoral support.

One European ambassador, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his government’s policy, said his own country’s trade opportunities greatly increased in Iraq after it withdrew the last of its troops more than a year ago. “Being considered an occupier handicapped us extremely,” he said. “The farther we are away from that the more our companies can be accepted on their own merits.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

U.S. envoy resists increase in troops -- Concerns voiced about Karzai

From The Washington Post:

The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior U.S. officials said.

Eikenberry's last-minute interventions have highlighted the nagging undercurrent of the policy discussion: the U.S. dependence on a partnership with a Karzai government whose incompetence and corruption is a universal concern within the administration. After months of political upheaval, in the wake of widespread fraud during the August presidential election, Karzai was installed last week for a second five-year term.

In addition to placing the Karzai problem prominently on the table, the cables from Eikenberry, a retired four-star general who in 2006-2007 commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan, have rankled his former colleagues in the Pentagon -- as well as Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, defense officials said.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Despite this breakdown, I feel relieved Army did not know before. I could not comprehend. -- Pentagon Only Learned of Hasan's Emails After Killings

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Pentagon said it was never notified by U.S. intelligence agencies that they had intercepted emails between the alleged Fort Hood shooter and an extremist imam until after last week's bloody assaults, raising new questions about whether the government could have helped prevent the attack.

A top defense official said federal investigators didn't tell the Pentagon they were looking into months of contacts between Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki. The imam knew three of the Sept. 11 hijackers and hailed Maj. Hasan as a "hero" after the shooting last week at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead.

"Based on what we know now, neither the United States Army nor any other organization within the Department of Defense knew of Maj. Hasan's contacts with any Muslim extremists," the official said.

The Pentagon comments fueled a growing dispute among various branches of the government about whether Maj. Hasan should have been more deeply investigated before he allegedly walked into a crowded soldier-readiness center at Fort Hood and opened fire.

A person familiar with the matter said a Pentagon worker on a terrorism task force overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation was told about the intercepted emails several months ago. But members of terror task forces aren't allowed to share such information with their agencies, unless they get permission from the FBI, which leads the task forces.

In this case, the Pentagon worker, an employee from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, helped make the assessment that Maj. Hasan wasn't a threat, and the FBI's "procedures for sharing the information were never used," said the person familiar with the matter.

Muhammad, the sniper who kept the D.C. region paralyzed by fear for 3 weeks, was executed. Good riddance for mankind. Another one is on the horizon.

The Washington Post reports that John Allen Muhammad, the sniper who kept the Washington region paralyzed by fear for three weeks as he and a young accomplice gunned down people at random, was executed Tuesday night by lethal injection.

Hopefully it won't be too long before Army Major Nidal M. Hasan meets a similar fate.

Maine Finds a Health Care Fix Elusive

From The New York Times:

Maine is the Charlie Brown of health care. The state’s legislators have tried for decades to fix its system, but their efforts have always fallen short: health insurance premiums are still among the least affordable in the nation, health care spending per person is among the highest and hospital emergency rooms are among the most crowded. Indeed, many overhauls to the system have done little more than squeeze a balloon — solving one problem while worsening another.

Maine’s history is a cautionary tale for national health reform. The state could never figure out how to slow the spiraling increase in medical costs, hobbling its efforts to offer more people insurance coverage. Many on Capitol Hill have criticized national reform legislation for similarly doing little to tame costs.

To [Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Maine’s senior United States senator and so far one of only two Republicans in Congress to vote for an overhaul], Maine’s past shows that change, while needed, should be incremental because mistakes are common. This is among the reasons she opposes an immediate public insurance option. “I mentioned to the president that people can’t digest everything at once,” she said in an interview.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Health economists say it is impossible to know whether the bill would meet cost-cutting goals, and many are skeptical that they even come close.

From The New York Times:

As health care legislation moves toward a crucial airing in the Senate, the White House is facing a growing revolt from some Democrats and analysts who say the bills Congress is considering do not fulfill President Obama’s promise to slow the runaway rise in health care spending.

Mr. Obama has made cost containment a centerpiece of his health reform agenda, and in May he stood up at the White House with industry groups who pledged voluntary efforts to trim the growth of health care spending by 1.5 percent, or $2 trillion, over the next decade.

But health economists say it is impossible to know whether the bills, including one passed by the House on Saturday night, would meet that goal, and many are skeptical that they even come close.

Experts — including some who have consulted closely with the White House, like Dr. Denis A. Cortese, chief executive of the Mayo Clinic — say the measures take only baby steps toward revamping the current fee-for-service system, which drives up costs by paying health providers for each visit or procedure performed. Some senators are also dissatisfied.

“My assessment at this point,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Finance Committee, “is that the legislation is heavy on health and light on reform.”