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Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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

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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stabilizing U.S. debt is the greater of two G-20 challenges

From The Washington Post:

An international push to cut deficits in half by 2013 may sound impressive, but the United States already is on track to meet that target without significant policy changes. The harder task for President Obama will be achieving a second goal adopted by the nation's largest economies over the weekend: stabilizing the soaring U.S. debt.

Official forecasts show the U.S. budget deficit plummeting as the economy recovers, tax revenue rebounds and spending on last year's economic stimulus package finally winds down.

"The short-term goal is neither particularly ambitious nor particularly relevant. You get most of the way there just from the economy picking up," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates deficit reduction. However, to rein in the debt, Bixby said, "they really are going to have to get into undoing some policies that are popular."

As in other advanced economies in the Group of 20 nations, which adopted the deficit goals in Toronto this weekend, U.S. government spending is being driven inexorably upward primarily by health spending and social safety net programs for the poor and a growing population of old people. U.S. taxes, meanwhile, remain extraordinarily low by international standards; in the most recent ranking of 30 developed nations, the United States had the fifth-lowest tax burden, as a proportion of economic output. Only Mexico, Turkey, South Korea and Japan had lower burdens.

Obama has acknowledged that reining in the national debt, which now exceeds 56 percent of the U.S. economy's annual output, may require changes to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare -- and to a "tax system that is messy and unfair," as he said Sunday in Toronto. But Obama has sought to postpone that reckoning until after this fall's midterm elections, creating an independent, bipartisan commission to develop a long-term plan to rebalance the federal budget.

In the meantime, Obama is making the same argument on Capitol Hill that he took to Toronto: The most powerful means of deficit reduction is a growing economy. If businesses make money and individuals get jobs, they all pay more taxes and seek fewer government subsidies.

Europe's pivot toward government austerity is helping to fuel the anti-spending mood in Congress. Highly indebted European countries are slashing spending with varying degrees of urgency, depending on whether they have come under pressure from bond markets, such as Greece and Spain, or are working to avoid it, such as Britain.

With Command Shift in Afghanistan, Talk Turns to Withdrawal

From The New York Times:

When he ordered 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan last December, President Obama stressed that they would not stay forever. “After 18 months,” he said, “our troops will begin to come home.”

Last weekend, though, he scorned the “obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave,” saying he was focused on making sure the troops were successful. The July 2011 deadline he set was intended to “begin a process of transition,” he said, but “that doesn’t mean we suddenly turn off the lights and let the door close behind us.”

As he hands command of the war to Gen. David H. Petraeus, Mr. Obama is trying to define what his timeline means — but not too much. Even as developments in Afghanistan have made meeting the deadline all the more daunting, Mr. Obama has sent multiple signals to multiple audiences, sticking by his commitment to begin pulling out while insisting that it does not mean simply walking away.

But if he is maintaining maximum flexibility with deliberate ambiguity, the conflicting emphasis has left many wondering just what will happen next summer. The question dominated General Petraeus’s last appearance on Capitol Hill two weeks ago when he testified as head of the United States Central Command overseeing the region. And it may flavor his return on Tuesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee as it moves to confirm his new assignment as commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Military officers and intelligence officials bristle at the deadline, because they said it had convinced many Afghans that Americans would not be around for the long term, making them less willing to defy the Taliban. The president’s Democratic allies in Congress, on the other hand, are pressing him to make sure that July 2011 begins a “serious drawdown,” as Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, put it.

The issue has taken prominence not just because of Mr. Obama’s appointment of General Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, but because House leaders want to pass a war spending measure before leaving town for the Fourth of July break. Some liberal lawmakers hope to use the bill to force conditions for scaling back the American military commitment.

The White House said Monday that the July 2011 deadline was intentionally flexible, but had had some desired effect. “We want the Afghans to understand that we’re going to be expecting more out of them, so to the extent that it conveys a sense of urgency, that’s an important message,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.

At the same time, he noted that the president had not decided how quickly the drawdown would take place. “There’s clearly going to be an enduring commitment to Afghanistan past 2011, whatever the slope,” he said.

But that part of the message has not transmitted to many in the rural reaches of Afghanistan, where American troops regularly encounter Afghans who assume they are all leaving next year.
In the village of Abdul Ghayas in Helmand Province last month, for example, a local resident exasperated two Marines when he told them that he was nervous about helping with their plans for a new school out of fear that the Taliban would retaliate after the Americans went home next year.

A senior American intelligence official said the Taliban had effectively used the deadline to their advantage. He added that the deadline had encouraged Pakistani security services to “hedge their bets” and continue supporting militant groups like the Haqqani network.

“They’ve been burned and they’ve seen this movie before,” the official said, noting the American disengagement after the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

The last time General Petraeus testified on Capitol Hill, he told the House Armed Services Committee that he would not “make too much out of that” deadline because the president had not decided the pace of a withdrawal. Before the Senate committee, he endorsed the deadline, but paused when Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and the Armed Services Committee chairman, asked if it reflected his best military judgment.

“In a perfect world, Mr. Chairman, we have to be very careful with deadlines,” General Petraeus said, adding that “we are assuming” conditions will permit it. When Mr. Levin asked if that was “a qualified yes,” General Petraeus agreed.

Mr. Levin said Monday that General Petraeus would be pressed again on Tuesday: “He needs to be again on record on that issue, and to say why he agrees with the policy, because particularly on the Republican side there are people who disagree with that.”

Ireland, a Picture of the High Cost of Austerity

From The New York Times:

As Europe’s major economies focus on belt-tightening, they are following the path of Ireland. But the once thriving nation is struggling, with no sign of a rapid turnaround in sight.

Nearly two years ago, an economic collapse forced Ireland to cut public spending and raise taxes, the type of austerity measures that financial markets are now pressing on most advanced industrial nations.

“When our public finance situation blew wide open, the dominant consideration was ensuring that there was international investor confidence in Ireland so we could continue to borrow,” said Alan Barrett, chief economist at the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland. “A lot of the argument was, ‘Let’s get this over with quickly.’ ”

Rather than being rewarded for its actions, though, Ireland is being penalized. Its downturn has certainly been sharper than if the government had spent more to keep people working. Lacking stimulus money, the Irish economy shrank 7.1 percent last year and remains in recession.

Joblessness in this country of 4.5 million is above 13 percent, and the ranks of the long-term unemployed — those out of work for a year or more — have more than doubled, to 5.3 percent.

“The facts are that there is no easy way to cut deficits,” Prime Minister Brian Cowen said in an interview.

Despite its strenuous efforts, Ireland has been thrust into the same ignominious category as Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. It now pays a hefty three percentage points more than Germany on its benchmark bonds, in part because investors fear that the austerity program, by retarding growth and so far failing to reduce borrowing, will make it harder for Dublin to pay its bills rather than easier.

Other European nations, including Britain and Germany, are following Ireland’s lead, arguing that the only way to restore growth is to convince investors and their own people that government borrowing will shrink.

The Group of 20 leaders set that in writing this weekend, vowing to make deficit reduction the top priority despite warnings from President Obama that too much austerity could choke a global recovery and warnings from a few economists about the possibility of a much sharper 1930s style downturn.

The budget went from surpluses in 2006 and 2007 to a staggering deficit of 14.3 percent of gross domestic product last year — worse than Greece. It continues to deteriorate. Drained of cash after an American-style housing boom went bust, Ireland has had to borrow billions; its once ultralow debt could rise to 77 percent of G.D.P. this year.

Food for thought: Long wars are antithetical to democracy.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His book "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War" will be published in August. The following article by Professor Bacevich is from The Washington Post:

Long wars are antithetical to democracy. Protracted conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government. Not least among those values is a code of military conduct that honors the principle of civilian control while keeping the officer corps free from the taint of politics. Events of the past week -- notably the Rolling Stone profile that led to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's dismissal -- hint at the toll that nearly a decade of continuous conflict has exacted on the U.S. armed forces. The fate of any one general qualifies as small beer: Wearing four stars does not signify indispensability. But indications that the military's professional ethic is eroding, evident in the disrespect for senior civilians expressed by McChrystal and his inner circle, should set off alarms.

Earlier generations of American leaders, military as well as civilian, instinctively understood the danger posed by long wars. "A democracy cannot fight a Seven Years War," Gen. George C. Marshall once remarked. The people who provided the lifeblood of the citizen army raised to wage World War II had plenty of determination but limited patience. They wanted victory won and normalcy restored.

The wisdom of Marshall's axiom soon became clear. In Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson plunged the United States into what became its Seven Years War. The citizen army that was sent to Southeast Asia fought valiantly for a time and then fell to pieces. As the conflict dragged on, Americans in large numbers turned against the war -- and also against the troops who fought it.
After Vietnam, the United States abandoned its citizen army tradition, oblivious to the consequences. In its place, it opted for what the Founders once called a "standing army" -- a force consisting of long-serving career professionals.

For a time, the creation of this so-called all-volunteer force, only tenuously linked to American society, appeared to be a master stroke. Washington got superbly trained soldiers and Republicans and Democrats took turns putting them to work. The result, once the Cold War ended, was greater willingness to intervene abroad. As Americans followed news reports of U.S. troops going into action everywhere from the Persian Gulf to the Balkans, from the Caribbean to the Horn of Africa, they found little to complain about: The costs appeared negligible. Their role was simply to cheer.

This happy arrangement now shows signs of unraveling, a victim of what the Pentagon has all too appropriately been calling its Long War.

The Long War is not America's war. It belongs exclusively to "the troops," lashed to a treadmill that finds soldiers and Marines either serving in a combat zone or preparing to deploy.

To be an American soldier today is to serve a people who find nothing amiss in the prospect of armed conflict without end. Once begun, wars continue, persisting regardless of whether they receive public support. President Obama's insistence to the contrary notwithstanding, this nation is not even remotely "at" war. In explaining his decision to change commanders without changing course in Afghanistan, the president offered this rhetorical flourish: "Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths." In fact, when it comes to war, the American people avert their eyes from difficult truths. Largely unaffected by events in Afghanistan and Iraq and preoccupied with problems much closer to home, they have demonstrated a fine ability to tune out war. Soldiers (and their families) are left holding the bag.

Throughout history, circumstances such as these have bred praetorianism, warriors becoming enamored with their moral superiority and impatient with the failings of those they are charged to defend. The smug disdain for high-ranking civilians casually expressed by McChrystal and his chief lieutenants -- along with the conviction that "Team America," as these officers style themselves, was bravely holding out against a sea of stupidity and corruption -- suggests that the officer corps of the United States is not immune to this affliction.

To imagine that replacing McChrystal with Gen. David H. Petraeus will fix the problem is wishful thinking. To put it mildly, Petraeus is no simple soldier. He is a highly skilled political operator, whose name appears on Republican wish lists as a potential presidential candidate in 2012. Far more significant, the views cultivated within Team America are shared elsewhere.

The day the McChrystal story broke, an active-duty soldier who has served multiple combat tours offered me his perspective on the unfolding spectacle. The dismissive attitude expressed by Team America, he wrote, "has really become a pandemic in the Army." Among his peers, a belief that "it is OK to condescend to civilian leaders" has become common, ranking officers permitting or even endorsing "a culture of contempt" for those not in uniform. Once the previously forbidden becomes acceptable, it soon becomes the norm.

"Pretty soon you have an entire organization believing that their leader is the 'Savior' and that everyone else is stupid and incompetent, or not committed to victory." In this soldier's view, things are likely to get worse before they get better. "Senior officers who condone this kind of behavior and allow this to continue and fester," he concluded, "create generation after generation of officers like themselves -- but they're generally so arrogant that they think everyone needs to be just like them anyway."

By itself, Team America poses no threat to the constitutional order. Gen. McChrystal is not Gen. MacArthur. When presenting himself at the White House on Wednesday, McChrystal arrived not as a man on horseback but as a supplicant, hat (and resignation) in hand. Still, even with his departure, it would be a mistake to consider the matter closed.

During Vietnam, the United States military cracked from the bottom up. The damage took decades to repair. In the seemingly endless wars of the post-Sept. 11 era, a military that has demonstrated remarkable durability now shows signs of coming undone at the top. The officer corps is losing its bearings.

Americans might do well to contemplate a famous warning issued by another frustrated commander from a much earlier age.

"We had been told, on leaving our native soil," wrote the centurion Marcus Flavius to a cousin back in Rome, "that we were going to defend the sacred rights conferred on us by so many of our citizens [and to aid] populations in need of our assistance and our civilization." For such a cause, he and his comrades had willingly offered to "shed our quota of blood, to sacrifice our youth and our hopes." Yet the news from the homeland was disconcerting: The capital was seemingly rife with factions, treachery and petty politics. "Make haste," Marcus Flavius continued, "and tell me that our fellow citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we ourselves are protecting the glory of the empire."

"If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached bones on these desert sands in vain, then beware of the anger of the legions!"

Stanley McChrystal is no Marcus Flavius, lacking the Roman's eloquence, among other things. Yet in ending his military career on such an ignominious note, he has, however clumsily, issued a warning that deserves our attention.

The responsibility facing the American people is clear. They need to reclaim ownership of their army. They need to give their soldiers respite, by insisting that Washington abandon its de facto policy of perpetual war. Or, alternatively, the United States should become a nation truly "at" war, with all that implies in terms of civic obligation, fiscal policies and domestic priorities. Should the people choose neither course -- and thereby subject their troops to continuing abuse -- the damage to the army and to American democracy will be severe.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Corruption Suspected in Airlift of Billions in Cash From Kabul

From The Wall Street Journal:

More than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the past three years, a sum so large that U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.

Officials believe some of the cash, if not most, is siphoned from Western aid projects and U.S., European and NATO contracts to provide security, supplies and reconstruction work for coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Frank Rich and Bob Herbert have some strong works about our presence in Afghanistan -- The American public gave up on the war long ago; public apathy

Frank Rich writes in The New York Times:

The war, supported by a steadily declining minority of Americans, has no chance of regaining public favor unless President Obama can explain why American blood and treasure should be at the mercy of this napping Afghan president. Karzai stole an election, can’t provide a government in or out of a box, and has in recent months threatened to defect to the Taliban and accused American forces of staging rocket attacks on his national peace conference. Until last week, Obama’s only real ally in making his case was public apathy. Next to unemployment and the oil spill, Karzai and Afghanistan were but ticks on our body politic, even as the casualty toll passed 1,000. As a senior McChrystal adviser presciently told Hastings, “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.”

And Bob Herbert writes in The New York Times:

President Obama can be applauded for his decisiveness in dispatching the chronically insubordinate Stanley McChrystal, but we are still left with a disaster of a war in Afghanistan that cannot be won and that the country as a whole will not support.

We’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly a decade already. It’s one of the most corrupt places on the planet and the epicenter of global opium production. Our ostensible ally, President Hamid Karzai, is convinced that the U.S. cannot prevail in the war and is in hot pursuit of his own deal with the enemy Taliban. The American public gave up on the war long ago, and it is not at all clear that President Obama’s heart is really in it.

In Afghanistan, we are playing a dangerous, half-hearted game in which President Obama tells the America people that this is a war of necessity and that he will do whatever is necessary to succeed. Then, with the very next breath, he soothingly assures us that the withdrawal of U.S. troops will begin on schedule, like a Greyhound leaving the terminal, a year from now.

Both cannot be true.

We are sinking more and more deeply into the fetid quagmire of Afghanistan and neither the president nor General Petraeus nor anyone else has the slightest clue about how to get out. The counterinsurgency zealots in the military want more troops sent to Afghanistan, and they want the president to completely scrap his already shaky July 2011 timetable for the beginning of a withdrawal.

We’re like a compulsive gambler plunging ever more deeply into debt in order to wager on a rigged game. There is no victory to be had in Afghanistan, only grief. We’re bulldozing Detroit while at the same time trying to establish model metropolises in Kabul and Kandahar. We’re spending endless billions on this wretched war but can’t extend the unemployment benefits of Americans suffering from the wretched economy here at home.

The difference between this and a nightmare is that when you wake up from a nightmare it’s over. This is all too tragically real.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Leaders at Summit Turn Attention to Deficit Cuts

From The New York Times:

Despite President Obama’s pitch at the summit meeting for developed nations here for continued stimulus measures to prevent another global economic downturn, the United States will go along with other leaders who are more concerned about rising debt and join in a commitment to cut their governments’ deficits in half by 2013, administration officials said on Saturday.

Even as Congress allowed Mr. Obama to pack the big victory on banking regulation as he left for the Group of 20 summit talks, the Senate separately dealt him a significant setback that no doubt resonated with the foreign leaders here pushing fiscal austerity: Democratic leaders shelved an economic stimulus package of aid for the long-term unemployed and financially squeezed states, along with assorted tax cuts.

The setback underscored the difficulty Mr. Obama has had in making the case for stimulus. At home as abroad, Mr. Obama is confronting the limits of the consensus that took hold after the economic crisis began in 2008, which favored bigger deficits to spur job creation. At stake, as the administration sees it, is continued global recovery or a relapse into another recession.

Yet even within Mr. Obama’s administration there are fault lines on how much additional stimulus is desirable.

Some news reports in recent days suggested that Peter R. Orszag, the budget director who recently announced that he would be leaving in late July, was resigning partly out of frustration that he had lost the argument for deeper and quicker reductions in projected deficits.

Good show Ox. Thanks a lot for nothing. A real demonstration of your leadership skills (or lack thereof). -- Insurance Pools Readied in Some States

From The New York Times:

The Obama administration is poised to award contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to about 20 states to run new insurance pools for people with serious medical problems.

In another 20 states, where local officials chose not to participate, the federal government will run the pools through a private nonprofit entity.

Other states, like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Virginia, never had high-risk pools and will allow federal officials to run the program within their borders.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What? Racist. Geez . . . -- Arizona governor: Most illegal immigrants transport drugs, an assertion that critics painted as exaggerated and racist.

From The Washington Post:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) said Friday that most illegal immigrants entering Arizona are being used to transport drugs across the border, an assertion that critics painted as exaggerated and racist.

"I believe today, under the circumstances that we're facing, that the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming into the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels and they are bringing drugs in," Brewer said.

Arnold Schwarzenegger on the outs in California's Republican Party

From The Washington Post:

When Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, the Dream Team of the California GOP, joined hands at a rally celebrating their primary victories this month, there was one broad-shouldered Republican conspicuously missing from the scene: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Organizers said the actor-turned-politician declined an invitation to the event. The truth is, he would not have been welcome. After nearly six years in office, Schwarzenegger has few friends left in either party. The state budget deficit hovers around $20 billion; his approval rating has sunk below 25 percent.

Good to have my assessment confirmed in this report (and good news for me): Closing Guantánamo Fades as a Priority

From The New York Times:

Stymied by political opposition and focused on competing priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantánamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013.

When the White House acknowledged last year that it would miss Mr. Obama’s initial January 2010 deadline for shutting the prison, it also declared that the detainees would eventually be moved to one in Illinois. But impediments to that plan have mounted in Congress, and the administration is doing little to overcome them.

The White House insists it is still determined to shutter the prison. The administration argues that Guantánamo is a symbol in the Muslim world of past detainee abuses, citing military views that its continued operation helps terrorists.

The politics of closing the prison have clearly soured following the attempted bombings on a plane on Dec. 25 and in Times Square in May, as well as Republican criticism that imprisoning detainees in the United States would endanger Americans. When Mr. Obama took office a slight majority supported closing it. By a March 2010 poll, 60 percent wanted it to stay open.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Senate cuts off a cash spigot opened by Obama when he took office -- Dems should have limited to an extension of unemployment benefits much earlier.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Spooked by concern about deficits, the Senate shelved a spending bill that included an extension of unemployment benefits, suddenly cutting off a federal cash spigot opened by President Barack Obama when he took office 18 months ago.

The collapse of the wide-ranging legislation means that a total of 1.3 million unemployed Americans will have lost their assistance by the end of this week. It will also leave a number of states with large budget holes they had expected to fill with federal cash to help with Medicaid costs.

The impasse has been weeks in the making and reflects the deepening concern on Capitol Hill with the nation's fiscal situation, as well as a hardening of Republican opposition. Democrats had moved several times to pare the cost of the bill in an effort to win support from centrist Republicans and to make up defections from their own ranks.

Obama administration officials have argued that cutting off government support for the economy too quickly could harm the nascent recovery, and have been pressing both Congress and their international peers to keep the cash flowing. Conservative economists, Republicans and some European leaders say deficit reduction should be a higher priority. The sudden move by Congress provides an unexpected test of that argument.

Up in the air are other provisions that were to be included in the legislation, including some $50 billion in new taxes designed to help offset its cost. They included an increase in levies paid by private investment groups, including hedge-fund firms and real-estate partnerships, a provision long sought by some Democrats that will likely return another day.

Under a program initially enacted last year—which expired June 2—jobless workers could receive up to 99 weeks of aid, including 26 weeks of basic assistance provided by states plus longer-term federal payments. The Labor Department estimates that the long-term unemployed, meaning those out of a job for at least six months, make up 46% of all jobless workers in the U.S.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lawmakers across country taking immigration policy into own hands

From The Washington Post:

With widespread attention focused on Arizona's tough new law against illegal immigration -- and a measure approved this week in the small town of Fremont, Neb. -- similar proposals are under consideration across the country.

Five states -- South Carolina, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Michigan -- are looking at Arizona-style legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. NDN, a Washington think tank and advocacy group, said lawmakers in 17 other states had expressed support for similar measures.

This week, the spotlight shifted to rural Fremont, which narrowly passed an ordinance that would outlaw hiring illegal immigrants or renting property to them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Confidence Waning in Obama, U.S. Outlook -- Poll shows 'a really ugly mood and an unhappy electorate,' said Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama's leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

The survey also shows grave and growing concerns about the Gulf oil spill, with overwhelming majorities of adults favoring stronger regulation of the oil industry and believing that the spill will affect the nation's economy and environment.

Sixty-two percent of adults in the survey feel the country is on the wrong track, the highest level since before the 2008 election. Just one-third think the economy will get better over the next year, a 7-point drop from a month ago and the low point of Mr. Obama's tenure.

Amid anxiety over the nation's course, support for Mr. Obama and other incumbents is eroding. For the first time, more people disapprove of Mr. Obama's job performance than approve. And 57% of voters would prefer to elect a new person to Congress than re-elect their local representatives, the highest share in 18 years.

The results show "a really ugly mood and an unhappy electorate," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the Journal/NBC poll with GOP pollster Bill McInturff. "The voters, I think, are just looking for change, and that means bad news for incumbents and in particular for the Democrats."

Mr. McInturff said voters' feelings, typically set by June in any election year, are being hardened by frustration over the economy and the oil spill.

For Democrats, the results underscore the potential for major losses in November. Both parties have been forced to contend with an anti-establishment wave this year. But Republicans, through strong fund raising and candidate recruitment, have put enough seats in play in the House and Senate to give the GOP a realistic shot at winning control of both chambers.

Support for Mr. Obama and his party is declining among centrist, independent voters. But, more ominous for the president, some in his base also are souring, with 17% of Democrats disapproving of Mr. Obama's job performance, the highest level of his presidency.

In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, a New Breed of Commander Stepped In

The New York Times has a good article about how Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal modeled himself as one of a new kind of American military leader: intellectual, open with the press and politically savvy. It notes:

Like General Petraeus, who has a Ph.D. from Princeton, General McChrystal, a fellow at both Harvard University and the Council on Foreign Relations, he brought a formidable intellect to the elusive complexities of Afghan tribal and ethnic politics. And he labored to explain the rationale — through the press to a public increasingly weary of war and skeptical of the effort in Afghanistan — behind his strategy based on counterinsurgency.

But in making derisive remarks about members of the Obama administration to Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone, General McChrystal went well past acceptable candor and into the realm of political hazard.

Exactly why he and his officers chose to let fly in such uncontrolled fashion in front of a reporter is hard to know. It is possible that they had become so accustomed to having reporters around that they forgot one of them was there.

And that, perhaps, is a measure of the difference between General McChrystal and his mentor. It is impossible to imagine General Petraeus uttering the same things or letting down his guard to do so. For if there is one rule by the which the new breed of generals live, it is that candor is good, but not too much

Tom Friedman: Regardless of whether Gen. McChrystal stays or goes, America's only real choices are lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small.

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s trashing of his civilian colleagues was unprofessional and may cost him his job. If so, it will be a sad end to a fine career. But no general is indispensable. What is indispensable is that when taking America surging deeper into war in Afghanistan, President Obama has to be able to answer the most simple questions at a gut level: Do our interests merit such an escalation and do I have the allies to achieve victory? President Obama never had good answers for these questions, but he went ahead anyway. The ugly truth is that no one in the Obama White House wanted this Afghan surge. The only reason they proceeded was because no one knew how to get out of it — or had the courage to pull the plug. That is not a sufficient reason to take the country deeper into war in the most inhospitable terrain in the world. You know you’re in trouble when you’re in a war in which the only party whose objectives are clear, whose rhetoric is consistent and whose will to fight never seems to diminish is your enemy: the Taliban.

President Obama is not an Afghan expert. Few people are. But that could have been his strength. The three questions he needed to ask about Afghanistan were almost childlike in their simplicity. Yet Obama either failed to ask them or went ahead, nevertheless, because he was afraid he would have been called a wimp by Republicans if he hadn’t.

The first question was hiding in plain sight: Why do we have to recruit and train our allies, the Afghan Army, to fight? That is like someone coming to you with a plan to recruit and train Brazilian boys to play soccer.

If there is one thing Afghan males should not need to be trained to do, it’s to engage in warfare. That may be the only thing they all know how to do after 30 years of civil war and centuries of resisting foreign powers. After all, who is training the Taliban? They’ve been fighting the U.S. Army to a draw — and many of their commanders can’t even read.

It is not about the way. It is about the will. I have said this before, and I will say it again: The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them. The Camp David peace treaty started with Israelis and Egyptians meeting in secret — without us. The Oslo peace process started with Israelis and Palestinians meeting in secret — without us. The Sunni tribal awakening in Iraq against pro-Al Qaeda forces started with them — without us. When it starts with them, when they assume ownership, our military and diplomatic support can be a huge multiplier, as we’ve seen in Iraq and at Camp David.

Ownership is everything in business, war and diplomacy. People will fight with sticks and stones and no training at all for a government they feel ownership of. When they — Israelis, Palestinians, Afghans, Iraqis — assume ownership over a policy choice, everything is possible, particularly the most important thing of all: that what gets built becomes self-sustaining without us. But when we want it more than they do, nothing is self-sustaining, and they milk us for all we’re worth. I simply don’t see an Afghan “awakening” in areas under Taliban control. And without that, at scale, nothing we build will be self-sustaining.

That leads to the second question: If our strategy is to use U.S. forces to clear the Taliban and help the Afghans put in place a decent government so they can hold what is cleared, how can that be done when President Hamid Karzai, our principal ally, openly stole the election and we looked the other way? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in the administration told us not to worry: Karzai would have won anyway; he’s the best we’ve got; she knew how to deal with him and he would come around. Well, I hope that happens. But my gut tells me that when you don’t call things by their real name, you get in trouble. Karzai stole the election, and we said: No problem, we’re going to build good governance on the back of the Kabul mafia.

Which brings up the third simple question, the one that made me most opposed to this surge: What do we win if we win? At least in Iraq, if we eventually produce a decent democratizing government, we will, at enormous cost, have changed the politics in a great Arab capital in the heart of the Arab Muslim world. That can have wide resonance. Change Afghanistan at enormous cost and you’ve changed Afghanistan — period. Afghanistan does not resonate.

Moreover, Al Qaeda is in Pakistan today — or, worse, in the soul of thousands of Muslim youth from Bridgeport, Conn., to London, connected by “The Virtual Afghanistan”: the Internet. If Al Qaeda cells returned to Afghanistan, they could be dealt with by drones, or special forces aligned with local tribes. It would not be perfect, but perfect is not on the menu in Afghanistan.

My bottom line: The president can bring Ulysses S. Grant back from the dead to run the Afghan war. But when you can’t answer the simplest questions, it is a sign that you’re somewhere you don’t want to be and your only real choices are lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I am a betting man, and I bet the Regents follow the lead of my friend Regent Larry Walker -- Georgia major player in national immigration debate

From the ajc:

Larry Walker, [a state] regent, said a solution must be be found to quell public outrage over [the issue of the admission of illegal immigrants into Georgia's public colleges], repeatedly referencing anger and frustrations expressed by Georgians after learning Kennesaw State University had awarded in-state tuition to an undocumented student.

The State Board of Regents formed [a 13-person committee to deal solely with residency and tuition involving undocumented students] after the Kennesaw student was found to be an illegal immigrant during a traffic stop and it was later determined she was paying the cheaper tuition, pushing Georgia into the forefront of an ongoing national debate. Illegal immigrants currently are allowed to attend the state's public colleges but must pay out-of-state tuition, which is at least three times greater than for residents.

The public fallout from the Kennesaw State incident forced the regents to review how colleges verify student residency and determine what to charge them for tuition. Some elected officials have demanded that these students be barred from public colleges. Similar debates have been held or will take place in Arizona, California and Massachusetts.

At the beginning of Monday's meeting, the first of a series of meetings that could extend into the fall, Chancellor Erroll Davis and the regents' attorney said the University System of Georgia is operating within the law.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said federal law does not bar illegal immigrants from attending public colleges. In a 2008 letter, the most recent federal guideline on the issue, the agency wrote that "individual states must decide for themselves whether or not to admit illegal aliens into their public post-secondary institutions." That letter said monetary-assisted benefits, such as work study programs or federally-subsidized Pell Grants, were prohibited.

In 2006, Georgia passed a lawordering the regents to make certain that universities don’t give benefits to illegal immigrants that are prohibited under federal law. Davis and the regents’ attorney concluded that the lower, taxpayer-subsidized in-state tuition is such a benefit. Davis ordered colleges to stop giving undocumented students this benefit.

He won't (and he shouldn't) last out the week -- Gates: McChrystal remarks showed 'poor judgment'


The top U.S. general in Afghanistan was summoned to Washington for a White House meeting after apologizing for flippant and dismissive remarks about top Obama administration officials.

From The Washington Post:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that his top commander in Afghanistan "made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment" in making dismissive and derogatory remarks to a magazine reporter about U.S. government officials involved in Afghan policy.

The profile of McChrystal, titled the "Runaway General," is certain to increase tension between him and the White House. It also raises fresh questions about the judgment and leadership style of the commander appointed by President Obama last year in an effort to turn around a worsening conflict.

White House Budget Chief Is Leaving -- He espoused deficit reduction strategies vs. stimulus spending & tax cuts.

From The New York Times:

Peter R. Orszag will leave his job as the White House budget director in July, according to someone familiar with his plans, making him perhaps the first official to leave the Obama cabinet and removing a major player from President Obama’s economic team.

Mr. Orszag, an economist who previously spent nearly two years as director of the Congressional Budget Office, somewhat reluctantly accepted Mr. Obama’s invitation to join the cabinet after the 2008 election and never planned to stay more than two years.

In recent months, Mr. Orszag, 41, has espoused deficit reduction strategies in administration debates against those who pressed for more stimulus spending and tax cuts to keep the economy from slipping back into recession.

Not good, not good at all for midterm elections: Poll indicates that by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

From The New York Times:

[A]mong the findings of the latest nationwide New York Times/CBS News poll . . . 54 percent of the public say [Obama] does not have a clear plan for creating jobs [, and] by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Well said Dick Yarbrough: If Sen. Eric Johnson & others want to send their child to private schools, fine. But don't do it with my tax dollars.

Dick Yarbrough writes:

One gubernatorial candidate has managed to distinguish himself from the others with his view on school vouchers. At a recent meeting of the Georgia School Boards Association, Eric Johnson, a former state senator, said his support of vouchers - which would allow the state to give tax dollars to underwrite private school tuition - reflects his "bedrock faith in free-market principles."

If Johnson, a Savannah Republican, is such a free-market disciple, why doesn't he just get rid of public schools altogether? I believe if parents want to send their child to private schools, more power to them. But don't do it with my tax dollars.

You may be sure that if Johnson is elected governor and Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, wins re-election and maintains his role as majority leader, you will see a strong push for school vouchers.
_______________

And James Salzer writes in the ajc:

In addition to presiding over recession-induced budget cuts, some of the leading [Republican] candidates support school vouchers. Former state Senate leader Eric Johnson has made them a top priority to help parents pay for private schools. Public education groups fear vouchers would siphon money away from public schools.

You got that right: Some veteran Party operatives are skeptical that the party's $50 million doubling down on new voters will pay off.

From The Washington Post:

As political gambles go, it's a big and risky one: $50 million to test the proposition that the Democratic Party's outreach to new voters that helped make Barack Obama president can work in an election where his name is not on the ballot.

The standard rule of midterm elections is that only the most reliable voters show up at the polls, so both parties have traditionally focused on the unglamorous and conventional work that turns out their bases. But this year, the Democrats are doubling down on registering and motivating newer voters -- especially the 15 million heavily minority and young, who made it to the polls for the first time in the last presidential election.

The party's overall budget for reaching new voters is more than twice as big as the $17 million it spent during the tumultuous 2006 midterm, which returned control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats.

Some veteran Democratic Party operatives are also skeptical that the $50 million investment will pay off -- except, perhaps, in keeping the grassroots operation alive for Obama's reelection bid two years from now. Some even suggest that the president's team has put his long-term interests ahead of his party's immediate struggle for survival.

"I have zero confidence that they're heading in the right direction here," says one longtime Democratic organizer who didn't want to be quoted by name criticizing his party's major midterm election initiative. Added another: "I think they're going to come in for a very rude awakening. It's going to be brutal."

If that turns out to be the case, the doubters say, Democrats will wake up the morning of Nov. 3 wishing they had spent that $50 million on more traditional methods, like television ads, for reaching their base and persuading independents.

Cleanups of Spill and an Agency Test Salazar


From left, Ken Salazar, Steven Chu and Carol M. Browner form part of a “green dream team” appointed by President Obama. But Mr. Salazar has since faced criticism from environmentalists.

From The New York Times:

Shortly before [President Obama's televised address on Tuesday about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico], the White House announced that Mr. Salazar would be getting a powerful new deputy, Michael R. Bromwich, a veteran investigator and former prosecutor, to supervise the remaking of the minerals service. What was not mentioned was that Mr. Salazar had appointed two aides to do the same job just a month before, and that Mr. Bromwich’s new assignment essentially reversed not only that move but also perhaps Mr. Salazar’s entire overhaul plan for the minerals service.

Mr. Salazar’s job is not in immediate jeopardy, and the president values the work he has done and will continue to do at the Interior Department, said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.

But a senior administration official, who spoke of a delicate personnel matter only on the condition of anonymity said, “The president and the White House are watching very, very closely the pace of reform at Interior to see that progress is being made that truly cleans it up.”

Mr. Salazar is a core member of what some environmentalists called a “green dream team” of environmental advisers appointed by Mr. Obama shortly after his inauguration. Others include Steven Chu, the energy secretary; Lisa P. Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator; and Carol M. Browner, a White House adviser.

But the Deepwater Horizon disaster and its fallout appear to have shifted the roles of the team members. Mr. Salazar, who started his job billing himself as the “new sheriff in town,” has become noticeably less visible since the minerals agency’s regulatory laxity came under attack, while Dr. Chu and Ms. Browner have moved to the fore. Ms. Jackson has focused closely on issues of air and water quality relating to the spill and has remained largely out of the limelight.

In the first weeks after the oil rig exploded on April 20, Mr. Salazar was one of the administration’s chief spokesmen on the disaster. On May 2, he sat for interviews with four Sunday morning TV talk shows. For weeks, he appeared routinely at hearings on Capitol Hill, often saying of BP that “we have our boot on their neck to make sure they get the job done.”

Even former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who described himself as a friend of Mr. Salazar, said in an interview that the administration’s response to the disaster had been slow and that its reform proposals too tepid.

“The administration took way too long getting its act together and in mounting a coordinated, aggressive response to the spill,” Mr. Babbitt said.

In Budget Crisis, States Take Aim at Pension Costs

From The New York Times:

Many states are acknowledging this year that they have promised pensions they cannot afford and are cutting once-sacrosanct benefits, to appease taxpayers and attack budget deficits.

But there is a catch: Nearly all of the cuts so far apply only to workers not yet hired. Though heralded as breakthrough reforms by state officials, the cuts phase in so slowly they are unlikely to save the weakest funds and keep them from running out of money. Some new rules may even hasten the demise of the funds they were meant to protect.

Lawmakers wanted to avoid legal battles or fights with unions, whose members can be influential voters. So they are allowing most public workers across the country to keep building up their pensions at the same rate as ever.

“We’re within a few years of having some of the pension funds run out of money,” said R. Eden Martin, president of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a business group that has been warning of a “financial implosion” for several years. “Funding for the schools is going to be cut radically. Funding for Medicaid. As these things all mount up, there’s going to be a lot of outrage.”

Peggy Noonan: A Snakebit President -- Americans want leaders on whom the sun shines.


Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The president is starting to look snakebit. He's starting to look unlucky, like Jimmy Carter. It wasn't Mr. Carter's fault that the American diplomats were taken hostage in Tehran, but he handled it badly, and suffered. He defied the rule of the King in "Pippin," the Broadway show of Carter's era, who spoke of "the rule that every general knows by heart, that it's smarter to be lucky than it's lucky to be smart." Mr. Carter's opposite was Bill Clinton, on whom fortune smiled with eight years of relative peace and a worldwide economic boom. What misfortune Mr. Clinton experienced he mostly created himself. History didn't impose it.

But Mr. Obama is starting to look unlucky, and–file this under Mysteries of Leadership–that is dangerous for him because Americans get nervous when they have a snakebit president. They want presidents on whom the sun shines.

It isn't Mr. Obama's fault that an oil rig blew in the Gulf and a gusher resulted. He already had two wars and the great recession. But the lack of adequate federal government response appropriately redounds on him. In a Wall Street Journal investigation published Thursday, reporters Jeffrey Ball and Jonathan Weisman wrote the federal government at first moved quickly, but soon "faltered." "The federal government, which under the law is in charge of fighting large spills, had to make things up as it went along." It hadn't anticipated a spill this big. The first weekend in May, when water was rough, contractors hired by BP to lay boom "mostly stayed ashore," according to a local official. "Shrimpers took matters into their own hands, laying 18,000 feet of boom," compared to about 4,000 feet by BP's contractors.

The administration's failure to take impressive action after the spill dinged its reputation for competence. The president's failure to turn things around Tuesday night with a speech damaged his reputation as a man whose rhetorical powers are such that he can turn things around with a speech. He lessened his own mystique. Reaction among his usual supporters was, in the words of Time's Mark Halperin, "fierce, unforeseen disappointment." Dan Froomkin of the Huffington Post called the speech "profoundly underwhelming," a "feeble call to action." Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich called the speech "vapid." Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times said the president looked "awkward and robotic." MSNBC's Keith Olbermann famously said "It was a great speech if you were on another planet for the last 57 days." Chris Matthews scored "a lot of meritocracy, a lot of blue ribbon talk." Mr. Olbermann, on Mr. Obama's well-written peroration: "It's nice but, again, how? Where was the 'how' in this speech when the nation is crying out for 'how'?"

The right didn't like the speech either.

As for the center, Nielsen reported that 32 million people watched the speech, as compared to 48 million viewers that watched the State of the Union. Ronald Reagan once said you should never confuse the reviews with the box office. This was the box office voting with its clickers.

No reason to join the pile on, but some small points. Two growing weaknesses showed up in small phrases. The president said he had consulted among others "experts in academia" on what to do about the calamity. This while noting, again, that his energy secretary has a Nobel Prize. There is a growing meme that Mr. Obama is too impressed by credentialism, by the meritocracy, by those who hold forth in the faculty lounge, and too strongly identifies with them. He should be more impressed by those with real-world experience. It was the "small people" in the shrimp boats who laid the boom.

And when speaking of why proper precautions and safety measures were not in place, the president sternly declared, "I want to know why." But two months in he should know. And he should be telling us. Such empty sternness is . . . empty.

Throughout the speech the president gestured showily, distractingly, with his hands. Politicians do this now because they're told by media specialists that it helps them look natural. They don't look natural, they look like Ann Bancroft gesticulating to Patty Duke in "The Miracle Worker."

The president could move his hands because he was not holding a hard copy of his speech. Normally presidents have had a printed copy of the speech in their hands or on the desk, in case the teleprompter freezes or fails. Mr. Obama's desk was shiny and empty. A White House aide says the director of Oval Office operations had a hard copy just off camera, and was following along as the president spoke so that if the prompter broke he'd be able to give it to the president at the spot he left off.

But that would look a little startling, an arm suddenly darting into the frame to hand the president a script. And the pages could fall. If one were in the mood for a cheap metaphor one would say this is an example of the White House's tendency not to anticipate trouble.

There is still a sense about Mr. Obama that he needs George W. Bush in order to give his presidency full shape and meaning. In this he is like Jimmy Carter, who needed Richard Nixon, or rather the Watergate scandal, which made him president. Mr. Carter needed Richard Nixon standing in the corner looking like he'd spent the night sleeping in his suit as it hangs in the closet. The image is from Joe McGinnis's "The Selling of the President, 1968." Mr. Carter needed to be able to point at Nixon and say, "I'm not him. He dirty, me clean. You hate him, like me." Carter's presidency was given coherence and meaning by Nixon, Watergate, and without it that presidency seemed formless. Mr. Obama, in the same way, needs Mr. Bush standing in the corner like Boo Radley, saying "Let's invade something!" But Mr. Bush is wisely back home in Texas finishing a book, and the president never sounds weaker than when he suggests his predicament is all his predecessor's fault.

Mr. Obama needs Mr. Bush in the corner and doesn't have him. That's part of why he looks so alone out there.

And seems so snakebit, so at the mercy of forces. When you're snakebit you get some sympathy, and some will come. With all the president's woe there will be some counter-reaction among commentators, journalists and others. There will likely be among the Democratic leadership, too. "Love him or not he's what we've got, and he's what we have for the next two years. Help the guy, cool the criticism, punch back for him." But it's also true that among Democrats—and others—when the talk turns to the presidency it turns more and more to Hillary Clinton. "We may have made a mistake. She would have been better." Sooner or later the secretary of state is going to come under fairly consistent pressure to begin to consider 2012. A hunch: She won't really want to. Because she has enjoyed being loyal. She didn't only prove to others she could be loyal, a team player. She proved it to herself. And it has only added to her luster.

As for the president, the great question is what you do when you start to feel snakebit. Maybe he'll start to doubt his own moves and instincts. Maybe not. Jimmy Carter didn't. He fought hard for re-election in 1980, and until near the end thought he'd win. He trusted the American people, and in an odd way he trusted his luck.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Michael Thurmond dismisses theories about his candidacy, including one that says he is running to boost black voter turnout for Roy Barnes.

From the ajc:

[Labor Commissioner Michael] Thurmond dismisses theories he said he has heard about his candidacy, including one that says he is running to boost black voter turnout for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes. He called that theory nonsense and said he is running because he thinks he can do a better job in the Senate.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face a tough fight against Isakson. The senator had $4.4 million in campaign cash on hand as of the end of March, federal records show. He defeated Denise Majette -- a black Democratic challenger -- for his Senate seat in 2004 with 57.9 percent of the vote. He has also built up strong name recognition by previously serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, in the Georgia Legislature and as chairman of the Georgia Board of Education.

“Johnny Isakson is probably the most popular politician in Georgia,” said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist. “While Mike Thurmond would have been the odds-on favorite for another term as labor commissioner, he is a very long shot to become Georgia’s next senator.”

Barton was the best thing that has happened to the Democrats in months.

David Broder writes in The Washington Post:

For weeks, it has appeared increasingly likely that voters will use the midterm elections in November to signal their unhappiness with the lingering effects of the Great Recession, the threat of uncontrolled deficits, the stalemate in Afghanistan and the continuing tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico by inflicting serious losses on Democratic candidates.

Unless.

Unless one Republican after another steps into the limelight, apparently eager to show that however bad the Democrats look, the opposition could be worse.

The parade of horribles that began with GOP Senate nominees (borrowed from the Tea Party movement) in Kentucky and Nevada challenging accepted wisdom on everything from civil rights to Social Security reached a new height with Barton's wildly mistaken decision to defend the world's most unpopular oil company from a fictitious strong-arm assault.

Barton, a longtime advocate of the oil and gas industry, seized a microphone right after President Obama had extracted a promise from BP executives that they would create a $20 billion trust fund from which to compensate families and companies victimized by the accident on its offshore drilling platform.

House Minority Leader John Boehner and his lieutenants summoned the Texan to his chambers, ordered him to recant and apologize -- which he promptly did.

Barton was the best thing that has happened to the Democrats in months. All of a sudden, they were not defending the undersea gusher they don't know how to cap; they were charging that the opposition was in bed with the corporate bad guys.

Why so eager? Because in the past few days, they had read election analyst Stuart Rothenberg's forecast that five of their Senate seats are leaning Republican and two others now under their control are toss-ups. If Democrats lose all of them, their Senate margin would be down to four seats.

A similar House analysis by academics Alan Abramowitz and Larry Sabato projects Republican gains of 32 to 39 seats. The latter number would be just enough to make Boehner the speaker, replacing Nancy Pelosi.

These numbers will change as the campaigns unfold. But you can see why the Democrats pounced on Barton, and why Boehner & Co. might want to hand out muzzles to their members.

The exploding federal budget deficit seems to be resonating more powerfully in Congress and among voters than a descent back into recession.

From The Washington Post:

Barely a week after President Obama tried to re-energize his push for more spending on the economy, his agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill, mired in election-year anxiety about the deficit.

If Congress doesn't provide additional stimulus spending, economists inside and outside the administration warn that the nation risks a prolonged period of high unemployment or, more frightening, a descent back into recession. But a competing threat -- the exploding federal budget deficit -- seems to be resonating more powerfully in Congress and among voters.

Whether or not Obama's directive to spend more now and tackle the deficit later -- which he laid out in a letter to Congressional leaders Saturday -- is the right economic medicine, some lawmakers say it sounds like political doublespeak outside the Beltway. Polls show most people don't think Obama's first stimulus package worked, and they are sending mixed signals about whether Washington should spend more on jobs or start minding the national debt.

The debate over whether the United States and other developed countries can afford anymore stimulus spending has taken on greater urgency in recent months, especially as the threat of national default in Greece has fueled global fears about the health of countries with outsize deficits.

The $70 plus million woman (amount of own money spent in primary) does about about-face: In California, Facing Illegal Immigration

From The New York Times:

In the closing days of the Republican primary in California, Meg Whitman vowed to get tough on illegal immigrants, and in a radio commercial even brought out a big gun, a former governor, Pete Wilson. He is known for his advocacy of Proposition 187, a 1994 initiative that sought to deny public services to illegal immigrants. It was blocked by a federal court, but remains a sore point with Latino voters. Now, after winning the primary, Ms. Whitman reveals her opposition to the proposal in new Spanish-language television commercials, and embraces concerns dear to Latinos.

THE SCRIPT
: The radio ad in the primary, “Tough as Nails,” has Ms. Whitman speaking, before Mr. Wilson jumps in.

Whitman: Don’t be fooled by misleading ads, my position on immigration is crystal clear. Illegal immigrants are just that, illegal. I am 100 percent against amnesty for illegal immigrants. Period. As governor, I will crack down on so-called sanctuary cities like San Francisco who thumb their nose at our laws. Illegal immigrants should not expect benefits from the State of California. No driver’s license and no admission to state-funded institutions of higher education. And I’ll create an economic fence to crack down on employers who break the law by using illegal labor.

Wilson: This is former Gov. Pete Wilson. I know how important it is to stop illegal immigration, and I know Meg Whitman. Meg will be tough as nails on illegal immigration. She’ll fight to secure our border and go after sanctuary cities. Please join me in supporting Meg Whitman for governor.

*

The TV ad, a “Different Kind,” (as translated by the campaign) plays over a montage of images of a smiling, cheerful Ms. Whitman interacting with Latinos.

Announcer
: Meg Whitman is a different kind of candidate. She is a business leader ready to fix Sacramento, ready to create more jobs and better schools in California. She respects our community. She is the Republican who opposes the Arizona law and opposed Proposition 187.

She means real change. She has a specific plan for a new California. With more jobs, better schools and less bureaucracy.

She includes all of us. Meet Meg Whitman. A different kind of candidate, and the governor California needs.

Stupid is as stupid does, & this is stupid, dumb, risky, & no upside Obama. You're killing Democrats: Justice Dept. Will Fight Arizona on Immigration

From The New York Times:

The Obama administration has decided to file a lawsuit to strike down a new Arizona law aimed at deporting illegal immigrants, thrusting itself into the fierce national debate over how the United States should enforce immigration policies.

The federal government only occasionally intervenes forcefully in a state’s affairs, and it carries significant political risks. With immigration continuing to be a hot issue in political campaigns across the country, the Arizona law, which grants the local police greater authority to check the legal status of people they stop, has become a rallying cry for the Tea Party and other conservative groups.

At home, polls show that a majority of Americans support the law, or at least the idea of states more rigorously enforcing immigration laws.

Obama talking up stimulus -- again

From The Washington Post:

President Obama traveled to swing state Ohio Friday to showcase the stimulus measure he pushed through Congress 16 months ago -- a sign the administration is fretting over enduring criticism that the $787 billion package has failed to generate enough jobs.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Take log out of own eye so can see to take out speck in America's eye - Gangs, corrupt officials make illegal migrants' trip through Mexico dangerous

From The Washington Post:

As the Mexican government condemns a new immigration law in Arizona as cruel and xenophobic, illegal migrants passing through Mexico are routinely robbed, raped and kidnapped by criminal gangs that often work alongside corrupt police, according to human rights advocates.

[U]ndocumented migrants from Central America face a brutal passage through the country. They are stoned by angry villagers, who fear that the Central Americans will bring crime or disease, and are fleeced by hustlers. Mexican police and authorities often demand bribes.

Mexico detained and deported more than 64,000 illegal migrants last year, according to the National Migration Institute. A few years ago, Mexico detained 200,000 undocumented migrants. The lower numbers are the result of tougher enforcement on the U.S. border, the global economic slowdown and, say some experts, the robbery and assaults migrants face in Mexico.

The face of the GOP: Republican Rep. Joe Barton Backpedals From Apology to BP


At the House Energy and Commerce hearing on the gulf spill, Representative Joe L. Barton, seated right, called a $20 billion fund a White House “shakedown.”

From The New York Times:

Representative Joe L. Barton had to be truly sorry by the time he apologized for his apology on Thursday.

In the four hours between his televised apology to BP — for what he called a $20 billion “shakedown” by President Obama for loss claims in the gulf oil spill — and his apology for that apology, Mr. Barton, a Republican from Texas, had been pummeled in the blogosphere, assailed by Democratic Party operatives and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and, in the blow that landed, threatened by Republican leaders with being yanked from the party’s top seat on the powerful House energy committee.

“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” Mr. Barton said in his opening statement. “I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown — in this case a $20 billion shakedown.”

Democrats, smelling blood in an election year, sought to make Mr. Barton an exemplar for Republican ties to “Big Oil.” House Republican leaders, fearing that trap, rushed to contain the damage.

Of the five Gulf Coast states, Mr. Barton’s Texas is the only one whose beaches, fisheries and tourist haunts are not threatened by oil spewing from BP’s ruined well. Republican lawmakers from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida quickly disavowed Mr. Barton’s apology to BP, and one was the first to call for stripping Mr. Barton of his committee seat.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

14 GOP senators demand regents close universities to illegal immigrants

Jim Galloway writes in the AJC's Political Insider:

Fourteen Republican state senators have told the state Board of Regents that they want Georgia’s universities completely shut off from illegal immigrants.

In the wake of a Kennesaw State University senior discovered to be in the country illegally – her parents brought her here from Mexico when she was a child – the state’s universities have been ordered to check the citizenship status of all students by this fall.

The senators praised that effort, but said it was not enough:

However, we remain disappointed and perplexed that the Board of Regents seems to be engaged in verbal gymnastics in an effort to escape the obvious and full application of law. Persons not lawfully present in the United States are not eligible, regardless of tuition rates, to attend taxpayer supported colleges and universities in Georgia.

Beyond the clear inappropriateness of denying a legal Georgia resident an educational opportunity in favor of an unlawful alien, is the inescapable lack of wisdom in forcing Georgia taxpayers to subsidize the education of a person who upon graduating is not legally eligible to be employed.

To fight deficits, France plans to raise minimum retirement age from 60 to 62

From The Washington Post:

The French government abandoned a sacred totem of its generous welfare system Wednesday to combat mounting deficits, announcing that workers soon will no longer have the right to retire at age 60 but will have to wait until they are 62.

David Broder: Red ink, not oil, is the best focus for Obama

David Broder writes in The Washington Post:

Far be it from me to tell the crew of public relations officials who now occupy those West Wing offices as a reward for running one of the best presidential campaigns anyone has ever seen, but . . .

If there is any value in President Obama's knocking himself out to dramatize on prime-time television his impotence in the face of the Gulf of Mexico oil leak calamity, I wish someone would explain it.

His multiple inspection trips to the afflicted and threatened states, his Oval Office TV address to the nation, and now his sit-down with the executives of BP have certainly established his personal connection with one of the worst environmental disasters in history. But the only thing people want to hear from him is word that the problem is on its way to being solved -- and this message he cannot deliver.

The polls so far suggest that voters have a sensible and realistic perspective on all this and are not punishing Obama for failing to anticipate the drilling platform accident and not having a handy tool kit for its repair. To date, his approval numbers have barely moved.

But by dramatizing his belief that the struggle in the gulf has become his main preoccupation, Obama has essentially ignored challenges that may be much more vital to the country -- and to him.

was no White House official but Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a conservative Blue Dog Democrat, who called my attention to a short story in the Wall Street Journal last week reporting that U.S. companies are hoarding more cash -- $1.84 trillion -- than at any point in financial history.

The newspaper noted that the cash reserves had jumped 26 percent in one year, the largest increase since at least 1952. Cooper's point is that by stockpiling that vast amount against the possibility of a double-dip recession or another wave of bankruptcies, nervous executives are starving business of investments for expansion and freezing unemployment at a painfully high level.

"They were badly burned in the Great Recession," Cooper said, "and now they are nervous about government policy." Uncertainties in Washington about energy policy, taxes, financial regulation -- to say nothing about bad-news bulletins from Afghanistan and other overseas datelines -- cloud the economic picture more than oil plumes pollute the gulf.

But Obama seems focused on the relatively insignificant. With the administration and Congress whipsawed between those calling for more government-financed stimulus and those warning of deficits soaring out of control, the president has weighed in belatedly on the side of more stimulus spending.

Those involved in the fight in the Senate will tell you that Obama might have had more success with his plea had he made it earlier, before the Senate passed its own version of an emergency spending bill. At this point, Republican and conservative Democratic opposition put the 60 votes needed to expand Sen. Tom Harkin's measure beyond reach.

So action has shifted to the House side, where Obama's plan to bail out state and local governments by financing more unemployment benefits and hiring of teachers and others threatened with layoffs has been steadily whittled into insignificance.

While Obama asked for stimulus spending that might add $80 billion to the deficits over the next decade, opposition from budget-conscious members of both parties has reduced the package being discussed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to about $10 billion -- and some of this might be offset elsewhere in the budget.

"They're fighting over $10 billion, while $1.8 trillion is sitting out there," Cooper exclaimed.

While some claim the fiscal crisis in the states is exaggerated, Tuesday's edition of Stateline.org, the Web site that covers the 50 capitals, featured as its top 10 headlines reports from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois and Louisiana, detailing how they are "still struggling" with reduced revenue, lowered credit ratings, employee furloughs and stubborn unemployment.

Obama may be excused for impotence in the gulf. But no president can escape responsibility for the budget and the economy.

Lawmakers hear different take on year-end review of Afghanistan war effort

From The Washington Post:

Senior defense and military officials Wednesday played down the importance of an end-of-year review that President Obama has described as crucial to assessing whether his Afghanistan war strategy is working, saying that it would have little bearing on decisions about troop withdrawals scheduled to begin in July 2011.

Administering BP Fund, a Master Mediator


Kenneth R. Feinberg was special master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

From The New York Times:

Kenneth R. Feinberg bristled when reporters dubbed him the compensation czar for his Treasury Department job monitoring executive pay at companies that received government bailouts. The term, he lamented to ABC News last year, “makes it sound like I’m going to issue some imperial decree.”

Mr. Feinberg, named Wednesday by President Obama as the independent administrator of a $20 billion fund set up by BP to compensate victims of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, may not have the powers of a king. But he does seem to specialize in Solomon-like decisions.

Over the course of his long career as a mediator, he has helped settle a variety of thorny disputes, including a class-action suit by Vietnam veterans protesting the use of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, and a determination of the fair market value of the Zapruder film of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

At the Treasury Department, he has repeatedly slashed the pay of Wall Street and auto company executives, confronting outraged citizens and bankers alike.

“He has an enormously thick skin,” said his law partner, Michael Rozen.

Mr. Feinberg, 64, is perhaps best known as special master of the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which distributed nearly $7 billion to more than 5,000 survivors and families of victims. He presided personally over hundreds of hearings, a role that required him to grapple with the deepest sort of human pain and make agonizing decisions about the value of each life lost, a task he recounted in a 2005 memoir, “What Is a Life Worth?”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

U.S. Apparel Retailers Turn Their Gaze Beyond China


From The Wall Street Journal:

Rising labor costs in China are forcing U.S. apparel and accessories retailers, such as AnnTaylor Stores Corp. and Coach Inc., to consider relocating at least some of their production to countries with cheaper work forces. But doing so could risk increasing other expenses, such as shipping.

"We are looking to move production into lower-cost geographies, most notably Vietnam and India," Mike Devine, Coach's chief financial officer, said at a conference last week. The luxury-handbag retailer already produces goods in those countries, but plans to increase its presence in both of them.

The gains come as Chinese workers more broadly have been securing wage increases, partly through labor disputes. In addition, their government has sought to steer manufacturing away from labor-intensive, low-technology industries, such as textiles, into more-sophisticated products, such as electronics devices.

The higher pay has boosted the purchasing power of Chinese consumers, but is pressuring U.S. apparel chains and others that rely on low-cost labor.

[F]or the money, the quality of Chinese-made goods is tough to match, and labor is just one of the costs of production. Others include the costs of raw materials like textiles, production facilities, transportation and quality control and training.

The skills of China's labor force and its familiarity with the ways and expectations of U.S. companies, exceed that of any other Asian country . . . .

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Concern on Capitol Hill about Afghanistan war grows

From The Washington Post:

A series of political and military setbacks in Afghanistan has fed anxiety over the war effort in the past few weeks, shaking supporters of President Obama's counterinsurgency strategy and confirming the pessimism of those who had doubts about it from the start.

The concerns, fed largely by unease over military operations in southern Afghanistan that are progressing slower than anticipated, spurred lawmakers to schedule last-minute hearings this week to assess progress on the battlefield and within the Afghan government.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Nikki Haley, one of the brightest rising stars in the GOP, a Tea Party favorite, a Sarah Palin endorsee & the subject of national attention.


South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley won 49 percent of the vote in the primary.

From The New York Times:

Nikki Haley, the favorite to become the first governor of South Carolina who is neither white nor male, . . . [is the daughter of Indian immigrants].

Ms. Haley, 38, upended things . . . last week after a sharp-elbowed primary that included allegations of marital infidelity and pitted her against the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and a congressman. Ms. Haley, a state legislator, received 49 percent of the vote, but faces a June 22 runoff with Representative Gresham Barrett, whom she beat by more than 25 points Tuesday. And this from a campaign that was so underfinanced that it had to sell yard signs at $5 apiece, Ms. Haley said.

Now, she finds herself one of the brightest rising stars in the Republican Party, a Tea Party favorite, a Sarah Palin endorsee and the subject of national attention.

Ms. Haley — born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa and always called Nikki, which means “little one,” by her family — said that growing up in Bamberg[,South Carolina] was at times tough. Her father wears a turban and, though male Sikhs are not supposed to cut their hair, her brothers’ was trimmed after teasing at school grew vicious. “It’s survival mode,” she said. “You learn to try and show people how you’re more alike than you are different.”

“I was born and raised with the Sikh faith, my husband and I were married in the Methodist Church, our children” — Nalin, 8, and Rena, 12 — “have been baptized in the Methodist Church, and currently we attend both,” she said.

She did not mention that she and her husband, Michael Haley, wed in two ceremonies, one Sikh and the other at St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea, a Methodist church in Hilton Head, where Mr. Haley’s parents live.

Back then, though, Ms. Haley seemed comfortable publicly embracing both religions. Nowadays, she talks of having “converted to Christianity” before her wedding in 1996, when she was baptized at St. Andrew’s.

From early on, Ms. Haley was involved in her family’s clothing business — Exotica International, which sells gowns, suits and jewelry — taking over the bookkeeping at age 13.

Her father, Ajit Randhawa, was a biology professor at Voorhees College in nearby Denmark, S.C.; her mother, Raj, started Exotica as a gift shop.

Before she ran for office, Ms. Haley got an accounting degree at Clemson University, where she met Mr. Haley. She worked for FCR, a waste management and recycling company, and then returned to Exotica as chief financial officer and helped the company grow into a multimillion-dollar business.

Ms. Haley became part of a small cadre of small-government advocates who are ideologically aligned with Gov. Mark Sanford and at odds with the rest of the state’s Republican establishment, whom they accuse of abandoning conservative principles. Like Mr. Sanford, she has repeatedly taken her case to the public, sometimes embarrassing legislative leaders and helping her develop a loyal following. And, as with Mr. Sanford, that has led to accusations of grandstanding.

Just before the primary for governor, two men came forward saying that they had affairs with her, and a fellow lawmaker called her a “raghead.” But the episodes only played into Ms. Haley’s underdog narrative.

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan


A bleak Ghazni Province seems to offer little, but a Pentagon study says it may have among the world’s largest deposits of lithium.

From The New York Times:

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"I think there is spending fatigue," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said recently. "It's tough in both houses to get votes."

From The Washington Post:

President Obama urged reluctant lawmakers Saturday to quickly approve nearly $50 billion in emergency aid to state and local governments, saying the money is needed to avoid "massive layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters" and to support the still-fragile economic recovery.

[A] rising concern about the national debt is undermining congressional support for additional spending to bolster the economy. Many economists say more spending could help bring down persistently high unemployment, but with Republicans making an issue of the record deficits run up during the recession, many Democratic lawmakers are eager to turn off the stimulus tap.

"I think there is spending fatigue," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said recently. "It's tough in both houses to get votes."

Democrats, particularly in the House, have voted for politically costly initiatives at Obama's insistence, most notably health-care and climate change legislation. But faced with an electorate widely viewed as angry and hostile to incumbents, many are increasingly reluctant to take politically unpopular positions.

The House last month stripped Obama's request for $24 billion in state aid from a bill that would extend emergency benefits for jobless workers. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to restore that funding but with debate in that chamber set to resume this week, he acknowledges that he has yet to assemble the votes for final passage. Obama's request for $23 billion to avert the layoffs of as many as 300,000 public school teachers has not won support in either chamber.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond: Now you tell me Johnny; thanks a lot -- Isakson's health mystery solved

Tom Keefe writes in the AJC:

The big mystery behind the illness that put Sen. Johnny Isakson in the hospital and rattled his re-election campaign has been revealed.

It was a tiny bump on his right ear.

Odds are on Republican Isakson to win re-election. But concern over his health was one of the reasons Democratic Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, 57, cited in his decision to run against the senator, who's seeking his second term.

Isakson has downplayed discussion about his health ever since.

"My health scare," he told me a few days ago, "was an anomaly."

Karzai Is Said to Doubt West Can Defeat Taliban

Another recent discouraging article on Karzai, this one about a related topic from The New York Times noting that the Afghan president has been pressing to strike his own deal with the Taliban and Pakistan because he has lost confidence that the United States and NATO will win, officials said.

The other recent post was on 6-8-10 one entitled "Karzai removes Afghan interior minister and spy chief."

Senate outlook improves (slightly) for Democrats

From The Washington Post:

A series of developments over the last month (or so) have brightened Democrats' hopes in a handful of Senate races -- although the overall national landscape suggests the party is still headed toward losses in the fall.

Recent Republican primaries have been good to Democrats. Victories by tea party-backed candidates such as Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky mean those seats, once considered off the radar, are now back in play.

In the Pennsylvania primary, Democrats won by losing. Sen. Arlen Specter (D) was a terrible profile for Democrats to try to hold the seat in the fall -- a long-serving politician who had openly admitted to switching parties to preserve his chances at reelection. Rep. Joe Sestak, who ousted Specter on May 18, has a considerably better profile as a short-timer in Congress -- he was first elected in 2006 -- with a deep military resume and strong outsider credentials.

Then there's Illinois, where Rep. Mark Kirk (R) continues to struggle to explain inconsistencies between his military resume and his military accomplishments. Before Kirk's resume problems, the race had been dominated (and not in a good way) by state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and his family's failed bank. Now, Kirk has provided Democrats with plenty of ammunition to muddy the ethics waters.

All of the above is not to say that Republicans won't make Senate gains this fall. They will. And, they may well make significant gains -- including in places such as Nevada, Pennsylvania and Illinois. But, Democrats' hand in each of those states has improved over the last month and given the party a path to victory that they may not have had before.

GOP lineup will help shift the Nov. election from a referendum on Dem. control to a contest between individual candidates with clear differences.


From The Wall Street Journal:

Midway through a volatile primary season that has seen the electorate move right and a spate of incumbents knocked out, Republican voters are placing a clear bet that a roster of outspoken, anti-government candidates, many new to the national stage, can ride the country's anti-Washington mood to victory.

Some Republican candidates are embracing the strongest small-government policies since the GOP's sweeping win in 1994, defying many analyst predictions that the election of President Barack Obama two years ago signaled a leftward tilt for the nation.

Many in the party are celebrating the new blood and see the developing landscape as an echo of 1994, when Republicans won the Senate and retook the House from Democrats after four decades. Polls show the anti-incumbency passions of Americans are at least equal to those of that year.

In a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 63% of voters said most members of Congress do not deserve re-election, while 32% said most do—among the most anti-incumbent responses since Gallup first asked the question in 1992.

[S]trategists in both parties say the fall campaign season, when less politically active and more moderate voters tend to first tune in to campaigns, will pose a test for many of these new candidates—and more broadly, of how conservative the U.S. has become.

"The challenge for these candidates is transitioning from an insurgent profile to a candidate who can be trusted not only to win but to govern," said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who worked for former presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2008. "This is the test now for all these candidates."

Democrats argue that they will benefit from many of the GOP nominees whose candidacies have been fueled by conservative anger at Washington. They say the emerging GOP lineup will help shift the November election from a referendum on Democratic control to a contest between individual candidates with clear differences.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ms. Fiorina comments about Sen. Boxer: "God, what is that hair? Soooooooo yesterday."


From The New York Times:

Carly Fiorina, the Republican nominee for the Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat, was caught mocking Ms. Boxer’s hair into an open microphone on Wednesday. She also had a few tough words about the newly minted Republican candidate for governor . . . Meg Whitman.

Ms. Fiorina’s comments . . . both inform and confirm the image from her days as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard that she is tart and unpleasant.

Even in the age of uncivil talk-show discourse and vicious campaign advertisements . . . physical appearance, especially hair, is a place most candidates and their staff are careful not to go.

“If you are dissing their hair, you are dissing their personality and their lifestyle,” said Billy Lowe, a celebrity stylist who owns a hair salon in Los Angeles. “It is probably the one thing a woman spends most of her time on every day. It’s always on their minds. Your hair is your personality.”

Gwinnett is now a minority majority county

From the AJC:

By the middle of this century, maybe as early as 2041, the U.S. population will no longer be a white majority; it will be a minority majority -- blacks, Hispanics, Asians . . . .

The U.S. Bureau of the Census said on Thursday that Gwinnett County is now minority majority, an oxymoron that translates into 50.8 percent of the population as non-white and 49.2 percent as white.

That’s no shock to Lisa Neidert, a senior research associate the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center. She said Gwinnett, with its booming population, was bound to join the more than 300 counties in the U.S. that are now minority majority.

“If you’re in an area of the county that’s growing you’re going to be a minority majority,” said Neidert. “Gwinnett is just reflecting what’s happening nationwide.”

The nation’s minority population is steadily rising and now makes up 35 percent of the U.S., according to census estimates.

Currently four states -- Hawaii, New Mexico, California and Texas -- as well as the District of Columbia have minority populations that exceed 50 percent.