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Cracker Squire


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

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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) on MSNBC's Morning Joe urging super committee to 'go big' on deficit

Sunday, October 30, 2011

U.S. Planning Troop Buildup in Gulf After Exit From Iraq

From The New York Times:

The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.

The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.

After unsuccessfully pressing both the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative.

In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.

With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

EEOC sues South Georgia farm, alleges discrimination against U.S. workers

From the AJC:

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing a large South Georgia vegetable farm in federal court, alleging it discriminated against U.S. workers and fired them in favor of Mexican guest workers.

Hamilton Growers/Southern Valley Fruit and Vegetable Inc. also fired black American workers because of their race and national origin, the EEOC says in the complaint it filed last month.

The EEOC filed suit after releasing a decision in July that says the Norman Park-based farm engaged in a "pattern or practice of regularly denying work hours and assigning less favorable" work to U.S. workers in favor of foreigners participating in the federal H-2A guest worker program.

Hamilton has denied the allegations and accused the U.S. workers of violating attendance rules, loitering and failing to keep up with the work, EEOC records show. Hamilton also said all its workers are guaranteed the same wages, but some earn more because they work faster.

“Hamilton Growers is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate on the basis of any protected characteristic, including citizenship status, race or national origin,” Terri Stewart, an attorney for Hamilton, said in a prepared statement.

Obama’s bite-size initiatives reminiscent of Clinton reelection

From The Washington Post:

The series of economic initiatives announced by President Obama in recent days reflects a strategic and tactical shift that White House officials hope will guide the president’s governing and political agenda in the months ahead.

The new effort, carried out through unilateral executive actions, was agreed upon weeks ago and is strongly reminiscent of a successful campaign deployed by Bill Clinton in the run-up to his 1996 reelection.

Almost every day this week, Obama rolled out a program aimed at some troubled sector of the economy: mortgage relief for homeowners Monday, tax credits to spur job growth for veterans Tuesday, college loan relief for students Wednesday, regulatory and information shortcuts for small businesses Friday.

The plan-a-day strategy is an approach designed to portray Obama as decisive as the White House complains about Congress’s failure to pass his jobs bill. Senior administration aides said they expected the effort to continue as long as Congress balks at his proposals.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) predicted that the president’s effort will fail, saying that the economy will need more help to recover than can be accomplished through unilateral White House action.

“If the president wants to put people back to work, he’s going to have to engage in the legislative process and work with us to find common ground. It’s that simple,” Boehner said. A Boehner aide said the speaker had not been notified in advance about the executive actions.

In Clinton’s case, the initiatives were derided for being small — “McIssues” — and for pandering to the political center. Yet they worked, helping him overcome the doubts about his presidency raised by the sweeping Republican victory in the 1994 midterm election.

Nancy-Ann DeParle, the deputy chief of staff for policy, is leading the effort to find polices that do not require congressional approval, aides said. Bruce Reed, who is chief of staff to Vice President Biden, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and Stephanie Cutter, a top adviser, were other early participants.

White House officials said Obama is not abandoning large ambitions in favor of smaller ones or becoming, as Clinton was sometimes known, an “incremental president.” Obama is still pressing for his $447 billion jobs package, they said.

But the Obama White House is beginning to deploy the technocratic skill that Clinton became famous for, and the imprint of the Clinton veterans on Obama’s staff members is apparent. At least two of them — including Reed, who was director of Clinton’s Domestic Policy Council — helped guide Clinton’s incremental successes more than a decade ago.

The bite-size initiatives — although the White House hates that term — are helping solve an inherent problem with Obama’s reelection campaign: With the economy in crisis, the president is not in a position to talk about his sweeping plans for a second term.

Obama has barely mentioned a second term, except to say, as he did on the road this week, that he has fulfilled 60 percent of his 2008 campaign promises and will “get the other 40 percent done in the next five years.”

Obama is expected to press forward on immigration if he wins reelection. Some other potential priorities — such as making changes to Social Security and Medicare, pursuing peace in the Middle East or perhaps endorsing gay marriage — would be politically risky for him to discuss in an election season.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Do as I say, not as I do: Obama Backers Tied to Lobbies Raise Millions

From The New York Times:

Despite a pledge not to take money from lobbyists, President Obama has relied on prominent supporters who are active in the lobbying industry to raise millions of dollars for his re-election bid.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It appears our next president will be a politician without a core

From The New York Times:

Mitt Romney’s critics are quick to accuse him of being a flip-flopper on important issues, part of an effort by Democrats and his Republican rivals to establish him as a politician without a core.

Mr. Romney gave them new ammunition on Wednesday by appearing to waffle on whether he supports tough anti-union legislation in Ohio that is up for a vote on a referendum in that state.

Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had supported the union rules, imposed by the state’s Republican governor, John R. Kasich, several months ago. Then on Tuesday, in an appearance in the state, he suggested that he would remain neutral on the referendum. And on Wednesday he apologized for “confusion” and said he supported Mr. Kasich and the rules “110 percent.”

The result of the 24 hours of back and forth was a renewed push by Mr. Romney’s political opponents to highlight what they call his routine repositioning on the issues.

Questions about Mr. Romney’s willingness to change his positions have dogged him since he began seeking the presidency more than five years ago. Rivals have focused in particular on what they say are his changing positions on abortion, immigration, taxes and what they call “Romneycare,” the health care overhaul he ushered in as governor of Massachusetts.

In his second bid for the White House, Mr. Romney has generally been more disciplined, pointing to his book “No Apology” as the definitive explanation of his policy positions.

But Mr. Romney’s remarks about the Ohio union legislation were a reminder that he remained vulnerable to incidents that seemed to reinforce the established narrative.

Long Island Sees Upswing in Immigrants

From The Wall Street Journal:

Long Island's immigrant population has more than doubled in the past three decades, with nearly one in five Long Islanders now born abroad, according to a new report released on Thursday.

About a third of all immigrants on Long Island are now Hispanic, making it the biggest group of foreign-born Long Islanders, according to a report by the left-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute based on U.S. Census Bureau data. But an influx of Asians has also helped change the demographics of Nassau and Suffolk counties, two of the nation's wealthiest suburbs.

The report highlights how immigration trends in the New York City suburbs have been shifting for decades. Generations ago, immigrants came to areas such as Manhattan's Lower East Side to begin new lives before leaving for Long Island.

"Nowadays they are moving directly to the suburbs," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean at Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Noonan: People, including the president, continue to compare Occupy Wall Street to the tea party. It is not the tea party.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

We turn briefly to Occupy Wall Street, because people, including the president, continue to compare it to the tea party. It is not the tea party. The tea party was a middle-class uprising that was only too happy to funnel its energy into the democratic process. They took their central concerns—spending, taxes and regulation—and followed the prescription of Joe Hill: Don't mourn, organize. They did. They entered politics and helped win elections. They did the Republicans a big favor by not going third-party but working within the GOP—at least for now.

Occupy Wall Street is completely different. They mean to gain power and sway by going outside the political system. They are a critique of the political system. They went to the streets and stayed there.

They are not funneling their energy into the democratic process because there is no market for what they are selling: Capitalism should be overturned, I am angry that my college loan bills are so big, the government is bad, and the answer is more government. You can't win elections in America with that kind of message. So they will stay in the streets, where they can have an impact by stopping traffic, inconveniencing people going to and coming from work, and appearing to be an amorphous force that must be bowed to.

The difference between the occupiers and the tea party is the difference between acting out and taking part.

Where is Mr. Obama in all this? He has made sympathetic sounds about Occupy Wall Street, probably seeing it as ultimately part of his base. Beyond that, he's out campaigning. Sometimes he is snarky about Congress: He's giving them "another chance" at voting on his jobs bill. Sometimes he is self-justifying. He told ABC's Jake Tapper that "all the choices we've made have been the right ones." Sometimes he lectures America. But he doesn't buck it up, and he must know in his heart that it's coming for the keys.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Let's come home ASAP: Maliki Takes Hard Line on American Withdrawal

From The Wall Street Journal:

[Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday] it would be solely up to Iraq to decide how many trainers it needed. He added that the trainers would enjoy no immunity and would be confined to Iraqi bases. He also quashed the possibility for collaboration with the U.S. in the fight against terror groups like Al Qaeda in arrangements similar to those with countries like Pakistan and Yemen.

"That's what the Iraqi side will decide from a technical standpoint: the required number, without immunity and present inside Iraqi camps for training only," he said. "As for operations and taking part in operations, that's finished."

On Saturday Mr. Maliki sought to ease concerns that Baghdad would firmly move into Iran's orbit of influence after the full withdrawal of American forces and said that Iraq still seeks a special relationship with the U.S.

"We speak about our interest as Iraqis first and we do not speak about the interest of others," he said, without naming Iran.

Ghassan al-Atiyyah, a London-based Iraqi politician and academic, said the breakdown of negotiations between Iraq and the U.S. over immunity sends a message that Washington has lost leverage over the current Iraqi government and opens the door to greater interference by Iraq's neighbors Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia at a very tumultuous and dangerous period for the entire region.

"American withdrawal in this manner, given that Iraq is unstable, opens Pandora's box," he said adding that this could bolster an eventual "Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran axis" in the region.

Transportation Tax: Yes or No?

Tom Crawford writes:

You would not think that politicians from 159 counties would be able to set aside their personal differences and local biases long enough to agree on a list of expensive road projects, but it seems to have happened.

The “regional roundtables” of elected officials from 12 districts around the state have now finalized their lists of highway and transit projects for the 2012 referendums on whether to impose a one-penny sales tax, the T-SPLOST, to pay for the construction work over the next 10 years.

“It’s been a joy for me, but I'm glad it's over with," said Douglas County Commissioner Tom Worthan, after voting with his colleagues to adopt the project list for Metro Atlanta.

The pot of money in each district varies widely, as does the scope of the projects involved. In Metro Atlanta, they propose to spend more than $6.1 billion on transportation projects, with more than half of the money dedicated to bus and rail transit facilities. In districts outside Atlanta such as the Northeast Georgia region that includes Clarke, Barrow, Oglethorpe, and Jackson counties; the amount involved is about $630 million, and the money would be spent primarily on road or bridge projects.

If the tax is approved by the voters next year, it will represent one of the largest commitments of public funds for infrastructure ever seen in this state. It’s probably the best opportunity Georgians will have to deal with traffic congestion and make badly needed road improvements.

We now spend less money on highways than every other state except Tennessee, but that ranking would change if voters in some or all of the districts passed the T-SPLOST.

“We are in the bottom tier of investment,” says Todd Long, planning director of the state Department of Transportation. “This will put us in the top tier.”

Now that the political disagreements have been resolved over which projects will be funded, the hard work begins: convincing voters, in the middle of an economic downturn that seems to have no end, to approve a sales tax increase. The date for the tax referendums is now set for July 31, which coincides with the Republican and Democratic primary elections. That choice of dates could be the one hurdle that supporters of the transportation tax are not able to clear. There is already strong opposition developing to the T-SPLOST among Tea Party organizations and other anti-tax groups around the state. Holding the referendum at the same time as a low-turnout primary election in the middle of the summer could possibly make it easier for the anti-tax activists to defeat it.

Even if the July 31 date is not changed, business organizations like the Georgia Chamber of Commerce will spend an estimated $6 million to $10 million to urge voters to approve the tax.

“If you move it to November, the prospects for passing it increase by about 1 percent, the data shows,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says. “We’re not going to quit if we have a July election.”

Polls that have been conducted on the T-SPLOST issue show only tepid support for it. The district that appears to have the best shot at passing the tax is Metro Atlanta, where drivers have to deal with some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.

“We are losing business relocations in all of our counties because of traffic,” Reed contends. “There’s nobody who can look at the traffic in Atlanta and tell you we don’t need to fix it.”

The politicians make a valid argument for a tax increase to pay for better transportation facilities. It’s not clear if their constituents will agree with that argument.

“It’s up to the public,” says Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, who chaired the Metro Atlanta roundtable. “It’s in their hands.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bachmann - Obama put us in Libya, now he put us in Africa

Oh well, Rep. Michele Bachmann earlier wishes Elvis happy birthday on the anniversary of his death, now she tells us that after Obama put us in one continent, wherever Libya is, now he put us in yet another continent, Africa. We sure are going to miss her . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

North Carolina and Virginia loom large for Obama’s reelection campaign

From The Washington Post:

President Obama’s problems in the Rust Belt are well-documented, but starting today, he ventures into territory that could be just  as important to his reelection campaign.

North Carolina and Virginia, which emerged as two of the more surprising victories for Obama in 2008, have like most states turned against the president over the last year. But like those Rust Belt states, they remain winnable, and the president’s three-day bus tour to the Southeastern states is seen as acknowledgement that he won’t be conceding them any time soon.

The White House, of course, emphasizes that this is strictly an official trip — paid for by the government and focusing on the president’s jobs plan and not campaign politics — but the destinations should leave little doubt about what the states mean to Obama, who has made a habit of mixing official business with swing state visits.

Polling shows the two states will be tough for him, but they haven’t deserted him either.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Massachusetts Tries to Rein in Its Health Cost

From The New York Times:

On the Republican campaign trail, the health care debate has focused on the mandatory coverage that Mitt Romney signed into law as governor in 2006. But back in Massachusetts the conversation has moved on, and lawmakers are now confronting the problem that Mr. Romney left unaddressed: the state’s spiraling health care costs.

After three years of study, the state’s legislative leaders appear close to producing bills that would make Massachusetts the first state — again — to radically revamp the way doctors, hospitals and other health providers are paid.

Although important details remain to be negotiated, the legislative leaders and Gov. Deval Patrick, all Democrats, are working toward a plan that would encourage flat “global payments” to networks of providers for keeping patients well, replacing the fee-for-service system that creates incentives for excessive care by paying for each visit and procedure.

“We have shown the nation how to extend care to everybody,” Mr. Patrick said in an interview, “and we’ll be the place to crack the code on costs.”

Those who led the 2006 effort to expand coverage readily acknowledge that they deferred the more daunting task of cost control for another day. It was assumed then that the politics would pit doctors, hospitals, insurers, employers and consumers against one another, and obliterate the fragile coalition behind the groundbreaking coverage law.

Predictably, the plan did little to slow the growth of health costs that already were among the highest in the nation. A state report last year found that per capita health spending in Massachusetts was 15 percent above the national average. And from 2007 to 2009, private health insurance premiums rose between 5 and 10 percent annually, according to another state study.

Yet the plan, which generated fresh attacks on Mr. Romney in a recent New Hampshire debate and a blistering Internet ad by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, has largely succeeded in providing nearly universal coverage. Only 2 percent of residents and a fraction of 1 percent of children in Massachusetts are uninsured. The law’s popularity has given state leaders added incentive to make it financially sustainable.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Obama was not candid; Congress did not care; Dems have paid the price - Long-Term Care Gets the Ax; Sen. Conrad: 'A Ponzi scheme of the first order.'

From The New York Times:

The Obama administration announced Friday that it was scrapping a long-term care insurance program created by the new health care law because it was too costly and would not work.

The administration’s decision was another setback for the new law, which is under attack in court, in Congress and in many state legislatures. Ms. Sebelius said her decision “does not affect the rest of the health care law,” which is supposed to provide coverage to more than 30 million people who are uninsured.

Two early critics of the Class program — Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Representative Charles Boustany Jr. of Louisiana, both Republicans — said they had been vindicated.

“The Obama administration ignored repeated warnings about the financial solvency of this massive new entitlement and suppressed information on the viability of the program,” Mr. Thune said.

In an interview, Mr. Boustany said that “in their haste to get the bill passed,” President Obama and Congressional Democrats ignored warnings about the program’s financial risks.

When Congress was developing the program in late 2009, Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, described it as “a Ponzi scheme of the first order” because it required an ever-increasing stream of premiums to cover the cost of benefits.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The move emboldened critics of the law, who said the pullback undermines the broader foundations of the health overhaul. Despite the popularity of some individual provisions, Americans remain divided in their support for the overhaul.

The program was projected to generate tens of billions of dollars of revenue in its early years, when it was taking in premiums and paying out little in claims. But over time, its obligation to pay out claims was projected to exceed that revenue.

From The Washington Post:

The Obama administration cut a major planned benefit from the 2010 health-care law on Friday, announcing that a program to offer Americans insurance for long-term care was simply unworkable.

Although the program had been dogged from the start by doubts about its feasibility, its elimination marks the first time the administration has backed away from a key piece of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.

Because the insurance program had been projected to reduce the federal deficit by $86 billion over the next 10 years, terminating it complicates the nation’s budget picture. It is now estimated that the health-care law will cut the deficit by $124 billion from 2012 to 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The program was a long-cherished goal of Kennedy, whose support helped ensure that it was folded into the larger health-care measure despite resistance from prominent Democrats and even the White House.

Its path to inclusion was also eased by projections that, at least initially, it would boost the federal balance sheet by tens of billions of dollars. This was because the law barred the program from paying out benefits for the first five years. So by adding the program to the health-care legislation, Democrats were able to substantially increase the deficit savings they could claim for the law as a whole.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Peggy Noonan: Obama didn't sound resolute, he sounded plaintive, like someone doing a sound check in an empty hall he knows will never fill.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

President Obama's jobs bill failed in the Senate this week, and the headline is not that it lost, it's that it lost and nobody noticed. Polls actually showed support for various parts of it. You know why it failed? Because he was for it. Because he said, "Pass this bill." So weak is public faith in his economic leadership that people figure if he's behind it, it must be a bad idea. After the bill failed, the president said he won't accept defeat: He and the American people "won't take no for an answer." Why does he talk like that, in a way so removed from reality? He didn't sound resolute, he sounded plaintive, like someone doing a sound check in an empty hall he knows will never fill.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

America's next President & Vice President: Christie Aligns With Romney, Bolstering Him on the Right

(Photo from Jim Galloway AJC's Political Insider which has a good write-up on the endorsement)

From The New York Times:

Mitt Romney on Tuesday won the coveted endorsement of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, gaining a persuasive ambassador to populist conservatives and additional cover against attacks from the right.

The pugnacious, fiscally conservative Mr. Christie has been a bridge between the Republican Party establishment and the grass roots, and his endorsement helped cement the perception that the establishment, including many big donors, has now lined up behind Mr. Romney.

The value of political endorsements can be fleeting, but Mr. Christie was among the most sought-after figures inside the Republican Party, with Mr. Perry, Newt Gingrich and Jon M. Huntsman Jr. all seeking his support.

In explaining his choice, Mr. Christie suggested that Republicans needed to keep their eyes on the general election.

Inevitably, Mr. Christie’s endorsement set off fevered speculation as to whether he might be the vice-presidential running mate, should Mr. Romney win the nomination. After the announcement, Mr. Christie was asked about the possibility. “That’s going to be Governor Romney’s choice,” he said. “I’ve told him that my only interest is helping him get elected president.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

States Adding Drug Test as Hurdle for Welfare

From The New York Times:

As more Americans turn to government programs for refuge from a merciless economy, a growing number are encountering a new price of admission to the social safety net: a urine sample.

Policy makers in three dozen states this year proposed drug testing for people receiving benefits like welfare, unemployment assistance, job training, food stamps and public housing. Such laws, which proponents say ensure that tax dollars are not being misused and critics say reinforce stereotypes about the poor, have passed in states including Arizona, Indiana and Missouri.

In Florida, people receiving cash assistance through welfare have had to pay for their own drug tests since July, and enrollment has shrunk to its lowest levels since the start of the recession.

The flood of proposals across the country, enabled by the strength of Republicans in many statehouses and driven by a desire to cut government spending, recall the politics of the ’80s and ’90s, when higher rates of drug abuse and references to “welfare queens” led to policies aimed at ensuring that public benefits were not spent to support addiction.

Supporters of the policies note that public assistance is meant to be transitional and that drug tests are increasingly common requirements for getting jobs.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How Latinos Are Reshaping Communities - 1 in every 6 U.S. residents is Latino

From GPB News:

Over the past decade, the story of population growth in the United States was defined largely by the story of Latinos emerging as the nation's largest minority.

They surpassed African-Americans for that distinction, by accounting for 56 percent of America's growth from 2000 to 2010. They now number more than 50 million. Put another way, 1 in every 6 U.S. residents is Latino.

Hispanics remain heavily concentrated in states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida and New York. The majority reside in just three of those states California, Texas and Florida.

Yet the 2010 count showed that Hispanics have begun to fully spread across the nation.

Their populations increased in virtually every state. And on the local level, Hispanics increased their populations in 2,962 of America's 3,142 counties. They declined in number in 108 counties.

The greatest gains occurred in the South and Midwest, which have had traditionally low Hispanic populations, but have attracted Hispanics with lower costs of living and jobs in agriculture.

"Throughout the decade, we were tracking the faster-than-average growth in what have been called the new settlement areas in the Southeast and Midwest. For the most part, the census numbers not only confirmed that, but said we had underestimated the growth in these new areas," says Jeff Passel, chief demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

Southern states posted the top five fastest growth rates, led by South Carolina and followed by Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas.

In Alabama, the Hispanic population grew 145 percent. About 186,000 Hispanics now live in the state, compared with roughly 76,000 in 2000, drawn by low-wage jobs at food-processing facilities and three large automobile plants.

The majority of Hispanics live in the Birmingham area, which is in Shelby County, where the Latino population grew by nearly 300 percent.

"A lot of the growth has been because of the housing boom and the construction jobs, poultry plants and the Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai plants," says Jeremy Love of the advocacy group Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama.

The surges in Alabama and other Southern states have stirred hostility. Alabama and Georgia have passed laws cracking down on illegal immigration. Alabama's new law, which is being challenged in federal court (as is Georgia's new law), grants broad authority to law enforcement to detain people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. The law also requires public schools to report the citizenship status of their students, as well as their parents, to authorities.

"A lot of people, from what I've seen, are uncomfortable with the growth," Love says. "They see the rising unemployment rate and think Hispanics are taking their job opportunities. There is also a misconception that illegal immigrants are receiving food stamps or Medicare or Medicaid, and that's not true."

In the Midwest, Hispanic arrivals have propped up declining or stagnating populations.

In Iowa, for instance, the population of non-Hispanics increased less than 2 percent while the Latino population mushroomed by nearly 84 percent, gaining more than 151,000. Hispanics make up only 5 percent of Iowa's population of 3 million, but their growth amid a population loss among whites has become critical to the state's agribusiness economy.

In several Iowa counties including Humboldt, which lost more than 5 percent of its overall population the Hispanic population shot up more than 250 percent.

In the Midwest and elsewhere, Hispanic population growth coincided with declines in non-Hispanic populations, particularly among whites. An analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center found the trend among many midsize and large counties with already significant Hispanic populations.

For instance, Cook County in Illinois, which includes Chicago, gained 173,022 Hispanics but lost 355,088 non-Hispanics. Wayne County in Michigan, which includes Detroit, gained 18,053 Hispanics and lost 258,631 non-Hispanics. Dallas County in Texas gained 243,211 Hispanics and lost 93,971 non-Hispanics. And Los Angeles County gained 445,676 Hispanics and lost 146,409 non-Hispanics.

The Pew Hispanic Center also found that Hispanic growth fundamentally changed the makeup of small and midsize counties across the country. Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, who conducted the analysis, said he found more than 200 counties of at least 50,000 people in which the share of Hispanics doubled.

"Their rapid growth was fast enough to significantly change the composition of those counties," Lopez says. "These counties went from having small minority populations to large minority populations, or large minorities became the majority."

Tale of Two Loan Programs - U.S. Funds Targeted for Small Business Instead Used by Banks to Repay TARP

From The Wall Street Journal:

More than half of $4 billion in federal funds disbursed this year to spur small-business lending by community banks was used to repay bailout funds that the banks received under the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The Small Business Lending Fund was meant to raise capital at smaller banks, which tend to lend more heavily to small businesses, in the hopes of jump-starting growth and employment. But instead of directly lending to small businesses, many of the banks used the money to rid themselves of higher-cost TARP debt and tougher restrictions.

"It was basically a bailout for 100-plus banks," said Giovanni Coratolo, vice president of small-business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

State Department readies Iraq operation, its biggest since Marshall Plan

From The Washington Post:

The State Department is racing against an end-of-year deadline to take over Iraq operations from the U.S. military, throwing together buildings and marshaling contractors in its biggest overseas operation since the effort to rebuild Europe after World War II.

Attention in Washington and Baghdad has centered on the number of U.S. troops that could remain in Iraq. But those forces will be dwarfed by an estimated 16,000 civilians under the American ambassador — the size of an Army division.

The scale of the operation has raised concerns among lawmakers and government watchdogs, who fear that the State Department will be overwhelmed by overseeing so many people, about 80 percent of them contractors. There is a risk, they say, that millions of dollars could go to waste and that bodyguards will lack adequate supervision.

There are 43,000 U.S. service members in Iraq. Under an agreement negotiated by the George W. Bush administration, they are to leave by the end of 2011.

Iraqi leaders said Tuesday that they want a small contingent of U.S. military trainers to remain, but without immunity from local prosecution, a condition the Obama administration has said it cannot accept. The administration has been planning to keep 3,000 to 5,000 military trainers in the country if the two sides can hammer out an agreement.

In its final report, issued in August, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting said that billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars had been squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the State Department had not made the necessary reforms in its contracting operation.

A tough new Alabama law targets illegal immigrants and sends families fleeing

From The Washington Post:

Other states, including Arizona, Georgia and Colorado, have passed similar laws in the past several years in a growing trend by state legislatures to crack down on illegal immigration within their borders in the absence of comprehensive federal action. But Alabama’s new law is the toughest passed so far, and it is the only one to withstand federal lawsuits and other legal challenges, allowing it to take virtually full effect.

Across Alabama, news of the court ruling has swiftly spread panic and chaos among trailer parks and working-class areas where legal and illegal immigrant families from Mexico and Central America — as many as 150,000 people, by some estimates — live and work at jobs their bosses say local residents largely refuse to do.

Alabama, a largely agricultural state, has long relied on seasonal Mexican farm laborers to harvest peaches, tomatoes and other crops under temporary guest worker visa programs. What has made the past decade different, officials said, is a surge of illegal immigrants who have put down roots, taken permanent jobs at low wages and drained public health and education budgets. Officials estimate the state spends about $280 million per year on public services for illegal immigrant families.

Iraq, siding with Iran, sends essential aid to Syria’s Assad

From The Washington Post:

More than six months after the start of the Syrian uprising, Iraq is offering key moral and financial support to the country’s embattled president, undermining a central U.S. policy objective and raising fresh concerns that Iraq is drifting further into the orbit of an American arch rival — Iran.

Iraq’s stance has dealt an embarrassing setback to the Obama administration, which has sought to enlist Muslim allies in its campaign to isolate Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad. While other Arab states have downgraded ties with Assad, Iraq has moved in the opposite direction, hosting official visits by Syrians, signing pacts to expand business ties and offering political support.

Protest Spurs Online Dialogue on Inequity

From The New York Times:

What began as a small group of protesters expressing their grievances about economic inequities last month from a park in New York City has evolved into an online conversation that is spreading across the country on social media platforms.

Inspired by the populist message of the group known as Occupy Wall Street, more than 200 Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have sprung up in dozens of cities during the past week, seeking volunteers for local protests and fostering discussion about the group’s concerns.

Some 900 events have been set up on Meetup.com, and blog posts and photographs from all over the country are popping up on the WeArethe99Percent blog on Tumblr from people who see themselves as victims of not just a sagging economy but also economic injustice.

“I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want to live a lavish lifestyle,” wrote a woman on Tumblr, describing herself as a college student worried about the burden of student debt. “I’m worried. I’m scared, thinking about the future shakes me. I hope this works. I really hope this works.”

While people in New York are still dominating the conversation on Twitter, an analysis of Twitter data on Friday showed that almost half of the posts were made in other parts of the country, primarily in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, as well as Texas, Florida and Oregon, according to Trendrr, a social media analytics firm.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Ousted Bank of America Officer Gets $6 Million

As my readers know from my posts, I keep up with the market and the goings-on of Wall Street. If and when the below news about former Bank of American executive Sallie Krawcheck (hired by BAC from Citibank) gets any publicity, BAC debit card users and the growing crowds protesting Wall Street are not going to be happy campers.

Recognizing that the younger generation doesn't know a paper check just as many would not recognize a typewriter, BAC's recent announcement that it will charge most customers who use their debit cards for purchases a flat $5 monthly fee starting next year didn't go over very well.

And also although many of the talking heads are lampooning the Occupy Wall Street movement as a bunch of marginal freaks, some in this movement surely recall that it was the banks that got bailed 0out as the rest of us left holding the bag, and that we will be required -- along with our great, great grandchildren will be required -- to pay for it.

And for full disclosure: I never thought Ms. Krawcheck other than her looks was that hot of a commodity anyway (her primary asset was being a female in the male dominated world that pervades Wall Street), and now to read this.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Former Bank of America Corp. executive Sallie Krawcheck will receive $6 million after leaving the bank following a management reshuffle last month.

Ms. Krawcheck, one of the most prominent female executives at a financial firm, ran Bank of America's global wealth and investment management unit, which included U.S. Trust and the Merrill Lynch brokerage unit. But she lost out amid a reshuffling of the top ranks by Chief Executive Brian Moynihan.

She will receive a salary of $850,000 and a payment of $5.15 million, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

348,509 previously granted restricted stock units will continue to vest in 2013; those were valued at $2.1 million based on Friday's $5.90 closing price of Bank of America's stock

Friday, October 07, 2011

God Bless America: Why Otis Elevator Returned from Mexico

Video from The Wall Street Journal: Fifteen years ago, Otis Elevator joined the stampede of U.S. manufacturers who moved production to Mexico in a bid to save money. Now they're moving it all back. Tim Aeppel explains why on The News Hub.

The article from The Wall Street Journal:

Globalization has come full circle at Otis Elevator Co.

The U.S. manufacturer, whose elevators zip up and down structures as diverse as the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower, is moving production from its factory in Nogales, Mexico, to a new plant in South Carolina.

More startling: Otis says the move will save it money.

What's happening at Otis is part of a broader shift in the way manufacturers tally costs.

Their outlook has been changing as the cost of producing abroad has risen and they have devised more efficient ways to make things close to where they want to sell them.

International companies ranging from Ford Motor Co. to General Electric Co. have started returning to the U.S. some jobs that they had previously shipped offshore, a process sometimes dubbed as "reshoring."

"It's a trickle, it's not a trend—but clearly companies are now thinking more about it," says Paul Scott, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a nonprofit alliance of business and labor groups that lobbies for domestic production.

A number of forces are behind the modest influx. Wages and other costs are going up in foreign countries—especially China—while pay in many industrial sectors inside the U.S. has risen slowly or even fallen in many cases. Transportation costs have grown, as have the costs of holding large stocks of inventory, a common precaution when producing goods far from their end market.

Companies also recognize how moving jobs to the U.S. at a time of high unemployment can enhance their image. "A lot of companies still don't publicize plant closures in the U.S.-which they're still doing," says Mr. Scott, while going out of their way to tout moving jobs back into the country. But longer term, he says, there should be genuine gains for the American economy and workers.

Stephen Maurer, the head of the manufacturing practice at consultants AlixPartners LLP, says some things will always be made in low-cost places, like clothes, "because they involve tons of labor."

But for many other goods, the numbers are shifting. In new study, Mr. Maurer found that it's still cheaper to make a long list of basic industrial goods in places like Vietnam, Russia, or Mexico, but the gap has shrunk. Some analysts say this trend is accelerating and will eventually make the U.S. the cheapest place to produce a wider range of goods. Otis thinks that's already the case for its elevators.

When Otis moved production down to Mexico in 1998, "it clearly was for cost-oriented reasons," says Didier Michaud-Daniel, chief executive of the United Technologies Corp. unit. "But since then, logistics costs have increased a lot."

Otis declined to disclose all its cost calculations, but it said the new South Carolina plant will undercut the costs of producing in Mexico.

Among other things, the plant will be closer to many of the company's customers, about 70% of whom are on the East Coast of the U.S.

The company figures that will lower its freight and logistics costs 17.3%.

Another 20% of savings, the company says, will come from "efficiencies" of having all its white-collar workers associated with elevator design and production located at the new factory.

The company, which is based in Farmington, Conn., had only final-assembly operations in Mexico, keeping design and engineering jobs in the U.S.

That meant toolmakers from Dallas and engineers and designers based in Indiana and Arizona had to travel across the border.

"We really needed to rationalize our supply chain, and the way to do that was to have everything in one place," says Mr. Michaud-Daniel.

At the new Florence, S.C., plant, designers and engineers will be close at hand, helping with a planned launch of a new generation of elevator designs.

It also will be easier for customers to visit the plant. Nogales is 65 miles from the nearest U.S. commercial airport, in Tucson, Ariz.

The new factory will have 360 workers, about the same total number as the Nogales facility, though that will include white-collar jobs and fewer factory-floor positions.

The facility will use more automation, including designs developed in Otis's European factories, to reduce the need for production workers, says Mr. Michaud-Daniel.

Many U.S. producers, meanwhile, remain committed to Mexico—in part because they view manufacturing there as a way to keep production close to U.S. customers while still benefiting from cheaper labor.

That's the view of John Heppner, chief executive of Master Lock Co., of Milwaukee.

Citing rising costs in China, the company has moved some production back to the U.S., as well as to its large factory in Nogales—not far from Otis's plant.

"We don't just have a maquiladora in Nogales," says Mr. Heffner, using the term for border plants that do mostly basic assembly work, "but a world-class manufacturing operation."

Indeed, Master Lock's plant in Nogales employs 1,100 and is its largest plant in North America. It also serves as the distribution hub for the western half of the U.S.

Master Lock, like many American companies, moved work to Mexico and China to survive an onslaught of foreign competition over the past decade.

"But a lot of those dynamics have turned," says Mr. Heppner.

For now, he says, Mexico makes sense for a big chunk of his company's production.

CNN Tribute to Steve Jobs (Steve Jobs Dead at 56)

Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

Drawing from some of the most pivotal points in his life, Steve Jobs urged graduates to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life's setbacks -- including death itself -- at Stanford University's commencement on June 12, 2005.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

This is worth trying. It was done by a Georgia poultry processor several years ago: Georgia may use prisoners to fill farm labor gap

From the AJC:

The idea is to put nonviolent inmates -- who are spending the end of their prison terms at one of the state’s 13 transitional centers -- to work picking fruits and vegetables across Georgia.

The work would be voluntary for the prisoners. Pay would be set by farmers, though it would be at least minimum wage. Prisoners would pay for their transportation to and from the farms.

Romney Environment Push Is Fresh Target for His Rivals

From The Wall Street Journal:

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, whose health-care record as governor of Massachusetts has left him struggling to win the support of conservative voters, now faces another point of vulnerability: his environmental record.

Just days after his 2002 election, Mr. Romney hired Douglas Foy, one of the state's most prominent environmental activists, and put him in charge of supervising four state agencies.

Mr. Foy had initiated a lawsuit that led to the cleanup of Boston Harbor and had worked to protect fishing grounds and seashores. Once in the Romney administration, he served as the governor's negotiator on a regional climate-change initiative and helped draft regulations to put emissions caps in place for coal-fired power plants.

With Mr. Foy by his side, Mr. Romney joined activists outside an aging, coal-fired plant in 2003 to show his commitment to the emissions caps. "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant, that plant kills people," he said.

Mr. Romney, while implementing the emissions caps, ultimately backed away from the regional climate-change agreement in 2005, a decision announced on the same day he said he would not seek re-election as governor, stoking speculation that he would run for president.

As a candidate, Mr. Romney has laid out an economic plan that would amend the Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide from its regulatory purview and open U.S. energy reserves to more development.

In his five-year quest for the presidency, Mr. Romney has been bedeviled not only by his Massachusetts health-care plan, which mandated that most individuals purchase insurance, but also his shifts on abortion and gun control. In 2004, he signed an assault weapons ban for his state, although he now opposes most gun control. And he promised as governor he would keep his state's pro-abortion rights position, though now he opposes legal abortions.

Mr. Romney says that his health-care plan was good policy for Massachusetts, but that as president he'd work to overturn Mr. Obama's health-care law, which also includes an individual mandate.

Mr. Romney's approach to the environment as governor showed someone who was open to regulatory as well as market-oriented answers to environmental problems—while also willing to work with committed environmentalists and liberal Democrats.

From the start of his administration, Mr. Romney set out to reconcile a pro-business political bent with his state's liberal environmentalism, said Eric Kriss, a close confidante of Mr. Romney's from their days co-founding the private equity firm Bain Capital. During the Romney campaign for governor, Mr. Kriss consulted frequently with Mr. Foy.

"Doug was known as a pre-eminent conservationist," he said. "He was broad-minded, articulate, and he believed in the vision we all had, to combine environmental concerns with the need for housing and transportation infrastructure."

Mr. Foy was put in charge of commonwealth development, overseeing transportation, housing, environment and energy agencies, with combined annual capital budgets of $5 billion and more than 11,000 employees.

Mr. Foy, a political independent who votes Democratic, said he joined the Romney administration not to combat climate change but because the governor was promoting "smart growth'' measures and combining warring parts of the state government into a single entity that Mr. Foy would supervise.

He said that Mr. Romney's environmental record fits "the Republican tradition in Massachusetts'' of "fiscal conservatism and good governance, doing more with less."

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

David Brooks: In Defense of Romney

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Over the past several months, Mitt Romney has been an excellent presidential candidate. He has performed superbly in the debates. He has outorganized his rivals. He has relentlessly stayed on his core theme of putting Americans back to work. He has taken Rick Perry apart with a cold ruthlessness that is a wonder to behold.

And throughout this period of excellence, he has done almost nothing to endear himself to Republican activists. They have spent this season of excellence searching for anyone else: Palin, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain and now (Please! Please!) Christie. On Nov. 4, 2010, Romney earned the support of 23 percent of Republican voters, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls. Today, he also has support from 23 percent of Republicans nationwide.

The central problem is that Mitt Romney doesn’t fit the mold of what many Republicans want in a presidential candidate. They don’t want a technocratic manager. They want a bold, blunt radical outsider who will take on the establishment, speak truth to power and offend the liberal news media.

They don’t want Organization Man. They want Braveheart.

The question is: Are they right to want this? Well, if they want an in-your-face media campaign that will produce delicious thrills for the true believers, they are absolutely right. But if they actually want to elect an effective executive who is right for this moment, they are probably not right.

There are two important features of the current Republican moment. First, this is not a party riven by big ideological differences. This is not Reagan versus Rockefeller. Whoever wins the nomination will be leading a party with a cohesive ideology and a common set of priorities: reform taxes, replace Obamacare, cut spending and reform entitlements. The next president won’t have to come up with a vision, just execute the things almost all Republicans agree upon.

Second, the challenges ahead are technically difficult. There’s a reason that no president since Reagan has been able to reform the tax code. There’s a reason no president save Obama has been able to pass health care reform. These are complicated issues that require a sophisticated inside game — navigating through the special interests, building complex coalitions. They are issues that require executive expertise.

It’s easy to see how Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, if he decides to run, could rally public support behind these priorities. He has an amazing ability to talk about policy in concrete, common-sense terms. He might easily be the Republicans’ best option.

Yet Romney’s skills are not to be underestimated. In the first place, he doesn’t throw interceptions. As with quarterbacks, the chief job of a president is not to give the game away with unforced errors. Romney does not take excessive risks. He doesn’t make decisions without advance preparation.

He does adapt. It has been stunning to see how much better Romney is as a candidate this time around than in 2008. This improvement must have come from a pretty thorough period of self-examination and self-correction.

He seems to know how to pick staff. His economic advisers include R. Glenn Hubbard of Columbia, Greg Mankiw of Harvard, former Senator Jim Talent and Vin Weber, a former congressman. This is the gold standard of adviser teams.

He could probably work well with the leaders of his own party. If Romney were to be elected, he would probably share power with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the House speaker, John Boehner. These are not exactly Tea Party radicals. Instead, they are consummate professionals and expert legislators who could plausibly work together. More presidents have been undone by the Congressional leaders in their own party than by members of the opposition.

Romney may be able to guard against ideological overreach. Each successive recent administration has overread its election mandate. Romney may be inauthentic, but he is rarely overzealous.

He comes from a blue state. Candidates who come from states where their party is in the minority are much more likely to be elected. In government, it really helps to have a feel for how people in the other party think. Neither President Obama nor George W. Bush had this.

Finally, Romney can be dull. Political activists like exciting candidates. But most people, who have lower expectations from politics and politicians, just want them to provide basic order. They want government to be orderly so they can be daring in other spheres of their lives. Romney is the most predictable of the candidates and would make for the most soporific of presidents. That’s a good thing. Government would function better if partisan passions were on a lower flame.

It’s exciting to have charismatic leaders. But often the best leaders in business, in government and in life are not glittering saviors. They are professionals you hire to get a job done.

The strongest case for Romney is that he’s nobody’s idea of a savior.

After Ruling, Hispanics Flee an Alabama Town

From The New York Times:

ALBERTVILLE, Ala. — The vanishing began Wednesday night, the most frightened families packing up their cars as soon as they heard the news.

The exodus of Hispanic immigrants began just hours after a federal judge in Birmingham upheld most provisions of the state’s far-reaching immigration enforcement law.

The judge, Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, upheld the parts of the law allowing state and local police to ask for immigration papers during routine traffic stops, rendering most contracts with illegal immigrants unenforceable and requiring schools to ascertain the immigration status of children at registration time.

When Judge Blackburn was finished, Alabama was left with what the governor called “the strongest immigration law in this country.” It went into effect immediately, though her ruling is being appealed by the Justice Department and a coalition of civil rights groups.

Drawn by work in the numerous poultry processing plants, Hispanic immigrants have been coming to Albertville for years, long enough ago that some of the older ones gained amnesty under the immigration law of 1986. But the influx picked up over the last decade, and the signs on Main Street are now mostly bilingual, when they include English at all.

Critics of the law, particularly farmers, contractors and home builders, say the measure has already been devastating, leaving rotting crops in fields and critical shortages of labor. They say that even fully documented Hispanic workers are leaving, an assessment that seems to be borne out in interviews here. The legal status of family members is often mixed — children are often American-born citizens — but the decision whether to stay rests on the weakest link.

Backers of the law acknowledge that it might be disruptive in the short term, but say it will prove effective over time.

“It’s going to take some time for the local labor pool to develop again,” said State Senator Arthur Orr, Republican of Decatur, “but outside labor shouldn’t come in and just beat them every time on cost and put them out of business.”

Mr. Orr said there were already signs that the law was working, pointing out that the work-release center in Decatur, about 50 miles to the northwest, was not so long ago unable to find jobs for inmates with poultry processors or home manufacturers. Since the law was enacted in June, he said, the center has been placing more and more inmates in these jobs, now more than 150 a day.

On Monday morning, one of the poultry processing plants in Albertville had a job fair, attracting an enormous crowd, a mix of Hispanic, black and white job-seekers, lining up outside the plant and down the street.

“This needed to be done years ago,” Shannon Lolling, 36, who has been unemployed for over a year, said of the law.

Mr. Lolling’s problem seemed to be with the system that had brought the illegal-immigrant workers here, not with the workers themselves.

“That’s why our jobs went south to Mexico,” he said. “They pay them less wages and pocket the money, keep us from having jobs.”

Many Hispanics have chosen to stay for now, saying, with little apparent conviction, that the law will surely be blocked by the president, the judge, “the government.” Until then, they are not leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary.

Relieved and glad it is finally (knock on wood) over - Amanda Knox Freed After Appeal in Italian Court

From The New York Times:

Monday’s verdict is unlikely to quash the hard feelings the case stirred up regarding the role of the media, both local and international, which have been accused of excessive — and often biased — coverage of the case.

The Italian justice system has also come under close scrutiny, and in the next few days there is likely to be discussion of the pitfalls of a legal system that seems to have wrongly kept two young people in prison for four years.

Many American news media outlets, which were largely sympathetic to the Knox family in their coverage, frequently portrayed the American as having been caught up in what was sometimes described as a medieval or barbaric legal system.

Italian legal experts dismissed such accusations. The Knox case, if anything, exemplified the guarantees implicit in the judicial system, “because the appeals process evaluates both procedural questions and can reopen the investigative phase, which is what happened here,” said Maurizio Bellacosa, a defense lawyer and professor of penal law at the Luiss University in Rome. “It is a guarantee for defendants.”

Giuliano Mignini, the prosecutor who led the murder investigation, said Monday that he would appeal the sentence to Italy’s Supreme Court. The judge will have 90 days to write a report on the court’s conclusions, and parties then have 45 days to file an appeal. The court usually takes a year to hear a case.

Should they decide to overturn the acquittal, Ms. Knox would be tried — even in absentia — in a second appeals court, and if that court upheld the conviction it would return to the Supreme Court.

Only when a final conviction was reached could Italy start extradition procedures against her.

Foreign Aid Set to Take a Hit in U.S. Budget Crisis - Since is less than 1% of federal spending, effect could be disporportional.

From The New York Times:

America’s budget crisis at home is forcing the first significant cuts in overseas aid in nearly two decades, a retrenchment that officials and advocates say reflects the country’s diminishing ability to influence the world.

As lawmakers scramble to trim the swelling national debt, both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have proposed slashing financing for the State Department and its related aid agencies at a time of desperate humanitarian crises and uncertain political developments. The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps.

The financial crunch threatens to undermine a foreign policy described as “smart power” by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, one that emphasizes diplomacy and development as a complement to American military power. It also would begin to reverse the increase in foreign aid that President George W. Bush supported after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as part of an effort to combat the roots of extremism and anti-American sentiment, especially in the most troubled countries.

Given the relatively small foreign aid budget — it accounts for 1 percent of federal spending over all — the effect of the cuts could be disproportional.

With the administration and Congress facing a deadline for still deeper cuts in spending, government programs across the board face the ax, from public education to the military, but proposed cuts to the State Department and foreign aid come on top of an $8 billion reduction in April, the single largest cut to any one department under the deal that kept the government from shutting down.

The last time American foreign aid declined so significantly was in the 1990s, after the end of the cold war and the fight between Democrats and Republicans that led to a balanced budget under President Bill Clinton.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the White House fiscal commission, isn’t a fan of President Barack Obama’s deficit-reduction plan or his new feisty tone.

From Politico:

Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the White House fiscal commission, isn’t a fan of President Barack Obama’s deficit-reduction plan or his new feisty tone.

The decision to shield Social Security from changes “is an abrogation of leadership, a vacancy of leadership,” Simpson told POLITICO on Wednesday.

The harsh appraisal is notable even from the outspoken Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming whom Obama tapped last year to lead his bipartisan fiscal commission. Simpson is often blunt, but he has generally avoided direct criticism of the president, even when Obama declined to embrace the commission report and waited months to push a comprehensive plan.

Simpson said he is “saddened” and “tired of watching” the president talk up bipartisanship in public while bashing Republicans at private fundraisers. And by treading lightly on entitlements, Obama’s proposal fails to live up to the principle of shared sacrifice, he said.

“You can’t get this done without hits across the board,” Simpson said, “and if you are leaving people out all along the way because of political pressure, you can’t get it done.”

The White House pushed back on Simpson’s comments in a statement Wednesday.

“The president has put forth a balanced approach to significantly reduce our nation’s deficit that included detailed savings on entitlements, based on the values of shared responsibility and shared sacrifice,” spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.

“The president has also consistently said that both parties need to work together to strengthen Social Security for future generations,” she said. “Since Social Security is not a driver of our immediate and medium-term deficits, the president believes the best way to achieve the goal of long-term solvency is to deal with this challenge in a bipartisan way on a separate track instead of taking a piecemeal approach.”

Obama endorsed several controversial changes to Medicare and agreed to tackle Social Security during private talks with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on a “grand bargain” to raise the debt ceiling and slash the deficit. After those negotiations fell apart in July, budget hawks encouraged Obama to publicly back the proposals when he unveiled his deficit-reduction plan this month.

The president proposed $348 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid — far more than Democrats wanted. But under pressure from progressives, Obama sidestepped the most contentious proposals, such as raising the Medicare eligibility age, and he declined to address Social Security altogether.

Simpson and his Democratic co-chair, Erskine Bowles, recommended raising the Social Security retirement age to 68 by 2050, along with other changes, to shore up the system that is projected to go broke by 2037.

“How in God’s name can you leave out the [Social Security] system just because you’re terrified of the AARP and seniors groups,” Simpson said. “You can’t leave out anything.”

Candidates not in race seen as figures of extraordinary & enduring strength & skill until in race they immediately become diminished, flawed & mortal.

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The longing of some Republicans for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to enter the 2012 presidential race reflects more than quiet dissatisfaction with the GOP's current field of contenders. It also reflects a dramatically changed feeling within the party that the best time to recapture the White House may not be 2016 after all.

That changed sentiment bears on the prospects for a whole crop of young potential Republican stars, Mr. Christie included. Not so long ago, there was a palpable if unspoken feeling among Republicans that President Barack Obama was more likely than not to win a second term in 2012, but that this collection of young talent would be primed and ready to shine four years later.

Now the Republican nomination that's up for grabs looks a lot more valuable. Perhaps, many in the party are thinking, the future is now.

Such sentiments may represent a miscalculation of President Obama's vulnerability, and the ease with which any incumbent president can be dislodged. Mr. Obama's standing has slipped, but so have feelings toward Republicans and, in particular, toward the Congress they help run. The president remains fairly popular personally, and he'll still raise plenty of money.

Still, the political landscape has changed a lot in recent months. Mr. Obama himself said in an interview Monday with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that he "absolutely" considers himself the underdog in next year's race. Consider the differences in some leading political indicators since the dawn of 2011:

President Obama's job-approval rating has dropped to 43% from 49% in Gallup tracking polls.

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment index, a leading reading of how the public feels about the state of the economy, has plunged to 59.4 from 74.2.

The share of those who say the country is headed in the right direction has fallen to 19% in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, from 35% at the outset of the year.

The share of those who say they'll probably vote for the Republican in next year's presidential election has risen to 44% from 40% in the Journal/NBC News survey.

All this makes the president a much bigger target than seemed possible just months ago. One can only wonder what some Republicans who declined the honor of getting into the race, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, are thinking now.

There is, of course, a natural and well-documented tendency to belittle contenders who have actually entered a race, and to assume magical qualities among those who haven't. As Republican analyst Pete Wehner has noted, candidates who aren't in a race tend to be seen as "figures of extraordinary and enduring strength and skill" right up to the moment they become candidates, "at which point they immediately become diminished, flawed and mortal."

That's pretty much the story of Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the last couple of weeks. And former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the perpetual victim of this tendency to yearn for the unavailable.

What's less obvious is how this altered political landscape could affect the party's collection of potential stars-in-the-making. The feeling has been that, whatever Republicans' fate this year, a promising group of younger politicians would be ready to roll for 2016.

The elder statesman of this younger generation is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, age 58. Alongside him stands Mr. Christie, 49, who's been governor of New Jersey for less than two years. Then there is Rep. Paul Ryan, 41, chairman of the House Budget Committee and inheritor of the Jack Kemp mantle of upbeat fiscal conservatism. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is just 40, as is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the man already on every Republican vice presidential list. And South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who burst onto the national scene in winning the governor's seat last year, is 39.

Like a baseball team with a promising crop of young pitchers in the minor leagues, Republicans have long thought this group would leave them in prime position for 2016 if things didn't go so well in unseating Mr. Obama this time around. The premise, largely unspoken, was that 2012 would be crucial for solidifying the GOP hold on the House and taking control of the Senate, setting up the capture of it all in 2016 on the back of one of the young hopefuls.

"One can only imagine that Christie, like many other budding Republican superstars, figured he could ripen on the vine before jumping into the fray four years from now," one-time Republican strategist Mark McKinnon wrote over the weekendin a blog post for the Daily Beast. "That's what they were all thinking a year ago. And a year ago, despite the economy, President Obama's chances of being re-elected still looked like a pretty good bet."

That was then. Now looks a little different.

For Politics in South, Race Divide Is Defining - In Miss., Dems ponder the prospect of becoming the permanent minority party - in both senses of word.

From The New York Times:

In few places are the current woes of Democrats in the South in such clear relief as they are in Mississippi. It is here that a possibility long considered may soon become a reality, as Democrats ponder the prospect of becoming, definitively, the minority party — in both senses of the word.

There are still such things as white Democratic strongholds in the South, believe it or not. They are run by the often long-serving sheriffs, circuit clerks and other county officials who have remained Democrats out of habit, family tradition, allegiance to the party behind the New Deal or a strategic aim to attract black voters.

These old-line Democrats persist in areas that are largely white, rural and conservative, but have mostly been untouched by the racial politics seen elsewhere in the South.

[V]ictories by attrition, combined with suburban growth and hostility to the Obama administration, continue to wring the Democratic Party of white support.

“I would say that with a very concerted effort and a little money, it is still salvageable,” Marty Wiseman, the director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University and a Democrat. “But you give it 10 or 12 more years, even those who are hanging in there now are going to say that it is not worth it.”

At that point, Professor Wiseman said, party identification will simply boil down to race. Republicans will have unchallenged statewide control, he added, but even the most innocuous of political debates will carry racial overtones, an unwelcome prospect for everyone.

Merle Black, an expert on politics at Emory University in Atlanta, said that point is arguably already here. In 2008 exit polls, he pointed out, 96 percent of self-identified Republicans in Mississippi were white. Nearly 75 percent of self-identified Democrats were black.

Georgia’s Hispanic population booms -- having doubled in the past decade -- but clout lags

Jim Galloway writes in the AJC's Political Insider:

Despite explosive growth in the past decade, Georgia Hispanics have barely made a dent in the state political scene.

Georgia Hispanics now make up 8.8 percent of the state population, according to new U.S. Census figures. The population nearly doubled in the state in the past decade.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Imagining a Christie Campaign for President

From The New York Times:

Ask Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey whether his weight is a political asset or an election-year liability, and he shrugs.

“It depends on the day,” Mr. Christie said earlier this year, noting that his struggles with weight control could add to his “everyman” appeal or be a voter turnoff. “Some days it may be an asset and some days it may be a liability.”

That may be the best way to describe everything about Mr. Christie as he considers the entreaties of donors and prominent Republicans who are urging him to make a late entry into an unsettled field of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.

Those close to Mr. Christie say he is taking those entreaties very seriously despite his earlier insistence that he was not ready to be president. At one point this year, he joked that he would have to commit suicide to end the rumors of a 2012 candidacy.

But his very public resistance has given way to an urgent reconsideration, and his top advisers say the governor is well aware that he must make a decision, probably within days, about whether to mount a bid for the White House.

Mr. Christie, 49, a first-term governor whose paucity of government experience may be just what the doctor ordered, is a jumble of political contradictions. He’s a conservative with some liberal views, a New Jersey politician who can bully but also frequently talks about compromise, and an obviously reluctant candidate who clearly hears the call of the national stage.

“If Christie is the superpolitician his encouragers present, he should have the nomination locked up by mid-February,” said Jim Dyke, an unaligned Republican strategist. But he said Mr. Christie’s record would “offer insights, contradictions and surprises — all of which will sustain or destroy him depending on how he handles them.”

In two years as governor, he has succeeded in capping property taxes, rolling back pension benefits and balancing the state budget. But unemployment remains high in New Jersey, and his battles with the teachers’ union have become legend.

Questions remain about his viability as a national candidate. Mr. Christie has often strayed far from his party’s orthodoxy. In a speech last week, he praised the Bowles-Simpson plan to lower the nation’s debt in part with increased tax revenues from closing loopholes — a path opposed by many in his party.

He is on record acknowledging the “undeniable” science behind the idea that climate change is caused by human behavior, saying global warming is “real and it is impacting our state.” On gun control, Mr. Christie is out of step with Second Amendment supporters who view with suspicion any laws that restrict access to firearms.

When Jon S. Corzine, the former Democratic governor of New Jersey, accused him in 2009 of standing with the National Rifle Association, Mr. Christie’s campaign noted his support of the federal assault weapons ban. “Hardly the N.R.A. position,” his literature said.

The most problematic issue may be his stand on illegal immigration.

In 2008, as a federal prosecutor, Mr. Christie spoke what could be considered blasphemy among conservatives: “Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime,” he said. “The whole phrase of ‘illegal immigrant’ connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime.”

He has said repeatedly that leaders should not “demagogue” the issue of immigration, and he did not explicitly support tough state laws like the one put in place in Arizona last year. And when Tea Party conservatives were up in arms about plans to build an Islamic center near ground zero, he accused them of overreacting.

Mr. Christie’s less conservative positions may help him capture independents in a general election against President Obama. And his blunt, straightforward style might contrast well with the president’s well-known coolness.

In an era when people say they are tired of slick, preprogrammed politicians who faithfully repeat a focus-group-tested message, the New Jersey governor is anything but.

When Hurricane Irene was bearing down on his state’s coastline, he bellowed “get the hell off the beach!” He waved off criticism of his use of a state helicopter to go to his son’s baseball game as “silliness” (though he later reimbursed the state for its use). His vocabulary as governor regularly includes the words “stupid,” “crap” and “insane.”

He is the anti-Mitt Romney; unprogrammed and unscripted. And with Mr. Romney now appearing to be the one to beat in the Republican primaries, there may be no better time for an alternative like Mr. Christie.

“Polls show people are really frustrated with Washington right now,” said Scott Reed, who managed Senator Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996. “A little straight talk will go a long way.”

But Mr. Christie’s willingness to say anything could also hurt him in a presidential campaign in which mistakes, gaffes and flubs are hardly ever forgiven, as both Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas have learned.

For many people around the country, the image they have seen of a combative and feisty Mr. Christie is of him at a town-hall-style meeting, speaking bluntly to a teacher who stood up to accuse him of criticizing the profession. “If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, well then I have no interest in answering your question,” Mr. Christie said.

In another exchange captured on video, a woman asked why Mr. Christie sends his children to private schools.

“First off, it’s none of your business,” the clearly irritated governor answered. “I don’t ask you where you send your kids to school. Don’t bother me about where I send mine.”

But will such moments still seem like a breath of fresh air if they happen repeatedly on the campaign trail? One senior Republican strategist who is backing a current candidate suggested that voters might get tired of Mr. Christie’s combative routine.

“If you take the confrontational style all day, every day, I don’t know how that wears,” said the strategist, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized by the campaign to speak about Mr. Christie.

People close to the New Jersey governor say his political range is wider than that. And in one popular video, it is.

Responding to a popular Internet video of a 4-year-old boy crying because he wants to be governor of New Jersey, a jovial Mr. Christie signed a proclamation in April making the child governor for a day.

If he were to run, Mr. Christie would have to quickly deal with his past reluctance to get in the race. And logistically, he would start off way behind.

In the past, Mr. Christie has insisted that he is not ready to serve in the White House. “You have to believe, as I’ve said before, in your heart and in your mind that you are ready,” he said in an interview in February. “And I don’t believe that I am.”

That answer has the obvious benefit of making him seem more honest than the average politician. But once he is a candidate, he would have to find a way to answer the inevitable question about how he suddenly changed his mind.

Mr. Christie will also immediately face the challenge of raising money. The excitement among some very wealthy donors suggests that that might not be too difficult. But running for president requires a large fund-raising organization, and he would start millions of dollars behind rivals.

Right away, Mr. Christie would face the challenge of his schedule. Every day that he spends on the phone with donors is a day he’s not spending in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina — places that contenders have been visiting regularly for weeks.