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

Cracker Squire


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

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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cost to insure surges higher

From the ajc:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 has already brought significant changes to the nation’s health care system.

Those changes are most evident in the “patient protection” part of the law. The “affordable care” part, however, is expected to be a greater challenge.

Metro Atlanta’s large employers watched the per-employee cost of health insurance go up by 140 percent during the past decade, from $3,877 in 2001 to a projected $9,316 for 2011. The employee’s contribution went up as much as 275 percent during that same period, and those costs won’t be slowing down in 2011: Hewitt Associates forecasts that the per-worker cost of coverage next year will go up another 8.7 percent, the biggest jump in six years.

And that’s just the view from big companies. People who must resort to individual or small-group insurance plans are seeing equally dramatic increases: Since 2009, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia has notified the state of its plan to raise premiums on 21 plans covering more than 180,000 Georgia individuals and families. The average increase: 20 percent.

The first provisions of the law, which took effect in September, ban lifetime caps on benefits and no longer allow insurers to consider pre-existing conditions of children when writing coverage. Insurers must also pick up the tab for preventive services, without charging consumers co-insurance or co-payments, and allow parents to add adult children up to age 26 to their policies.

Some states already closely review price increases, with about half requiring insurers to get state approval before increasing premiums.

Georgia does not.

State law requires only that insurers notify the state insurance commissioner of plans to increase premiums for individual policies.

At least for now, more aggressive reviews are not likely. Georgia was one of five states that did not even apply for a $1 million federal grant available to help each state beef up its rate review system.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

In Nevada, It’s Hold Nose and Cast Vote

See this article in The New York Times about Senator Harry Reid and his GOP challenger, Sharron Angle, being united by the same problem: just as in the case with the Cracker Squire, most voters do not like either of them.

Opinion from The Wall Street Journal: ObamaCare and Voters - Clinton and Obama told Democrats it would be popular. Whoops.

Opinion from The Wall Street Journal:

Midterm elections amid a lousy economy are usually bad for the President's party, but it looks as if a neutron bomb may detonate on Democrats in 2010. And one of the major reasons that this year shifted from ordinary losses to potential catastrophe is ObamaCare. This election is a referendum on an entitlement the public never wanted and continues to hate, as evidence from around the country is showing.

Take almost any poll at random. Even this week's New York Times-CBS poll has repeal leading among likely voters, 47% to 43%. The latest Pew-National Journal survey shows that a majority of likely voters—51%—favors repeal, including 53% of independents. The Real Clear Politics average of all polling shows support for the law at 40.9%—and opposition at 50.6%.

The Kaiser Family Foundation—whose outlier tracking poll has consistently shown the most ObamaCare support—now reports that only 42% view the law favorably. That's a seven-point drop since September, and it happened to coincide with the start date for the "patients bill of rights," which Kaiser says is among the bill's popular parts. Voters are learning that mandates—like those that allow "children" to remain on their parents' health insurance until age 26—tend to increase costs.

There are many other such scales-from-the-eyes moments. The New England Journal of Medicine, another outlet for ObamaCare partisans, recently conceded in a "perspective" akin to an editorial that "it seems clear that Americans today have very negative views about the general direction of the country," in large part because of the health bill.

All this is particularly striking given that the President Obama, Bill Clinton and so many others assured the backbenchers that health care would be a political winner. Now even they have given up trying to spin that false promise, blaming voter hostility on TV ads and, er, the insurance industry that the public supposedly despises. The reality is that voters who oppose ObamaCare are far more knowledgeable about the law and its consequences than most Congressmen who voted for it.

Republicans must do more to advance a reform alternative to ObamaCare, but no one should mistake the implications of Tuesday's vote. Whatever the results, the public is telling Congress to repeal and replace this bill before it does any more damage.

Swing Voters Are Flocking to GOP - 'This race is all about President Obama.'

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Democrats' final push to woo undecided voters appears to have fizzled, potentially putting dozens of competitive House races beyond reach and undermining the party's chances in at least four toss-up Senate seats, according to party strategists and officials.

Independents, a crucial swing bloc, seem to be breaking sharply for Republicans in the final days of the campaign.

One nonpartisan prognosticator, Stuart Rothenberg, said Friday he thought the Republicans could pick up as many as 70 House seats—something no party has achieved since 1948. The Republicans need 39 seats to take the majority. Fading Democratic support among independents is also keeping alive the GOP's longer-shot hopes of taking the Senate.

Party strategists say their biggest problem now is swing voters' frustration with the president, prompting some to start fretting about the impact of this disenchantment on the 2012 elections.

Democratic pollster David Beattie said independents were voting against Democrats because of Mr. Obama. The Democrats "are being called 'Obama liberals,' and it's working," Mr. Beattie said. "This race is all about President Obama."

In the Senate races, Democrats have managed to solidify their lead in several key states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware and West Virginia. That makes it difficult—but not impossible—for the Republicans to get the 10 seats they need to capture that chamber.

Ebbing support among independents is keeping that door open.

Republicans are favored to pluck four seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Indiana and Arkansas. In addition, Democrats are fighting close races to retain their hold on Senate seats in Nevada—home to Majority Leader Harry Reid—Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington. To take the Senate, Republicans must win all those races, plus at least one of those seen as more safely in the Democratic column.

"Independents who helped Obama win in '08, are now giving GOP candidates significant edges, from the U.S. Senate to state legislative races across the country," said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse.

Democratic strategists said independents were taking out their frustrations against Democrats up and down the ballot, even in state legislative and citycouncil races.

Friday, October 29, 2010

David Brooks: The Next Two Years

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

President Obama is likely to suffer a pummeling defeat on Tuesday. But the road map for his recovery is pretty straightforward.

First, the president is going to have to win back independents. Liberals are now criticizing him for being too timid. But the fact is that Obama will win 99.9 percent of the liberal vote in 2012, and in a presidential year, liberal turnout will surely be high. On the other hand, he cannot survive the defection of the independents. In 2008, independent voters preferred Democrats by 8 percentage points. Now they prefer Republicans by 20 points, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Unless Obama wins back these moderate, suburban indies, there will be a Republican president in 2013.

Second, Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Over the next two years, Obama will have to show that he is a traditionalist on social matters and a center-left pragmatist on political ones. Culturally, he will have to demonstrate that even though he comes from an unusual background, he is a fervent believer in the old-fashioned bourgeois virtues: order, self-discipline, punctuality and personal responsibility. Politically, he will have to demonstrate that he is data-driven — that even though he has more faith in government than most Americans, he will relentlessly oppose programs when the evidence shows they don’t work.

Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. The current sour mood is not just caused by high unemployment. It emerges from the fear that America’s best days are behind it. The public’s real anxiety is about values, not economics: the gnawing sense that Americans have become debt-addicted and self-indulgent; the sense that government undermines individual responsibility; the observation that people who work hard get shafted while people who play influence games get the gravy. Obama will have to propose policies that re-establish the link between effort and reward.

Fourth, Obama has to build an institutional structure to support a more moderate approach. Presidents come into office thinking that they will be able to go ahead and enact policies. Then they realize that they can only succeed if there is a vast phalanx of institutions laboring alongside them.

Liberals already have institutions. To be a center-left leader, Obama will have to mobilize independent institutions as well. These don’t exist in Washington, but they do around the nation. Civic organizations, local business groups and municipal leagues run from Orlando to Kansas City to Seattle. These groups are filled with local leaders who lobby for balanced budgets, infrastructure plans and other worthy causes. If Obama can mobilize these groups, he would not only build coalitions, but he would help heal the venomous rift between the White House and business, which is a cancer on his presidency.

Over the next few months, the Republicans will have their time in the sun. On Tuesday, I’ll offer some thoughts on how they can seize the moment. But if Obama is to rebound, he is going to have to suppress his natural competitive instincts. If he gets caught up in the Beltway fight club, the Republicans will emerge as the party of limited government and he’ll emerge as the spokesman for big government — surely a losing proposition.

Instead, he will have to go out and do his own thing. That means every day reinforcing the following narrative: the Republicans are only half right. They want to cut things; I want to cut but also replace things. They want to slash government; I want to restructure it. They want destruction; I want renovation.

Companies like Ford cut wasteful spending while doubling down on productive investment. That’s exactly what the nation has to do over all. There have to be cuts, the president could say, in unaffordable pension commitments, in biofuel subsidies and useless tax breaks. But there also have to be investments in things that will produce a vibrant economy for our children: a simpler tax system with lower rates on investment; more scientific research; a giant effort to improve Hispanic graduation rates; medical courts to rationalize the malpractice system and so on. Instead of being disjointed, as he has been, the president will have to reinforce this turnaround story day after day.

The problem is not that America lacks resources. The problem is that they are misallocated. If Obama can establish credibility as someone who can cut and replace, Election Day 2012 will be rosier for him than Election Day 2010.

Nine states that Barack Obama won but that John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee, lost, show challenges for the president's reelection bid.

See story in The New York Times about the following states:

Approval Rating for Obama: 42 percent
Obama's 2008 margin of victory: 9.0 percentage points

Approval Rating for Obama: 41 percent
Obama's 2008 margin of victory: 2.8 percentage points

Approval Rating for Obama: 38 percent
Obama's 2008 margin of victory: 1.0 percentage point

Approval Rating for Obama: 42 percent
Obama's 2008 margin of victory: 9.5 percentage points

Approval Rating for Obama: 39 percent
Obama's 2008 margin of victory: 12.5 percentage points

Approval Rating for Obama: 45 percent
Obama's 2008 margin of victory: 15.1 percentage points

Approval Rating for Obama: 39 percent
Obama's 2008 margin of victory: 0.3 percentage points

Approval Rating for Obama: 42 percent
Obama's 2008 margin of victory: 4.6 percentage points

Approval Rating for Obama: Not available
Obama's 2008 margin of victory: 6.3 percentage points

With the majority leader, Harry Reid, in danger of losing his seat, Senators Charles E. Schumer and Richard J. Durbin are maneuvering for the post.

See article in The New York Times.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I said it in '08; l repeat it now. If my friend Marshall loses, it will be because he voted for TARP (& then went so public about it on NPR, etc.)

Republican challenger Austin Scott, left, and Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Macon, trade barbs after a debate at the Georgia National Fair night in Perry, Ga., earlier this month.

In Rep. Jim Marshall's district, history shows that each and every vote cast by a voter matters. Marshall's vote for TARP cost him valuable votes in the conservative 8th Congressional District, just as the vote for TARP by Sen. Saxby Chambliss forced the senator into a runoff with Jim Martin.

But for this vote, I believe this moderate Blue Dog Democrat would have survived to fight for another day. He has been a good congressman, and deserves to remain in Washington. I am pulling for him.

Across the country, anger, frustration and fear among voters as election nears

From The Washington Post:

Travel through the political battlegrounds in these final days before Election 2010, and it becomes clear how much the tenor of this recession-plagued country has changed in the two years since Barack Obama was elected president on his message of hope and change.

A far grimmer mood now pervades the electorate, one shaped not just by the immediacy of the economic distress that has hit virtually every household, but by fears that it might take years for everyone, from the average family to the federal government, to climb out of the hole.

Anger is one word that is often used to describe the electorate this year. But one word alone cannot adequately capture the sentiments expressed by voters on doorsteps and street corners, at community centers or candidate rallies. Along with the anger there is fear, worry, nervousness, disappointment, anxiety and disillusionment.

The impact will be felt Tuesday. Republicans are poised to reap the benefits of the enormous dissatisfaction with the status quo. How deeply and how broadly remains for the voters to decide, but there is little doubt that the outcome will change the balance of power in Washington.

The winners should take little comfort from the results. Dissatisfaction with Republicans also runs deep, and voters have conflicted expectations about what should happen in Washington over the next two years. Politicians of both parties will remain on trial.

Everyone, it seems, has a grievance. Many think the federal government has abandoned the middle class. On the right, many view Obama's policies as creeping - some say galloping - socialism. On the left, many consider the conservatism of some tea-party-backed candidates as far outside the mainstream. Across the spectrum is a widespread feeling that Washington is broken almost beyond repair.

"The mood is a combination of frustration and fear and desperation and down," said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who helps oversee the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. "Everybody wants to talk about it as anger, and anger is certainly there. But it cuts much deeper than the traditional anger that you see in so many elections. This one really goes to the sense of people feeling on the edge and 'How do I make life work?' They're striking out in all directions in order to just change things."

Coalition for Obama Split by Drift to GOP, Poll Finds

From The New York Times:

Critical parts of the coalition that delivered President Obama to the White House in 2008 and gave Democrats control of Congress in 2006 are switching their allegiance to the Republicans in the final phase of the midterm Congressional elections, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Republicans have wiped out the advantage held by Democrats in recent election cycles among women, Roman Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents. All of those groups broke for Mr. Obama in 2008 and for Congressional Democrats when they grabbed both chambers from the Republicans four years ago, according to exit polls.

If women choose Republicans over Democrats in House races on Tuesday, it will be the first time they have done so since exit polls began tracking the breakdown in 1982.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Health Care Vote Has Democrats on Defense

From The New York Times:

While clearly secondary to economic concerns, the continuing debate over health care has remained prominent in numerous races for the House and Senate.

Health care also has played a role in contests for governor and attorney general, the winners of which will have a say in carrying out the new law. And three states — Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma — will be voting on largely symbolic ballot initiatives intended to invalidate the law’s requirement that their residents have health insurance.

In Congressional races, a centerpiece of the Republican strategy has been to use Democratic ‘yes’ votes on the law to tar incumbents as advocates of expansive government and lock-step followers of their party’s leadership.

The Democrats’ inability to control the messaging during the legislative debate bled unstaunched into the campaign, as Republicans appealed to base voters with a bumper-sticker pledge to repeal the law or, if unable, to drain its financing.

Their cause has been helped by early indications that federal judges in two districts are seriously considering the law’s constitutionality (a third judge has already upheld it). The Republicans also benefited from premium increases and market withdrawals that insurers and employers blamed on requirements for expanded coverage, bringing a furious response from the Obama administration.

Polling on the law shows that the electorate remains split along partisan lines, with independents leaning against it.

Strikingly, just after Labor Day, the only House Democrats with television ads on the health care law were among the 34 who broke with the party to vote against it. Some of those incumbents have used their votes to demonstrate independence from, and even antagonism toward, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi (while being careful not to alienate black voters by similarly confronting Mr. Obama).

“I voted against Nancy Pelosi’s trillion-dollar health care bill, because we can’t afford it,” says Representative Jim Marshall, a Democrat, in an ad broadcast in his middle Georgia district. “That’s just one reason why I won’t support her for speaker.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Richard Cohen: The Tea Party and President Obama

Richard Cohen writes in The Washington Post:

Anger is ugly to behold, but it is both understandable and widespread.

The desire for change -- an emotion one step short of anger -- was what propelled Obama into the White House. As the Tea Party gained attention, he could have made common cause with it -- not on social issues, of course, but these are not as important as economic ones.

Those and a general distrust of government are what motivate most Tea Party members . . . . Their allegiance to any political party is minimal. Obama, with almost no political record, might have made inroads with these people. Instead, he managed to become the personification of Big Government -- not just with his programs (necessary though they might be) but with his persona and isolation in the White House. He banned lobbyists but managed to transform himself into the biggest one of all. He blew it.

The Tea Party is here to stay if only because the Internet is here to stay. But its emotions and its grievances can be co-opted, engulfed, absorbed and made part of the engine of change that Obama himself once both personified and promised. As I recall, the original Tea Party was open to anyone. All you needed for admittance was anger.

Brooks: (1) Independent moderates with Obama in '08 left with health care; (2) Parties that promote unpopular policies get punished at election time.

David Brooks writes "No Second Thoughts" in The New York Times:

When times get tough, it’s really important to believe in yourself. This is something the Democrats have done splendidly this year. The polls have been terrible, and the party may be heading for a historic defeat, but Democrats have done a magnificent job of maintaining their own self-esteem. This is vital, because even if the public doesn’t approve of you, it is important to approve of yourself.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that Democrats have become role models. They have offered us lessons on how we, too, may continue to love ourselves, even in trying circumstances.

Lesson one. Think happy thoughts. Never allow yourself to dwell on downer, depressing ones.

Over the past year, many Democrats have resolutely paid attention to those things that make them feel good, and they have carefully filtered out those negative things that make them feel sad.

For example, Democrats and their media enablers have paid lavish attention to Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino, even though these two Republican candidates have almost no chance of winning. That’s because it feels so delicious to feel superior to opponents you consider to be feeble-minded wackos.

On the other hand, Democrats and their enablers have paid no attention to Republicans like Rob Portman, Dan Coats, John Boozman and Roy Blunt, who are likely to actually get elected. It doesn’t feel good when your opponents are experienced people who simply have different points of view. The existence of these impressive opponents introduces tension into the chi of your self-esteem.

Similarly, the Democrats and their enablers have paid lavish attention to the Tea Party this year. It’s nice to feel more sophisticated than those hordes of Middle Americans, who say silly things like “Get government off my Medicare.”

On the other hand, Democrats have paid little attention to the crucial group in this election — the independent moderates who supported President Obama in 2008 but flocked away during the health care summer of 2009 and now support the GOP by landslide proportions.

Losing friends makes you sad. It is better to not think about why these things happen.

Lesson two. Always remember, many great geniuses were unappreciated in their lifetimes.

Democrats are lagging this year because the country appears incapable of appreciating the grandeur of their accomplishments. That’s because, as several commentators have argued over the past few weeks, many Americans are nearsighted and ill-informed. Or, as President Obama himself noted last week, they get scared, and when Americans get scared they stop listening to facts and reason. They get all these crazy ideas in their heads, like not wanting to re-elect Blanche Lincoln.

The Democrats’ problem, as some senior officials have mentioned, is that they are so darn captivated by substance, it never occurs to them to look out for their own political self-interest. By they way, here’s a fun party game: Get a bottle of vodka and read Peter Baker’s article “The Education of President Obama” from The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Take a shot every time a White House official is quoted blaming Republicans for the Democrats’ political plight. You’ll be unconscious by page three.

[For this must read, see link in 10-17-10 post entitled "The New York Times Magazine article on 'The Education of a President' that you have heard and will be hearing so much about."]

Lesson three. Always remember: You are the hero of your own children’s adventure story.

Some low-minded people could look at events this year and tell a dull, prosaic story. They would say that parties that promote unpopular policies tend to get punished at election time, These grubby-minded people would point out that Democratic House members who voted against health care are doing well in their re-election bids, while those who voted for it are getting clobbered.

But many Democrats have a loftier sensibility. They see this campaign as a poetic confrontation between good (themselves) and pure evil (Karl Rove and his group, American Crossroads).

As Nancy Pelosi put it at a $50,000-a-couple fund-raiser, “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

Even allowing the menace of secret money, embracing this Paradise Lost epic means obscuring a few inconvenient facts: that Democrats were happy to benefit from millions of anonymous dollars in 2006, 2008 and today; that the spending by Rove’s group amounts to less than 1 percent of the total money spent on campaigns this year; that Democrats retain an overall spending advantage.

But legend rises above mere facticity, and this Lancelots-of-the-Left tale underlines a self-affirming message — that Democrats are engaged in a righteous crusade against the dark villain who tricked Americans into voting against John Kerry.

In short, it’s hard not to be impressed by the spirit of self-approval that Democrats have managed to maintain this election. I say that knowing it may end as soon as next Wednesday, when, as is their wont, Democrats will flip from complete self-worship to complete self-laceration in the blink of an eye.

A victory by her would sure ruin Sarah Palin's day (not to mention Karl Rove's as well): In Alaska Senate Race, Front-Runner Isn’t on Ballot

From The New York Times:

Just weeks ago, [the bid by incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, the Republican now running as a write-in candidate,] looked like a long shot. And it still may be — reliable polls in Alaska are few and far between.

But since being embarrassed in an upset by Mr. [Joe] Miller, a protégé of Sarah Palin’s, in the Republican primary, Ms. Murkowski has defied conventional wisdom and her colleagues in the Republican establishment by waging a credible race as a write-in candidate. Analysts and Alaskans now say she could overcome the odds and logistical hurdles to win, something no senator has done since Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in 1954. Or she could be a spoiler.

Mr. Miller remains the presumptive favorite, but his lead has narrowed after a string of setbacks since his surprising primary victory.

News reports in Alaska have raised questions about everything from farm subsidies, unemployment and government health care benefits and even a low-income fishing license that Mr. Miller or his family members have received. Critics say the reports have undermined his credibility when he argues against the federal health care bill and unemployment benefits or vows to eliminate the Department of Education and eventually privatize Social Security.

Throwing out the baby with the bath water; very sad indeed: Blue Dogs Face Sharp Losses in Midterms

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

More than half the members of the Blue Dog Coalition—the organization of moderate to conservative Democrats in the House—are in peril in next week's election, a stark indicator of how the balloting could produce a Congress even more polarized than the current one.

The Blue Dogs are often seen as a kind of human bridge, connecting left and right in the House. But that bridge is imperiled by the coming Republican wave in midterm elections, the most stark example of how the midterms are likely to weaken Capitol Hill's political center.

Of 54 Blue Dogs in the House, six already have retired or decided to seek other offices. Of those trying to stay, 39 are in competitive races, according to the Cook Political Report, and 22 of those are in pure toss-ups.

[T]he Blue Dog population could be cut significantly, conceivably by half, in next week's voting.

Blue Dogs tend to come from more conservative swing districts, where their hold on their seats is more tenuous in any case, and where voters are more likely to move right when the national winds push strongly in that direction.

"This is going to be a very tough election for the Blue Dogs, because many of them had success in districts where Democrats are always an endangered species," says Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at Third Way, a think tank promoting the ideas of moderate Democrats. "If they lose, some of them may come back in a future wave election, but those are never safe seats."

Meantime, liberal Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, John Conyers and Henry Waxman hail from reliably Democratic districts, and they will be returning.

The upshot is one of the great political ironies of the year: A national conservative wave will hit hardest not at the most liberal Democrats, but at the most conservative Democrats. The Democratic caucus left behind will be, on balance, more liberal than it was before the election.

Meantime, a similar dynamic, only in the opposite direction, will be unfolding within the Republican House caucus. The election figures to bring to Washington some 50 newcomers on the Republican side—some of whom will replace retiring Republicans, others who will take over Democratic seats—and few of them are from the political center.

Instead, the tea-party movement has helped produce a crop of Republican newcomers who are ideologically to the right, and often quite intense about their views. "These people aren't interested in coming here to compromise," said one senior GOP House aide.

The net result will be a Republican House caucus pushed to the right by its newest members. The space vacated in this process will be the ideological center. That old line from Texas populist Jim Hightower—"There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos"—will feel prescient.

It's a similar story in the Senate. There, the center is being thinned by the retirements of Democrats Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and Republican George Voinovich of Ohio, all lawmakers with a proclivity to reach across the partisan divide.

Meantime, Sen. Edward Kennedy, the leading example of a liberal Democrat who could work with conservatives, has died. And Sen. John McCain, once known as the maverick Republican ready to work with the other party, seems to have lost his appetite for doing so after enduring a bitter presidential election and an equally bitter conservative challenge from within his own party this year.

Simultaneously, the election figures to produce a full-blown caucus of tea-party adherents in the Senate, which will push the center of gravity among Republicans there to the right. The new Senate could well include Republican tea-party favorites Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ken Buck of Colorado, Joe Miller of Alaska and, perhaps, Sharron Angle of Nevada.

They will represent a batch of very conservative new senators who have been engaged in campaigns in which they often explicitly rejected the idea of centrist compromises.

Beyond that, senators from both parties have been chastened this year by the defeat of Republican colleagues Robert Bennett of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska at the hands of more conservative foes in primary fights, and the bitter primary campaign waged against moderate Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas by liberals from within her own party. Those primary battles are being read as a signal that senators in both parties risk paying a high price within their own parties for reaching across the ideological divide toward the middle. So the center figures to be more lonely in the Senate as well.

Within the Democratic party, many expect this process to produce a vigorous, perhaps nasty, internal debate about the ideological direction of the party. Already some on the party's left are complaining that the centrists who will lose didn't support the party's signature legislative initiatives, such as the health-care overhaul, and that their departure should be seen as a sign the party would be better off pursuing a more liberal agenda that would please and fire up its base.

William Galston, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution, who was in President Bill Clinton's White House when Democrats went through a similarly wrenching midterm in 1994, says "it is inevitable" that a debate about the ideological course of the party will break out after Nov. 2. "It can take healthy forms, or it can take unhealthy forms."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Employers looking at health insurance options

The ajc has this from the AP:

The new health care law wasn't supposed to undercut employer plans that have provided most people in the U.S. with coverage for generations.

But last week a leading manufacturer told workers their costs will jump partly because of the law. Also, a Democratic governor laid out a scheme for employers to get out of health care by shifting workers into taxpayer-subsidized insurance markets that open in 2014.

While it's too early to proclaim the demise of job-based coverage, corporate number crunchers are looking at options that could lead to major changes. Gov. Phil Bredesen, D-Tenn., said the economics of dropping coverage are "about to become very attractive to many employers, both public and private."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

M. Towery: Barnes got into a series of issues that became the perfect political storm, but he wasn't a bad gov., & he had a great record in many ways.

James Salzer does a fair and balanced story on Gov. Barnes in today's ajc:

Roy Barnes was a governor who acted like he never expected to serve a second term.

No problem was too big to tackle, no issue too complicated. From 1999 to 2003, Barnes was a governor in a hurry, the smartest guy at the Capitol, the man who could pass any bill on any subject over any opposition, often in record time.

When he saw a troubled education system, he formed a commission and passed major legislation over the objection of teachers within a year.

When he saw clogged Atlanta roads, he created a transportation super-agency, poured money into construction, backed a Northern Arc highway and commuter rail.

Faced with an economic boycott of the state, with little notice, he shoved through the Legislature a new state flag to replace the Confederate battle emblem version that critics considered racist.

He governed as a pragmatist, pushing National Rifle Association and business bills and cutting property taxes even while going hard after lenders who he said victimized elderly and uneducated borrowers.

But his ultra-aggressive, get-it-done-no-matter-the-cost style came at a price. He alienated so many people that he created a cadre of political enemies eager to poison any chance he had of winning re-election.

Now, eight years after losing a race that ushered in the first Republican administration since Reconstruction, the 62-year-old Barnes is seeking a second chance at a second term.

This time, he says, things will be different. The man dubbed “King Roy” for his imperial ways says he has learned to slow down and listen. He’s promising not to quickly try to solve every problem the state faces. But he will have to fight his nature to keep from trying.

“I am not going to be a laissez-faire governor, because there are too many issues we have to address,” Barnes said.

As longtime state Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, said, “He is by inclination someone who hits things dead on. Patience is not one of his virtues.”

Neither is modesty, Republican critics say.

“Hubris is the only disease that is always fatal in politics, and in the end, that is what brought Roy down,” said Rusty Paul, a former GOP lawmaker turned top Capitol lobbyist.

The millionaire country lawyer from south Cobb County easily won the Democratic nomination this year and now faces an uphill battle to beat former Congressman Nathan Deal in a year that looks ripe for Republican conquest.

Barnes has played the underdog role before.

In 1990, as a veteran state senator, he ran for governor against then-Lt. Gov. Zell Miller, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and House Appropriations Chairman Bubba McDonald. He billed himself as the conservative, anti-lottery candidate. He won the endorsement of the state’s largest anti-abortion group, but he got beaten soundly in the primary.

After that loss, he won election to the state House, where he became a favorite of House Speaker Tom Murphy and bided his time.

When Miller’s presumed successor, Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard, dropped out of the governor’s race in 1997, Barnes stepped in and beat Republican multimillionaire businessman Guy Millner the next year.

Barnes was replacing an activist governor. Miller created a lottery that paid for HOPE college scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs. He eliminated the state sales tax on groceries and passed some of the toughest criminal sentencing laws in the country.

But Miller also knew how far to push issues. He tried to change the state flag, then backed off when it was clear the opposition was too great. He readily conceded that transportation gridlock was a major dilemma. But he said Georgians weren’t ready to accept the tough solutions needed.

It’s human nature, Barnes acknowledges, for people to want to follow an activist governor with a less-aggressive one.

“But I was so panicked about the changing nature of the state, particularly in education and transportation, that I took it up,” he said.

In doing so, he made enemies who cost him re-election four years later.

He alienated the more than 100,000 Georgia teachers by pushing a school “reform” bill that included ending fair-dismissal hearing rights in hopes of getting rid of bad educators.

His bill mandated smaller class sizes and an accountability program that graded schools on test results. Some of what he backed was later included in the federal No Child Left Behind law. But it was fairly revolutionary stuff for Georgia.

“I think he was making some assumptions that were wrong because he didn’t slow down and listen to things,” said Ralph Noble, a Dalton middle school teacher who was president of the Georgia Association of Educators when Barnes was governor.

It was difficult for Barnes to slow down because he was an education policy wonk who actually had the power to make changes. Reporters covering the issue received regular e-mails from Barnes with attached stories or studies on reform efforts across the country.

Much of the business community, and many Republican lawmakers, supported his plans. But teachers, egged on by maverick Republican state School Superintendent Linda Schrenko, pledged to oust him.

Ken Breeden, who ran the state’s technical colleges at the time, said, “He knew the political downside to doing what he did, but he knew it was right.”

Teachers weren’t the only ones he angered. He alienated many others by shoving a new flag through the Legislature in early 2001 with limited debate and no public vote. Flag connoisseurs dubbed the new banner the ugliest state flag in America. Opponents of the change picketed his events the rest of his term.

Other issues, such as Barnes’ highly partisan carving up of political districts brought still more anger.

Redistricting incensed Republicans — some of whom lost their seats — and rural Georgians who didn’t like having their small towns split into two or three legislative districts.

Barnes helped draw a set of political lines designed to keep his party in charge. That wasn’t particularly unusual. The Republican majority will likely do the same next year. But in 2002, Democrats had been in charge for 130 years and Republicans portrayed what they did as a symbol of a corrupt political machine that didn’t care about communities.

It wasn’t just Barnes’ issues that drew vitriol. It was his hands-on, CEO, always-in-control style that produced enmity.

He was among the first in state government to use a Blackberry wireless keypad, allowing him constant contact with officials and aides.

He deployed a computer program that let him track every vote lawmakers took on his legislative package, giving him the tool to quickly rank legislators. Critics say he rewarded loyalists for voting for his bills, something every governor does.

He also surrounded himself with people as tough as he was.

As his chief of staff, he brought in longtime political operative Bobby Kahn, whose hard-nosed, partisan style made him few friends.

Barnes in person is a back-slapping story-teller who can charm a crowd of business executives or farmers. Capitol regulars would never use that language to describe Kahn.

Barnes’ chief muscle in the General Assembly was Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, a political street-fighter from Augusta now serving 10 years in federal prison for mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy. Barnes testified on Walker’s behalf at his 2005 trial. The former legislative boss was known for a brand of in-your-face, arm-twisting politics and prolific fundraising that turned off even some Democrats.

Barnes needed friends like Walker because the governor’s political machine was fueled by money.

In 1998, he had run against a Republican who could afford to fund his own campaign. In 2000, under the guise of campaign finance reform, he pushed through legislation that doubled the amount of money people, special interest political action committees and businesses could donate. That helped him build a political war chest of more than $20 million and allowed him to start advertising for re-election in spring 2002. By comparison, he’d raised $7.7 million through Sept. 30 this time around.

Taking in money in 2000-2002 from the usual political suspects — lobbyists, lawyers, people with state contracts, big businesses and political appointees — Barnes set a standard for political fundraising in Georgia that hasn’t been duplicated.

Many donors had good reason to give. For instance, shortly before the 2002 election, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that 44 of Barnes’ 53 judicial appointees or their close associates had contributed to his campaign. Nine gave while the governor was considering their applications.

Barnes also set himself up that year by offering the first of the sales tax holidays for school clothes and supplies and by working to cut driver’s license lines.

He touted property tax breaks he’d started in 1999, something Republicans finally repealed last year in the midst of the recession.

Meanwhile, Republicans created a video depicting him as a giant rat wearing a crown.

Probably the most frequent Barnes critic at the time was Senate Republican leader Eric Johnson of Savannah, who said the governor’s style turned off Georgians. “By and large, Gov. Barnes was well-intentioned,” Johnson said in a recent interview. “It was not worth the trouble [for him] to sell education reform or the flag change to the state. It was easier to show that they could ram it down their throats. It was raw political power.”

Paul, the GOP lobbyist, blamed some of Barnes’ loss on political changes taking place in Georgia.

“We were right at the tipping point where the Democrats were losing control and knew they were losing control and the Republicans could see the promised land,” Paul said. “It was probably the most partisan era of modern Georgia politics.”

Emory University political scientist Merle Black said that, in the end, Perdue defeated Barnes by making the race a referendum on his term in office.

“I don’t think [Barnes’ ouster] had a lot to do with Perdue,” Black said. “I think they had a campaign in which they knew what they needed to carry and they knew where the weaknesses were.”

After his defeat, Barnes went back to practicing law full time — charging as much as $710 an hour — and making big money in real estate and other investments. His net worth, which he listed at $16.6 million this year, is up about $4 million since his last year in office.

Nearly eight years after losing to Perdue, Barnes began campaigning for another term by apologizing, over and over, to teachers and vowing to be a better listener. Some of his early TV commercials hit on those themes.

“I think generally, the policies were right, but I tried to take on too much and did not take the time to build the consensus and the basis for the change,” he said. “I just assumed everybody was as shocked as I was on the status of education ... and they weren’t.

“When I got in there and started pushing, there was a push back because they didn’t understand why I was doing it. That was my biggest mistake.”

Matt Towery, a former Republican lawmaker who runs an online media and polling firm, said Barnes has such an overpowering personality that “it got misconstrued as him being a king. He did not, in my judgment, operate like a king.

“He got into a series of issues that just became the perfect political storm, but I certainly don’t think you would say Roy Barnes was a bad governor,” Towery said. “He had a great record in many ways.”

If he’s elected for a second term, Barnes said, his agenda will be more focused, short and clear, and he will explain how he wants to improve schools and ease traffic congestion, two problems that remain.

“I am going to be kinder and gentler, to borrow a phrase from George Bush,” he said.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tight Races Could Lead to Uncertainty After Election - A 'Hurricane' Is Heading Toward Democrats on Election Day, Pollster Says

From The Wall Street Journal:

Democrats face damage from hurricane-force winds that can't be stopped now, a leading Democratic pollster said, while a top Republican cautioned that the full extent of the damage may not be known for days or even weeks.

"We knew there was a hurricane that was going to hit Washington," said Democrat Peter Hart, co-director of The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. "All we're doing is getting closer and closer and at this stage of the game it's going to be a huge hurricane."

Bill McInturff, Mr. Hart's partner in directing the Journal/NBC News poll, said key Senate elections in Nevada, California and Washington now look so close that it may not be possible to declare winners in all three on Nov. 2, the date of the mid-term elections. The need to tally absentee ballots, and possible recounts, could delay the final results for one or more of those races, Mr. McInturff said.

Given how close the fight for control of the Senate will be, a delay in calling one or more of the three tight Western races could leave the question of which party is in charge there hanging unanswered. Republicans would have to make a net gain of 10 seats in the Senate to win control, a number that they could reach only by winning most of the closest races where Democratic incumbents are fighting for re-election. In all three of the big Western states Mr. McInturff cited, Democratic incumbents—Patty Murray in Washington, Barbara Boxer in California and Harry Reid in Nevada—are in tough fights.

For his part, Mr. Hart predicted Democrats will keep control of the Senate. But he also warned that, in general, a "hurricane" is heading toward Democrats on Election Day, and that there is little they can do to avert it at this stage of the campaign.

Early voting offers encouragement to Democrats

From The Washington Post:

In an election year when good news has been scarce for Democrats, anxious party strategists are heartened by at least one development: In states that have started voting, early indications are that Democratic turnout could be stronger than expected.

"In many states, it even appears that the electorate so far is a little more Democratic than in 2006, although it is still early in the early voting process," reported the [Atlas Project, a Democratic consulting firm that analyzed voter data,] . . . . "Further, in some states like Georgia, Florida, Michigan and North Carolina, African Americans in particular seem to be making up a greater proportion of early voters at this point than in 2006."

Outside analysts are seeing much the same. "Democrats are not voting at as high rates as they did in 2008, but they are voting at higher rates [than Republicans] in early voting," said Michael McDonald, a George Mason University associate professor who specializes in voter behavior.

The tallies don't show how independent voters are leaning or how much crossover voting is going on.

"In 1994, there was a flip to the Republicans. In 2006, there was a flip to the Democrats," said pollster David Winston, who advises House Republicans. "Both of these flips were driven by independents, and that's likely to be the case here, if it occurs."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has seen his star rise nationally.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, and Barbara Keshishian, president of the state's teachers union, say they want to improve public schools. That's where agreement ends. In speeches, mailings and multi-million dollar TV ads, they've battled over teacher salaries, property taxes and federal education grants. They have met once, an encounter that ended when Mr. Christie threw Ms. Keshishian out of his office.

For Mr. Christie, 48 years old, the fight is part policy, part personality. He quickly has positioned himself as a politician in tune with an angry and impatient electorate, and he's already mentioned as a 2012 presidential candidate. He's well aware that the fate of his fight with the teachers union could determine his own.

New Jersey is heavily unionized with relatively high salaries for public workers of all stripes, teachers included.

New Jersey spends $17,794 a year per pupil, highest in the nation after Washington, D.C. New York isn't far behind at $16,981. California, Florida and Illinois all spend about $11,000; Mississippi, Utah, Tennessee and Idaho spend only about $8,000.

The average New Jersey teacher makes $61,277 a year, well above the U.S. average of $52,800, according to the National Education Association. New Jersey teachers get medical and other benefits costing $19,140 a year, according to the teachers union. The New Jersey Treasurer estimates its unfunded liabilities relating to lifetime health benefits for current and retired teachers is $36.32 billion.

To foot that and other bills, New Jersey residents pay an average of 11.8% of their income in state and local taxes, the highest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank. The average property tax bill for owner-occupied residences in New Jersey is $6,579, also a U.S. high.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Top Corporations Aid U.S. Chamber of Commerce Campaign

From The New York Times:

Prudential Financial sent in a $2 million donation last year as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce kicked off a national advertising campaign to weaken the historic rewrite of the nation’s financial regulations.

Dow Chemical delivered $1.7 million to the chamber last year as the group took a leading role in aggressively fighting proposed rules that would impose tighter security requirements on chemical facilities.

And Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, and Aegon, a multinational insurance company based in the Netherlands, donated more than $8 million in recent years to a chamber foundation that has been critical of growing federal regulation and spending. These large donations — none of which were publicly disclosed by the chamber, a tax-exempt group that keeps its donors secret, as it is allowed by law — offer a glimpse of the chamber’s money-raising efforts, which it has ramped up recently in an orchestrated campaign to become one of the most well-financed critics of the Obama administration and an influential player in this fall’s Congressional elections.

They suggest that the recent allegations from President Obama and others that foreign money has ended up in the chamber’s coffers miss a larger point: The chamber has had little trouble finding American companies eager to enlist it, anonymously, to fight their political battles and pay handsomely for its help.

Campaign's Big Spender - Public-Employees Union Now Leads All Groups in Independent Election Outlays ('We're the big dog.')

From The Wall Street Journal:

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is now the biggest outside spender of the 2010 elections, thanks to an 11th-hour effort to boost Democrats that has vaulted the public-sector union ahead of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and a flock of new Republican groups in campaign spending.

The 1.6 million-member AFSCME is spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats' hold on Congress. Last week, AFSCME dug deeper, taking out a $2 million loan to fund its push. The group is spending money on television advertisements, phone calls, campaign mailings and other political efforts, helped by a Supreme Court decision that loosened restrictions on campaign spending.

"We're the big dog," said Larry Scanlon, the head of AFSCME's political operations. "But we don't like to brag."

The 2010 election could be pivotal for public-sector unions, whose clout helped shield members from the worst of the economic downturn. In the 2009 stimulus and other legislation, Democratic lawmakers sent more than $160 billion in federal cash to states, aimed in large part at preventing public-sector layoffs. If Republicans running under the banner of limited government win in November, they aren't likely to support extending such aid to states.

Newly elected conservatives will also likely push to clip the political power of public-sector unions. For years, conservatives have argued such unions have an outsize influence in picking the elected officials who are, in effect, their bosses, putting them in a strong position to push for more jobs, and thus more political clout.

Some critics say public-sector unions are funded by what is essentially taxpayer cash, since member salaries, and therefore union dues, come directly from state budgets.

AFSCME's campaign push accounts for an estimated 30% of what pro-Democratic groups, including unions, plan to spend on independent campaigns to elect Democrats. It was made possible in part by a 2010 Supreme Court decision that permitted companies and unions to use their own funds to pay for certain political ads. That unleashed a flood of contributions and spawned an array of new outside political organizations, most of which were set up to help elect Republicans.

The political debate over spending by outside groups has focused largely on advertising buys by those Republican-oriented groups. Unions have mostly escaped attention in that debate, in part because they traditionally have spent much of their cash on other kinds of political activities, including get-out-the-vote efforts.

Previously, most labor-sponsored campaign ads had to be funded by volunteer donations. Now, however, AFSCME can pay for ads using annual dues from members, which amount to about $390 per person. AFSCME said it will tap membership dues to pay for $17 million of ads backing Democrats this election.

President Barack Obama has criticized the Supreme Court decision that opened the door to more spending by corporations and unions. When asked about AFSCME's ramped up campaign efforts following the court's decision, the White House focused on largely anonymous campaign spending by what it termed "special interests."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

For all the ridicule Hillary’s boxy pantsuits generate, her mannishly functional wardrobe remains the go-to choice for women on the path to power.

From The New York Times:

A woman seeking political office in 2010 faces a fashion quandary. The choice, in simplest terms, comes down to this: to follow the lead of Sarah Palin or cast a style vote with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At a glance, Ms. Palin — she of the designer jackets, rump-hugging skirts and knee-high boots — would seem to have been a game changer, loosening up a restrictive, if unwritten, campaign dress code with one that expresses a more conventionally feminine look. Her bright, curve-enhancing garments and loose, shoulder-grazing hair — even her rimless glasses — have been taken up by a handful of candidates on the climb.

Lisa A. Kline, the image consultant behind Ms. Palin’s controversial $150,000-plus fashion makeover during the 2008 campaign, views her client’s embrace of an overtly female archetype as a signal of rebellion. “Women want to change their image.” Ms. Kline said in an interview. “They had been in the mimicking-men phase for so long. Now they are going for femininity.”

Well, look again, Ms. Kline. For all the ridicule that Mrs. Clinton’s boxy pantsuits have generated over the years — she seems to own one in every color, from turquoise to fuchsia — her mannishly functional wardrobe remains the go-to choice for women on the path to power.

On their own steam — or perhaps at the suggestion of a battery of campaign advisers — the majority of candidates are retreating, as they have for decades, to the relative safety of an anodyne uniform. Understated to a fault, its chief components are a formless suit, flat or low-heeled shoes and a noncommittal hairstyle. It’s a brusquely masculine image tempered occasionally by a strand of pearls and dainty, never dangly, earrings (the latter deemed too distracting for television cameras).

Early Voting Offers a Glimpse Into End Game

From The Wall Street Journal:

From Washington State to Florida, Americans are already voting, 2.5 million of them so far, and early trends suggest that while Republicans are looking strong overall, predictions that Democrats would stay home for the midterm elections may be a bit overblown.

"If you thought the Democrats were just going to give up on this election and not vote at all, that's not what we're seeing," said Michael McDonald, a public-affairs professor at George Mason University in Virginia, who tracks early voting.

To be sure, the figures could be deceptive. State and county officials can provide the number of ballots returned by registered Republicans or Democrats, but can't say whether voters stuck with their party. But national polling suggests the parties in recent weeks have solidified support among their voters. And early-voting trends in 2008 elections presaged statewide results.

GOP Is Poised to Reap a Redistricting Bonus

From The Wall Street Journal:

The betting is that Republicans take the House of Representatives in November, but there appears to be an even better chance they also will secure an edge in shaping the next four Congresses after that.

The GOP can do this by sweeping governorships in states that will lose or add congressional seats beginning in 2012. Because their quotient of House seats will change, those states will draw entirely new district maps.

Typically the mapmaking is done by the governor and majority party in the state legislature, and when all are of the same party they can draw maps to big partisan advantage. And a look at polling in states where districts will be totally redrawn shows Republicans well positioned to take advantage in nearly every one.

Wow: Things are tightening up in key Senate races tightening as candidates on both sides make unexpected gains.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Key Senate races are tightening as candidates on both sides make unexpected gains, suggesting that the final days in the battle for control of the chamber could be as volatile as any in recent memory.

Democrats who were all but written off, including Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado, have revived and are pulling even with their Republican opponents in some polls.

Meanwhile, Republican challengers, including Dino Rossi in Washington and Carly Fiorina in California, who polls showed had slipped behind two Democratic incumbents, have drawn even.

Republicans need to capture 10 seats now held by Democrats to win a 51-49 Senate majority. Eleven Democratic seats are in play. Three are likely GOP pickups and the rest are too close to call. Democrats are within striking distance of one Republican-held seat, in Kentucky.

In Kentucky, a new Democratic poll suggests Democrat Jack Conway is catching up to Republican Rand Paul. This is one of the Democrats' few opportunities to snatch a Senate seat now held by Republicans.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Britain Announces Severe Military Cutbacks - Britain to bring down its deficit more rapidly than that of almost any other Western country.

From The New York Times:

In a bid to streamline its armed forces and help reduce its daunting levels of national debt, the British government on Tuesday announced plans to cut its military personnel by 10 percent, scrap 40 percent of the army’s artillery and tanks, withdraw all of its troops from Germany within 10 years, and cut 25,000 civilian jobs in its Defense Ministry.

Over all, the government plan will involve a staged, four-year cut of about 8 percent in real terms in Britain’s annual defense budget of about $59 billion. That was significantly less than the 10 to 20 percent cuts that were under discussion as recently as last month, when the defense minister, Liam Fox, wrote a confidential letter to Mr. Cameron — quickly leaked to Britain’s newspapers — that carried a hint that Mr. Fox might resign if the cuts were not scaled back.

The more modest scale of the military cutbacks placed extra strain on the government’s overall effort to save more than $130 billion through spending cutbacks by 2015, a commitment that will require other government departments to make cutbacks averaging 25 percent.

The details of those cuts — the most severe austerity program adopted by any British government since World War II — will be announced by George Osborne, chancellor of the Exchequer, in a House of Commons statement on Wednesday. They are expected to bring months, and perhaps years, of political controversy and possible labor unrest.

Mr. Fox’s pushback over the defense cuts appeared to have been helped by the concerns voiced, sometimes publicly, by senior Obama administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The American officials, together with senior American military commanders, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, were worried that the cuts could hamper Britain’s ability to help American forces in conflicts around the globe.

The Cameron government’s program to bring down Britain’s deficit more rapidly than that of almost any other Western country has conflicted with the Obama administration’s appeals to its allies not to risk the sluggish economic recovery of the past 18 months by cutting government spending too fast.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart: 'It's hard to say Democrats are facing anything less than a category four hurricane.'

From The Wall Street Journal:

A vigorous post-Labor Day Democratic offensive has failed to diminish the resurgent Republicans' lead among likely voters, leaving the GOP poised for major gains in congressional elections two weeks away, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Among likely voters, Republicans hold a 50% to 43% edge, up from a three-percentage-point lead a month ago.

"It's hard to say Democrats are facing anything less than a category four hurricane," said Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducts the Journal poll with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. "And it's unlikely the Democratic House will be left standing."

Mr. McInturff said the Republican lead among likely voters, if it stood, probably would yield a pickup of 52 or 53 House seats, surpassing the net gain of 39 seats the GOP needs to claim control of the chamber.

"A good chunk of [the Democrats'] base is disillusioned by what they've done, and Republicans believe the policies have taken us in the wrong direction," said Scott Jennings, a former Bush White House political aide now monitoring campaigns in Kentucky. "They've spawned a great conservative awakening."

While the poll showed overarching trends that favor Republicans, Democratic attacks on the GOP in recent weeks have solidified the party's hold on President Barack Obama's core supporters, especially African Americans and young women, while softening up the Republican advantage among senior citizens, the poll found.

The Republican edge in intensity of support, after falling from a 19-point lead in August to a 14-point lead in September, is now at 20 percentage points.

Tea-party supporters now make up 35% of the voters likely to turn out Nov. 2. Among that group, Republicans lead 84% to 10%. Just 56% of voters who supported Mr. Obama in 2008 say they are very interested in the midterm elections, compared with 77% of those who voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

For Democratic candidates, the poll holds some glimmers of hope. Democratic campaigns in their home districts appear to be having an impact.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Getting reacquainted on TV with Galloway & Crawford, a/k/a Prime Time Politics, tonight at 7:00 and 11:00 on GPB Television.

Last week I happened to stumble upon a new program for me, Prime Time Politics, on Georgia Public Television at 7:00 (described on GPB Television's Web site as a "Discussion and analysis of politics and current affairs"). Doing a little checking, I found out that I had missed about 4 episodes on the preceding Tuesday nights.

I won't miss anymore. Regulars include Jim Galloway of the ajc's Political Insider and Tom Crawford of Georgia Report (formerly Capitol Impact), and last Tuesday they were joined by Blake Aued of the Athens Banner Herald and Nancy Parrish of WSB.

In a 3-3-08 post entitled "Some friends I miss, pros I miss seeing, & other rambling thoughts about The Georgia Gang from someone in South Georgia, part of the Other Georgia," I wrote in part:

In a 10-04-06 post I shared a comment that Doug Monroe (formerly a columnist with the Atlanta Magazine, Creative Loafing and the AJC, and presently in New York and sorely missed here in Georgia) had made to a 10-03-06 post about his having had lunch with "political columnists Bill Shipp and Tom Crawford."

Doug kindly commented that "one of the subjects at lunch was how much we enjoy your blog [Cracker Squire]!"

I noted in the 10-04-06 post:

I really appreciate Doug pointing this out to me. As my readers know, Doug was in the presence of two of my favorites and without question Georgia's best of the best.

Of course Bill Shipp is Georgia's Dean of Politics and Journalism.

Tom Crawford is editor of Capitol Impact and covers politics for Georgia Trend Magazine. For those of you who might not know, Capitol Impact is a subscription service taken by many state government officials. I have had more than one such official tell me that such official's daily routine begins by reading Capitol Impact.

Tom also has appeared on The Georgia Gang when one of the regulars is not there.

Things have changed a bit since I did the above post.

First and foremost, and unfortunately for the show itself, Bill Shipp has ceased being a regular on The Georgia Gang. (But you can read his columns in your local newspaper and keep up with what's happening in Georgia and also catch his columns on Bill Shipp Online.)

Also, Tom Crawford no longer appears as a substitute for one of the regulars, his last appearance having been almost four years ago. (But you can read his weekly columns in Flagpole Magazine under the Capitol Impact link, and read his monthly pieces in Georgia Trend by subscribing as I do or seeing them at Georgia Trend and clicking on the table of contents link.)

And although the politically knowledgeable and informed Jim Galloway of the AJC's Political Insider filled in for one of the regulars a month or so ago, it had been a year plus since he had done so. (Jim Galloway is one prolific writer who can turn out a story on a dime. I would venture to opine that the Political Insider that he writes with Washington based Bob Kemper has more online readers than any other political piece in Georgia.)

I very much miss hearing Bill Shipp weekly and also hearing informed journalists Tom Crawford and Jim Galloway from time to time.

There is one thing that has not changed since the above noted post was written in 2006. Although I might be old-school, I still consider without question Bill Shipp to be the Dean of Georgia Politics and Journalism. When he was a regular on The Georgia Gang, I rarely missed a show. Alas, he’s now off and two of the regulars are professional lobbyists who spend much of their time shilling their causes.

The good days are here again, and tonight I will enjoy for the second week in a row getting reacquainted with Galloway & Crawford at 7:00 on Georgia Public Television (and if you miss it, catch it at 11:00 p.m).

And I do wish this duo would help promote this informative and now especially timely show. I should have known about it, and didn't have a clue it was on until stumbling upon it while channel surfing.

Democrats’ Grip on the South Continues - The Southern white Democrat is at risk of being pushed one step closer to extinction.

From The New York Times:

The Southern white Democrat, long on the endangered list, is at risk of being pushed one step closer to extinction.

From Virginia to Florida and South Carolina to Texas, nearly two dozen Democratic seats are susceptible to a potential Republican surge in Congressional races on Election Day, leaving the party facing a situation where its only safe presence in the South is in urban and predominantly black districts.

The swing has been under way since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson predicted that his fellow Democrats would face a backlash of white voters that would cost the party the South. It continued with Ronald Reagan’s election and reached a tipping point in the Republican sweep of 1994, with more than one-third of the victories coming from previously Democratic seats in the South.

For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans also are well-positioned to control more state legislative chambers and seats than Democrats in the South, which would have far-reaching effects for redistricting.

Should a large number of Democratic candidates lose, it would be a significant step in one of the most fundamental, if slow-moving, political realignments in American politics.

Former President Bill Clinton . . . spent his career navigating between his party’s liberal sensibilities and the far more centrist instincts of Democrats in his home region . . . .

Rick Crawford, a farm broadcaster here in Jonesboro, [Arkansas,] is the Republican candidate seeking to replace Mr. Berry, who was elected to the House in 1996 after working on agriculture policy in the Clinton White House. Mr. Crawford said that a cultural and generational change was under way, with voters willing to give a Republican candidate a chance that years ago they would not have.

“It’s getting easier to run as a Republican here,” Mr. Crawford said in an interview. “We have a lot of folks who have moved into Arkansas who were not necessarily brought up with the idea that they had to vote Democrat because their daddy did it and their granddaddy did it that way.”

Democrats Are at Odds on Relevance of Keynes

From The New York Times:

A rift has emerged within the Democratic Party between liberal economists, who generally view the 2009 stimulus package as a success and say that Keynesian economics should remain the heart of the party’s economic policy, and elected officials, who in growing numbers have shunned affiliation with the $787 billion effort and are expressing doubts about the effectiveness of fiscal intervention.

For decades, Keynesian policies, which call for government spending to make up for the shortfall in private-sector demand during an economic downturn, have been a central element of the Democratic tool kit and a principle of the party’s identity. But the unpopularity of the stimulus package signed into law by President Obama has left many Democrats in competitive races distancing themselves from such programs, raising questions about whether the party is beginning a more fundamental rethinking of its approach to the economy.

The implications could extend well beyond this election cycle. To the extent that faith in deficit spending during downturns is eroded, the Federal Reserve could face increasing pressure to deploy monetary policy to lift the economy out of a rut — a prospect that has unsettled officials at the central bank. A shift among Democrats could increase pressure in Congress to rein in the growth of government spending, slash the budget deficit and reduce the national debt — even during a period of weakness that traditional Keynesian theory would say requires more deficit spending.

GOP House Leaders Seek to Avoid Mistakes of '94

From The Wall Street Journal:

Republicans on the campaign trail are bashing the president and his agenda and some are vowing to shut down Washington if they don't get their way. Behind the scenes, key party members are talking a different game.

A number of House Republicans, including some who are likely to be in the leadership, are pushing a post-election strategy aimed at securing concrete legislation, with the goal of showing they can translate general principles into specific action.

Among the ideas is to bring a series of bills to the floor, as often as once a week, designed to cut spending in some way. Longer term, GOP leaders say they recognize they may have to compromise with Democrats in tackling broader problems.

If they recapture the House, Republicans say they are wary of following the example of the class of 1994, which shut down the government in a standoff with President Bill Clinton. Top Republicans contend that passing legislation, or at least making a good faith effort to do so, will earn them more credibility with voters than refusing to waver from purist principles.

GOP leaders stressed that this depends on the willingness of President Barack Obama to compromise as well. And some say if the post-election atmosphere is especially toxic, such compromises may be difficult.

The approach stands in contrast to the Senate, where Republican nominees including Kentucky's Rand Paul and Nevada's Sharron Angle more clearly represent the anti-establishment instincts of the tea-party movement. This would be a role reversal of sorts—the Senate was designed by the founding fathers to be the more sober institution.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New Post poll finds negativity toward federal workers

From The Washington Post:

More than half of Americans say they think that federal workers are overpaid for the work they do, and more than a third think they are less qualified than those working in the private sector, according to a Washington Post poll.

Half also say the men and women who keep the government running do not work as hard as employees at private companies.

The critical views of federal workers - just one in seven of whom works in the D.C. area - echo the anti-Washington sentiment roiling the midterm elections, as some Americans lose confidence in their government to solve the country's problems.

The strong sentiments give ammunition to both defenders and critics of the country's 1.9 million-member federal workforce in what has become a bitter debate on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail over the size and value of the federal bureaucracy.

Tom Brokaw: The Wars That America Forgot About -- What happens next in the long and so far unresolved effort to deal with Islamic rage.

Tom Brokaw writes in The New York Times:

In what promises to be the most contentious midterm election since 1994, there is no shortage of passion about big issues facing the country: the place and nature of the federal government in America’s future; public debt; jobs; health care; the influence of special interests; and the role of populist movements like the Tea Party.

Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?

How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they’re returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.

In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans’ health care. And the end is not in sight.

We all would benefit from a campaign that engaged the vexing question of what happens next in the long and so far unresolved effort to deal with Islamic rage.

No decision is more important than committing a nation to war. It is, as politicians like to say, about our blood and treasure. Surely blood and treasure are worthy of more attention than they’ve been getting in this campaign.

Groups Push Legal Limits in Advertising

From The New York Times:

Before the Supreme Court’s landmark campaign finance ruling in January, nonprofit groups . . . , able to accept unrestricted contributions from individuals and corporations, had been limited to broadcasting “issue ads” and barred from “express advocacy,” advertisements that directly urge voters to elect or defeat specific candidates.

Now, in the aftermath of the court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, third-party groups in growing numbers have been flocking to this sharper form of messaging in the closing weeks of the campaign.

In the process, however, the groups are, as never before, pushing the legal limits that enable them to preserve the anonymity of their donors.

The basic rule of thumb for nonprofit groups organized under Section 501(c) of the tax code is that more than 50 percent of their annual activities cannot be political. Although it is a matter of debate how spending on traditional issue ads would be categorized by the Internal Revenue Service, it is indisputable that spending on express advocacy would be classified as political.

Even operating just under that dividing line, however, does not mean they are safe, because it is possible the I.R.S., in particular, could classify many of their issue ads as political too, Democratic and Republican campaign finance lawyers said.

It is possible that the groups will seek to stay under the 50 percent limit by increasing their nonpolitical spending after the election is over, a common tactic. They may, for example, broadcast a lot of advertisements during the lame-duck Congress.

The strategy can be risky, however, because it depends on organizations’ keeping money in reserve, or being able to raise enough money for such work after the election.

Several lawyers said that while the 50 percent limit is widely cited, the I.R.S. has never explicitly ruled that 50 percent is the official limit for political spending. It could, in fact, be less.

Under the law, nonprofit 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations, 501(c)(5) labor unions and 501(c)(6) trade associations are supposed to be primarily focused on those tax-exempt purposes, as opposed to influencing elections. The crucial question is how a group’s “primary purpose” is evaluated. Some tax lawyers advise their clients to keep their political spending to less than 40 percent of their budgets.

Another surprisingly murky issue is what, other than explicit appeals to voters about how they should cast their ballots, the I.R.S. actually considers political. Auditors weigh a host of factors, according to the agency, including whether an advertisement is part of a continuing series by the group on the same issue. If it is, the group could make a stronger case that the ad is an example of issue, not political, advocacy.

Problems with the I.R.S. could lead to tax penalties and revocation of tax-exempt status. But nonprofit groups engaging heavily in express advocacy could also run into issues with the Federal Election Commission. If the commission determines that a group’s “major purpose” is political, the group is required to register as a political committee and disclose its donors.

The commission’s three Republican members, however, are generally inclined to give these groups leeway, effectively deadlocking the commission because it is split along party lines, and a majority vote is required for it to act. But if most of a group’s spending seems to be on express advocacy, even the Republican commissioners would probably have to scrutinize the group, lawyers said.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The New York Times Magazine article on 'The Education of a President' that you have heard and will be hearing so much about.

Peter Baker's article in The New York Times Magazine on "The Education of a President."

For Some Embattled Democrats, a Campaign Against Their Leader

From The New York Times:

As if embattled Congressional Democrats did not have enough on their hands, some are opening up a new front in their fight to save their seats — against Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House and a leader of their own party.

Representative Jim Marshall, a Democrat here in central Georgia [in Perry], spent much of a debate on Thursday night renouncing Ms. Pelosi, whose liberal views and San Francisco district have always been anathema to this region.

“Pelosi was never my choice for speaker,” Mr. Marshall said, eliciting boos from a skeptical audience in an arena here at the Georgia National Fair. Mr. Marshall actually voted for Ms. Pelosi as speaker but said he had not wanted her for the job and would not vote for her again.

As the midterm campaign barrels through its final weeks, more Democrats — many but not all in conservative districts in the South — are backing away from Ms. Pelosi and declaring their independence.

At the same time, many of these Democrats, including Mr. Marshall, have received financial aid from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose chief fund-raiser is Ms. Pelosi. The money comes despite votes by many of these Blue Dog Democrats against major Democratic initiatives like the health care bill.

“They haven’t turned off the spigot, and they’re not going to,” said Doug Moore, a spokesman for Mr. Marshall.

Biting the hand that feeds you and feeding the one who bites you are not always successful strategies, but they underscore the stakes in the Nov. 2 elections. Democrats are doing whatever it takes to try to keep their majority.

And they have Ms. Pelosi’s blessing.

Other Democrats are swallowing hard, questioning the wisdom of helping out colleagues who, if re-elected, would oppose their agenda and weaken their party leadership, particularly if the Democrats hold the House by just a few seats.

Some Democrats had already distanced themselves from Ms. Pelosi, but their overt declarations that they would not vote for her are relatively new and are intensifying.

A CBS News poll early this month showed that 44 percent of all registered voters viewed her unfavorably, while just 15 percent viewed her favorably. (A full 40 percent had no opinion.)

Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist, said the Democrats who were distancing themselves from Ms. Pelosi had no choice. “They’re losing, and they’re losing because they’re tied to the Democratic Party in general and Nancy Pelosi in particular,” he said.

I knew this would happen: As with many incumbent Democrats, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Ark. has been stung by association with the president’s agenda.

From The New York Times:

It has come to this for the chairwoman of a powerful Senate committee, a former up-and-comer in her party and onetime favorite daughter in a state whose political royalty includes President Bill Clinton and former Senators J. William Fulbright and Dale Bumpers.

She appears abandoned by voters, who have favored [her Republican opponent, Representative John] Boozman by double digits in nearly every poll in recent months. She has been forsaken by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has essentially written off her race and apportioned almost no money to it, and she has been dismissed by pundits, handicappers and operatives who are focused instead on a cluster of tossup Senate races in states — like Colorado, Illinois, Nevada and West Virginia — that absolutely do not include this one.

Mrs. Lincoln, whose come-from-behind defeat of Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in a Democratic primary runoff brought her fleeting hope in June, now finds herself very much on the wrong side of the triage that takes place in the final weeks of a Congressional campaign. This is particularly true in a midterm election in which both parties are engaged in a national chess game, deciding which races are winnable or within reach and deserving of their vast but finite means.

This beyond-hope fate befalls dozens of candidates in every national election cycle. But what is striking — and oddly poignant — about Mrs. Lincoln is the degree to which such a formidable incumbent who is, in large part, well respected by her colleagues and well liked by many of her constituents, finds herself as seemingly left for dead.

Mr. Clinton is the rare national Democrat who is popular here these days — President Obama, who lost this state to Senator John McCain in 2008, is box-office poison at this point.

As with many incumbent Democrats, Mrs. Lincoln has been stung by association with the president’s agenda.

But by and large, Mrs. Lincoln’s support for such divisive White House-driven legislation as last year’s economic stimulus bill and especially this year’s health care overhaul — which she voted for only after equivocating, upsetting both liberals and conservatives — has put her in a seemingly inescapable box.

“She can be tough, but she is wishy-washy by nature,” said Max Brantley, a longtime political columnist here who is the editor of the left-leaning Arkansas Times. “This is no year for that on things like health care. She made the worst of a bad situation by temporizing and creating a drama in which she became the star last vote.”

Japan Goes From Dynamic to Disheartened - Economists point to Japan, which has been trapped in low growth & deflation, as a dark vision of the West.

From The New York Times:

Few nations in recent history have seen such a striking reversal of economic fortune as Japan. The original Asian success story, Japan rode one of the great speculative stock and property bubbles of all time in the 1980s to become the first Asian country to challenge the long dominance of the West.

But the bubbles popped in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Japan fell into a slow but relentless decline that neither enormous budget deficits nor a flood of easy money has reversed. For nearly a generation now, the nation has been trapped in low growth and a corrosive downward spiral of prices, known as deflation, in the process shriveling from an economic Godzilla to little more than an afterthought in the global economy.

Now, as the United States and other Western nations struggle to recover from a debt and property bubble of their own, a growing number of economists are pointing to Japan as a dark vision of the future. Even as the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, prepares a fresh round of unconventional measures to stimulate the economy, there are growing fears that the United States and many European economies could face a prolonged period of slow growth or even, in the worst case, deflation, something not seen on a sustained basis outside Japan since the Great Depression.

Many economists remain confident that the United States will avoid the stagnation of Japan, largely because of the greater responsiveness of the American political system and Americans’ greater tolerance for capitalism’s creative destruction. Japanese leaders at first denied the severity of their nation’s problems and then spent heavily on job-creating public works projects that only postponed painful but necessary structural changes, economists say.

“We’re not Japan,” said Robert E. Hall, a professor of economics at Stanford. “In America, the bet is still that we will somehow find ways to get people spending and investing again.”

Still, as political pressure builds to reduce federal spending and budget deficits, other economists are now warning of “Japanification” — of falling into the same deflationary trap of collapsed demand that occurs when consumers refuse to consume, corporations hold back on investments and banks sit on cash. It becomes a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle: as prices fall further and jobs disappear, consumers tighten their purse strings even more and companies cut back on spending and delay expansion plans.

“The U.S., the U.K., Spain, Ireland, they all are going through what Japan went through a decade or so ago,” said Richard Koo, chief economist at Nomura Securities who recently wrote a book about Japan’s lessons for the world. “Millions of individuals and companies see their balance sheets going underwater, so they are using their cash to pay down debt instead of borrowing and spending.”`

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mark Shields and David Brooks analyze this week's top news, including the Tea Party's message in the midterms and a New York Times profile of Obama.

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze this week's top news, including the Tea Party's message in the midterms and a New York Times profile of President Obama on the PBS NewsHour.

W.Va. Senate hopeful Joe Manchin has one problem: That pesky 'D' after his name

Former President Bill Clinton at a campaign rally for Governor Joe Manchin
From The Washington Post:

In any other year, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin would be a lock to win his race for Senate. He's as popular as almost any politician in America, with an approval rating around 70 percent. Even his opponents concede he's done a good job.

If that weren't enough, his opponent, John Raese, is a millionaire heir who faces questions about just how committed he is to West Virginia. His wife is registered to vote in Palm Beach, Fla., where they own a home, and his daughters go to school there.

His policies might be problematic as well - in one of the poorest states in the nation, Raese advocates for doing away with the federal minimum wage. And he has a favorite joke that may not exactly resonate in these difficult times: "I made my money the old-fashioned way, I inherited it."

In any other year - like, say, 1984, 1988 and 2006, when Raese lost races for statewide office - he would not be much of an obstacle for someone like Manchin.

But this year Manchin has one problem he can't fix. "There's not much wrong with him," said John Jenks, at a Raese event on Wednesday in this central West Virginia town, "it's just that he's a Democrat."

That little fact has turned the race to replace Sen. Robert Byrd (D) from a coronation of Manchin into the one of the most competitive races in the country, with both parties running nearly constant campaign commercials to win an election that could determine which party controls the Senate.