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Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Obama Administration Wants Immigration Crackdown With Firings, Not Raids -- OK, but why not deportation?

The Obama administration wants to reduce illegal immigration by forcing employers to fire unauthorized workers. American Apparel fired 1,800 workers.

From The New York Times:

The firings at the company, American Apparel, have become a showcase for the Obama administration’s effort to reduce illegal immigration by forcing employers to dismiss unauthorized workers rather than by using workplace raids.

Immigration officials said they would now focus on employers, primarily wielding the threat of civil complaints and fines, instead of raids and worker deportation.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Good show Obama: Defense Bill, Lauded by White House, Contains Billions in Earmarks

From The Washington Post:

[I]n providing money for projects that the Defense Department says it did not request and does not want, [one senator] has joined a host of other senators on both sides of the aisle.

President Obama has repeatedly promised to fight "the special interests, contractors and entrenched lobbyists" that he says have distorted military priorities and bloated appropriations in the past. In August, he told a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that "if Congress sends me a defense bill loaded with a bunch of pork, I will veto it."

But the White House instead sent a generally supportive message to the Senate about the pending defense bill on Friday, virtually ensuring that the earmarks will win final congressional approval.

Senior Obama aides [say] that the White House never sought to fix the problem of earmarks in one year.

David Brooks on the sort of moral revival our country actually needs.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Centuries ago, historians came up with a classic theory to explain the rise and decline of nations. The theory was that great nations start out tough-minded and energetic. Toughness and energy lead to wealth and power. Wealth and power lead to affluence and luxury. Affluence and luxury lead to decadence, corruption and decline.

“Human nature, in no form of it, could ever bear prosperity,” John Adams wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, warning against the coming corruption of his country.

Yet despite its amazing wealth, the United States has generally remained immune to this cycle. American living standards surpassed European living standards as early as 1740. But in the U.S., affluence did not lead to indulgence and decline.

That’s because despite the country’s notorious materialism, there has always been a countervailing stream of sound economic values. The early settlers believed in Calvinist restraint. The pioneers volunteered for brutal hardship during their treks out west. Waves of immigrant parents worked hard and practiced self-denial so their children could succeed. Government was limited and did not protect people from the consequences of their actions, thus enforcing discipline and restraint.

When economic values did erode, the ruling establishment tried to restore balance. After the Gilded Age, Theodore Roosevelt (who ventured west to counteract the softness of his upbringing) led a crackdown on financial self-indulgence. The Protestant establishment had many failings, but it was not decadent. The old WASPs were notoriously cheap, sent their children to Spartan boarding schools, and insisted on financial sobriety.

Over the past few years, however, there clearly has been an erosion in the country’s financial values. This erosion has happened at a time when the country’s cultural monitors were busy with other things. They were off fighting a culture war about prayer in schools, “Piss Christ” and the theory of evolution. They were arguing about sex and the separation of church and state, oblivious to the large erosion of economic values happening under their feet.

Evidence of this shift in values is all around. Some of the signs are seemingly innocuous. States around the country began sponsoring lotteries: government-approved gambling that extracts its largest toll from the poor. Executives and hedge fund managers began bragging about compensation packages that would have been considered shameful a few decades before. Chain restaurants went into supersize mode, offering gigantic portions that would have been considered socially unacceptable to an earlier generation.

Other signs are bigger. As William Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, in the three decades between 1950 and 1980, personal consumption was remarkably stable, amounting to about 62 percent of G.D.P. In the next three decades, it shot upward, reaching 70 percent of G.D.P. in 2008.

During this period, debt exploded. In 1960, Americans’ personal debt amounted to about 55 percent of national income. By 2007, Americans’ personal debt had surged to 133 percent of national income.

Over the past few months, those debt levels have begun to come down. But that doesn’t mean we’ve re-established standards of personal restraint. We’ve simply shifted from private debt to public debt. By 2019, federal debt will amount to an amazing 83 percent of G.D.P. (before counting the costs of health reform and everything else). By that year, interest payments alone on the federal debt will cost $803 billion.

These may seem like dry numbers, mostly of concern to budget wonks. But these numbers are the outward sign of a values shift. If there is to be a correction, it will require a moral and cultural movement.

Our current cultural politics are organized by the obsolete culture war, which has put secular liberals on one side and religious conservatives on the other. But the slide in economic morality afflicted Red and Blue America equally.

If there is to be a movement to restore economic values, it will have to cut across the current taxonomies. Its goal will be to make the U.S. again a producer economy, not a consumer economy. It will champion a return to financial self-restraint, large and small.

It will have to take on what you might call the lobbyist ethos — the righteous conviction held by everybody from AARP to the agribusinesses that their groups are entitled to every possible appropriation, regardless of the larger public cost. It will have to take on the self-indulgent popular demand for low taxes and high spending.

A crusade for economic self-restraint would have to rearrange the current alliances and embrace policies like energy taxes and spending cuts that are now deemed politically impossible. But this sort of moral revival is what the country actually needs.

Good leadership Harry -- Majority Leader Protects Home State; Huge unfunded mandates for state funding of Medicaid is in all of the health bills.

From The New York Times:

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, has secured a special deal protecting his state against the costs of expanding Medicaid under one of the major health care bills moving through Congress.

The Senate bill, like a companion measure in the House, would expand Medicaid to cover childless adults, parents and other people with incomes less than 133 percent of the poverty level, or $29,327 for a family of four. The federal government would pay most of the new costs — anywhere from 77 percent to 95 percent, with a higher share in poorer states, in the first five years.

Many parents and childless adults would qualify for Medicaid for the first time . . . . And many people who are eligible but not enrolled would sign up for Medicaid because, under the legislation, they could be required to pay financial penalties if they did not have insurance.

Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, said states must share the cost of covering the uninsured.

“We are going to have a real hard time dealing with this problem,” Mr. Conrad said, “if it is all supposed to be on the federal government, which has record deficits and record debt, and if the states just expect the federal government to write a check for 100 percent of everything.”

All the major health care bills moving through Congress would expand Medicaid, adding perhaps 11 million people to the rolls, the Congressional Budget Office says.

In Bad Times for Capitalism, Socialists in Europe Suffer

From The New York Times:

A specter is haunting Europe — the specter of Socialism’s slow collapse.

Even in the midst of one of the greatest challenges to capitalism in 75 years, involving a breakdown of the financial system due to “irrational exuberance,” greed and the weakness of regulatory systems, European Socialist parties and their left-wing cousins have not found a compelling response, let alone taken advantage of the right’s failures.

German voters clobbered the Social Democratic Party on Sunday, giving it only 23 percent of the vote, its worst performance since World War II.

Voters also punished left-leaning candidates in the summer’s European Parliament elections and trounced French Socialists in 2007. Where the left holds power, as in Spain and Britain, it is under attack. Where it is out, as in France, Italy and now Germany, it is divided and listless.

Some American conservatives demonize President Obama’s fiscal stimulus and health care overhaul as a dangerous turn toward European-style Socialism — but it is Europe’s right, not left, that is setting its political agenda.

German voters clobbered the Social Democratic Party on Sunday, giving it only 23 percent of the vote, its worst performance since World War II.

Voters also punished left-leaning candidates in the summer’s European Parliament elections and trounced French Socialists in 2007. Where the left holds power, as in Spain and Britain, it is under attack. Where it is out, as in France, Italy and now Germany, it is divided and listless.

Some American conservatives demonize President Obama’s fiscal stimulus and health care overhaul as a dangerous turn toward European-style Socialism — but it is Europe’s right, not left, that is setting its political agenda.

German voters clobbered the Social Democratic Party on Sunday, giving it only 23 percent of the vote, its worst performance since World War II.

Voters also punished left-leaning candidates in the summer’s European Parliament elections and trounced French Socialists in 2007. Where the left holds power, as in Spain and Britain, it is under attack. Where it is out, as in France, Italy and now Germany, it is divided and listless.

Some American conservatives demonize President Obama’s fiscal stimulus and health care overhaul as a dangerous turn toward European-style Socialism — but it is Europe’s right, not left, that is setting its political agenda.

Europe’s center-right parties have embraced many ideas of the left: generous welfare benefits, nationalized health care, sharp restrictions on carbon emissions, the ceding of some sovereignty to the European Union. But they have won votes by promising to deliver more efficiently than the left, while working to lower taxes, improve financial regulation, and grapple with aging populations.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Medicare Spending, a Role Reversal -- Republicans, Not Interest Groups, Fight Plans to Cut $400 Billion Over 10 Years

From The Washington Post:

After years of trying to cut Medicare spending, Republican lawmakers have emerged as champions of the program, accusing Democrats of trying to steal from the elderly to cover the cost of health reform.

It's a lonely battle. The hospital associations, AARP and other powerful interest groups that usually howl over Medicare cuts have also switched sides.
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Last Friday The Wall Street Journal had an article entitled "Overhaul Divides Business and Its Traditional GOP Allies" that begins:

Business is parting from its traditional allies in the Republican Party on health care as companies and big corporate lobbyists lend tentative support to a congressional overhaul that conservative lawmakers staunchly oppose.

The rift mirrors a similar divide on other issues, including immigration and climate change, where many companies have backed legislative action that Republican lawmakers oppose.

But the health-care debate, in particular, casts a spotlight on the split in the longstanding alliance between economic conservatives and the business community. Republican lawmakers are digging in to oppose the overhaul effort as a big-spending government intrusion. Many companies, on the other hand, cite soaring costs to explain why they continue to back the congressional work under way to revamp the health-care system, despite misgivings over a range of provisions.

If the Ground Is Shifting, the House Will Feel It

From The Washington Post:

In the battle for control of the House, environment isn't everything, but it's darn close to being the only thing.

House races -- with less-well-known candidates and less money flowing through them than Senate contests -- tend to be heavily influenced by which way the national winds are blowing.

Heading into the summer, the political environment had been neutral to slightly positive for Democrats. But it turned in a meaningful way as Labor Day approached and anger over the growth of government under President Obama emboldened Republicans.

The signs of this environmental change were everywhere.

The generic ballot edge that Democrats had maintained for the better part of the last two election cycles disappeared; in the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, 43 percent of respondents said they preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress while 40 percent said they would like to see Republicans running things on Capitol Hill. (As recently as April, Democrats had a nine-point lead on that question.)

Recruitment also began to pick up for Republicans, with top-tier candidates who might have taken a pass in years past stepping up to run . . . .

Those developments led some of the nation's leading political prognosticators, such as Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato, to predict that Democrats were headed for a world of hurt in 2010, with the loss of 20 or more House seats not out of the question. (A third respected political analyst -- Stu Rothenberg -- was slightly more circumspect about just how bad the environment is for House Democrats.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Poll Says New Yorkers Want Obama -- And Paterson -- To Stay Out Of N.Y. Governor Race

From npr's Political Junkie:

A Marist College Poll released today shows that 62 percent of New York voters say the Obama administration was wrong to suggest that Gov. David Paterson (D) opt out of the 2010 gubernatorial race.

The White House made it clear earlier this week that, given his anemic poll numbers, Paterson should stand aside and let a stronger candidate run. Only 27 perent said the administration was right to get involved.

But at the same time, by a 63-25 percent margin, voters also said they don't want Paterson to run next year. His approval rating, according to Marist, is "at an all time low." Only 17 percent said he is doing "either an excellent or good job in office, while a whopping 44 percent say is performing poorly."

If you don't think this is accurate, you don't know your Georgia history: Dick Yarbrough writes that Carter is a poster boy for 'acts based on racism'

Dick Yarbrough writes:

I don't know how Jimmy Carter can look himself in the mirror. He has made hypocrisy an art form.

When asked recently about the actions of South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, who stunned the crowd during President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress on health care reform a couple of weeks ago by yelling "You lie!" at the president's assertion that reforms would not be made available to illegal immigrants, Carter opined that Wilson's remarks were "an act based on racism." He should know. He is a poster boy for acts based on racism. That is how he became governor of Georgia.

You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: In 1970, Carter ran one of the nastiest, most racist campaigns imaginable against former Gov. Carl Sanders, who unlike his counterparts in neighboring states had taken the high road on race relations during the turbulent mid-'60s. He slandered Sanders every way possible, from calling him a (shudder) "liberal" to looking the other way when his integrity-impaired lackeys showered Klan meetings with photos of Sanders with his arm around a black basketball player.

Sanders had rejected an effort by the legislature to bring race-baiting Alabama Gov. George Wallace to Atlanta, but Carter pledged that if elected, he would invite Wallace to address the General Assembly.

Carter also refused to attend the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, while his campaign staff noted ominously that Sanders had paid tribute to King.

Carter then had the unmitigated gall in 2006 to appear at Coretta Scott King's funeral and use his time to trash President Bush, who was seated behind him, instead of apologizing for the disrespect he had shown Dr. King and his followers after the civil rights leader's assassination. The black opportunists who gave him his soapbox showed an equal lack of class. If they had a shred of decency, they would have remembered those days when Carter was treating them like second-class citizens. Sanders had too much integrity to demean blacks just to get elected. Carter did not.

Keep your fingers crossed, but since Barack Obama became president, you have not seen Jimmy Carter traipsing around the world, criticizing sitting presidents and trying to make his own foreign policy. I would be sorely disappointed if our current president allowed this egomaniac to jeopardize our national security in order feed his craving for the limelight. Let him write his pontificating op-ed pieces for The New York Times. They deserve each other.

Georgia has produced some great public figures in my lifetime: Senators Richard Russell, Walter George and Sam Nunn; Representatives Carl Vinson, Phil Landrum and Charles Weltner. Jimmy Carter is not in that group. He is an accident of history and still would be shelling peanuts in Plains had President Gerald Ford not pardoned Richard Nixon and enraged a nation. In 1976, voters would have elected Elmer Fudd president. Instead, they elected Jimmy Carter. Same difference.

Carter's one-term presidency (and, yes, I was in Washington the whole time) was a dud and pretty much assures his ranking as one of the worst presidents in our nation's history. George W. Bush may join him on the list, but I doubt Bush gives a rat's behind what we think of him. Carter desperately wants to be loved and admired. Good luck with that. Even Ted Kennedy didn't like him.

I have chosen to ignore most of President Peanut's holier-than-thou pronouncements because of my wise daddy's advice: "Consider the source." But when this guy calls anybody a racist, I can't let that pass. That is like calling a pig ugly. Jimmy Carter either has a highly selective memory or no shame. Or both.

Obama's pressing the pause button with regard to more troops in Afghanistan is not a sign of indecisiveness but of confidence and strength.

Excerpts from a Frank Rich keeper in The New York Times:

Within [President John] Kennedy’s administration, most supported the Joint Chiefs’ repeated call for combat troops, including the secretaries of defense (McNamara) and state (Dean Rusk) and Gen. Maxwell Taylor, the president’s special military adviser. The highest-ranking dissenter was George Ball, the undersecretary of state. Mindful of the French folly in Vietnam, he predicted that “within five years we’ll have 300,000 men in the paddies and jungles and never find them again.” [It was worse; at its peak, some 535,000 American troops were in Vietnam.]

Though Kennedy was outnumbered in his own White House — and though he had once called Vietnam “the cornerstone of the free world in Southeast Asia” — he ultimately refused to authorize combat troops. He instead limited America’s military role to advisory missions. That policy, set in November 1961, would only be reversed, to tragic ends, after his death. As Bundy wrote in a memo that year, the new president had learned the hard way, from the Bay of Pigs disaster in April, that he “must second-guess even military plans.” Or, as Goldstein crystallizes the overall lesson of J.F.K.’s lonely call on Vietnam strategy: “Counselors advise but presidents decide.”

Obama finds himself at that same lonely decision point now. Though he came to the presidency declaring Afghanistan a “war of necessity,” circumstances have since changed. While the Taliban thrives there, Al Qaeda’s ground zero is next-door in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Last month’s blatantly corrupt, and arguably stolen, Afghanistan election ended any pretense that Hamid Karzai is a credible counter to the Taliban or a legitimate partner for America in a counterinsurgency project of enormous risk and cost.

Much as Vietnam could not be secured over the centuries by China, France, Japan or the United States, so Afghanistan has been a notorious graveyard for the ambitions of Alexander the Great, the British and the Soviets.

Even if we routed the Taliban in another decade or two, after countless casualties and billions of dollars, how would that stop Al Qaeda from coalescing in Somalia or some other criminal host state? How would a Taliban-free Afghanistan stop a jihadist trained in Pakistan’s Qaeda camps from mounting a terrorist plot in Denver and Queens?

(The Iraq war, which the Bush administration priced at $50 to $60 billion, is at roughly $1 trillion and counting.)

[I]t’s up to the president to decide what he thinks is right for the country’s security, the politics be damned. That he has temporarily pressed the pause button to think it through while others, including some of his own generals, try to lock him in is not a sign of indecisiveness but of confidence and strength. It is, perhaps, Obama’s most significant down payment yet on being, in the most patriotic sense, Kennedyesque.

Plan to Boost Afghan Forces Splits Obama Advisers -- Military is not monolithic in support & some civilian advisers have deep reservations.

From The New York Times:

As President Obama weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency, he has discovered that the military is not monolithic in support of the plan and that some of the civilian advisers he respects most have deep reservations.

The competing advice and concerns fuel a pivotal struggle to shape the president’s thinking about a war that he inherited but may come to define his tenure. Among the most important outside voices has been that of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star Army general, who visited Mr. Obama in the Oval Office this month and expressed skepticism that more troops would guarantee success. According to people briefed on the discussion, Mr. Powell reminded the president of his longstanding view that military missions should be clearly defined.

In the West Wing, beyond Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has advocated an alternative strategy to the troop buildup, other presidential advisers sound dubious about more troops, including Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, according to people who have spoken with them. At the same time, Mr. Obama is also hearing from more hawkish figures, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Democrats Are Jarred by Drop In Fundraising

From The Washington Post:

Democrats had watched the party's campaign committees rake in increasing amounts of money throughout this decade, culminating in the 2007-2008 election cycle, when their congressional committees raised a combined $125 million more than their GOP counterparts. They used that financial edge to boost their candidates with seven- and sometimes eight-figure advertising budgets, often using that money to run negative ads that candidates shy away from airing.

Now there are signs that such advantages may not be there next year.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

With the ongoing investigation of terrorism suspects in N.Y. & Colo., please don't go there congressional Democrats. It will surely kill us in 2010.

From The Washington Post:

Democratic lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to strengthen civil liberties protections against surveillance methods used in counterterrorism investigations, but senior Justice Department officials this week declined to endorse or reject their calls.

At hearings in the House and Senate, the officials repeatedly said they had no position yet on legislation that Democrats have introduced that would tighten standards and oversight of surveillance tools authorized under laws including the USA Patriot Act.

Those provisions allow investigators to use "roving wiretaps" to monitor suspects who may be trying to escape detection by switching cellphone numbers; obtain from third parties the business records of national security targets; and track "lone wolf" suspects who may not belong to a terrorist group but may be planning attacks.

Ground zero Grady clinic: An illegal immigrant from Honduras said she could only hope to make it “back to my country to die.” -- Start packing.

From The New York Times:

If Grady Memorial Hospital succeeds in closing its outpatient dialysis clinic, Tadesse A. Amdago, a 69-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, said he would begin “counting the days until I die.” Rosa Lira, 78, a permanent resident from Mexico, said she also assumed she “would just die.” Another woman, a 32-year-old illegal immigrant from Honduras, said she could only hope to make it “back to my country to die.”

The dialysis unit on Grady’s ninth floor might as well be ground zero for the national health care debate. It is there that many of the ills afflicting American health care intersect: the struggle of the uninsured, the strain of providing uncompensated care, the inadequacy of government support, and the dilemma posed by treating illegal immigrants.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

General's Review Creates Rupture -- As Military Backs Call for More Troops In Afghanistan, Civilian Advisers Balk

From The Washington Post:

Senior military officials emphasized Monday that McChrystal's conclusion that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure" without an urgent infusion of troops has been endorsed by the uniformed leadership. That includes Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command and architect of the troop "surge" strategy widely seen as helping U.S. forces turn the corner in Iraq.

But before any decision is made, some of President Obama's civilian advisers have proposed looking at other, less costly options to address his primary goal of preventing al-Qaeda from reestablishing itself in Afghanistan. Those options include a redirection of U.S. efforts -- away from protecting the Afghan population and building the Afghan state and toward persuading the Taliban to stop fighting -- as well as an escalation of targeted attacks against al-Qaeda itself in Pakistan and elsewhere.

You see this & know it has R. Emanuel's handprints all over it: White House Is Taking a More Aggressive Role in State Races (he will own 2010 results)

And with his ownership, comes the for better or worse part . . .

From The New York Times:

The White House’s intervention in the race for New York governor is the latest evidence of how President Obama and his top advisers are taking an increasingly direct role in contests across the country, but their assertiveness has bruised some Democrats who suggest it could undercut Mr. Obama’s appeal with voters tired of partisan politics.

The overt involvement of Mr. Obama’s team in New York, where they have tried to ease Gov. David A. Paterson out of the race, has made clear that this is a White House willing to use its clout to help clear the field for favored Democratic candidates and to direct money and other resources in the way it thinks will most benefit the administration and help preserve the Democrats’ majority in Congress.

The president’s top strategists have recruited candidates — and nudged others to step aside — in races in Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. They said they intended to continue this practice heading into the 2010 midterm elections, as well as with an eye to the redistricting fights that will go on within states early in the next decade.

The intense involvement reflects the tactics and style of the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who helped Democrats win the House three years ago as chairman of the Congressional campaign committee.

While some party officials applaud the White House for its efforts — there is widespread concern among Democrats that the party could suffer if Mr. Paterson runs — the actions are drawing alarm from some Democrats who believe they cross a line and run contrary to Mr. Obama’s often-stated pledge to rise above partisan battles.

Karl Rove, the chief political adviser to President George W. Bush, also actively intervened in state races to make sure Republicans were fielding strong candidates. But Mr. Rove faulted this White House for what he described as its clumsy handling of the situation in New York.

“This was particularly ham-handed,” Mr. Rove said. “They shouldn’t have tried this unless they can make it happen. Even then, they should have acted in a way that was subtle, not messy and ugly.”

Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he thought the White House was acting correctly in trying to shape the outcome of races. But he suggested that Mr. Paterson could recover if the White House gave him time, and said the Obama team had not handled this case well.

“The president is the head of the party, and he has a right to express his opinion,” Mr. Rendell said. “The only thing I would have done differently is not let it become known. This can’t be helpful to the governor.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I watched CNN & heard him say this, but I am not sure this is what he was suggesting: Obama Questions Plan to Add Forces in Afghanistan (UPDATED)

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama on Sunday voiced skepticism that more troops would make a difference in Afghanistan, suggesting he might not rubber-stamp military officials' expected request to send more forces to that country.

"I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question," Mr. Obama told CNN's "State of the Union." "There is a natural inclination to say, 'If I get more, then I can do more.' But right now, the question is—the first question is—are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?"

Mr. Obama's comments suggested that the White House could be reassessing its strategy in Afghanistan, ahead of an expected request for more troops from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander there. Mr. Obama, who has approved more troops for Afghanistan while ordering a drawdown in Iraq, has already agreed to send an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. forces there to 68,000 by year's end.

_______________

UPDATE ON MONDAY MORNING:

Reading in The Washington Post what the President also said on other Sunday-morning news showss, I think the Journal has it right. The Washington Post reports in a headline entitled "Changes Have Obama Rethinking War Strategy":

Although Obama endorsed a strategy document in March that called for "executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy," there have been significant changes in Afghanistan and Washington since then. A disputed presidential election, an erosion in support for the war effort among Democrats in Congress and the American public, and a sharp increase in U.S. casualties have prompted the president and his top advisers to reexamine their assumptions about the U.S. role in defeating the Taliban insurgency.

Instead of debating whether to give McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, more troops, the discussion in the White House is now focused on whether, after eight years of war, the United States should vastly expand counterinsurgency efforts along the lines he has proposed -- which involve an intensive program to improve security and governance in key population centers -- or whether it should begin shifting its approach away from such initiatives and simply target leaders of terrorist groups who try to return to Afghanistan.

Obama, appearing on several Sunday-morning television news shows, left little doubt that key assumptions in the earlier White House strategy are now on the table. "The first question is: Are we doing the right thing?" the president said on CNN. "Are we pursuing the right strategy?"

"Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy, I'm not going to be sending some young man or woman over there -- beyond what we already have," Obama said on NBC's "Meet the Press." If an expanded counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan contributes to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda, "then we'll move forward," he said. "But, if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or . . . sending a message that America is here for the duration."

The principal game-changer, in the view of White House officials, was Afghanistan's presidential election last month, which was compromised by fraud, much of it in support of President Hamid Karzai. Although the results have not been certified, he almost certainly will remain in office, but under a cloud of illegitimacy that could complicate U.S. efforts to promote good governance.

Among the key players shaping Obama's thinking on Afghanistan is Gates. The defense secretary has repeatedly expressed concern about the size of the military's footprint in Afghanistan even as he has acknowledged that McChrystal's plans have eased that anxiety.

Some officials charge that the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner with public statements such as those by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the situation in Afghanistan is "serious and deteriorating" and "probably needs more forces." One official questioned whether McChrystal had already gone beyond his writ with public statements describing the protection of the Afghan population as more important than killing Taliban fighters.

Well stated Pres. Obama: We're not going to have other people carry your burdens for you anymore than everybody in America has to get auto insurance.

From The Wall Street Journal:

On ABC's "This Week," Mr. Obama grew combative when host George Stephanopoulos asked whether his plan's requirement that most Americans buy health insurance would be equivalent to a tax increase. "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase," Mr. Obama said.

"What it's saying is, is that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase," Mr. Obama said. He added: "George, you—you can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase."

Facing an investigation, Edwards is moving toward admission that he is father of Ms. Hunter's child.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Edwards is moving toward an abrupt reversal in his public posture; associates said in interviews that he is considering declaring that he is the father of Ms. Hunter’s 19-month-old daughter, something that he once flatly asserted in a television interview was not possible.

Friends and other associates of Mr. Edwards and his wife of 32 years, Elizabeth, say she has resisted the idea of her husband’s claiming paternity. Mrs. Edwards, who is battling cancer, “has yet to be brought around,” said one family friend, who like others spoke about the situation on the condition of anonymity, pointing to the complicated and delicate nature of the issue.

The situation may become more fraught, as people who know Ms. Hunter said she was planning to move with her daughter, Frances, from New Jersey to North Carolina in coming months.

Mr. Edwards dismissed an initial report in The National Enquirer in 2007 that he was having an affair, and the matter was largely ignored by the mainstream news media. But in July 2008, The Enquirer published an article with photographs of a clandestine meeting Mr. Edwards had with Ms. Hunter and her daughter in a Los Angeles hotel. Days later, Mr. Edwards acknowledged the affair to “Nightline” on ABC, offering contrition but insisting that the child could not be his because of the timing and brevity of their intimacy.

Andrew Young, once a close aide to Mr. Edwards, who had signed an affidavit asserting that he was the father of Ms. Hunter’s child . . . and who has since renounced that statement, has told publishers in a book proposal that Mr. Edwards knew all along that he was the child’s father. He said Mr. Edwards pleaded with him to accept responsibility falsely, saying that would reduce the story to one of an aide’s infidelity.

In the proposal, which The New York Times examined, Mr. Young says that he assisted the affair by setting up private meetings between Mr. Edwards and Ms. Hunter. He wrote that Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Ms. Hunter by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.

Once the favorite son of much of North Carolina with many supporters beyond, John Edwards is now largely disdained. To many, it was not only his liaison with Ms. Hunter, but also what seemed his elaborate effort to cover up his behavior to preserve his political ambitions.

Mr. Young depicts [Fred Baron, a wealthy trial lawyer from Dallas who has since died,] as going to great lengths to help a knowing and eager Mr. Edwards conceal from the public both his affair with Ms. Hunter and his paternity of her daughter. At one point, Mr. Young wrote, Mr. Edwards asked Mr. Baron if he could find a doctor who would falsify a DNA report.

Now the piling on will begin, with Obama providing the needed cover: Obama Said to Request That Paterson Drop Campaign

From the New York Times:

President Obama has sent a request to Gov. David A. Paterson that he withdraw from the New York governor’s race, fearing that Mr. Paterson cannot recover from his dismal political standing . . . .

[A]dministration officials and the Democratic operative spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions with the governor were intended to be confidential.

The move against a sitting Democratic governor represents an extraordinary intervention into a state political race by the president, and is a delicate one, given that Mr. Paterson is one of only two African-American governors in the nation.

But Mr. Obama’s political team and other party leaders have grown increasingly worried that the governor’s unpopularity could drag down Democratic members of Congress in New York, as well as the Democratic-controlled Legislature, in next fall’s election.

The general election is more than a year away, but Mr. Obama and his political team are moving now in part because of signals from Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, that he may run for governor, according to Democrats who have spoken with White House officials. Many Democratic leaders believe that Mr. Giuliani’s presence at the top of the Republican ticket could spark enthusiasm among his party’s voters, who might otherwise have little desire to go to the polls.

Leading Democrats in the state have expressed deep concern about Mr. Paterson’s ability to hold on to the office. But most have been wary of openly suggesting he step aside.

The White House move could give them cover to abandon Mr. Paterson and endorse another candidate, most likely Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been debating for months whether to take on Mr. Paterson in a primary.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

David Brooks: No, It’s Not About Race

David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

[F]or generations schoolchildren studied the long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. Hamiltonians stood for urbanism, industrialism and federal power. Jeffersonians were suspicious of urban elites and financial concentration and believed in small-town virtues and limited government. Jefferson advocated “a wise and frugal government” that will keep people from hurting each other, but will otherwise leave them free and “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

Jefferson’s philosophy inspired Andrew Jackson, who led a movement of plain people against the cosmopolitan elites. Jackson dismantled the Second Bank of the United States because he feared the fusion of federal and financial power.

This populist tendency continued through the centuries. Sometimes it took right-wing forms, sometimes left-wing ones. Sometimes it was agrarian. Sometimes it was more union-oriented. Often it was extreme, conspiratorial and rude.

The populist tendency has always used the same sort of rhetoric: for the ordinary people and against the fat cats and the educated class; for the small towns and against the financial centers.

And it has always had the same morality, which the historian Michael Kazin has called producerism. The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country. In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output. Money should not be redistributed to those who do not work, and it should not be sucked off by condescending, manipulative elites.

Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated. His movement includes urban politicians, academics, Hollywood donors and information-age professionals. In his first few months, he has fused federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the health care industries and the energy sector.

Given all of this, it was guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his skin color. And it was guaranteed that this backlash would be ill mannered, conspiratorial and over the top — since these movements always are, whether they were led by Huey Long, Father Coughlin or anybody else.

What we’re seeing is the latest iteration of that populist tendency and the militant progressive reaction to it. We now have a populist news media that exaggerates the importance of the Van Jones and Acorn stories to prove the elites are decadent and un-American, and we have a progressive news media that exaggerates stories like the Joe Wilson shout and the opposition to the Obama schools speech to show that small-town folks are dumb wackos.

“One could argue that this country is on the verge of a crisis of legitimacy,” the economic blogger Arnold Kling writes. “The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural white America as illegitimate, and vice versa.”

It’s not race. It’s another type of conflict, equally deep and old.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who would have thunk it before Obama's speech: Immigration, Health Debates Cross Paths

From the Washington Post:

As Congress's debate over health-care legislation lumbers toward a defining test for the Obama presidency, partisans on both sides of another issue -- immigration -- escalated their own proxy war this week, concluding that the fates of the two issues have become politically linked.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The trade relationship between the U.S. and China.

From the New York Times:

China . . . has become the world’s factory while the United States has lost millions of manufacturing jobs. The trade deficit with China was a record $268 billion in 2008.

[T]he United States buys $4.46 worth of Chinese goods for every $1 worth of American goods sold to China.
_______________

Also see the Wall Street Journal article on the U.S. and China trade sparring that began Friday with tires from China and yesterday extended to American poultry and automotive parts.

Winning governor races in Va. & N.J. is a GOP centerpiece to revitalize the party before the 2010 congressional elections - Va. is a bellwether state.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Republican leaders, still licking their wounds from the party's disastrous performance in 2008, have made winning this year's two governor's races -- in Virginia and New Jersey -- a centerpiece of their strategy to revitalize the party before the 2010 congressional elections. Republicans saw in both states the opportunity to win back moderate voters by tacking away from wedge issues, such as opposition to abortion, that have long defined the party, and by seizing on discontent with Mr. Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress over their handling of the recession and health care.

Strategists in both parties use Virginia to gauge the national electorate, because the state's racial, age and gender profile, as well as its moderate political views, generally mirror those of the nation. Last year, for instance, Mr. Obama got nearly 53% of the vote nationwide and 52.6% in Virginia.

So far, Republicans are making headway. [Republican Bob McDonnell] McDonnell, a former Virginia attorney general and state lawmaker, has pounded his Democrat opponent [state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds] as a disciple of Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats, and built a lead of 10 to 12 percentage points in most polls. A Survey USA poll released Sept. 3 found that 13% of last year's Obama voters planned to vote for Mr. McDonnell.

In New Jersey, Republican challenger Christopher Christie has used a similar strategy against Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine to build a lead of 10 percentage points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week.

Going into the campaign, [Virginia] Democrats were expected to capitalize not only on Mr. Obama's popularity but also on a Democratic winning streak that began with Mark Warner's gubernatorial win in 2001, followed by victories by current Gov. Tim Kaine in 2005, Sen. Jim Webb in 2006 and Mr. Warner again in a 2008 landslide victory for the other Senate seat. (Virginia governors are limited to serving one four-year term and cannot seek re-election.)

Mr. Deeds faces another obstacle: history. In every Virginia gubernatorial election since 1977, the party that won the presidency the previous year went on to lose the governor's race.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Obama takes the high road; Texas Republican & former House Majority Leader Dick Armey is losing it as he heads off the deep end . . .

A post I did yesterday is entitled "The pigs get fat & the hogs get slaughtered. Democrats ought to accept benefit from Wilson's outburst & not risk him benefiting from admonishment vote."

Today the Wall Street Journal reports:

Mr. Obama, in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes," suggested that a formal rebuke of Mr. Wilson would be a distraction from the larger debate. "I mean, it just becomes a big circus instead of focusing on health care," Mr. Obama said.

Meanwhile the Journal also reports:

The South Carolina lawmaker emerged as a rallying point on Saturday for many participants of a Washington protest march. An estimated 75,000 people attended the "Taxpayer March on Washington," which was organized by conservative activists to protest the Obama administration's economic policies.

"I thank God for Congressman Wilson to have the courage to say, 'You lie,'" said William Greene, executive director of the political action committee Right March. A protester held a sign saying: "Joe Wilson Speaks for Me."

Riffing off Mr. Wilson's "You lie!" outburst, the crowd chanted, "Liar!" as former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Texas Republican who now helms the anti-tax group FreedomWorks, criticized Mr. Obama over big spending and rising deficits, and alleged that the president had violated his "commitment of fidelity to the United States Constitution."

Is this the 1st time these 4 have appeared together this political season? I'm not 100% sure it is, but here's to hoping the ranks soon thin . . .


David Poythress, Roy Barnes, DuBose Porter and Thurbert Baker on Saturday

Photograph from the Savannah Morning News (story by Larry Peterson).

For Obama, Party Unity On Health Care Is Just a Start

From the Washington Post:

The substance [of Obama's address to a joint session of Congress last week] was pitched much more toward the center of the electorate, toward the independents who had soured on George W. Bush and were looking for a change in 2008, but who may be worried that the scope of what Obama has proposed is more than they bargained for. Even a superficial reading of the president's message suggests he is prepared to sell off many of the key elements of the House-shaped legislation.

White House officials are somewhat baffled by House Democrats continuing to push for legislation that includes a robust public insurance option when it's clear the Senate will not embrace such a provision. In their view, the public option was never debated in the campaign, was never the center of a national debate and appears to lack the votes regardless of what public opinion polls show about its popularity.

Obama . . . seems to have his eyes fixed more on the center of the electorate than on the party's base, and for good reason.

Democrats were handed the White House and their majorities in Congress by an electorate that had soured on Bush and the Republicans. Their first responsibility is to demonstrate an ability to govern, which is why the failure-is-not-an-option mantra has been repeated so often during the sometimes frustrating negotiations over health care. That is still the reason White House officials express optimism that Obama will sign a health-care bill this year.

But their second responsibility is to take seriously the concerns expressed by many of those who voted for Obama, but who now have doubts about his very ambitious agenda and its implications for the deficit and for the role of government in their lives. For many of these voters, the concern has become "too much, too fast."

Obama has defended what he has done with respect to the economy, financial institutions and the auto industry as the equivalent of wars of necessity. But health care and climate change were fights he has chosen to start, and they have given pause to many voters who may be sympathetic to Obama.

The president is not willing to postpone ambitious health-care reform, fearing that indefinite delay will mean permanent defeat. But in the message he has delivered in the past week, he seems aware he must address the concerns about his presidency that have caused his approval ratings to slip.

[Obama] must not just rally the Democrats. He must prod and nudge and push them toward agreement on legislation that, over time, wins acceptance and approval of independents still nervous about his presidency.

Great history: Public Option Fades From Health Debate -- Insurance companies say they will agree to regulation if everyone must have health insurance.

From the New York Times:

It was just one line in a campaign manifesto, and it hardly seemed the most significant or contentious. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said he would “establish a new public insurance program” alongside private health care plans.

That proposal took on a life of its own, but it now appears to be dying, a victim of an ineffectual White House strategy, the president’s failure to argue passionately for the “public option” and all-out opposition by the insurance industry and much of the health care industry.

In the campaign, Mr. Obama said the public plan would compete with private insurers on the price and quality of care, thus benefiting consumers. What Mr. Obama did not foresee is that, to some people on the right and the left, it would become the most important issue in the debate over health care, touching off a battle over the role of government in one of the nation’s biggest, fastest-growing industries.

Once in office Mr. Obama and his advisers have sent conflicting signals about how critical a government-run health plan would be. He prefers a public plan but is open to other ideas.

Dancing around the issue for eight months, Mr. Obama has seemed, at various times, pragmatic, flexible or indecisive.

“I just want to figure out what works,” Mr. Obama said in March at a White House forum. If he could drive down health costs and expand coverage “entirely through the market,” he said, “I’d be happy to do it that way.” And “if there was a way of doing it that involved more government regulation and involvement, I’m happy to do it that way, as well,” he added.

Champions of the public plan said it could save money by using Medicare rates and fee schedules to pay hospitals and doctors. In a book last year, one of Mr. Obama’s top advisers, former Senator Tom Daschle, said consumers should have the option of enrolling in “a government-run insurance program modeled after Medicare, a proven and popular program.”

That is exactly what worries health care providers, who say Medicare pays them less than market rates paid by private insurers. And they have pressed their concerns on Capitol Hill with a small army of lobbyists.

Conservatives have another concern. They see the public option as a step toward a single-payer system in which the government would pay most of the nation’s health care bill and could supplant private insurers.

“A public plan is essentially a stalking horse for a single-payer plan,” said Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire. “It is more than the camel’s nose under the tent. It is the camel’s neck, and probably front legs, under the tent. There is no way the private sector will be able to compete.”

In trying to answer this charge, Democrats feel torn. Mr. Obama and many Democrats deny that they want to drive private insurers from the market. But others embrace the ultimate goal of “Medicare for all.”

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which supports Mr. Obama and the public option, has long supported a single-payer system.

In a memorandum to union leaders last year, Gerald W. McEntee, president of the 1.6-million-member federation, said a public plan would “create a competitive check on the private market and build both public support and the infrastructure for a single-payer system.”

Then in April, Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, said insurers were right to fear that a public plan could “put the private insurance industry out of business.”

That might happen because of “the superiority of the public health care option,” said Ms. Schakowsky, one of 86 co-sponsors of a bill to establish a single-payer system.

Such comments provided new ammunition to Republicans already worried about the costly commitments undertaken by the federal government to stave off an economic collapse.

Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, voiced this sense of bailout fatigue in June when he said, “We have the takeover of the auto companies and banks and A.I.G. and student loans — and now health care.”

In battering the proposal for a public option, Republicans have made effective use of estimates by the Lewin Group, a consulting concern, which said that more than 100 million people might sign up for the government-run insurance plan.

By contrast, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that 11 million to 12 million people might enroll.

Mr. Obama cited the lower estimate in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, to buttress his assertion that fears of a public plan were overblown. “We believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up,” Mr. Obama said.

But a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, predicted that over time “more and more people will select the public option.”

If only 5 percent of people will enroll, she asked, “Why are the private insurance companies so worried?”

The different estimates by Lewin and the Congressional Budget Office are based on different assumptions about who would be permitted to enroll in the public plan — workers in all companies or just those in smaller businesses.

Many people who cite studies by the Lewin Group do not know it is a unit of Ingenix, a wholly owned subsidiary of UnitedHealth, one of the nation’s largest insurers. John F. Sheils, a vice president of the Lewin Group, said the parent company had no influence over its research.

Momentum for the public option has waned, in part, because senators have been focusing on an alternative: nonprofit member-owned insurance cooperatives.

Apart from the question of whether co-ops would be workable or effective, they provide a politically convenient middle ground for centrists. With no immediate prospect of getting the votes for a public option in the Senate, some liberals have said they too are willing to consider the idea — if it enables them to pass a bill, and if the co-ops are strong enough to put competitive pressure on insurance companies.

Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, who floated the idea in early June, said co-ops would accomplish “much of what those who want a public option are calling for — something to compete with private for-profit insurance companies.”

At the same time, Mr. Conrad said, co-ops address Republican concerns because they are not controlled by the government.

Liberal Democrats are not giving up. Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said the president and Senate Democratic leaders had not made a serious effort to round up votes for a public option. If they did, he said, it could pass.

While the White House has struggled to define its position, insurance companies have never wavered. Starting two weeks after the 2008 election, they have said they would accept greater federal regulation of their market practices if Congress also required everyone to have health insurance.

These may have been tactical concessions, to abate public wrath, but they were well received in Congress. While making these offers, the industry conserved its resources for the bigger battle over a public option.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The pigs get fat & the hogs get slaughtered. Democrats ought to accept benefit from Wilson's outburst & not risk him benefiting from admonishment vote

From the Washington Post:

House Democratic leaders plan to vote early next week on whether to formally admonish Rep. Joe Wilson unless the South Carolina Republican apologizes on the House floor for interrupting President Obama's address to Congress by yelling "You lie!"

Wilson apologized to the White House shortly after Obama's speech on health-care reform Wednesday night, and the president accepted his apology Thursday. But the lawmaker ignored a request from his party's leaders to say he was sorry directly to House colleagues.

Absent such an apology, Democratic leaders will move forward with a resolution of disapproval or reprimand against Wilson, senior Democratic aides said Friday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) initially said she was not inclined to pursue formal punishment for the outburst, telling reporters Thursday morning: "It's time for us to talk about health care and not Mr. Wilson."

But Pelosi and other Democratic leaders decided later Thursday to pursue a resolution, aides said.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Details Still Lacking On Obama Proposal -- White House Unclear on How Some Far-Reaching Goals Would Be Met

From the Washington Post:

One day after President Obama pitched his plan for comprehensive health-care reform to a joint session of Congress, administration officials struggled Thursday to detail how he would achieve his goal of extending coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans without increasing the deficit.

After declining for months to identify himself with the details of emerging legislation, the president for the first time Wednesday embraced a set of ideas as "my plan." But the White House released scant specifics on legislation advertised as including new taxes, changes in malpractice law, a new national high-risk insurance pool, a commission on eliminating Medicare fraud, and tax credits for individual consumers and small businesses that cannot afford insurance.

David Brooks: The Dime Standard

David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

On Wednesday night, Barack Obama delivered the finest speech of his presidency. The exposition of his health care views was clear and lively. The invocation of Teddy Kennedy was moving and effective. The rumination at the end about the American character and the role of government was the clearest summary of Obama’s political philosophy that he has yet given us.

Best of all for those of us who admire the political craft was the speech’s seductive nature and careful ambiguity. Obama threw out enough rhetorical chum to keep the liberals happy, yet he subtly staked out ground in the center on nearly every substantive issue in order to win over the moderates needed to get anything passed.

First, Obama rested the credibility of his presidency on what you might call the Dime Standard. He was flexible about many things, but not this: “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future. Period.”

This sound bite kills the House health care bill. That bill would add $220 billion (that’s 2.2 trillion dimes) to the deficit over the first 10 years and another $1 trillion (10 trillion dimes) to the deficit over the next 10 years.

There is no way to get from the House bill to deficit neutrality. The president’s speech guarantees that the more moderate Senate Finance Committee bill will be the basis for the negotiations to come.

The Dime Standard also sets off a political cascade. Since the Congressional Budget Office is the universally accepted arbiter in such matters, the Democrats have to produce a bill that the C.B.O. says is deficit-neutral, now and forever. That means there will be a seller’s market for any member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who has a credible amendment to cut costs. It also means the Democrats will have to scale back coverage and subsidy levels to reach the fiscal targets.

Second, the president accepted the principle of capping the tax exemption on employer-provided health benefits. The specific proposal he embraced is a backdoor and indirect version of the cap. But what’s important here is the movement and the concession on principle. Soon moderates and Republicans will produce amendments to impose a cap directly. These amendments will credibly raise revenue and reduce costs. The administration will now have no principled argument to reject them.

Third, the president accepted the principle of tort reform to reduce the costs of defensive medicine. Once again, the specific proposal Obama mentioned is trivial. The important thing was the concession on principle. There are already amendments being drawn up to create separate malpractice courts and to otherwise reform the insane malpractice system. The president is going to have a hard time rejecting these amendments just because they might reduce campaign donations from tort lawyers to the Democratic National Committee.

Fourth, the president introduced the public option to its own exclusive Death Panel. As Max Baucus has said, the public option cannot pass the Senate. On Wednesday, the president praised it, then effectively buried it. White House officials no longer mask their exasperation with the liberal obsession on this issue.

Fifth, the president also buried the soak-the-rich approach. The House Ways and Means Committee came up with a plan to raise taxes on the rich to pay for health reform. That’s dead, too. Health reform will be paid for by changes within the health care system. The president underlined his resolve to cut $500 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. This is a courageous move that moderates appreciate.

Finally, people in the administration and moderates in Congress would like to beef up the “game changers.” These are the wonky but important ideas like bundling hospital payments and increasing price transparency that might lead to a more efficient system down the road.

In short, the president can read the polls just like anybody else. He has apparently recognized the need to pull back to get something passed. He is, characteristically, trying to rise above old divisions in search of a pragmatic sweet spot. He has opened up many opportunities for intelligent Republicans and moderate Democrats to constructively offer amendments to improve the bill and bring it closer to fiscal sanity.

Which is not to say that this is effective health reform. The only risible parts of the speech came when Obama said that parts of the system work (they don’t; they’re unsustainable) and when he said he would be the last president to take on health care (we still await a president willing to take on fundamental perversities in the system).

For whatever reason, President Obama has decided not to be that president. He has decided to expand the current system, not fix it. His speech on Wednesday, and the coming legislative changes, make it much more likely he will achieve his goal.

This is what they always say: "This time will be different." -- Automatic Cuts Could Help Push Past a Health Hurdle

From the New York Times:

President Obama’s new call to impose automatic spending cuts if the health care overhaul adds “one dime” to federal budget deficits could help push his top domestic priority over one of the biggest hurdles in its path through Congress.

But once in law, such automatic triggers have not proved effective as a way to reduce federal spending. In the past, Congress and the White House have simply overridden or ignored them. This time, advocates insist, would be different.

In his prime-time address on Wednesday to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama restated his only line in the sand for a health care bill: He will not sign any measure that “adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period.” But for the first time he asked Congress to mandate that future Congresses and presidents “come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don’t materialize.”

Obama Facing Doubts Within His Own Party on Afghanistan

From the New York Times:

The leading Senate Democrat on military matters said Thursday that he was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces.

The comments by the senator, Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, illustrate the growing skepticism President Obama is facing in his own party as the White House decides whether to commit more deeply to a war that has begun losing public support, even as American commanders acknowledge that the situation on the ground has deteriorated.

Mr. Levin said he was not ruling out sending more troops eventually, but rather insisted that the United States try again on a years-old project: finding a way to expand and accelerate the training of the Afghan security forces.

[Defense Secretary Robert M.] has indicated that he is willing to consider a request for more forces.

[I note that this was not the inclination of Mr. Gates back in May or so of this year. He said it would be very difficult to convince him to increase the number of troops we have. He did not want us to be seen as an occupier as was the case with the Soviets in the 1980s when the former Soviet Union had 110,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan (and still lost).]

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This incident was most unfortunate. I sure I am glad the congressman wasn't from Georgia. -- In Lawmaker’s Outburst, a Rare Breach of Protocol


Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, pictured here pointing at other Republican members of Congress, received criticism for yelling, “You lie!” at the president.

From the New York Times:

It was a rare breach of the protocol that governs ritualistic events in the Capitol.

In an angry and very audible outburst, Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, interrupted President Obama’s speech Wednesday night with a shout of “You lie!”

His eruption — in response to Mr. Obama’s statement that Democratic health proposals would not cover illegal immigrants — stunned members of both parties in the House chamber.

Mr. Wilson . . . phoned the White House and reached Mr. Emanuel, who accepted an apology on behalf of the president.
_______________

And this wasn't all. See the Washington Post, noting that while the majority of both parties' lawmakers behaved as adults, the insolence by House GOP members stole the show.
_______________

And the Wall Street Journal reported a hour or so after the outburst that "'Joe Wilson" is currently the number one search item on Twitter, and fellow Republican and Arizona Sen. John McCain called his comment 'totally disrespectful' . . . ."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

What a grand delivery!! Welcome back to the center Mr. President.

Defense Secretary Gates undecided on whether to deploy more troops to Afghanistan. But says withdrawal is out of the question.

From the Washington Post:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview broadcast this week that the United States would not repeat the mistake of abandoning Afghanistan, vowing that "both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term."

Gates said the United States made a "serious strategic mistake" by turning its focus away from Afghanistan after Soviet occupation forces were defeated there two decades ago.

"As soon as the Soviets left Afghanistan, we turned our backs on Afghanistan and we did not cultivate our relationship with the Pakistanis properly," he said, noting that U.S. decisions at the time sparked doubts about Americans' commitment to the region. "I believe we've learned our lesson."

Gates's remarks come as he and other American officials weigh whether to deploy more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The defense secretary said he remained undecided on the issue.

He added, though, that the possibility of withdrawal is out of the question.

The U.S. military recognized as early as 2005 and 2006 that violence was escalating in Afghanistan, Gates said, but was unable to bolster forces there because of U.S. troop commitments in Iraq.

Opposition to Health-Care Reform Revives Christian Right

From the Washington Post:

The Christian right, facing questions before the presidential election about its continuing potency as a force for cultural and political change, has found new life with Barack Obama in office, particularly around health care.

As the president prepares to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night to press for health-care reform, conservative Christian leaders are rallying their troops to oppose him, with online town hall meetings, church gatherings, fundraising appeals, and e-mail and social networking campaigns. FRC Action, the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council, has scheduled a webcast Thursday night for tens of thousands of supporters in which House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other speakers will respond to the president's health-care address.

"Movements do better when they have something to oppose," said D. Michael Lindsay, a sociology professor at Rice University who studies evangelicals. "It's easier to fundraise in those kinds of situations. It's easier to mobilize volunteers because you have an us versus them mentality, and that plays very well right now for the Christian right."

After seeing their bread-and-butter issue of abortion take a back seat during the election last year, the Christian right has been a prime force in moving it back to the front row by focusing on it as a potential part of health-care reform.

Experts say the resurgent interest is proving that predictions of the death of the Christian right -- widespread before the election -- were again premature. But they say the recent flurry of activity does nothing to solve the underlying challenges facing the movement -- the lack of younger leaders to replace aging ones and ways to engage younger evangelicals who want the movement to embrace a wider range of issues.

But, for the moment, conservative Christian leaders are riding high on opposing health-care reform.

"Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Henry Waxman have done more to energize Christian conservatives than any conservative leader could have done with this health-care package," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "I, who never believed that we were dead, did not believe that it would happen this quickly."

Monday, September 07, 2009

My law office provides health insurance for our employees. Many, many small businesses do not. It is expensive, very expensive. This chart shows why.


From The Wall Street Journal:

The existing proposals would require most employers to offer coverage. However, there is significant disagreement over the penalties that employers would pay if they didn't provide the coverage.

Obama Faces a Critical Moment for His Presidency

From The New York Times:

With his honeymoon seemingly over and his White House on the defensive, Mr. Obama faces what friends and foes alike call a make-or-break moment in his young administration. Because he has elevated health care to such a singular priority, advisers said he must force through a credible plan or risk crippling his presidency.

As much as health care has consumed the president, other vexing issues await him in the fall. In the coming weeks, he will decide whether to order thousands more troops to Afghanistan and pursue new sanctions against Iran. He will host a meeting of the Group of 20 nations to spur the world economy and push forward with arms control negotiations with Russia.

Now, as he prepares for Wednesday’s address before a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama and his team are simultaneously trying to figure out how they got into this dilemma and how to get out of it. An administration that swept into office just seven months ago on a wave of hope and optimism has burned through good will and public patience in swift fashion and now finds itself under fire from both the left and the right.

He faces a crisis of expectations tough to manage. Can he form a health care compromise that satisfies both his liberal base and fiscal conservatives in his own party, much less the other one? Can he stanch the slide in support for the war in Afghanistan even as he considers sending more troops? Can he soothe discontent with an economy that appears to have bottomed out but remains moribund? Can he change the tenor of debate in a capital that seems as polarized as ever?

Mr. Obama is hardly the first president to run into trouble after the bunting and balloons have vanished, but his slipping support has fueled a narrative about a young and relatively inexperienced president who overinterpreted his mandate and overreached in his policies.

Mr. Obama showed during last year’s campaign that he has the capacity to ride out rough moments. If he ultimately gets some form of health care program passed that he can call a victory, this turbulence may ultimately be forgotten.

Out of Work, Too Down to Search On, and Uncounted

From The New York Times:

They were left out of the latest unemployment rate, as they are every month: millions of hidden casualties of the Great Recession who are not counted in the rate because they have stopped looking for work.

But that does not mean these discouraged Americans do not want to be employed. [M]any desperately long for a job, but their inability to find one has made them perhaps the ultimate embodiment of pessimism as this recession wears on.

The official jobless rate, which garners the bulk of attention from politicians and the public, was reported on Friday to have risen to 9.7 percent in August. But to be included in that measure, which is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from a monthly nationwide survey, a worker must have actively looked for a job at some point in the preceding four weeks.

For an increasing number of people in this country who would prefer to be working, that is not the case.

The "election" news from Afghanistan keeps getting worse: Fake Afghan Poll Sites Favored Karzai, Officials Assert. “This was fraud en masse.”

From The New York Times:

Afghans loyal to President Hamid Karzai set up hundreds of fictitious polling sites where no one voted but where hundreds of thousands of ballots were still recorded toward the president’s re-election, according to senior Western and Afghan officials here.

“We think that about 15 percent of the polling sites never opened on Election Day,” the senior Western diplomat said. “But they still managed to report thousands of ballots for Karzai.”

Besides creating the fake sites, Mr. Karzai’s supporters also took over approximately 800 legitimate polling centers and used them to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai, the officials said.

The result, the officials said, is that in some provinces, the pro-Karzai ballots may exceed the people who actually voted by a factor of 10. “We are talking about orders of magnitude,” the senior Western diplomat said.

The widening accounts of fraud pose a stark problem for the Obama administration, which has 68,000 American troops deployed here to help reverse gains by Taliban insurgents. American officials hoped that the election would help turn Afghans away from the Taliban by giving them a greater voice in government. Instead, the Obama administration now faces the prospect of having to defend an Afghan administration for the next five years that is widely seen as illegitimate.

“This was fraud en masse,” the Western diplomat said.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Clinton’s Health Defeat Sways Obama’s Tactics


In May 1993, when she was first lady and wore dresses, Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned unsuccessfully for a health care plan.

Today The New York Times has an an indepth and most informative article about how the failure 15 years ago to overhaul the health care system has defined President Obama’s drive for reform, providing a tip sheet for what to do and not to do.

It is time to pull back some & cut our losses (& adding to the deficit) in Afghanistan. It is going to become even more of a quagmire than it now is.

An 8-23-09 post entitled "Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?" notes in part:

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

In this summer of discontent for Mr. Obama, as the heady early days give way to the grinding battle for elusive goals, he looks ahead to an uncertain future not only for his legislative agenda but for what has indisputably become his war.

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

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

But while many Americans once shared that view, polls suggest that conviction is fading nearly eight years into the war.


A 3-28-09 post is entitled "The next Vietnam? -- White House Debate Led to Plan to Widen Afghan Effort (thankfully, primary goal won't be nation-building)" reads:

President Obama’s plan to widen United States involvement in Afghanistan came after an internal debate in which Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned against getting into a political and military quagmire, while military advisers argued that the Afghanistan war effort could be imperiled without even more troops.

All of the president’s advisers agreed that the primary goal in the region should be narrow — taking aim at Al Qaeda, as opposed to the vast attempt at nation-building the Bush administration had sought in Iraq. The question was how to get there.

The commanders in the field wanted a firmer and long-term commitment of more combat troops beyond the 17,000 that Mr. Obama had already promised to send, and a pledge that billions of dollars would be found to significantly expand the number of Afghan security forces.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pressed for an additional 4,000 troops to be sent to Afghanistan — but only to serve as trainers. They tempered the commanders’ request and agreed to put off any decision to order more combat troops to Afghanistan until the end of this year, when the strategy’s progress could be assessed.

During these discussions, Mr. Biden was the voice of caution, reminding the group members that they would have to sell their plans to a skeptical Congress.


As noted in the first quoted post, this has become Obama's war, with his launching a new strategy intended to turn Afghanistan around, sending an additional 21,000 troops, installing a new commander, promising more civilian reconstruction help, shifting to more protection of the population and building up Afghan security forces.

While reading an article in last Wednesday's edition of The Wall Street Journal, I came to conclude that, despite the consequences that are serious, it is time to pull back. I have been debating this issue with myself for sometime as the above and other posts indicate.

Although it may now be Obama's war, this ownership could change quickly if Obama's acts now rather than later. The American public will remember that he would not have had to fight this war if Bush II, after initial and early success in Afghanistan, had not taken his sight off of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan to prepare for war in Iraq.

I have followed this war closely, just as I did Vietnam as a young officer in the United States Army who could have been assigned to that theater. The Soviets finally concluded in 1989 that -- just as we found with Vietnam -- its occupation and conflict with Afghanistan was interminable, and thus ended its decade old occupation.

If that is going to ultimately be the conclusion of this administration, it should be made sooner rather than later, recognizing that the result of such action affects not only Afghanistan but its neighbor Pakistan which is armed with nuclear weapons and already seething with radical anti-American elements.

Part of The Wall Street Journal article is as follows:

Ghulam Yahya, a former mayor of this ancient city along the Silk Road, battled the Taliban for years and worked hand in hand with Western officials to rebuild the country's industrial hub.

Now, Mr. Yahya is firing rockets at the Herat airport and nearby coalition military headquarters. He has kidnapped soldiers and foreign contractors, claimed the downing of an Afghan army helicopter and planted bombs in central Herat -- including one that killed a district police chief and more than a dozen bystanders last month.

Mr. Yahya's stranglehold over the outskirts of Herat has destabilized a former oasis of calm and relative prosperity. "The security situation here is critical," said Herat's current mayor, Mohammed Salim Taraki.

The warlord's odyssey from friend to foe shows how disillusionment with the Western-backed administration of President Hamid Karzai has pushed even some former enemies of the Taliban into the insurgency. Violence is rapidly spreading beyond the ethnic Pashtun heartland of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where much of the countryside already is in rebel hands, into parts of the country that were considered safe just a few months ago.

An ethnic Tajik, Mr. Yahya is perhaps the most prominent non-Pashtun Afghan insurgent chieftain working with the Taliban. It isn't a natural union: When the Taliban conquered Herat in 1995, Mr. Yahya, then the city's mayor, had to flee to exile in Iran. He later took part in the anti-Taliban militias that fought the radical Islamist movement. After the Taliban regime's demise in 2001, Mr. Yahya returned to Herat to supervise public works in the provincial administration. It's only in the last year or so that Mr. Yahya, who fell out with Kabul, joined his former enemies.

An illiterate but cunning mujahedeen commander, the bearded Mr. Yahya was a scourge of Soviet occupation forces here in the 1980s. Now in his 60s, Mr. Yahya appears to be equally determined to fight the American and NATO coalition troops.

Until recently, most of that fighting was limited to ethnic Pashtun south and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban's stronghold. The Pashtuns, who make up 42 percent of Afghanistan's 34 million people, account for the vast majority of Taliban militants.

Persian-speaking Tajiks, more than one-quarter of Afghanistan's population, have traditionally followed a less rigid form of Islam, as did the Turkic Uzbek minority.

But now, as frustration is mounting with the slow rebuilding, endemic corruption, and the tactics of Afghan and foreign soldiers, non-Pashtun militants like Mr. Yahya have sprouted up alongside their former Taliban enemies in northern and western Afghanistan.

The escalating violence in the north and the west poses a major challenge to the 60,000 American troops in Afghanistan, already stretched thin trying to curb the militancy in their own deployment areas. Containing it will require a new approach by whoever emerges as Afghanistan's next president.

President Karzai has long been trying to consolidate central authority at the expense of regional warlords who ran vast chunks of the country as virtual kings. Among the most powerful: Ismail Khan, the former Afghan army officer who led an uprising against Soviet troops in Herat in 1979. After the Soviet pullout, he became a self-styled "Emir of the West."

As mayor and then provincial public works chief under Mr. Khan, Mr. Yahya is remembered -- fondly by some Heratis -- for executing thieves and nailing dishonest merchants by their ears to lampposts. "He was brutal. But in this country you cannot govern if you are not brutal," said Alhaj Touryalai Ghaswi, vice-chairman of the Herat industrial union and the owner of several factories in the city.

In an American-backed step to centralize power in 2004, President Karzai ousted Mr. Khan as Herat provincial governor. To retain his loyalty, President Karzai appointed Mr. Khan Afghanistan's minister of water and power.

Once Mr. Khan left for Kabul, Mr. Yahya had to work with the new provincial authorities, who proved deeply unpopular as crime and corruption spiked, stifling Herat's post-Taliban economic boom. Criminal gangs, some allied with newly arrived police officials, went on a kidnapping spree, terrorizing prominent Heratis. "Most of the factories had to be closed and business activity shrank," said Mr. Ghaswi, the industrialist. "Business owners were afraid to move in the city because of all these abductions for ransom."

Mr. Yahya also became a target of the Afghan government's anti-warlord drive that, with United Nations assistance, pressed smaller "illegal armed groups" to disarm. He refused, claiming not to have any weapons caches.

So, in 2006, the new provincial government fired Mr. Yahya. Herat's governor at the time, Syed Hossein Anwari, said he had to make this decision because of Kabul's anti-warlord policy, and that he unsuccessfully tried to argue against Mr. Yahya's removal. The insurgent leader, he adds, was in those days "a decent, hard-working man with a good reputation because he never misused his office."

Unlike Mr. Khan, the water and power minister, Mr. Yahya failed to secure another government job. He retreated to his ancestral stronghold in the Gozara district, a densely populated expanse of mudbrick villages that straddles the road between Herat's airport and the city itself. There, he quietly built up a militia that now numbers hundreds of men. "He was forced to go and take up arms," said Mr. Khan, who said he still maintains contacts with his former protégé.

According to area residents, Mr. Yahya hasn't enforced in Gozara the kind of harsh Islamic restrictions that are implemented by the Pashtun Taliban elsewhere in the country: Girls' schools remain open and youths in the villages are allowed to listen to music and watch television and pirated DVDs. But, like the Taliban -- whose ascent in the 1990s was welcomed by many Afghans tired of lawlessness -- Mr. Yahya has been ruthless in cracking down on crime.

"People love him. He has punished all the thieves: now, not a single thief is left in our area," said shepherd Saif ud-Din as he tends his flock of sheep near the airport road in Gozara. "The only people who fear Ghulam Yahya are the criminals," adds local flower grower Noor Ahmad.

It is hard to find anyone in Gozara -- and even in Herat -- willing to openly criticize Mr. Yahya. The insurgent levies taxes on peasants, and forbids them from paying land rent to the government or absentee landlords. Local youths are conscripted into his force. Some people who disparage Mr. Yahya in public have turned up dead. "Everyone is afraid of him. No one can speak out," said Mr. Taraki, the city's mayor.

Initially, Mr. Yahya shied away from attacking Afghan troops or the Italian-led international forces in the area. But, last year, as he gave up hopes of rejoining the government, he repeatedly fired rockets at coalition bases and United Nations offices. He also launched lucrative kidnapping operations, holding anyone associated with foreign reconstruction efforts for ransom. An Indian contractor for international forces, seized by Mr. Yahya's men on the Herat airport road, died in captivity earlier this year.

Shared hostility to Western presence in Afghanistan cemented Mr. Yahya's alliance with the Pashtun Taliban. In an interview with Qatar's al Jazeera satellite TV network, Mr. Yahya boasted he has hosted Arab jihadis. Mr. Khan, the water and power minister, said Mr. Yahya turned to the Taliban because "everyone naturally needs support."

The insurgent also appears to be getting some help from Iran, which used to cooperate with the West against the Taliban in the past. "The rockets that were launched against us [by Yahya] were Iranian-made," said Brig. Gen. Rosario Castellano, the Herat-based Italian commander of international forces in western Afghanistan. "The Iranians want a stable Afghanistan. But, at the same time, they also don't want Westerners to trample upon Afghan soil."

Initially, Western and Afghan forces here abstained from a full-out assault against Mr. Yahya, in part because of concern about civilian casualties and the warlord's popularity. The current Herat provincial governor said he was stunned on his arrival late last year by how many people sang Mr. Yahya's praises.

The governor, Yusuf Nuristani, said he wrote the rebel commander a letter in January, offering Mr. Yahya a full amnesty so that he can "come back and lead a good life."

Mr. Yahya wrote back politely to turn down the offer, saying he has chosen the path of resistance because "your government doesn't have the power to throw out foreign troops from this country," Mr. Nuristani said during an interview in his Kabul apartment.

On Feb. 16, coalition aircraft struck a compound 20 miles east of Herat, aiming to assassinate the warlord. In a press release at the time, the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan described Mr. Yahya as "a key insurgent commander ... infamous for brutal treatment against civilians and village elders" and said "up to 15 militants suspected of associating" with him were killed.

But Mr. Yahya emerged unscathed. According to Afghan officials, though Mr. Yahya's car was in that location, most of the casualties belonged to a family of nomad shepherds, unrelated to the insurgency, who camped in a nearby tent. Since then, Mr. Yahya ordered ever more deadly attacks, including the Aug. 3 bombing that he claimed in central Herat, the worst strike against the city in years. Mr. Yahya's militia also prevented elections from taking place in most of Gozara and parts of the neighboring districts. "He's a criminal and a nuisance, and we want to get rid of him," Mr. Nuristani said.

Last month, Italian and American troops launched a renewed offensive against Mr. Yahya's stronghold in Gozara. Another airstrike, in mid-August, once again missed the rebel commander but managed to kill one of his sons and his bodyguards. "We have dismantled his command and control center and are exercising constant pressure on him every day," said Gen. Castellano. "Every night, he must sleep in a different house."

Yet, the fact that Mr. Yahya has survived is raising his prestige day by day, said Mr. Anwari, Herat's previous governor: "He's become a symbol and an example to others."

Despite the recent bloodletting, Mr. Yahya can still be persuaded to come in from the cold if provided sufficient security guarantees, Mr. Khan said. "These people have no desire to be in complete opposition," the minister said in an interview in his palatial home in Herat. "There is no reason to fight all the time. There are other ways."

According to Mr. Nuristani, the Afghan government's amnesty offer for Mr. Yahya remains on the table. So far, the insurgent's only response has been more rockets.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Obama is ahead of the American public. I fear the future. Most Americans are centrists - but Obama has reduced rather than built trust in the center.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

A . . . concern about President Obama's staffers and appointees is that so many of them are so young and relatively untried. And not only young and untried, but triumphant. They're on top of the world. They came from nowhere and elected their guy against the odds. Against expectations, they beat a machine (the Clintons) and a behemoth (long-triumphant Republicanism). Now nothing can stop them, Let's do big things, let's be consequential. Consequentialism has been the blight of America's political life for a decade. Because of it, America's nerves have been rubbed raw.

Why be concerned about the young in the White House? Because they've never been beaten up by life, never been defeated. They haven't learned from failure because they haven't experienced it. They don't know what the warning signs of trouble are. They haven't spent time on the losing side.

Mr. Obama's young aides are hardworking, humorous and bright as pennies, but I wish they had an arthritic ache or two, I wish they told old war stories because they'd been in old wars, I wish they knew what it looks like when an administration goes too far and strains the ties between itself and the bulk of the people.

They are all now busy planning and strategizing his congressional address on health care. It will be hard to pull off well. The president will be talking, essentially, to three groups: the political elites of both parties and the media, his supporters on the ground, and highly informed citizens who are already either for or against the plan but want to hear, ponder and form an opinion on the speech.

But the great mass of Americans, the big center, will, I strongly suspect, not be listening. Mr. Obama has grown boring. And it's not Solid Boring, which is fine in a president and may be good. It's sort of Faux Eloquent Boring, especially on health care. The president likely doesn't know this, and his people won't have told him because they don't know it either, but Mr. Obama always has the same sound, approach, logic, tone, modulation. He always has the same stance. There's no humor or humility in it. News is surprise, and he never makes news.

The past 10 months, the president has lessened and not increased the trust of the big center. He did a number of things wrong, but one has not been noticed much, or noted. He moved too quickly, before he'd earned the right to change a big chunk of American life. You earn that right by establishing trust. Absent crisis, leaders have to show, over a certain amount of time and through a series of actions, that they're sober, sound, farsighted, looking out for the middle. In addition, of course, middle America is worried about two dramas, the economy and war, and he's showing he's worried about a third drama, health care, which they've put to the side. His concerns do not coincide with theirs. Which makes him, not them, look out of touch.

He could always surprise everyone by saying he made a mistake and he's going back to the drawing board to work hand in hand with Republicans. That would be interesting, and could be quite productive. But no one expects a climbdown at this point. And so he will go on, and win something, some piece of what he wants, and "Obama Wins Health Care Battle" will wind up in the headlines, and it will be a catastrophic victory, won at the price of losing the big center.