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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, August 31, 2011

GOP tax expert to lead deficit-committee staff had a hand in the landmark budget deals of 1990 and 1997 that included tax increases.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The leaders of Congress's powerful new deficit-reduction supercommittee named a Republican tax expert on Tuesday to be their staff director, and Republican members met to discuss strategy.

Those moves were among the first steps by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, a new House-Senate panel that will be the center of attention in Washington as it tries to write a sweeping deficit-reduction plan by Nov. 23.

The panel's co-chairmen chose as their staff director Mark Prater, a senior aide and chief tax counsel to Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee. "Mark has a well-earned reputation for being a workhorse who members of both parties have relied on," said the committee's co-chairmen, Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas).

Part of the committee's preparation has been a review of recommendations made by other budget groups, such as the Bowles-Simpson bipartisan fiscal commission, which called for $4 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years, and the ad hoc group of leaders convened by Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year.

Some aides to committee members had expected the top staff post to be filled by someone without a party affiliation, such as a staffer from the Congressional Budget Office or Congressional Research Service. The Republican senators Mr. Prater works for on the Finance Committee have strongly opposed Democratic demands that any deficit-reduction deal include tax increases.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) said, "Mark has a proven track record of putting partisanship aside and reaching across the aisle to find balanced solutions—and that's exactly what this Joint Committee needs."

Mr. Prater's expertise in tax policy will come in handy if, as many in both parties hope, the panel considers including a framework for overhauling the tax code or closing loopholes. As a senior Finance Committee aide for more than 20 years, he had a hand in the landmark budget deals of 1990 and 1997 that included tax increases.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Crossover district is one in which minorities constitute a sizable minority so that they can form a coalition with liberal whites to elect a candidate

Walter Jones writes in The Georgia Times-Union:

A crossover district, the Democrats said, is one in which black, Asian and Hispanic voters constitute a sizable minority so that they can form a coalition with liberal whites to elect a candidate of their choice. Republicans continually replied that the courts have only required maintaining the number of districts in which an ethnic or racial minority outnumbered the whites, so-called majority-minority districts.

And from the very recent post in the AJC:

Judges have been largely silent on whether the Voting Rights Act protects African-American “influence” districts, but former state lawmaker and labor commissioner Michael Thurmond — a veteran of redistricting — says Democrats should pursue the issue.
“It dilutes minority voting strength. It would be a novel argument, but it would be impactful,” Thurmond said.

How soon we forget; deja vu; and I have been fussing to whomever would listen: Fed Faces Old Foe as Hazard Returns

From The Wall Street Journal:

To seasoned investors, last week's sharp market swings were a fresh reminder of a problem tormenting financial markets: moral hazard.

Stocks jumped, then sank and then rose again, as investors tried to bet on whether the Federal Reserve is going to intervene again to support financial markets.

Economists sometimes refer to that kind of market behavior as moral hazard, which refers to risky investing done in the hopes that government will bail people out of any trouble they get into.

It was a big issue after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., when the government bailed out several other banks. It created the idea that they were too big to fail and that their executives and bondholders would be protected from their own mistakes.

Today, investors have returned to risk-taking in hopes of government intervention, and newly confident banks are protesting efforts to increase regulation.

In an interview, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said government intervention can create moral hazard.

"Oh, I think so," he said. While he declined to comment on current monetary policy, he mentioned "too big to fail" as an example. Government actions almost inevitably have unintended consequences, he said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 503 points in the first three days of last week on hopes Mr. Bernanke would announce some kind of monetary stimulus in Friday's speech in Jackson Hole, Wyo. It fell 171 points Thursday on fears he wouldn't. Then it rose 134.72 points Friday on hopes that the Fed's decision to expand its September meeting to two days was a signal that it was preparing to discuss some kind of stimulus.

Moral hazard may be an even bigger issue in Europe. Ratings firms say ratings of European bank bonds depend on the idea that governments will protect the banks from default on European government bonds.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

D. Ralston: And take this, “[The Dem. Party of Ga.] put up the sign a long time ago that people like that weren’t welcome unless they were liberal.”

Jim Galloway, John Perry, Aaron Gould Sheinin and Kristina Torres pen a keeper in the AJC:

The state’s new congressional map would bring to completion a 20-year project born of an alliance struck by the likes of Cynthia McKinney and other African-American political leaders. When Democrat Zell Miller was governor, they began working with Republicans to boost both factions by making white congressional districts in Georgia whiter, and black districts blacker.

Of Georgia’s 14 new congressional districts, 10 Republican-leaning districts would be majority white, and four Democratic-leaning districts would be majority African-American.

Like the proposed new congressional map, new state House and Senate maps signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal last week take aim at white Democratic incumbents — with the same ruthlessness that Democrats once applied to the GOP. Taken as a whole, Democrats say Republicans are leveling a final blow at the biracial Democratic coalition that led Georgia out of the civil rights era.

“I think the Democratic Party of Georgia — if it feels like it’s losing moderates and moderate conservatives — they need to look in the mirror,” House Speaker David Ralston said. “They’ve put up the sign a long time ago that people like that weren’t welcome unless they were liberal.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Obama and the 'Competency Crisis' - Like many Americans who supported him, I long for a triple-A president to run a triple-A country.

Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman and editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report, writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The rising impatience with the leadership of President Obama was epitomized on Aug. 8 in the middle of one of the now-habitual Wall Street roller coasters. His speech on the economy was 53 minutes late. What showed on TV screens was an empty White House podium, an image suggestive of the absence of leadership. When the president did speak, the best he could come up with was "We've always been and always will be a triple-A country." The market's response was a Bronx cheer, a drop of another 300 points.

Mr. Obama seems unable to get a firm grip on the toughest issue facing his presidency and the country—the economy. He now asserts he is going to "pivot" to jobs. Now we pivot to jobs? When there are already 25 million Americans who are either unemployed or cannot find full-time work? Does this president not appreciate what is going on?

Fewer Americans are working full-time today than when Mr. Obama took office. We have lost over 900,000 full-time jobs in the last four months alone, and long-term unemployment is at a post-World War II high. The public's faith in his ability to deal with the economy has plunged. As Doyle McManus of the L.A. Times put it, "Can this president persuade voters to let him keep his job when so many have lost theirs?" Even Jimmy Carter didn't plumb the depths of national dissatisfaction revealed in the stunning Gallup poll taken Aug. 11-13. The president's approval rating was only 39% with a mere 26% approving of his handling of the economy.

Meanwhile, everyone in the business world is pleading for some kind of adult supervision to build a national platform for sustained growth that includes a long-term fiscal plan that addresses our ballooning debt. They are desperate for strong leadership and feel that all we are getting out of Washington is a lot of noise as Democrats and Republicans blame one another.

Since the president is the one who represents all of America and all Americans, the buck stops with him rather than with the Congress. It is the president's job to offer a coherent program for the twin threats of a static economy and an unsustainable explosion of our debts and deficits. But the only core issue on which he took a clear position in the recent debt-ceiling negotiations was that it would have to include new taxes on the wealthy—and he didn't even hold to that.

He made the politically tested and calculated statement that if you raise taxes on billionaires and millionaires you could solve the problem. This is not so. Even for those who support higher taxes on the wealthy, as I do, we must remember that we have an income tax system in which fully half the "taxpayers" pay no tax at all, and in which the variety of loopholes cries out for a real reform of the tax code. Even if the government instituted a 100% tax on both corporate profits and personal incomes above $250,000 per year, it would yield enough revenue to run the government for only six months. Why? Because under Mr. Obama's presidency, government spending has swelled to 24% of GDP from 18%.

We need real reform of the tax code in which everyone is asked to make some contribution, however small. Hardly anyone on either side of the aisle has a good word to say for the present hodgepodge of selective punishment of the middle class—replete with exceptions, loopholes, and special allowances. Worse, there are no serious proposals being canvassed among the White House, the Congress and the Treasury.

Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission appointed by the president in 2010 to devise a plan for dealing with the fiscal crisis, put it well: "It is one that is completely predictable and from which there is no escape." The president said he would stand by his commission, but as of today he's remained silent on its many proposals, seemingly unable to speak honestly on the subject.

Everyone recognizes that as populations age, the ratio of worker-to-retiree dependency plummets. Remember that the first baby boomers statistically retired on Jan. 1 of this year. There are now 79 million more of them to be supported in their retirement and with their medical requirements. This has obvious implications for our debts and deficits. How are we to meet this obligation in the face of long-term deficits that stem from approximately $60 trillion of unfunded entitlement liabilities?

It is no surprise that many have begun to doubt the president's leadership qualities. J.P. Morgan calls it the "competency crisis." The president is not seen fighting for his own concrete goals, nor finding the right allies, especially leaders of business big or small. Instead, his latent hostility to the business community has provoked a mutual response of disrespect. This is lamentable given the unique role that small business especially plays in creating jobs.

The president appears to consider himself immune from error and asserts the fault always lies elsewhere—be it in the opposition in Congress or the Japanese tsunami or in the failure of his audience to fully understand the wisdom and benefits of his proposals. But in politics, the failure of communication is invariably the fault of the communicator.

Many voters who supported him are no longer elated by the historic novelty of his candidacy and presidency. They hoped for a president who would be effective. Remember "Yes We Can"? Now many of his sharpest critics are his former supporters. Witness Bill Broyles, a one-time admirer who recently wrote in Newsweek that "Americans aren't inspired by well-meaning weakness." The president who first inspired with great speeches on red and blue America now seems to lack the ability to communicate any sense of resolve for a program, or any realization of the urgency of what might befall us. The teleprompter he almost always uses symbolizes and compounds his emotional distance from his audience.

We lack a coherent and muscular economic strategy, as Mr. Obama and his staff seem almost completely focused on his re-election. He should be spending most of his time on the nitty-gritty of the job instead of on fund raisers, bus tours and visits to diners, which essentially are in service of his political interests. Increasingly his solutions seem to boil down to Vote for Me.

Clearly the president will have to raise his game to win a second term, especially if the Republicans find a real candidate. Will voters be willing to give him another four years? Like many Americans who supported him, I long for a triple-A president to run a triple-A country.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Europeans Retreat on Defense Spending

From The Wall Street Journal:

The unraveling of Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime is a milestone for the European armed forces providing the air support that turned the tide for Libyan rebels, who were on the verge of being overrun only five months ago.

Yet despite the scenes from Tripoli of rebel forces advancing with the help of European air strikes, the first North Atlantic Treaty Organization campaign not led by the U.S. has shown the limitations of the Continent's military power in an era of crushing national debt and slashed defense spending.

"The fact is that Europe couldn't have done this on its own," said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview last month, citing essential U.S. intelligence support. "The lack of defense investments in Europe will make it increasingly difficult for Europe to take on responsibility for international crisis management beyond Europe's borders."

While all 28 NATO nations approved the Libya mission, fewer than half are participating, and fewer still are conducting air strikes. "Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can't," said Mr. Gates, who stepped down in July. "The military capabilities simply aren't there."

The mounting concerns about Europe's ability to project power overseas come as the world's military balance is shifting. The U.S., the world's dominant power, is under growing pressure to control military spending and is increasing its focus on the Pacific region. At the same time, China is undertaking a military buildup that has left many of its neighbors worried about its global ambitions.

Mr. Gates warned in June that "if current trends in the decline of European defense capabilities are not halted and reversed, future U.S. political leaders—those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me—may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost."

Germany, Europe's largest economy, declined to participate in the Libya effort at all, saying that contributing to the air campaign might lead to pressure to contribute troops later.

The Netherlands, like Germany, was one of a handful of countries criticized by Mr. Gates, during a private meeting with NATO defense ministers in June, for not contributing enough to the Libyan effort.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Let the Election Begin, (more of) Part I: This may well backfire in USA - Georgia begins release of illegal immigrants

From the AJC:

Federal authorities on Tuesday night began freeing illegal immigrants facing deportation from Georgia, releasing two teenagers from custody by using controversial new guidelines the Obama administration announced last week.

By freeing illegal immigrants, critics say, the Obama administration is ignoring federal immigration laws. They also contend the government has not done enough to stem the flow of illegal immigrants to Georgia.

Let the Election Begin, (more of) Part I: Some Latino Democrats who have been deeply critical of Obama on immigration issues praised the policy shift.

From The New York Times:

Administration officials and immigrant advocates said Monday that the plan offered the first real possibility since President Obama took office — promising immigrants and Latinos he would overhaul the law to bring illegal immigrants into the system — for large numbers of those immigrants to be spared from detention and deportation.

Some Latino Democrats who have been deeply critical of Mr. Obama on immigration issues praised the policy shift.

“This is the Barack Obama I have been waiting for, that Latino and immigrant voters helped put in office to fight for sensible immigration policies,” said Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, a Latino leader on immigration issues who has been arrested twice in protests in front of the White House.

However, the announcement appeared to signal an end to efforts by the White House to court some of its Republican opponents, with administration officials acknowledging those efforts have failed and there is little chance for broad immigration legislation to pass before elections next year.

Republican leaders reacted to Mr. Obama’s new policy by stepping up their rejection of his approach. Representative Peter T. King of New York, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the House, said the president was making “a blatant attempt to grant amnesty to potentially millions of illegal aliens in this country,” which he called “totally unacceptable.”

Let the Election Begin, Part II: White House to Scale Back Regulations on Businesses

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration will release final plans Tuesday for ending or cutting back hundreds of regulations, an effort to reduce the burden on business and counter criticism that the White House is tone-deaf to business concerns.

Monday, August 22, 2011

In the Race to Succeed Weiner, a Surprising Anger at Obama - Watch the Ninth Congressional District with 2012 in mind

From The New York Times:

Of all the places to hear fulminations against President Obama, one of the least expected is the corner of 71st Avenue and Queens Boulevard, in the heart of a Congressional district that propelled Democrats like Geraldine A. Ferraro, Charles E. Schumer and Anthony D. Weiner to Washington.

The Sept. 13 election for the Ninth Congressional District seat became vacant this summer when Mr. Weiner quit over an online sex scandal. The race was widely viewed as a sleepy sideshow — a mere formality that would put David I. Weprin, a Democratic state assemblyman and heir to a Queens political dynasty, into a seat known for its deep blue hue.

Instead, the race has become something far more unsettling to Democrats: a referendum on the president and his party that is highlighting the surprisingly raw emotions of the electorate.

National Democrats, alarmed by a poll that showed the contest far closer than anticipated, are privately fretting that even a close outcome in a working-class swath of Brooklyn and Queens may foreshadow broader troubles for the party in 2012.

Few predict a Republican upset: registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by three to one in the district.

[A]fter a long summer of stock market gyrations and battles over the federal debt, voters seem determined to register their frustrations with Washington.

“The issue defining this race,” said Robert Zimmerman, a member of the Democratic National Committee from New York, “is the confidence that the electorate has in this district about the national Democratic agenda.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

After 2011 redistricting, 10 of 14 U.S. Congressional seats will lean toward GOP, and each of others will be won by an African American candidate.

Tom Crawford writes:

The majority of Georgia voters don’t understand or pay attention to what goes on during the redistricting session, but the process is important, because it will have a huge influence over the political outcomes of the next 10 years.

In Georgia, as in most other states, redistricting is a process in which the party controlling the Legislature (the Republicans in this state) maximizes its political strength at the expense of the minority party (currently the Democrats).

Ten years ago, Democrats controlled the General Assembly and were trying to hang on to power in a state that was obviously trending Republican. They drew maps with weirdly shaped districts that packed as many Republicans as possible into as few districts as possible.

Georgia voters showed a preference for Republicans in the 2002 elections, as indicated by the results of the races at the top of the ballot. They elected Republican Sonny Perdue as governor with 51 percent of the vote and Saxby Chambliss as senator with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

In the 2002 legislative races, where Democrats had stacked the odds in their favor through the redistricting maps they had drawn, Democrats won 30 of the 56 Senate seats and 108 of the 180 House seats. That’s how the redistricting process becomes a powerful political tool.

Those Democratic maps were so egregiously drawn that a panel of federal court judges threw them out in 2004 and substituted politically neutral districts. Under those court-drawn maps, Republicans won a majority of the House and Senate seats in 2004.

In this redistricting round, Republicans control the Legislature and are drawing the maps.

When the Republicans finish their work in this special legislative session, they will have passed a congressional map in which 10 of the 14 U.S. House districts will have Republican majorities strong enough to elect a GOP candidate. Fewer than one-third of the congressional districts will be competitive for Democrats, and each of those districts will probably be won by an African American candidate.

In a state where nearly 60 percent of the voters cast their ballots for Republicans on election day, the majority party will be in a strong position to win nearly 70 percent of the seats in the General Assembly and more than 70 percent of the congressional seats. That’s how the redistricting process magnifies the power of the party that controls the Legislature.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A 2001 proposed Senate District that took 8 hours to travel the convoluted 199-mile trek from one end to the other - Payback time

A ghost of 2001: Senate District 51, occupied by Republican Bill Stephens, required an eight-hour trek by car

Senate District 24, as drawn in 2001 for Republican Sen. Joey Brush

In an 8-16-11 post post entitled "What! Only 9 minutes Bobby! - What! lost your mittens, you naughty kittens! Then you shall have no say. Mee-ow . . mee-ow. No, you shall have no say," I wrote:

When I first read a few minutes ago in the AJC's Political Insider that Senate Reapportionment Chairman Mitch Seabaugh had given Senate Democrats a whole 9 minutes to offer up changes to the GOP redrawn redistricting map for the Georgia Senate, I thought, damn, that sounds so Draconian, I mean Drakhanian, as in Bobby Khan in 2001, when the shoe was on the other foot.

Today Jim Galloway writes in the AJC's Political Insider (and includes the above photographs of proposed Senate Districts 51 and 24):

In 2001, Democrats still ruled Georgia, but Republicans — for the first time — were threatening. Led by Gov. Roy Barnes, Democrats produced a series of maps that stretched the bounds of credulity, as federal courts would later rule.

Ten years later, Senate Reapportionment Chairman Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, flashed some of the Democratic handiwork on a pair of wide screens in the Senate chamber. District after district snaked across the state in narrow, twisted paths.

A giggle broke out when Seabaugh unveiled Senate District 51, housing a GOP incumbent, which Democrats had draped across the roof of Georgia like a giant pair of elephant ears — several counties on each lobe. The land bridge that connected the east side with the west was at one point only two football fields wide. (It took a reporter eight hours to make the convoluted 199-mile trek from one end to the other.)

I recall talking at the time with my close friend and now deceased and former City of Douglas Mayor and industrial recruitment guru Max Lockwood about what our good friends Gov. Roy Barnes and Bobby Kahn were doing and how they would not listen to us or anyone else.
At the time, this item was not on voters' the radar screen. It later would be, and we are still paying the price for their failure to abide by the adage that the pigs get fat, and the hogs get slaughtered.

Noonan: The President's Island Retreat - Is his visit to Martha's Vineyard a sign that he's giving up?

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The phrase of the day is "new lows." It blares from every screen. The number of Americans satisfied with the ways things are going hits new lows—11%. President Obama's popularity: new lows. The Dow Jones Industrial Average this year: new lows. Maybe it will enter ordinary language. "Charlie, it's been ages. How are you, how's Betty?" "I'm experiencing some volatility, but she's inching toward new lows."

The market is dispirited. I'm wondering if the president is, too, and if that won't carry implications for the 2012 race. You can imagine him having lunch with political advisers, hearing some unwanted advice—"Don't go to Martha's Vineyard!"—putting his napkin by his plate, pushing back from the table, rising, and saying in a clipped, well-modulated voice: "I'm tired. I'm going. If they want this job so much let them have it."

How could he not be depressed? He has made big mistakes since the beginning of his presidency and has been pounded since the beginning of his presidency. He's got to be full of doubts at this point about what to do. His baseline political assumptions have proved incorrect, his calculations have turned out to be erroneous, his big decisions have turned to dust. He thought they'd love him for health care, that it was a down payment on greatness. But the left sees it as a sellout, the center as a vaguely threatening mess, the right as a rallying cry. He thought the stimulus would turn the economy around. It didn't. He thought there would be a natural bounce-back a year ago, with "Recovery Summer." There wasn't. He thought a toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball struggle over the debt ceiling would enhance his reputation. The public would see through to the dark heart of Republican hackery and come to recognize the higher wisdom of his approach. That didn't happen either.

Nothing worked! And nothing's going to work. He's the smartest guy in the room, but he's got the reverse Midas touch. Everything he touches turns to—well, unsatisfying outcomes.

The president shows all the signs of becoming a man who, around the time he unveils his new jobs proposal in September, is going to start musing in interviews about whether anyone can be a successful president now, what with the complexity of the problems and the forces immediately arrayed, in a politically polarized age, against any specific action. That was probably his inner rationale for not coming up with a specific debt-ceiling plan: Why give the inevitable forces a target? But his refusal to produce a plan became itself the target. Reverse Midas.

Under these circumstances he could not possibly be enjoying his job. On the stump this week in the Midwest, he should have been on fire with the joy of combat, he should have had them whooping and hollering with fresh material and funny lines. But even at his feistiest, he was wilted. Distracted. Sometimes he seems to be observing himself and his interactions as opposed to being himself and having interactions. His audiences wanted to show support, it was clear, that's why they came. But there was something tentative in their response, as if they wanted to come through for the applause line but couldn't figure out exactly where the applause line was. The president was dropping his g's, always a terrible sign, a kind of bowing that assumes he speaks from a great height. He also started saying "folks" again. That too is a tell. It's the word politicians who think they're better and brighter than normal people use when they're trying to make normal people think they're normal.

Now he goes on vacation. Every president deserves a vacation, to the extent presidents can really have vacations, and that extent is limited. If a vacation is defined as something carefree and removed, then presidents never get vacations. There are always briefings, calls, the decisions on how to respond to a crisis or event. It's hard to begrudge any president his attempts at escape. But political foes do.

Mr. Obama's like to show him playing golf. The Democrats did the same to Eisenhower. Nixon was knocked for going so often to San Clemente, Reagan and George W. Bush to their ranches.

Mr. Obama shouldn't be faulted for wanting to rest, relax and spend whole days with his family. But the timing of this vacation is incongruent, and so is the location.

On the timing, there's an air of economic crisis hanging over everything, a sense that other shoes may drop. Actually it's a sense of something impending, with unemployment high, Europe broke and the Mideast reaching full boil. A politician who wanted to impart a sense of leadership in crisis, who passionately wanted to keep the presidency, and who was prudently anxious about his prospects, just might let such a moment change his plans.

As for the location, the president loves Martha's Vineyard, and there's a lot to love—beautiful beaches, hills, biking. But it's a little island whose summertime population is dominated by those who, due to their affluence, are essentially detached from everyday life in America. It's a playground of the liberal rich: hedge-fund maestros, network producers, Wall Street heavyweights, left-leaning activists. It's the kind of place that reverberates in the national imagination—that tags you as elitist no matter how many g's you drop.

Both parties have to deal with certain tropes, symbols and clichés. If you're a conservative president, you probably shouldn't spend your vacation at a house on the edge of an exclusive golf club that's had a history of problems admitting blacks, Jews, and the self-made sons of Dad's old half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican cook. If you're a liberal president, you probably shouldn't be on vacation at a place known for snooty liberal insularity.

Mr. Obama's media specialists probably told him what Bill Clinton's mavens told him: If you're going to the Vineyard, you have to go to some real American place first, like the Rockies. Which Mr. Clinton did. Going to the Vineyard didn't harm him. But Mr. Clinton had prosperity, and Americans will forgive a lot from a guy who does nothing to stop prosperity, or actually may help it along.

Mr. Obama doesn't have that advantage. It seems important to him to be true to himself—not to be the kind of person who'd poll-test a vacation. Or maybe he thinks that no matter what he does, it won't work, so what the heck. But his decision to go now, and there, seems either ham-handed or vaguely defiant.

In early 2010 this space made much of the president's pre-State of the Union interview with Diane Sawyer, in which she pressed the president about his political predicaments. He said: "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president." I thought at the time: He means it, he can accept being a one-termer.

Maybe he's feeling it now more than ever.

Maybe it means not much will change in terms of his leadership between now and the election.

Maybe he'll be as wilted next year as he was this week.

Federal policy on deportation roils Georgians - 'Lack of seriousness about illegal immigration is why we have to take measures on the state level.'

From the AJC:

The Obama administration’s announcement this week that it will generally steer away from deporting certain groups of illegal immigrants is highlighting a disconnect between the federal government's goals and those of Georgia leaders who are pushing for a tough crackdown here.

Complaining that the federal government has fallen down on the job of enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, lawmakers in Georgia and several other states have adopted sweeping measures to curb illegal immigration. They say illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens amid high unemployment and burdening public schools, jails and hospitals.

The new federal guidelines drew a strong reaction from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office Friday.

“It is unfortunate that the president is picking and choosing the ways in which he will enforce the law,” said Jen Talaber, a spokeswoman for Deal. “The lack of seriousness about illegal immigration is exactly why we have to take measures on the state level to protect Georgia's taxpaying citizens.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Race in Montana May Again Be Crucial to Senate Control - 'The New Western Democrat'

From The New York Times:

A few election cycles ago, before the recession, the debt crisis and the Tea Party movement redefined American politics, a species called “the New Western Democrat” emerged in places like Montana.

Identified by their moderate politics, their plumage — typically a cowboy hat and boots — and by the ability to spit with authenticity, these centrists gave hope to Democrats nationally that a traditionally conservative corner of the country might be won over.

Now, Senator Jon Tester, a big-bellied farmer and self-described populist Democrat seeking a second term, is staking his career — and with it, perhaps his party’s control of the Senate — on a bet that the West’s middle way is still viable. Extremism, Mr. Tester said again and again in a round of campaign stops across the state last week, is a direr threat to Montana than tough times, national debt or recession.

UPDATED: Christine O'Donnell Walks Off Piers Morgan Interview (8-17-11)

UPDATE courtesy of Jim Galloway oF the AJC's Political Insider:

Christine O’Donnell, the former U.S. Senate candidate from Delaware [, will stop by the state Capitol] on Monday. But O’Donnell made a bit of news this morning when, on NBC’s “Today,” she said she walked off Piers Morgan’s CNN show because of what she described as his “very inappropriate, creepy line of questioning.”

The Delaware Republican said she wanted to stop the “borderline sexual harassment that was going on.”


Where was this woman when the Good Lord was handing out brains! She never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Let the election season begin. First, a not so well thought out bus tour. Today's headline: 'U.S. Eases Deportation Policy'

From The Wall Street Journal:

A senior administration official said Thursday that federal authorities will review individually the cases of some 300,000 illegal immigrants in deportation proceedings. Those who haven't committed crimes and aren't deemed a threat to public safety will have a chance to stay in the U.S. and apply for a work permit.

The decision will also benefit about 11 million illegal immigrants who live in the U.S. but aren't currently in the deportation system because they haven't been caught by federal authorities, the official said.

The announcement outraged hardliners on illegal immigration but seemed to placate some immigrant advocates angered by record removals of illegal immigrants and lack of progress in an overhaul of the immigration system.

"In essence, the administration has declared that U.S. immigration is now virtually unlimited to anyone willing to try to enter—subject only to those who commit violent felonies after arrival. This is not the nation's immigration law," says Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

See also this article in The New York Times.

This is better than going to a movie. J. Galloway: 'necktie party'; GOP Gov's Chair: 'said bit differently'; Ron Paul: 'Arnold no, counterfeiter yes.'

Jim Galloway writes in the AJC's Political Insider:

Over at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik has this interesting thought about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s suggestion that Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke might deserve a necktie party:

Effectively threatening violence against the chairman of the Federal Reserve drew a rebuke from Bush political svengali Karl Rove and others. Even Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, newly minted as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association thanks to former Chairman Perry’s presidential bid, said that he “might have said it a little bit differently.”

Perry’s Federal Reserve comments are notable for another reason: They are the clearest signal that the campaign of this race’s forgotten man, Ron Paul, might be having its desired effect: bringing the longtime congressman’s ideas on monetary policy and maybe — maybe — his dovish stance on war and peace closer to the mainstream.

In Concord, N.H., on Wednesday, Paul himself was thinking the same thing. From Politico.com:

“Now they have this other governor, I can’t remember his name,” Paul joked. “He realizes that talking about the Fed is good, too. But I’ll tell you what, he makes me sound like a moderate. I have never once said Bernanke has committed treason. But I have suggested very strongly that the Federal Reserve system and all the members have been counterfeiters for a long time.”

But don't summarily write off my 8-16-11 post entitled "The Texas Gipper - The White House has plenty to worry about. Perry may turn out to be no Reagan, but Obama has turned out to be no Barack Obama."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Valdosta editorial: 'Don't take Kingston away' - Kingston is a Rep.; I am a Dem. We are friends. He has always served South Georgia well, very well!

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia's First Congressional District

From The Valdosta Daily Times:

Redistricting is always a difficult time for legislators who want to protect their territory. But it’s also a difficult time for constituents who don’t want to lose a good representative.

Unfortunately, under Rep. Roger Lane, Chairman of the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee, that is exactly what will happen to Lowndes County. The new map will give Rep. Jack Kingston’s district all of Savannah and none of Lowndes.

Kingston said he will be in Atlanta today to lobby to keep what he has worked so hard for, and hopefully many others will also argue on his behalf. Considering that he is the only Congressman who visits Lowndes County, it would be a tremendous loss to the community to lose his oversight.

Kingston’s district as it is now includes half a dozen minor and major military installations and billions of dollars in agricultural interests. He serves on the Defense Appropriations Committee and on the Ag committee, ensuring that this region has the resources it needs to cultivate and protect those primary economic engines.

Losing Kingston would be a blow to this area and hurt the relationships that have taken so long to form. Given that it’s a thinly disguised political ploy to gerrymander a north Georgia district, the new map also represents the type of gamesmanship that Kingston is known for personally avoiding.

To the state leadership: Please leave Kingston in Lowndes. South Georgia is already losing so much to the north.

Why do you have to take the one politician that actually works for us?

I think the jury may still be out on whether Rep. Kingston -- who sits on the Defense subcommittee of the House Appropriates Committee -- will continue to serve Lowndes and Moody Air Force Base.

Obama Aims to Keep White Voters on Board - He doesn't have the Cracker Squire, one of his original, fervent supporters in Ga. in mind, but he should.

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama's Midwest trip this week has allowed him to address a central challenge for his re-election: His popularity has slumped among white voters—particularly young, poor and working-class Americans—as Washington has struggled to help boost economic growth.

Black and Hispanic voters are affected by the economy as well—in many cases, more harshly. But they represent more loyal Democratic constituencies and, for the most part, have stuck with the Democrats.

Lilburn, Gwinnett County, Georgia

(Story in AJC.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Texas Gipper - The White House has plenty to worry about. Perry may turn out to be no Reagan, but Obama has turned out to be no Barack Obama.

Richard Cohen writes in The Washington Post:

Watching the emergence of Rick Perry over the weekend was instructively nostalgic. Here again was a governor declaring for the presidency and some very wise people cautioning us on the air and in print that what worked in Texas might not work in the nation. Perry is too conservative, too much a cowboy, too religious and, while we’re at it, too handsome. This, more or less, was what was said about Ronald Reagan. He’s nearly on Mount Rushmore.

Perry stands a pretty good chance of being the next president of the United States. Like Reagan, Perry is gaffe-prone (he once suggested that Texas could secede from the union) and, again like Reagan, appallingly conservative on social and economic issues. But the similarity that matters most is that both men were elected governor of mini-nations — California and Texas.

Texas is the second-most populous state — a bit more than 25 million people. It is not merely the West, which Perry personifies, but the South and the vast suburbanized rest as well. It is a big part of America, and Rick Perry is the longest-serving governor in the state’s history. It’s just plain folly, as some have already suggested, to think that he cannot campaign effectively in the rest of the nation. This man was born for the stump.

I can think of no reason why anyone who, for some unaccountable reason, supports Michele Bachmann will not move over to Perry. He is her equal in social issues, which is her strength, but he is a much better campaigner — as he showed the other day in Waterloo, Iowa. He retailed a GOP dinner, going from table to table, while Bachmann made a Lady Gaga entrance — rock music, lights, phalanx of security — and just perfunctorily met with the ordinary people she claims both to be and to represent. Perry, who actually looks like a president (also the late Rory Calhoun), will raise far more money and breeze by her. Au revoir, Michele.

That leaves Mitt Romney. He is like one of those odd animals left behind by an ice age or shrinking oceans. Nature adapted him to a different political climate. He is his father’s son, a pragmatic Republican. He is moderate on social issues and actually knows how to make money and create jobs. But his very moderation, not to mention his exotic Mormonism, makes him suspect in the tea partyish Republican Party. Every time he pledges never ever to raise taxes even a teensy-weensy bit, I imagine his fingers are crossed.

Not so Perry. He occupies the cultural and intellectually empty heartland of the Republican Party. He vows to diminish Washington’s influence — a conservative applause line but a moronic policy. What America desperately needs is more, not less, Washington — more economic stimulus and more national education standards.

Perry has characterized Texas as one huge job-creating machine, but what lured jobs from other states cannot work on a national level — unless we drain Canada. What does create jobs — well-paying jobs, in fact — is education. But while Perry has hardly been oblivious to the importance of education, he nonetheless opposes national standards. This is catastrophic. America trails China, South Korea, Japan and other countries in math and science, and our huge minority population does about as well as school kids in developing nations.

Perry has exactly the wrong approach. He says the federal government needs to stop “dictating” school policy when this is precisely what needs to be done. He says “government doesn’t create jobs,” when in fact it can and does. He blasted the stimulus programs, yet without them the American economy and its financial institutions would be much worse off. He repeats bromides about small business, but what small businesses really need is not tax relief but orders from big business.

Reading up on Perry’s record is an intriguing exercise. It is full of contradictions showing a subtlety that is not reflected in his rhetoric. He has done from Austin what he would not want done from Washington — a bit of industrial policy and a robust support of education. In this sense, he is again like Reagan, who did raise taxes and did compromise with congressional Democrats and did, his rhetoric notwithstanding, not let his opposition to abortion rights deflect him from his larger goals.

The White House now has plenty to worry about. Of course, Perry may turn out to be no Ronald Reagan. But then he doesn’t have to be. After all, Barack Obama has turned out to be no Barack Obama.

What! Only 9 minutes Bobby! - What! lost your mittens, you naughty kittens! Then you shall have no say. Mee-ow . . mee-ow. No, you shall have no say.

When I first read a few minutes ago in the AJC's Political Insider that Senate Reapportionment Chairman Mitch Seabaugh had given Senate Democrats a whole 9 minutes to offer up changes to the GOP redrawn redistricting map for the Georgia Senate, I thought, damn, that sounds so Draconian, I mean Drakhanian, as in Bobby Khan in 2001, when the shoe was on the other foot.

But my friend Aaron Sheinin beat me to the punch, noting a few minutes ago in the AJC that, in responding to a Senate Democrats' charge that the ruling Republican majority is refusing to allow the Democrats with a chance to present alternative plans for redrawing legislative maps, Seabaugh said he is not trying to "ram the plan through" as Democrats allege.

"Compared to what?" he said. "In 2001 [when Democrats controlled the process] we were in session for almost three weeks and the Democratic caucus walked into a committee meeting, unveiled a map and voted it out in 10 minutes."

(I still love you Bobby.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

'"La migra,' the Spanish term used to refer to immigration agents - Audits seem ineffectual since don't result in deportation of illegal immigrants.

From The Wall Street Journal:

[The federal government's audits of U.S. businesses], started by the Obama administration in 2009, put the onus on business to police workers, requiring companies to turn over employee records to federal agents. If the papers aren't in order, the workers are quietly let go without penalty while the companies are punished.

The audits, conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, were initially hailed by some immigrant advocates as more humane because they eliminate deportation raids, the norm during the Bush administration.

But it has become increasingly clear that the policy is pushing undocumented workers deeper underground, delivering them to the hands of unscrupulous employers, depressing wages and depriving federal, state and local coffers of taxes, according to unions, companies and immigrant advocates.

Indeed, the audits draw flak from both proponents and opponents of an immigration overhaul. Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), a leading voice among foes of giving illegal immigrants amnesty, deems audits ineffectual because they don't result in deportation.

"This means the illegal immigrant can walk down the street to the next employer and take a job that could go to an unemployed, legal worker," said Rep. Smith, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

In February 2009, ICE took the new White House administration by surprise when it raided an engine factory of Yamato Engine Specialists Ltd., in Bellingham, Wash., arresting more than two dozen undocumented workers. Yamato paid a $100,000 fine. The operation outraged some immigrant advocates who had expected a softer approach to work site enforcement from the new president.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered an internal review of the raid and on April 30 announced that ICE would follow a new approach "to target the root cause of illegal immigration." ICE later initiated audits of 654 companies.

The new strategy was showcased in Los Angeles that summer when ICE audited American Apparel. No agents stormed the premises. ICE delivered a written notice advising the company to turn over employee records—including federal I-9 worker eligibility forms—and warning it of potential fines. The clothing maker lost about 1,500 workers, more than a quarter of its work force, and paid about $35,000 in fines, said Peter Schey, the attorney who represented the company during the audit for what he said were "paperwork violations."

Under federal law, employers are obligated to ensure their workers are eligible to work in the U.S. However, many complain that workers present fake documents and companies don't have the ability to patrol them. They also fear discrimination suits for demanding additional documents from workers they suspect are in the country illegally.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Part I: Gone are the days when my heart was young, Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away, I hear those gentle voices calling Old Black Joe

"A tale of two Georgias" from The Valdosta Daily Times:

Only one thing is certain when the General Assembly gets to work this week on new district maps — South Georgia will not fare well.

Despite the steady growth of the region, the population simply has not kept pace with that of our northern neighbors. Valdosta used to be the 10th largest city in the state. Now it’s down to 15th. The Atlanta area boom and the new municipalities that have been created in the last 10 years have created a major shift.

Rural voting strength has been diluted for years. Atlanta is like a giant sinkhole in the middle of the state, sucking in new territory along with the lion’s share of federal and state dollars. But money follows people. And the new district lines will as well.

South Georgia is poised to lose four House seats, and that may just be the beginning. Unless the region can work together to recruit industries that will create jobs and bring in new blood, there will never be a way to counteract the population shift to the north.

The “two Georgias” saying may have started years ago as a jest, but it’s no longer a laughing matter. Unless a major economic boom happens in the next 10 years, by 2020, Valdosta will be just another small city in the Atlanta metro area.

Part II: From the Cracker Squire Archives - Growing population disparity will translate into significant changes in 'the Two Georgias.'

From a 12-26-10 post entitled "Bullock: Growing population disparity between the northern part of state & south will translate into significant changes in 'the Two Georgias.'":

[I]n south Georgia — everything below the “gnat line” as [University of Georgia professor Charles Bullock] says — growth is slower, or, in some cases, stagnant or even declining as people move from their hometowns out-of-state or to larger urban centers looking for work or higher education.

This growing population disparity between the northern part of the state and the south will translate into significant changes in how “the Two Georgias” are governed both at the state and federal levels when the General Assembly takes up the redistricting process in the second half of 2011, Bullock said.

In terms of south Georgia, the three main congressional districts — the 1st, 2nd and 8th — will most likely be impacted by the population shifts. Under federal guidelines, law and caselaw handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, when the General Assembly tackles redistricting it must take into consideration certain factors.

Two Supreme Court opinions handed down in the 1960s — Wesberry v. Sanders and Reynolds v. Sims — state that the districts must be drawn so that “as nearly as is practicable one person’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s,” and that state districts must be “as nearly of equal population as is practicable.”

Part III: From the Cracker Squire Archives - I know many of you who live in Ga. - rather than the Other Ga. - have not heard of some places . . . .

From a 12-11-04 post:
I know many of you who live in Georgia -- rather than the Other Georgia -- have not heard of some of the places that I might write about from time to time.

*Echols County: You never heard of the county-unit system? Well then not only are you young, but you also did not read my 08-29-04 post [I started this blog in Aug. 2004] wherein I wrote:

"[In 1962] "cuff link Carl" Sanders beat "they ate my bar-b-que Marvin Griffin" . . . [in a] Georgia gubernatorial race . . .that represented good's triumph over evil for me when I was 13 . . .

"1962 was an important year in Georgia history. That year in Westberry v. Sanders a federal court invalidated our state's county-unit system, and thus was born the one man one vote concept. And Gov. Sanders became Georgia's first governor elected by popular vote rather than under the county-unit system. The county-unit system was somewhat akin to the electoral college on the federal scene, but with significant differences.

"[W]hile I generally agree with doing away with the county-unit system -- there is some logic to having our state Senate comprised differently than the state House just as it is with the U.S. Senate, not necessarily by county, but on some other basis than just one man one vote -- currently I am not in favor of doing away with the electoral college. It might need some revising, I really don't know; all I know about it is what I learned in college while minoring in political science and watching it every four years. Thus I am not an expert in the subject to say the least. But I do know that I don't want New York, California, Florida and Pennsylvania being the only states that determine who our president will be."

Back to Echols County. Although you may not have heard of Echols County, I can assure you that in every candidate for Governor and the U.S. Senate running for statewide office prior to 1962 had heard of it, and spent part of the candidate's campaign time there soliciting valuable votes.

And someone else who has heard of it is former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. He wrote the Court's 1962 opinion in Westbury v. Sanders noted pointed that invalidated the county-unit system.

In writing the opinion for the Court Justice Douglas stated the following about Georgia's county-unit system:

"[The person who brought the lawsuit challenging the county-unit system] asserted that the total population of Georgia in 1960 was 3,943; that the population of Fulton County, where he resides, was 556,326; that the residents of Fulton County comprised 14.11% of Georgia's total population; but that, under the county unit system, the six unit votes of Fulton County constituted 1.46% of the total of 410 unit votes, or one-tenth of Fulton County's percentage of statewide population. The complaint further alleged that Echols County, the least populous county in Georgia, had a population in 1960 of 1,876, or .05% of the State's population, but the unit vote of Echols County was .48% of the total unit vote of all counties in Georgia, or 10 times Echols County's statewide percentage of population. One unit vote in Echols County represented 938 residents, whereas one unit vote in Fulton County represented 92,721 residents. Thus, one resident in Echols County had an influence in the nomination of candidates equivalent to 99 residents of Fulton County."

Man, talk about the good old days . . . And you think Atlanta and Fulton County have grown since 1960. Echol County's population has more than doubled from 1960 to 2000, barely. The 1,876 in 1960 in 2000 was 3,754. And yes, Echols still the state's least populous county. Back when state prisoners made tags each year rather than beating up on each other all of the time and engaging in Gov. Perdue's faith-based initiatives, a county ranking population wise would appear on the county. Echols sported a 159; Coffee [my county] a 36.

Part IV: Gone with the Wind

In his forward to Great Georgians, former Gov. and Sen. Zell Miller writes:

"After the overthrow of the infamous county unit system and the reapportionment of the Georgia General Assembly on the basis of population came the integration of public facilities, and later the triple assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. These upheavals resulted in Georgia's being forced into a modern society . . . ."

Miller also writes that also former Gov. and Sen. Herman Talmadge "lost in two efforts to write the county unit system into the State Constitution . . . ."

As hinted in Part I of this series of posts, come this special legislative session, so of us may be longing for the 'ole days and wishing things weren't quite so modern.

Maybe not the county unit system, but maybe something to each state have two senators. Regardless . . . .

In the days of the county unit system, as addressed in some of the former posts, each county was given a certain number of votes, and the candidate who received the highest number of votes in that county in a primary (and "the" primary) won all the units of the county.

There were 410 County unit votes. The eight most populous counties had six unit votes each (a total of 48), the next thirty most populous counties had four votes each (a total of 120), and the remaining 121 counties had two votes each (a total of 242).

The counties with two votes therefore had a majority of the votes. This allowed rural counties to control Georgia elections by minimizing the impact of the growing urban centers, particularly Atlanta. All 159 counties were classified according to population into one of three categories: urban, town, and rural. Urban counties were the 8 most populous; town counties were the next 30 in population size; and rural counties constituted the remaining 121. Based upon this classification, each county received unit votes in statewide primaries. The urban counties received six unit votes each, the town counties received four unit votes each, and the rural counties received two unit votes each.

As noted, this all changed in the early sixties, and indeed such days are forever Gone with the Wind.

Redistricting 101

Aaron Gould Sheinin writes in the AJC:


What it is

Redrawing elected officials’ districts is a process that occurs at least once every 10 years after the U.S. census.


Why it matters

Few things are more important to elected officials. Even a minor shift in district lines can be the difference between easy re-election and getting tossed from office. For voters, it can mean a change in who represents their neighborhood. That can mean a switch in party representation or just a new face.

But it can also mean an area goes from being in the heart of a district to an outlier, which in turn can make it more difficult for its voice to be heard. For example, pretend City X is the population center of a state Senate district but that after redistricting City Y is now the population driver of the district: City X could have a harder time getting its needs met.

Make no mistake, the process is primarily a political one. This is the first post-census redistricting in Georgia controlled completely by Republicans, and they’ll try their best to build on their majority by drawing GOP-leaning districts or, conversely, eliminating Democratic-leaning ones, said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist and expert on redistricting.

“The majority party certainly has the right to do what they want to do,” Bullock said, adding that Democrats did the same.


How to get involved

Once the maps have been introduced, they will be posted to the redistricting committees’ website: /www1.legis.ga.gov/legis/2011_12/house/Committees/reapportionment/gahlcr.htm.

All committee meetings and sessions of the House and Senate are open to the public. Many committee meetings also stream live on the Internet, and daily meetings of the chambers also will be shown live online.



The session begins at 10 a.m. Monday. The first major committee meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, when the House redistricting committee meets in Room 606 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building, across the street from the Capitol. Top lawmakers and the governor have all vowed that the special session will be “short,” but there is no set end date.


How it works

In six states, independent commissions are appointed to handle the process of drawing districts. In Georgia, however, the party that controls the General Assembly — this time it’s Republicans — gets to do it.

The GOP majority has hired staff — at taxpayer expense — who have crunched the census data and plugged it into the existing districts to show changes in population.

A series of public hearings were held across the state where voters gave lawmakers an earful but never had access to draft maps.

Those proposals were later drawn with sophisticated software that uses the census data to delineate boundaries. Then, one by one, lawmakers were brought in to look at the proposed draft for their own district and maybe that of a neighboring lawmaker.

Few people have seen draft maps for the entire state, and each lawmaker was allowed to request changes — but not all requests are granted, said Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, a veteran of two previous redistricting sessions.

Next, lawmakers will reveal the proposed maps to the public and then debate and vote on them in the special session that begins Monday.

Gov Nathan Deal, a fellow Republican, must sign off on the plans, too. And then, because Georgia is subject to the Voting Rights Act, the federal government — either the Justice Department or federal court in Washington — must also approve them.


Terms to know

Cracking: Taking a group of like-minded voters and splitting them into multiple districts to dilute their voting strength. Courts have said this is a no-no.

Packing: Cramming like-minded voters into as few districts as possible in an effort to minimize the districts they can influence. Also something courts don’t like.

VAP: Short for voting-age population, that is the number of people age 18 or older in an area.

: Percentage of population by which districts are allowed to diverge from each other.

Gerrymandering: The drawing of irregular-shaped districts to benefit one party or group.

Retrogression: Change in a map or voting procedures that leaves a group with less voting strength than it had before. Retrogression can be challenged under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Sources: Georgia General Assembly, Brennan Center for Justice, U.S. Justice Department


The law

The concept of “one-person, one-vote” requires that every district in a particular level of government have a nearly equal number of residents. For example, every Georgia House district should have roughly 54,000 people. To accomplish this, lines must be redrawn to reflect growth in certain areas or a loss of population in others. In Georgia, House and Senate redistricting committees adopted guidelines to follow that include the promise of honoring the one-person, one-vote principle.

Georgia law also requires districts to be contiguous, meaning all parts of the district must be adjacent. It also says mapmakers must preserve “communities of interest,” which are defined by the Brennan Center for Justice, a New York-based nonpartisan think tank, as “groups who likely have similar legislative concerns, and therefore would benefit from cohesive representation.

“These interests might include social, geographic, cultural, ethnic, racial, economic, religious, and/or political.”

Peggy Noonan: Much of what they have is provided by others, but they are not grateful: dependency doesn't encourage gratitude but resentment.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The riots in Britain left some Americans shaken. In the affluence of the past 40 years, and with the rise of the jumbo jet, we became a nation of travelers. We have been to England, visited a lot of those neighborhoods. They were peaceful; now they're in flames. But something else raised our unease as we followed the story on TV and on the Net. I think there was a ping on the national radar. We saw something over there that in smaller ways we're starting to see over here.

The British press, left, right and center, was largely united in a refusal to make political excuses for the violence. Almost all agreed on the cause and nature of what happened. The cause was not injustice; this was not a revolt of the downtrodden masses, breaking into stores looking for food. The causes were greed, selfishness, a respect and even lust for violence, and a lack of moral grounding. Conscienceless predators preyed upon the weak. The weak were anyone who happened to be passing by, and those, many of them immigrants, who tried to defend their shops and neighborhoods. The iconic scene was the 20-year-old college student in East London who was beaten for his bicycle and fell bloody to the ground. His tormentors, with a sadistic imitation of gentleness, helped him up. Then they rifled through his backpack to get his phone and wallet. It was cruelty out of Dickens. It was Bill Sikes with a million YouTube hits.

The denunciations were swift and fierce. Max Hastings, in the conservative-populist Daily Mail: "The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations. . . . Nobody has ever dared suggest to them that they need feel any allegiance to anything, least of all Britain or their community. . . . Not only do they know nothing of Britain's past, they care nothing for its present."

In the left-tilting Guardian, youth worker Shaun Bailey called the rioters opportunists. "Young people have been looting the shops they like: JD Sports and mobile phone shops have been hit, yet Waterstone's [a bookstore] has been left alone. These young people like trainers [sneakers] and iPhones; they are less interested in books. This is criminality in a raw form, not politics."

In the right-leaning Telegraph, Allison Pearson asked: "Where are the parents?" She told of a friend who'd called a mother to tell her her son was out and acting up. The mother yelled at her for calling at 2:15 a.m. "The adults are afraid and the children, emboldened by adult timidity, are fearless."

More stinging and resigned was the brief essay by Theodore Dalrymple in the intellectually bracing City Journal. The subject—the decline of Western society—has been his for 20 years. He has written what he saw as a doctor working in British prisons. "The ferocious criminality exhibited by an uncomfortably large section of the English population" in the riots did not surprise him. "To have spotted it required no great perspicacity on my part; rather, it took a peculiar cowardly blindness, one regularly displayed by the British intelligentsia and political class, not to see it and not to realize its significance."

At fault in the riots were the distorting effects of the welfare state and a degenerate British popular culture: "A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice." Much of what they have is provided by others, but they are not grateful: dependency doesn't encourage gratitude but resentment.
What does this have to do with America? What we're seeing on the streets in Britain right now is something we may be starting to see here. It hasn't come together in a conflagration, but it is out there, and I think it's growing. And as in Britain, it doesn't have anything to do with political grievances per se.

Philadelphia right now is under curfew because of "flash mobs." Young people send out the word on social media, and suddenly dozens or hundreds of them hit a targeted store, steal everything on the shelves, and run, knowing no one will stop them or catch them. It's happened in other cities, too. Sometimes the mobs beat people up on the street and take their money. There are the beat-downs in McDonald's, where the young lose all control and the old fear to intervene. There were the fights and attacks last weekend at the Wisconsin State Fair. You've seen the YouTubes of fights on the subways. You often see links to these stories on Drudge: He headlines them "Les Miserables."

Some of these young people come from brokenness, shallowness and terror, and are bringing those things into the world with them. Here are some statistics of what someone last week called a new lost generation. In 2009, the last year for which census data are available, there were 74 million children under 18. Of that number, 20 million live in single-parent families, often with only an overwhelmed mother or a beleaguered grandmother. Over 700,000 children under 18 have been the subject of reports of abuse. More than a quarter million are foster children.

These numbers suggest the making—or the presence—of a crisis.

Some of these youngsters become miracle children. In spite of the hand they were dealt, they learn to be constructive, successful, givers to life. But many, we know, do not. Some will wind up on YouTube.

The normal, old response to an emerging problem such as this has been: The government has to do something. We must start a program, create an agency to address juvenile delinquency. But governments are tapped out, cutting back, trying to avoid bankruptcy. Which means we can't even take refuge in the illusion that government can solve the problem. The churches of America have always helped the young, stepping in where they can. That will continue. But they too are hard-pressed these days.

Where does that leave us? In a hard place, knowing in our guts that a lot of troubled kids are coming up, and not knowing what to do about it. The problem, at bottom, is love, something we never talk about in public policy discussions because it's too soft and can't be quantified or legislated. But little children without love and guidance are afraid. They're terrified—they have nothing solid in the world, which is a pretty scary place. So they never feel safe. As they grow, their fear becomes rage. Further on, the rage can be expressed in violence. This is especially true of boys, but it's increasingly true of girls.

What's needed can't be provided by government. When the riot begins or the flash mob arrives, the best the government can do is control the streets, enforce the law, maintain the peace.

After that, what? Britain is about to face that question. We'll likely have to face it, too.

U.S. Shows off Carrier Amid Tensions

A U.S. navy jet F/A-18F Super Hornet sits on the deck of the USS George Washington with a U.S. Navy SH-60 Seahawk helicopter and U.S. navy destroyer USS John S. McCain in the background off the coast of Vietnam.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Less than a week after China launched its first aircraft carrier, the U.S. showed off its own big-boy supercarrier to former enemy Vietnam—one of several smaller Asian nations with jittery nerves amid Beijing's burgeoning maritime ambitions.

A delegation of Vietnamese military and government officials was treated to a tour aboard the sprawling USS George Washington nuclear carrier this weekend off the country's southern coast, once home to the U.S.-backed capital of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

It's the second such visit to the U.S. Navy's hulking carrier in as many years and a symbol of the former foes' warming military ties. But Saturday's visit also came amid heated tensions between China and its Asian neighbors. Hanoi's relations with Beijing hit a low point this summer following weeks of squabbling over disputed territory in the South China Sea—where the U.S. carrier cruised under blue skies about 140 miles (225 kilometers) off the coast.

On Wednesday, China launched its first carrier on a test run. The refurbished former Soviet vessel, once named the Varyag, was rebuilt over about a decade from a stripped-down hull. Beijing has said it plans to use the carrier for research and training, which could lead to the buildup of more like it in its own shipyards.

The U.S. operates 11 aircraft carrier battle groups and spends around $550 billion a year on defense, not counting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. China's defense budget has steadily increased to become the world's second highest after the U.S., spending $91.5 billion last year.

Beijing has named the South China Sea one of its "core interests," meaning it could potentially go to war to protect it. Smaller Asian nations were already wary of China's growing military prowess, but the launch of its first carrier is yet another message about its increasing strength.

"We hope that China, as a major power, will contribute positively and responsively to maintain peace and stability in the region and in the world," Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said last week in response to a question about China's new carrier.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, which the U.S. has said it has a national interest in making sure freedom of navigation continues in an area home to vital shipping lanes.

Vietnam, the Philippines and several other Asian nations also stake claims to all or part of areas of the sea, which is believed to be potentially rich in resources. Both countries have looked to the U.S. following recent rows with China over their oil-exploration activities. Beijing denies it has interfered, but Hanoi and Manila have accused the communist giant of overstepping its bounds.
Hanoi has reacted sharply, holding live-fire drills in the South China Sea and allowing rare protests to be held for more than two months. The tightly controlled communist government typically stamps out any demonstrations quickly, but on Sunday some 200 people again marched around Hanoi's central Hoan Kiem Lake chanting "Down with China!"

"From Vietnam's point of view, and from the point of view of maintaining a consistent and persistent claim to sovereignty, the protests by Vietnam are necessary and in its interests," said David Koh, a Vietnam expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. "I do not think it is a matter of pulling back."

Analysts see China's carrier program mainly as a prestige project with limited military capabilities, but one that could have major diplomatic implications for its neighbors.

"It will likely reinforce ongoing efforts by many regional countries to shore up their own capabilities," scholars Bonnie Glaser and Brittany Billingsley said in an analysis for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Last month, top Chinese Gen. Chen Bingde publicly scolded Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, during his visit to Beijing, saying the U.S. decision to hold joint maritime exercises with the Philippines and Vietnam was bad timing and could have been rescheduled, given the current rifts.

Adm. Mullen defended the exchanges, saying they were pre-planned.

"I consider this visit good timing. There is never bad timing," Capt. Lausman said of Saturday's carrier visit. "We are operating in international waters together as friends. There's never a bad time for friends to get together and meet."

Three U.S. Navy ships paid a port call to the central Vietnamese city of Danang last month for joint exchanges, including search-and-rescue operations. The Vietnam War ended in 1975, but the former enemies have worked to strengthen military ties since relations were normalized in 1995.

The Philippines, a U.S. ally, has also recently sparred with China, also alleging interference with its energy exploration efforts in the South China Sea. The U.S. conducted naval exercises there in June, including live-fire drills.

The USS George Washington is essentially a floating city that can house some 5,000 sailors and pilots, as well as 70 aircraft, and is equipped with its own hospital. Based in Japan, it is one of the world's largest warships and can haul about four million pounds (1.8 million kilograms) of bombs.

Pilots blasted off from the flight deck during the weekend visit, soaring over the South China Sea as the Vietnamese and U.S. Embassy visitors angled their cameras for souvenir photos of the powerful display.

"It took us a hundred years to get right here," Capt. Lausman said of the navy's century of building aircraft carriers. "And we have 11 of these throughout the world right now, not just one."

After British Riots, Conflicting Answers as to ‘Why’

From The New York Times:

Outside a London court last week, as those accused of looting and rioting in the most destructive and widespread violence in recent British history faced justice, a mother turned to her 11-year-old son, accused of theft, and asked simply, “Why?”

That question has been at the heart of a fraught national debate as Britons puzzle over what drove even some previously law-abiding people to steal, sometimes risking arrest for nothing more than bottles of water. The debate has often divided people into predictable camps.

The Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, stood up in Parliament as Britain smoldered around him on Thursday and railed against “mindless violence and thuggery.” His critics on the left blame deep mistrust of the police in poor communities, and income inequality they say will worsen as his government pursues sweeping cuts in spending and social welfare.

Some commentators have blamed modern society at large. The Daily Telegraph struck a popular chord when it blamed a “culture of greed and impunity” that it said extended to corporate boardrooms and the government itself. Many politicians, meanwhile, have lashed out at technology — including the instant messaging that encouraged looting — for whipping up the crowds.

But as more details of the crimes emerge, the picture has become infinitely more complicated, and confusing. In some of the more shocking cases, the crimes seemed to be rooted in nothing more than split-second decisions made by normally orderly people seduced by the disorder around them.

Philly mayor to black parents: 'You've damaged yourself, another person, your peers and, quite honestly, you've damaged your own race.'

From the AJC:

The painful images and graphic stories of repeated violent assaults and vandalism by mobs of black teenagers had gotten to be too much for Mayor Michael Nutter.

As an elected official and a "proud black man" in the nation's fifth-largest city, Nutter felt he had to go a step beyond ordering a law enforcement crackdown.

So he channeled the spirit of another straight-talking Philadelphian: Bill Cosby. Nutter took to the pulpit at his church last weekend and gave an impassioned, old-fashioned talking-to directed at the swarms of teens who have been using social networks to arrange violent sprees downtown, injuring victims and damaging property. Moreover, he called out parents for not doing a better job raising their children.

"You've damaged yourself, you've damaged another person, you've damaged your peers and, quite honestly, you've damaged your own race," Nutter said at Mount Carmel Baptist Church.

The 54-year-old mayor, married with a teenage daughter and a grown son, called out absentee fathers and neglectful parents. He did not mince words, saying they need to be more than just a "sperm donor" or a "human ATM."

It's a version of the tough-love message Cosby and others have telegraphed for years.

At a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gathering in 2004, Cosby chided the black community in a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the legal case that toppled segregated education.

"These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around," Cosby said then.

"I can't even talk the way these people talk, 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is' ... and I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk," the entertainer said.

Go figure: 'Public ed. is the gov't. If you're conservative or Tea Party, you have an issue with big gov't and thus with your local public schools.'

Let's hope this too will pass (it probably won't, so at least let's hope it does not spread too rapidly in Georgia with Gov. Deal's commitment to charter schools at the expense of public education dollars).

Jim Galloway writes in the AJC's Political Insider:

The past 30 years have seen the creation of a long list of litmus tests for Republicans.

A license to practice as an orthodox conservative in Georgia now mandates opposition to abortion and gay marriage, a firm belief in tax cuts as the driver of economic growth, and an antipathy toward federal regulation.

But days ago, the Cherokee County GOP nominated still another test. It passed a resolution that demanded four county school board members reconsider their opposition to the local funding of charter schools or “renounce their affiliation with the Republican Party.”

School choice, the local party declared, is no longer a negotiable issue.

Pay attention to this. This clash between the philosophical and the practical could be headed the way of your school board very soon. And it will have many of you wondering whether you truly are the conservative you think you are.

This is what Mike Chapman, a Canton businessman, would tell you. He’s been active in the local Chamber of Commerce, served on the board of the area technical college and — for the past 10 years — occupied a seat on the all-GOP Cherokee County Board of Education.

Chapman considers himself the picture of a civic-minded, cut-don’t-tax Republican. At least he did until, with three of his colleagues, he was read out of his party. “As a conservative, where do I go when the Republican Party has left the building?” Chapman said. “Locally, I mean. I’m not talking about anywhere else.”

In June, after heated debate and a 4-3 vote, the school board rejected the academy a third time.

“As a party, we came down on the side of freedom,” said Brian Laurens, the first vice president of the Cherokee GOP.

“One of the things you have to realize, whether you like it or not, is that public education is the government. And if you’re conservative, or you’re tea party, and you have an issue with big government — therefore you have an issue with your local public schools.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Postal Service proposal to break contracts blasted by unions

From The Washington Post:

Unions reacted furiously Friday to a proposal by the Postal Service to lay off 120,000 workers by breaking labor contracts and to shift workers out of the federal employee health and retirement plans into cheaper alternatives.

Labor experts and other unions also sounded the alarm that any move by Congress to break postal contracts would further wound an already ailing labor movement, much as President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers did in 1981.

Although the postal unions enjoy collective bargaining rights beyond those of regular federal workers, other unions said the proposal could set an economy-wide example at a time when organized labor is under pressure from cost-cutting governors and employers.

Postal workers have made many concessions to lower costs in an age of dwindling mail volume, postal unions said. The service’s real problem, they said, is that Congress in 2006 stuck it with the requirement that it pay, over 10 years, enough to cover the cost of 75 years worth of future retiree benefits — at a cost of more than $5.5 billion a year.

Legislation to lessen that burden, as well as a request to save $3 billion by eliminating Saturday service, is stalled in a divided Congress, leaving the service deep in the red with the next big retiree health payment due in seven weeks.

“Do I hold out hope that Congress can do anything? No,” said Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union, one of four postal unions. “It’s the same group that almost brought this country to collapse over the debt ceiling.”

The Postal Service’s proposal is the latest turn in an increasingly urgent battle over what to do with a storied institution that is struggling with stiff competition, declining demand in a digital age and a conflicted identity.

Since 1970, the Postal Service has operated as a quasi-private monopoly that receives virtually no taxpayer support but is hamstrung in competing with companies like FedEx and UPS because it cannot raise prices above a certain level, must maintain minimum levels of service and must now make the annual retiree payments.

Experts said the proposal to break open labor contracts was probably a negotiating stance to force Congress to take action in loosening the service’s constraints. Agency spokesman David Partenheimer said as much in a statement Friday night.

They won't riot again: Expel rioters & their families from the free or rent-subsidized accommodations that provide them with cradle-to-grave homes.

From The New York Times:

As Britain begins to weigh the costs of the rioting of recent days and ponder measures to prevent a recurrence, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron put forward on Friday a new way of punishing the looters and vandals who rampaged through many of the country’s cities and towns: kick them and their families out of their government-subsidized homes.

If carried out on the scale Mr. Cameron and his ministers have proposed, the measure would probably be the most punitive of the sanctions that they have said would be considered in response to the worst civil disorder in a generation. More than 10 million Britons, about one in six, live in public housing.

He has described the rioting as “criminality, pure and simple,” with no excuse in social deprivation, and laid out a controversial plan to make much broader use of existing powers to expel not only the rioters but also their families from the free or rent-subsidized accommodations that provide millions with cradle-to-grave homes.

“For too long we’ve taken too soft an attitude towards people that loot and pillage their own community,” Mr. Cameron told a BBC interviewer. “If you do that, you should lose your right to the sort of housing that you’ve had at subsidized rates.” He added that evictions “might help break up some of the criminal networks on some housing estates if some of these people are thrown out of their houses.”

Asked whether that would render them homeless, he replied, “They should have thought of that before they started burgling.”

Friday, August 12, 2011

This sucks big-time: Congressman's Seat on Committee Is Spun Into Fund-Raising Appeal

From The Wall Street Journal:

A supporter of Rep. Xavier Becerra's, one of the appointees to the deficit-reduction committee, has already figured out how to raise money for the California Democrat—by touting his seat on the panel.

About two hours after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi named Mr. Becerra to the committee Thursday, a political supporter began notifying Wall Street lobbyists about a $1,500-per-person fund-raising event.

An email from Jim Hart, an official with the Investment Company Institute, noted that the Aug. 31 event will feature Mr. Becerra, who is "not only vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, but who also has just been named to the new deficit reduction committee." It promised a look at "what will most assuredly be the primary topic of discussion between now and the end of the year."

Later on Thursday, Mr. Becerra put out a statement saying, "I did not know, did not ask, would not ask and I will not ask any of my supporters to use my appointment to the select committee for purposes outside its principle focus."

Sour Mood Threatens Both Sides' Incumbents - Throw-the-Bums-Out Mood Usually Costs Only One Party, but Voter Anger Could Run the Gamut

From The Wall Street Journal:

An unprecedented fourth consecutive "change'' election could be brewing for 2012, with President Barack Obama's approval numbers tumbling and Republican disapproval ratings rising.

Voters in a throw-the-bums-out mood almost never punish both parties equally. That is why partisans on both sides are angling for an advantage by pressing to drive down their opponents' popularity even further.

Democrats have launched a campaign to link all Republicans with the tea party, whose popularity is in decline in the aftermath of the debt-ceiling fight. Mr. Obama took up the cudgel in Holland, Mich., Thursday by denouncing "the refusal of some folks in Congress to put country over their party."

Republicans are linking Mr. Obama with Democrats in Congress, convinced that next year's election will be a referendum on only one incumbent—the president. "The fish rots at the head," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

But political analysts who have never believed voters take out their wrath on incumbents in both parties are starting to wonder if 2012 will be different.

"This may be the exception," said former Rep. Martin Frost, who headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee after the 1994 Republican wave. "I don't recall any environment that has been as toxic as this for both parties."

A CNN poll this week found that 59% view the Republican Party unfavorably, the highest number in the poll's history, surpassing the 54% the GOP hit in February 1999, as House Republicans were impeaching President Bill Clinton. Also this week, the Gallup tracking poll put Mr. Obama's approval rating at 40%, the lowest of his presidency.

In a Fox News poll released Thursday, 51% said they had an unfavorable view of the tea-party movement, compared to 35% in September. Some 31% viewed the movement favorably in the new survey.

George H.W. Bush lost the presidency while 16 Democrats and eight Republicans in the House lost. "That was the first time that happened in 100 years," said Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.), who was the NRCC executive director at the time.

Stu Rothenberg, the nonpartisan editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, is skeptical that even 1992 was truly an anti-incumbent year. Almost always, wave elections slosh to the left or the right, he said—2006 and 2008 were Democratic waves, despite a generally sour view of Washington; 2010 sloshed back to the Republicans.

If the economy remains weak, he said, Republicans will have the easier pitch: Do you want to give Mr. Obama and his enablers in Congress four more years?

But with public views of the tea party and GOP slumping, he said, he could imagine the Democrats winning 15 seats in the House and Mr. Obama losing re-election.