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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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Peggy Noonan's Sat. column before the speech Mon. night: 'A multilateral mistake is still a mistake.' 'Pres. needs to tell us why this it isn't mad.'

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, prior to President Obama's speech delivered Monday night:

It all seems rather mad, doesn't it? The decision to become involved militarily in the Libyan civil war couldn't take place within a less hospitable context. The U.S. is reeling from spending and deficits, we're already in two wars, our military has been stretched to the limit, we're restive at home, and no one, really, sees President Obama as the kind of leader you'd follow over the top. "This way, men!" "No, I think I'll stay in my trench." People didn't hire him to start battles but to end them. They didn't expect him to open new fronts. Did he not know this?

He has no happy experience as a rallier of public opinion and a leader of great endeavors; the central initiative of his presidency, the one that gave shape to his leadership, health care, is still unpopular and the cause of continued agitation. When he devoted his entire first year to it, he seemed off point and out of touch.

This was followed by the BP oil spill, which made him look snakebit. Now he seems incompetent and out of his depth in foreign and military affairs. He is more observed than followed, or perhaps I should say you follow him with your eyes and not your heart. So it's funny he'd feel free to launch and lead a war, which is what this confused and uncertain military action may become.

What was he thinking? What is he thinking?

Which gets me to Mr. Obama's speech, the one he hasn't given. I cannot for the life of me see how an American president can launch a serious military action without a full and formal national address in which he explains to the American people why he is doing what he is doing, why it is right, and why it is very much in the national interest. He referred to his aims in parts of speeches and appearances when he was in South America, but now he's home. More is needed, more is warranted, and more is deserved. He has to sit at that big desk and explain his thinking, put forward the facts as he sees them, and try to garner public support. He has to make a case for his own actions. It's what presidents do! And this is particularly important now, because there are reasons to fear the current involvement will either escalate and produce a lengthy conflict or collapse and produce humiliation.

Without a formal and extended statement, the air of weirdness, uncertainty and confusion that surrounds this endeavor will only deepen.

The questions that must be answered actually start with the essentials. What, exactly, are we doing? Why are we doing it? At what point, or after what arguments, did the president decide U.S. military involvement was warranted? Is our objective practical and doable? What is America's overriding strategic interest? In what way are the actions taken, and to be taken, seeing to those interests?

From those questions flow many others. We know who we're against—Moammar Gadhafi, a bad man who's done very wicked things. But do we know who we're for? That is, what does the U.S. government know or think it knows about the composition and motives of the rebel forces we're attempting to assist? For 42 years, Gadhafi controlled his nation's tribes, sects and groups through brute force, bribes and blandishments. What will happen when they are no longer kept down? What will happen when they are no longer oppressed? What will they become, and what role will they play in the coming drama? Will their rebellion against Gadhafi degenerate into a dozen separate battles over oil, power and local dominance?

What happens if Gadhafi hangs on? The president has said he wants U.S. involvement to be brief. But what if Gadhafi is fighting on three months from now?

On the other hand, what happens if Gadhafi falls, if he's deposed in a palace coup or military coup, or is killed, or flees? What exactly do we imagine will take his place?

Supporters of U.S. intervention have argued that if we mean to protect Libya's civilians, as we have declared, then we must force regime change. But in order to remove Gadhafi, they add, we will need to do many other things. We will need to provide close-in air power. We will probably have to put in special forces teams to work with the rebels, who are largely untrained and ragtag. The Libyan army has tanks and brigades and heavy weapons. The U.S. and the allies will have to provide the rebels training and give them support. They will need antitank missiles and help in coordinating air strikes.

Once Gadhafi is gone, will there be a need for an international peacekeeping force to stabilize the country, to provide a peaceful transition, and to help the post-Gadhafi government restore its infrastructure? Will there be a partition? Will Libyan territory be altered?

None of this sounds like limited and discrete action.

In fact, this may turn out to be true: If Gadhafi survives, the crisis will go on and on. If Gadhafi falls, the crisis will go on and on.

Everyone who supports the Libyan endeavor says they don't want an occupation. One said the other day, "We're not looking for a protracted occupation."


Mr. Obama has apparently set great store in the fact that he was not acting alone, that Britain, France and Italy were eager to move. That's good—better to work with friends and act in concert. But it doesn't guarantee anything. A multilateral mistake is still a mistake. So far the allied effort has not been marked by good coordination and communication. If the conflict in Libya drags on, won't there tend to be more fissures, more tension, less commitment and more confusion as to objectives and command structures? Could the unanticipated results of the Libya action include new strains, even a new estrangement, among the allies?

How might Gadhafi hit out, in revenge, in his presumed last days, against America and the West?

And what, finally, about Congress? Putting aside the past half-century's argument about declarations of war, doesn't Congress, as representative of the people, have the obvious authority and responsibility to support the Libyan endeavor, or not, and to authorize funds, or not?

These are all big questions, and there are many other obvious ones. If the Libya endeavor is motivated solely by humanitarian concerns, then why haven't we acted on those concerns recently in other suffering nations? It's a rough old world out there, and there's a lot of suffering. What is our thinking going forward? What are the new rules of the road, if there are new rules? Were we, in Libya, making a preemptive strike against extraordinary suffering—suffering beyond what is inevitable in a civil war?

America has been through a difficult 10 years, and the burden of proof on the need for U.S. action would be with those who supported intervention. Chief among them, of course, is the president, who made the decision as commander in chief. He needs to sit down and tell the American people how this thing can possibly turn out well. He needs to tell them why it isn't mad.

Tom Friedman: Looking for Luck in Libya

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

There is an old saying in the Middle East that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. That thought came to my mind as I listened to President Obama trying to explain the intervention of America and its allies in Libya — and I don’t say that as criticism. I say it with empathy. This is really hard stuff, and it’s just the beginning.

When an entire region that has been living outside the biggest global trends of free politics and free markets for half a century suddenly, from the bottom up, decides to join history — and each one of these states has a different ethnic, tribal, sectarian and political orientation and a loose coalition of Western and Arab states with mixed motives trying to figure out how to help them — well, folks, you’re going to end up with some very strange-looking policy animals. And Libya is just the first of many hard choices we’re going to face in the “new” Middle East.

How could it not be? In Libya, we have to figure out whether to help rebels we do not know topple a terrible dictator we do not like, while at the same time we turn a blind eye to a monarch whom we do like in Bahrain, who has violently suppressed people we also like — Bahraini democrats — because these people we like have in their ranks people we don’t like: pro-Iranian Shiite hard-liners. All the while in Saudi Arabia, leaders we like are telling us we never should have let go of the leader who was so disliked by his own people — Hosni Mubarak — and, while we would like to tell the Saudi leaders to take a hike on this subject, we can’t because they have so much oil and money that we like. And this is a lot like our dilemma in Syria where a regime we don’t like — and which probably killed the prime minister of Lebanon whom it disliked — could be toppled by people who say what we like, but we’re not sure they all really believe what we like because among them could be Sunni fundamentalists, who, if they seize power, could suppress all those minorities in Syria whom they don’t like.

The last time the Sunni fundamentalists in Syria tried to take over in 1982, then-President Hafez al-Assad, one of those minorities, definitely did not like it, and he had 20,000 of those Sunnis killed in one city called Hama, which they certainly didn’t like, so there is a lot of bad blood between all of them that could very likely come to the surface again, although some experts say this time it’s not like that because this time, and they could be right, the Syrian people want freedom for all. But, for now, we are being cautious. We’re not trying nearly as hard to get rid of the Syrian dictator as we are the Libyan one because the situation in Syria is just not as clear as we’d like and because Syria is a real game-changer. Libya implodes. Syria explodes.

Welcome to the Middle East of 2011! You want the truth about it? You can’t handle the truth. The truth is that it’s a dangerous, violent, hope-filled and potentially hugely positive or explosive mess — fraught with moral and political ambiguities. We have to build democracy in the Middle East we’ve got, not the one we want — and this is the one we’ve got.

That’s why I am proud of my president, really worried about him, and just praying that he’s lucky.

Unlike all of us in the armchairs, the president had to choose, and I found the way he spelled out his core argument on Monday sincere: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And, as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

I am glad we have a president who sees America that way. That argument cannot just be shrugged off, especially when confronting a dictator like Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But, at the same time, I believe that it is naïve to think that we can be humanitarians only from the air — and now we just hand the situation off to NATO, as if it were Asean and we were not the backbone of the NATO military alliance, and we’re done.

I don’t know Libya, but my gut tells me that any kind of decent outcome there will require boots on the ground — either as military help for the rebels to oust Qaddafi as we want, or as post-Qaddafi peacekeepers and referees between tribes and factions to help with any transition to democracy. Those boots cannot be ours. We absolutely cannot afford it — whether in terms of money, manpower, energy or attention. But I am deeply dubious that our allies can or will handle it without us, either. And if the fight there turns ugly, or stalemates, people will be calling for our humanitarian help again. You bomb it, you own it.

Which is why, most of all, I hope President Obama is lucky. I hope Qaddafi’s regime collapses like a sand castle, that the Libyan opposition turns out to be decent and united and that they require just a bare minimum of international help to get on their feet. Then U.S. prestige will be enhanced and this humanitarian mission will have both saved lives and helped to lock another Arab state into the democratic camp.

Dear Lord, please make President Obama lucky.

The Libyan debacle continues - now its mission creep: Washington in Fierce Debate on Arming Libyan Rebels

From The New York Times:

The Obama administration is engaged in a fierce debate over whether to supply weapons to the rebels in Libya, senior officials said on Tuesday, with some fearful that providing arms would deepen American involvement in a civil war and that some fighters may have links to Al Qaeda.

One crucial voice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has experience in the unintended consequences of arming rebels: As a C.I.A. official in the late 1980s, he funneled weapons to the Islamic fundamentalists who ousted the Soviets from Kabul. Some later became the Taliban fighting the United States in Afghanistan.

Tax Revenue Snaps Back - States Book More Inflows but Face Tab for Higher Spending, End of Federal Funds

From The Wall Street Journal:

State and local tax revenue has nearly snapped back to the peak hit several years ago—a gain attributed to a reviving economy and tax increases implemented during the recession.

But the improvement masks deeper problems for state and local governments that are likely to linger for years. To weather the recession, state governments relied on now-depleted federal stimulus funds, which allowed them to put off painful cuts that would have otherwise been necessary to balance budgets. Meanwhile, demand for government services and the tab for public-worker pensions and health care have continued to grow.

Part of the upturn in state revenue can be traced to tax increases imposed during the recession. For 2010, tax hikes boosted state revenue by $12.3 billion, about 2%, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.

The latest tallies show a diverging trend in the fiscal health of state and local governments. While state tax revenue increased every quarter of 2010, including a 6.7% jump in the fourth period compared with a year earlier, local tax revenue fell in the first and fourth quarters—in part because of slumping real-estate tax receipts.

While states are primarily funded by sales and income taxes—which tend to grow along with an expanding economy—the nation's 89,000 cities, school districts and other local governments depend heavily on property taxes.

It typically takes a few years for falling housing prices to show up in property-tax receipts, and the latest Census figures suggest that is now happening.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

'Silent Raids' Squeeze Illegal Workers; Critics Fault Pressure for Fostering Underground Economy - Conservatives would rather deport the immigrants.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Jaime Lopez used to earn $14 an hour, plus benefits, as a maintenance man for an office building outside Minneapolis. Then his employer was audited by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Mr. Lopez and 1,200 other illegal immigrants in the Twin Cities lost their jobs in October 2009.

Today, the 30-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico says he is struggling to bring home $500 a month from odd jobs, often working for less than the state's hourly minimum wage.

Critics of U.S. immigration policies on the left and right take issue with such audits by the Obama administration, also known as silent raids. They say that, as a practical matter, the raids shift illegal immigrants with relatively well-paying jobs into the underground economy. Conservatives would rather deport the immigrants; others call for a path to U.S. citizenship.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A good history of why President Obama's tentativeness and uncertainty - coupled with his failure to lead - mark his as a failed presidency.

A 3-3-11 post was entitled "Gates Warns of Risks of a No-Flight Zone."

The below article by Dan Balz in The Washington Post discussing Monday night's speech summarizes much of President's Obama's presidency to date. As one of his earliest supports in the Empire State of the South, I wish it were otherwise.

President Obama has used his rhetorical and intellectual skills in the past to get himself out of a jam or boost his standing when he needed it most. He did it with a speech on race when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright threatened his candidacy during the 2008 primaries. He did it in January after the Tucson shootings with a speech that helped him regain his balance after midterm election losses.

He will try to do that again with his scheduled speech Monday night on the Libyan conflict. His first obligation, as NATO assumes command, will be to speak with greater precision and clarity about the mission, what means will be pursued to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and what the U.S. role will be if and when that happens.

But precise rhetoric is only a partial answer to the problem that now presents itself. Obama must also speak with strength and conviction about where he is leading after sending signals that this is a conflict he wishes the United States could have avoided and a military mission that this country has little desire to lead.

The president and his most senior advisers have struggled to define the mission. They have relied on euphemisms — “time-limited, scope-limited military action” being the most widely quoted — to explain what the conflict is and isn’t, what the U.S. role is and isn’t. The results of their efforts have been mixed at best.

The seeming inconsistency between the stated goal of the military mission (to protect the civilian population and prevent a humanitarian crisis) and Obama’s statement of U.S. policy (that Gaddafi must go) may make sense to policymakers here and in some allied capitals. It may be deliberately inconsistent, given the differing views of coalition partners and the desire of the administration not to make this a U.S.-only intervention. But to some, it has seemed a muddle.

This is not the first time the president has appeared eager for others to take the lead on a difficult issue. He let House Democrats write his stimulus bill in the first weeks of his administration. He put more money into bank bailouts but said he didn’t like to do it. He bailed out automakers but said he wanted the government out as quickly as possible.

He declined to send Congress a health-care plan of his own and then waited months in the hope that senators could produce a bipartisan package. By the time it was clear they couldn’t, his presidency had been damaged and his health-care bill almost killed. When he finally committed to seeing the fight through to the end, he got his bill through Congress. The victory came at a high political price to Obama and his party.

He appointed a bipartisan commission to make recommendations for dealing with the long-term fiscal problems of debt and deficits. Then he stood back as the two leaders of the effort — former Republican senator Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles — tried to cobble together a supermajority of the membership that could have forced congressional consideration. He raised the commission’s recommendations in his State of the Union address but invited congressional Republicans to take the first step to confront the problem.

He has exhorted Congress to reach a compromise to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year but has so far declined repeated Republican demands to become more deeply engaged in the negotiations.

When Republicans, pointing to his health-care plan, his partial takeover of the auto industry and the size of his stimulus program, claimed he is a big government liberal, he rejected the label. When, after cutting a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy for another two years, it was said he had moved to the center in the wake of the Democrats’ losses in the midterm elections, he rejected that assessment, too.

In 2009, he spent months presiding over an exhaustive review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, drawing criticism that he was indecisive. When he ultimately decided to sharply escalate the conflict with additional troops, he insisted that the announcement be coupled with a statement committing the United States to begin drawing down those forces in July 2011.

Administration officials can legitimately offer arguments in nearly all these cases.

Domestically, the president faced monumental economic problems that demanded shock treatment and extraordinary measures. Obama didn’t initiate the bank bailouts, they note, President George W. Bush did. He fought for health care, despite the political costs, because he believed there might not be another chance to make major changes in a system fraught with problems. He preferred a bipartisan solution but Republicans weren’t going to help, no matter what he tried. He is serious about tackling entitlements, but reviving the economy and getting the deficit under control must take precedence.

White House advisers said his Afghan policy was true to his campaign commitment to focus more resources on that conflict while bringing the Iraq war to an end. His decision, they argue, was an example of exercising presidential leadership by forcing the Pentagon to accept a start date for withdrawal and making clear he was not prepared to spend money there indefinitely.

The uprisings in the Middle East have come swiftly and unexpectedly. Libya is not Egypt or Tunisia — or Bahrain or Yemen. Policymakers are scurrying to stay abreast of unfolding events.

Gaddafi’s history as a tyrant and his threats to slaughter civilians required careful diplomacy to avoid a U.S.-only war on an Arab nation and, when the United Nations voted, required that a hastily implemented military plan that was, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, put together “on the fly.” Is it any wonder it has looked messy for a few days?

Results matter most. If Gaddafi is gone in a month, much of the criticism of the president could fade quickly.

Still, the president’s actions and style have raised anew questions about his leadership. Is his oft-stated patience a virtue, as his advisers claim, or does his down-stated approach convey tentativeness and uncertainty? Can he explain why he stands where he stands? That’s why Monday’s speech is important.

As the Libyan debacle continues: Unrest in Syria and Jordan Poses New Test for U.S. Policy

From The New York Times:

Even as the Obama administration defends the NATO-led air war in Libya, the latest violent clashes in Syria and Jordan are raising new alarm among senior officials who view those countries, in the heartland of the Arab world, as far more vital to American interests.

Deepening chaos in Syria, in particular, could dash any remaining hopes for a Middle East peace agreement, several analysts said. It could also alter the American rivalry with Iran for influence in the region and pose challenges to the United States’ greatest ally in the region, Israel.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Southern Lawmakers Focus on Illegal Immigrants

From The New York Times:

Some of the toughest bills in the nation aimed at illegal immigrants are making their way through legislatures in the South.

Proposed legislation in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, where Republicans control the legislatures and the governors’ mansions, have moved further than similar proposals in many other states, where concerns about the legality and financial impact of aggressive immigration legislation have stopped lawmakers.

Dozens of immigration-related bills showed up early in legislative sessions across the South. Some were aimed at keeping illegal immigrants from college or from marrying American citizens. Most died quickly, but three proposals designed to give police broader powers to identify and report illegal immigrants are moving forward.

The conservative political landscape, and a relatively recent and large addition of Latinos, both new immigrants and legal residents from other states, have contributed to the batch of legislation, say supporters and opponents of the proposed laws.

“The South has become a new gateway for immigrants,” said Wendy Sefsaf of the Immigration Policy Center, a research organization. “People see the culture shift, and they are a little bit freaked out.”

The Hispanic population in Alabama, for example, has increased by 144 percent since 2000, according to new census figures. In Mississippi, the numbers jumped by 106 percent, and in North Carolina by 111 percent. Over all, however, numbers remain small. Only about 4 percent of the population in Alabama is Hispanic. In South Carolina, the figure is 5 percent.

But Georgia has the seventh-largest population of illegal immigrants in the country, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. There, a version of a law pioneered in Arizona would allow local police officers to inquire about the immigration status of people they suspect of committing crimes, including traffic violations.

It allows people to sue local agencies if they believe the law is not being enforced and also requires that some businesses use E-Verify, a free federal employment eligibility database.

Backers of the bill and opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, say it stands a good chance of making it to Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican who has not yet said whether he will sign it, despite voicing support for strong immigration controls during his campaign last year.

The Georgia Senate also passed a bill this month that would charge an undocumented resident caught driving drunk with a felony. American citizens face only a misdemeanor charge.

At a rally at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday, several thousand people showed up to protest the legislation. Many were Hispanic workers from around the state who had taken the day off to attend.

Six Georgia lawmakers who are pushing the House version of the bill issued a statement after the march saying, “There are millions of Georgia citizens working and raising their families who no longer are willing to accept the loss of job opportunities to the nearly 500,000 illegal aliens in our state or to subsidize their presence with their hard-earned tax dollars.”

State Senator Jack Murphy, a Republican who sponsored another version of the legislation, said his bill was written carefully to avoid some the problems that backers of the Arizona law have encountered, including accusations of racial profiling.

“I don’t want to cost business and jobs by having some image problem,” he said. “My bill specifically says you will not profile.”

A similar bill is heading through the legislature in South Carolina. It would also make it illegal to transport immigrants anywhere, including a hospital or a church.

In Alabama, legislators are working on similar bills in the House and the Senate, which would also make it a crime to knowingly rent to an illegal immigrant.

Legislators leading the efforts say their bills are not based in racism, nor are they anti-immigration. They simply want to better control the flow of people into the United States and be fair to those who have arrived through proper channels. Without federal action, the states have a responsibility to step in.

“The bill is intended to make South Carolina a very hostile place for those who are in this country illegally,” said State Senator Lawrence K. Grooms. “Our hope is that they leave the country or go to a state where they are more welcome.”

That might be happening. The pending legislation in Georgia is regularly discussed among customers at the little taqueria in the back of Mercado Acupulco, an Atlanta grocery store.

For four years, business at the store was good, said Maira Garcia, 25, whose father owns the business. But lately, Ms. Garcia and other business owners who cater to a Latino clientele have seen fewer customers. People are planning to leave Georgia to go back to their home countries or to other states where the perception is that life will be easier, she and her customers said.

“I’m hearing rumors that things are going to change real bad,” said Raul Martinez Soto, 23, who moved to the United States from Morelia, Mexico, about four years ago. “Everyone is scared,” he said. “They ask what is the point to kicking us out of here?”

With Obama not engaged in long-term deficit reduction, someone must take first steps: Republicans to Propose Overhaul to Medicaid

From The Wall Street Journal:

House Republicans are preparing to propose a major shake-up of the Medicaid health-care program for the poor, a first step in their drive to overhaul federal entitlements, according to a member of the House Budget Committee.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the budget committee chairman, is expected to release his budget proposal by the first week in April.

A spokesman for Mr. Ryan declined to comment on whether a Medicaid overhaul would be included in the GOP budget proposal, but he confirmed that Mr. Ryan's budget plan would call for entitlement savings and include some recommendations on how to achieve them.

With voters and lawmakers worried about high federal deficits, Congress has focused so far on making cuts to the one-third of the federal budget that is discretionary spending—programs such as defense, education and foreign aid that are funded by annual appropriations.

Some lawmakers say significant deficit reduction can only be accomplished by reining in entitlements, such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Republicans have been saying they will propose big reductions in those programs in the fiscal 2012 budget.

But increasingly, promises to make those savings have become a talking point in negotiations over a spending plan for the remaining months of 2011. With conservative activists disappointed that more spending cuts aren't being made in this year's budget, Republican leaders have been promising cuts will come to entitlement programs in 2012.

Friday, March 25, 2011

No racial charges and complaints please - Reverse Model T: Some Fords Won't Be Painted Black

From The Wall Street Journal:

Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford used to tell customers they could buy a Model T in any color as long was it was black. Not any more, at least for the time being.

On Thursday, the auto maker halted all new orders for trucks, SUVs and cars in "tuxedo black" and other hues due to shortages of some pigments made in Japan.

Ford, in a memo to its dealers, said its plants will continue producing the vehicles affected. But during the week of April 4, it will produce no F-150s, SuperDutys, Expeditions or Navigators in "tuxedo black," the memo said. Ford also will limit production of tuxedo black versions of the Explorer, Taurus and MKS at its Chicago assembly plant.

The action by Ford is the latest sign the devastation in Japan is having an impact on auto makers in other parts of the world.

Maybe the State Agricultural Department needs this to replace paintings it took down in January: Liz Taylor Portrait to Go on Block for $20 Million

From The Wall Street Journal:

Hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen is betting big on the late Elizabeth Taylor, who died Wednesday. Mr. Cohen has enlisted Phillips de Pury to auction off a turquoise Andy Warhol portrait of the screen star for at least $20 million at its major sale of contemporary art on May 12 in New York.

The 1963 silkscreen, "Liz #5," depicts the actress during her "BUtterfield 8" heyday, her red lips forming a serene smile and her eyelids swathed in blue eyeshadow. The work comes from Warhol's signature 1960s series of pop-culture icons like Marilyn Monroe and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

Latinos Fuel Growth in Decade

From The Wall Street Journal:

In a demographic shift touching every corner of the U.S., the Hispanic population grew faster than expected and accounted for more than half of the nation's growth over the past decade, with the group's increase driven by births and immigration.

The Census Bureau—in its first nationwide demographic tally from the 2010 headcount—said Thursday the U.S. Hispanic population surged 43%, rising to 50.5 million in 2010 from 35.3 million in 2000. Latinos now constitute 16% of the nation's total population of 308.7 million.

The Census Bureau has estimated that the non-Hispanic white population would drop to 50.8% of the total population by 2040—then drop to 46.3% by 2050. This demographic transformation—Latinos now account for about one in four people under age 18—holds the potential to shift the political dynamics across the country.

Blacks Leave New York City as Asian and Hispanic Populations Grew

From The Wall Street Journal:

New York City's population grew to a high of 8,175,100 over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census count released Tuesday—but the 2.1% bump was still far smaller than officials had anticipated.

Asian and Hispanic populations spiked between 2000 and 2010, transforming the city's racial landscape. But the number of black New Yorkers dropped 5%, the first dip in that group since 1860. There were fewer whites, as well.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Germany Steps Away From European Unity - Subordinating relations with allies for the sake of national interests.

Mr. Sarkozy with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has shown a willingness to subordinate foreign relations.

From The New York Times:

Driven by electoral pressures and Germany’s postwar aversion to war and nuclear power, Chancellor Angela Merkel has deeply strained relations with allies in the European Union and the NATO alliance, raising new questions about Germany’s ability to play a global role in foreign policy, even as its economic power and influence grow.

By abstaining in the Security Council on the resolution authorizing military action to protect Libyan civilians — and by refusing on Wednesday to participate in the enforcement of an arms embargo on Libya that the United Nations authorized — Germany pointedly refused to go along with the political aims and leadership of its two most important European allies, Britain and France, as well as the United States. The decision made the idea of a united European foreign policy seem further away than ever, even if France had broken solidarity first by suddenly recognizing the Libyan opposition as the legitimate government of the country.

And by choosing to shut down seven older nuclear plants in Germany after the nuclear crisis in Japan, Mrs. Merkel reversed her own policy and further ruffled relations with France, which derives 75 percent of its electric power from nuclear plants.

The new strains come weeks after Germany issued demands for economic austerity in the countries that use the euro as the price for new loan guarantees to troubled countries like Greece and Ireland. Portugal is thought by many to be next in line for a bailout. Germany, the richest and largest member of the European Union, has been tough and not always diplomatic in refusing to come to the aid of more profligate countries unless they undergo painful budget cuts and economic restructuring.

Taken together, the actions in Berlin demonstrate anew Germany’s increasing willingness in a post-cold-war world to act like other countries, subordinating relations with allies for the sake of national interests — and even for domestic political reasons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lost in the Libyan debacle: Senators Push Obama on Deficit ('Obama can't play ostrich on this stuff much longer.')

From The Wall Street Journal:

More than 60 senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama Friday urging him to "engage" on long-term deficit reduction, a sign of legislative momentum on the issue and impatience with the White House.

The letter doesn't necessarily signal imminent action in Congress on the politically painful decisions that likely would be required to rein in future deficits. But it suggests a working majority of the Senate—which is often slow to act on big issues—wants to begin addressing the nation's long-term fiscal problems. The 64 signers included 32 senators from each party.

The appeal to Mr. Obama may put new pressure on him to act and suggests he likely would have to take a leading role if any deal is to be reached before the 2012 election.

Deficit hawks have criticized Mr. Obama for failing to use his annual budget release in February to lay out a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan.

A new analysis released Friday by the Congressional Budget Office suggests Mr. Obama's new budget does even less to rein in deficits than the administration has estimated. CBO, which found several administration assumptions overly optimistic, said federal deficits would total $9.5 trillion between 2012 and 2021 under Mr. Obama's proposals, compared with the administration's $7.2 trillion estimate.

A senior House GOP aide noted the large number of Democratic senators who signed Friday's letter, effectively acknowledging the need to address the issue. "He [Mr. Obama] can't play ostrich on this stuff much longer," the aide said.

The risks to both parties in altering entitlements remain high. Democrats lost senior voters by 21 percentage points in 2010, according to a recent Lake Research Partners analysis, in part because of Republican attacks against Democrats over future Medicare reductions contained in last year's landmark health-care legislation.

Democrats also have lost much of the advantage they traditionally held over Republicans among voters on which party would better handle Social Security, the analysis said. But the pendulum could swing back if Republicans go too far in their plans.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Regardless of legality, Omaba has messed up. - Founders intended to separate the power to decide to initiate a war from the power to carry it out.

From The New York Times:

President Obama is facing criticism that crosses the political divide for not seeking Congressional authorization before ordering the American military to join in attacks of Libyan air defenses and government forces.

On Monday, Mr. Obama sent Congress a two-page letter saying that as commander in chief, he had constitutional authority to authorize the strikes, which were undertaken with French, British and other allies. He wrote that the strikes would be limited in scope and duration, and that preventing a humanitarian disaster in Libya was in the best interest of American foreign policy and national security goals.

The White House also noted that Mr. Obama had met with Congressional leaders to consult about the Libya situation on Friday. On March 1, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution calling for the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. The Security Council approved such a measure Thursday night.

Critics say the merits of the operation and its legality under international law are matters separate from the domestic legal question of who — the president or Congress — has the authority to decide whether the United States will take part in combat.

Most legal scholars agree that the nation’s founders intended to separate the power to decide to initiate a war from the power to carry it out. But ever since the Korean War, presidents of both parties have ordered military action without Congressional authorization.

The divergence between presidential practice for the past 60 years and the text and history of the Constitution makes it hard to say whether such action is lawful, scholars say. “There’s no more dramatic example of the ‘living Constitution’ than in this area,” said David Golove, a New York University law professor.

Still, as a presidential candidate who promoted his background as an instructor of constitutional law, Mr. Obama appeared to adopt a more limited view of executive power when he answered a question about whether a president could order the bombing of Iranian nuclear sites without a use-of-force authorization from Congress.

“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Mr. Obama told The Boston Globe in December 2007.

The question of whether presidents may initiate war has been disputed since 1950, when President Harry S. Truman went to war in Korea without going to Congress. Truman said it was enough that the United Nations Security Council, new at the time, had granted permission. That claim was disputed, but it became a precedent. Subsequent presidents added more such precedents.

President Lyndon B. Johnson cited the Congressional Tonkin Gulf resolution, which expressed support for defending American interests in Southeast Asia, as authorizing the Vietnam War. Lawmakers later repealed it, but President Richard M. Nixon said he could keep the war going.

In 1973, lawmakers enacted the War Powers Resolution, which directed presidents to get Congressional authorization to send troops into hostilities except in an emergency; in that case troops must be withdrawn after 60 or 90 days unless Congress gave retroactive approval.

Still, presidents continued to send the military into action without prior Congressional approval — both with United Nations authorization, as when George Bush intervened in Somalia in 1992, and without it, as when Bill Clinton ordered the bombing in Kosovo in 1999.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Part II: You Can't Go Home Again - Lesson from the front: It's easier to start a war than to finish one.

Peggy Noonan writes The Wall Street Journal:

The biggest takeaway, the biggest foreign-policy fact, of the past decade is this: America has to be very careful where it goes in the world, because the minute it's there—the minute there are boots on the ground, the minute we leave a footprint—there will spring up, immediately, 15 reasons America cannot leave. The next day there will be 30 reasons, and the day after that 45. They are often serious and legitimate reasons.

So we wind up in long, drawn-out struggles when we didn't mean to, when it wasn't the plan, or the hope, or the expectation.

We have to keep this phenomenon in mind as we chart our path in the future. It's easy to start a war but hard to end one. It's as simple as that. It's easy to get in but hard to get out. Even today, in Baghdad, you hear that America can't leave Iraq because the government isn't sturdy enough, the army and police aren't strong enough to withstand the winds that will follow America's full departure, that all that has been achieved—a fragile, incomplete, relative peace—will be lost. America cannot leave because Iraq will be vulnerable to civil war, not between Sunnis and Shiites, they tell you now, but between Arabs and Kurds, in the north, near the oil fields.

America is scheduled to leave Iraq this December, of course, but everyone seems to be waiting for Nouri al-Maliki's government to request an extension. (A longtime observer told me he thought Prime Minister Maliki would not ask, in part because he assumes that if he gets in trouble the U.S. will come back.) Meanwhile, another observer told me, the December hand-off from the U.S. to the Iraqi government will actually be more like a hand-off from the Defense Department to the State Department, with the part of U.S. security forces played by contractors from Uganda.

In Afghanistan, America cannot leave because it is the 9/11 place, the place that helped 9/11 to happen. America cannot leave because, as the iconic Time cover had it, the Taliban will cut off women's noses and brutalize them in other ways. America cannot leave because al Qaeda will return, fill the vacuum left by our departure, and create a new terror state. America cannot leave because of turbulent, dangerous Pakistan. America cannot leave because from the day we arrived, we invested blood and treasure, and it cannot have been in vain. America can never leave because American troops always bring their kindness and constructiveness with them, and their rule of law. Innocent people will be defenseless without them.

There are always a million facts and forces arrayed against the idea of America leaving. So America has to watch where it goes.

In the troubled future we are entering, America must be prudent as never before, know and respect its own interests and limits as never before. It must be careful of the lives of its soldiers. It must be careful, even, of its purse, which is something we haven't always worried about, but must now, and not only because of the crash and the deficits. What if what just happened in Japan had happened on the San Andreas fault? What if it were a broken American nuclear reactor? You have to keep some wealth and force in reserve, you can't just assume you'll always be lucky.

These are the thoughts I brought back from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. I left with the sound of Defense Secretary Robert Gates's speech at West Point ringing in my ears. The time for big counterinsurgency efforts such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, he suggested, has passed: "In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as Gen. MacArthur so delicately put it."

Who could argue? No one I spoke to in Iraq or Afghanistan protested Mr. Gates's remarks. They are attempting to do their jobs through the end stages of both conflicts. In Afghanistan especially, the professionalism of the U.S. troops—we were at Bagram and Kandahar, at forward operating bases; they flew us at night in the dark in C-130s—is more than impressive, it is moving. They are well-trained, well-educated, skillful, and they would die for you.

Two points worth noting: You are aware in Kabul and elsewhere that the war is the work of a coalition, that the Brits are there and the French, and they fight. Everyone seems to have admired the Aussies; there is sympathy for the Poles, who were treated particularly badly by Afghans because their uniforms and faces reminded them of the Russians. And the logistical challenge of the surge—the scale, scope and speed of the movement of men and matériel—has the look of a small managerial masterpiece.

But in terms of a fully believable long-term strategy, the U.S. seems to be scrambling to find a thread that was lost somewhere between 2003 and 2009. We are nation-building in a nation that shows little sign of wanting us to build it. The military surge has been accompanied by a "civilian surge"—representatives of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and provincial reconstruction teams—that the Army, in an Orwellian locution, has taken to calling "The Uplift," in hope you will too.

What is ahead for all of the troops is a hard time that those on the ground say they believe will be decisive. Gen. David Petraeus referred to it this week in congressional testimony, but officers in briefings mentioned it every day: With winter over and the fields, including the poppy fields, harvested, the Taliban are about to launch a new offensive. They mean to answer the American surge with a "spectacular" surge of their own—suicide bombings, assassinations, IEDs, attempts to take back cities such as Kandahar. The American strategy is to beat them back and, in the process, break the back of the insurgency, forcing the Taliban to the bargaining table to take part in a negotiated political settlement. No one can explain exactly how this would happen, or what the elements of such a settlement might be.

The same people who tell you a settlement is the only way out, that the war will be resolved not militarily but politically, tend also to mention, later in the conversation, that the rising generation of the Taliban, the new ones coming up, are believed to be more radical and extreme than those who came to power in the 1990s and were sent packing, for a while, in 2001-02. So we're hoping people who are even more extreme than the earlier Taliban will ask for a negotiated peace?

Meanwhile, support for the war among the American people is falling. The Washington Post this week had a poll saying two-thirds no longer think the war is worth it. Intensified fighting and higher casualties this spring and summer will likely further erode U.S. support.

America has now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union was; we mark the 10th anniversary of our presence in October. The surge is on, and we'll know more in six months. But I'm thinking of a Pashtun taunt sometimes thrown at Americans: "You have the watches, but we have the time."

Part I: The Defense Secretary Who Let Bin Laden Get Away - It is a shame that Don Rumsfeld lacks the brains to see it, or the guts to admit it.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

"Known and Unknown," [Donald Rumsfeld's] memoir of his tumultuous time in government, is so bad it's news even a month after its debut.

If you asked most Americans why we went into Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11, they would answer, with perfect common sense, that it was to get the bad guys—to find or kill Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers, to topple the Taliban government that had given them aid and support, to destroy terrorist networks and operations. New York at the time of the invasion, October 2001, was still, literally, smoking; the whole town still carried the acrid smell of Ground Zero. The scenes of that day were still vivid and sharp. New York still isn't over it and will never be over it, but what happened on 9/11 was fresh, and we wanted who did it to get caught.

America wanted—needed—to see U.S. troops pull Osama out of his cave by his beard and drag him in his urine-soaked robes into an American courtroom. Or, less good but still good, to find him, kill him, put his head in a Tiffany box with a bow, and hand-carry it to the president of the United States.

It wasn't lust for vengeance, it was lust for justice, and for more than justice. Getting Osama would have shown the world what happens when you do a thing like 9/11 to a nation like America. It would have shown al Qaeda and their would-be camp followers what kind of unstoppable ferocity they were up against. It would have reminded the world that we are one great people with one terrible swift sword.

The failure to find bin Laden was a seminal moment in the history of the war in Afghanistan. And it was a catastrophe. From that moment—the moment he escaped his apparent hideout in Tora Bora and went on to make his sneering speeches and send them out to the world—from that moment everything about the Afghanistan war became unclear, unfocused, murky and confused. The administration in Washington, emboldened by what it called its victory over the Taliban, decided to move on Iraq. Its focus shifted, it took its eye off the ball, and Afghanistan is now what it is.

You'd think, nearly a decade after the events of Tora Bora, that Mr. Rumsfeld would understand the extent of the error and the breadth of its implications. He does not. Needless to say, Tora Bora was the fault of someone else—Gen. Franks of course, and CIA Director George Tenet. "Franks had to determine whether attempting to apprehend one man on the run" was "worth the risks." Needless to say "there were numerous operational details." And of course, in a typical Rumsfeldian touch, he says he later learned CIA operatives on the ground had asked for help, but "I never received such a request from either Franks or Tenet and cannot imagine denying it if I had." I can.

Osama bin Laden was not "one man on the run." He is the man who did 9/11. He had just killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, in a field in Pennsylvania. He's the reason people held hands and jumped off the buildings. He's the reason the towers groaned to the ground.

It is the great scandal of the wars of the Bush era that the U.S. government failed to get him and bring him to justice. It is the shame of this book that Don Rumsfeld lacks the brains to see it, or the guts to admit it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Health Law Waivers Draw Kudos, and Criticism

From The New York Times:

Obama administration officials say they were expecting praise from critics of the new health care law when they offered to exempt selected employers and labor unions from a requirement to provide at least $750,000 in coverage to each person in their health insurance plans this year.

Instead, Republicans have seized on the waivers as just more evidence that the law is fundamentally flawed because, they say, it requires so many exceptions. To date, for example, the administration has relaxed the $750,000 standard for more than 1,000 health plans covering 2.6 million people.

The waivers have become a flash point as supporters and opponents try to shape public perceptions of the law, the Affordable Care Act, signed by President Obama last March 23.

Waivers are usually seen as a way to deal with exceptional circumstances in which the enforcement of a law or policy might cause hardship. But with the new health care law, exceptions like these have become increasingly common. They provide wiggle room in a law originally thought to be strict and demanding.

President Obama recently embraced legislation that would let states opt out of the law’s most contentious provisions, including a requirement for most Americans to carry insurance, if the states come up with alternatives that cover at least as many people.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hispanics Surge in California

From The Wall Street Journal:

Latino children for the first time made up a majority of California's under-18 population in 2010, as Hispanics grew to 37.6% of residents in the nation's most populous state.

A new U.S. Census report showed the state's non-Hispanic white population fell 5.4% over the past decade, a continuing trend offset by a 27.8% surge in Hispanics and 30.9% increase in non-Hispanic Asians.

Though in decline, white Californians remained the state's largest demographic group at 40.1%. But demographers said Hispanics were poised to take the lead.

As in California, Hispanics are gaining ground in many other states, such as North Carolina, as whites are on the verge of becoming a minority among all newborn children in the U.S.

Something I am in favor of - taxing online retail sales: Amazon Pressured on Sales Tax

From The New York Times:

Across the country, state officials struggling with big budget shortfalls are trying to get Amazon.com to take on a role it does not want: tax collector.

Amazon’s skirmishes with states over whether it should collect sales taxes have been an ongoing battle. But the fighting has recently escalated, coinciding with the economic woes that have left a number of states struggling with multibillion-dollar deficits, and looking for money wherever they can find it.
Last Thursday, Gov. Pat Quinn, Democrat of Illinois, signed a law that compels online retailers that work with affiliates in his state to collect sales tax on purchases by residents.

Affiliates are partner sites that earn commissions by advertising or linking to an online retailer’s products, sending traffic that way. Lawmakers in California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Minnesota and Vermont have introduced similar legislation.

Amazon, based in Seattle, is fighting back. It vehemently opposes the legislative efforts, and in letters to state officials, has called the provisions unconstitutional and counterproductive.

“We play by the same rules as other retailers, as the national chains collect online only for states where they have physical stores,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, last fall, Texas officials sent Amazon a tax bill for $269 million, after determining that the retailer’s Dallas-area warehouse, owned by a subsidiary, qualified as a local address under state tax rules. Amazon had argued for years that without stores and offices in the state, it had no obligation to collect sales tax there. The dispute is to be decided in a coming administrative hearing.

In retaliation for Texas’s move, Amazon said last month that it would close the warehouse next month and cancel plans to build another.

The new laws are intended to help fill state coffers as lawmakers are being forced to cut funding to education, Medicaid and public safety. The changes are also promoted as leveling the playing field between online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores, which must tack on an extra 8 percent in most states, give or take, to the price of every transaction.

A state can compel companies to collect taxes only if they have a physical presence in the state, or a nexus, as the Supreme Court ruled in Quill Corporation v. North Dakota in 1992. Absent a nexus, online retailers and mail-order companies can sell products without collecting the tax.

What many people fail to realize, however, is that the tax is still due. Residents are supposed to self-report what they owe in their annual state tax filing, but most people do not.

Amazon collects sales tax in only five states — Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Dakota and Washington — where it has offices or another physical presence.

It avoids collecting in several other states where it has warehouses by assigning their ownership to a subsidiary. Until the tax dispute in Texas, Amazon had encountered few problems with that arrangement.

Traditional retailers like Sears, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and Wal-Mart applaud efforts to require Amazon to collect sales tax. They call it a matter of fairness because their stores do.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Deficit Proposal Picks Up New Allies

Sen. Mark Warner, left, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss are seen on Capitol Hill on Jan. 25 prior to President Obama's State of the Union address.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The effort of a bipartisan group of senators to attack the long-term budget deficit has won notable new support in recent days, raising lawmakers' hopes of reaching a deal within weeks.

Sens. Mark Warner (D., Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.), who are leading the push, believe they have the tentative backing of 31 senators: 16 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, who co-chaired the White House's deficit-reduction commission last year, have embraced the effort and launched a new nonprofit organization to raise public awareness about the debt and possible solutions.

Pete Peterson, the New York billionaire who often funds projects aimed at cutting the debt, met with Messrs. Warner and Chambliss Wednesday morning and said in an interview later he was "seriously" considering giving money to the nonprofit.

And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who many had seen as a potential obstacle of the senators' effort to build a larger consensus within Congress, threw his support behind the process Wednesday.

Messrs Warner and Chambliss and four other senators, the so-called Gang of Six, are seeking to craft a proposal that would shave $4 trillion off the federal government's projected budget deficit over 10 years.

The package under consideration would essentially force Congress, within a short period of time, to come up with changes to spending and tax rules to achieve that goal over the next decade.

Republicans have agreed to consider raising new revenue through the tax code—without raising tax rates—and Democrats have agreed to trim Medicare benefits, moves that would be major concessions from both parties.

The effort faces many hurdles. Nearly two decades have passed since Washington reached a significant deficit-reduction agreement. Many past attempts to trim the growth of Medicare or Social Security benefits have met fierce opposition.

However, lawmakers and others involved in this process said the moment feels ripe for a deal. "It's the first time that this significant a group of Senate leaders has been focused on doing something," Mr. Peterson said. "I haven't seen anything like this, if ever, in a long, long time."

A February Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that far more Americans believe it is not necessary to cut spending on the two major entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare, in order to significantly reduce the deficit. At the same time, several specific ideas for saving money in those programs—raising the Social Security retirement age and reducing benefits for the wealthy—won majority support.

The success of the senators' efforts will depend on whether it is endorsed at some point by President Barack Obama. White House officials have been briefed on progress but have mostly stayed on the sidelines, people familiar with the matter said.

White House budget director Jacob Lew said, "We think it's a good thing to have members looking for bipartisan conversations where they are exploring ideas."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), whose support would be crucial, hasn't indicated where he stands on the talks. Mr. Chambliss said he has been briefing House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) on the project in hopes of lining up House Republican support.

Lawmakers appear split over how quickly to propose the package. Some believe they could try and attach it to a coming vote in a few weeks on whether to raise the government's borrowing limit above $14.3 trillion. But Messrs. Chambliss and Warner have said they don't know if their effort will be completed in time.

Mr. Warner and four other members of the Gang of Six dined with Messrs. Bowles and Simpson Monday night in Washington, and jointly held an event on Capitol Hill Tuesday, pledging to join forces to slow the growth of the government's debt, which now totals $14.1 trillion. That figure is projected to rise rapidly in coming years as the nation spends more on the pensions and health care of its aging population, among other things.

The interest payments on the debt are rising at an alarming rate. Current projections show in 10 years the federal government's net interest bill rising to $928 billion annually. That would be 17% more than the government would pay to provide health care to the elderly through Medicare that year, and 82% more than the cost of all non-security discretionary spending programs.

By 2080, the country would be spending more than 10% of its entire gross domestic product—that is, more than 10 cents of every dollar of goods and services produced—just to pay interest.

Messrs. Bowles and Simpson said the country could face a major fiscal crisis within two years if the government fails to slow the growth of the debt.

"We will continue to bang away at all our elected leaders to produce a solution," Mr. Bowles said at the event.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are launching their own campaign to persuade voters that big overhauls are needed for Social Security and Medicare

That mission, said Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, is "not unlike what Erskine and Alan have tried to do around the country to educate the country on the state of our fiscal crisis."

The six senators' package is modeled on the recommendations of the commission chaired by Simpson and Bowles.

Mr. Ryan said he too would incorporate parts of that plan into his 2012 budget proposal, due out next month. "There are a lot of things we think are good ideas in there," he said.

House GOP lawmakers plan to begin their education campaign during Congress's weeklong recess beginning March 19. In preparation, Mr. Ryan and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) are holding sessions with 20 or so GOP lawmakers at a time to go over the financial challenges.

Mr. Ryan delivers a PowerPoint presentation at the sessions called "The Choice of Two Futures" that illustrates, with a partisan tinge, the role of Social Security and Medicare spending in the growth of the debt. The slides have headings like "Reckless Spending Spree" and "Tidal Wave of Debt."

"The goal is to talk about educating [House members] as to the nature of our fiscal problem, the magnitude of it, so they can go home and talk to their constituents about it," Mr. Ryan said.

Ready for Unionized Airport Security? - As payback for union support, Obama adm. greases the wheels for largest federal organizing effort in history.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made some progress this week in rescuing his state from the public-sector unions holding it hostage. Ever wonder how Wisconsin got into trouble in the first place? Washington is providing an illuminating case study.

Even as state battles rage, the Obama administration has been facilitating the largest federal union organizing effort in history. Tens of thousands of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners are now casting votes to choose a union to collectively bargain for cushier personnel practices on their behalf.

On Sept. 11, 2001, more than 3,000 Americans died after terrorists turned airplanes into missiles. It was a colossal security failure. Congress responded by creating the TSA. The merits of federalizing airport screening were always questionable, though at least the public priority was clear.

Back then, a bipartisan majority of Congress agreed that a crack airport security service was incompatible with rigid unionization rules. Yet by 2008, Democratic presidential candidates were betting that security worries had receded enough that they could again pander for union votes. Candidate Barack Obama sent a letter to American Federation of Government Employees boss John Gage, vowing that his "priority" was giving Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) "collective bargaining rights and workplace protections."

That's been the administration's "priority," even as the public grows more disillusioned with a failing agency. The White House was forced to withdraw its first two picks for TSA administrator—Earl Southers and Robert Harding—after complaints that they'd been chosen more for their willingness to play union ball than for security expertise. John Pistole, who got the job in mid-2010, has earned praise even from Republicans—although everyone understood the administration expected him to also concede on TSA bargaining.

And, surprise, after a pro-forma "assessment" of the implications, Mr. Pistole last month gave the green light for this week's vote.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

This dismissal came 5 months too late. Even then there was anger over Williams's firing & staffers feared a financial backlash. - Now let's move on.

The comment that cost Juan Williams his job with NPR 5 months ago:

"But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

From The New York Times:

In the midst of a brutal battle with Republican critics in Congress over federal subsidies, NPR has lost its chief executive after yet another politically charged embarrassment.

Vivian Schiller, who joined NPR two years ago, offered her resignation to the public radio organization’s board late Tuesday, half a day after a conservative filmmaker released a video that showed one of NPR’s fund-raising executives disparaging Republicans and Tea Party supporters in a conversation with people posing as prospective donors.

The revelations came less than five months after the hasty and much-criticized firing of Juan Williams, a longtime commentator, for remarks he made about Muslims on Fox News.

NPR, which provides some of the country’s most popular radio programs, like “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition,” receives little direct money from the federal government. But local stations typically receive about 10 percent of their operating budget from federal sources, and in turn buy programming from NPR. The federal government allocated $420 million in direct funds for public broadcasting in 2010, up 5 percent from the prior year.

Station managers, directly in the line of fire for any budget cuts, were infuriated over the firing of Mr. Williams, and were further incensed by the video that surfaced on Tuesday.

“Frankly, the management of NPR shouldn’t be in the press,” said Mark Vogelzang, who runs WBFO in Buffalo. “When personnel issues are handled poorly at a national level, it reflects poorly on our member stations in our communities,” he said

For a play-by-play, see The Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Public Unions Get Too 'Friendly' - They resemble 'On the Waterfront' more than 'Norma Rae.'

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

When you step back and try to get a sense of the larger picture in the battle between the states and their public-employee unions, two elements emerge. One seems small but could prove decisive, and the other is big and, if I'm seeing it right, carries significant implications.

The seemingly small thing is that the battles in the states, while summoning emotions from all sides, are not at their heart emotional. Yes, a lot of people are waving placards, but it's also true that suddenly everyone's talking about numbers; the numbers are being reported in the press and dissected on talk radio. This state has a $5 billion deficit; that state has projected deficits in the tens of millions. One estimate of New Jersey's bill for health and pension benefits for state workers over the next 30 years is an astounding $100 billion—money the state literally does not have and cannot get. The very force of the math has the heartening effect of squeezing ideology right out of the story. It doesn't matter if you're a liberal or a conservative, it's all about the numbers, and numbers are sobering things.

The rise of arithmetic as a player in the drama is politically promising because when people argue over data and hard facts, and not over ideological loyalties and impulses, progress is more possible. Governors can take their stand, their opponents can take theirs, and if they happen to argue the budget problem doesn't really exist, they'll have to prove it. With numbers.

The big thing that is new has to do with the atmospherics of the drama.

Let's look for a second at one of the most famous battles, in New Jersey. A year ago Chris Christie was sworn in as the new governor. He immediately faced a $10.7 billion deficit and catastrophic debt projections. State and local taxes were already high, so that if he raised them he'd send people racing out of the state. So Mr. Christie came up with a plan. He asked the state's powerful teachers union for two things: a one-year pay freeze—not a cut—and a modest 1.5% contribution to their benefit packages.

The teachers union went to war. They said, "Christie is trying to kill the unions," so they tried to kill him politically. They spent millions on ads trying to take him down.

And it backfired. They didn't kill him, they made him. Chris Christie is a national figure now because the teachers union decided, in an epic political drama in which arithmetic is the predominant fact, to ignore the math. They also decided to play the wrong role in the drama. They decided to play the role of Johnny Friendly, on whom more in a moment.

If the union leaders had been smart—if they'd had a heart!—they would have held a private meeting and said, "Look, the party's over. We've done great the past 20 years, but now taxpayers are starting to resent us, and they have reason. They're losing their benefits and footing the bill for our gold-plated plans, they don't have job security and we do, taxes are high. We have to back off."

They didn't do this. It was a big mistake. And the teachers union made it just as two terrible but unrelated things were happening to their reputation. In what might be called an expression of the new spirit of transparency that is sweeping the globe, two documentaries came out in 2010, "The Lottery" and "Waiting for Superman." Both were made by and featured people who are largely liberal in their sympathies, and both said the same brave thing: The single biggest impediment to better schools in our country is the teachers unions, which look to their own interests and not those of the kids.

In both films, as in real life, the problem is the unions themselves, not individual teachers. They present teachers who are heroic, who are creative and idealistic. But they too, in the films, are victims of union rules.

That's the unions' problem in terms of atmospherics. They are starting to destroy their own reputation. They are robbing themselves of their mystique. They still exist, and they're big and rich—a force—but they are abandoning the very positive place they've held in the American imagination. Polls are all over the place on union support, but I'm speaking of the kind of thing that is hard to quantify and that has to do with words like "luster" and "tradition."

Unions have been respected in America forever, and public-employee unions have reaped that respect. There are two great reasons for this. One is that unions always stood for the little guy. The other is that Americans like balance. We have management over here and the union over here, they'll talk and find balance, it'll turn out fine.

But with the public-employee unions, the balance has been off for decades. And when they lost their balance they fell off their pedestal.

When union leaders negotiate with a politician, they're negotiating with someone they can hire and fire. Public unions have numbers and money, and politicians need both. And politicians fear strikes because the public hates them. When governors negotiate with unions, it's not collective bargaining, it's more like collusion. Someone said last week the taxpayers aren't at the table. The taxpayers aren't even in the room.

As for unions looking out for the little guy, that's not how it's looking right now. Right now the little guy is the public school pupil whose daily rounds take him from a neglectful family to an indifferent teacher who can't be removed. The little guy is the beleaguered administrator whose attempts at improvement are thwarted by unions. The little guy is the private-sector worker who doesn't have a good health-care plan, who barely has a pension, who lacks job security, and who is paying everyone else's bills.

This is a major perceptual change. In my lifetime, people have felt so supportive of unions. That great scene in the 1979 film "Norma Rae," in which the North Carolina cotton mill worker played by Sally Field holds up the sign that says UNION—people were moved by that scene because they believed in its underlying justice. When I was a child, kids bragged if their father had a union job because it meant he was part of something, someone was looking out for him, he was a citizen.

There were hiccups—the labor racketeering scandals of the 1950s, Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters. But they served as a corrective to romanticism. Men in groups will be men in groups, whether they run a government or a union. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan captured this in their 1954 masterpiece, "On the Waterfront," in which Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, stands up to the selfish, bullying union chief Johnny Friendly. Brando's character testifies to the Waterfront Commission and then defiantly stands down Johnny and his goons. "I'm glad what I done today. . . . You hear me? Glad what I done."

We're at quite a moment when public-employee unions remind you of Johnny Friendly. They're so powerful, such a base of the Democratic Party, and they must think nothing can hurt them. But they can hurt themselves. And they are. Are they noticing?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Yes! Obama's plan to dismantle Gitmo & create a detention center in U.S. have all but collapsed in the face of bipartisan congressional opposition.

From The Washington Post:

President Obama signed an executive order Monday that will create a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who continue to pose a significant threat to national security. The administration also said it will start new military commission trials for detainees there.

The announcements, coming more than two years after Obama vowed in another executive order to close the detention center, all but cements Guantanamo Bay's continuing role in U.S. counterterrorism policy.

Administration officials said the president is still committed to closing the prison, although he made no mention of that goal in a short statement Monday. The administration's original plans to create a detention center in the United States and prosecute some detainees in federal court have all but collapsed in the face of bipartisan congressional opposition.

'Gang of 6' senators launch public campaign to support deficit reduction

From The Washington Post:

While Washington bickers noisily over cutting a small slice of the federal budget, Sens. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, launched a campaign Monday to convince the public that merely cutting spending will do little to tame the $14 trillion national debt.

This week, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the leaders of Obama's fiscal commission, are launching their own campaign to promote the Gang of Six talks. And despite reluctance at the White House to engage publicly on the issue, Bowles said in an interview that the president has named Vice President Biden as his "point guy" on the talks.

"I think they're moving in this direction," Bowles said of White House officials. If the Senate can establish a strong base of support, he said, "there's going to be movement to the center to get something done."

Monday, March 07, 2011

GOP Aims to Tame Benefits Programs - Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up more than 60% of the budget.

From The Wall Street Journal:

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he's determined to offer a budget this spring that curbs Social Security and Medicare, despite the political risks, and that Republicans will try to persuade voters that sacrifices are needed.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Boehner said House Republicans would offer a budget for the next fiscal year that sets goals for bringing the programs' costs under control. But he acknowledged that Americans aren't yet ready to embrace far-reaching changes to Social Security and Medicare because they aren't aware of the magnitude of the financial problems.

"People in Washington assume that Americans understand how big the problem is, but most Americans don't have a clue," Mr. Boehner said, speaking in his Capitol office. "I think it's incumbent on us, if we are serious about dealing with the big challenges, that we go out and help Americans understand how big the problem is that faces us."

He added, "Once they understand how big the problem is, I think people will be more receptive to what the possible solutions may be."

Even while Republicans and Democrats wrangle over cuts to the discretionary spending that is determined by Congress every year, the question of how to tackle the government's promised Social Security and Medicare payments has loomed as a tougher challenge.

Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up more than 60% of the budget. Annual outlays are expected to grow an average of 5.4% for Social Security and 6.8% for Medicare through the end of the decade.

Medicare's trustees estimate its main program will have sufficient funds to fully cover expenditures through 2029. The comparable date for Social Security is 2037.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this week showed less than a quarter of Americans support making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare to tackle the government's financial woes. But a majority supported reducing benefits for wealthier retirees and raising the Social Security retirement age.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Billions in Bloat Uncovered in Beltway

From The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. government has 15 different agencies overseeing food-safety laws, more than 20 separate programs to help the homeless and 80 programs for economic development.

These are a few of the findings in a massive study of overlapping and duplicative programs that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

A report from the nonpartisan GAO, to be released Tuesday, compiles a list of redundant and potentially ineffective federal programs, and it could serve as a template for lawmakers in both parties as they move to cut federal spending and consolidate programs to reduce the deficit. Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), who pushed for the report, estimated it identifies between $100 billion and $200 billion in duplicative spending. The GAO didn't put a specific figure on the spending overlap.

The GAO examined numerous federal agencies, including the departments of defense, agriculture and housing and urban development, and pointed to instances where different arms of the government should be coordinating or consolidating efforts to save taxpayers' money.

The agency found 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality; 80 to help disadvantaged people with transportation; 47 for job training and employment; and 56 to help people understand finances, according to a draft of the report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Instances of ineffective and unfocused federal programs can lead to a mishmash of occasionally arbitrary policies and rules, the report said.

See also The Wall Street Journal article the next day entitled "Both Sides Embrace Government-Waste Study."

Gates Warns of Risks of a No-Flight Zone

From The New York Times:

With rebels in Libya calling for Western airstrikes on forces supporting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates warned Congress on Wednesday that even a more modest effort to establish a no-flight zone over Libya would have to begin with an attack on the country’s air defenses and would require “a big operation in a big country.”

Mr. Gates’s caution illustrates the chasm between what the rebels and some leading members of Congress are calling for and what President Obama appears willing to do in Libya. Mr. Obama and his aides have argued that it is not yet clear that the insurgents need the help — and they have warned that the use of American airpower could fuel the arguments of those in the Middle East who see a Washington conspiracy behind homegrown uprisings.

Mr. Gates, the most prominent Republican in the administration, was even blunter than usual as he approaches the end of his time in office. His testimony came days after he gave a speech warning that America should avoid another big, intractable land war like those under way in Iraq and Afghanistan. His testimony on Wednesday before the House Appropriations Committee was given just as Libyan forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi bombed insurgents outside of Tripoli.

“Let’s just call a spade a spade,” Mr. Gates said. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”

Ohio Vote Puts Curbs on Unions in Reach

From The Wall Street Journal:

Ohio state senators narrowly approved a bill that would prohibit public-employee unions representing 400,000 state and local workers from bargaining over health benefits and pensions, while also eliminating the right to strike.

While national attention has focused for weeks on a similar battle in Wisconsin, the vote, by 17-16 in Ohio's Republican-controlled Senate, virtually ensured that the Buckeye State will become the first to strip collective-bargaining rights from public employees as states grapple with recent gaping budget deficits.

The move is especially significant because Ohio is larger than Wisconsin, and like its fellow Midwestern state, is both a stronghold of public-sector labor unions and a swing state politically.