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Cracker Squire


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

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

Friday, July 30, 2010

David Brooks: It should be possible to simplify the tax code, target welfare spending and also build strong infrastructure at the same time.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

We could be in for a long, slow decade. There’s a confluence of forces that are probably going to retard economic vitality.

Consumers are still overindebted, and it will take years of curtailed spending before households are back on a sustainable path. Federal and state governments also will have to pull back. Labor markets were ill before the recession and are worse now.

Our trading partners in Europe and Japan are stagnant or in peril. Banks in this country are not lending to small businesses and banks elsewhere have huge write-downs to endure. The psychological war between business and the Obama administration also is taking a toll. Business types think the administration is stuffed with clueless professors. Some administration officials think corporate honchos are free-market hypocrites prowling for corporate welfare.

What we have is not just a cycle but a condition. We could look back on the period between 1980 and 2006 as the long boom and the period between 2007 and 2014 or so as the nasty crawl.

Politically, this period could be akin to the late-1970s. Economic anxiety could produce good and bad ideological effusions. As the economy stutters, people will ask fundamental questions about the nature of our political-economic structures and come up with grand proposals to revive growth. The electorate could shift in ways hard to imagine.

In my previous column, I tried to imagine what a moderate Democratic growth agenda would look like. You could call it the Moon Shot Approach. In this approach, government tries to spur economic development first by creating the context for growth with a big infrastructure program and then by focusing subsidies and tax credits on key sectors, like energy research.

The Republicans have their own growth agenda. You could call it the Unleash America Approach. The underlying worldview was deftly sketched out in Arthur C. Brooks’s book, “The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future.”

Brooks (no relation) argues that Americans are a uniquely entrepreneurial people. A nation of immigrants, “America’s vast success might be explained in part by our genetic predisposition to embrace risks with potentially explosive rewards.”

Citing an array of polling data, Brooks argues that 70 percent of Americans embraces this free-market and entrepreneurial vision of their country. But 30 percent prefers a more government-centric, European-style vision. The battle, Brooks concludes, is between the 70 percent, trying to reclaim the country, and the 30 percent, which is now expanding the federal role on an array of fronts.

Paul Ryan, the most intellectually ambitious Republican in Congress, lavishly cites Brooks’s book. Over the past few years, Ryan has been promoting a roadmap to comprehensively reform the nation’s tax and welfare system. On the tax side, he would sweep away most of the special-interest-favoring tax credits and subsidies and give people a chance to join a simple tax system with only two rates.

On the welfare-state side, he’d sweep away most subsidies to the middle and upper classes, like the tax exemption on employee health plans. He’d essentially voucherize federal benefits, like health care and Social Security, and increase federal subsidies for people down the income scale.

The idea would be to end the complex and sclerotic arrangements and solve the fiscal crisis. The effect would be to radically reduce the power of federal policy makers and shift discretion (and risks) onto individuals.

Both the Democratic and Republican approaches have problems. The Moon Shot Approach relies on omniscient experts to pick out the engines of future growth and on public-spirited legislators to pass bills that maximize productivity instead of special-interest favors. The weakness of the Brooks and Ryan approach is that their sociology is off a bit. America is not a nation of risk — embracing pioneers. It is a nation of heroic bourgeois families who want to thrive within a secure social order. The economic debate is not as Manichaean as the culture war since most people are split down the middle and because it’s easier to compromise on money than on life.

Still, these two visions are better than the nativist and antiglobalist visions that will be arising. And despite the tough battle talk, they are combinable. At his best, Ryan wants to cleanse and rejuvenate the nation — to sweep away the special-interest sclerosis that strangles flexibility and growth. At his best, Obama wants to create a context for innovation — to employ blue-collar workers and to spur growth clusters like Silicon Valley, which, let us remember, was a magical cocktail of federal research subsidies, hippie culture, entrepreneurial daring and university settings.

The two projects are in tension, but in a sane political culture they are not mutually exclusive. It should be possible to simplify the tax code, target welfare spending and also build strong infrastructure at the same time.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I find it hard to believe but I sure do like it: White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity

From The Washington Post:

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

UPDATE: See The New York Times.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

House Approves Money for Wars, but Rift Deepens

From The New York Times:

The House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $59 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

In the House vote, 148 Democrats and 160 Republicans backed the war spending, but 102 Democrats joined 12 Republicans in opposing the measure. Last year, 32 Democrats opposed a similar midyear spending bill.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Leaks Add to Pressure on White House Over Strategy -- Inside the administration, more officials are privately questioning the policy.

From The New York Times:

“Those policies are at a critical stage, and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent,” said Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and has been an influential supporter of the war.

The disclosures landed at a crucial moment. Because of difficulties on the ground and mounting casualties in the war, the debate over the American presence in Afghanistan has begun earlier than expected. Inside the administration, more officials are privately questioning the policy.

Administration officials acknowledged that the documents, released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks, will make it harder for Mr. Obama as he tries to hang on to public and Congressional support until the end of the year, when he has scheduled a review of the war effort. “We don’t know how to react,” one frustrated administration official said on Monday. “This obviously puts Congress and the public in a bad mood.”

Monday, July 26, 2010

Deportation of illegal immigrants increases under Obama administration. But 'as long as they keep their heads down, they're in the clear.'

From The Washington Post:

In a bid to remake the enforcement of federal immigration laws, the Obama administration is deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants and auditing hundreds of businesses that blithely hire undocumented workers.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency expects to deport about 400,000 people this fiscal year, nearly 10 percent above the Bush administration's 2008 total and 25 percent more than were deported in 2007. The pace of company audits has roughly quadrupled since President George W. Bush's final year in office.

Obama is drawing flak from those who contend the administration is weak on border security and from those who are disappointed he has not done more to fulfill his campaign promise to help the country's estimated 11 million illegal residents. Trying to thread a needle, the president contends enforcement -- including the deployment of fresh troops to the Mexico border -- is a necessary but insufficient solution.

While the administration focuses on some illegal immigrants with criminal records, others are allowed to remain free, creating a "sense of impunity. As long as they keep their heads down, they're in the clear. That's no way of enforcing immigration law," said Mark Krikorian, a supporter of stricter policies with the Center for Immigration Studies.

History repeats itself yet again: Website Releases Secrets on War

From The Wall Street Journal:

Thousands of secret military documents were released Sunday by a Web-based organization, a gigantic leak of classified information that appeared to present a bleak view of the Afghanistan war and could have a profound impact on the public perception of the conflict.

The release of the documents, which were obtained and made public by the website WikiLeaks, evoked the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War, which when published contradicted the public narrative of that war and played a role in turning public opinion against it.

Coming at a time when President Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy has come under increasing criticism, the release will likely stoke criticism of the war effort, as well as spark a debate about the manner in which the information was made available.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

TARP, a bailout of financial firms that had purchased credit-default swaps from AIG.

An article in The Wall Street Journal is about how prosectors initially thought they had a strong case against Joseph Cassano, whose derivatives unit helped drag down AIG, and how he escaped prosecution shows the complexity of the probes stemming from the financial crisis.

The only reason for this post is to share one statement in the article that reflects how I felt in 2008 and how I feel now about the government bailout of Wall Street, regardless of the merits of the arguments put forth that doing so saved the Republic.

The statement:

AIG's near-collapse sent shock waves through the financial system. The merits of the Federal Reserve aid package that saved the firm are being debated today. Critics have called it a backdoor bailout of financial firms that had purchased credit-default swaps from AIG.

Peggy Noonan: The Power of Redemption -- Shirley Sherrod's speech, and her story, has lessons for us all.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal about an event that began with a speech given in my hometown Douglas (I had a ticket to the function, but did not attend):

She was smeared by right-wing media, condemned by the NAACP, and canned by the Obama administration. It wasn't pretty, what was done this week to Shirley Sherrod.

And maybe something good can come of it. The thought occurred to me after reading her now-famous speech, which is about the power of grace and the possibility of redemption.

Here's a way to get some good. This September, when school begins, we should make the speech required viewing in the nation's high schools. It packs quite a lesson within quite a story.

You know the essential facts. On March 27, Ms. Sherrod, 62, Georgia director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spoke at an NAACP meeting in Coffee County, Ga. She was dressed in a dark suit with ivory lapels and cuffs, and the impression she gives in the video is of a person of authority. She came across like a person who has lived a life, not a media knock-off of a life but a real one.

And this is what she said. Forty-five years before, to the day, her father's funeral was held. He had been murdered by a white man in Baker County, Ga. These were still the bad old days; lynchings had taken place in her lifetime. The man who murdered her father "was never punished," even though there were three eyewitnesses. The grand jury refused to indict.

All this was told not in a tone of rage or self-pity but of simple remembered sadness: "My father was a farmer, and growing up on the farm my dream was to get as far away from the farm and Baker County as I could get." She worked "picking cotton, picking cucumbers, shaking peanuts. . . . Doing all that work on the farm, it will make you get an education." She wanted to escape. "The older folks know what I'm talking about."

Go North, she thought. She'd seen black people who'd moved up North return on vacation: "You know how they came back talking, and came back looking." The audience laughed. "I learned later some of those cars they drove home were rented." The audience laughed louder.

She was 17 when her father was killed, in 1965. After that, one night, a cross was burned on their lawn. Her mother had a gun, and black men from throughout the county came and surrounded the white men who surrounded the house. Shirley was terrified and hid in a back room, praying. That night something changed. "I made the decision that I would stay and work."

She wouldn't leave the South but change it. Here she addressed the youthful members of her audience: "Young people, I want you to know when you are true to what God wants you to do, the path just opens up, and things just come to you. God is good, I can tell you that."

But when she made her decision, "I was making that commitment to black people only." She didn't care about whites.

Almost a quarter-century ago, she was working for a farmers aid group when she was asked to help a couple named Roger and Eloise Spooner. They were losing their farm, and they were white.

Mr. Spooner made a poor impression. He "took a long time talking." She thought he was trying to establish a superior intelligence. "What he didn't know while he was talking all that time . . . was I was trying to decide just how much help I was gonna give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland." So she did enough to meet her responsibilities, but no more. She took him to "a white lawyer," figuring "that his own kind will take care of him."

The lawyer took the farmer's money and, she said, did little else. She assumed things had been taken care of. But in May 1987, Mr. Spooner received a foreclosure notice and he called her, frantic. His house was to be sold a week later on the courthouse steps, and no motion had been filed to stop it.

They all met. The lawyer suggested the farmer retire. "I said, 'I can't believe you said that.'"

Indignant, she set herself to save the Spooners' farm. "That's when it was revealed to me that it's about poor versus those who have," not white versus black. "It opened my eyes." She worked the phones, reached out to those who could help, talked to more lawyers, called officials.

And she saved that farm.

"Working with him," said Ms. Sherrod, "made me see . . . that it's really about those who have versus those who don't." It's helping the frightened and powerless. "And they could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic."

She said that 45 years ago she couldn't say what she will say tonight: "I've come a long way. I knew that I couldn't live with hate, you know. As my mother has said to so many, 'If we had tried to live with hate in my heart, we probably be dead now.'" She said it was "sad" that the room was not "full of whites and blacks." She quoted Toni Morrison: We have to get to a point where "race exists but it doesn't matter."

There is beauty in the speech, and bravery too. It was brave because her subject wasn't the nation's failures and your failures but her failures. The beauty is that it deals with the great subject of our lives: how to be better, how to make the world better. It's not a perfect speech—she's tendentious in her support for health care and takes cheap shots at Republicans. And it's not the poor versus the rich, it's the powerful helping the powerless. But it's good.

You know what happened this week. Someone cut the 45-minute speech down to less than two minutes, to the part in which she talked about not wanting to help white people. Andrew Breitbart ran it on one of his websites and made Ms. Sherrod look like a race-game-playing government bully.

It was trumpeted all over conservative media. The Obama administration panicked and forced her to resign. She wasn't even given a chance to explain.

And then the Spooners stepped in, and this time they saved her. Is Ms. Sherrod a racist, they were asked. "No way in the world," said Roger Spooner. "She stuck with us." Eloise: "She helped us, so we're helping her."

Then people started bothering to watch and read the whole speech.

So what are the lessons? That we're all too quick to judge. That we don't even let the evidence of our eyes stop us in our rush to judgment. You can't see and hear Ms. Sherrod and fail to understand that she's a thoughtful, serious person.

That we are not skeptical enough of what new media can cook up in its little devil's den. That anyone can be the victim of a high-tech lynching, and that because of this we have to be careful, slow down, look deeper. We live in a time when what you say is taped, and those tapes can be cut, and the cuts can be ruinous, and if you think it only happens to the rich and famous, think again. It's coming to a theater near you.

And for students? What can they learn? How about: Individuals can change, just like nations. They can get better, if they want to be.

What's more important than that? What do students need to hear more?

It really can be a teachable moment. It can.

And the video:

A president tripped up by the spontaneous

David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post:

If you want a handle on what ails the Obama administration (and who doesn't, these days), try thinking about it as the "scripted" presidency.

Barack Obama has been very good at following his mental teleprompter -- he has passed health care and much of the rest of the legislative agenda he campaigned on, as his supporters rightly keep stressing. But he has been less successful at responding to the roiling free-for-all of events that is part of governing.

For a genuine political animal, such as Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton, it's these unplanned events that make the job exciting, because they plunge the president into the maw of politics. By contrast, Obama and his advisers seem to avoid these moments whenever possible, and when the unexpected happens, as in the BP oil spill or the phony "racist" accusations against Shirley Sherrod, they often handle the media storm badly.

What accounts for this failing? Obama talked during the 2008 campaign about how he wanted to break from the politics of division. But 18 months on, I begin to wonder if it's politics itself that he doesn't like -- the messy process of wheeling and dealing, of making lowdown compromises for high-minded goals.

A memorable Obama moment came when he was a young senator listening to a consummate politician, Joe Biden, ramble on as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Shoot. Me. Now," wrote Obama to one of his aides.

A man who knows Obama well speculated a few months ago that this president isn't in love with the White House. The Post had run an article saying that with his dry intellect, Obama would be happier on the Supreme Court than in the Oval Office. The insider nodded his head. "That's true," he said.

This White House famously doesn't like surprises. The president gives few news conferences, and the ones he does hold are often wooden events, with little of the spontaneity and human theater that allow the country to get to know its leader. Obama calls on a pre-selected list of reporters; his answers are overlong and taxonomic. He is always smart and well prepared but rarely personal. Even as he was taking the country deeper into war in Afghanistan in December, his call to arms was bloodless.

This president doesn't do many unscripted interviews, either. The White House may grant one when it wants to roll out a prepackaged policy or theme. But Obama avoids open-ended sessions that might be "fishing expeditions," aimed at catching him in a mistake or on a subject outside the talking points.

Contrast the scripted, dry-bones nature of this White House with President Johnson, as described in an excellent new biography by Charles Peters, the longtime editor of The Washington Monthly. Peters captures the aspects of Johnson's conniving, manipulative "power personality" that were most unattractive -- the way he compulsively seduced women and humiliated men.

Johnson could be a monster. But as Peters reminds us, he was a brilliant politician. He loved getting in the muck and wrestling with people and events. His testosterone-crazed presidency produced some disasters, notably Vietnam, but he provided White House leadership for the civil rights movement in a way that began to remedy our deepest injustice.

I asked another administration insider to describe how Obama deals with sensitive national security issues. This official generally had high praise for Obama's intellect and analytical precision. The odd thing, he said, was that Obama doesn't often ask "presidential questions." By this, he meant that Obama rarely steps out of the scripted briefing points to ask: "Why are we doing this?"

Here's what I hope, as someone who wants Obama to succeed: His script is going to blow up in November. It's increasingly likely that Democratic House and Senate losses will be so large that Obama will have to scramble all the time. "Staying on message" and "no drama" won't be options in the freewheeling political environment that's coming.

Assuming that Obama wants a second term (which isn't always clear), the president inevitably will begin campaigning for reelection in 2011. That should get him out of the scripted realm, too, unless his advisers foolishly try to campaign with photo ops, canned events and a White House bubble machine.

Real politics, as opposed to the scripted variety, is fun to watch. Dealing with the unexpected is how politicians grow in office -- and how the public gets to know them better and like them more. Throw away the talking points, Mr. President, and just talk.

White House budget office sees the deficit rising to $1.47 trillion this year, forcing the gov't to borrow 41 cents of every dollar it spends.

From The Washington Post:

The federal budget deficit, which hit a record $1.4 trillion last year, will exceed that figure this year and again in 2011, the White House predicted Friday, providing fresh ammunition to Republicans who are hammering President Obama for all the red ink as they campaign to regain control of Congress in November.

The latest forecast from the White House budget office shows the deficit rising to $1.47 trillion this year, forcing the government to borrow 41 cents of every dollar it spends. Contrary to official projections, the budget gap will not begin to narrow much in 2011, because of an unexpectedly big drop in tax receipts.

White House budget director Peter Orszag said in a conference call with reporters that Obama is still on track to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. But the forecast provides no relief from the gloomy outlook that has been forcing Obama to consider deeper cuts to defense and non-security programs as well as additional tax increases. This week, the administration also repeated its intention to let tax cuts for the wealthy expire in January.

Let the battle begin: Even on Aug. 2 when Obama comes to Atlanta, Barnes will be in Middle and South Georgia (the Other Georgia). We love him here!!

Curtis Farrar, John Ellington, Sid Cottingham, Wyc Orr and Chuck Byrd in Enigma on Saturday where a good time was had by each (and there were many eaches) and everyone. Photo by Amy Morton

Jim Galloway of ajc's the Political Insider had a Saturday post entitled "Roy Barnes bets his campaign on rural Georgia."

Based on the size and enthusiasm of the turnout in Enigma -- the home of Bobby Rowan, a former state senator and former member of the Public Service Commission -- at a 12-county rally yesterday, you would have thought the bet was won and it was time to call the dogs in, put out the fire and go home.

What a great day in South Georgia!

And Darryl Hicks, it was great getting to meet you in person. Good luck on your race for State Labor Commissioner.

When our Yankee friends used to come into Atlanta they were welcomed (some might take issue with the word welcomed when speaking of Yankees) or at least greeted with the initials and call sign of WSB radio station on a towering radio mast atop the Biltmore, the call sign for WSB standing for "Welcome South, Brother."

No towering signs were needed in Enigma for Roy on Saturday. There was an undeniable feeling shared by all of welcome to South Georgia Brother Roy, we love you and Godspeed.

Now back to Jim Galloway's article:

Last Tuesday night, for the third time, Roy Barnes won the Democratic nomination for governor.

Barnes thanked his supporters, complimented his defeated opponents, and condemned Republicans who “gave tax breaks to special interests and then had to lay off teachers and shorten the school year to cover up their mistakes.”

And then he dropped off the face of metro Atlanta.

Not even an Aug. 2 visit to Atlanta by President Barack Obama will bring Barnes back. “He’s going to be in Middle and South Georgia,” campaign manager Chris Carpenter said Saturday.

Barnes has bet his campaign on rural Georgia — the one that turned its back on him in 2002 for his removal of the Confederate battle emblem from its place on the state flag.

“Roy Barnes told me about six months ago that if he wins this election he’ll have to win it south of Macon,” said Bobby Rowan, a former state senator and former member of the Public Service Commission.

On Saturday, Rowan was one of the organizers of a 12-county rally featuring Barnes, held in the little town of Enigma, just east of Tifton.

“We’ve got some little girls that’s wearing T-shirts that say ‘Barnes chicks.’ They’re going to pass out 1,500 of these ol’ church fans,” Rowan said. “The last time something like this was had down in South Georgia was when Carl Sanders took on Marvin Griffin. That was 1962.”

[That race is summarized in a 9-16-04 Cracker Squire post that noted: "In 1962 Carl Sanders defeated Marvin Griffin for governor in the last of the great campaigns in which candidates held large rallies and barbecues. After the election Griffin said, "Everybody that ate my barbecue I don't believe voted for me."]

But Rowan, known for his poetic drawl and populist style, was exaggerating. The last time we saw a gubernatorial campaign like this was in 2002.

A Democrat-turned-Republican state senator named Sonny Perdue picked out 70 counties in rural Georgia that, four years earlier, had voted for both Barnes and U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, a Republican.

While the Roy Barnes of 2002 worked from Atlanta and hardly ever shed his business suit, each Friday night would see Perdue on the sidelines of several South Georgia high school football games, shaking hands and slapping backs.

Those rural swing counties and a promise to put the 1956 state flag and its Confederate battle emblem up for a statewide vote formed the core of the effort that made Perdue the first Republican governor in 130 years.

Carpenter, the Barnes campaign manager, acknowledged strategic similarities between the Perdue campaign of 2002 and the Barnes campaign of 2010. “We’ve taken our campaign all across the state. Roy’s been to over 90 counties,” he said.

In last week’s balloting, Republican voters cast twice as many ballots as Democrats. But the Barnes campaign doesn’t believe the GOP grasp on rural Georgia is as strong as many think.

Carpenter is a great believer in maps. One of those on the wall of the campaign manager’s Marietta office shows the Georgia counties with Democratic sheriffs — 108 of 159.

The majority of these Democratic sheriffs work below the gnat line.

While it has a Republican sheriff, Berrien County — home to Enigma — is one of those counties that voted for Barnes in 1998, then swung to Perdue in 2002.

Rowan thinks his county is ready to swing again.

Neither Nathan Deal nor Karen Handel, the two Republicans left in the race for governor, has paid Berrien County a visit. Eric Johnson of Savannah won the Republican side of the primary in Berrien, followed by John Oxendine.

Rowan doesn’t think party labels will matter in November.

“We frankly don’t care anymore,” he said. “Partisan politics has passed us. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Roy Barnes could roll up a 60 to 70 percent win in our county.”

Margins of that size, reached in multiple rural counties, could offset balloting from the Republican-dominated counties of metro Atlanta. A heavy turnout for Barnes in rural Georgia would essentially crack the super-majority of white voters required for statewide GOP victories.

Rowan said the Confederate enthusiasts who dogged Barnes throughout the 2002 campaign are no longer a concern. “Sonny promised them a vote. They know they ain’t never getting a vote,” Rowan said.

But it is the economy of South Georgia that has leveled the playing field, the former legislator said.

“This whole election, it ain’t about a $3 tag, it ain’t about a chicken in every pot. It’s about a job for every man that’ll work. That’s the issue,” Rowan said.

He told of an unemployed friend who’d recently confessed that, while his neighbors thought him prosperous, he was about to lose his house.

“That man is not Republican or Democrat. He’s a human being,” Rowan said. “But if you make him a promise, and he believes you might can help him, that’s where his vote’s going.

“He won’t even slow down to think about Republicans or Democrats. It’s too late for that,” Rowan said.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tea party favorite Sharron Angle back on Senate campaign to win over Nevada

Following months of fundraising efforts, Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle returns to the campaign trail in Nevada.

From The Washington Post:

After six weeks of virtual silence, Angle has emerged from the cocoon she retreated into after winning the Republican nomination. She has hired Washington consultants, raised money and gathered a staff. And for the first time, she has begun to release a public schedule of her campaign stops. (Though she still makes it a practice not to talk to reporters. At both of her recent news conferences, Angle declined to take questions.)

None of this has done much to convince Nevadans that she is a serious candidate. Reid, deeply unpopular in the state (his approval rating hovers below 50 percent), was once thought to be in great danger of losing his seat after 24 years in the Senate. But despite his association with Washington and Nevada's weak economy, he has adeptly taken advantage of Angle's stumbling -- and his own $14 million campaign bankroll -- to make himself look good by comparison.

Hearing on Arizona immigration law begins

From The Washington Post:

A federal judge pushed back Thursday against a contention by the Obama Justice Department that a tough new Arizona immigration law set to take effect next week would cause "irreparable harm" and intrude into federal immigration enforcement.

"Why can't Arizona be as inhospitable as they wish to people who have entered or remained in the United States?" U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton asked in a pointed exchange with Deputy Solicitor General Edwin S. Kneedler. Her comment came during a rare federal court hearing in the Justice Department's lawsuit against Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer (R).

"How is there a preemption issue?" the judge asked. "I understand there may be other issues, but you're arguing preemption. Where is the preemption if everybody who is arrested for some crime has their immigration status checked?"

"We keep hearing that we can't really do anything about these illegal aliens -- Arizona should just deal with it," said John J. Bouma, Arizona's lead attorney. "Well, the status quo is simply unacceptable."

The law, which Brewer signed in April, empowers police to question people they have a "reasonable suspicion" are illegal immigrants and to send them to federal authorities for possible deportation.

Bolton did not indicate how she might rule, saying only that she will take the matter "under advisement."

Bolton is hearing six other lawsuits filed against the Arizona law. A former Arizona state court judge, she was nominated for the federal bench by Democratic President Bill Clinton, but legal observers say she is hard to pigeonhole ideologically.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ignore the source. The message is true: Friendly Fire on Capitol Hill - Dems are saying unkind things about White House. Pres. has himself to blame.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

Karl Rove writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Describing the White House last week, Congressional Democrats used words like "ineptness," "neglected" and "disconcerting," and phrases like "isn't aggressive enough." President Barack Obama has only himself to blame for these protests.

Well, maybe more than just himself. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs may have spoken the truth when he admitted Democrats could lose the House. He forgot that White House staffers are expected to be advocates, not prognosticators, when their party faces electoral defeat. Mr. Gibbs need not lie, but he could have been discreet.

While an angry response to Mr. Gibbs from Hill Democrats was expected, several factors produced an unusually fierce reaction. First, Democrats in Congress feel underappreciated for having cast tough votes. True, they wanted to pass health care, the stimulus, record deficits, and cap and trade. They thought these would be political winners. But now they feel exposed for supporting unpopular policies they consider poorly explained and badly defended by the administration.

Then there is the White House's practice of outsourcing the drafting of major legislation to Democratic chairmen. This has made congressional Democrats more sensitive when Mr. Obama exerts himself, as he did with a threatened veto of a spending bill that trimmed his education priorities. One Democratic committee chairman (George Miller) affected by the veto threat complained, "there's no strategy there," while another (David Obey) fumed, "there's a lot I don't know about this administration."

Third, Hill Democrats were upset when the president brought up immigration reform without consulting them. Vulnerable Democrats know this issue may help Mr. Obama in the long run, but it jeopardizes them in this midterm. Obama aides stoked their ire further by boneheadedly conceding this point to reporters.

Then there is the record of Mr. Obama's short stint in the Senate. Congressional Democrats saw that he didn't apply himself to the business of legislating, nor lead any major battle. Instead, he was singularly focused on winning the presidency. They applaud him for winning, but they neither fear nor respect his legislative skills and now ask why he gets the credit while they receive the public blame.

Mr. Obama's arrogance, coolness and diffidence also make it difficult for him to nurture close friendships, personal trust and mutual respect with the poobahs on the Hill. And so House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the president's press secretary "politically inept" and condemned the "friendly fire" from the White House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid snapped, "I do not work for Barack Obama, I work with him."

This problem is exacerbated by the poor or nonexistent ties between many of Mr. Obama's top aides and Democrats on the Hill. Some of his aides were Congressional staffers, but senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett are virtual unknowns to Congress. And while Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was the congressman who chaired the Democrats' campaign that reclaimed the House in 2006, he is not known for his warmth, empathy and easy working relationships.

Then there's a belief around Capitol Hill that the White House is already pointing the finger at them for the coming fall's losses. That's in keeping with a pattern: After all, Team Obama publicly trashed its gubernatorial candidate in Virginia last fall and its Massachusetts senatorial hopeful last winter, weeks before their elections.

Congressional Democrats also worry the president is insufficiently concerned about the November election. Maybe the White House believes Democrats have seats to give, that its agenda may be more achievable with fewer moderate Democrats, or that Mr. Obama can win re-election in 2012 more easily with a Republican Congress to blame.

Finally, congressional Democrats are frustrated the president doesn't do more to help them. The problem here is that he can't. His approval rating was 54% when his party was walloped in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts last fall. Now it's 47% in the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls. Mr. Obama's presence will hurt more than help in many swing races. Even his fund raising isn't going as well as expected. A recent presidential fund-raising event in Missouri had to discount tickets to fill otherwise empty chairs.

The White House's appearance of institutional and personal arrogance has left congressional Democrats divided and discontent going into the midterms. It weakens Democratic efforts not only this year, but well into the future. Having once fostered the impression that it's every Democrat for himself, the president will find it hard to undo the damage when his own name is on the ballot.

Mr. Obama is already learning from his own party the meaning of payback.

The momentum is moving in wrong way: 3rd Senate Dem. comes out publicly in recent days in favor of extending all the tax breaks for the time being.

Given our country's heightened concern on the out of control budget deficit, I think most Americans would buy into letting all of the Bush tax cuts expire. Some Democratic leaders have been floating this idea, but have been provided no cover by the White House.

I know it is a close issue given the state of the economy, but putting off the day of reckoning is just kicking the can down the road.

Some of my readers will remember what Sen. Russell Long said about tax reform: "Don't tax you, don't tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree."

There is no free lunch, and it is time for all of us to have to begin paying for Bush's two financed wars and prescription drug program and huge tax cuts, plus what President Obama has heaped upon us in his short 18 months as we have been spending money like drunk sailors.

The Democrats are far from perfect, but what really galls me is how the GOP advocates that pay as you go means Congress should have to pay for any new spending to avoid increasing the deficit, but that tax cuts shouldn't have to be paid for.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Two more Senate Democrats called for extending tax cuts for all earners—including those with the highest incomes—in what appears to be a breakdown of the party's consensus on the how to handle the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) said in an interview Wednesday that Congress shouldn't allow taxes on the wealthy to rise until the economy is on a sounder footing.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) said through a spokesman that he also supported extending all the expiring tax cuts for now, adding that he wanted to offset the impact on federal deficits as much as possible.

They are the second and third Senate Democrats to come out publicly in recent days in favor of extending all the tax breaks for the time being. Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) made similar comments last week.

"As a general rule, you don't want to be cutting spending or raising taxes in the midst of a downturn," Mr. Conrad said. "We know that very soon we've got to pivot and focus on the deficit. But it probably is too soon to cut spending or raise taxes."

The comments from the senators represent a departure from what appeared to be an emerging unified Democratic stance on the Bush tax cuts, which held that those for the wealthiest Americans should be allowed to expire.

President Barack Obama and most Democrats want to extend only the breaks benefiting taxpayers who make $250,000 or less.

Allowing breaks for higher earners to expire would push the top individual tax rate to 39.6% from 35%, and would raise rates on capital gains and dividends, too.

The breaks enacted in 2001 and 2003, which affect taxpayers of all income levels, expire at the end of this year.

Republicans and many business groups favor extending all the breaks, contending that increasing tax rates will hit small businesses hard. With U.S. employment still weak, some centrist Democrats are agreeing, prompted to change their stance by the still-ugly economic picture.

In addition to Messrs. Conrad, Nelson and Bayh, at least half a dozen House Democrats also have come out publicly in favor of postponing tax increases for higher earners

Democrats can't afford to lose many of their own members on the issue. At a minimum, the internal party debate increases the odds that Democrats won't tackle the question of extending the tax cuts until after the November election.

Further delays will expose Democrats to Republican charges that they want to allow all the tax cuts to expire, which the Democrats deny. It is possible that any extension would be only temporary.

Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said Wednesday that no decisions had been made on when to take up the tax cuts in the House, but he said the Senate "needs to act first."

Republicans are hoping the expiring Bush tax cuts become a bigger issue in the August recess, when lawmakers go home to talk with constituents. Already, House Republicans have begun pointing to the "ticking tax bomb" that will go off at year's end absent congressional action.

The GOP, for its part, runs some risks pushing for an extension of all the tax cuts, given the nation's sharpening focus on the budget deficit.

A one-year extension would cost at least $115 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans have been pushing Congress to pay for any new spending to avoid increasing the deficit, but they argue tax cuts shouldn't be paid for.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

GOP primary voters outpace Democrats for 1st time

From the AP (see ajc):

Republican voters outpaced their Democratic counterparts by more than 285,000 votes in Tuesday’s primary election – a first in the state’s history, according to an article by The Associated Press.

Overall, about 1.1 million Georgians – or 22 percent of active registered voters – cast ballots in the gubernatorial contest, which drew the most votes. Observers say Republicans were likely energized by last-minute endorsements in a more compelling race.

GOP frontrunner Karen Handel, who hails from Roswell, dominated metro Atlanta, where the majority of voters live, and all of the Republican candidates for governor did well in their own backyards. Roy Barnes, seen all along as the Democratic nominee, dominated the state and was likely bolstered by black voter turnout, trouncing Thurbert Baker, who sought to become the state’s first African-American governor.

Lindsey Graham stands apart from other Republican senators on Kagan vote

Lindsey Graham and his fellow Republicans have different definitions of doing the right thing.

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post:

Lindsey Graham is all of 5-foot-7 with his shoes on, but these days he towers above his Senate Republican colleagues.

As the Judiciary Committee held its vote on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on Tuesday afternoon, the seats on either side of Graham were empty. Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and John Cornyn (Tex.), along with Tom Coburn (Okla.), showed their contempt for President Obama and his nominee by skipping the vote -- just as they had done 51 weeks earlier for the vote on Sonia Sotomayor.

Graham delivered his "yes" vote -- the only such vote by a Republican on the panel -- with a rebuke for both sides, particularly his fellow Republicans who have become so reflexive in their opposition to Obama that they are distorting their constitutional duties.

"I think there's a good reason for a conservative to vote yes, and that's provided in the Constitution itself," Graham told his peers before reading to them from Federalist No. 6, by Alexander Hamilton. "The Senate should have a special and strong reason for the denial of confirmation," he read, such as "to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from family connection, from personal attachment and from a view to popularity."

Graham said Kagan "has passed all those tests" envisioned by the Framers, then he challenged his colleagues: "Are we taking the language of the Constitution that stood the test of time and basically putting a political standard in the place of a constitutional standard? That's for each senator to ask and answer themselves."

He reminded his colleagues that "no one spent more time trying to beat President Obama than I did, except maybe Senator McCain." But "President Obama won," he said, and "the Constitution in my view puts a requirement on me as a senator to not replace my judgment for his, not to think of the 100 reasons I would pick somebody differently or pick a fight with Ms. Kagan."

"Objectively speaking, things are changing, and they're unnerving to me," Graham's lecture continued. It is, he said, "our obligation to honor elections" -- an obligation that led him to vote "yes" for Kagan. "It would not have been someone I would have chosen," he said, "but the person who did choose, President Obama, I think chose wisely."

Less than an hour after the vote, pundits were assessing the political damage to Graham. The Post's Chris Cillizza judged that the vote for Kagan "ensures he will face a serious primary challenge in 2014."

Probably true. Luckily there are still a few lawmakers who believe there are bigger things than politics.

States Embrace National Standards for Schools

From The New York Times:

Less than two months after the nation’s governors and state school chiefs released their final recommendations for national education standards, 27 states have adopted them and about a dozen more are expected to do so in the next two weeks.

Their support has surprised many in education circles, given states’ long tradition of insisting on retaining local control over curriculum.

The quick adoption of common standards for what students should learn in English and math each year from kindergarten through high school is attributable in part to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition. States that adopt the standards by Aug. 2 win points in the competition for a share of the $3.4 billion to be awarded in September.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Her participation could backfire. -- KSU student participates in immigration rallies

Jessica Colotl (behind Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights president Teodoro Maus during a press conference in Atlanta on July 15). Colotl has become the poster child of illegal immigration conflict after her illegal alien status came to light in March.

From the ajc:

An undocumented student at Kennesaw State University who has personified Georgia's debate over illegal immigration is participating in a series of rallies to allow students like her to become U.S. citizens.

Jessica Colotl is among the hundreds of students who gathered in Washington D.C. this week to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act. This bill, which is unlikely to pass this year, would grant a path to legal residence for students who were brought here illegally as minors.

Opponents say the bill would encourage more illegal immigration.

Colotl announced her travel plans during a news conference organized by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. Her immigration attorney confirmed her plans Tuesday.

Colotl was arrested on campus in late March for traffic violations. The 21-year-old is a native of Mexico, who was brought to this country illegally by her parents when she was a child. While deportation proceedings began this spring, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials granted Colotl a one-year reprieve so she can finish her degree.

After her arrest, it was disclosed that KSU officials erroneously charged her in-state tuition, a benefit reserved for legal Georgia residents.

State rules allow illegal immigrants to attend Georgia's public colleges, but they must be charged the more expensive out-of-state tuition rates. University officials said she will be charged the correct tuition rate when she returns to campus in August.

Is there any wonder U.S. House Democrats are upset with the Obama administration: White House is focused on 2012 versus 2010.

From The Washington Post:

President Obama and his political aides privately acknowledge that the government's decision to sue Arizona over its new immigration law is helping to fuel an anti-immigration fervor that could benefit some Republicans in elections this fall.

But White House officials have concluded that, over the long term, the Republicans' get-tough message is a major political miscalculation. They predict it will ultimately alienate millions of Latinos, the fastest-growing minority group in the nation.

West Wing strategists argue that the president's call for legislation that acknowledges the role of immigrants and goes beyond punishing undocumented workers will help cement a permanent political relationship between Democrats and Hispanics -- much as civil rights and voting rights legislation did for the party and African Americans in the 1960s.

The White House plans to use the immigration debate to punish the GOP and aggressively seek the Latino vote in 2012.

It is not good: A progressive era, based on the faith in government experts & their ability to use social science analysis to manage complex systems.

David Brooks writes about "The Technocracy Boom" in The New York Times:

When historians look back on the period between 2001 and 2011, they will be amazed that a nation that professed to hate bureaucracy produced so much of it.

During the first part of this period, the Republicans were in control. They expanded a vast national security bureaucracy. In their series in The Washington Post, Dana Priest and William M. Arkin detail the size of this apparatus. More than 1,200 government agencies and 1,900 private companies work on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence programs at around 10,000 sites across the country. An estimated 854,000 people have top-secret security clearance. These analysts produce 50,000 reports a year — a flow of paper so great that many are completely ignored.

In the second part of the period, Democrats were in control. They augmented the national security bureaucracy but spent the bulk of their energies expanding bureaucracies in domestic spheres.

First, they passed a health care law. This law created 183 new agencies, commissions, panels and other bodies, according to an analysis by Robert E. Moffit of the Heritage Foundation. These include things like the Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement Program, an Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee and a Cures Acceleration Network Review Board.

The purpose of the new apparatus was simple: to give government experts the power to analyze and rationalize the nation’s health care system. A team of experts on the newly created Independent Medicare Advisory Council was ordered to review and streamline Medicare. A team of experts within the Office of Personnel Management was directed to help set standards for insurance companies in the health care exchanges. Teams of experts serving on comparative effectiveness boards were told to survey data and determine which medical treatments work best and most efficiently.

Democrats also passed a financial reform law. The law that originally created the Federal Reserve was a mere 31 pages. The Sarbanes-Oxley banking reform act, passed in 2002, was only 66 pages. But the 2010 financial reform law was 2,319 pages, an intricately engineered technocratic apparatus. As Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute noted, the financial reform law is seven times longer than the last five pieces of banking legislation combined.

Once again, government experts were told to take a complex, decentralized system — in this case the financial markets — and impose rules, rationality and order. The law creates one über-panel, the Financial Stability Oversight Council. It directs government experts to write rules in 243 separate areas.

The law also calls upon government experts to make some heroic judgments. For example, it calls upon regulators to break up banks that might be about to pose a risk to the country’s economy. That is to say, investors may believe a bank is stable. The executives of the bank may believe it is stable. But the regulators are called upon to exercise their superior vision and determine which banks are stable and which are not.

When historians look back on this period, they will see it as another progressive era. It is not a liberal era — when government intervenes to seize wealth and power and distribute it to the have-nots. It’s not a conservative era, when the governing class concedes that the world is too complicated to be managed from the center. It’s a progressive era, based on the faith in government experts and their ability to use social science analysis to manage complex systems.

This progressive era is being promulgated without much popular support. It’s being led by a large class of educated professionals, who have been trained to do technocratic analysis, who believe that more analysis and rule-writing is the solution to social breakdowns, and who have constructed ever-expanding networks of offices, schools and contracts.

Already this effort is generating a fierce, almost culture-war-style backlash. It is generating a backlash among people who do not have faith in Washington, who do not have faith that trained experts have superior abilities to organize society, who do not believe national rules can successfully contend with the intricacies of local contexts and cultures.

This progressive era amounts to a high-stakes test. If the country remains safe and the health care and financial reforms work, then we will have witnessed a life-altering event. We’ll have received powerful evidence that central regulations can successfully organize fast-moving information-age societies.

If the reforms fail — if they kick off devastating unintended consequences or saddle the country with a maze of sclerotic regulations — then the popular backlash will be ferocious. Large sectors of the population will feel as if they were subjected to a doomed experiment they did not consent to. They will feel as if their country has been hijacked by a self-serving professional class mostly interested in providing for themselves.

If that backlash gains strength, well, what’s the 21st-century version of the guillotine?

Senate Democrats (and two Republicans) are poised to break a partisan stalemate on Tuesday over extending unemployment benefits.

With everything else stripped out as it should have been all along as I noted in a 6-10-10 post entitled "Senate cuts off a cash spigot opened by Obama when he took office -- Dems should have limited to an extension of unemployment benefits much earlier," it will be good to get this vote behind us.

With everything else take out, I had thought that Sen. Scott Brown would cross party lines in this vote as he did in the financial reform legislation. Maybe he will.

From The New York Times:

Senate Democrats are poised to break a partisan stalemate on Tuesday over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who have been jobless for six months or more, but the fight seems certain to continue playing out as a defining issue in the midterm elections.

Most Democrats contend that deficit spending is acceptable — even, in economic terms, necessary — to help not only the jobless but also the economy as a whole. Their argument is that unemployed workers will spend all or nearly all of their benefits on goods and services that help support other jobs.

Besides the support of Carte Goodwin, the West Virginian to be sworn in Tuesday to succeed Mr. Byrd, Democrats are counting on the votes of Senators Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, the two Maine Republicans, to reach the minimum 60 votes needed to overcome the threat of a Republican filibuster.

To ease objections, Democrats have scaled back the unemployment proposal, which originally was to extend through December and included billions of dollars in health insurance subsidies for the unemployed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Obama Gains Evangelical Allies on Immigration

From The New York Times:

At a time when the prospects for immigration overhaul seem most dim, supporters have unleashed a secret weapon: a group of influential evangelical Christian leaders.

Normally on the opposite side of political issues backed by the Obama White House, these leaders are aligning with the president to support an overhaul that would include some path to legalization for illegal immigrants already here. They are preaching from pulpits, conducting conference calls with pastors and testifying in Washington — as they did last Wednesday.

When President Obama gave a major address pushing immigration overhaul this month, he was introduced by a prominent evangelical, the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Three other evangelical pastors were in the audience, front and center.

Their presence was a testament, in part, to the work of politically active Hispanic evangelical pastors, who have forged friendships with non-Hispanic pastors in recent years while working in coalitions to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. The Hispanics made a concerted effort to convince their brethren that immigration reform should be a moral and practical priority.

The fact that this is even possible is in part the result of governing from the left rather than the center: GOP Sees Path to Control of Senate

From The Wall Street Journal:

Democrats for the first time are acknowledging that Republicans could retake the Senate this November if everything falls into place for the GOP, less than two years after Democrats held a daunting 60-seat majority.

Leaders of both parties have believed for months that Republicans could win the House, where every lawmaker faces re-election. But a change of party control in the Senate, where only a third of the members are running and Republicans must capture 10 seats, seemed out of the question.

That's no longer the case. The emergence of competitive Republican candidates in Wisconsin, Washington and California—Democratic-leaning states where polls now show tight races—bring the number of seats that Republicans could seize from the Democrats to 11.

Democrats now control the Senate 59-41—after the death of Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who was replaced by Republican Sen. Scott Brown—including two independents who usually vote with them. That means Republicans need 10 seats to take a 51-49 advantage.

Republicans would have to win virtually every competitive race to retake the Senate, without losing any seats of their own—clearly an uphill climb. The trouble for Democrats is that many trends are against them. Surveys show that Republicans are more motivated than Democrats to go to the polls, and that voters are looking for new leadership in Congress.

"I think there is definitely a chance" of losing the Senate, said Democratic strategist Gary Nordlinger, a Washington-based media consultant. "I wouldn't call it a probability, but there is certainly a chance."

"Republicans still have to [win] all the competitive races in order to get to a majority, but at least there are enough seats on the table to pull it off," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Democratic politicians have been saddled with an economy that they'd hoped--and predicted--would be doing much better by now. And if Republicans retake one or both chambers of Congress, it would create a serious roadblock for President Barack Obama's agenda. But Republicans would also have greater responsibility for tackling stubborn problems such as the economy, energy and immigration.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Albany Herald endorses Roy Barnes: 'Barnes would not have a learning curve when the sure-to-be-difficult spending decisions come up in January.'

The editorial board of the Albany Herald writes:

Barnes has said that if he could redo his term as governor, he would have taken more time to explain to educators why he was moving so quickly to prepare for what would come to be known as the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The loss of support from educators, the vocal opposition from flaggers and unhappy state employees combined with a rising tide of Republican voters to doom his re-election bid against Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2002.

An able administrator, Barnes has ideas that are good for our region. He says he wants to get One Georgia, which helped provide low-interest financing to small businesses in rural areas, back to doing what it was designed to do.

Barnes knows how the state budget process works and would not have a learning curve when the sure-to-be-difficult spending decisions come up in January. Democrats would do well to make Barnes their choice in Tuesday’s elections.

Medicaid Stalemate Tests Cash-Strapped States -- With Extra Federal Funding in Limbo, Local Cuts Clash With Health-Care Law

From The Wall Street Journal:

Several states are preparing to make deep cuts to Medicaid as a federal stalemate over funding for the poor drags on—even as states face mandates to expand the program under the new health-care law.

Frustration is mounting with Congress's failure to pass an extension of additional Medicaid funding to plug holes in state budgets. With the antispending mood building in Washington, governors say they are increasingly skeptical that such an extension, needed to prop up the program starting next year, will come.

That has states laying plans to cut hundreds of thousands of Medicaid enrollees and pare services such as dental care, organ transplants, insulin pumps and over-the-counter medications in the coming months.

At the same time, by cutting eligibility for enrollees, states risk losing their remaining Medicaid funding from the federal government, which pays for about $2 out of every $3 spent on Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health insurance to people below or around the federal poverty level.

The health-care overhaul signed into law in March imposes eligibility requirements for federal funding. The law will add 16 million Americans to the 60 million on Medicaid starting in 2014, leaving states to cut a program while they are planning for its largest expansion in years.

"It's like living in a parallel universe," said Monica Coury, assistant director of intergovernmental relations for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which oversees the state's Medicaid program. "On the one hand, we have federal partners talking about expansion of this program. And at the state level, we're looking at a program that we can't sustain."

History in the making: In hindsight, Sea Island Co. dreamed too big & leveraged itself too heavily as it increasingly targeted an ultra-luxury market.

At one time, The Cloister at Sea Island was recognized by a national magazine as the nation's top resort. It could soon come under new ownership as the debt-burdened Sea Island Co. entertains bids for the coastal Georgia resort.

A very informative article discussing the sale and history of the famed Sea Island resort is at ajc.

Palin Wades Into Republican Midterm Primaries (New York Times story includes Karen Handel)

From The New York Times:

The latest candidate to win the most coveted Republican prize of the election year stood on the steps of a gazebo [in Lawrencevill, Georgia] and reminded voters of a new reason to support her in the crowded race for Georgia governor.

“Sarah Palin has come on board,” the candidate, Karen Handel, told a group of supporters who gathered Friday on the grounds of the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse. As they broke into applause, she added: “It means one thing. We’re winning.”

Last week, Ms. Handel became at least the 50th candidate to win the Palin seal of approval. Through a breezy 194 words posted on Ms. Palin’s Facebook page — calling Ms. Handel a “pro-life, pro-Constitutionalist with a can-do attitude” — a four-way Republican primary came alive, the latest in a number of races across the country that have been influenced by Ms. Palin.

After parting ways with Senator John McCain following the 2008 presidential race, Ms. Palin did not receive the list of campaign donors she had helped build, so her aides have been creating her own roster, a critical ingredient to a future political bid.

She has extended many of her endorsements to women, whom she refers to as “Mama Grizzlies.” (One exception is Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, whose male opponent Ms. Palin endorsed.) But some of her decisions have been met with resistance from social conservatives who argue that her selections are guided by politics over principle.

In Iowa, conservative Christians criticized her for passing over their candidate in favor of a former governor, Terry Branstad.

And the biggest furor so far has erupted here, with a leader of an anti-abortion group, Georgia Right to Life, accusing Ms. Palin of “endorsing any female Republican candidate that she could find.” Rival candidates complained that Ms. Palin was backing the most liberal Republican in the race.

Ms. Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, dismissed the matter as petty politics on Friday as her bus tour passed through Lawrenceville, about 30 miles east of Atlanta. She said her fellow Republicans “would be equally as thrilled to have Sarah Palin’s endorsement as I have been.”

But worried about the fallout in the days leading up to the primary on Tuesday, she turned to Ms. Palin for validation.

“The primary is really close, so Karen’s opponents are kind of saying those crazy things about her,” Ms. Palin said in a phone message to thousands of Georgia voters. “Please just get the truth for yourself.”

Ms. Palin has offered her long-distance support to Ms. Handel and other candidates, but her campaign appearances have been rare. She has delivered a few policy addresses in recent months and seemed to be moving beyond the family drama that often enveloped her.

Like other national political figures, Ms. Palin has been supporting candidates all year, a mix of Tea Party enthusiasts like Rand Paul of Kentucky and establishment Republicans. But her endorsements did not gain much notice until she weighed in on the South Carolina governor’s race, helping to vault Nikki Haley from the bottom rung of candidates to the winner of the Republican nomination last month.

In conversations with Republicans in recent months — including at a rally Ms. Palin held with Mr. McCain in Arizona, at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans and at campaign events here in Georgia — voters often give Ms. Palin high marks. But asked whether they believe she should run for president, few say yes.

Judy Pruitt, a 70-year-old retiree in Lawrenceville, said she came to see Ms. Handel partly because of the Palin endorsement. But she had a swift answer when asked if she would welcome a 2012 Palin campaign.

“I’m not sure she’s ready for the presidency,” she said. “I do like listening to her, and I respect her views on things. But I think she can have more of an impact if she’s not running. I really do.”

This is exactly what we were promised, right? - Insurers Push Plans Limiting Patient Choice of Doctors (And one wonders why Washington is not trusted)

From The New York Times:

As the Obama administration begins to enact the new national health care law, the country’s biggest insurers are promoting affordable plans with reduced premiums that require participants to use a narrower selection of doctors or hospitals.

The plans, being tested in places like San Diego, New York and Chicago, are likely to appeal especially to small businesses that already provide insurance to their employees, but are concerned about the ever-spiraling cost of coverage.

But large employers, as well, are starting to show some interest, and insurers and consultants expect that, over time, businesses of all sizes will gravitate toward these plans in an effort to cut costs.

The tradeoff, they say, is that more Americans will be asked to pay higher prices for the privilege of choosing or keeping their own doctors if they are outside the new networks. That could come as a surprise to many who remember the repeated assurances from President Obama and other officials that consumers would retain a variety of health-care choices.

But companies may be able to reduce their premiums by as much as 15 percent, the insurers say, by offering the more limited plans.

Many insurers also expect the plans to be popular with individuals and small businesses who will purchase coverage in the insurance exchanges, or marketplaces that are mandated under the new health care law and scheduled to take effect in 2014.

Tens of millions of everyday Americans will buy their coverage through those exchanges, a vast pool of new customers, including many of the previously uninsured, whom insurers expect will be willing to accept restrictions to get a better deal.

The last time health insurers and employers sought to sharply limit patients’ choice was back in the early 1990s, when insurers tried to reinvent themselves by embracing managed care. Instead of just paying doctor and hospital bills, insurers also assumed a greater role in their customers’ medical care by restricting what specialists they could see or which hospitals they could go to.

“Back in the H.M.O. days, it was tight networks, and it did save money,” said Ken Goulet, an executive vice president at WellPoint, one of the nation’s largest private health insurers, which is experimenting with re-introducing the idea in California.

The concept was largely abandoned after the consumer backlash persuaded both employers and health plans that Americans were simply not willing to sacrifice choice. Prominent officials like Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton learned to utter the word “choice” at every turn as advocates of overhauling the system.

But choice — or at least choice that will not cost you — is likely to be increasingly scarce as health insurers and employers scramble to find ways of keep premiums from becoming unaffordable. Aetna, Cigna, the UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint are all trying out plans with limited networks.

The new health care law offers some protection against plans offering overly restrictive networks, said Nancy-Ann DeParle, head of the office of health reform for the White House. Any plan sold in the exchanges will have to meet standards developed to make sure patients have enough choice of doctors and hospitals, she said.

Ms. DeParle said the goal of health reform was to make sure people retained a choice of doctors and hospitals, but also to create an environment where insurers would offer coverage that was both high quality and affordable. “What the Congress and the president tried to accomplish through reform is to transform the marketplace by building on the existing system,” she said.

The average premium for family coverage is now more than $13,000 a year, and many businesses have already asked their employees to pay a much greater share of their premiums and more of their overall medical bills.

One way insurers say they hope to prevent another consumer backlash is by emphasizing that they are not choosing doctors on price alone. The insurers say they look to see how quickly a doctor’s patients recover from surgery, for example. But how much the insurers emphasize quality remains to be seen.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

UPDATED: (1) Can a Dem. Take Gov.'s Mansion? -- A loss in this year by GOP would be embarrassing—& fully deserved; & (2) From the C. Squire Archives


Kyle Wingfield, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has written the subject of this post for The Wall Street Journal.

Before sharing the article, I want to revisit a 6-4-09 post entitled "What is Tom Crawford smoking even thinking such, much less writing it down: "The rural white voters who abandoned Barnes in 2002 are gone for good," that read:

Tom Crawford of Capitol Impact yesterday wrote:

The rural white voters who abandoned Barnes in 2002 are gone for good. I don't see how he could do anything to win them back.

My friend Tom, editor of Capitol Impact, needs to venture out of the capital city to down here in South Georgia. He will find many, many elated with Governor Barnes's willingness to put aside his successful law practice and endure the sacrifices in his personal life that will follow from his commitment to spend much of the next year and a half campaigning on a full-time basis.

Do I think he can carry South Georgia? Yes.

Do I think he will carry South Georgia? Yes, just as surely as grits are groceries.

History will record Roy Barnes's decision to jump into the 2010 race as a momentous and historically significant event.

Thanks for signing up Roy. We are ready, willing and able to do our part in this part of the Other Georgia to make you Georgia's next governor.

Do I still think Roy Barnes will carry South Georgia? Yes, but not by the margin that I had hoped for. I had calculated the changing the flag crowd, but I did think there would be a bigger change among the teachers.

There is one a change with the one I sleep with every night, but many others find it difficult to forgive and forget and are going to vote against their own interest. Roy is now and always has been an education first type leader.

During his recent visit to Douglas and Coffee County I discussed with him the advisibility of stopping his ads making an appeal for the teacher vote. This was because his ads, although accurate and in fact what he will strive to do, were not being effective with respect to changing minds.

And we also discussed that this did not mean that he would not strive to an education governor, and I fully expect as much.

But other than with some in the educator crowd who really don't have anyone to vote for, Roy is on fire.

But South Georgia is only South Georgia. How about the rest of the Empire State? Can Roy pull it off?

You can take it to the bank (make sure it is a sound one). Roy will be our next governor.

Again Roy, thanks for running.


Following making this post, I received an email from a person very connected in Georgia politics and very much in the know. He commented on my post as follows:

I recall very well Tom Crawford's article and your excellent response. Roy will win Middle and South Ga. He has very quietly put together a great grassroots network. This race will be decided south of Macon.

I disagree with you about the vote of teachers. Teachers up here are almost violent about vouchers. Roy has had 4 or 5 teacher forums up here -- the response has been amazing each time. He will get the majority of the teacher vote -- they are tired of the last eight years.

I wrote back:

I hope you are right. I felt this was the case two months ago. The basis of my statement in the blog post was the reaction I received from several educators recently when inviting them to a function for Roy in Douglas.

But in truth, the recent negative reaction I received was primarily from retired educators who did not experience years of austerity and other budget cuts, and not teaching now, do not know that a calendar adjustment is Teacher Retirement System lingo for furloughs, something the retired teachers never experienced.

You are right about the voucher issue. I am not sure many teachers are aware of the position by the GOP candidates on this topic, but it will come out during the campaign.

I will say this without qualification. If teachers don't vote for Roy, they won't have a candidate that has their best interest at heart. It will be a repeat of 2002 -- they will voting against rather than for someone.


Now to the subject of this post, The Wall Street Journal article.

For a case study in how red state Republicans are giving Democrats an opening in what should be a GOP year, look no further than the Georgia governor's mansion.

It's been eight years since Georgians elected Sonny Perdue as their first Republican governor since Reconstruction. But his tenure has offered future candidates few bragging rights, and the Republican field for this Tuesday's primary is an uninspiring jumble. With the GOP anticipating big national success in November, a high-profile loss in Georgia would be a stinging embarrassment.

After decades of promising to make government leaner and cleaner if given the chance, state Republicans adopted many of the bad habits they'd criticized. Since 2000, Georgia has had one of the nation's fastest growing populations, but surging revenues didn't translate into tax cuts. The budget grew three times faster than the population did—almost 40%, to $21.2 billion in fiscal year 2009 from $15.2 billion in 2003.

When the recession hit and revenues plunged, the state's GOP leadership only downsized a little bit, and then only very reluctantly. Over the past two years they have rescinded $428 million in property tax relief that their Democratic predecessors had passed, instituted a $200 million plus hospital bed tax, relied on billions in federal stimulus dollars to balance the budget, and tried to get by with a series of furloughs—anything but make lasting cuts.

Meantime, they've accomplished little on the conservative agenda they all pay lip service to. A 2005 tort reform was gutted this spring by the state Supreme Court in a unanimous decision. As for school choice, there's been only modest progress: This spring, legislators couldn't even bring themselves to extend vouchers to military families and foster kids, likely because they feared a backlash from the education establishment. And lawmakers made only one attempt to simplify the convoluted state tax code.

The Republicans' best reason for optimism is a conservative electorate that bucked the leftward national trend in 2006 and 2008, and is hot as a teapot about President Obama's policies.

For months, the nominal GOP front-runner has been John Oxendine, who's served as the state's insurance commissioner since 1995. Despite being well-known, Mr. Oxendine is shunned by the Georgia Republican establishment, which considers him a potential nightmare for the party's image. He's been ridiculed in the press for putting a siren and blue light atop his personal car to weave through Atlanta traffic.

More seriously, Mr. Oxendine faces a state ethics investigation into money funneled to his campaign from a friendly insurance executive via out-of-state PACs. He returned the money after my newspaper reported the donations; an ethics commission hearing has been postponed until after the primaries.

But the most recent polling suggests that former Secretary of State Karen Handel may have overtaken Mr. Oxendine. As in other states, like California and South Carolina, Sarah Palin seems to have worked her magic: Mrs. Handel's popularity took off after Mrs. Palin endorsed her this past week. Within days, she rolled out a robocall recorded by Mrs. Palin to more than 300,000 households.

Mrs. Handel also touts the support of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Her state's fight with the federal government over its new illegal immigration law has many fans in Georgia, which reportedly has more illegal aliens than Arizona does.

These endorsements have chapped the hide of a third candidate, Nathan Deal, who until recently was tied for second place with Mrs. Handel. In an otherwise quiet 17 years in Congress, Mr. Deal repeatedly proposed ending birthright citizenship for immigrants. His tactic has been to portray Mrs. Handel as socially liberal on issues like gay rights, which in Georgia is a political liability.

Hoping to slide by them as they squabble is longtime state senator Eric Johnson. Mr. Johnson is an outspoken school-choice advocate and may be the purest social and economic conservative in contention. But the Savannah resident is not well-known among the Atlanta suburbanites who cast a big chunk of GOP primary votes.

Awaiting the eventual GOP nominee presumably will be Roy Barnes, a Democrat who served one term as governor before Mr. Perdue defeated him in 2002. Mr. Barnes entered the race as the Democratic leader, and the main question is whether he can win the nomination without a runoff.

Either way, Mr. Barnes would still face an uphill battle in a conservative state. His chance of moving back into the governor's mansion hinges on which candidate emerges from the GOP contest. Running against Mr. Oxendine would be Mr. Barnes's best bet; if he's on the Republican ticket, many conservative voters and activists would likely stay at home.

If Mr. Barnes can convince voters he's not a Democrat in the Obama-Pelosi-Reid mold—he's already talking about tax cuts and helping small businesses—while Republicans bloody each other in a run-off, Georgians may decide that after 130 years of all-Democratic rule and an eight-year GOP reign, it's time to see what divided government looks like.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

House Democrats hit boiling point over perceived lack of White House support

From The Washington Post:

House Democrats are lashing out at the White House, venting long-suppressed anger over what they see as President Obama's lukewarm efforts to help them win reelection -- and accusing administration officials of undermining the party's chances of retaining the majority in November's midterm elections.

In recent weeks, a widespread belief has taken hold among Democratic House members that they have dutifully gone along with the White House on politically risky issues -- including the stimulus plan, the health-care overhaul and climate change -- without seeing much, if anything, in return. Many of them are angry that Obama has actively campaigned for Democratic Senate candidates but has done fewer events for House members.

The boiling point came Tuesday night during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats in the Capitol. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) excoriated White House press secretary Robert Gibbs's public comments over the weekend that the House majority was in doubt and that it would take "strong campaigns by Democrats" to avert dramatic losses.

"The Democrats have overreached, and that's one reason why there are so many races in play," said Rep. Chet Edwards (Tex.), a centrist facing his toughest election in years. "Rahm Emanuel knows as well as anyone the challenges moderate and conservative Democrats face in their districts. I think there are some, in the administration and in Congress, who don't fully understand the political dynamics."

‘Immigrant’ List Sets Off Fears

The below Utah article reporting a detailed list of 1,300 Utah residents labeled “illegal immigrants” being sent to law enforcement and media. could get some traction just like the Kennesaw State University incident.

The emphasis is the article is not what if anything will be done about those on the list if they are illegal immigrants. Rather it is all about who sent the information in and where did they get it from.

This reaction is similar to that taken by lawmakers in Arizona. Each reflects an impression that there is a need to act because of a perception that the federal government is not.

From The New York Times:

A list of 1,300 Utah residents described as illegal immigrants has sown fear among some Hispanics here, and prompted an investigation into its origins and dissemination.

Each page of the list is headed with the words “Illegal Immigrants” and each entry contains details about the individuals listed — from their address and telephone number to their date of birth and, in the case of pregnant women, their due dates. The letter was received by law enforcement and media outlets on Monday and Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Gov. Gary R. Herbert said Wednesday that an investigation was under way to see if state employees might have been involved in releasing the private information.

A memorandum accompanying the list said it was from Concerned Citizens of the United States. It urged immediate deportation proceedings against the people listed, as well as publication of their names by the news media.

The memo said an earlier version of the list had been sent to federal immigration officials in April. It promised that more names would be forthcoming, and promised authorities, “We will be listening and watching.”

A spokeswoman for United States Customs and Immigration Enforcement confirmed that the agency had received a letter from the group, dated in early April.

The list came at a time of increased tension over illegal immigration, both in Utah and in the country, two weeks before neighboring Arizona enacts a tough new law aimed at fighting illegal immigration. The federal government has sued Arizona over the law. Here in Salt Lake City, a group of state lawmakers is drafting a bill patterned after it.

Several people on the list expressed anxiety that their personal information had been released, and said they were concerned about their safety and that of their families. Some of those on the list said the heightened pressure could force them from the country.

A woman who identified herself as Liset said she was from Mexico and in the United States illegally. She said that her 2-year-old son was born in the United States, but that she had filed papers to give him Mexican citizenship as well.

“If something were to happen he will go with me to Mexico,” she said. She said she believed her personal information on the list came from her application for Medicaid.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Confidence in Obama reaches new low, Washington Post-ABC News poll finds

From The Washington Post:

Public confidence in President Obama has hit a new low, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. Four months before midterm elections that will define the second half of his term, nearly six in 10 voters say they lack faith in the president to make the right decisions for the country, and a clear majority once again disapproves of how he is dealing with the economy.

Regard for Obama is still higher than it is for members of Congress, but the gap has narrowed. About seven in 10 registered voters say they lack confidence in Democratic lawmakers and a similar proportion say so of Republican lawmakers.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Savannah Morning News endorses Roy Barnes: 'Democrats voting in the July 20 primary should give Mr. Barnes another go at the governor's mansion.'

The editorial board of the Savannah Morning News writes:

In the crowded race to become the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, two candidates stand out: Roy Barnes and DuBose Porter. Both men have a clear vision for where they would like to lead the state, and the relevant experience necessary to be credible candidates. But we give the edge to Mr. Barnes.

Democrats voting in the July 20 primary should give Mr. Barnes another go at the governor's mansion.

They've got that right: Democratic governors tell White House that suit against Arizona's law could cost a vulnerable Dem. Party in fall elections.

From The New York Times:

In a private meeting with White House officials this weekend, Democratic governors voiced deep anxiety about the Obama administration’s suit against Arizona’s new immigration law, worrying that it could cost a vulnerable Democratic Party in the fall elections.

While the weak economy dominated the official agenda at the summer meeting here of the National Governors Association, concern over immigration policy pervaded the closed-door session between Democratic governors and White House officials and simmered throughout the three-day event.

“Universally the governors are saying, ‘We’ve got to talk about jobs,’ ” Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, said in an interview. “And all of a sudden we have immigration going on.”

He added, “It is such a toxic subject, such an important time for Democrats.”

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said on a taped Sunday talk show that the Justice Department could bring yet another lawsuit against Arizona if there is evidence that the immigration law leads to racial profiling.

The Democrats’ meeting provided a window on tensions between the White House and states over the suit, which the Justice Department filed last week in federal court in Phoenix. Nineteen Democratic governors are either leaving office or seeking re-election this year, and Republicans see those seats as crucial to swaying the 2012 presidential race.

“I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that almost every state in America next January is going to see a bill similar to Arizona’s,” said Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, a Republican seeking re-election.

David Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser, said on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the president remained committed to passing an immigration overhaul, and that addressing the issue did not mean he was ignoring the economy.

Immigration was not the only topic at the Saturday meeting between Democratic governors and two White House officials . . . . But several governors, including Christine Gregoire of Washington, said it was a particularly heated issue.

Ms. Gregoire, who does not face an election this year, said the White House was doing a poor job of showing the American public that it was working on the problem of illegal immigration.

Mr. Bredesen said that in Tennessee, where the governor’s race will be tight this year, Democratic candidates were already on the defensive about the federal health care overhaul, and the suit against Arizona further weakened them. In Tennessee, he said, Democratic candidates are already “disavowing” the immigration lawsuit.