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Cracker Squire


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

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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Loyalty to Obama Costs Democrats

From The Wall Street Journal:

Live by the president and you could die by the president. Democrats who have been thorns in the president's side are doing well in some of the toughest districts for their party, from Alabama to the steel belt of western Pennsylvania. But swing-district Democrats who have voted with the president in Congress are struggling, even if they're now asserting their independence.

In Democratic caucus meetings throughout 2009 and this year, White House senior adviser David Axelrod repeatedly made the case that wavering Democrats would be tarred by Republicans with the president's agenda whether they liked it or not. So, he argued, they might as well vote with the White House.

But resistance to the agenda is rewarding some House Democrats as the midterm elections approach.

The pattern of opponents of the Obama agenda doing better than supporters in conservative and swing districts shows up mainly in races for the House, not the Senate. With Republicans uniformly opposing the president's major initiatives, no Democratic senators were free to vote against them. In addition, Senate candidates face statewide constituencies whose political leanings are more diverse than those of some House districts.

It is too early to say how these races will finish, cautioned Nathan Gonzalez, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. Some polls are suspect, he said, and some leads taken by conservative Democrats will tighten as their Republican challengers gain name recognition. But as a political strategy, he added, "These numbers seem to support independence rather than an embrace of the president's agenda."

McDonald's May Drop Health Plan - One of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers' health plans as the law ripples thru real world.

From The Wall Street Journal:

McDonald's Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers' health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn't loosen a requirement for "mini-med" plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

McDonald's move is the latest indication of possible unintended consequences from the health overhaul. Dozens of companies have taken charges against earnings—totaling more than $1 billion—over a tax change in prescription-drug benefits for retirees.

More recently, insurers have proposed a round of double-digit premium increases and said new coverage mandates in the law are partly to blame.

"Having to drop our current mini-med offering would represent a huge disruption to our 29,500 participants," said McDonald's memo, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. "It would deny our people this current benefit that positively impacts their lives and protects their health—and would leave many without an affordable, comparably designed alternative until 2014."

The health law expands Medicaid and offers large subsidies to lower-income people to buy coverage, but those provisions don't kick in until 2014.

Insurers say dozens of other employers could find themselves in the same situation as McDonald's. Aetna Inc., one of the largest sellers of mini-med plans, provides the plans to Home Depot Inc., Disney Worldwide Services, CVS Caremark Corp., Staples Inc. and Blockbuster Inc., among others, according to an Aetna client list obtained by the Journal. Aetna also covers AmeriCorps teaching-program sponsors, who are required by law to make health coverage available.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's most disturbing in Mr. Woodward's book is the evidence it offers that Mr. Obama's own commitment to his plan is weak.

From The Washington Post:

SUPPORTERS OF President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan can only be disheartened by the portrait of his administration provided in Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars." By Mr. Woodward's account, many of the president's senior White House advisers believe that the modified counterinsurgency strategy he adopted last year is doomed to fail -- and some suspect the president shares their views.

The administration's lengthy deliberations about whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan last fall produced a sharp debate between Mr. Obama's White House and the military commanders responsible for Afghanistan -- and the rift appears to endure. By the middle of this year, the book reports, Vice President Biden was "more convinced than ever that Afghanistan was a version of Vietnam." The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl W. Eikenberry, is quoted as saying, "Basically we're screwed." National security adviser James L. Jones's view is "you can't win." Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, who is the senior coordinator for Afghanistan on the National Security Council, says, "This is a house of cards."

It's possible, of course, that all of the dissenters are correct; the results from Afghanistan so far this year have been mixed at best. Yet Mr. Obama's chosen commander in the theater, Gen. David H. Petraeus, has been reporting signs of progress -- and the administration appears not to be considering significant changes in the strategy for now. Mr. Woodward's reporting raises a question we have asked in the past: Why does the president continue to employ aides -- including an ambassador in Kabul -- who do not support his policy and are frequently at odds with those trying to implement it?

What's most disturbing in Mr. Woodward's book is the evidence it offers that Mr. Obama's own commitment to his plan is weak. The president is described as preoccupied with finding "an exit strategy" that will reduce the U.S. military involvement as quickly as possible. "This needs to be a plan about how we are going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan," Mr. Woodward quotes him as saying in one meeting.

Mr. Obama repeatedly cites the cost of the war and the need to shift resources to domestic priorities -- though spending on Afghanistan is well below 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. He is portrayed as citing purely political reasons for setting the deadline of July 2011 for beginning a withdrawal: "I can't lose all the Democratic Party," he is quoted as telling one senator.

In Mr. Woodward's narrative, Mr. Obama repeatedly rejects the notion of a military campaign in Afghanistan lasting eight or even five more years. Yet Gen. Petraeus and other commanders have made it clear that success will require a long-term commitment.

Perhaps the most damning assessment of the president comes from Gen. Lute, who Mr. Woodward says concluded that "Obama had to do this 18-month surge just to demonstrate, in effect, that it couldn't be done . . . the president had treated the military as another political constituency that had to be accommodated." For the sake of the Americans fighting in Afghanistan, and the families of the 360 service members who have died there this year, we hope that is not the case.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Alfred E. Neuman's signature phrase: 'What, me worry?'

Doonesbury, September 27, 2010.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Tea Party Movement started with a rant on 2-19-09. I was watching CNBC that morning & witnessed firsthand & agreed with much in Santelli's 'rant.'

From The Washington Post:

From its beginnings on the afternoon of Feb. 19, 2009, the tea party has been difficult for many Americans to understand. That day, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli, standing on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, unleashed a ferocious, hair-on-fire rant against President Obama's economic policies. He said he was going to hold a "Chicago Tea Party" to protest Obama's efforts to rescue defaulting homeowners.

As video of Santelli's sermon went viral on the Internet, Americans still in the thrall of the new administration dismissed him as an intolerant right-winger. But many others identified with his anger. They saw a government - and a president - who wanted to use their tax dollars to prop up the millionaire executives who sat atop bloated, badly run corporations and corrupt banks, and to bail out irresponsible citizens who had bought houses they couldn't afford.

Connected via Twitter, Facebook and plain-old e-mail, a vast network of conservative activists nationwide seized on the idea of a "tea party" and began planning them across the country.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Galloway pens another keeper. Read, remember and follow. -- We were both raised to believe that an honest man put his own name behind his words.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss

Jim Galloway does a post in the ajc's Political Insider entitled "Saxby Chambliss, the Internet and nameless speech":

It is painful to admit, because no one likes to trash his own neighborhood.

But when it comes to political discussion, there are times when you have to wonder whether the Internet has become the world’s largest bathroom stall.

At 2:39 p.m. on an otherwise quiet Tuesday last week, Republicans in the Senate turned away an attempt to permit homosexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military.

Forty-six minutes and 50 seconds later, on a blog dedicated to gay and lesbian issues and bearing the odd name of “Joe.My.God,” an untoward comment popped up in the middle of a discussion of the vote on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“All [gays] must die,” wrote the author who called himself “Jimmy.”

The deleted word was a common vulgarity not permitted in most newspapers, but neither the word nor the sentiment was unusual. We have some very angry people sitting at keyboards. Joe Jervis, the New Yorker behind the blog, says he gets dozens of that kind every day.

So Jervis says he can’t explain why he decided to look up the digitized fingerprint left by Jimmy and that particular message. But look it up he did.

The Internet Protocol address, a series of numbers assigned to all devices that link to the Web, indicated that the computer Jimmy used was registered to the U.S. Senate.

Jervis loosed his readers on a kind of treasure hunt. Cross-referencing the IP address with global positioning coordinates, Jervis and his friends linked the offending computer to “the neighborhood” of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ office, perhaps in Atlanta — but not necessarily.

Though Chambliss can’t be called a friend to gays when it comes to open military service or marriage, he handled the threatening slur with the appropriate degree of urgency.

“This office has not and will not tolerate any activity of the sort alleged,” a Chambliss spokeswoman declared within hours. The next day, Georgia’s senior senator confirmed that the slur originated within his office — and handed the matter over to the Senate sergeant-at-arms, a fellow named Terrance Gainer.

Aside from his duties as the chamber’s official doorkeeper, Gainer is the Senate’s top administrator. And chief law enforcement officer.

What no one is saying is that, by handing the investigation over to the sergeant-at-arms, Chambliss has tacitly admitted that Jimmy probably isn’t some empty-headed intern who can be silently packed off to his red-faced parents.

Jimmy is very likely an empty-headed, full-blown adult who is on Chambliss’ payroll or otherwise under the supervision of the U.S. senator. A person with responsibility.

Through the Internet, we have created a generation of young Americans who equate political speech with anonymity. I say that with the understanding that the Political Insider — and countless other blogs — accept nameless comments online.

Is anonymous speech protected? Of course. Does it have a firm place in American history? Yes. But even Thomas Jefferson was embarrassed when he was caught out.

One of the more discouraging moments in free speech occurred earlier this year, when a young YouTube videographer approached U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., on a Washington sidewalk to ask the congressman whether he supported President Barack Obama’s agenda. It was a fair question — but it was unfairly posed in anonymity.

“Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?” Etheridge demanded before — very wrongly — accosting the young fellow. But a part of me understood Etheridge’s frustration. We were both raised to believe that an honest man put his own name behind his words.

One of the better moments in free speech occurred last year when thousands of Americans turned out to argue about health care reform at town hall meetings across the country. Messages with faces and names behind them will always mean more than anonymous shots in the dark.

Albert L. May, an associate professor of journalism and public affairs at George Washington University, says concerns that the Internet will become a black hole of political libel are overblown. Mine included.

“The new media is more transparent than most people know,” May said. Internet anonymity is shrinking, not growing. Consider Facebook, he said, which has become the largest village on the Internet because it demands accountability from “friends.”

Corrosive speech on the Internet won’t disappear — but it will become more limited as the Jimmys of the world realize that the anonymity of the computer screen is an illusion, May said. Those darned IP addresses.

You can help speed things along. The next time you have the opportunity, resist the temptation to hide. Put your own name behind your own thought.

Personal responsibility can be quite liberating. Try it.

The Augusta Chronicle Editorial Staff asks (yes, you read right): Another oversight? -- Nathan Deal campaign won't win awards for being forthcoming

The following was penned prior to the appearance today of Aaron Gould Sheinin's article in the ajc entitled: "Campaign paid $135K to lease aircrafts from company Deal co-owns."

From The Augusta Chronicle:

The "oversights" surrounding the Nathan Deal campaign are starting to pile up like salvaged cars.

The Chronicle's editorial department recently had a conference call with a Deal spokesman. He told us the $2.85 million in business loans that the Republican gubernatorial nominee for Georgia failed to disclose earlier -- an oversight, Deal said -- was for expansion of his auto salvage business and the creation of new jobs.

Oops. Another oversight?

Turns out the newly disclosed loan was largely a refinancing of existing debt for past expansion and day-to-day operations -- not for some new expansion or hiring of 10 jobs, as both we and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution were told.

Well, yeah, the campaign is saying now, we meant that it was for past expansion.

Of course! Why would we have thought otherwise?

Maybe because they didn't say so?

And maybe because the Atlanta paper reports that Gainesville Salvage and Disposal didn't hire any new full-time workers.

In short, the campaign led both our newspapers to believe the previously undisclosed loans were for new expansion -- presenting a misleadingly dynamic picture of the company, while claiming to be creating jobs and helping the economy.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta paper also reported recently that Deal's daughter and son-in-law failed to report a previous bankruptcy in their more recent one -- in which they left Deal holding $2.3 million in obligations for a failed sporting goods store. They also reportedly failed to list him as a creditor.

Reports indicate Deal must come up with that payment by February.

Deal's people say he won't file for bankruptcy, and that the salvage company he co-owns is in good shape. That begs the question: Why misrepresent the true nature of the business loans?

And why is it so difficult to get straight answers from a campaign that is so close to putting someone in the governor's seat?

Peggy Noonan: The Enraged vs. the Exhausted

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

All anyone in America who cares about politics was talking about this week was the searing encounter that captured, in a way that hasn't been done before, the essence of the political moment we're in. When 2010 is reviewed, it will be the clip producers pick to illustrate the president's disastrous fall.

It is Monday, Sept. 20, the middle of the day, in Washington. CNBC is holding a town hall for the president. A woman stands—handsome, dignified, black, a person with presence. She looks as if she may be what she turns out to be, an Obama supporter who in 2008 put up street signs, passed out literature and tried to win over co-workers. As she later told the Washington Post, "I was thinking that the people who were against him and didn't believe in his agenda were completely insane."

The president looked relieved when she stood. Perhaps he thought she might lob a sympathetic question that would allow him to hit a reply out of the park. Instead, and in the nicest possible way, Velma Hart lobbed a hand grenade.

"I'm a mother. I'm a wife. I'm an American veteran, and I'm one of your middle-class Americans. And quite frankly I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are." She said, "The financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family." She said, "My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot-dogs-and-beans era of our lives. But, quite frankly, it is starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we are headed."

What a testimony. And this is the president's base. He got that look public figures adopt when they know they just took one right in the chops on national TV and cannot show their dismay. He could have responded with an engagement and conviction equal to the moment. But this was our president—calm, detached, even-keeled to the point of insensate. He offered a recital of his administration's achievements: tuition assistance, health care. It seemed so off point. Like his first two years.

But it was the word Mrs. Hart used that captured everything: "exhausted." From what I see, that's how a lot of Democrats feel. They've turned silent, too, like people who witnessed a car crash and can't talk anymore about the reasons for the accident or how many were injured.

This election is more and more shaping up into a contest between the Exhausted and the Enraged.

In a contest like that, who wins? That's like asking, "Who would win a sporting event between the depressed and the anxious?" The anxious are wide awake. The wide awake win.

But Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee suggests I have the wrong word for the Republican base. The word, she says, is not enraged but "livid."

The three-term Republican deputy whip has been campaigning in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. We spoke by phone about what she is seeing, and she sounded like the exact opposite of exhausted.

There are two major developments, she says, that are new this year and insufficiently noted, but they're going to shape election outcomes in 2010 and beyond.

First, Washington is being revealed in a new way.

The American people now know, "with real sophistication," everything that happens in the capital. "I find a much more knowledgeable electorate, and it is a real-time response," Ms. Blackburn says. "We hear about it even as the vote is taking place."

Voters come to rallies carrying research—"things they pulled off the Internet, forwarded emails," copies of bills, roll-call votes. The Internet isn't just a tool for organization and fund-raising. It has given citizens access to information they never had before. "The more they know," Ms. Blackburn observes, "the less they like Washington."

Second is the rise of women as a force. They "are the drivers in this election cycle," Ms. Blackburn says. "Something is going on." At tea party events the past 18 months, she started to notice "60% of the crowd is women."

She tells of a political rally that drew thousands in Nashville, at the State Capitol plaza. She had brought her year-old grandson. When the mic was handed to her, she was holding him. "I said, 'How many of you are grandmothers?' The hands! That was the moment I realized that the majority of the people at the political events now are women. I saw this in town halls in '09—it was women showing up at my listening events, it was women talking about health care."

Why would more women be focusing more intently on politics this year than before?

Ms. Blackburn hypothesizes: "Women are always focusing on a generation or two down the road. Women make the education and health-care decisions for their families, for their kids, their spouse, their parents. And so they have become more politically involved. They are worried about will people have enough money, how are they going to pay the bills, the tuition, get the kids through school and college."

Ms. Blackburn suggested, further in the conversation, that government's reach into the personal lives of families, including new health-care rules and the prospect of higher taxes, plus the rise in public information on how Washington works and what it does, had prompted mothers to rebel.

The media called 1994 "the year of the angry white male." That was the year of the Republican wave that yielded a GOP House for the first time in 40 years. "I look at this year as the Rage of the Bill-Paying Moms," Ms. Blackburn says. "They are saying 'How dare you, in your arrogance, cap the opportunities my child will have? You'll burden them with so much debt they won't be able to buy a house—all because you can't balance the budget.'"

How does 2010 compare with 1994 in terms of historical significance? Ms. Blackburn says there's an unnoted story there, too. Whereas 1994 was historic as a party victory, a shift in political power, this year feels more organic, more from-the-ground, and potentially deeper. She believes 2010 will mark "a philosophical shift," the beginning of a change in national thinking regarding the role of the individual and the government.

This "will be remembered as the year the American people said no" to the status quo. The people "do not trust" those who make the decisions far away. They want to restore balance.

What is the mainstream media getting wrong about this election, and what is it getting right? The media, Ms. Blackburn says, do not fully appreciate "how livid people are with Washington." They see the anger but don't understand its implications. "They're getting right that people want change, but they're wrong about what that change is going to be." The media, she said, "are going to be amazed when Carly Fiorina and Sharron Angle win."

The mainstream media famously like the horse race—red is up, blue is down; Smith is in, Jones is out. But if Ms. Blackburn is right, the election, and its meaning, will be more interesting than the old, classic jockeying. And the outcomes won't be controlled by the good ol' boys but by those she calls "the great new gals."

The bailout continues: Officials say U.S. bailout of credit union won't cost taxpayers any money. (And I'm from the gov't, and I am here to help you.)

From The Wall Street Journal:

Two years after the peak of the financial crisis, the federal government swooped in to stabilize a crucial part of the credit-union sector battered by losses on subprime mortgages.

Regulators announced Friday a rescue and revamping of the nation's wholesale credit union system, underpinned by a federal guarantee valued at $30 billion or more. Wholesale credit unions don't deal with the general public but provide essential back-office services to thousands of other credit unions across the U.S. The majority of retail credit unions are sound, but they will have to shoulder the losses through special assessments over the next decade.

Friday's moves include the seizure of three wholesale credit unions, plus an unusual plan by government officials to manage $50 billion of troubled assets inherited from failed institutions. To help fund the rescue, the National Credit Union Administration plans to issue $30 billion to $35 billion in government-guaranteed bonds, backed by the shaky mortgage-related assets.

Officials said the plan won't cost taxpayers any money. Still, it marks the latest intervention by the U.S. government into a financial system weakened by the real-estate bust. Bad bets on mortgage-backed securities have now killed five of the nation's 27 wholesale credit unions since March 2009. The federal government, which now controls about 70% of the total assets at such credit unions, said the surviving institutions will be reined in so that they take fewer risks with their investments.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Obama's staff to change. It has been unapproachable, set in its ways, & came in with more goodwill than seen in decades & squandered it

From The Washington Post:

In his nearly two years in office, President Obama has relied on a very small clique of advisers that serves as his most trusted sounding board on politics and policy.

Members of his staff describe Obama as wary of outsiders and reluctant to widen his inner circle. As one of his advisers bluntly put it, the president "doesn't like new people."

Like it or not, he will soon be surrounded by them as an expected staff shuffle will deprive Obama of two of his closest aides and an influx of replacements will take their places within the West Wing.

The inner circle - Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, press secretary Robert Gibbs and Vice President Biden - is breaking up, or at least breaking open. Emanuel is widely expected to run for mayor of Chicago, and Axelrod is likely to leave this spring to prepare for Obama's 2012 reelection effort.

Obama will soon lose other top advisers. His chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, announced that he will return to Harvard, where he is a professor; Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina is expected to join Axelrod in Chicago; and national security adviser James L. Jones is said to want out by the end of the year.

"They miscalculated where people were out in the country on jobs, on spending, on the deficit, on debt," said a longtime Democratic strategist who works with the White House on a variety of issues. "They have not been able to get ahead of any of it. And it's all about the insularity. Otherwise how do you explain how a group who came in with more goodwill in decades squandered it?"

This is not an uncommon view among Democratic political professionals, many of whom share the goals of the White House but have grown frustrated with a staff they see as unapproachable and set in their ways.

For Many, Health Care Relief Began Thurs. -- Dems front-loaded benefits, while deferring the pain of tax increases & penalties until after election.

From The New York Times:

Sometimes lost in the partisan clamor about the new health care law is the profound relief it is expected to bring to hundreds of thousands of Americans who have been stricken first by disease and then by a Darwinian insurance system.

On Thursday, the six-month anniversary of the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a number of its most central consumer protections take effect, just in time for the midterm elections.

Starting now, insurance companies will no longer be permitted to exclude children because of pre-existing health conditions, which the White House said could enable 72,000 uninsured to gain coverage. Insurers also will be prohibited from imposing lifetime limits on benefits.

The law will now forbid insurers to drop sick and costly customers after discovering technical mistakes on applications. It requires that they offer coverage to children under 26 on their parents’ policies.

It establishes a menu of preventive procedures, like colonoscopies, mammograms and immunizations, that must be covered without co-payments. And it allows consumers who join a new plan to keep their own doctors and to appeal insurance company reimbursement decisions to a third party.

The arrival of the long-awaited changes propelled President Obama, whose Democrats have struggled to exploit their signature achievement, into the backyard of Paul and Frances Brayshaw of Falls Church, Va., to explain his decision to pursue health care.

“The amount of vulnerability that was out there was horrendous,” Mr. Obama on Wednesday told a gathering of people chosen to illustrate the law’s new provisions. He said he concluded that “we’ve just got to give people some basic peace of mind.”

Mr. Obama also responded to Republican Congressional leaders who have campaigned on a threat to repeal the act. “I want them to look you in the eye,” he told his audience, and explain their opposition to a law that is projected to cover 32 million uninsured and reduce the deficit by $143 billion over 10 years.

The Republican strategy “makes sense in terms of politics and polls,” Mr. Obama said, an acknowledgment that the electorate is divided and that many swing districts are hostile. “It just doesn’t make sense in terms of actually making people’s lives better.”

House Republicans continued to question Mr. Obama’s assertions, which he repeated Wednesday, that the law will lower premiums, pointing to double-digit increases recently announced by many insurers. A blog posting on the Web site of the minority leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, predicted the law would “raise health care costs, explode the federal deficit and create a byzantine bureaucracy.”

The administration has estimated that premiums should rise no more than 2 percent because of the new consumer protections, and warned this month that it would have “zero tolerance” for efforts to blame the law for larger increases.

It will take years to determine the act’s long-term impact on American health, and on American politics. But Democrats did manage to front-load some notable benefits, while deferring the pain of tax increases and penalties until after the election.

Polls have found that many of the provisions taking effect Thursday are popular, tugging at a national sense of fairness and feeding off distrust of health insurers. They bear particular appeal for the 14 million people who must buy policies on the individual market rather than through employers and are thus at the mercy of the industry. And they land on the heels of a government report showing that the recession drove the number of uninsured Americans to 50.7 million in 2009, up 10 percent in a year.

As the political battle endures, those most immediately affected are welcoming the changes with collective relief, and hoping that their promise of security is real.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If this statement is untrue, Deal's high profile misrepresentation will prove to be fatal: Deal said he did not know of son-in-law’s prior bankruptcy.

From the ajc's Georgia Election Central:

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Nathan Deal said Monday that he was unaware his son-in-law had previously filed for bankruptcy when when he invested $2 million of his own money into a business venture with his daughter and the man she married.

Deal’s campaign last week would not say whether the former congressman was aware of Clint Wilder’s original bankruptcy when he and his wife invested in the retail business.

Fearing a soaring deficit, many analysts favor letting Bush tax cuts expire

From The Washington Post:

The tax cuts at the heart of a fierce pre-election battle on Capitol Hill were designed when the economy was booming, the federal budget was in surplus and George W. Bush was campaigning for president on a promise to return the extra cash to taxpayers.

Today, the economy is sluggish and the national debt is soaring to worrisome levels. As lawmakers bicker over whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, not just for the middle class but also for the wealthy, many economists and budget analysts say there's a simple way to curb borrowing: Let the tax cuts expire for everyone.

Official and independent budget estimates show that letting tax rates spring back to pre-Bush levels for all taxpayers would bring the country within striking distance of meeting President Obama's goal of balancing the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015.

Tea party picking up steam nationwide

From The Washington Post:

Fresh off big primary wins in Delaware and Alaska, national "tea party" groups are redirecting the energy of the movement toward the November midterm elections, raising millions of dollars, expanding their advocacy into dozens of congressional races and building voter turnout operations nationwide.

Leaders of the Atlanta-based Tea Party Patriots said they will announce a seven-figure donation Tuesday, from a yet-unnamed person, that the organization will pour into local tea party groups and get-out-the-vote efforts in some of the most competitive congressional races.

FreedomWorks, which is headquartered in Washington and endorsed 25 House and Senate candidates during the primary season, said it will expand that list to more than 80. The Tea Party Express, based in Sacramento, is planning its largest national bus tour at the end of October to get conservatives to the polls.

The goal is to keep alive the momentum the movement has generated and to use it to target vulnerable Democratic candidates.

"People are starting to realize that the tea party represents a powerful get-out-the-vote machine," said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks. "We've got the most energized voting constituency in the country. This movement has been organizing since before April 2009, and all of that community is energizing and driving public opinion. The establishment is taking us more seriously. There's nothing like turning out votes in an election that matters."

The new push illustrates the movement's transformation since the primaries from a disorganized coalition of fiscally conservative activists to a measurable political force.

The Voters: Men Are Fuming, Women Despairing

From The New York Times:

It is not exactly the year of the angry man, but it may be something close to that. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found a sharp difference in the way men and women say they are going to vote in November.

Men say they will vote for the Republican candidate rather than the Democratic candidate in their districts by a margin of 45 percent to 32 percent. The numbers are nearly reversed for women, with 36 percent saying they will vote Republican and 43 percent saying they will vote Democratic.

Ever since 1980, when Ronald Reagan inspired more men than women, the difference in the way men and women vote has been a significant part of American politics. Women have been more likely to favor Democratic candidates, an advantage Democrats have come to count on. Women also historically outnumber men when it comes to showing up at the polls.

But this year may be different. Even though women are still more likely to vote Democratic, the poll suggests that they may stay home this year, giving more of the decision-making to men by default.

The poll suggests that men are angrier than women, and that their anger may be more motivating than the sense of hopelessness expressed by women, particularly on economic issues.

Monday, September 20, 2010

President continues to evidence his disconnect with many voters & receive amateur advice: Obama to Tout Health-Care Law in Election Push

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration this week plans to revive its pitch for the health-care overhaul, hoping that a slate of consumer-friendly provisions will boost public support before midterm elections.

Starting Thursday, insurers officially must adhere to about a half-dozen key changes under the law, including eliminating co-payments for preventive services and allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance policy until their 26th birthday.

Democrats structured the provisions so they would kick in right before the elections, thinking incumbents would have a tangible achievement to promote on the campaign trail.

But public support for the law continues to lag, with Americans split roughly in half over whether they support it, and the debate over jobs and taxes is squeezing the health law out of Democrats' election narrative.

In recent weeks, insurance companies have started mailing consumers letters informing them of double-digit rate increases starting this month, partially attributing them to the mandates that begin Thursday. That is sowing confusion among consumers, and muddying the Democrats' contention that the law will rein in sharply rising premiums.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Peggy Noonan: Tea Party is a critique of Bush administration that 'ran up deficits' & gave us 'open borders' & 'Medicare Part D & busted budgets.'

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

So far, the tea party is not a wing of the GOP but a critique of it. This was demonstrated in spectacular fashion when GOP operatives dismissed tea party-backed Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. The Republican establishment is "the reason we even have the Tea Party movement," shot back columnist and tea party enthusiast Andrea Tantaros in the New York Daily News. It was the Bush administration that "ran up deficits" and gave us "open borders" and "Medicare Part D and busted budgets."

Everyone has an explanation for the tea party that is actually not an explanation but a description. They're "angry." They're "antiestablishment," "populist," "anti-elite." All to varying degrees true. But as a network television executive said this week, "They should be fed up. Our institutions have failed."

Nobody knows how all this will play out, but we are seeing something big—something homegrown, broad-based and independent. In part it is a rising up of those who truly believe America is imperiled and truly mean to save her. The dangers, both present and potential, are obvious.

A movement like this can help a nation by acting as a corrective, or it can descend into a corrosive populism that celebrates unknowingness as authenticity, that confuses showiness with seriousness and vulgarity with true conviction. Parts could become swept by a desire just to tear down, to destroy.

But establishments exist for a reason. It is true that the party establishment is compromised, and by many things, but one of them is experience. They've lived through a lot, seen a lot, know the national terrain. They know how things work. They know the history. I wonder if tea party members know how fragile are the institutions that help keep the country together.

One difference so far between the tea party and the great wave of conservatives that elected Ronald Reagan in 1980 is the latter was a true coalition—not only North and South, East and West but right-wingers, intellectuals who were former leftists, and former Democrats. When they won presidential landslides in 1980, '84 and '88, they brought the center with them. That in the end is how you win. Will the center join arms and work with the tea party? That's a great question of 2012.

The only positive thing that might come about from the upcoming Nov. bloodbath: If GOP gains a majority in Nov., Nancy Pelosi is likely to step down.

Nancy Pelosi has granted candidates permission to say or do what they need to about her to survive what could be a Republican tidal wave.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Swing-district Democrats, fighting for their political lives, are beginning to turn on Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), one of the most powerful House speakers in decades but also one of the most polarizing figures in U.S. politics.

The ferment among moderate to conservative Democrats shows that Ms. Pelosi, more than President Barack Obama, has become a target of voter anger in the 2010 campaign, the face of a party that passed a health-care bill into law and navigated controversial climate-change legislation through the House.

On Friday, a Tennessee congressional candidate called on her to step aside. "What we have said is that she not seek the office of speaker in the next legislative session," said Brett Carter, a Democrat and Iraq War veteran waging an uphill fight for the seat of retiring Rep. Bart Gordon (D, Tenn.). "That allows us to campaign this fall uninhibited by questions we get about her on the campaign trail daily, whether we're going to vote for her."

If the Republicans gain a majority in November, Ms. Pelosi is likely to step down rather than try to serve as the Democrats' minority leader or a rank-and-file lawmaker, leadership aides say.

Ms. Pelosi has become a focal point for candidates trying to channel voter anger at Washington.

In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Ms. Pelosi garnered positive feelings from 21% surveyed; 35% said they felt very negatively about her. By comparison, 46% said they felt positively about the president; 27% said they felt very negative.

Jim Galloway provides a play by play on this week's news on Deal & Wilder finances, & leaves with this concluding line: 'This drama is far from over.'

Jim Galloway writes in the ajc's Political Insider:

On Wednesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Deal and his wife have a $2.3 million loan that will come due one month after the gubernatorial inauguration. He’ll have to sell his Gainesville home.

The loan, and $2 million more in cash besides, went to Wilder Outdoors, an upscale store for hunters and sportsmen in Habersham County started by Clint and Carrie Deal Wilder.

A day later, The Associated Press reported that Deal had neglected to disclose $2.85 million in outstanding loans on his auto salvage business — the one that the Congressional Office of Ethics accused Deal of attempting to protect by applying pressure to state officials.

The reports sparked both worry and anger among Georgia Republicans who privately weighed in with me. They had assumed that a bitter, sometimes cruel summer primary had produced a well-vetted candidate whose foibles had been aired — and was ready to do battle against that dreaded Democrat, Roy Barnes.

Hence the Friday conference call.

Unmentioned in that conference call — the documents didn’t appear on my computer screen until two hours later — was the fact that Deal’s son-in-law, Clint Wilder, had filed for an earlier bankruptcy in 2001. That’s just four years before the first dollar was borrowed for that outdoorsman store in North Georgia.

The first loan to Wilder Outdoors in 2005 was for $506,000 backed by Gainesville Bank & Trust, an institution held by GB&T Bancshares.

Sitting on the board of directors of GB&T Bancshares was state Sen. Casey Cagle, R-Gainesville, who is now lieutenant governor.

“[Cagle] was not involved in nor aware of the independent loan decisions at the local bank level,” Cagle spokesman Ben Fry said.

But it is Cagle’s second cameo in the Nathan Deal saga. Some of those meetings that Deal held with state officials about the congressman’s auto salvage business were held in Cagle’s state Capitol office, in the presence of the lieutenant governor.

This drama is far from over.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Gospel according to David Brooks: The Backlash Myth -- No evidence that the Tea Party is scaring away the independents.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Many of my liberal friends are convinced that the Republican Party has a death wish. It is sprinting to the right-most fever swamps of American life. It will end up alienating the moderate voters it needs to win elections.

There’s only one problem with this theory. There is no evidence to support it. The Republican Party may be moving sharply right, but there is no data to suggest that this has hurt its electoral prospects, at least this year.

I asked the election guru Charlie Cook if there were signs that the Tea Party was scaring away the independents. “I haven’t seen any,” he replied. I asked another Hall of Fame pollster, Peter Hart, if there were Republican or independent voters so alarmed by the Tea Party that they might alter their votes. He ran the numbers and found very few potential defectors.

The fact is, as the Tea Party has surged, so has the G.O.P. When this primary season began in early February, voters wanted Democrats to retain control of Congress by 49 percent to 37 percent, according to an Associated Press-Gfk poll. In the ensuing months, Tea Party candidates won shocking victories in states from Florida to Alaska. The most recent A.P./Gfk poll now suggests that Americans want Republicans to take over Congress by 46 percent to 43 percent.

Nor is there evidence that the Tea Party’s success has changed moderates’ perceptions about Republicans generally. According to a survey published in July by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans feel philosophically closer to the Republicans than to the Democrats. Put another way, many moderates see Democrats like Nancy Pelosi as more extreme than Republicans like John Boehner.

Nor is there any sign that alarm over the Tea Party is hurting individual Republican candidates. In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman has opened up a significant lead on his Democratic opponent. In Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul is way ahead, as is Marco Rubio in Florida. In Illinois, Republican Mark Kirk has a small lead, and Linda McMahon has pulled nearly even in Connecticut. Sharron Angle, a weak candidate, is basically tied with Harry Reid in Nevada.

This does not mean that moderate voters are signing up for the Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin brigades. Palin has a dismal 29 percent approval rating, according to a June Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. But it does mean that the essential dynamic of this election is still the essential dynamic. Voters are upset about the economy, the debt and the culture of Washington. The Democrats are the party of government and of the status quo. They have done their best to remind people of that. This week, Democratic voters renominated Charles Rangel, the epitome of Washington scandal. Democratic voters in the District of Columbia ousted Mayor Adrian Fenty, one of the nation’s bravest education reformers, and replaced him with an orthodox pol.

Most voters want a radical change in government but not a radical change in policy. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week, only 34 percent of Americans say their own representative deserves re-election. This is an astounding number.

It doesn’t matter that public approval of the G.O.P. is now at its all-time low. It doesn’t matter that the Tea Party rhetoric is sometimes extreme. The poll suggests that roughly 50 percent of Americans haven’t thought about the Tea Parties enough to form an opinion. They’re not paying attention because they don’t see it as one of the important dangers they face. Who knows? Maybe they even sort of like the fact that a ragtag band of outsiders is taking on the establishment and winning.

This doesn’t mean that the Tea Party influence will be positive for Republicans over the long haul. The movement carries viruses that may infect the G.O.P. in the years ahead. Its members seek traditional, conservative ends, but they use radical means. Along the way, the movement has picked up some of the worst excesses of modern American culture: a narcissistic sense of victimization, an egomaniacal belief in one’s own rightness and purity, a willingness to distort the truth so that every conflict becomes a contest of pure good versus pure evil.

The Tea Party style is beginning to replicate itself in parts of the conservative world. Dinesh D’Souza’s Forbes cover article, “How Obama Thinks,” contained the sort of untethered assertions that have become the lingua franca of this movement. Obama got his subversive radicalism from his father’s grave, D’Souza postulated: “He adopted his father’s position that capitalism and freedom are code words for economic plunder.” The fact that Newt Gingrich embraced this offensive theory is a sign of how severely the normal intellectual standards have been weakened.

But that damage is all in the future. Right now, the Tea Party doesn’t matter. The Republicans don’t matter. The economy and the Democrats are handing the G.O.P. a great, unearned revival. Nothing, it seems, is more scary than one-party Democratic control.

Tax Increase Would Hit Few Small Businesses

The New York Times reports that more than 95 percent of businesses owners do not earn enough to be subject to the higher rates, and many of the businesses that would be affected have no employees.

Unions Find Members Slow to Rally Behind Democrats

From The New York Times:

Labor leaders, alarmed at a possible Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress, promise to devote a record amount of money and manpower to helping Democrats stave off disaster. But political analysts, and union leaders themselves, say that their efforts may not be enough because union members, like other important parts of the Democratic base, are not feeling particularly enthusiastic about the party — a reality that, in turn, further dampens the Democrats’ chances of holding onto their Congressional majorities.

Part I of II featuring Dick Yarbrough columns: Part I is from the Cracker Squire Archives about some Democrats he likes (Carter is not among them).

The news this week wherein on the CBS show 60 Minutes President Carter attempts to make himself relevant reinforces the words written about him several years ago by Dick Yarbrough in a column entitled "A salute to some live Democrats."

I wrote the following about Mr. Yarbrough in a 7-27-09 post:

Unfortunately for me, I have never met Dick Yarbrough. I am familiar with his extremely successful journey through life so far and his accomplishments. They are many.

Do we see eye-to-eye on everything? No, but unlike the result when party affiliaton dictates so much as with the late Sen. Jesse Helms, former Rep. Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (whose intellect, unlike his tactics, I respect), being in another party does not mean someone cannot be my friend.

Besides, I admire Dick Yarbrough's writing, his style, his ability to say what I wish I had said.

And know this: Dick Yarbrough is one of us; he understands us. Remarkably, many politicians do not.

One of these days I do hope that our paths will cross.

One of my readers and friends who is wise beyond her years once informed me that "Dick Yarbrough is a great source for understanding southern culture. I'm not saying you have to agree with him, but understanding him is key."

The column by Dick Yarbrough was the subject of a a 12-14-04 post. It was as follows:

A member of the Loyal Opposition - meaning those who don't agree with anything I say, which includes about half of the inhabited Earth - confided to a friend that "the only Democrats Dick Yarbrough likes are dead Democrats." Not true. There are a lot of live Democrats I like.

Take Zell Miller, for example. I like him. He says what is on his mind. He always has. The media have a major case of the tut-tuts because he isn't saying what they want to hear. As if Zell Miller gives a quart of mule spit what the media thinks. I like that.

Sam Nunn is my favorite Democrat of all time. He is smart as a whip and was a pleasure to work with. We have had some great senators from Georgia, but none better than Sam Nunn.

I like former Gov. Joe Frank Harris. We were fraternity brothers at the University of Georgia. He was a good guy then and he is a good guy now. Harris has as little ego as any elected official who ever lived.

I like George Busbee, a hard-working governor with a great sense of humor.

I like Carl Sanders and Ernest Vandiver. Both came along at just the right time, when Georgia was struggling with civil rights issues, and they got us through that tough period in better shape than Alabama or Mississippi.

I like Roy Barnes. He lost an election he should have won, but he has been graceful in defeat. I particularly like the fact that he spent six months doing legal aid work.

I like Terry Coleman, the Democratic speaker of the House, and DuBose Porter, the speaker pro tem. I like former Majority Leader Larry Walker. Same for former Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard. I like Secretary of State Cathy Cox and her predecessor, Lewis Massey, and I wish Massey would run for public office again.

Now, here are some live Democrats I don't like. I don't like Jimmy Carter's perpetual grandstanding. He was out of his league during his one-term presidency, yet former presidents didn't publicly undercut him as he has President Bush. One thing Carter's apologists don't mention is the mean-spirited gubernatorial campaign he ran against Carl Sanders in 1970, when he tried to out-Wallace George Wallace. Don't believe me? Look it up.* Jimmy Carter either didn't mean what he said during that campaign, or he didn't have the courage of his convictions when he was elected. Either way, I don't like that.

Democrat Max Cleland had an unfortunate accident in Vietnam when somebody dropped a grenade and he lost both legs and an arm. He has put his life back together and I greatly admire him for that. I didn't admire him as a senator. He spent more time cuddling up to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party than he did representing the people of Georgia. When Cleland was Georgia's secretary of state, he always spoke to me. When he was elected senator, he acted as if he didn't know who I was. I didn't like that.

I don't like Ted Kennedy, because he caused the death of an innocent young woman and then was a coward about admitting what he had done. Today, he waddles into the Senate and sits in moral judgment of other people. God will get him for that. I don't like former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, because he always looks as though he is about to come unhinged. I don't like people who scare me.

There are a whole bunch of live Democrats that I like and some that I don't. I hope this revelation totally befuddles the Loyal Opposition. I would like that.

The above was written in 2004. Since then two of our former governors are no longer with us, namely Gov. Ernest Vardiver (whose daughter Jane Kidd is now Chair of our party) and Gov. George Busbee. Also, the Lion of the Senate died last year.

* Mr. Yarbrough really lays it on the former President in this 9-27-09 post entitled "If you don't think this is accurate, you don't know your Georgia history: Dick Yarbrough writes that Carter is a poster boy for 'acts based on racism,'" that reads in part:

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

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

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

Part II of II: Dick Yarbrough knows about what he speaks.

Dick Yarbrough writes:

As we say down South, Nathan Deal is in a heap of trouble, son.

There are serious questions about whether the Republican gubernatorial candidate's potential bankruptcy will torpedo his campaign as we enter the final days of the campaign.

As reported, Deal is in a precarious situation at the moment. He owes a $2.3 million note that comes due in February 2011 - three months after the gubernatorial election and less than a month after the inauguration of a new governor. There are questions whether or not he has the ability to cover his commitments, although he swears he will.

The money he has lost was not spent on risky dot-com investments. Deal says he was supporting his kids. He tried to help his daughter and son-in-law fund a sporting goods company in Habersham County at the absolute worst time - just as the economy was beginning to sag.

What has happened to Nathan Deal has happened to a lot of people in the state and in the nation. Many investments made when the economy was white-hot have tanked and in the cool light of today's financial environment look to have been poorly considered.

But now comes new information from the Associated Press that says Deal did not disclose two more active loans amounting to $2.85 million for his auto salvage business guaranteed by him and his partner Kenneth Cronan.

The AP said the loans from two banks were made in 2009 but do not appear on the financial disclosure statement which Deal filed with the State Ethics Commission after announcing his candidacy for governor. Deal was quoted as calling the matter an "oversight" and as saying he planned to correct his filings. ($2.8 million is an "oversight"?)

So, here's the question: Do you want a man who is one navel from going belly-up to run a multi-billion dollar and highly dysfunctional business like the State of Georgia? If he can't manage his own money, how comfortable are we that he can manage ours?

On the other hand, is some credit due to a man who loves his family so much that he would place his own personal investments on the line to help them? Sounds like a good family man, doesn't he?

Now, let's turn to the strategists in the camp of Democratic contender Roy Barnes. All is fair in love and war - and political campaigns - so Deal's money problems are teed up and ready to be swatted.

What will Roy do with the information?

For months, the Barnes campaign has been hammering away at Deal and his ethical behavior in the Congress as well as his allegedly sweetheart deal with the state regarding his auto salvage business. Deal's "oversight" in failing to make public $2.8 million in loans to his business is a rich opportunity to increase the pressure on the Republican.

But Barnes had better be careful before he begins to dance on Deal's political grave.

The auto loans are fair game, but making political hay off of someone who is experiencing the bitterness of a bad investment made for the best of reasons - his family - may not play well with a lot of fair-minded Georgians, some of who may be sharing Deal's pain themselves.

It is going to be up to the Barnes campaign to clearly separate the two issues - the car salvage business from a man trying to help his kids.

Deal looks at the moment like a guy who has caught a haymaker square on his jaw and is staggering to recover. He needs to try and get voters' minds off his financial problems and onto major issues facing our state - like public education, jobs and transportation.

That will be a tough order.

All of this comes at the worst possible time for Nathan Deal. He has less than six weeks to assure us that he has his financial house - and business - in order. That is not a lot of time. Barnes has the opportunity to capture the votes of a lot of people who might not have voted for him otherwise because of their discomfort with Deal's shaky money matters.

How the two candidates frame the issue of Deal's financial problems in the waning weeks of the campaign will be the major factor in who will be elected our next governor.

Everything else is now secondary.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What we have heard about the midterm elections is going to go from bad to worse with this Reid move: Dems Reach Out to Hispanics on Immigration Bill

Senator Harry Reid will push an immigration measure.

From The New York Times:

Democrats’ decision to put forward legislation that would grant legal status to some students who are illegal immigrants is meant to bolster support among an important voter group going into the midterms and beyond: Hispanics, the largest minority in the country.

On Tuesday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, announced that he would attach an amendment to a military spending bill with a proposal to open a path to legal status for students who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents when they were children.

On Wednesday, Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey who is also the Senate’s only Latino member, said he planned to offer his own version of broader legislation to repair the immigration system and grant legal status to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

Congressional aides said Democrats are betting that even if the legislation fails, they can still reap credit for trying from Latino voters in November.

There is general agreement in Washington that any bigger immigration overhaul is dead for this year, if not longer.

Nowhere is Latino turnout more vital to the Democrats’ prospects than in the race that Senator Reid is facing in Nevada against Sharron Angle, a Republican who rode to the nomination with Tea Party support.


Also see this articke in The New York Times about the Senate approving a small business bill and the Democrats turning a normally bipartisan military measure into a vehicle to advance social policy priorities like immigration and gay rights (this is the bill addressed above.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Scoring primary season and Sen. Jim DeMint, someone to be reckoned with next year.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.

From The Wall Street Journal.

31 Democrats Rebel on Taxes as Tea-Party Gains Pose Dilemma for GOP Leaders

A 9-9-2010 post is entitled "No guts (and looking for campaign glory): Tax Cuts Dividing Democrats."

The subject of that post has occurred. Damn the deficit and any guts, its politics as usual.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The two major parties began the general election sprint Wednesday roiled by the fallout of a primary season marked by furiously anti-incumbent voters and major rifts over strategy.

In the House, 31 Democrats rebuffed their leadership on the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, signing a letter calling for temporary extension of all the breaks and signaling a possible impasse in Washington's bid to deal with the thorny political problem.

The letter provided the most dramatic sign yet of Democrat jitters over voting for the Obama administration's plan to extend current tax levels for middle-class earners—families making less than $250,000—while allowing taxes to rise for higher earners starting January.

House Democratic leaders had hoped to use the tax cuts as a rallying cry in the run-up to the election, casting Republicans who favor extending all the breaks as obstructionists and allies of the rich. Instead, the party now faces long odds in passing its tax plan before the November elections. The 31 Democrats, plus House Republicans, come close to forming a majority in that chamber.

For Democrats, much of the recent debate has centered on the pending expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts. An impasse on a bill to extend them for the middle-class before the election would leave incumbents vulnerable to criticism by Republicans that they are effectively letting taxes rise.

But a number of incumbent Democrats in both House and Senate worry their exposure is higher if they vote for the administration's proposal, and can be tagged with explicitly approving tax increases.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Deal could face financial insolvency after backing family business

Nathan Deal helped his daughter and son-in-law obtain more than $2 million in loans for Wilder Outdoors, a sporting goods store in Baldwin, Ga. The business failed -- and so did the bank that lent the money.

Story in the ajc.

UPDATE: See ajc.

Obstacle to Deficit Cutting: A Nation on Entitlements

From The Wall Street Journal:

Efforts to tame America's ballooning budget deficit could soon confront a daunting reality: Nearly half of all Americans live in a household in which someone receives government benefits, more than at any time in history.

At the same time, the fraction of American households not paying federal income taxes has also grown—to an estimated 45% in 2010, from 39% five years ago, according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization.

A little more than half don't earn enough to be taxed; the rest take so many credits and deductions they don't owe anything. Most still get hit with Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes, but 13% of all U.S. households pay neither federal income nor payroll taxes.

"We have a very large share of the American population that is getting checks from the government," says Keith Hennessey, an economic adviser to President George W. Bush and now a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, "and an increasingly smaller portion of the population that's paying for it."

Government data don't show how many of the households receiving government benefits also escape federal taxes. But there is certainly some overlap between the two groups, since many benefits are aimed at those earning too little to pay income taxes and at people who don't have jobs, and who thus don't pay payroll taxes.

Cutting spending on these "entitlements" is widely seen as an inevitable ingredient in any credible deficit-reduction program. Yet despite occasional bouts of belt-tightening in Washington and bursts of discussion about restraining big government, the trend toward more Americans receiving government benefits of one sort or another has continued for more than 70 years—and shows no sign of abating.

An aging population is adding to the ranks of Americans receiving government benefits, and will continue to do so as more of the large baby-boom generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, become eligible. Today, an estimated 47.4 million people are enrolled in Medicare, up 38% from 1990. By 2030, the number is projected to be 80.4 million.

The difficulty of restraining benefits when so much of the population depends on them is now on view across Europe, where efforts to rein in deficits are forcing governments to cut popular entitlements. European countries have traditionally provided far more generous welfare benefits than the U.S. has, including monthly allowances for children regardless of income, free college tuition and universal health care. Public retirement programs are also bigger, since the combination of aging populations and low birth rates means fewer workers are paying into the system.

In recent months, political leaders in Europe have struggled to convince voters that change is necessary. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has exempted pensions from her government's planned budget cuts, reflecting the growing power of the retiree vote. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing mass protests, including a national strike week, as he tries to raise France's minimum retirement age from 60 to 62. Greece's government had to face down demonstrations this year when it slashed pension benefits, as it was forced to do to get bailout money from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Still, Europe does offer examples that change is possible. Germany slashed benefits for the long-term unemployed in 2004, a step that analysts credit with prompting more Germans to get jobs as well as improving the country's budget balance. Cuts to entitlements are politically possible, says Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Policy Studies, a nonpartisan think tank in Brussels, "but societies need some time to get used to the idea."

The U.S. government first offered large-scale assistance during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. The Social Security Act, passed in 1935, created the popular retirement program as well as unemployment compensation, the early stages of what became known as "welfare" and assistance to the blind and elderly. In the 1940s, the G.I. Bill offered unemployment benefits, education assistance and loans to veterans. That same decade, Washington began offering free or reduced-price lunches to children from low-income families and, a decade later, monthly benefits to the disabled.

Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs brought food stamps plus Medicare and Medicaid. In the 1970s, Supplemental Security Income was created on top of routine Social Security benefits for the poorest of the elderly and disabled, and so-called Section 8 vouchers began subsidizing rental housing. The earned-income tax credit was launched in 1975 to offer extra cash to low-wage workers, and grew in the 1990s to become one of the government's principle antipoverty programs.

Benefits for children were expanded in 1997 with the State Children's Health Insurance Program during the Clinton administration—and were expanded again in 2009. Shortly after President Barack Obama took office, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus bill, which among other things extended unemployment compensation and offered incentives for states to cover more workers.

All this is expensive. Payments to individuals—a budget category that includes all federal benefit programs plus retirement benefits for federal workers—will cost $2.4 trillion this year, up 79%, adjusted for inflation, from a decade earlier when the economy was stronger. That represents 64.3% of all federal outlays, the highest percentage in the 70 years the government has been measuring it. The figure was 46.7% in 1990 and 26.2% in 1960.

When the economy recovers, some—but not all—current recipients of federal aid are likely to lose their benefits, which some say is reason enough to keep them going for now.

Monday, September 13, 2010

In Ad Wars, Democrats Shy From Ties to Own Party

From The New York Times:

Two years after arriving in Washington on a message of hope and change, Democratic candidates are not extolling their party’s accomplishments, but rather distancing themselves from their party’s agenda.

The midterm elections may revolve around a series of big issues, particularly with control of Congress at stake. But a look at the advertising themes and images being employed by Democrats shows all the ways they are trying to personalize their contests and avoid being defined as ideological partners of President Obama’s or as part of the Washington establishment.

The images of Mr. Obama and Ms. Pelosi appear with more frequency than those of any other political figures — but nearly always in Republican advertisements.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Food for thought, a Galloway keeper, and Pulitzer Prize-type writing, reporting and journalism: Smoke, mirrors and illegal immigration

Jim Galloway put in a work-heavy weekend for the ajc's Political Insider. The result -- a Jim Galloway keeper for sure -- follows:

A remarkable political conversation occurred down in middle Georgia last week.

In a 30-second TV spot, U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Macon, accused Republican challenger Austin Scott of unauthorized possession of a conscience.

Scott, of course, with ambitions of going to Congress, was forced to empty his pockets and deny ever having something so wicked on his person.

You see, four years ago, as a state lawmaker from Tifton, Scott cast a vote against an effort to slap a 5 percent tax on money wired home by illegal immigrants.

Scott told his fellow House members that — while he understood and supported a crackdown on illegal immigration — he had “a moral problem” with ripping money from the hands of working stiffs who were simply trying to fend for their families.

Now older and wiser, a reformed Scott brushed aside the 2006 newspaper clippings that provided evidence of this unfortunate brush with decency and restraint.

His real problem with the bill, Scott told a reporter, was that it wasn’t tough enough. It applied only to cash moved through Western Union, not banks or credit unions.

We are entering the final phase of the 2010 silly season, and illegal immigration is guaranteed to be a large part of it.

Republicans in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, talk of re-examining what the authors of the 14th Amendment truly meant when they said anyone born on American soil should be considered a U.S. citizen.

Democratic nominee for governor Roy Barnes has expressed his comfort with an Arizona-style law that would give law enforcement agencies in Georgia the right to demand papers from those who look like they don’t belong.

Republican rival Nathan Deal is hardly likely to allow himself to be out-aliened.

No doubt all parties are sincere. Illegal immigration is a serious problem, with expensive and very real consequences.

But there is a difference between what is said on the stump, and what is achievable in Washington or Atlanta. Between what is promised, and what is actually delivered.

Any doubters are hereby condemned to a conversation with D.A. King, citizen-lobbyist and the state Capitol’s foremost proponent of tougher laws for illegal immigrants and those who employ them.

King, a 58-year-old Cobb County resident, was a primary force behind the 2006 illegal immigration package passed by our Republican-controlled Legislature.

Until Arizona did what it did, GOP lawmakers — including Scott, who voted for it — called their Georgia legislation the toughest in the land. One of its more important provisions required cities and counties to use E-Verify, a free federal government database used to spot undocumented workers.

But the legislation included no punishment for local officials who ignored the law. “I say where there is no penalty there is no law,” King said.

For the last two years, King has pushed to insert a set of toothy dentures into the legislation, stopped each time by the Georgia Municipal Authority and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

The two groups argue that the law is so vague and contradictory in places that no individual county or city official should be threatened with prosecution for failure to enforce it.

The experience has left King jaded and disappointed — with Democrats, who claim to represent wage-earners, and with Georgia’s ruling party.

“I’m fascinated when I see Republicans vow what they will do next year. And when in committee, when pressure is applied, their stamina seems to dissolve,” King said.

Fail to put an enforcement clause into the legislation next year, King said, “and that’s when the rallies will begin again, and they won’t be pointed at illegal aliens. I promise.”

The General Assembly will have more than King’s threats to worry about in January, when GOP lawmakers will be required to fulfill their promises of an Arizona-style bill aimed at illegal immigration.

Here’s something to listen for: When candidates raise the topic of Arizona, note whether they mention the financial cost. If they don’t, or say that money is no object, there’s a good chance you’re being had.

For instance, authorizing and encouraging a city police officer to arrest a suspected illegal immigrant means that particular municipality would be responsible for the costs of lodging him in the local county hoosegow.

“Cities have to pay county jails $45 per day [per person] for food and lodging. And it could be four or five years before the federal government picks him up,” said Amy Henderson of the Georgia Municipal Association.

If all that sounds like no big deal, remember that most cities in Georgia are small and — right now — extremely poor. Counties aren’t much better off. Douglas County just cut loose an aging drug trafficker – and illegal immigrant – because it couldn’t handle his health care bill.

Cities and counties will want to know who pays for the promises of November. So should you.

Many Push for Repeal of Tax Provision in Health Law

From The New York Times:

Many Democrats have joined Republicans in pushing for the repeal of a tax provision in the new health care law that imposes a huge information-reporting burden on small businesses.

To improve compliance, the law requires businesses to file a 1099 tax form identifying anyone to whom they pay $600 or more for goods or merchandise in a year. Businesses will also have to send copies of the form to their vendors, suppliers and contractors.

The White House is nervous about a repeal, fearing that it could set a precedent for rolling back other unpopular features of the law.

Under the law, businesses will be required to report purchases of items like office equipment, food and bottled water, gasoline, lumber and plumbing supplies if payments to any vendor in the course of a year total at least $600. They will, in many cases, also have to report payments for things like travel and telephone and Internet service.

The reporting requirement was in the health care overhaul bill unveiled in mid-November by the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. But it drew little attention at the time — it was one of more than 15 revenue-raising measures in the bill — and many lawmakers were apparently unaware of it when they voted for final passage of the legislation.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

From the Cracker Squire Archives: It once seemed as if Obama would lead a center-left coalition, but he has deferred to the Old Bulls on Capitol Hill

Well over a year ago in July 2009 David Brooks wrote the following column that was entitled "Liberal Suicide March." He noted months before the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts that the ideological overreach by Obama and Company will crash and burn.

As the public and the Democratic Party is increasingly becoming aware, Judgment Day is November 2.

From a 7-21-09 post entitled "It once seemed as if Obama would lead a center-left coalition, but instead, he has deferred to the Old Bulls on Capitol Hill on issue after issue":

David Brooks accurately observes in The New York Times:

It was interesting to watch the Republican Party lose touch with America. You had a party led by conservative Southerners who neither understood nor sympathized with moderates or representatives from swing districts.

They brought in pollsters to their party conferences to persuade their members that the country was fervently behind them. They were supported by their interest groups and cheered on by their activists and the partisan press. They spent federal money in an effort to buy support but ended up disgusting the country instead.

It’s not that interesting to watch the Democrats lose touch with America. That’s because the plotline is exactly the same. The party is led by insular liberals from big cities and the coasts, who neither understand nor sympathize with moderates. They have their own cherry-picking pollsters, their own media and activist cocoon, their own plans to lavishly spend borrowed money to buy votes.

This ideological overreach won’t be any more successful than the last one. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday confirms what other polls have found. Most Americans love Barack Obama personally, but support for Democratic policies is already sliding fast.

Approval of Obama’s handling of health care, for example, has slid from 57 percent to 49 percent since April. Disapproval has risen from 29 percent to 44 percent. As recently as June, voters earning more than $50,000 preferred Obama to the Republicans on health care by a 21-point margin. Now those voters are evenly split.

Most independents now disapprove of Obama’s health care strategy. In March, only 32 percent of Americans thought Obama was an old-style, tax-and-spend liberal. Now 43 percent do.

We’re only in the early stages of the liberal suicide march, but there already have been three phases. First, there was the stimulus package. You would have thought that a stimulus package would be designed to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy during a recession. But Congressional Democrats used it as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money. Only 11 percent of the money will be spent by the end of the fiscal year — a triumph of ideology over pragmatism.

Then there is the budget. Instead of allaying moderate anxieties about the deficits, the budget is expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019.

Finally, there is health care. Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs. They do little to reward efficient providers and reform inefficient ones.

The House bill adds $239 billion to the federal deficit during the first 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would pummel small businesses with an 8 percent payroll penalty. It would jack America’s top tax rate above those in Italy and France. Top earners in New York and California would be giving more than 55 percent of earnings to one government entity or another.

Nancy Pelosi has lower approval ratings than Dick Cheney and far lower approval ratings than Sarah Palin. And yet Democrats have allowed her policy values to carry the day — this in an era in which independents dominate the electoral landscape.

Who’s going to stop this leftward surge? Months ago, it seemed as if Obama would lead a center-left coalition. Instead, he has deferred to the Old Bulls on Capitol Hill on issue after issue.

Machiavelli said a leader should be feared as well as loved. Obama is loved by the Democratic chairmen, but he is not feared. On health care, Obama has emphasized cost control. The chairmen flouted his priorities because they don’t fear him. On cap and trade, Obama campaigned against giving away pollution offsets. The chairmen wrote their bill to do precisely that because they don’t fear him. On taxes, Obama promised that top tax rates would not go above Clinton-era levels. The chairmen flouted that promise because they don’t fear him.

Last week, the administration announced a proposal to take Medicare spending decisions away from Congress and lodge the power with technocrats in the executive branch. It’s a good idea, and it might lead to real cost savings. But there’s no reason to think that it will be incorporated into the final law. The chairmen will never surrender power to an administration they can override.

That leaves matters in the hands of the Blue Dog Democrats. These brave moderates are trying to restrain the fiscal explosion. But moderates inherently lack seniority (they are from swing districts). They are usually bought off by leadership at the end of the day.

And so here we are again. Every new majority overinterprets its mandate. We’ve been here before. We’ll be here again.

It is time to reap what we sowed: The health care overhaul, a dream of liberal Democrats for decades, said to represent ideological overreach.

From The New York Times:

The health care overhaul, a dream of liberal Democrats for decades, has been used by political opponents to build a case that Mr. Obama is guilty of ideological overreach. After hard-fought passage of the sweeping law, White House officials expressed confidence that voters would become more supportive once the fury of the legislative debate faded and Americans more clearly assessed the tangible benefits.

Yet despite a White House campaign to promote the law’s most popular components before the midterm elections, recent polls suggest that national support is at best stagnant, in the range of 40 percent, and may be declining after early signs of improvement.

The Democratic playbook in those districts has been to focus attention elsewhere, while defending the law when challenged. Although it is early in the advertising season, the only Democratic House incumbents who have used television to extol their positions on health care are among the 34 who voted against the bill, according to Democratic campaign officials.

Even some Democrats running for state offices, who do not have votes to defend, are distancing themselves from their party’s signature domestic achievement. In Georgia, for instance, former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat seeking to regain the job he lost eight years ago, told The Associated Press this week that he considered the law “to be the greatest failure, modern failure, of political leadership in my lifetime.” It could be “financially devastating” to the state, he warned.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Turn them over to someone for execution in foreign waters rather than bringing them to the U.S. -- U.S. Marines Rescue Ship From Pirates

From The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. Marines early Thursday boarded and seized control of a German-owned commercial vessel that had been commandeered by pirates, in what appeared to be the first American-led military boarding of its kind amid a recent surge of attacks in the Gulf of Aden and along the east coast of Africa.

Somalia-based pirates started to ratchet up their attacks in the gulf and along the east coast of Africa in 2008. In January 2009, the U.S. set up Combined Task Force 151, designed specifically to fight the new piracy threat.

America's antipiracy efforts go back more than two centuries, to when President Thomas Jefferson set out to combat Barbary coast pirates in north Africa. But the piracy threat against U.S. shipping largely evaporated by the latter part of the 19th century.

That is, until last year. In the spring of 2009, the U.S. military intervened in a pirate attack on an American-flagged merchant ship attacked offshore east Africa. The crew of that ship retook control of the vessel, but pirates escaped in a lifeboat with the captain of the ship as a hostage. U.S. snipers killed three pirates, captured a fourth and freed the captain in an elaborate naval rescue.

American warships since then have intervened a number of times to ward off attacks while they were under way, often sending helicopters over ships being pursued by pirates, for instance. But this appeared to be the first time since the Somali piracy boom began that a U.S. military team boarded a large vessel under pirate control.

The U.S. Navy said the pirates were "currently under control" of the task force, "pending further disposition." One of the biggest challenges for global antipiracy efforts has been figuring out what to do with alleged pirates once they are caught.

Last month, a federal judge in Norfolk, Va., dismissed charges of piracy against six Somalis accused of attacking a U.S. Navy ship last April near Somalia. One of the men pleaded guilty to lesser charges and will testify against his skiff-mates, who also face lesser charges. The case underscored the legal hurdles in bringing alleged pirates, often apprehended in international waters, to justice.

German Banker Resigns Amid Outcry

From The New York Times:

Heading off a potentially embarrassing public fight, Germany’s central bank announced Thursday that it had agreed to part ways on amicable terms with Thilo Sarrazin, the author of a recently released book on immigration that caused a storm here by accusing Muslims of refusing to integrate and of “dumbing down” German society.

Mr. Sarrazin’s [situation posted] a potentially embarrassing clash between the views of the nation’s political leadership, which condemned his opinions as xenophobic and anti-Muslim, and those of a wide portion of the public who endorsed his ideas, or at least felt he had rightly opened a debate on a taboo subject.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

No guts (and looking for campaign glory): Tax Cuts Dividing Democrats

From The Wall Street Journal:

Growing reservations among Democrats about letting tax rates rise for wealthy Americans are making it more unlikely that Congress will decide what to do about the looming expiration of Bush-era tax cuts before November's election.

Democratic leaders are set to return to Washington on Monday determined to send a populist message with a bill that lets the tax cuts expire for couples making $250,000 or more, while renewing them for people who earn less. Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for everyone.

Rank-and-file Democrats, however, are split. Earlier this summer, four members of the Senate Democratic caucus expressed concern about letting the rates for upper-income Americans rise to previous levels—independent Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Since then, an increasing number of House Democrats have joined their ranks, including many of the House's 54 conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats.

Mr. Obama's former budget director, Peter Orszag, this week proposed extending all the tax cuts for just two years if that was necessary to get a deal.

An increasing number of Democrats are echoing Republicans' arguments that allowing upper-income tax cuts to expire would hurt the economy, said Rep. Gerald Connolly (D., Va.).

Before Congress's summer break, he said, "there was not a lot of resonance with this argument. That may have changed."

Mr. Connolly doesn't want to extend the tax cuts permanently, however, arguing that would be a "reckless" expansion of the deficit.

The divisions within their party make it unlikely that Democrats can craft a bill that could gain the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What a major surprise Mr. President (there is no free lunch after all): Health Insurers Plan Hikes - Rate Increases Are Blamed on Health-Care Overhaul

From The Wall Street Journal:

Health insurers say they plan to raise premiums for some Americans as a direct result of the health overhaul in coming weeks, complicating Democrats' efforts to trumpet their signature achievement before the midterm elections.

Aetna Inc., some BlueCross BlueShield plans and other smaller carriers have asked for premium increases of between 1% and 9% to pay for extra benefits required under the law, according to filings with state regulators.

These and other insurers say Congress's landmark refashioning of U.S. health coverage, which passed in March after a brutal fight, is causing them to pass on more costs to consumers than Democrats predicted.

The rate increases largely apply to policies for individuals and small businesses and don't include people covered by a big employer or Medicare.

About 9% of Americans buy coverage through the individual market, according to the Census Bureau, and roughly one-fifth of people who get coverage through their employer work at companies with 50 or fewer employees, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. People in both groups are likely to feel the effects of the proposed increases, even as they see new benefits under the law, such as the elimination of lifetime and certain annual coverage caps.

The rate increases are a dose of troubling news for Democrats just weeks before an election in which they are at risk of losing their majority in the House and possibly the Senate.

In addition to pledging that the law would restrain increases in Americans' insurance premiums, Democrats front-loaded the legislation with early provisions they hoped would boost public support. Those include letting children stay on their parents' insurance policies until age 26, eliminating co-payments for preventive care and barring insurers from denying policies to children with pre-existing conditions, plus the elimination of the coverage caps.

Weeks before the election, insurance companies began telling state regulators it is those very provisions that are forcing them to increase their rates.