.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Cracker Squire


My Photo
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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Union Votes Down Ford Concessions -- Good move UAW, real good move.

A 10-28-09 post was entitled "Not good, not good at all: Union Votes Go Against Cuts at Ford (no good deed -- Ford's not having to file bankruptcy -- goes unpunished by the union)."

The Wall Street Journal reports that Ford's rank-and-file union members have rejected a concessions agreement, leaving the auto maker at risk to higher costs compared with competitors Chrysler and GM.

The Journal reports that Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues, said of the election:

"I think Ford is smart enough not to retaliate and move work away from plants. However, I suspect it will lightly influence Ford's investment decisions in the future."

Don't count on it sir, don't count on it at all. Ford will not spell it out for the UAW, but the union will be shown that it has made its bed, and now it will have to lie in it. The probable result: fewer jobs in America and production shifting elsewhere.

UPDATED: As noted in The New York Times:

The deal’s failure means Ford retains the right to contract some work to other companies or to plants in other countries with lower labor costs.

Is it the GOP or Dems who eat their own? Tom Crawford: "Norwood could just as easily be a moderate Republican or a conservative Democrat."

History will note two unusual occurrences in Atlanta's current race for mayor.

The first last month involved Clark Atlanta University political scientists Keith Jennings and William Boone. They wrote in a memo and then held a news conference to say that they said but did not intend to suggest that Atlanta's black voters unite behind a single candidate in order to block the election of a white person.

They identified Lisa Borders as the black candidate best able to beat Mary Norwood.

And although Kasim Reed would denounce the piece and Mayor Shirley Franklin called it bigoted, it was not racist because, in effect, Jennings and Boone said it was not racist.

The second occurrence came earlier this week when Jane Kidd decreed that "[t]he person that’s going to be mayor of Atlanta should reflect the Democratic nature of Atlanta," and that "[a]s far as we’re concerned, Mary Norwood’s a Republican." Kidd then proceeded to go into full attack mode at the campaign's eleventh hour (all apparently without first going to the party's Executive Committee, but even if such approval had been sought and obtained, this still would not have made this move any less foolish, ill-conceived and damaging next Tuesday to the public's perception of the Democratic Party of Georgia).

This attack came despite what had been the conventional thinking prior to such attack as expressed Friday morning by Tom Crawford, editor of Capitol Impact, a subscription service taken by many state government officials (Tom also covers politics for Georgia Trend; I read his weekly column at this link):

On the ideological issues, there are not many deep differences among the three leading candidates. Norwood is a political type familiar to Georgia politics, a person who could just as easily be a moderate Republican or a conservative Democrat.

Although Borders and Reed both quickly said they did not instigate the involvement by the Democratic Party of Georgia, they both fell hook, line and sinker for Kidd's foolish attempt to have party affiliation determine the race's outcome, and in the aftermath of Kidd's participation they emphasized that they are authentic Democrats rather than their credentials for this high profile office.

Kidd's hit ads have, in effect, allowed Norwood to have it both ways, even though this was Kidd's purported justification for her decision to go on the attack. Norwood is able to rattle off a list of Democrats she has voted for without proclaiming to bleed blue.

The reaction by Borders and Reed to Kidd's involvement is a new emphasis of party above all else. Do they think that all likely voters next Tuesday are Democrats, or even something as sinister and racist as only African Americans are Democrats?

I always enjoy chatting with Mayor Franklin when I run into her at party functions.

I hope to develop a good relationship with Mary Norwood in the event she is elected mayor as recent polls suggest.

This time last week one could have justifiably been thinking that it would be great that if she is elected, and with the 2010 governor's race approaching, Norwood just might want to become involved in party affairs and even attend party functions. Obviously, any such wishful thinking has been complicated if not trashed, and forgiving and forgetting will not be a given. And for what useful purpose I know not.

Regardless of this and what has transpired this past week, if Norwood becomes Atlanta's mayor, I trust the party's leadership will reach out and press forward in such an effort. I know I will.

God Bless America; God Bless Georgia; and God Bless Atlanta and its mayor-to-be, whoever that may be.

UPDATE: See a great post by the one and only Jim Galloway of the ajc's Political Insider entitled "A Democratic gamble in the Atlanta mayor’s race."

It is another Galloway keeper. My comment on the title would be, however, when you gamble don't you at least have a chance of winning.

Jim observes:

Even those who support the decision by the state party’s chairwoman, Jane Kidd, concede that it could risk the longtime — and mutually beneficial — relationship between the party and the city of Atlanta.

Norwood responds to Jane "Lee Atwater" Kidd in a dignified way, unlike the unfair hatchet job she has received. Take your elephant ads & shove 'em.

And at the end of the day, rather than the attack ads and hit pieces advancing our party's cause, the party will be perceived as even more irrelevant. Good job folks!

And as a postscript, the state Democratic party's current leadership has forever forfeited its right to complain about Sen. Chambliss's 2002 ad against Max Cleland.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Boeing's S.C. jobs a setback for unions -- Manufacturers grow more willing to use unorganized labor

From The Washington Post:

Boeing's decision to open a second assembly line for its 787 jetliner in South Carolina is another blow for organized labor, experts say, signaling that major manufacturers are increasingly willing to look for non-union workforces during a time of economic stress.

Chicago-based Boeing said Wednesday that it had picked North Charleston over Everett, Wash., the home of Boeing's commercial aircraft division, because it best fit its production plans for the 787 Dreamliner. Full production of the jet has been much anticipated because it has more than 800 orders and is designed to carry up to 250 passengers. But the Dreamliner, which is assembled from parts made by suppliers around the globe, is two years behind schedule. It has been plagued by production problems and delays, including strikes by union machinists in Everett and other sites in Washington state that forced the company to take costly write-downs as it closed commercial aircraft operations last year for eight weeks.

Boeing's move comes at an especially tough time for organized labor in the United States. The car industry is struggling to survive and is wringing historic concessions from its unions. Steel and other industries have restructured their deals with unions, as more manufacturing heads overseas or to "right-to-work" states in the South.

"This is the escape from collective bargaining," said Gary Chaison, a labor expert at Clark University. "Boeing is creating its own trend in heavy manufacturing, and more and more manufacturing is going to move south."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"We have met the enemy . . . and he is us."

The Okefenokee Swamp is about 45 minutes from Douglas. Some of you no doubt remember the comic strip entitled Pogo by Walt Kelly, an animator who worked with Walt Disney. A likeness of Pogo is on the water tower in downtown Waycross. Pogo and his friends lived in the Okefenokee Swamp, and one of Pogo's most famous lines is "We have met the enemy . . . and he is us."

I don't have a dog in the current Atlanta mayor’s race, but like most matters involving Georgia politics and races, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of important elections.

I was shocked this evening when I read Jim Galloway's post in the ajc's Political Insider entitled "State Democrats jump into Atlanta mayor’s race against Mary Norwood."

I remain just as shocked after reading the post. I just don't understand the motive, the role, the reason for the party feeling it had to get involved, and I don't feel as if I am missing anything because I live in the Other Georgia 210 miles south of Atlanta.

I very much like, admire, respect and have high regards for Mayor Shirley Franklin. I understand her feelings for Mary Norwood and her reasons for wanting to go public with them as covered in this post from the Political Insider. But the state Democratic party jumping into this race . . ., I just don't get it, and I don't think it advances our cause.

In the unlikely event the implication of the caption of this post is not clear, "he" and "the enemy" and "us" are not Mary Norwood, but rather the state Democratic party.

Tom Friedman's opinion matters. He was a hawk on Iraq for a long time. -- Don’t Build Up in Afghanistan

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

It is crunch time on Afghanistan, so here’s my vote: We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan.

What if we shrink our presence in Afghanistan? Won’t Al Qaeda return, the Taliban be energized and Pakistan collapse? Maybe. Maybe not. This gets to my second principle: In the Middle East, all politics — everything that matters — happens the morning after the morning after. Be patient. Yes, the morning after we shrink down in Afghanistan, the Taliban will celebrate, Pakistan will quake and bin Laden will issue an exultant video.

And the morning after the morning after, the Taliban factions will start fighting each other, the Pakistani Army will have to destroy their Taliban, or be destroyed by them, Afghanistan’s warlords will carve up the country, and, if bin Laden comes out of his cave, he’ll get zapped by a drone.

My last guiding principle: We are the world. A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path. A weak America would be a disaster for us and the world. China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan. I don’t.

The U.S. military has given its assessment. It said that stabilizing Afghanistan and removing it as a threat requires rebuilding that whole country. Unfortunately, that is a 20-year project at best, and we can’t afford it. So our political leadership needs to insist on a strategy that will get the most security for less money and less presence. We simply don’t have the surplus we had when we started the war on terrorism after 9/11 — and we desperately need nation-building at home. We have to be smarter. Let’s finish Iraq, because a decent outcome there really could positively impact the whole Arab-Muslim world, and limit our exposure elsewhere. Iraq matters.

Yes, shrinking down in Afghanistan will create new threats, but expanding there will, too. I’d rather deal with the new threats with a stronger America.

Not good, not good at all: Union Votes Go Against Cuts at Ford (no good deed -- Ford's not having to file bankruptcy -- goes unpunished by the union)

From The New York Times:

Many workers at the Ford Motor Company are signaling that they are unwilling to help the automaker cut its labor costs further, by voting against what would be the third round of concessions in the last two years.

Ford, the only one of the three Detroit automakers to avoid bankruptcy this year, says it needs the modifications to remain competitive with General Motors and Chrysler, whose workers agreed to similar deals in the spring. Compared to its crosstown rivals, Ford has been surging.

The U.A.W.’s president, Ron Gettelfinger, has been urging workers to approve changing their contract, arguing that Ford is still heavily in debt and that workers could end up worse off if they do not agree to the deal.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ideology trumps party for Palin. Her allegiance is to her conservative principles rather than the party's edicts. - The head-vs.-heart dynamic.

From The Washington Post:

Sarah Palin's decision late last week to endorse the Conservative Party candidate over the Republican nominee in a special U.S. House election in Upstate New York is the latest example that the former Alaska governor's allegiance is to her conservative principles rather than the party's edicts.

"Republicans and conservatives around the country are sending an important message to the Republican establishment in their outstanding grassroots support for Doug Hoffman: no more politics as usual," Palin wrote on her Facebook page.

She also cited President Ronald Reagan's belief that "blurring the lines" is not the way to rebuild the party and added: "The Republican Party today has decided to choose a candidate who more than blurs the lines, and there is no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race."

Palin is the highest-profile Republican to endorse Hoffman over state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (R) in the Nov. 3 special election for the seat vacated by John McHugh, who President Obama named secretary of the Army. The race has rapidly developed into a battle for control of the party's direction.

Palin joins former senators Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and former House majority leader Dick Armey (Tex.) in Hoffman's camp. Among those who have endorsed Scozzafava is former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.).

At issue is the debate between the "head" choice (Scozzafava, because she is the party's candidate) and the "heart" choice (Hoffman, because his belief system hews closer to core conservative principles).

That divide isn't likely to go away no matter who wins the district in eight days. The head-vs.-heart dynamic is already shaping up in a higher-profile race in Florida's U.S. Senate primary between Gov. Charlie Crist and former state House speaker Marco Rubio.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Good move Obama. Says criticism by women’s advocates & liberal bloggers (who need to get a life) for hosting an all-male basketball game was "bunk."

From The Washington Post:

President Obama was criticized by women’s advocates and liberal bloggers for hosting a high-level basketball game with no female players.

The president . . . is an unabashed First Guy’s Guy. Since being elected, he has demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of college hoops on ESPN, indulged a craving for weekend golf, expressed a preference for adopting a “big rambunctious dog” over a “girlie dog” and hoisted beer in a peacemaking effort.

Mr. Obama, in an interview with NBC on Wednesday, called the beef over basketball “bunk,” saying that the players were largely picked from a regular Congressional game and that the list of invitees was reviewed by women on his staff.

This is the only article about Chrysler I enjoyed reading since Fiat's involvement: Chrysler Board Flexes Its Muscle, Showing Independence From Fiat

From The Wall Street Journal:

The new board of directors at Chrysler Group LLC is pushing back against the company's aggressive chief executive, showing signs it won't simply rubber-stamp Fiat SpA's plans to revamp the car maker.

Chrysler's board has maintained a low profile since the company emerged from bankruptcy reorganization in June and until now few indications of its style have emerged. This contrasts with the visible and activist approach being taken by the revamped board at General Motors Co.

But in an interview, Chrysler Chairman C. Robert Kidder said he spends an average of three days a week at Chrysler, often meeting with senior executives to raise questions about the company's strategy.

Chrysler has long "deserved an engaged, independent board,'' said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean at Yale University's School of Management. "It sounds like they finally got one.''

One reason Chrysler's board is likely to have lively debates is its highly unusual nature. Its members were chosen by four constituents that have a stake in the company: the U.S. government, which lent Chrysler $12 billion and got to appoint four directors; Fiat, which got three directors in exchange for technology and management; a health-care trust for the United Auto Workers union, which agreed to cost cuts and received one director; and the Canadian government, which also lent Chrysler money and got a director.

Eyes on the prize

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

Six years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq continues to unnerve and tantalize. Watching Iraqi politics is like watching a tightrope artist crossing a dangerous cavern. At every step it looks as though he is going to fall into the abyss, and yet, somehow, he continues to wobble forward. Nothing is easy when trying to transform a country brutalized by three decades of cruel dictatorship. It is one step, one election, one new law, at a time. Each is a struggle. Each is crucial.

This next step is particularly important, which is why we cannot let Afghanistan distract U.S. diplomats from Iraq. Remember: Transform Iraq and it will impact the whole Arab-Muslim world. Change Afghanistan and you just change Afghanistan.

Specifically, the Obama team needs to make sure that Iraq’s bickering politicians neither postpone the next elections, scheduled for January, nor hold them on the basis of the 2005 “closed list” system that is dominated by the party leaders. We must insist, with all our leverage, on an “open list” election, which creates more room for new faces by allowing Iraqis to vote for individual candidates and not just a party. This is what Iraq’s spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is also demanding. It is a much more accountable system.

If we can get open list voting, the next big step would be the emergence of Iraqi parties in this election running for office on the basis of nonsectarian coalitions — where Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds run together. This would be significant: Iraq is a microcosm of the whole Middle East, and if Iraq’s sects can figure out how to govern themselves — without an iron-fisted dictator — democracy is possible in this whole region.

What is tantalizing is that the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who emerged from the Shiite Dawa Party, has decided to run this time with what he calls “The State of Law Coalition,” a pan-Iraqi, nationalist alliance of some 40 political parties, including Sunni tribal leaders and other minorities.

Mr. Maliki was in Washington last week, and I interviewed him at the Willard Hotel, primarily to ask about his new party. “Iraq cannot be ruled by one color or religion or sect,” he explained. “We clearly saw that sectarianism and ethnic grouping threatened our national unity. Therefore, I believe we should bring all these different colors together and establish Iraq as a country built on rule of law and equity and citizenship. The Iraqi people encouraged us. They want this. Other parties are also organizing themselves like this. No one can run anymore as a purely sectarian bloc. ... Our experiment is very unique in this region.”

That’s for sure. The Iranians want pro-Tehran Shiite parties to dominate Iraq. Also, the Iranian dictatorship hates the idea of “inferior” Iraq holding real elections while Iran limits voting to preselected candidates and then rigs the outcome. Most Arab leaders fear any real multisectarian democracy taking root in the neighborhood.

“The most dangerous thing that would threaten others is that if we really create success in building a democratic state in Iraq,” said Maliki, whose country today now has about 100 newspapers. “The countries whose regimes are built on one party, sect or ethnic group will feel endangered.”

Maliki knows it won’t be easy: “Saddam ruled for more than 35 years,” he said. “We need one or two generations brought up on democracy and human rights to get rid of this orientation.”

If this election comes off, it will still be held with U.S. combat troops on hand. The even bigger prize and test will be four years hence, if Iraq can hold an election in which multiethnic coalitions based on differing ideas of governance — not sectarianism — vie for power, and the reins are passed from one government to another without any U.S. military involvement. That would be the first time in modern Arab history where true multisectarian coalitions contest power, and cede power, without foreign interference. That would shake up the whole region.

Yes, let’s figure out Afghanistan. But let’s not forget that something very important — but so fragile and tentative — is still playing out in Iraq, and we and our allies still need to help bring it to fruition.

Our office is experiencing this: Small Business Faces Sharp Rise in Costs of Health Care

From The New York Times:

As Congress nears votes on legislation that would overhaul the health care system, many small businesses say they are facing the steepest rise in insurance premiums they have seen in recent years.

Insurance brokers and benefits consultants say their small business clients are seeing premiums go up an average of about 15 percent for the coming year — double the rate of last year’s increases. That would mean an annual premium that was $4,500 per employee in 2008 and $4,800 this year would rise to $5,500 in 2010.

The higher premiums at least partly reflect the inexorable rise of medical costs, which is forcing Medicare to raise premiums, too. Health insurance bills are also rising for big employers, but because they have more negotiating clout, their increases are generally not as steep.

Bailouts, the stimulus package, cap-and-trade, turning to health care when the country was concerned about the economy, joblessness, debt & deficits.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

At a certain point, a president must own a presidency. For George W. Bush that point came eight months in, when 9/11 happened. From that point on, the presidency—all his decisions, all the credit and blame for them—was his. The American people didn't hold him responsible for what led up to 9/11, but they held him responsible for everything after it. This is part of the reason the image of him standing on the rubble of the twin towers, bullhorn in hand, on Sept.14, 2001, became an iconic one. It said: I'm owning it.

Mr. Bush surely knew from the moment he put the bullhorn down that he would be judged on everything that followed. And he has been. Early on, the American people rallied to his support, but Americans are practical people. They will support a leader when there is trouble, but there's an unspoken demand, or rather bargain: We're behind you, now fix this, it's yours.

President Obama, in office a month longer than Bush was when 9/11 hit, now owns his presidency. Does he know it? He too stands on rubble, figuratively speaking—a collapsed economy, high and growing unemployment, two wars. Everyone knows what he's standing on. You can almost see the smoke rising around him. He's got a bullhorn in his hand every day.

It's his now. He gets the credit and the blame.

The president doesn't seem to like this moment. Who would? He and his men and women have returned to referring to what they "inherited." And what they inherited was, truly, terrible: again, a severe economic crisis and two wars. But their recent return to this theme is unbecoming. Worse, it is politically unpersuasive. It sounds defensive, like a dodge.

The president said last week, at a San Francisco fund-raiser, that he's busy with a "mop," "cleaning up somebody else's mess," and he doesn't enjoy "somebody sitting back and saying, 'You're not holding the mop the right way.'" Later, in New Orleans, he groused that reporters are always asking "Why haven't you solved world hunger yet?" His surrogates and aides, in appearances and talk shows, have taken to remembering, sometimes at great length, the dire straits we were in when the presidency began.

This is not a sign of confidence.

Ominously for him, independents are peeling off. In 2006 and 2008 independents looked like Democrats. They were angry and frustrated by the wars, they sought to rebuke the Bush White House. Now those independents look like Republicans. They worry about joblessness, debts and deficits.

The White House sees the falling support. Thus the reminder: We faced an insuperable challenge, we're mopping up somebody else's mess.

The problem isn't his personality, it's his policies. His problem isn't what George W. Bush left but what he himself has done. It is a problem of political judgment, of putting forward bills that were deeply flawed or off-point. Bailouts, the stimulus package, cap-and-trade; turning to health care at the exact moment in history when his countrymen were turning their concerns to the economy, joblessness, debt and deficits—all of these reflect a misreading of the political terrain. They are matters of political judgment, not personality. (Republicans would best heed this as they gear up for 2010: Don't hit him, hit his policies. That's where the break with the people is occurring.)

The result of all this is flagging public support, a drop in the polls, and independents peeling off.

In this atmosphere, with these dynamics, Mr. Obama's excuse-begging and defensiveness won't work.

Everyone knows he was handed horror. They want him to fix it.

At some point, you own your presidency. At some point it's your rubble. At some point the American people tell you it's yours. The polls now, with the presidential approval numbers going down and the disapproval numbers going up: That's the American people telling him.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It's all about this country's deficit: The public option in the context of today's projected deficit & how it will affect voting by moderate Democrats

Forget what you read about that, according to a new poll, the majority of Americans now support a government-run health care plan, a/k/a a public option, to compete with private insurers (see article in The Washington Post dated 10-20-09 discussing a new Washington Post-ABC News poll).

Why? As noted in a 10-17-09 post entitled "Help! I can't even comprehend such numbers: Deficit of $1.4 Trillion Limits Democrats," the public is increasingly focused on and concerned about the biggest budget deficit since World War II.

And this does not even factor in that President Obama may yet decide to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

From today's New York Times:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped up the pressure on House Democrats on Friday to support her preferred version of legislation that would require the federal government to sell health insurance in competition with private insurers.

Her action came amid indications that Ms. Pelosi had not locked down the votes for the proposal, the most contentious element in a bill that would provide health insurance to more than 35 million people, at cost of nearly $900 billion over 10 years.

Other provisions of the bill, including enhanced Medicare benefits, could take the total cost over $1 trillion, Democrats said. But they promised to offset the cost and avoid any increase in federal budget deficits.

At this time many progressives in the party say to heck with the deficit and full steam ahead with a Medicare-like public option. But when they have to vote, the moderate-to-conservative Democrats will have their minds on the deficit and the 2010 election if they don't address it in voting on almost all matters.

Also see an article in today's Washington Post noting that Democratic leaders in the Senate and House have concluded that a government-run insurance plan is the cheapest way to expand health coverage, and they sought Friday to rally support for the idea, prospects for which have gone in a few short weeks from bleak to bright.

And as a Sunday update, see David Broder in The Washington Post writing:

Reid's solution: Pass the "doc fix" as separate legislation and get it out of the way before the health bills hit the floor.

This is exactly the kind of sleight of hand that Congress routinely performs to conceal spending that has contributed to the record $1.4 trillion deficit for this past year. It's not limited to Democrats. When Republicans were in control for eight years, they refused to raise taxes to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or the costs of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. And they did not have the excuse of facing the worst economic slump since the Great Depression.

But this year the public has finally grown alarmed about the debt being passed on to our children and grandchildren.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Strains for Democrats in Budget-Balancing Act

From The New York Times:

When economists met privately with Democratic leaders of the House on Wednesday, the topic was how to pump billions more into the economy to stimulate job creation. They left with a homework assignment: How to cut trillions from future federal budget deficits.

That seemingly contradictory mix captures the unusual political and policy tension in the White House and Congress these days as the politicians deal with an economy that has begun a slow but jobless recovery and a public that is increasingly fretful about the accumulating debt.

Senate keeps Medicare payment formula - Citing cost, lawmakers block plan for permanent 'doc fix'

From The Washington Post:

The Senate found rare bipartisan agreement on a health-care issue Wednesday as 13 Democrats joined all 40 Republicans to block a permanent repeal of Medicare's payment formula for doctors.

Although sympathetic to fixing the root problem, lawmakers concluded that the legislation's $247 billion 10-year price tag was too steep in an era of record deficits.

The "doc fix" has become a near-annual ritual in Congress: Lawmakers routinely override the formula that sets Medicare payments to doctors, a move to prevent physicians from turning away Medicare patients because they are paid too little for the visits. While the vast majority in Congress agree that the formula, established in a 1997 deficit-reduction bill, is a failed model, producing the enormous sum needed to eliminate it has proven impossible. Instead, lawmakers resort to temporary fixes.

Although Republicans participated in talks to find ways to offset the $247 billion, no single revenue source found consensus, and GOP senators decided to turn Wednesday's vote into a referendum on deficit spending and the price tags of the huge health-care reform bills slated to come to the House and the Senate next month.

"Americans are increasingly alarmed by the expansion of our national debt and this spending binge that we're putting on the national credit card," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "They're asking us to do what they've been doing: They want us to take out the scissors and cut the charge card."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This is getting dumb & reckless (& wrong). Remember Obama wanting something passed before the August break; anything, just pass something.

Dana Milbank reports in The Washington Post:

"I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits, either now or in the future -- period," President Obama told Congress in a health-care address last month.

Well, that depends on what the meaning of "plan" is.

Senate Democrats wanted to protect doctors from scheduled cuts in Medicare payments over the next 10 years, but there was a problem: Doing so would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to the federal deficit, making mincemeat of Obama's promise. So Democrats hatched a novel scheme: They would pass the legislation separately, so the $250 billion cost wouldn't be part of the main reform "plan," thereby allowing the president to claim that that bill wouldn't increase the deficit.

Republicans, who had been losing traction in their effort to fight a health-care overhaul, could hardly believe the gift the majority had given them.

"I have never witnessed something more sinister!" an agitated Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) declared on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. Citing a report that the "doc fix," as the $250 billion measure is called, was created to buy the American Medical Association's support for the main health-care bill, Corker accused the AMA of prostitution. "We all know that the selling of one's body is one of the oldest professions in the world," Corker said. "The AMA is engaged in basically selling the support of its body."

According to The New York Times:

Senate Democrats on Tuesday backed down from their effort to increase Medicare payments to doctors without offsetting any of the cost over the next 10 years.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Meet House Minority Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin, Georgia

The Americus Times-Recorder gives us a bit of background on DuBose Porter:

DuBose Porter pulls up in his white truck, suit jacket off and a big smile on his face as he greets the day and the reporter waiting for him.

DuBose Porter is running for governor of the state of Georgia, and he bases his thoughts on faith, family and the economy.

In a conversation . . . Porter spoke of his over 27-year legislative career which has centered on two beliefs: speak for the people and create economic opportunity.

Born in Dublin, Ga., Porter graduated from Dublin High School and received his undergraduate degree from Davidson College. He interned with U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn in Washington, D.C. Seeing Nunn’s ability to help others convinced Porter to devote his life to public service.

Porter earned his law degree from Cumberland School of Law and returned to Dublin, where he practiced law. Later, he went into the newspaper business in Dublin and became a small business owner with 40 employees, creating a product six days a week.

At the age of 28, Porter was elected to the Georgia State House of Representatives and went on to serve as floor Leader for Governor Zell Miller.

Porter was elected Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives in 2003, and leader of the House Democratic Caucus in 2005. He has served as chair of both Education and Higher Education committees and now serves on Appropriations, Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, and Rules and Ethics committees.

Porter works for Georgia’s families and believes a strong economy fosters strong families. He has been married to his wife, Carol Dodd of Wrightsville, for 26 years. They have four sons, Stephen, 24; Guyton, 21; and twins Asa and Inman, 20. All the boys, as well as DuBose, are Eagle Scouts.

DuBose and his family are avid outdoorsmen. They are active members of the First United Methodist Church in Dublin, where Dubose served on the Administrative Board and Carol teaches Sunday School.

Porter said, “The days of attracting high quality industry to our state, with massive incentives alone, have passed. What we must do is demonstrate that we have a healthy, well-educated workforce. Accepting progressive technology methods, empowering our teachers, partnering with parents in K-12 and strengthening our technical colleges, community colleges and universities will secure a healthy economy for our future. Education means more people working and sharing the tax burden with us all.”

He also added that “For Georgia to move forward we must have a functioning transportation system. Georgia needs a mass transit/multi-modal transportation system to end gridlock. It also needs working roads, turning lanes and curb cuts to attract industry. With team building leadership in the Governor’s Office we can unite urban and rural areas of our state with a transportation system that drives Georgia’s economy forward.”

Before leaving . . . Porter said, “I believe in Georgia. I believe we can rebuild Georgia’s economy by putting divisions behind us and the needs of the people before us.”

Decision on Afghan Troops May Wait

From The New York Times:

The White House signaled Sunday that President Obama would postpone any decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan until the disputed election there had been settled and resulted in a government that could work with the United States.

The delay . . . reflects deep uncertainty inside the White House about the prospects of waging a successful war without a partner in Kabul with widespread legitimacy among the Afghan people. A delay could also provide some political space at home for Mr. Obama, whose efforts to pass health care legislation are reaching a climactic moment in Congress, although the White House has denied any relationship between the two issues.

The election in Afghanistan was so badly marred by allegations of fraud that they helped prompt Mr. Obama to rethink the strategy he unveiled just in March, officials have said. Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., among others at the White House, had already soured on Mr. Karzai, whose government and family are accused of corruption and ties to drug dealing. The election reinforced those doubts, officials said.

Mr. Karzai has balked at accepting the impending audit findings that show he received less than 50 percent of the vote, an outcome that would trigger a runoff in two weeks. Interrupting that process would pitch the country into a constitutional crisis at a highly sensitive moment.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2010 Threat to Democrats Comes From Three Directions -- Count me among the disaffection in the middle. Obama ran from the center & then went left.

From The Washington Post:

Three forces threaten Democrats in the 2010 elections: populist anger on the right, disaffection in the middle and potential disillusionment on the left.

Little more than a year out, the political landscape for the coming midterm elections looks decidedly more favorable for Republicans than in either of the past two elections -- hardly a surprise, given the shellacking they took in 2006 and 2008.

Today, Republicans expect gains across the board. As GOP pollster Neil Newhouse put it, "In the last two election cycles, our candidates have been campaigning into the wind. Assessing the political environment right now, it sure looks like we're going to have a nice little breeze at our back."

But strategists aren't certain whether that breeze will turn into a political gale. Whatever problems Obama and the Democrats are having, Republicans aren't wildly popular, either. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who helped engineer the 1994 GOP victory, offered an astute analysis when asked to compare the climate today with conditions heading into 1994.

"People are more frightened than they were in '93 and '94 -- both by the radicalism of the administration and by the economy," Gingrich said. But he added: "They're more skeptical of Republicans than they were in '93 and '94. The aftereffect of '06 and '08 is there's not a rush to Republicans."

Independent voters were instrumental in giving Democrats victories in 2006 and 2008. Over the summer, they shifted away from Obama. His approval rating in June was 65 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. By September, just 49 percent of independents approved of the job he was doing.

Economic insecurity, fears about the growth of government spending and the size of the deficit, confusion about health care and a concern that Obama has tried to do too much too quickly have added to independents' erosion in confidence.

On sending troops to stabilize Afghanistan & Pakistan, remember, where there is no people power & only bad ideas, there will be no happy endings.

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

The problem we have in dealing with the Arab-Muslim world today is the general absence or weakness of people power there. There is a low-grade civil war going on inside the Arab-Muslim world today, only in too many cases it is “the South versus the South” — bad ideas versus bad ideas, amplified by violence, rather than bad ideas versus good ideas amplified by people power.

In places like Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Pakistan you have violent religious extremist movements fighting with state security services. And while the regimes in these countries are committed to crushing their extremists, they rarely take on their extremist ideas by offering progressive alternatives. That’s largely because the puritanical Islamic ideology of the Saudi state or segments of the Pakistani military is not all that different from the ideology of the extremists. And when these extremists aim elsewhere — like at India or at Shiites or at Israelis — these regimes are indifferent. That is why there is no true war of ideas inside these countries — just a war.

These states are not promoting an inclusive, progressive and tolerant interpretation of Islam that could be the foundation of people power. And when their people do take to the streets, it is usually against another people rather than to unify their own ranks around good ideas. There have been far more marches to denounce Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad than to denounce Muslim suicide bombers who have killed innocent civilians, many of them Muslims.

The most promising progressive people-power movements have been Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and the Green Revolution in Iran. But the Cedar Revolution has been stymied by Syrian might and internal divisions. The Tehran uprising has been crushed by the iron fist of the Iranian regime, fueled by petro-dollars. And it is unclear whether the Iraqis will set aside their tribalism for a shared people power.

So as we try to figure out how many troops to send to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, let’s remember: Where there is people power wedded to progressive ideas, there is hope — and American power can help. Where there is people power harnessed to bad ideas, there is danger. Where there is no people power and only bad ideas, there will be no happy endings.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Putin, excuse the slip of the tongue, I mean the White House Agrees to Let Insurers Warn Medicare Recipients About Pending Health Bills

From The New York Times:

The Obama administration on Friday backed away from an order that had prohibited insurance companies from warning Medicare recipients about the possible loss of benefits under pending legislation to overhaul the health care system.

Medicare officials set off a political storm when they tried to stop such communications last month. Under new guidelines, insurance companies can communicate with Medicare beneficiaries on pending legislation, provided they do not use federal money to do so. In addition, insurers must get permission from beneficiaries before sending them information about legislation or asking them to join grass-roots advocacy efforts.

Help! I can't even comprehend such numbers: Deficit of $1.4 Trillion Limits Democrats

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Treasury said the U.S. ran its biggest budget deficit since World War II, a record that promises to complicate Democrats' efforts to enact their agenda.

The Treasury Department reported that the deficit for the 2009 fiscal year ended Sept. 30 came in at about $1.4 trillion, or about 10% of the U.S.'s gross domestic product.

From health care to economic recovery to the Afghanistan war, the government's gloomy fiscal condition is constraining Democrats. Deficits also are looming large as a political issue in the 2010 campaign, as voters fret about the long-term consequences of mounting debt.

"I don't think I've seen this level of concern since 1992, when Ross Perot said we need to look under the hood and fix the engine," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said in an interview Friday. "Government, individuals and businesses are all looking at their debt loads and recalculating."

See also article in The New York Times and in The Washington Post, the latter noting:

And Obama's current policies would drive the budget gap into the trillion-dollar range for much of the next decade.

Congress is enmeshed in a deeply partisan battle over Obama's plan to overhaul the nation's health-care system, which would add billions of dollars to the federal budget, if not future deficits. Democrats also are considering extending safety-net programs for the unemployed, funding new job-creation strategies to combat a 9.8 percent unemployment rate and cutting seniors another round of $250 checks to make up for the government's decision to withhold cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients. Meanwhile, Obama has said he wants to extend an array of expensive tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration that are set to expire next year. And Senate leaders hope to vote next week on a plan to block scheduled pay cuts for doctors who treat Medicare patients, a move that would add nearly $250 billion to deficits over the next 10 years.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Department of Homeland Security Reshapes Its Immigration Enforcement Program

From The Washington Post:

A controversial federal program that deputizes state and local law enforcement agents to catch illegal immigrants is expanding under the Obama administration, despite changes announced this summer intended to curb alleged racial profiling and other police abuses.

Acorn has been enmeshed in urban politics for years, & its relationship with the Democratic Party has always been as productive as it has been uneasy.

There is an informative article in The New York Times today appropriately entitled "Acorn’s Woes Strain Its Ties to Democrats."

Taliban, Al Qaeda and militant groups once nurtured by the government are tightening an alliance aimed at bringing down the Pakistani state.

From The New York Times:

A wave of attacks against top security installations over the last several days demonstrated that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and militant groups once nurtured by the government are tightening an alliance aimed at bringing down the Pakistani state, government officials and analysts said.

[Recents assaults], coming after a 20-hour siege at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi last weekend, showed the deepening reach of the militant network, as well as its rising sophistication and inside knowledge of the security forces, officials and analysts said.

[T]he style of the attacks . . . revealed the closer ties between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and what are known as jihadi groups, which operate out of southern Punjab, the country’s largest province, analysts said. The cooperation has made the militant threat to Pakistan more potent and insidious than ever, they said.

The government has tolerated the Punjabi groups, including Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, for years, and many Pakistanis consider them allies in just causes, including fighting India, the United States and Shiite Muslims. But they have become entwined with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and have increasingly turned on the state.

In a rare acknowledgment of the lethal combination of forces, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that a “syndicate” of militant groups wanted to see “Pakistan as a failed state.”

In Washington, senior intelligence officials said the multiple coordinated attacks were a characteristic of operations influenced by Al Qaeda.

The rise in more penetrating terrorist attacks may now add its own pressure on the Pakistani government to crack down on the Punjabi militants. It is time for the government to come out in public and explain the nature of the enemy, said Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of North-West Frontier Province.

“The national narrative in support of jihad has confused the Pakistani mind,” Mr. Aziz said. “All along we’ve been saying these people are trying to fight a war of Islam, but there is a need for transforming the national narrative.”

The jihadi groups were formally banned by the former president, Pervez Musharraf, after the Sept. 11 attacks, when Pakistan joined the United States in the campaign against terrorism.

But the groups have entrenched domestic and political constituencies, as well as shadowy ties to former military officials and their families, analysts said. Even since the ban, they have been allowed to operate in Punjab, often in the open.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

G.O.P. Has a Lightning Rod, and It’s Not Palin

In [Representative Michele Bachmann’s] district, and in much of the country, [this] outsized celebrity has boiled down to this: They adore her or they loathe her.

Some of Ms. Bachmann’s fellow Republicans . . . are drawing glowing comparisons between her and Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and Republican candidate for vice president. Sean Hannity, the conservative talk show host, has introduced Ms. Bachmann as “the second-most-hated Republican woman in the country, second to Governor Palin, which is a good position.”

Ms. Bachmann’s admirers point to her uncompromising, unvarnished stances against big spending, big government programs, tax increases and abortions. Her detractors moan that she opposes anything a Democrat says, and assert that she has transformed herself into a cable television gadfly.

“This is the thing with her,” said Brad Biers, a supporter of Ms. Bachmann who is active in the state Republican Party and lives in her district, probably the most conservative in the state [of Minnesota]. “There’s not a whole lot of middle ground. You either like her or don’t.”

On Capitol Hill, Ms. Bachmann is viewed with disdain by Democrats who see her as a wacky purveyor of outrageous claims and criticisms. Leading Republicans wince occasionally at her appearances on the floor and on television, but they also see her as someone with telegenic appeal who can energize conservatives and aggravate Democrats and they are not likely to rein her in.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tom Friedman: The Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the behavior of the Karzai government.

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

If President Obama can find a way to balance the precise number of troops that will stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, without tipping America into a Vietnam there, then he indeed deserves a Nobel Prize — for physics.

I have no problem with the president taking his time to figure this out. He and we are going to have to live with this decision for a long time. For my money, though, I wish there was less talk today about how many more troops to send and more focus on what kind of Afghan government we have as our partner.

Because when you are mounting a counterinsurgency campaign, the local government is the critical bridge between your troops and your goals. If that government is rotten, your whole enterprise is doomed.

Independent election monitors suggest that as many as one-third of votes cast in the Aug. 20 election are tainted and that President Hamid Karzai apparently engaged in massive fraud to come out on top. Yet, he is supposed to be the bridge between our troop surge and our goal of a stable Afghanistan. No way.

I understand the huge stakes in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our top commander there who is asking for thousands more troops, is not wrong when he says a lot of bad things would flow from losing Afghanistan to the Taliban. But I keep asking myself: How do we succeed with such a tainted government as our partner?

I know that Jefferson was not on the ballot. But there is a huge difference between “good enough” and dysfunctional and corrupt. Whatever we may think, there are way too many Afghans who think our partner, Karzai and his team, are downright awful.

That is why it is not enough for us to simply dispatch more troops. If we are going to make a renewed commitment in Afghanistan, we have to visibly display to the Afghan people that we expect a different kind of governance from Karzai, or whoever rules, and refuse to proceed without it. It doesn’t have to be Switzerland, but it does have to be good enough — that is, a government Afghans are willing to live under. Without that, more troops will only delay a defeat.

I am not sure Washington fully understands just how much the Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the behavior of the Karzai government — not against the religion or civilization of its international partners. And too many Afghan people now blame us for installing and maintaining this government.

Karzai is already trying to undermine more international scrutiny of this fraudulent election and avoid any runoff. Monday his ally on the Electoral Complaints Commission, Mustafa Barakzai, resigned, alleging “foreign interference.” That is Karzai trying to turn his people against us to prevent us from cleaning up an election that he polluted.

Talking to Afghanistan experts in Kabul, Washington and Berlin, a picture is emerging: The Karzai government has a lot in common with a Mafia family. Where a “normal” government raises revenues from the people — in the form of taxes — and then disperses them to its local and regional institutions in the form of budgetary allocations or patronage, this Afghan government operates in the reverse. The money flows upward from the countryside in the form of payments for offices purchased or “gifts” from cronies.

What flows from Kabul, the experts say, is permission for unfettered extraction, protection in case of prosecution and punishment in case the official opposes the system or gets out of line. In “Karzai World,” it appears, slots are either sold (to people who buy them in order to make a profit) or granted to cronies, or are given away to buy off rivals.

We have to be very careful that we are not seen as the enforcers for this system.

While visiting Afghanistan last July, I met a key provincial governor who every U.S. official told me was the best and most honest in Afghanistan — and then, they added, “We have to fight Karzai every day to keep him from being fired.” That is what happens to those who buck the Karzai system.

This is crazy. We have been way too polite, and too worried about looking like a colonial power, in dealing with Karzai. I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if he does win the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways that would be respected by the Afghan people.

If Karzai says no, then there is only one answer: “You’re on your own, pal. Have a nice life with the Taliban. We can’t and will not put more American blood and treasure behind a government that behaves like a Mafia family. If you don’t think we will leave — watch this.” (Cue the helicopters.)

So, please, spare me the lectures about how important Afghanistan and Pakistan are today. I get the stakes. But we can’t want a more decent Afghanistan than the country’s own president. If we do, we have no real local partner who will be able to hold the allegiance of the people, and we will not succeed — whether with more troops, more drones or more money.

Monday, October 12, 2009

U.S. Can’t Trace Foreign Visitors on Expired Visas

From The New York Times:

Eight years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and despite repeated mandates from Congress, the United States still has no reliable system for verifying that foreign visitors have left the country.

Last year alone, 2.9 million foreign visitors on temporary visas . . . checked in to the country but never officially checked out, immigration officials said. While officials say they have no way to confirm it, they suspect that several hundred thousand of them overstayed their visas.

Over all, the officials said, about 40 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States came on legal visas and overstayed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Frank Rich: Two Wrongs Make Another Fiasco

Frank Rich writes in The New York Times:

The real question is whether everyone deserves a second act. Perhaps the most surreal aspect of our great Afghanistan debate is the Beltway credence given to the ravings of the unrepentant blunderers who dug us into this hole in the first place.

Let’s be clear: Those who demanded that America divert its troops and treasure from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2002 and 2003 — when there was no Qaeda presence in Iraq — bear responsibility for the chaos in Afghanistan that ensued. Now they have the nerve to imperiously and tardily demand that America increase its 68,000-strong presence in Afghanistan to clean up their mess — even though the number of Qaeda insurgents there has dwindled to fewer than 100, according to the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones.

But why let facts get in the way? Just as these hawks insisted that Iraq was “the central front in the war on terror” when the central front was Afghanistan, so they insist that Afghanistan is the central front now that it has migrated to Pakistan. When the day comes for them to anoint Pakistan as the central front, it will be proof positive that Al Qaeda has consolidated its hold on Somalia and Yemen.

To appreciate this crowd’s spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.

What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.

He takes no responsibility for any of this. Asked by Katie Couric last week about our failures in Afghanistan, McCain spoke as if he were an innocent bystander: “I think the reason why we didn’t do a better job on Afghanistan is our attention — either rightly or wrongly — was on Iraq.” As Tonto says to the Lone Ranger, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”

Along with his tribunes in Congress and the punditocracy, Wrong-Way McCain still presumes to give America its marching orders. With his Senate brethren in the Three Amigos, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, he took to The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page to assert that “we have no choice” but to go all-in on Afghanistan — rightly or wrongly, presumably — just as we had in Iraq. Why? “The U.S. walked away from Afghanistan once before, following the Soviet collapse,” they wrote. “The result was 9/11. We must not make that mistake again.”

This shameless argument assumes — perhaps correctly — that no one in this country remembers anything. So let me provide a reminder: We already did make that mistake again when we walked away from Afghanistan to invade Iraq in 2003 — and we did so at the Three Amigos’ urging. Then, too, they promoted their strategy as a way of preventing another 9/11 — even though no one culpable for 9/11 was in Iraq. Now we’re being asked to pay for their mistake by squandering stretched American resources in yet another country where Al Qaeda has largely vanished.

To make the case, the Amigos and their fellow travelers conflate the Taliban with Al Qaeda much as they long conflated Saddam’s regime with Al Qaeda. But as Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post reported on Thursday, American intelligence officials now say that “there are few, if any, links between Taliban commanders in Afghanistan today and senior Al Qaeda members” — a far cry from the tight Taliban-bin Laden alliance of 2001.

The rhetorical sleights of hand in the hawks’ arguments don’t end there. If you listen carefully to McCain and his neocon echo chamber, you’ll notice certain tics. President Obama better make his decision by tomorrow, or Armageddon (if not mushroom clouds) will arrive. We must “win” in Afghanistan — but victory is left vaguely defined. That’s because we will never build a functioning state in a country where there has never been one. Nor can we score a victory against the world’s dispersed, stateless terrorists by getting bogged down in a hellish landscape that contains few of them.

Most tellingly, perhaps, those clamoring for an escalation in Afghanistan avoid mentioning the name of the country’s president, Hamid Karzai, or the fraud-filled August election that conclusively delegitimized his government. To do so would require explaining why America should place its troops in alliance with a corrupt partner knee-deep in the narcotics trade. As long as Karzai and the election are airbrushed out of history, it can be disingenuously argued that nothing has changed on the ground since Obama’s inauguration and that he has no right to revise his earlier judgment that Afghanistan is a “war of necessity.”

Those demanding more combat troops for Afghanistan also avoid defining the real costs. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the war was running $2.6 billion a month in Pentagon expenses alone even before Obama added 20,000 troops this year. Surely fiscal conservatives like McCain and Graham who rant about deficits being “generational theft” have an obligation to explain what the added bill will be on an Afghanistan escalation and where the additional money will come from. But that would require them to use the dread words “sacrifice” and “higher taxes” when they want us to believe that this war, like Iraq, would be cost-free.

The real troop numbers are similarly elusive. Pre-emptively railing against the prospect of “half measures” by Obama, Lieberman asked MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell rhetorically last week whether it would be “real counterinsurgency” or “counterinsurgency light.” But the measure Lieberman endorses — Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s reported recommendation of 40,000 additional troops — is itself counterinsurgency light. In his definitive recent field manual on the subject, Gen. David Petraeus stipulates that real counterinsurgency requires 20 to 25 troops for each thousand residents. That comes out, conservatively, to 640,000 troops for Afghanistan (population, 32 million). Some 535,000 American troops couldn’t achieve a successful counterinsurgency in South Vietnam, which had half Afghanistan’s population and just over a quarter of its land area.

Lieberman suggested to Mitchell that we could train an enhanced, centralized Afghan army to fill any gaps. In how many decades? The existing Afghan “army” is small, illiterate, impoverished and as factionalized as the government. For his part, McCain likes to justify McChrystal’s number of 40,000 by imbuing it with the supposedly magical powers of the “surge” in Iraq. But it’s rewriting history to say that the “surge” brought “victory” to Iraq. What it did was stanch the catastrophic bleeding in an unnecessary war McCain had helped gin up. Lest anyone forget, we still don’t know who has “won” in Iraq.

Afghanistan is not Iraq. It is poorer, even larger and more populous, more fragmented and less historically susceptible to foreign intervention. Even if the countries were interchangeable, the wars are not. No one-size surge fits all. President Bush sent the additional troops to Iraq only after Sunni leaders in Anbar Province soured on Al Qaeda and reached out for American support. There is no equivalent “Anbar Awakening” in Afghanistan. Most Afghans “don’t feel threatened by the Taliban in their daily lives” and “aren’t asking for American protection,” reported Richard Engel of NBC News last week. After eight years of war, many see Americans as occupiers. [Comment: I think this is taking things a bit far. Afghans do hate and detest the Taliban, but America is not the world's policeman, and this is not our battle now that al-Qaeda is not in Afghanistan. We did, however, contribute to the situation by taking our eye off the ball and inexcusably letting the Taliban regain control of much of Afghanistan (as it had prior to 2001).]

Americans, meanwhile, want to see the fine print after eight years of fiasco with little accounting. While McCain and company remain frozen where they were in 2001, many of their fellow citizens have learned from the Iraq tragedy. Polls persistently find that the country is skeptical about what should and can be accomplished in Afghanistan. They voted for Obama not least because they wanted a new post-9/11 vision of national security, and they will not again be so easily bullied by the blustering hawks’ doomsday scenarios. That gives our deliberating president both the time and the political space to get this long war’s second act right.

You got that right: Top Judge Calls Calif. Government ‘Dysfunctional’

From The New York Times:

In a rare public rebuke of state government and policies delivered by a sitting judge, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court scathingly criticized the state’s reliance on the referendum process, arguing that it has “rendered our state government dysfunctional.”

[The chief justice] denounced the widespread use of the referendum process to change state laws and constitutions. And he derided California as out of control, with voters deciding on everything from how parts of the state budget are spent to how farm animals are managed.

The state is unusual, he said, because it prohibits its Legislature from amending or repealing many types of laws without voter approval, essentially hamstringing that body — and the executive branch.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The damage from this first step alone will be enormous to our party in 2010: Key Democrats Would Let Guantanamo Detainees Be Tried in U.S.

From The Washington Post:

Key Democratic lawmakers agreed Wednesday to allow detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be transferred to the United States for trial, removing one of several hurdles the administration must clear to meet its January deadline for closing the military prison.

More than two dozen retired senior military officers, as well as several retired intelligence and law enforcement officials, sent a letter to President Obama and every member of Congress on Wednesday to warn that bringing detainees to the United States "would threaten national security and public safety."

Monday, October 05, 2009

States Resist Medicaid Growth -- Governors Fear For Their Budgets

From The Washington Post:

The nation's governors are emerging as a formidable lobbying force as health-care reform moves through Congress and states overburdened by the recession brace for the daunting prospect of providing coverage to millions of low-income residents.

The legislation the Senate Finance Committee is expected to approve this week calls for the biggest expansion of Medicaid since its creation in 1965. Under the Senate bill and a similar House proposal, a patchwork state-federal insurance program targeted mainly at children, pregnant women and disabled people would effectively become a Medicare for the poor, a health-care safety net for all people with an annual income below $14,404.

Whether Medicaid can absorb a huge influx of beneficiaries is a matter of grave concern to many governors, who have cut low-income health benefits -- along with school funding, prison construction, state jobs and just about everything else -- to cope with the most severe economic downturn in decades.

[C]ongressional Democrats are sufficiently alarmed about the potential impact that they already are seeking special protections for their states. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid cut a deal with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) to ensure that the federal government would pay the full cost of expanding Medicaid in Reid's state, Nevada.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck & Sean Hannity are enabled by the slightly educated snobs who believe that they really are the voice of Middle America.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Let us take a trip back into history. Not ancient history. Recent history. It is the winter of 2007. The presidential primaries are approaching. The talk jocks like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and the rest are over the moon about Fred Thompson. They’re weak at the knees at the thought of Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, they are hurling torrents of abuse at the unreliable deviationists: John McCain and Mike Huckabee.

Yet somehow, despite the fervor of the great microphone giants, the Thompson campaign flops like a fish. Despite the schoolgirl delight from the radio studios, the Romney campaign underperforms.

Meanwhile, Huckabee surges. Limbaugh attacks him, but social conservatives flock.

Along comes New Hampshire and McCain wins! Republican voters have not heeded their masters in the media. Before long, South Carolina looms as the crucial point of the race. The contest is effectively between Romney and McCain. The talk jocks are now in spittle-flecked furor. Day after day, whole programs are dedicated to hurling abuse at McCain and everybody ever associated with him. The jocks are threatening to unleash their angry millions.

Yet the imaginary armies do not materialize. McCain wins the South Carolina primary and goes on to win the nomination. The talk jocks can’t even deliver the conservative voters who show up at Republican primaries. They can’t even deliver South Carolina!

So what is the theme of our history lesson? It is a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness. It is the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche — even in the Republican Party. It is a story as old as “The Wizard of Oz,” of grand illusions and small men behind the curtain.

But, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by this story. Over the past few years the talk jocks have demonstrated their real-world weakness time and again. Back in 2006, they threatened to build a new majority on anti-immigration fervor. House Republicans like J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf, both of Arizona, built their re-election campaigns under that banner. But these two didn’t march to glory. Both lost their seats.

In 2008, after McCain had won his nomination, Limbaugh turned his attention to the Democratic race. He commanded his followers to vote in the Democratic primaries for Hillary Clinton because “we need Barack Obama bloodied up politically.” Todd Donovan of Western Washington University has looked at data from 38 states and could find no strong evidence that significant numbers of people actually did what Limbaugh commanded. Rush blared the trumpets, but few of his Dittoheads advanced.

Over the years, I have asked many politicians what happens when Limbaugh and his colleagues attack. The story is always the same. Hundreds of calls come in. The receptionists are miserable. But the numbers back home do not move. There is no effect on the favorability rating or the re-election prospects. In the media world, he is a giant. In the real world, he’s not.

But this is not merely a story of weakness. It is a story of resilience. For no matter how often their hollowness is exposed, the jocks still reweave the myth of their own power. They still ride the airwaves claiming to speak for millions. They still confuse listeners with voters. And they are aided in this endeavor by their enablers. They are enabled by cynical Democrats, who love to claim that Rush Limbaugh controls the G.O.P. They are enabled by lazy pundits who find it easier to argue with showmen than with people whose opinions are based on knowledge. They are enabled by the slightly educated snobs who believe that Glenn Beck really is the voice of Middle America.

So the myth returns. Just months after the election and the humiliation, everyone is again convinced that Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and the rest possess real power. And the saddest thing is that even Republican politicians come to believe it. They mistake media for reality. They pre-emptively surrender to armies that don’t exist.

They pay more attention to Rush’s imaginary millions than to the real voters down the street. The Republican Party is unpopular because it’s more interested in pleasing Rush’s ghosts than actual people. The party is leaderless right now because nobody has the guts to step outside the rigid parameters enforced by the radio jocks and create a new party identity. The party is losing because it has adopted a radio entertainer’s niche-building strategy, while abandoning the politician’s coalition-building strategy.

The rise of Beck, Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and the rest has correlated almost perfectly with the decline of the G.O.P. But it’s not because the talk jocks have real power. It’s because they have illusory power, because Republicans hear the media mythology and fall for it every time.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Unity Is Rallying Cry Ahead of Iraq Elections

This is history, and how it began:

To many Americans, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s February 2003 speech to the United Nations on Iraq’s unconventional weapons was powerfully persuasive. It was a dazzling performance, featuring satellite images and intercepts of Iraqi communications, delivered by one of the most trusted figures in public life.

Then a long and costly war began, and the country discovered that the assertions that Iraq possessed illicit weapons had been completely unfounded.

(The above quotes are from an earlier article in The New York Times.)

Since such realization and the debacle and quagmire that followed, the following from today's The New York Times is the most (and perhaps only) encouraging thing I have read about the aftermath of our ill-fated attempt at nation building in the Middle East:

Iraqi politics has a new catchphrase, the “yes, we can” of the country’s coming parliamentary elections. It is “national unity,” and while skepticism abounds, it could well signal the decline of the religious and sectarian parties that have fractured Iraq since 2003.

Across the political spectrum — Sunni and Shiite, secular and Islamic — party leaders have jettisoned explicit appeals to their traditional followers and are now scrambling to reach across ethnic or sectarian lines. In some cases, the shift is nothing less than extraordinary.

With the elections less than four months away, the emergence of national unity as a theme has been welcomed by Iraqis and by American officials, who fear that identity politics in Iraq will only worsen tensions and risk a return to sectarian bloodshed.

Some go so far as to say the elections could reinforce a greater sense of Iraqi citizenship and nationalism out of the chaos of the war.

Even as Iraq’s political leaders all pledge national unity, Parliament remains so paralyzed by infighting that lawmakers are unable to pass any significant legislation, including the very bill required to hold the next elections, scheduled for Jan. 16.

Even so, party leaders agree that something fundamental is changing in the mood of Iraqi voters.