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Cracker Squire


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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Support grows for tackling nation's debt

From The Washington Post:

Senate action late last week that increased the limit on the government's credit card to a record $12.4 trillion gave a significant boost to a proposal to appoint a special commission to make the tough decisions that will be required to dig the nation out of debt.

President Obama has voiced support for such a plan, and 35 Democratic and Republican senators have signed on to legislation that would create a bipartisan commission with broad power to force painful spending cuts and tax increases through Congress.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), an ardent opponent of the idea, has signaled in recent weeks that she could accept the establishment of a commission.

Of 8 American civilians killed, most of them were C.I.A. officers; agency has lost only 90 officers in the line of duty since its founding in 1947.

From The New York Times:

A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest killed at least eight American civilians, most of them C.I.A. officers, at a remote base in southeastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, according to NATO officials and former American intelligence officials.

The attack at the C.I.A. base, Forward Operating Base Chapman, in Khost Province appeared to be the single deadliest episode for the spy agency in the eight years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It also dealt a significant blow to the often insular, tight-knit organization, which has lost only 90 officers in the line of duty since its founding in 1947.

In recent years, the C.I.A. has been at the forefront of American counterterrorism operations in South Asia, launching a steady barrage of drone attacks against Qaeda and Taliban operatives in the mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Shadow of 9/11 Is Cast Again -- Intelligence dots not connected; Pres.'s Daily Brief of Aug. 6, 2001, titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

The National Counterterrorism Center, in Virginia, was created in response to Sept. 11.

From The New York Times:

The finger-pointing began in earnest on Wednesday over who in the alphabet soup of American security agencies knew what and when about the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up an airliner.

But the harshest spotlight fell on the very agency created to make sure intelligence dots were always connected: the National Counterterrorism Center. The crown jewel of intelligence reform after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the center was the hub whose mission was to unite every scrap of data on threats and suspects, to make sure an extremist like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be bomber, would never penetrate the United States’ defenses.

Officials at the counterterrorism center — a small agency in a modern glass building in suburban Virginia — maintained a stoic silence on Wednesday, noting that the review ordered by President Obama was still under way. But those who led the major studies of how the United States government failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks watched the unfolding story of the Christmas Day attack with growing dismay.

“It’s totally frustrating,” said Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the national Sept. 11 commission. “It’s almost like the words being used to describe what went wrong are exactly the same.”

Eleanor Hill, staff director of the joint Congressional inquiry into Sept. 11, called the emerging story “eerily similar to the disconnects and missteps we investigated.”

“There seems to have been the same failure to put the pieces of the puzzle together and get them to the right people in time,” Ms. Hill said.

[T]wo critical pieces of information appear never to have been connected: National Security Agency intercepts of Qaeda operatives in Yemen talking about using a Nigerian man for an attack, and a warning from Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father to American diplomats in Nigeria about the son’s radicalization in Yemen. If the National Counterterrorism Center or any other agency had those two items and never linked them, Congress and the public will want to know why.

The echoes of Sept. 11 are obvious. Before the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the N.S.A., the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation all had gathered bits of intelligence about the future hijackers. The C.I.A. sounded the alarm about an impending attack, including the now-famous President’s Daily Brief of Aug. 6, 2001, titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

But the information that could have unraveled the plot remained at each of the three agencies and was never put together.

The remedy, proposed by the Sept. 11 commission and passed by Congress in 2004, was to place a single director of intelligence over the nation’s 16 spy agencies. At the core would be the National Counterterrorism Center.

In 2004 and since, critics of the intelligence reorganization complained that the new spy czar had too little power and merely added a cumbersome layer of bureaucracy. But even the critics applauded the counterterrorism center, which now must defend its performance.

The eavesdropping agency, tracking e-mail and cellphone traffic around the world, each day collects four times the volume of information stored in the Library of Congress . . . .

In the case of Mr. Abdulmutallab, the N.S.A. appears to have captured critical intercepts, and his father provided the name that would have allowed American agencies to take action.

For Mr. Kean, of the Sept. 11 commission, it is the father’s role that should have moved even the most jaded bureaucracy.

“Think of what it took for the father, one of the most respected bankers in Nigeria, to walk into the American Embassy and turn in his own son,” Mr. Kean said. “The father’s a hero. His visit by itself should have been enough to set off all kinds of alarms.”

Spy Agencies Failed to Collate Clues on Terror

From The New York Times:

The National Security Agency four months ago intercepted conversations among leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen discussing a plot to use a Nigerian man for a coming terrorist attack, but American spy agencies later failed to combine the intercepts with other information that might have disrupted last week’s attempted airline bombing.

The electronic intercepts were translated and disseminated across classified computer networks, government officials said on Wednesday, but analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington did not synthesize the eavesdropping intelligence with information gathered in November when the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, now accused of the attempted bombing, visited the United States Embassy in Nigeria to express concerns about his son’s radicalization.

The father, a wealthy Nigerian businessman named Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, had urgently sought help from American and Nigerian security officials when cellphone text messages from his son revealed that he was in Yemen and had become a fervent radical.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

U.S. Probes Cleric's Tie to Jetliner Bomb Plot -- Get used to seeing this face

Anwar al-Awlaki is emerging as a central part of the airline-bomber probe.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born Yemeni cleric who has surfaced in multiple terror probes, is emerging as a central part of the Christmas Day airline bomber investigation, as authorities focus attention on a network of extremists in Yemen who may have helped radicalize the young Nigerian accused in the failed plot.

U.S. investigators have uncovered intelligence "chatter" indicating contacts between Mr. Awlaki, who has been under U.S. intelligence scrutiny for years, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a wealthy Nigerian who is accused of trying to down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with explosives hidden in his underwear.

Mr. Awlaki has rocketed to prominence this year because of his role as Internet-based spiritual guide aiding the radicalization of a new generation of Islamist extremists.

Mr. Awlaki was in contact with an Army psychiatrist charged in a shooting spree last month at Fort Hood Army base in Texas.

Part of Mr. Awlaki's appeal, say U.S. officials and terrorism experts, is his ability to act as a bridge between the predominantly Arab leaders of al Qaeda and willing potential jihadists in the West.

He preached at a mosque in Northern Virginia until 2002, when he left the U.S. to spend time building a following in the U.K., before returning to Yemen in 2004.

Mr. Awlaki, 38 years old, followed a familiar path of privileged young man to radical. Born in New Mexico to an affluent father -- a former Yemeni minister of agriculture who is currently an adviser to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh -- Mr. Awlaki was educated in the U.S.

After coming under the scrutiny of U.S. and U.K. authorities following 9/11, Mr. Awlaki returned to Yemen, where he continued his religious teaching and lectured at Imam University, the head of which has been designated by the U.S. and the United Nations as a terrorist financier.

Obama's Christmas present to the GOP: Republicans see political opportunity in Obama response to failed airplane bomb

From The Washington Post:

Republicans are jumping on President Obama's response to the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner as the latest evidence that Democrats do not aggressively fight terrorism to protect the country, returning to a campaign theme that the GOP has employed successfully over the past decade.

Congressional Republicans and GOP pollsters said they believe the administration's response to the failed attack on a Detroit-bound plane -- along with Obama's decisions on the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the intelligence lapses connected to November's massacre at Fort Hood, Tex. -- damage the Democratic brand. [And I will add, Obama's deciding to transfer detainees out of the Guantanamo Bay prison and to allow the 9/11 defendants to face trial in New York.]

Former Guantanamo detainees fuel growing al-Qaeda cell

From The Washington Post:

Former detainees of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have led and fueled the growing assertiveness of the al-Qaeda branch that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, potentially complicating the Obama administration's efforts to shut down the facility.

They include two Saudi nationals: the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Said Ali al-Shihri, and the group's chief theological adviser, Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish. Months after their release to Saudi Arabia, both crossed the kingdom's porous border into Yemen and rejoined the terrorist network.

Shihri and Rubaish were released under the Bush administration, as was a Yemeni man killed in a government raid this month while allegedly plotting an attack on the British Embassy. A Yemeni official said Tuesday that the government thinks he is the first Yemeni to have joined al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula after being released from Guantanamo.

That a group partially led by former Guantanamo detainees may have equipped and trained Nigerian bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is likely to raise more questions about plans to repatriate those prisoners to Yemen. Six were released last week; 80 Yemenis are now left at Guantanamo, nearly half the remaining detainee population. Many are heavily radicalized, with strong ties to extremist individuals or groups in Yemen, said U.S. officials and terrorism analysts.

Republicans have in recent months urged the Obama administration to rethink sending detainees to Yemen. They have cited al-Qaeda's growing footprint in the country, its instability and the case of Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., after exchanging e-mails with a radical Yemeni American cleric.

On Janet Napolitano: Heck of a job, Barry.

Maureen Dowd writes in The New York Times:

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

Obama stepped up to the microphone to admit what Janet Napolitano (who learned nothing from an earlier Janet named Reno) had first tried to deny: that there had been “a systemic failure” and a “catastrophic breach of security.”

But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.

Heck of a job, Barry.

I have said many times that it would not happen. It did. All agree Congress is guilty of malpractice as it allows a temporary lapse in the estate tax.

The U.S. Congress ought to be ashamed of itself. Beginning Friday, January 1, 2010, the estate tax goes away for a year.

Under current laws in effect until the end of this year, the size of the exemption (or amount a person may die without owing any federal estate tax) is $3.5 million per individual or up to $7 million per couple. Going to no tax is terrible.

There is an expectation that Congress will pass an estate tax next year and make it retroactive to January 1, but who knows if that will work, and as Congress has proved this year, what do expectations amount to.

Shame on you Congress!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dick Pettys: A Year No One Could Have Imagined

From InsiderAdvantage Georgia:

The best writers couldn’t have scripted a political year like this in Georgia. A defeated former governor hit the comeback trail; the lieutenant governor, after preparing his own gubernatorial bid, backed out, and the sitting Speaker of the House announced out of the blue he had tried to kill himself and then resigned after his ex-wife sat for a devastating television interview.

The year ends with Democrats handed a major opportunity to hammer ruling Republicans for a “culture of corruption” and the hope that when the 2010 elections come around they can prove that Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue’s surprise victory in 2002 was a fluke rather than the beginning of a long-term trend.

The depressed economy and the state’s budget woes served as bookends for a year that, if anything, was in worse shape when it ended than when it began. And despite all the rain we got in the last few months of the year, water remained a front-burner issue, thanks to a federal judge’s ruling.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Democrats should heed Daley's steer-to-the-center advice

David Broder of The Washington Post writes today about the subject of my 12-26-09 post entitled "Chm. of Gore 2000 campaign warns: Plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster (read: reclaim the center & keep the Big Tent big:"

On the day before Christmas, President Obama found two presents under his tree. One was the health-care reform bill passed that morning by the Senate, a historic measure so freighted with promise and problems that it could blow up.

The other was an op-ed in The Post by William Daley, his fellow Chicagoan and one of the canniest Democrats I know, warning Obama that he is on the verge of losing his hold on the vital center of politics.

[T]he thrust of Daley's main argument [and h]is target is the left of his party -- the grass-roots liberal activists who condemn the centrist Democrats sitting in marginal seats for blocking some provisions of health-care reform, for example, and the leaders of organized labor who threaten to retaliate by withholding their support from the moderates.

These groups put heavy pressure on Obama to move his agenda to the left -- even when a Congress with swollen Democratic majorities is balking at the measures that Obama already has endorsed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's inner circle is made up of long-standing veterans of gerrymandered House districts, virtually immune from Election Day challenge, just as she is. The wants and needs of "the Democratic base" count heavily for them, and Daley's warnings may be resented or ignored.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's home-state party in Nevada is as closely tied to the unions as Michigan used to be in the days of Walter Reuther, and Reid views the world from that perspective.

As a loyal Democrat, Daley insisted in the closing paragraphs of his op-ed that his party is not doomed to ruin. It can still avoid anything more than a minimal setback in 2010, he said, if it will simply "acknowledge that the agenda of the party's most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans -- and, based on that recognition . . . steer a more moderate course on the key issues of the day, from health care to the economy to the environment to Afghanistan."

I am not so certain. It will be up to Obama to steer the Democrats in that direction. No one on Capitol Hill is likely to lead such a change. The first test will come with the revisions of health care in the House-Senate conference and whether the White House insists on strengthening the cost-saving measures in the bills.

The larger tests will lie in Obama's 2010 State of the Union and budget messages -- whether he fulfills his promise to start addressing the runaway budget deficits left in the wake of the recession. A presidential endorsement of the much-discussed commission empowered to slow the hemorrhage of red ink would signal to voters that Daley's message has been heard.

Medicaid accounts for about one-fifth of state budgets, on average.

From The New York Times:

The bill passed by the Senate on Thursday would move toward universal health insurance coverage in large part by expanding Medicaid, a program whose costs have traditionally been shared by the states and the federal government.

Medicaid covers about 60 million Americans, mostly low-income families and pregnant women, though some states have expanded eligibility to include childless adults under 65. It accounts for about one-fifth of state budgets, on average.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Memo from Santa: About that Christmas bonus . . .

Julie Winterbottom writes in The Washington Post:

TO: All Employees of Santa's Workshop and Associated Businesses

FROM: Santa


As many of you know, our business, once thought to be recession-proof, has been severely affected by the current economic crisis. The worldwide downturn and global changes in manufacturing and transport have led me to a very difficult decision: Effective Dec. 26, 2009, we will be closing the main workshop facility and scaling back or restructuring most of our other operations. While this transition will be painful, I believe it is the best way to stem our losses, reinvigorate the Santa brand and, ultimately, move the business into the 21st century.

The problems we have faced in recent years have proved insurmountable. You're all familiar with our difficulty in obtaining sleigh parts, the increasingly incomprehensible requests from spelling-challenged children and injuries sustained in faux fireplaces, to name just a few.

In the past 12 months, Mrs. Claus and I have worked tirelessly to save the business and avoid cutbacks in staff. We spent weeks working out a merger with the Tooth Fairy, only to have the deal fall through when TF Inc. insisted that I be replaced with a younger, "less cholesterol-driven, more ethnically ambiguous" spokesperson. Company officials also demanded that I retire the phrase "ho, ho, ho" (which they seemed to think was disrespectful toward young women). I of course could not agree to such drastic alterations in the brand.

In the end, we had to face the facts: In the words of the consulting firm we brought in, "It is simply not feasible in today's economy to run a business where 90 percent of the gross income arrives in the form of eggnog, cookies and re-gifted fruitcake."

I want to thank all of you in advance for your hard work heading into the 2009 season and apprise you of the changes that will be implemented immediately after our final deliveries are made on Friday, Dec. 25:

The Workshop:
About 20 percent of the elf workforce will be taking early retirement. Half of the elves left on staff will remain on the payroll but will work out of their homes, using their own machinery. The other toymaker positions will be eliminated. Elves whose jobs have been eliminated will receive generous severance packages. They will also be eligible for a free training program designed to help them transition into new careers, including but not limited to custom shoe repair, mascot work and sales assistance at roadside Christmas Villages. Elves who wish to remain at the North Pole are welcome to apply for positions in our Santa Goes Green Foundation's "Teach a Polar Bear to Swim" initiative.

Delivery Operations:
In 2010, we plan to launch a Web site that will provide an alternative to traditional sleigh-based delivery service. The online service will include Santa's Lap (a chat function) and a virtual stocking that can be filled with e-toys. Users can also follow Santa via Twitter as he makes his rounds.

Since we expect our traditional sleigh-to-chimney business to drop off, we will be reducing our reindeer staff. Dancer and Vixen are leaving to pursue careers in a burlesque show in Las Vegas. Rudolph has received a grant to launch a "green" energy company, the first ever to harness electrical power from a nose. The rest of the herd will be employed by Santa's Workshop during the high season only. They will relocate to New York during the off-season to supplement their incomes by filling in for vacationing carriage horses in Central Park.

"Dear Santa" Division: This division will close, as we will no longer accept letters at the North Pole. All snail mail and electronic mail will be routed to our new customer service contractor in New Delhi.

In closing, I want to thank each and every one of you for your centuries of service. Please join Mrs. Claus and myself at 4 p.m. today in the employee lounge for an eggnog toast to all your hard work.

Don't worry about repaying things & a bailout-weary Congress. In Washington we have a printing press: Obama promises unlimited financial assistance.

From The Washington Post:

The Obama administration pledged Thursday to provide unlimited financial assistance to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, an eleventh-hour move that allows the government to exceed the current $400 billion cap on emergency aid without seeking permission from a bailout-weary Congress.

The Christmas Eve announcement by the Treasury Department means that it can continue to run the companies, which were seized last year, as arms of the government for the rest of President Obama's current term.

But even as the administration was making this open-ended financial commitment, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disclosed that they had received approval from their federal regulator to pay $42 million in Wall Street-style compensation packages to 12 top executives for 2009.

The compensation packages, including up to $6 million each to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's chief executives, come amid an ongoing public debate about lavish payments to executives at banks and other financial firms that have received taxpayer aid.

Now this is discouraging for a small business owner: Health Care Changes Wouldn’t Have Big Effect for Many

A 11-20-09 post provided in part:

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.

An article in the 12-25-09 issue of The New York Times was entitled "Health Care Changes Wouldn’t Have Big Effect for Many" and read is part:

Now that the Senate has caught up with the House by passing a sweeping health care bill, lawmakers are on the verge of extending coverage to the tens of millions of Americans who have no health insurance.

But what about the roughly 160 million workers and their dependents who already have health insurance through an employer? For many people, the result of the long, angry health care debate in Washington may be little more than more of the same.

People working for small businesses — an estimated 40 percent of the private labor force — could see their coverage affected. And if their employer decided to use one of the new insurance exchanges, workers might have a much broader choice of plans than they do now.

The premiums a small-business employee are charged could also change, especially if that company’s work force is particularly young and healthy. Those people could wind up paying more, [Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan group,] said, because the legislation tries to spread the risk of covering employees with expensive medical conditions by setting new rules over how insurers can determine premiums.

The real unknown, of course, is whether any final legislation will accelerate the rise in premiums or slow it. At least one impartial analysis, by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, concluded that the legislation was not going to have much of an effect on the cost of premiums either way.

Chm. of Gore 2000 campaign warns: Plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster (read: reclaim the center & keep the Big Tent big)

William M. Daley, secretary of commerce in the Clinton administration and chairman of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, writes in The Washington Post:

The announcement by Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith that he is switching to the Republican Party is just the latest warning sign that the Democratic Party -- my lifelong political home -- has a critical decision to make: Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come.

Rep. Griffith's decision makes him the fifth centrist Democrat to either switch parties or announce plans to retire rather than stand for reelection in 2010. These announcements are a sharp reversal from the progress the Democratic Party made starting in 2006 and continuing in 2008, when it reestablished itself as the nation's majority party for the first time in more than a decade. That success happened for one major reason: Democrats made inroads in geographies and constituencies that had trended Republican since the 1960s. In these two elections, a majority of independents and a sizable number of moderate Republicans joined the traditional Democratic base to sweep Democrats to commanding majorities in Congress and to bring Barack Obama to the White House.

These independents and Republicans supported Democrats based on a message indicating that the party would be a true Big Tent -- that we would welcome a diversity of views even on tough issues such as abortion, gun rights and the role of government in the economy.

This call was answered not just by voters but by a surge of smart, talented candidates who came forward to run and win under the Democratic banner in districts dominated by Republicans for a generation. These centrists swelled the party's ranks in Congress and contributed to Obama's victories in states such as Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and other Republican bastions.

But now they face a grim political fate. On the one hand, centrist Democrats are being vilified by left-wing bloggers, pundits and partisan news outlets for not being sufficiently liberal, "true" Democrats. On the other, Republicans are pounding them for their association with a party that seems to be advancing an agenda far to the left of most voters.

The political dangers of this situation could not be clearer.

Witness the losses in New Jersey and Virginia in this year's off-year elections. In those gubernatorial contests, the margin of victory was provided to Republicans by independents -- many of whom had voted for Obama. Just one year later, they had crossed back to the Republicans by 2-to-1 margins.

Witness the drumbeat of ominous poll results. Obama's approval rating has fallen below 49 percent overall and is even lower -- 41 percent -- among independents. On the question of which party is best suited to manage the economy, there has been a 30-point swing toward Republicans since November 2008, according to Ipsos. Gallup's generic congressional ballot shows Republicans leading Democrats. There is not a hint of silver lining in these numbers. They are the quantitative expression of the swing bloc of American politics slipping away.

And, of course, witness the loss of Rep. Griffith and his fellow moderate Democrats who will retire. They are perhaps the truest canaries in the coal mine.

Despite this raft of bad news, Democrats are not doomed to return to the wilderness. The question is whether the party is prepared to listen carefully to what the American public is saying. Voters are not re-embracing conservative ideology, nor are they falling back in love with the Republican brand. If anything, the Democrats' salvation may lie in the fact that Republicans seem even more hell-bent on allowing their radical wing to drag the party away from the center.

All that is required for the Democratic Party to recover its political footing is to acknowledge that the agenda of the party's most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans -- and, based on that recognition, to steer a more moderate course on the key issues of the day, from health care to the economy to the environment to Afghanistan.

For liberals to accept that inescapable reality is not to concede permanent defeat. Rather, let them take it as a sign that they must continue the hard work of slowly and steadily persuading their fellow citizens to embrace their perspective. In the meantime, liberals -- and, indeed, all of us -- should have the humility to recognize that there is no monopoly on good ideas, as well as the long-term perspective to know that intraparty warfare will only relegate the Democrats to minority status, which would be disastrous for the very constituents they seek to represent.

The party's moment of choosing is drawing close. While it may be too late to avoid some losses in 2010, it is not too late to avoid the kind of rout that redraws the political map. The leaders of the Democratic Party need to move back toward the center -- and in doing so, set the stage for the many years' worth of leadership necessary to produce the sort of pragmatic change the American people actually want.

(1) 53% to 36% disapprove of health care legislation; & (2) 73% to 18% say they do not believe it will reduce future budget deficits (which it won't)

David Broder writes in The Washington Post:

The health-care reform bill coming out of the Senate presents a real dilemma for spectators: How do you applaud while holding your nose?

There is so much that is wrong with it -- and the way it was made -- and, at the same time, so much that is right that you just have to shake your head in despair and in wonder.

As one who covered the Clintons' struggle 15 years ago to pass health-care reform and who wrote an overly long book about their failure to even bring it to a vote in a Democratic Congress, I am in awe at the prospect of such a bill making it all the way to the White House.

When implemented years from now, it promises to make as many as 30 million men and women who now live with the fear of illness or hospitalization leading straight to financial ruin eligible for the same care as their more fortunate, insured neighbors.

Six decades after FDR's death, one of his Four Freedoms will, at long last, be guaranteed to almost all Americans. And the shame of this affluent society tolerating the denial of health care to its citizens will be largely lifted.

But Lord, what a load of embarrassment accompanies this sense of satisfaction! What should have been a moment of proud accomplishment for the Senate, right up there with the passage of Social Security and the first civil rights bills, was instead a travesty of low-grade political theater -- angry rhetoric and backroom deals.

There's blame enough to go around. Start with the 40 Republicans, not one of whom was willing to break out of the mold of negative conformity and offer a sustained working partnership in serious legislative effort.

But even those Republicans who were initially inclined to do that -- and there were at least a handful of them -- were turned away by the White House and the Senate Democratic leaders, who never lifted their sights much beyond the Democratic ranks.

Forced to bargain for every vote among the 60 in his caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did what he usually does: He reduced the negotiations to his own level of transactional morality. Incapable of summoning his colleagues to statesmanship, he made the deals look as crass and parochial as many of them were -- encasing a historic achievement in a wrapping of payoff and patronage.

The taint has rubbed off on the bill. This week's Quinnipiac University poll found a majority of Americans disapproving of the legislation by 53 to 36 percent and an overwhelming number -- 73 to 18 percent -- saying they do not believe it will, as promised, reduce future budget deficits. It now becomes President Obama's responsibility to strengthen the bill's cost-saving features and present them in a better way. Two of them are vulnerable to attack when the bill goes back to conference with the House in January. Liberal Democrats do not like the independent commission in the Senate bill having power to enforce savings in Medicare and the private health system. And labor does not accept the Senate plan to tax high-end insurance plans.

Obama has not intervened with a heavy hand as the bill has moved through the House and Senate, but now it is time for him to act.

It would help a lot if he reached out personally to those few Republicans who might still want to improve the bill rather than sink it. And it would help even more if he shamed the Democrats into rescinding some of the crasser bargains they made to buy votes along the way.

The country would welcome even a few signs that this legislation has bipartisan support.

Then we could applaud its final passage and take our thumbs from our noses.

From the Cracker Squire Archives -- A Brief History of Christmas (& a belated Merry Christmas to all of my readers & wishes for a most Happy New Year)

The following is from a 12-22-07 post:

John Steeele Gordon writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Christmas famously "comes but once a year." In fact, however, it comes twice. The Christmas of the Nativity, the manger and Christ child, the wise men and the star of Bethlehem, "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" is one holiday. The Christmas of parties, Santa Claus, evergreens, presents, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells" is quite another.

But because both celebrations fall on Dec. 25, the two are constantly confused. Religious Christians condemn taking "the Christ out of Christmas," while First Amendment absolutists see a threat to the separation of church and state in every poinsettia on public property and school dramatization of "A Christmas Carol."

A little history can clear things up.

The Christmas of parties and presents is far older than the Nativity. Most ancient cultures celebrated the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its lowest point and begins to climb once more in the sky. In ancient Rome, this festival was called the Saturnalia and ran from Dec. 17 to Dec. 24. During that week, no work was done, and the time was spent in parties, games, gift giving and decorating the houses with evergreens. (Sound familiar?) It was, needless to say, a very popular holiday.

In its earliest days, Christianity did not celebrate the Nativity at all. Only two of the four Gospels even mention it. Instead, the Church calendar was centered on Easter, still by far the most important day in the Christian year. The Last Supper was a Seder, celebrating Passover, which falls on the day of the full moon in the first month of spring in the Hebrew calendar. So in A.D. 325, the Council of Nicea decided that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon of spring. That's why Easter and its associated days, such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, are "moveable feasts," moving about the calendar at the whim of the moon.

It is a mark of how late Christmas came to the Christian calendar that it is not a moveable feast, but a fixed one, determined by the solar calendar established by Julius Caesar and still in use today (although slightly tweaked in the 16th century).

By the time of the Council of Nicea, the Christian Church was making converts by the thousands and, in hopes of still more converts, in 354 Pope Liberius decided to add the Nativity to the church calendar. He also decided to celebrate it on Dec. 25. It was, frankly, a marketing ploy with a little political savvy thrown in.

History does not tell us exactly when in the year Christ was born, but according to the Gospel of St. Luke, "shepherds were abiding in the field and keeping watch over their flocks by night." This would imply a date in the spring or summer when the flocks were up in the hills and needed to be guarded. In winter they were kept safely in corrals.

So Dec. 25 must have been chosen for other reasons. It is hard to escape the idea that by making Christmas fall immediately after the Saturnalia, the Pope invited converts to still enjoy the fun and games of the ancient holiday and just call it Christmas. Also, Dec. 25 was the day of the sun god, Sol Invictus, associated with the emperor. By using that date, the church tied itself to the imperial system.

By the high Middle Ages, Christmas was a rowdy, bawdy time, often inside the church as well as outside it. In France, many parishes celebrated the Feast of the Ass, supposedly honoring the donkey that had brought Mary to Bethlehem. Donkeys were brought into the church and the mass ended with priests and parishioners alike making donkey noises. In the so-called Feast of Fools, the lower clergy would elect a "bishop of fools" to temporarily run the diocese and make fun of church ceremonial and discipline. With this sort of thing going on inside the church to celebrate the Nativity, one can easily imagine the drunken and sexual revelries going on outside it to celebrate what was in all but name the Saturnalia.

With the Reformation, Protestants tried to rid the church of practices unknown in its earliest days and get back to Christian roots. Most Protestant sects abolished priestly celibacy (and often the priesthood itself), the cult of the Virgin Mary, relics, confession and . . . Christmas.

In the English-speaking world, Christmas was abolished in Scotland in 1563 and in England after the Puritans took power in the 1640s. It returned with the Restoration in 1660, but the celebrations never regained their medieval and Elizabethan abandon.

There was still no Christmas in Puritan New England, where Dec. 25 was just another working day. In the South, where the Church of England predominated, Christmas was celebrated as in England. In the middle colonies, matters were mixed. In polyglot New York, the Dutch Reformed Church did not celebrate Christmas. The Anglicans and Catholics did.

It was New York and its early 19th century literary establishment that created the modern American form of the old Saturnalia. It was a much more family -- and especially child -- centered holiday than the community-wide celebrations of earlier times.

St. Nicolas is the patron saint of New York (the first church built in the city was named for him), and Washington Irving wrote in his "Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of New York" how Sinterklaes, soon anglicized to Santa Claus, rode through the sky in a horse and wagon and went down chimneys to deliver presents to children.

The writer George Pintard added the idea that only good children got presents, and a book dating to 1821 changed the horse and wagon to reindeer and sleigh. Clement Clarke Moore in 1823 made the number of reindeer eight and gave them their names. Moore's famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," is entirely secular. It is about "visions of sugar plums" with nary a wise man or a Christ child in sight. In 1828, the American Ambassador Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought the poinsettia back from Mexico. It became associated with Christmas because that's the time of year when it blooms.

In the 1840s, Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol," which does not even mention the religious holiday (the word church appears in the story just twice, in passing, the word Nativity never). Prince Albert introduced the German custom of the Christmas tree to the English-speaking world.

In the 1860s, the great American cartoonist Thomas Nast set the modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly, bearded fat man in a fur-trimmed cap. (The color red became standard only in the 20th century, thanks to Coca-Cola ads showing Santa Claus that way.)

Merchants began to emphasize Christmas, decorating stores and pushing the idea of Christmas presents for reasons having nothing whatever to do with religion, except, perhaps, the worship of mammon.

With the increased mobility provided by railroads and increasing immigration from Europe, people who celebrated Christmas began settling near those who did not. It was not long before the children of the latter began putting pressure on their parents to celebrate Christmas as well. "The O'Reilly kids down the street are getting presents, why aren't we?!" is not an argument parents have much defense against.

By the middle of the 19th century, most Protestant churches were, once again, celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday. The reason, again, had more to do with marketing than theology: They were afraid of losing congregants to other Christmas-celebrating denominations.

In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law a bill making the secular Christmas a civil holiday because its celebration had become universal in this country. It is now celebrated in countries all over the world, including many where Christians are few, such as Japan.

So for those worried about the First Amendment, there's a very easy way to distinguish between the two Christmases. If it isn't mentioned in the Gospels of Luke and Mark, then it is not part of the Christian holiday. Or we could just change the name of the secular holiday back to what it was 2000 years ago.

Merry Saturnalia, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The political world's winners and losers in health-care reform

From The Washington Post:


-- President Obama: Did the White House underestimate the challenge of reforming the health-care system? Absolutely. And, the months of process-based stories on the warring Democratic factions and declining poll numbers were the price they paid for that miscalculation. But ultimately Obama -- once he persuades the House to go along -- will get a health-care reform package through Congress, a legislative feat of epic proportions.

-- Harry Reid: Reid may not be a terribly impressive politician in front of the camera, but behind closed doors he is without peer. Reid managed to divine what each of the 60 members of his fractious caucus needed to be a "yes" and give it to them without permanently hobbling the bill. Hard to argue with that kind of result.

-- Ben Nelson: The Nebraska senator played the legislative process like a virtuoso, not only getting stricter language about abortion funding included in the final bill but also scoring another huge plum -- the promise of full federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid in the Cornhusker State. Of Nelson's bargaining, one Senate Democratic operative said: "A one-man study on how the Senate works -- they should teach this in civics class."

-- The National Republican Senatorial Committee: Strategists at the Senate GOP campaign arm were rejoicing over the weekend with the news that targeted Democrats including Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.) were going to vote for the measure. Unlike Nelson or even Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), who is up for reelection in 2012, neither Lincoln nor Bennet got anything major in exchange for their vote -- meaning they could face the blowback from those unhappy with the legislation in their respective states without an accompanying sweetener to make the bill more palatable. And, will the vote of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) for the package be just the leverage the NRSC needs to get Gov. John Hoeven (R) into the race?


-- Harry Reid: Yes, the majority leader got the bill through -- a major victory for Democrats at the national level. But, back home in Nevada, the legislation remains a mixed bag (at best) politically and Reid now owns it. Reid has to hope public perception of the bill shifts in a positive direction in the coming months, as his numbers in the state are dismal and he has little margin for error.

-- Joe Lieberman: Lieberman's high-profile opposition to the Medicare buy-in effectively killed the public option. Lieberman allies insist that the Connecticut independent was protecting moderate Democrats such as Lincoln by putting himself on the firing line, but the practical political effect of his maneuvering has been to further anger and energize the party's liberal base against him. Beating Lieberman in 2012 -- if he chooses to run -- will be a cause cèlébre among the liberal left.

-- Liberals: Progressives both in and outside the Senate watched as their dream bill slowly but surely lost the elements -- including the public option -- they longed for. Compromise is the name of the game when it comes to passing legislation as complex and sweeping as health-care reform, but that's not likely to be much consolation for a Democratic base already aggrieved about Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

The big barometer

[B]oth parties are right to keep a close eye on Obama's standing with the American people over the next 10 months. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 50 percent of the public approved of the job Obama was doing, data consistent with other surveys gauging perception of the president's job performance.

If that number goes up by five percentage points between now and Election Day 2010, history suggests Democrats will be looking at small-scale losses in the House. If it goes down by five points, the party's 40-seat majority could well be cut by half (or more).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I wish Obama & the left would think about America & not Europe -- Yes!! Plan to Move Guantánamo Detainees Faces a New Delay

From The New York Times:

Rebuffed this month by skeptical lawmakers when it sought finances to buy a prison in rural Illinois, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with the money to replace the Guantánamo Bay prison.

As a result, officials now believe that they are unlikely to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its population of terrorism suspects until 2011 at the earliest — a far slower timeline for achieving one of President Obama’s signature national security policies than they had previously hinted.

The federal Bureau of Prisons does not have enough money to pay Illinois for the center, which would cost about $150 million. Several weeks ago, the White House approached the House Appropriations Committee and floated the idea of adding about $200 million for the project to the military spending bill for the 2010 fiscal year, according to administration and Congressional officials.

But Democratic leaders refused to include the politically charged measure in the legislation. When lawmakers approved the bill on Dec. 19, it contained no financing for [the Thomson Correctional Center].

Frustrated by the difficulties in obtaining financing from Congress, administration officials had discussed invoking a little-known statute that would allow the president to declare a national emergency and then use military funds allocated for other construction projects to buy and retrofit the Illinois prison.

That statute, however, has never been used for a project quite like this one. Fearing that lawmakers would be angered by such a move and could respond by erasing the statute, the administration decided not to invoke it.

The White House has argued that closing Guantánamo would enhance national security by removing a symbol used by terrorist recruiters. It also said the closing would save taxpayers money because the Defense Department pays $150 million a year to operate the Guantánamo prison on the naval base there, while running the Illinois prison would cost $75 million.

Congressional resistance to approving money for Thomson represents a steep hurdle toward dealing with the detainees who the administration has decided can neither be prosecuted nor safely transferred to the custody of other countries.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I wish I could say that this too shall pass. But it won't. Rather this bill is becoming one that many in the Democratic Party won't survive.

I was sickened to read the details of the provisions that Republicans justifiably slammed today that were inserted at the last minute by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) in the far-reaching health-care overhaul bill to win over individual senators.

Was he embarrassed by such? You wouldn't know it. Reid defended the provisions, saying this was how lawmaking has always worked, including when Republicans controlled Congress. "That's what legislation is all about -- it's the art of compromise," he said. "It's no different than other pieces of legislation."

The buy your vote special provisions are discussed in this Wall Street Journal article.

The aftermath of this legislation -- that probably will pass (and my readers know I feel strongly that we need health care reform legislation, but not this sausage in the making on the fly way of going about it) -- will be as stated in the following column from the admittedly very conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel. I sure do hate it, but I fear her prediction is as true as grits are groceries.

Barack Obama emerged from his meeting with Senate Democrats this week to claim Congress was on the "precipice" of something historic. Believe him. The president is demanding his party unilaterally enact one of the most unpopular and complex pieces of social legislation in history. In the process, he may be sacrificing Democrats' chances at creating a sustainable majority.

Slowly, slowly, the Democratic health agenda is turning into a political suicide pact. Congressional members have been dragged along by momentum, by threat, by bribe, but mostly by the White House's siren song that it would be worse to not pass a bill than it would be to pass one. If that ever were true, it is not today.

Public opinion on ObamaCare is at a low ebb. This week's NBC-WSJ poll: A mere 32% of Americans think it a "good" idea. The Washington Post: Only 35% of independents support it—down 10 points in a month.

What's extraordinary is that more Democrats have not wised up to the fact that they are being used as pawns in this larger liberal game. Maybe Mr. Obama will see a bump in the polls if health care passes; maybe not. What is certain is that this vote is becoming one that many in his party will not survive.

Senate Debate on Health Care Exacerbates Partisanship

David Broder noted in his artice in the previous post:

Matthew Dowd, a former Democrat who served as chief strategist for the younger president Bush, offered congressional Democrats the free advice that they would be better off themselves if the Republicans managed to block Obama's bill.

I do fear he is right. The public is fearful of tax increases and the impact of health care reform on the deficit, regardless of what Party leaders say differently.

The public believes the status quo is preferable to change in this evolving legislation that the details are kept from even Democratic Senators. This is a crazy way to go about passing such important legislation.

From The New York Times:

Nasty charges of bribery. Senators cut off midspeech. Accusations of politics put over patriotism. Talk of double-crosses. A nonagenarian forced to the floor after midnight for multiple procedural votes.

In the heart of the holiday season, Senate Republicans and Democrats are at one another’s throats as the health care overhaul reaches its climactic votes. A year that began with hopes of new post-partisanship has indeed produced change: Things have gotten worse.

Enmity and acrimony are coursing through a debate with tremendous consequences for both sides as well as for the legislative agenda in the months ahead.

Should Democrats prevail, it will put an exclamation point on an eventful first year of their control of Congress and the White House and leave Republicans on the Napoleonic side of what one predicted could be President Obama’s Waterloo. A Republican victory would invigorate an opposition party that was back on its heels at the beginning of 2009 and would strike a crushing blow to Democrats and their claims to governing.

Members of both parties say the dispute over health care has created bad blood, left both Democrats and Republicans suspicious of the opposition’s motives, and shattered some of the institution’s traditional collegiality.

Whatever the cause, things have gotten bad enough that Senator Arlen Specter, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said the Senate should be stripped of one of its illustrious institutional claims.

“This body prides itself on being the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Mr. Specter said. “That designation has been destroyed with what has occurred here the past few days.”

(1) F. Rich: Was his brilliant presidential campaign as hollow as Tiger’s public image? (2) D. Broder: Democrats aren't backing their own president.

Frank Rich writes in The New York Times:

Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image — a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it). The truth may well be neither, but after a decade of being spun silly, Americans can’t be blamed for being cynical about any leader trying to sell anything. As we say goodbye to the year of Tiger Woods, it is the country, sad to say, that is left mired in a sand trap with no obvious way out.

And David Broder writes in The Washington Post:

In the last year or so of George W. Bush's second term, commentators used to talk a lot about the conspicuous scarcity of other Republicans willing to stand up and defend him. I never thought we'd see Barack Obama face a similar problem before his first year was over.

But as Obama's approval scores (50 percent in the latest Post-ABC News poll) sink, it is getting harder and harder to find a full-throated supporter of the president.

You need go no further from here than the op-ed page of Thursday's Post to see what I mean. Time was, and not all that long ago, when The Post was thought of as the "liberal paper" in Washington, a reliable advocate of the kind of policies pursued by Democratic presidents.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If public is ready for change again in Nov., Dems will feel brunt of that anger. Right now the public believes the status quo is preferable to change.

Howard Dean has angered the Democratic leadership.

From The Washington Post:

Amid the spectacle that has become the health-care debate, Democrats have taken comfort in the belief that they will be rewarded politically if in the end they pass something -- almost anything. That proposition is being sorely tested in these final days of maneuvering.

For all the talk of the damage President Obama has sustained during this long and difficult year, congressional Democrats have suffered at least as much - and will have to face the voters far sooner than the president.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on Saturday that he had the 60 votes to pass the bill. The House still must be persuaded to go along, but Obama and the Democrats are one step closer to achieving the goal that has eluded so many presidents and Congresses. That in itself is a significant achievement.

The long fight has been costly, however. The health-care debate has split the Democratic coalition. Unity has given way to bitter infighting. This has been a moment for individuals to make war on one another.

Whatever goodwill existed among Democrats at the start of Obama's presidency has been fractured and will be difficult to put together again. The events of the past week underline that reality.

Joe Lieberman, who bolted the party in 2006 to salvage his Senate seat and then accepted the Democrats' generosity to maintain his committee chairmanship despite having backed Republican John McCain in last year's presidential race, held the party hostage in negotiations, infuriating many liberals.

Howard Dean, who has grievances about the way he was discarded by the Obama team after running the Democratic National Committee for four years, has led a vocal guerrilla war against the bill from outside the Congress, enraging the party leadership.

Democratic centrists have extracted costly promises to stay onboard, but still fear for their political future. Bloggers and progressive activists have counterattacked against them, vowing retribution. Labor is unenthusiastic to hostile.

Progressives in Congress have swallowed hard over the compromises needed to round up enough votes to beat back a Republican filibuster.

Hard-headed politicians would say there was no way to avoid this kind of squabbling, given the stakes and complexity of health-care reform and the rules of Congress. There are no immaculate legislative struggles on a piece of social legislation of this consequence.

Leading Democrats also think that, in the end, voters care less about the process than about the outcome. If, in the face of united Republican opposition, the Democrats produce historic changes in the availability of health care to millions more citizens and protect against some of the arbitrary practices of the insurance industry, that will override the messy path to success.

But there is something broader for Democrats to worry about as they try to finish their work this year and prepare for 2010 and the midterm elections. What began as an undercurrent of dissatisfaction has grown throughout the year. Disappointment with the president is dwarfed by discontent with Congress.

No Congress is ever loved, but the assessments of this Congress are striking in their negativity. In the most recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, only 7 percent rated the performance of Congress above average, and 34 percent called it one of the worst.

Two benchmarks put that number into perspective. In October 1994, shortly before Republicans ousted Democrats from power in the House and Senate, 16 percent called that Congress one of the worst. In October 2006, just before Democrats recaptured control, 25 percent called that Congress one of the worst. In the past five months, the percentage rating this Congress that low has jumped 11 percentage points.

Why won't that anti-Washington sentiment fall equally on Republicans and Democrats? Because it rarely does. Republicans are hardly secure or popular, but Democrats are in control. If the public is ready for change again in November, Democrats will feel the brunt of that anger.

Many factors contribute to the dissatisfaction with Washington. People are angry about bailouts for bankers. The unemployment rate is at 10 percent. They see the deficit rising and worry about the long-term consequences. Conservatives and liberals question whether their leaders have the right priorities.

Health care has exhausted Democrats and tested their capacity to govern. Democrats hope that passage of a health-care bill will prove to be a political restorative. But the longer the debate has gone on, the less people like what they think they may be getting. Congress may be on the cusp of a historic achievement, but right now the public believes the status quo is preferable to change.

Democrats have a dual problem. They must find the votes to pass a bill to avoid the charge that, even with their big majorities, they are incapable of governing. They also must convince voters that the policy changes they want to enact include far more pluses than minuses.

That is a big challenge, not only for Obama and Democratic leaders. They are governing in difficult times and see themselves close to the finish line on health care. But they are nonetheless bracing for a difficult election year in 2010.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tom Baxter reports on David Ralston: “I will not put up with backbiting, bickering & these intrafamily tensions very long.” -- I wonder what went on.

Tom Baxter, shown above with yours truly, is a former AJC Political Correspondent, reporter, Sunday perspective editor and national editor. He was and remains one of the best of the best, writing about politics in Georgia, the South and the nation since 1987.

I sure used to enjoy his contributions to the Political Insider and the AJC. In 2007 Tom took early retirement from the AJC and became senior vice president and editor of the Southern Political Report.

Tom reports on the House Speaker to be in InsiderAdvantage Georgia:

Returning to the Capitol from a food run during the long House Republican Caucus meeting Thursday, Associated Press reporter Shannon McCaffrey was surprised to see former House Speaker Glenn Richardson leaving the building in a dead run. She tried to speak to him, but as he passed her she saw, to her further astonishment, what Richardson was running from: Fox 5 reporter Dale Russell, in hot pursuit with a camera crew.

That scene of Richardson’s hasty exit from the Capitol – perhaps the last of his career – explained as well as anything what happened in the meeting called to elect a replacement for him.

Earlier in the day, Rep. David Ralston said that his election in the speaker’s race was a “message for change.” Some might argue over how much and what kind of change the House Republicans really want, but the election of the candidate with the fewest associations with the immediate past did make one thing clear. This caucus was in no mood to continue the sort of messy complications typified by Richardson’s speedy departure from the building a little later in the day.

In probably the most effective line of his speech to the caucus before the vote, Ralston described himself as “a pretty simple guy with a pretty simple life.” That seemed to be what the majority of the caucus was looking for.

Before the vote, more than one GOP representative privately expressed their concern over facing re-election if Ralston’s chief rival and the candidate considered by most to be the front runner, Rep. Larry O’Neal, became speaker. That was because the caucus voted unanimously in favor of the retroactive tax break, sponsored by O’Neal, which benefitted Gov. Sonny Perdue.

His appeal in Thursday’s election was also straight forward: What you see is what you get.

Ralston made a few brief remarks after he won the vote, but after the last leadership election, just before the caucus adjourned for the day, he came back to say a few more things.

“I will put up with a lot. I am a very patient person but I’ve already got the feeling that may be about to change,” he said in an affable, joking way. But one got the impression something had happened since the vote to prompt his remarks. He wanted to make it clear, he said, that he “will not put up with backbiting, bickering and these intrafamily tensions very long.”

Those “intrafamily tensions,” and Ralston’s impatience with them, could make the next few weeks very interesting.

Downturn Revises Census Projections

From The Wall Street Journal:

Slowing immigration means that whites are projected to continue to comprise a majority of the U.S. population until at least 2050, eight years later than previously thought.

Those were the findings of new Census Bureau projections released Wednesday. The updated figures substantially revised some earlier ones, reflecting the effects of the recession and stricter border control.

Additionally, the projections also showed the U.S. population crossing 400 million just after 2050, more than a decade later than earlier forecasts. Currently, the U.S. has about 308 million people, roughly two-thirds of them whites of non-Hispanic origin.

Both new findings assume that the current level of immigration, about one million people a year, will stay about the same. Immigration levels are difficult to predict, of course, rising and falling based on factors such as economic conditions in the U.S. and abroad.

The Census projections highlight the extent to which the growth and composition of the U.S. population hinges on immigration. The flow of immigrants into the U.S. influences everything from the solvency of Social Security to the size of the labor force and the country's average age.

Another opinion and some interesting history on the topic: ObamaCare and the Liberal Obsession

JFK pleads for universal health care in Madison Square Garden in 1962.

Daniel Henninger writes in The Wall Street Journal:

If President Obama's health-care initiative fails, there is no longer a rationale for being a liberal in the United States. Everything else on liberalism's to-do list is footnotes.

Passing national health insurance has obsessed every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt. Even Harry Truman, for some conservatives a model of "moderate" Democratic politics, wanted it. Looking back, Truman wept and warned: "I've had some bitter disappointments as President, but the one that has troubled me most, in a personal way, has been the failure to defeat the organized opposition to a national compulsory health insurance program. But this opposition has only delayed and cannot stop the adoption of an indispensable federal health insurance plan."

No other issue has consumed more political energy in the U.S. than "health-care reform." Congress's half-year preoccupation with health care is only the latest blip in the Democrats' long march to a public option.

As we head to the final act, one element of this history stands out: The liberals' repeated failure to get it done.

The Democratic Mecca—a real national health insurance system available to all—has always encountered stiff resistance in Congress, notably as now from moderate Democrats. In the 1960s, Senate Finance Chairman Russell Long (of Mary Landrieu's Louisiana) railed publicly against Medicare's costs but as now, questions about cost were obliterated.

Frustrated at the failure to pass their "National Health Insurance" bill during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, the Democrats ratcheted back from the Euro-style idea of FDR and Truman to a plan that would cover only Social Security beneficiaries, the elderly. This was Medicare.

Medicare failed all its initial votes in 1960. A compromise known as Kerr-Mills, which limited federal coverage to the "indigent" elderly, passed the Senate by a vote of 91-2. Many said then that Kerr-Mills addressed the U.S.'s main problem, which was medicine for the poor. Ronald Reagan supported Kerr-Mills, arguing that people "worth millions of dollars" shouldn't be getting health care paid for by government.

For Democratic liberals, a lot is never enough. With John Kennedy's election, they resubmitted Medicare for the elderly regardless of income.

The Democrats still couldn't pass a health-care entitlement on the scale of Social Security. The politics they threw into the effort was massive. They put 20,000 elderly in Madison Square Garden to hear JFK's oratory. Rallies were held in 45 cities. Organized labor ran campaigns against members of the Ways and Means Committee in their home districts. For all this, in July 1962 the Senate voted 52-48 against Medicare. JFK denounced the vote on TV.

It is a familiar story that Lyndon Johnson got Medicare passed as part of the Kennedy legacy. But for LBJ in 1965, the political planets were in perfect alignment. He had an overwhelming victory in the 1964 presidential campaign and huge congressional majorities. He had a robust economy, a gift of the Kennedy tax cut passed in early 1964. Also, no House hearings were held that year on the 296-page bill, which Democratic Sen. Philip Hart of Michigan complained was "one of the most complex set of social security amendments ever brought before this body."

Oh, and let us not overlook the party's concurrent quest for money transfers. In a moment of glee over the 1965 bill, Rep. Phil Burton of California, a member of the liberal pantheon, intoned: "All in all, our fair state and its people in the first year will be favored to the tune of some $550 million, a not modest sum." (Norms of spending "modesty" have changed since.)

The Democrats' persistent problems with this issue, including the Clintons' Health Security Act in 1994, suggests a victory for ObamaCare is no sure thing.

Nearly every defeat of broad public health coverage has come amid some turbulence that scared the public or politicians.

For Truman it was the Korean War. For JFK it was a recession, Vietnam and the Cuban missile crisis. Walter Lippmann wrote of JFK that a too-confident president was exceeding the public's reach. The Social Security Administration's own history of the Kennedy effort notes, "Some experts still had doubts about the reliability of the cost estimates for the bill."

Now Democrats say this vote is about "history." No, it's about their history. As with past failures to federalize health care, the air in 2009 is full of static—high unemployment, Afghanistan, a terrorist prison in Illinois and a petulant White House. The Democrats' familiar problems with the politics of universal health care have turned the bill into one of the most degraded legislative exercises in congressional history. Left-wing Dems like Howard Dean are screaming "kill" the Senate bill, suggesting a progressive Jonestown over it. Public support is below 40%.

This is probably the final death struggle for universal health care. They may let Harry Reid's Senate seat itself go down in the bloodbath over the 70-year obsession. Anyone remotely opposed to this idea had better step forward. History says ObamaCare isn't a done deal til the fat lady votes.

My prediction on the press : Dems won't be able to get their members to lock arms & walk off the cliff in obvious defiance of the American people.

From The New York Times:

Democrats said the Republicans had forced a lengthy debate on the Defense Department bill, in part because they wanted to block the health bill, which is next in line for a Senate vote. Republicans said Democrats were trying to jam the health bill through the Senate before anyone had read its new provisions.

Several Democratic senators said they were rethinking Mr. Reid’s Christmas deadline for action on the health care bill.

“Why are we rushing to get this done?” [Senator Olympia J. Snowe, a Maine Republican being courted by the White House,] asked. “We should take a pause, cool the passions and work deliberately through a number of these issues.”

[Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said:] “There’s a good chance the Democrats will not be able to get their members to lock arms and walk off the cliff in obvious defiance of the American people, who are virtually screaming at us, ‘Please do not pass this bill.’ ”

Friday, December 18, 2009

From the Cracker Squire Archives: What a great story. Tonight I saw Susan Boyle singing with Elaine Paige.

A 04-18-09 post entiled "Susan Boyle: The frumpy virgin who's slaying them on YouTube" was so much fun to do. Go read the words of the song if you don't know them by heart (they are on the 04-18-09 post).

The post noted that all politics and no fun makes Johnny a dull boy.

Recently my dear Sally bought Susan Boyle's CD; I didn't fuss, and look forward to listening to it. What a great 2009 success story.

Tonight I was flipping channels and say Ms. Boyle singing with the person she said she wanted to be as successful as, Elaine Paige.

Isn't life great. Damn if I don't love America, imperfect as she might be. God Bless America!

Merry Christmas to all.

House will have a gregarious lawyer from the North Georgia mountain town of Blue Ridge as its Speaker of the House

Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) (photo courtesy of Travis Fain)

The AJC describes David Ralston, 55, as "the gregarious lawyer from the North Georgia mountain town of Blue Ridge," and promises a closer look in the Sunday edition.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Be constructive & rather follow Bill Cosby's lead & just urge them not to commit crimes -- Black leaders urge census to change how it counts inmates

From The Washington Post:

A coalition of African American leaders concerned about minorities being undercounted in the 2010 Census called Wednesday for inmates at federal and state prisons to be tallied in their home communities instead of the towns where they are incarcerated.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Amazing. Unbelievable -- Dobbs reaches out to Latinos, with politics in mind. Now he is even for legalizing the undocumented.

Former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs reaches out to the Latino community as he works to repair his reputation for antipathy toward Latino immigrants, possibly ahead of a political run. Mr. Dobbs is even for legalizing the undocumented now.

From The Wall Street Journal (11-25-09):

Former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, pondering a future in politics, is trying to wipe away his image as an enemy of Latino immigrants by positioning himself as a champion of that fast-growing ethnic bloc.

Mr. Dobbs, who left the network last week, has said in recent days that he is considering a third-party run for a New Jersey Senate seat in 2012, or possibly for president.

First, though, Mr. Dobbs is working to repair what a spokesman conceded is a glaring flaw: His reputation for antipathy toward Latino immigrants. In a little-noticed interview Friday, Mr. Dobbs told Spanish-language network Telemundo he now supports a plan to legalize millions of undocumented workers, a stance he long lambasted as an unfair "amnesty."

"Whatever you have thought of me in the past, I can tell you right now that I am one of your greatest friends and I mean for us to work together," he said in a live interview with Telemundo's Maria Celeste.

During his Telemundo appearance, Mr. Dobbs was both defensive and conciliatory as Ms. Celeste ticked off what she said were the Latino community's grievances about Mr. Dobbs. "Many Hispanics consider you to be the No. 1 enemy of Latinos," she told him. "Do you think that the community is somehow misjudging you?"

"Oh, not somehow. Definitively, absolutely," Mr. Dobbs responded. "By the way, I don't believe for a moment that the Latino, Hispanic community in the United States believes that of me at all. It has been the efforts of the far left to characterize me in their propaganda as such."

Good start Mayor, damn good start: Reed pledges to aggressively address panhandling

From the AJC:

In a meeting Wednesday with the folks that bring conventioneers and tourists to Atlanta, Mayor-elect Kasim Reed got straight to the point on one of their biggest gripes: Panhandling

"We're going to enforce the ordinances and we are going to fix the panhandling challenge in the city of Atlanta, period," Reed said to rousing applause from members of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We are going to deal with this issue in a very muscular way," he said.

Convention visitors have consistently listed panhandling as one of the city's biggest drawbacks when surveyed.

Hospitality is an $11 billion industry in metro Atlanta and much of its health depends on the impression it makes on visitors, industry observers said.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rebuffing U.S., Pakistan Balks at Crackdown

From The New York Times:

Demands by the United States for Pakistan to crack down on the strongest Taliban warrior in Afghanistan, Siraj Haqqani, whose fighters pose the biggest threat to American forces, have been rebuffed by the Pakistani military, according to Pakistani military officials and diplomats.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When Speaker Richardson dictated that GOP legislators would focus on & follow his four "core values," he didn't say this did not include himself.

As we witness the undoing of rules imposed by House Speaker Glenn Rickardson in 2005 that gave him unprecedented power in such role, much of the talk will be about his creation of hawks, legislators named by the Speaker who could jump into committee votes at the Speaker's direction.

In a 01-11-05 post entitled "The British are coming! The British are coming! - Should we get our guns (won't work with these hawks), consult Machiavelli, or just read 1984 again," I said of the hawk system:

This is taking control to a new level, something way beyond to the victor go the spoils.

In this round of readjustment by the State GOP, it is very likely that we will witness the disappearance of the hawk system, and this is good, very good.

But probably not so good will be the holier than thou posturing and even legislation that will be discussed as the pendulum undoubtedly swings to the other extreme from that asssociated with the present Speaker. As Jim Galloway of the AJC's Political Insider quips:

It is possible that we will find bills for chastity belts in the year-end financial reports of some lawmakers.

Further, Mr. Galloway notes:

Something billed as ethics reform will pass the General Assembly next year. Republican repentance requires it.

Which leaves me to recall something that may have been overlooked in all of the current Speaker scandal. Wouldn't have been so much better if Richardson himself had followed what he dictated would be the focus of GOP legislators soon after the November 2, 2004 election, his so-called "core values."

As reviewed in my above-noted post:

Those were to reduce the size of government, strengthen family values, reduce taxes and encourage personal responsibility.

How governors could guide a Grand New Party

From The Washington Post:

The congressional wing of the Republican Party remains front and center as its members battle President Obama and the Democrats over health care, financial regulatory reform, climate change and just about every other domestic issue. But it is increasingly clear that the future of the GOP rests in the hands of the Republican governors.

Main Street bails out Wall Street & banks, and banks' reaction: No good deed goes unpunished -- Interest Rates Are Low, but Banks Balk at Refinancing

The New York Times has this article describing how banks that once handed out home loans freely are now imposing such stringent requirements that many homeowners who might want to refinance are effectively locked out.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

This is a dumb way to go about something as important as health care; but recall Obama wanted something passed by August break, didn't matter what.

From The New York Times:

Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, said Democrats were moving to expand Medicare “without really understanding the ramifications.”

“I just don’t think it’s a policy we should embrace,” said Ms. Snowe, who discussed health care with President Obama in two private White House meetings in the last week.

The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, said Friday that he did not know details of the proposal put together by Mr. Reid in an effort to break an impasse over the legislation.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said Republicans were exasperated because they did not know any details of Mr. Reid’s proposal, which could affect one-sixth of the economy.

Responding to Mr. McCain on the Senate floor, Mr. Durbin said, “I would say to the senator from Arizona that I am in the dark almost as much as he is, and I am in the leadership.”

“Most of us know the fundamentals, but we don’t know the important details,” Mr. Durbin added. He said the secrecy was frustrating to Democrats as well as to Republicans.

Friday, December 11, 2009

For Judges on Facebook, Friendship Has Limits

The New York Times reports that a Florida ethics panel ruled that to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, judges and lawyers can no longer be Facebooks friends.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Travis Fain pens a 'must read' entitled: O'Neal to run for Speaker of the House

State Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins

You need to read Travis Fain's whole article in The Macon Telegraph. Parts of it will be quoted in the days to come.

For conservatives, a political surge -- 'It's time to take control,' say 'tea party' groups

From The Washington Post:

The energized "tea party" movement, which upended this year's political debate with noisy anti-government protests, is preparing to shake up the 2010 elections by channeling money and supporters to conservative candidates set to challenge both Democrats and Republicans.

[T]ea party activists and affiliated groups are unveiling new political action committees and tactics aimed at capitalizing on conservative opposition to health-care reform, financial bailouts and other Obama administration policies. The goal is to harness the anger that led to hundreds of protests around the country from spring to fall, including a gathering of tens of thousands of protesters on the Mall in September.

The strategy poses both an opportunity and a risk for the beleaguered Republican Party, which is seeking to take advantage of conservative discontent while still fielding candidates who appeal to independent voters.

The tea party movement is splintered into hundreds of local and state-level groups that have differing rules and goals and for the most part have not participated in big-money politics. Many of the groups have been torn apart by personal feuds in recent months; one major umbrella organization, the Tea Party Patriots, has filed a lawsuit against a founding board member who signed on with a rival, the Tea Party Express.

Publicly, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele and other GOP leaders praise the tea party movement as a crucial component of the party's base that will help Republicans make substantial gains in 2010. But the push from the right has also worsened infighting over the GOP's course.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said it is important, in selecting candidates, to "temper our conservative approach with pragmatism."

"Conservatives keep saying that nobody is listening to us, and the way to get people to listen to you is to elect more conservatives," said [influential activist, Erick Erickson of RedState.com], who advocates boycotting Cornyn's NRSC and has called "beating the Republican establishment" the top priority for 2010.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"In our country, where Christian civilization has left such a deep trace, where republican values are an integral part of our national identity . . ."

From The Washington Post:

Faced with swelling unease over the place of Muslim immigrants in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy called Tuesday for tolerance among native French people but warned that arriving Muslims must embrace Europe's historical values and avoid "ostentation or provocation" in the practice of their religion.

"I address my Muslim countrymen to say I will do everything to make them feel they are citizens like any other, enjoying the same rights as all the others to live their faith and practice their religion with the same liberty and dignity," he said. "I will combat any form of discrimination.

"But I also want to tell them," he continued, "that in our country, where Christian civilization has left such a deep trace, where republican values are an integral part of our national identity, everything that could be taken as a challenge to this heritage and its values would condemn to failure the necessary inauguration of a French Islam."

From the Cracker Squire Archives: "This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise."

Jim Galloway aptly describes the GOP House leadership problems that are dominating political disussions around the State as "the current zipper situation" (see AJC Political Insider).

For some reason this morning I recalled the speech on distilled spirits that was delivered by the Mississippi legislator Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat in 1952 as reported by Jim Galloway on January 25, 2007.

Don't you just know that the Republican caucus would give anything if whiskey or pari-mutuel betting or other thing else in the world but zippers was the question du jour as the caucus meets Friday to discuss the preliminaries of an election to replace Speaker Glenn Richardson.

Anyway, back to my recollection about Judge Noah S. Sweat and his "whiskey speech," considered a classic example of political doublespeak, which follows:

“You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

“If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.


“If when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

“This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The late U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge comments on the Democratic Party's nominating process.

The above clip from YouTube comes courtesy of the blog Peanut Politics.

The system that McGovern's committee put in place and that got him nominated in 1972 continues intact. It is not designed to elect a candidate who runs from the middle (such as my candidate Pres. Obama did although he quickly shifted upon taking office to governing from the left).

Debt is the essential fuel for a superpower that every day spends billions of dollars more than it receives in tax revenue.

From The Washington Post:

Debt is the essential fuel for a superpower that every day spends billions of dollars more than it receives in tax revenue.

The United States owes investors nearly $8 trillion. That number could more than double in a decade. The projected growth of the federal debt is widely viewed as unsustainable. It's unlikely that the nation will ever default, but neither is that any longer unthinkable.

President Obama is expected to address the burgeoning debt in a major economic speech Tuesday in Washington. He inherited a huge deficit, and there's nothing but red ink as far as the eye can see. The administration has estimated that there will be $1 trillion-plus shortfalls through 2011, followed by $700-billion-plus shortfalls through 2019.

Whopper budget deficits for so many years will mean that the cumulative debt will creep up as a percentage of the nation's gross domestic product. How much debt the country can handle is debatable. The problem is that, if investors think the United States isn't fiscally responsible, they could start demanding much higher interest rates when they bid on Treasury securities. The feedback loop could get ugly. The nation could have to borrow hundreds of billions just to pay interest on what it owes. This has been touted as a classic path to irreversible national decline.

Fiscal calamities in the past have been solved or moderated. But often the politicians who tried to fix the problem were booted from office. When President George H.W. Bush broke his no-new-taxes pledge in 1990, he torpedoed his reelection chance. Bill Clinton raised taxes in 1993, and the Democrats quickly lost control of Congress. Clinton left office with the nation showing a budget surplus, but that vanished with the George W. Bush tax cuts, two wars and a new entitlement program, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, that Congress and the White House decided didn't need to be paid for.

Fiscal discipline means pain in a political culture that has shown itself to be pain-averse.

"It's kind of an ouchless society. In other words, nothing's supposed to hurt," says Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition, a deficit watchdog group. "We can have new spending programs, but nobody's supposed to pay for them. We can have a war, but nobody pays for it. Tax cuts pay for themselves. You're not supposed to ask for any sacrifice."

Monday, December 07, 2009

Body language & a photo for Ga.'s political annals. -- "One of the cruelest things he'd asked me to do" said the lovely giant killer Susan Richardson.

Jim Galloway and his AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin have been on a tear. In a recent post entitled "Body language and political marriages" Jim Galloway wrote:

And surely this shot by AJC photographer Ben Gray will go down in Georgia’s political annals. It was snapped as House Speaker Glenn Richardson took his oath of office on Jan. 8, 2007 – days after Democrats accused him of an “inappropriate relationship” with an AGL lobbyist.

The speaker said the charge had no basis. Susan Richardson, shown holding a Bible, now says she knew it was so.

Not noted by Jim Galloway is his above post but as reported by Dale Russell in an article that can be accessed at my 12-01-09 link:

Richardson was re-elected as House Speaker. At the swearing in, he asked his wife to come up on the stage and hold the Bible so he could take his oath of office.

"I was not thrilled to be asked that. I told him that was one of the cruelest things he'd asked me to do. To stand there and hold a Bible, knowing he had lied," said Susan Richardson.

Did things ever move quickly this week.

Prior to the airing of the interview of Susan Richardson conducted by WAGA’s Dale Russell, a 11-30-09 headlines from the Athens Banner-Herald read "Former foes now support Richardson."

And a 11-13-09 post on this blog captioned "Mr. Speaker, keep your head up high Sir," read in part:

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.

But the Susan Richardson interview changed everything as she described her difficult relationship with the Speaker and revealed that she had emails confirming his affair with the Atlanta Gas Light lobbyist that preceded the couple's divorce.

As Jim Galloway noted in a post quoted in a 12-03-09 post:

In a matter of days, following a confessed suicide attempt on Nov. 8, the second most powerful figure in the state Capitol has gone from the state’s poster child for depression to – by the televised description of his ex-wife – a man obsessed.

One is discomfiting but politically acceptable. The other is not.

Richardson’s transformation began with a mesmerizing interview of Susan Richardson, conducted by WAGA’s Dale Russell.

In a 11-14-09 post Jim Galloway took us to an earlier point in Richardson's career, writing the following in the AJC's Political Insider:

Shortly before his formal election as House speaker in 2005, Glenn Richardson and I – each accompanied and, perhaps, protected by our wives – had dinner at his new favorite restaurant, Ted’s Montana Grill in west Cobb County.

The happy man had a gorgeous spouse, spoke proudly of his kids, and was about to become the second most powerful man in state government — part of a Republican revolution that hadn’t fully unfolded.

Relationships are delicate things. Richardson broke up with the press not long after that dinner. It did not grieve him.

He and his wife Susan divorced in February 2008, a year after Democrats publicly accused him of an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist. His marriage was the relationship that mattered.

In a statement issued Friday, part confession and part public service announcement, Richardson, 49, said his divorce sparked a cycle of depression that had reached a near-fatal peak. He had attempted suicide.