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Cracker Squire


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

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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Take a hike Iraq: U.S. Drones Patrolling Its Skies Provoke Outrage in Iraq

From The New York Times:

A month after the last American troops left Iraq, the State Department is operating a small fleet of surveillance drones here to help protect the United States Embassy and consulates, as well as American personnel. Some senior Iraqi officials expressed outrage at the program, saying the unarmed aircraft are an affront to Iraqi sovereignty.

The program was described by the department’s diplomatic security branch in a little-noticed section of its most recent annual report and outlined in broad terms in a two-page online prospectus for companies that might bid on a contract to manage the program. It foreshadows a possible expansion of unmanned drone operations into the diplomatic arm of the American government; until now they have been mainly the province of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.

American contractors say they have been told that the State Department is considering to field unarmed surveillance drones in the future in a handful of other potentially “high-threat” countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan, and in Afghanistan after the bulk of American troops leave in the next two years. State Department officials say that no decisions have been made beyond the drone operations in Iraq.
The drones are the latest example of the State Department’s efforts to take over functions in Iraq that the military used to perform. Some 5,000 private security contractors now protect the embassy’s 11,000-person staff, for example, and typically drive around in heavily armored military vehicles.

When embassy personnel move throughout the country, small helicopters buzz over the convoys to provide support in case of an attack. Often, two contractors armed with machine guns are tethered to the outside of the helicopters. The State Department began operating some drones in Iraq last year on a trial basis, and stepped up their use after the last American troops left Iraq in December, taking the military drones with them.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gingrich’s language set new course

James Salzer pens a keeper in the ajc:

Newt Gingrich described his first congressional opponent as corrupt and incompetent. His next one, according to Gingrich, supported welfare cheaters.

After being elected to Congress from Georgia in 1978, his target became the liberal welfare state. He called the Democratic leadership destructive and thugs, dubbed his opponents’ positions radical and said some Democrats were willing to kill jobs to help win an election.

Most of the italicized words appear in a 1990 training memo teaching Republican candidates how to “speak like Newt.” Newtspeak lives today — it issues regularly from Gingrich’s lectern at the GOP presidential debates — and if it’s effective now, it was downright revolutionary when Gingrich and others pioneered it in the 1980s. Many credit Gingrich — or blame him — for transforming American politics with words.

“The things that came out of Gingrich’s mouth ... we had never heard that before from either side,” said Steve Anthony, a Georgia State University lecturer who once headed the state Democratic Party. “Gingrich went so far over the top that the shock factor rendered the opposition frozen for a few years.”

Hardball rhetoric

Newtspeak has become part of the contrasting — some would say hyperbolic — language commonly heard in today’s political discourse.

Joseph Crespino, an Emory University historian, said Gingrich “has the ability to channel a certain disenchantment and to frame certain issues in a way that has a real visceral reaction to people.”

Gingrich’s debate performances in Florida last week got less-than-enthusiastic reviews. But his style was clear during the final South Carolina primary debate, which he started by getting a rousing ovation when he blamed the “destructive, vicious, negative nature” of the media for making it so hard to govern. He ended the debate calling President Obama “the most dangerous president of our lifetime” who, if re-elected, would bring a “level of radicalism” that would be “truly frightening.”

Some of those who both used and were on the receiving end of Gingrich’s language lessons say it made compromise more difficult and produced a political scene in which the center has largely disappeared.

“I am not sure we did the political system a favor,” said Rusty Paul, a former Georgia Republican Party chairman and onetime aide to U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, who worked closely with Gingrich. “The language we have used over the past 20 years has so polarized Congress. ... The society is as divided as the political rhetoric.”

Former Georgia Democratic U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, who served with Gingrich, said the Republican’s incendiary language has now become the norm in American politics.

“That probably has been his major contribution to the political discourse,” Darden said.

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank a longtime liberal critic of Gingrich’s, recently told the New York Times, “He transformed American politics from one in which people presume the good will of their opponents, even as they disagreed, into one in which people treated the people with whom they disagreed as bad and immoral. He was a kind of McCarthy-ite who succeeded.”

As Crespino noted, American politics has long been a bare-knuckled affair. In 1800, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson went after each other with a viciousness that remains the standard for presidential elections. Candidates were described as criminals, tyrants, cowards and, in the case of Jefferson, an atheist and “the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

Crespino said Gingrich’s brand of hardball rhetoric came out of an era when Republicans were a distinct minority in both Congress and the South.

“Gingrich was a Republican in a state and a region in which Republicans were trying to gain a foothold,” he said.

His first congressional opponent was longtime U.S. Rep. Jack Flynt, whom Gingrich considered part of the Democratic machine that had run Congress for decades.

Gingrich told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that year, “Congressmen are not bribed anymore. They simply have a lot of friends who are willing to help them out whenever they find it necessary.”

Gingrich went after both parties, but he narrowly lost to Flynt twice. When Flynt decided to retire, Gingrich called for a “tax revolt” and put out campaign literature accusing his Democratic opponent of joining civil rights activist and Georgia lawmaker Julian Bond to protect “welfare cheaters.”

Once elected in 1978, Gingrich spent more than a decade as a provocative back-bench bomb-thrower, assailing taxes and government bureaucracy, denouncing what he saw as “radicalism” and portraying Democrats as “counterculture” backers of the “liberal welfare state. He compared some congressmen to Hitler appeasers and accused Democratic leaders of having “Mussolini-like” egos as well as being sick, muggers and thugs trying to “destroy our country.”

At one point Gingrich called the attacks by him and his colleagues “pin pricks” against the Democratic majority. The plan was to bleed the enemy. He promoted a partisan view that Republicans could stand to gain politically from portraying the majority as a corrupt party, which he repeatedly referred to as the “Democratic machine.”

Tactics for revolution

In the early years, he used the C-SPAN network as a televised bully pulpit to sell a Conservative Opportunity Society and hammer the Democratic majority. Gingrich drew a rebuke from House Speaker Tip O’Neill when he said the Republican questioned the patriotism of some Democrats. He criticized the “value system” of opponents and called 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis “nuts.”

He took over leadership of GOPAC, which trained Republican candidates in the tactics and language of what Gingrich hoped would be a Republican revolution.

In 1990, he worked with pollster Frank Luntz to put out a memo of focus-group-tested words for GOP candidates to use.

The cover letter, signed by Gingrich, was titled “Language, a Key Mechanism of Control” and encouraged candidates to “speak like Newt.”

“This list is prepared so that you might have a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media,” the memo said. “The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible.”

The “optimistic positive governing words” included change, moral, courage, reform, freedom, common sense. Negative, contrasting words to be used on opponents included destructive, liberal, welfare, traitors, radical, corruption.

Paul said using such language is meant to evoke an “emotional response in your political base.”
“The carefully chosen words and phrases are important because they don’t appeal as much to the intellect as to the emotion,” he said.

The Georgia congressman used the language in his own campaigns. On one randomly chosen page of a fundraising letter in 1990, he used “liberal” to describe his opponent seven times. He also used suffer, recession, record levels, negative, vicious cycle (twice), special interest, federal handouts, ever-expanding federal programs, massive tax increases, more government programs and tax-and-spend.

Change of status

The Republicans’ Contract With America, coupled with disenchantment with the Clinton administration, brought a GOP victory in the 1994 elections, and Gingrich became speaker. Many of those elected in the early ’90s became leading purveyors of Newtspeak.

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, said he has had his differences with Gingrich over the years. But when Democrats ran the statehouse, Ehrhart was known for his biting, straight-to-the-heart critiques of Democrats that were reminiscent of Gingrich.

“Newt has always been good at the politics of the clear statement,” Ehrhart said. “Here’s where I stand, here’s where you stand.”

Gingrich and his colleagues used wedge issues — like flag burning and school prayer — to drive that contrasting message home, Ehrhart added. Georgia Republicans did the same during the 1990s and early 2000s.

“The practical reality was that in the clubish world of politics, you were coopted,” he said. “Some might consider it pugnacious or odious — but it worked. You don’t gain anything by holding hands and dancing around the maypole.”

On the other hand, once Republicans took power in Congress, Gingrich’s statements and actions sometimes proved troublesome for his own party.

Rick Santorum, who served with Gingrich and is today one of his presidential rivals, referred to that during a recent debate.

“I don’t want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and worrying what he is going say next,” Santorum said.

And at Thursday’s debate, during a sharp exchange on immigration, Mitt Romney accused Gingrich of using “the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized American politics too long.”

But that same sort of rhetoric helped the Republicans win a congressional majority after decades in the minority, said Paul, the former state GOP chairman. In fact, he said, the victory would have been impossible without the inflammatory language and conservative message Gingrich and other “mavericks” spread to contrast their positions with those of the Democrats.

“There is no way the Republicans could have broken out of their perpetual second-class status” without it, he said.

Consistent messages

In his presidential bid, Gingrich’s strategy remains consistent: promote conservative values and private-sector job growth, criticize federal spending and programs, promise lower taxes and maintain a robust national defense. Those have been a part of his speeches since he was a candidate in Georgia in the 1970s.

Gingrich tried an “experiment” in Iowa, staying positive, and lost badly after being hammered in his opponents’ ads. So he went back on the attack.

He called the work of GOP opponent Romney’s former private equity firm “exploitive” and compared it to “rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company.” He dubbed Obama the “food-stamp president” and warned that the president (and Romney) are peddling “European socialism.”

In maybe the best example of how he has not lost his touch for the dramatic over the years, he spoke to a church crowd last March about his two grandchildren.

“I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

Susan Meyers, Southeast communications director for the Gingrich campaign and a former AJC reporter, called him “one of the great communicators of our lifetime.

“What Newt says on the campaign trail right now is what every frustrated American feels,” Meyers said. “It’s as if he can peer into each of our souls and articulate what many of us can’t — that we all deserve better and he wants to make our lives better, almost like a father.”

Crespino, the Emory historian called Gingrich, “One of the most successful leaders on the right in framing issues around a certain set of ideals and using language in a very strategic way.

“He has, as all successful politicians have, a sense of the theatrical and the ability to use language and frame words in contexts that appeal to lots of people.

“It was a key to the Reagan coalition, it was a key to the Contract with America in 1994, and it is key to his being able to hang on in this primary campaign at a time when no one thought he would do anything.”


Positive phrases for candidates to define themselves:

hard work
common sense


Negative terms to define their opponents:



The ever-quotable Gingrich:

Some of Newt Gingrich’s quotes during his Georgia years:

- On his 1974 and 1976 congressional opponent, Democratic Congressman Jack Flynt: “Jack Flynt has disgraced every citizen he is supposed to represent with a record of inaction that ignores the principles on which this country was founded.”

-On Congress in 1974: “Congressman are not bribed anymore. They simply have a lot of friends who are willing to help them out whenever they find it necessary.”

--On Democrats in 1984: “The liberal Democrats propose a return to the welfare state with higher taxes for all working Americans.”

- When some congressmen opposed the US invasion of Grenada: “Not since Chamberlain appeased Hitler have we heard such talk from elected officials in a free society.”

--Mid-1980, during debate on funding the Contras in Nicaragua: “Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail.”

- On 1988 Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis: “It’s not that he isn’t a patriot. It is that Dukakis is nuts ... his value system has no relation to reality.”

- On Georgia’s Democratic leadership in 1989: “They are not good old boys. They are pleasant people who behind the scenes are thugs.”

- On Democrats in the late 1980s: “The left-wing Democrats will represent the party of total hedonism, total exhibitionism, total bizarreness, total weirdness.”

- On then-House Speaker Jim Wright and the Democratic leadership in the late 1980s: “These people are sick. They are destructive of the values we believe in. They are so consumed by their own Mussolini-like ego that their willingness to run over normal human beings and to destroy honest institutions is unending.”

Source: Gingrich press releases, Gingrich campaign speeches, the AJC, St. Petersburg Times, Associated Press, Washington Post, Mother Jones, the National Review

In Nonstop Whirlwind of Campaigns, Twitter Is a Critical Tool

From The New York Times:

If the 2008 presidential race embraced a 24/7 news cycle, four years later politicos are finding themselves in the middle of an election most starkly defined by Twitter, complete with 24-second news cycles and pithy bursts.

With 100 million active users, more than 10 times as many as in the 2008 election, Twitter has emerged as a critical tool for political campaigns, allowing them to reach voters, gather data and respond to charges immediately. But like most new media tools, it also carries danger for the campaigns. It can quickly define the political debate, whether candidates like it or not, and a single 140-character missive can turn into a nightmare.

“Twitter has changed the whole way that politics works,” said Teddy Goff, the digital director of President Obama’s re-election campaign. “Not just the press element, but the organizing element and the fund-raising element and the relationship building that all campaigns try to do.”

Perhaps no Republican campaign monitors Twitter more closely than Mr. Romney’s operation, which believes that it can ferret out bias among reporters by analyzing their posts. Top aides say they watch Mr. Romney’s events with a Twitter stream open on their computer. Their war room compiles all the Twitter messages from the press corps at every event and e-mails them to the campaign staff.

“Twitter is the ultimate real-time engagement mechanism, so it’s moved everything to a much faster speed,” said Zac Moffatt, the digital director for the Romney campaign. “You have no choice but to be actively engaging it at all times.”

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Floating Bases Enhance Capacity For Quick Strikes

From The Wall Street Journal:

Within the president's defense-budget plan is funding for an intriguing new item: a floating drone base that also could be used as a launching pad for commandos.

The vessel—called an "afloat forward staging base"—would be a platform that could be configured to carry and refuel small patrol boats, helicopters or pilotless aircraft.

It would also give the U.S. military the ability to stage a small strike force offshore—without obtaining a permission slip from another country for access to a land base.

Details are still emerging, but the project offers insight into how the Obama administration envisions a military that in some ways is more lethal even as it contracts.

Plans for the specialized vessel fit neatly with the Obama administration's plans to grow special-operations forces, while slimming down conventional forces such as the Army and Marine Corps.

Senior officials want to provide military commanders with affordable sea-base options without necessarily sending a big-deck aircraft carrier and a full complement of escort ships.

A defense official said the floating staging base was more like a freighter that would be outfitted for different kinds of missions, from countering mines to launching remotely piloted aircraft. It also could be used as a platform for launching commando operations.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Are you ready to allow the Legislature access to local education funds in pursuit of greater school choice?

Maureen Downey in the ajc obverves, accurately I pray:

I suspect Georgia voters are going to be wary of turning over the keys to their local treasuries to the state Legislature. School taxes represent a sizable chunk of the local taxes collected, and this constitutional amendment would cede unprecedented access to lawmakers in Atlanta in the name of school choice.

The topic:

Rep. Jones, R-Milton, is sponsoring HR 1162, a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to approve charter schools over the objections of local school boards and redirect local dollars to them through a legislative sleight of hand.

If HR 1162 passes, the proposed amendment would be on the ballot in November. (You can find a petition for HR 1162 here.)

Last year, the state Supreme Court struck down a state-created commission authorized to approve charters and fund the schools at a level that incorporated local spending. (The state essentially funded the local share and dunned the locals that amount in their state allotment.)

She also quotes from my friend and fellow school board attorney Tom Cox:

To summarize the Supreme Court’s rationale for rejecting the state commission, I am turning to one of the winning attorneys Thomas Cox, who represented Gwinnett County in the challenge:
The Court ruled that the Charter Commission Act ran afoul of the Georgia Constitution for two primary reasons. First, the Court held that the schools authorized by the Act were not in fact “special schools” as contemplated by the relevant provision of the Georgia Constitution. After examining the history, including comments by committee members and drafters of the relevant sections of the 1983 Constitution, the Court concluded that “special schools” were intended to mean schools that enrolled only students with certain special needs (including, for example, the Georgia School for the Deaf and School for the Blind and vocational trade schools). The term was not intended, according to the Court, to create “a carte blanche authorization for the General Assembly to create its own general K-12 schools so as to duplicate the efforts of or compete with locally controlled schools for the same pool of students educated with the same limited pool of tax funds. ” Second, the Court held that the purported authorization of state-created, but locally operating, charter schools, which are not approved by the local boards of education, infringed on the “fundamental principle of exclusive local control” of public education embodied in the Georgia Constitution.

The success or failure of the forthcoming effort to amend the Georgia Constitution to permit the state to create its own charter schools, with access to locally levied tax revenues, will likely determine whether, going forward, the front lines in the battles over charter schools will be established at the local or state levels. If the Georgia Constitution is amended as proposed by some in the General Assembly, then the State will become the ultimate authority in approving or denying charter schools and in mandating the direction of local tax revenues to fund those schools.

Stay tuned readers.  The Philistines are not only going to be pushing the constitutional amendment, but going after the Georgia Supreme Court Justices who stepped up to the plate and made the right decision.

North Carolina's Governor Won't Run

From The Wall Street Journal:

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue said Thursday she wouldn't seek re-election, an unexpected development that could complicate Democrats' efforts to hold on to the governor's mansion and President Barack Obama's chances of carrying the swing state in November.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Indiana Right-to-Work Bill Advances

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Indiana House passed legislation Wednesday that would ban contracts requiring employees to pay union dues, ending Democratic efforts to block the bill and making final adoption almost certain for the country's first right-to-work law in more than a decade.

The bill now heads to the Indiana Senate—controlled by Republicans 37 to 13—which could move the legislation to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels by Feb. 1. If Mr. Daniels signs the bill, as expected, Indiana would become the 23rd right-to-work state in the nation, and the first in the industrial Midwest, home to many of the nation's manufacturing jobs and a traditional bastion of organized labor.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Doonesbury - 1-24-2012

The film may be right - The film posits that there were three jihads: One at the time of Muhammad, a second in the Middle Ages and a third that is under way covertly throughout the West today.

"The Third Jihad," a film that cast a very hard light on American Muslims, was shows to some New York officers and is now in the news.  See the story in The New York Times that notes:

The film posits that there were three jihads: One at the time of Muhammad, a second in the Middle Ages and a third that is under way covertly throughout the West today.
This is, the film claims, “the 1,400-year war.”

Justices Rein In Police on GPS Trackers

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police violated the Constitution when they attached a Global Positioning System tracker to a suspect's vehicle without a valid search warrant, voting unanimously in one of the first major cases to test privacy rights in the digital era.

The government said Federal Bureau of Investigation agents use GPS tracking devices in thousands of investigations each year. It argued that attaching the tiny tracking device to a car's undercarriage was too trivial a violation of property rights to matter, and that no one who drove in public streets could expect his movements to go unmonitored. Police were free to employ the tactic for any reason without showing probable cause to a magistrate and getting a search warrant, the government said.

The justices seemed troubled by that position at arguments in November, where the government acknowledged it would also allow attaching such trackers to the justices' own cars without obtaining a warrant.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mitt Romney to release tax returns Tuesday

From The Washington Post:

Hoping to put to rest the mounting controversy over his personal finances, Mitt Romney said Sunday that he will release his 2010 tax returns and an estimate for 2011 Tuesday. The Republican presidential candidate had said previously that he would make some of his tax information public in April.

“We just made a mistake in holding off as long as we did,” Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. “It just was a distraction. We want to get back to the real issues in the campaign: leadership, character, a vision for America, how to get jobs again in America and how to rein in the excessive scale of the federal government.”

The decision comes a day after Romney’s campaign sustained a blow in South Carolina, where former House speaker Newt Gingrich won the state’s primary after a last-minute surge. Romney had been the front-runner in the polls there just a week ago, but Gingrich finished more than 12 percentage points ahead of him.

In the interview, Romney said Gingrich’s strong debate performance Monday, in which he aggressively chastised moderator Juan Williams, contributed to the former congressman’s last-minute surge.
Romney also acknowledged that he had a tough week of attacks by his opponents, including criticism of his time at the helm of the private equity firm Bain Capital, and had to contend with the announcement that, despite being declared the early winner of the Iowa caucuses, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum officially prevailed in that contest.

Line of Scrimmage Forms Over Right to Work Bill

A T-shirt worn by members of the Teamsters has been interpreted in various ways.

INDIANAPOLIS — This city is in full preen for its moment in the spotlight, its first Super Bowl.

[I]nside the Statehouse, people are consumed by something else entirely: a partisan fight over union strength has boiled over. The standoff, three weeks old, is over whether Indiana should become the first state in the Midwest manufacturing belt to adopt legislation banning union contracts from requiring nonunion members to pay fees for representation. And it threatens to linger even as the national attention on the Super Bowl arrives — a possibility that Indiana Republicans want to avoid but that some union supporters seem to be hoping for.
“It’s a forum for this to get out beyond the state of Indiana, for the world to know what’s happening to workers here in Indiana,” said Mike Gillespie, business representative of Local 135 of the Teamsters Union, who stood in a crowd of union supporters inside the Statehouse. He wore a T-shirt that bore the numerals of the Super Bowl, XLVI , with a slash through them, a message people here interpreted in various ways.
At times in recent days, the chants of protesters — who say the legislation, known as a “right to work” bill, will result in lower wages and weakened unions — have echoed through the rotunda: “Occupy the Super Bowl!” Some say they want to hold marches, slow down beer deliveries or hand out leaflets in the Super Bowl crowd, while others have hinted at more drastic measures.            

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Disdainful of Strategists, Gingrich Acts as His Own

From The New York Times:

If Newt Gingrich soars on his strong debate performances this week, overcomes the blowback within his party from attacking Mitt Romney as a corporate buyout king, and goes on to do well when South Carolina voters go to the polls on Saturday, one political strategist will get both blame for the stumbles and credit for successes: Mr. Gingrich himself.       

Openly disdainful of professional political operatives, Mr. Gingrich employs almost none of them after a mass exodus of aides in June nearly derailed his candidacy. Asked in a debate here Thursday night to name one thing he might undo about his campaign, he said, “I would skip the opening three months where I hired regular consultants.”

Instead, Mr. Gingrich makes nearly all the key strategic decisions by himself, and in a manner befitting his personality — spontaneously, thinking aloud, often voicing a half-formed idea in full public view before committing to it.

His political instincts are much like everything else about him: brilliant at times, befuddling and exasperating at others.

“In politics, you say something, and it has to be correct the first time and everyone has to be 100 percent behind it or else it’s going to face criticism,” said R. C. Hammond, the spokesman for the Gingrich campaign, describing what he said was the conventional way of running a presidential campaign.

Mr. Gingrich “doesn’t operate that way,” Mr. Hammond said. “It’s O.K. to say an idea and have it be criticized because in this process there’s going to be an improvement.”

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Wealth Issue (Mitt Romney)

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Mitt Romney is a rich man, but is Mitt Romney’s character formed by his wealth? Is Romney a spoiled, cosseted character? Has he been corrupted by ease and luxury?

The notion is preposterous. All his life, Romney has been a worker and a grinder. He earned two degrees at Harvard simultaneously (in law and business). He built a business. He’s persevered year after year, amid defeat after defeat, to build a political career.
Romney’s salient quality is not wealth. It is, for better and worse, his tenacious drive — the sort of relentlessness that we associate with striving immigrants, not rich scions.

Where did this persistence come from? It’s plausible to think that it came from his family history. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott once observed that it takes several generations to make a career. Interests, habits and lore accrue in families and shape those born into them.

The Romney family history, which is nicely described in “The Real Romney” by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, is a story of tenacious work, setbacks and recovery. People who analyze how Mormonism may have shaped Romney generally look to theology. But the Mormon history, the exodus, matters most.

Mitt Romney’s great-great-grandfather Miles was a member of the church in Nauvoo, Ill., and spent years building a temple there. Even after Joseph Smith was killed by a mob and most of the Mormons fled, Miles stayed to finish his temple.
Then, in 1844, as the great work was being completed, mobs burned it to the ground and forced Miles and his family to head West. Most Mormons made the trek to Salt Lake City, but the Romneys could not afford an ox cart. They were part of a small, malnourished band that took four years of struggle to make it the 1,300 miles west.

Mitt’s great-grandfather, also Miles, made the trek starting at age 7. He was married in 1862, but a month after his marriage Brigham Young told him to leave his wife, Hannah, and become a missionary for three years in Britain. Hannah supported herself by taking in other people’s washing.
Miles returned in 1867 and bought a two-room house. Young commanded him to take another wife, and Hannah had to prepare the room for the woman who would be her rival. “I used to walk the floor and shed tears of sorrow,” she recounted in her own private memoir.

Then they were commanded to leave family and friends and build a new settlement in the desert 300 miles south of Salt Lake City. Living at first in primitive huts, they built a community, and Miles prospered. Then came a new command to move 400 miles across the wilderness to settle a desert patch in Arizona.

Again the Romneys were thrown back into primeval hardship. Miles, his three wives and their many children lived in a small wooden house and survived on bread, beans and gravy. There, as elsewhere, the locals detested the Mormons for their polygamy, for their religion and for the fact that the Mormons tended to outwork them. The local newspaper said Miles should be hung for polygamy, so two of his wives were sent to hide in cornfields and the mountains of New Mexico.

They were compelled to move again. Romney left his family to build a colony in Mexico. It was 1885, and he was living out of a wagon. Hannah led eight children through the Arizona mountains to join him. In Mexico, they lived in a house with a dirt roof, so mud dropped down when it rained. Eventually, all the wives and the 21 children were reunited. Miles and his son Gaskell, Mitt’s grandfather, built a successful community, with brick homes, churches and wealth.
George Romney, Mitt’s father, was born in Mexico. But when he was 5, in 1912, Mexican revolutionaries confiscated their property and threw them out. Most of the Romneys fled back to the U.S. Within days, they went from owning a large Mexican ranch to being penniless once again, drifting from California to Idaho to Utah, where again they built a fortune.

Mitt Romney can’t talk about his family history on the campaign trail. Mormonism is an uncomfortable subject. But he must have been affected by it.

It is a story of relentless effort, of recovery and of being despised (in their eyes) because of their own success. Romney himself experienced none of this hardship, of course, but Jews who didn’t live through the Exodus are still shaped by it.

Romney seems to share his family’s remorseless drive to rise — whether it’s trying to persuade the French to give up wine and join his church, or building a business, or being willing to withstand heaps of abuse in pursuit of the presidency. He may have character flaws, but he does not have the character flaws normally associated with great wealth. His signature is focus and persistence. The wealth issue is a sideshow.

In Deportation Policy Test, 1 in 6 Offered Reprieve

From The New York Times:

A review ordered by the Obama administration of virtually all 7,900 deportation cases before the immigration court here has identified about 1,300 foreigners — 16 percent — who pose no security risk and will be allowed to remain in the United States, although with no new legal status, immigration officials said Thursday.       

It was a fast-paced test run of the first comprehensive docket review in the nation’s immigration courts. Department of Homeland Security officials plan to extend it in coming months to all of about 300,000 deportation cases before the courts nationwide.

The court review is part of a broad effort by the administration, as President Obama heads into his re-election campaign, to ease the impact of enforcement on immigrant and Latino communities by stopping some deportations while also reducing huge backlogs swamping the immigration courts. Based on an early projection of results from pilot projects here and in Baltimore, as many as 39,000 immigrants across the country could see their deportation cases closed.       

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Romney screws up, and heading to become new poster boy for 15% rate. Says he: The $374,327 I reported earning in speaking fees last year was "not very much."

We all know -- let's say that the great majority of Americans who are not elected officials serving in Washington recognize -- that solving the deficit is going to require tax increases along with decreasing expenditures, including entitlement reform.  This self-inflicted wound by Romney is going to assist on the tax issue.

From The New York Times:

[Romey's] effective tax rate was “probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything,” Mr. Romney said at a campaign stop in South Carolina, noting that most of his considerable income over the last decade has come from investments rather than from earned income like salary. He also characterized as “not very much” the $374,327 he reported earning in speaking fees last year, though that sum would, by itself, very nearly catapult most American families into the top 1 percent of the country’s earners.

As a candidate, Mr. Romney has also advocated for tax policies that would significantly benefit people who, like him, derive most of their income from investments.

Assuming Congress does not act to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, the rate for capital gains income is set to return to 20 percent for the 2013 tax year, while the rate for dividend income will jump to 39.6 percent. But in his economic plan, Mr. Romney calls for making permanent the Bush-era tax cuts on capital gains and dividend income, keeping them both at the current rate of 15 percent.

See also discussion of rates in The Wall Street Journal.

Long-Term Unemployment Ripples Through One Town

From The Wall Street Journal:

ROSWELL, Ga.—The waiting list for subsidized housing here, just 40 families long a year ago, is up to 500. The number of children eligible for free or reduced lunch is up 50%. A little more than a year ago, the Methodist church began seminars for marriages strained by job losses.

Roswell is a pre-Civil War cotton mill town that grew into a wealthy bedroom community of Atlanta as the metro area prospered. More than half the city's 88,000 residents have four-year college degrees. But Roswell sits in a region with an unusually severe case of long-term unemployment: About 40% of the unemployed in the Atlanta metro area in 2010, the most recent local data available, were out of work for a year or more versus the national average of 29%.

One of them is Marcy Bronner, 57 years old. When she lost her job at Pennzoil back in 2000, it took her seven months to find a new one at Quintiles, a bio- and pharmaceutical-services company. She eventually became senior director of human resources at a salary in the low six figures.

In November 2010, she was laid off again. More than a year later, she is still looking for work. "It's harder now," she says, compared to the 2000s. "There's a lot more people out there."

While the job market is improving—the national unemployment rate fell to 8.5% in December—long-term unemployment continues to be particularly pronounced, and there is little indication that it is falling quickly. The government said that in December 3.9 million nationwide had been out of work for at least a year and were still looking. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has called this "a national crisis."

Some will eventually find jobs, though long spells of unemployment are likely to scar them for years. Workers who were jobless for six months or more in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Connecticut and eventually found work earned 60% less than those who were unemployed for three months or less, economists Kenneth Couch of the University of Connecticut and Dana Placzek of the state labor department found.

Some will never find jobs again. Their ties to the job market will wither. The splotches of unemployment on their applications will make them unattractive to potential employers. Workers who had been unemployed for less than five weeks in 2010 had a 34% chance of finding a job the following month, according to Labor Department data. Those out more than six months had only a 10% chance.

When their unemployment benefits run out, some will find other ways to get by—relying on families, drawing on retirement savings or, if they can qualify, going on government disability programs.

"This is what people saw in Europe: You had large groups of people who hadn't worked in a long amount of time," says Betsey Stevenson, former chief Labor Department economist and now a visiting professor at Princeton University. "I am really quite fearful that 10 years from now we're going to look back and go, 'Why didn't we fight this harder?"

The longer people are out of work, the more likely their skills are to become obsolete—particularly at a time of rapidly evolving technology. "You are in your 40s, 50s or 60s, and you are suddenly out of work," said Jonathan Warner, director of community and economic development at Chattahoochee Technical College, which has its main campus in Marietta, Ga., the next town over from Roswell. "What are you going to do? Who is going to hire you? The smart ones come to us to get retooled."

Ms. Bronner, the former human-resources director who lives in Marietta, has been told by job-placement experts that she has too much experience for some openings. She gets that. "I would be saying the same thing if I was sitting in my old chair," she says.

Moving is an unattractive option: Her husband's home inspection business relies on local referrals.

Nationally, the rise in the number of two-earner couples and the decline in home prices has made moving harder when one spouse loses a job. Only 11.6% of Americans moved in 2011, a smaller percentage than in any year since the Census Bureau began keeping track in 1948.

So Ms. Bronner, who has a bachelor's degree in business technology from the University of Houston, has gone back to school, earning certifications in business quality improvement methods at Chattahoochee Tech. Ms. Bronner has joined a support group for the jobless at Roswell United Methodist Church and has posted her resume on the LinkedIn website, and she checks job websites daily. "There is no resting on your laurels, not anymore," she says.

Lately, she has started thinking of looking outside of human resources. A neighbor was unemployed as an electrician for a year, and went back to school to become a pharmacy technician. She is considering more training in project management to qualify for work in other fields, though the prospect of "completely switching gears" in middle age is daunting, she says.

It can also be depressing. While helping with the wedding of one of her three daughters last year, she found herself crying uncontrollably at random moments. For about four months, she says, she was in "a pretty big funk." At one point, her husband told her: "Your daughter is so afraid you're going to lose it. You've got to get your act together." A counselor helped her pull through, and the wedding became a turning point, helping her renew her as-yet-unsuccessful job hunt.

Unemployment is, at first, a personal struggle. But as it persists, the ripples spread throughout a community.

Local governments in the arc of wealthy suburbs north of Atlanta don't have the infrastructure to deal with thousands of middle-class residents who have been out of work for six months or more. They never had the need before.

"I haven't experienced this kind of impact in my lifetime," says Jere Wood, a 63-year-old lifelong resident of Roswell who has been its mayor since 1997. "This isn't the first time a lawyer's lost his job, but it's the first time a lot of them have lost their jobs." Unemployment in the Atlanta metropolitan area in which Roswell sits was 9.8% at last tally, well above the national average.

The roster of Roswell residents collecting Social Security disability benefits, often the last refuge of those who can't find work, is up nearly 16% since 2007, mirroring the national increase. Local charities are serving residents who once earned six-figure salaries. Unemployed parents scramble for fee waivers to keep children in after-school sports.

As job losses became more prevalent, the 6,700-member Roswell United Methodist Church reacted, offering a support group for the unemployed. The twice-a-month events drew nearly 350 last year, up from fewer than 100 in better times. In late November, Ms. Bronner went for the first time—and was amazed by the number of others who were there.

In November 2010, the church launched the seminar for couples dealing with the tension that unemployment can cause—particularly as it continues for long periods. The church considered doing so earlier but there wasn't interest.

Geoff Wiggins, 58, who runs the seminar with his wife, usually opens sessions like this: "How many times have you had this discussion? The working spouse comes in at the end of the day and says 'How was your day?' And the unemployed person says, 'I'm out of work, how do you think my day went?'" The goal is to help couples communicate better as they struggle with income insecurity and battered self-worth. "What breaks my heart," Mr. Wiggins says, "is how many people aren't getting help."

The recession hit the church budget hard. Donations fell. "The jobs just aren't out there," says Mike Long, senior minister. "Because of that they simply couldn't give to the church like they were."

In 2009 the church cut spending by 10% and trimmed staff salaries by 5%. In 2010, it cut its program ministries by 15%. When paid employees were laid off, volunteers took over lawn maintenance and custodial work. Last year's $4.5 million budget is 13.5% below 2008 levels.

One of the other participants in the church support group, Edward "Ted" Boone, a 49-year-old college graduate, lost his job in August 2010. He had been earning in the low six figures in a business information job, a field in which he had planned to work until retirement.

He, too, rejected an out-of-state move. His wife is employed as a pastor nearby. Instead, he concentrated on aggressive networking.

In November 2011, after 15 months of unemployment, one of his contacts helped him land a data manager's job at a Decatur, Ga., nonprofit. He begins work this month. One drawback: The new job will pay half what the old one did. "I'm not going to find what I was making years ago," Mr. Boone says. "It's less, but that's fine."

When the recession took hold, job losses stung all parts of the Atlanta economy—Roswell included. Employers with jobs to offer are flooded with applicants. Applications and placements at staffing firm Hire Dynamics LLC, which has six Georgia locations including one near Roswell, were up 40% last year, says chief executive Dan Campbell. But it takes longer to winnow candidates because there are so many. A recent ad drew 400 resumes.

For some openings, the unemployed need not apply. Amy Grimmer, for instance, is searching for a sales representative in the Atlanta area for a client in the payroll outsourcing services business.

"We're not looking at the unemployment pool," says Ms. Grimmer, president of Centripetal Consulting Group, based in Dallas. "They feel like the sales people [who] are talented enough would have found positions." Most clients, she adds, aren't so explicit.

In the worst of the early 1980s downturn, the typical or median unemployed American had been out of work for 12.3 weeks. In December 2011, the typical unemployed person had been jobless for 21 weeks.

In response, Congress has extended unemployment benefits—which normally last no more than 26 weeks—for as long as 99 weeks.

For Jennifer Barbee, 34 years old, it doesn't matter what Congress does. A mother of three who once made $40,000 a year, she lost her human-resources job three years ago and has exhausted her $330 a week in jobless benefits. Now she relies on $600 a month in child support, Medicaid for her children's medical care, food stamps and aid from a local food bank, North Fulton Community Charities.

Demand at the food bank is running 30% ahead of 2007, and organizers are still playing catch-up. "People don't realize we're seeing middle-class families that have been unemployed 18 months or longer," says Vonda Malbrough, the development director.

Ms. Barbee has widened her job search to waitressing and other hourly jobs. Her plans to earn a college degree online are on hold so she can put any cash toward her children. She does what she can to keep her skills fresh, teaching herself to use Adobe Dreamweaver to help a friend with website work. Her laptop has the 2007 version of Microsoft Office so she has been looking online for subsequent changes to stay up to date.

It is harder to keep tabs with constantly changing regulations that human-resources professionals are supposed to know, such as recent changes governing health insurance. "I kind of try to pay attention when I hear about them," she says. "But I really don't know what's out there right now."

Meanwhile, she writes to the local parks and recreation department requesting fee waivers so her children can participate in football, basketball and gymnastics. The department has seen a spike in such requests, which allow parents to pay $5 or $10 instead of $100 or more.

Roswell is changing. More than 9,200 children, 19% of those enrolled in schools in and around Roswell, received free and reduced-price school lunches last year. Before the recession, 13.2% qualified.

The free-lunch line has been tough to explain to Ms. Barbee's 10-year-old daughter, who goes through it every day. Most of her friends don't. "She has said, 'Mommy why do we get free lunch and other people don't?'" the mother says. "It's something that they notice."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Iraq Lashes Out at Turkey as Sunni-Shiite Rift Grows

From The Wall Street Journal:

Iraq summoned Turkey's ambassador on Monday to protest what it called Ankara's meddling in Iraqi politics, the latest sign of a rising rift between Sunni Turkey and its Shiite neighbors.

Iraq's government was angered by recent warnings from Turkish leaders that Sunni-Shiite tensions in Iraq could engulf the entire Islamic world, as well as by Turkey's support for a Sunni rival to Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

"Turkey interferes by backing certain political figures and blocs" in Iraq, Mr. Maliki told The Wall Street Journal last month. "I believe Turkey is unqualified to intervene in the region's flash points." In a weekend interview with Arabic language Al-Hurra TV station, Mr. Maliki went further. "Unfortunately, Turkey is playing a role that could lead to a catastrophe or civil war in the region," he said.

Iraqi officials were particularly angered by public Turkish comments on the case of Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq's Sunni vice president. Mr. Hashemi took refuge in Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq late last year, after the government accused him of leading death squads against Shiites.

But analysts say the rapid deterioration of relations between Ankara and Baghdad also reflects the wider conflicting interests of Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran in the wake of the U.S. drawdown from Iraq and of the Arab Spring, now lapping at the borders of both Iraq and Turkey, in Syria.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned on the eve of a visit to Tehran earlier this month against the risk of a "Cold War" developing between Shiites and Sunnis across the Middle East.

"Tension is now rising between Turkey and Iran and it will be increasingly difficult to manage as it's being aggravated by sectarian tensions. These problems are likely to be long-term; I don't see an easy solution," said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Baghdad's concerns also have been fueled lately by fears that Syria's uprising is developing into a Sunni insurgency that Mr. Maliki has said could spread "like a house on fire," into Iraq. A fresh wave of violence has killed more than 200 Iraqis since the end of the U.S. military mission on Dec. 18.

Unlike Iraq, which is majority Shiite, Syria is about 75% Sunni, but it is governed mainly by a minority of Alawites, a Shiite sect. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad's Tehran-backed regime has expressed deep anger and distrust of Ankara due to its decision to provide haven to mainly Sunni Syrian rebels.

Turkey says its actions are purely humanitarian, made in the face of Syria's brutal crackdown on protesters. It also denies any effort to meddle in Iraqi politics.

Turkish analysts say Ankara is a reluctant hard-power player in the region. for all its neo-Ottoman pretensions, Only a year ago, Mr. Assad was Exhibit A in Turkey's "zero-problems-with-neighbors" foreign policy. That approach boosted relations and trade with neighboring Muslim regimes, while downgrading ties with former ally Israel. The Arab Spring, however, upended that policy as allies such as former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi were pushed aside and Shiite-Sunni tensions rose across the region. In a major change, Turkey agreed last fall to host a North Atlantic Treaty Organization missile-defense system, which was designed by the U.S. to contain Iran.

Turkish and U.S. diplomats say they now cannot remember a time when cooperation between Ankara and Washington was closer, after a period of significant strain in 2009-2010.

"When Prime Minister Erdogan came to Washington in 2009, he sounded almost like the ambassador from Iran. Now he sounds quite different…After a period of suspicion, Turkey and the United States have come closer together," said Stephen Kinzer, a visiting professor of international relations at Boston University.

Turkish officials insist relations with Tehran remain strong. Turkey buys around 30% of its oil from Iran and is the second-largest consumer of Iranian gas, after Russia. Official data shows that Turkey's bilateral trade volume with Iraq in 2011 jumped by nearly 50% on the year to $11 billion, with much of the increase coming in the Shiite-dominated areas around Baghdad and in the South.

In an interview inside Iraqi Kurdistan this month, Mr. Hashemi said that while his political bloc had received advice from Turkey and others, it was no tool for outside powers. "I am not part of the Turkish geopolitical project," said Mr. Hashemi. He criticized Mr. Maliki's "conspiratorial" mind and said that his frequent visits to Turkey last year were mostly private.

Still there is little disguising the building tensions between Ankara and its Shiite neighbors, including Tehran.

In December, Ankara sought an explanation from Tehran after Hussain Ibrahimi, chief of the Iranian parliament's national-security committee, told an Iranian newspaper that if Iran were to be attacked, its first retaliatory strike would be against the NATO missile defense radar in eastern Turkey.

Earlier, in October, a key aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini told Iran's Mehr news agency that Turkey should radically rethink its policies on Syria, the NATO missile shield and promoting secularism in the Arab world. Otherwise, Ankara would face trouble from its own people and neighbors, he said.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Governor Who Took On Unions May Face a Closely Watched Recall Election

From The New York Times:

Democrats and union supporters . . . say they will submit at least 720,000 names on petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican who curtailed collective bargaining rights for public workers, leading to a face-off in this state.       

Only two governors in the nation’s history have lost their jobs in recalls, but Mr. Walker himself acknowledges that, presuming there are no major flaws in the petitions, a recall election appears likely. That puts his removal, which would have a vote in late spring or early summer, within the realm of possibility.

Politicians and political operatives far beyond Wisconsin will be watching closely, not just for what the recall effort may imply for other state’s leaders who are considering cuts to workers’ benefits and union powers as a way to solve budget problems, but also as a sign for the presidential race. Wisconsin was one of several pivotal Midwestern states that gave Barack Obama solid victories in 2008 but then elected Republicans, including Mr. Walker, in significant numbers in 2010. Money from outside the state is certain to pour in from both sides for the recall vote.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Theological Differences Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney

From The New York Times:

Mormons consider themselves Christians — as denoted in the church’s name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet the theological differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity are so fundamental, experts in both say, that they encompass the very understanding of God and Jesus, what counts as Scripture and what happens when people die.

“Mormonism is a distinctive religion,” David Campbell, a Mormon and an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in religion and politics. “It’s not the same as Presbyterianism or Methodism. But at the same time, there have been efforts on the part of the church to emphasize the commonality with other Christian faiths, and that’s a tricky balance to strike for the church.”

On the most fundamental issue, traditional Christians believe in the Trinity: that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all rolled into one.

Mormons reject this as a non-biblical creed that emerged in the fourth and fifth centuries. They believe that God the Father and Jesus are separate physical beings, and that God has a wife whom they call Heavenly Mother.

It is not only evangelical Christians who object to these ideas.
“That’s just not Christian,” said the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, a liberal Protestant seminary in New York City. “God and Jesus are not separate physical beings. That would be anathema. At the end of the day, all the other stuff doesn’t matter except the divinity of Jesus.”

The Mormon Church says that in the early 1800s, its first prophet, Joseph Smith, had revelations that restored Christianity to its true path, a course correction necessary because previous Christian churches had corrupted the faith. Smith bequeathed to his church volumes of revelations contained in scripture used only by Mormons: “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” “The Doctrine and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price.”

Traditional Christians do not recognize any of those as Scripture.

Another big sticking point concerns the afterlife. Early Mormon apostles gave talks asserting that human beings would become like gods and inherit their own planets — language now regularly held up to ridicule by critics of Mormonism.

But Kathleen Flake, a Mormon who is a professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt Divinity School, explained that the planets notion had been de-emphasized in modern times in favor of a less concrete explanation: people who die embark on an “eternal progression” that allows them “to partake in God’s glory.”

“Mormons think of God as a parent,” she said. “God makes the world in order to give that world to his children. It’s like sending your child to Harvard — God gives his children every possible opportunity to progress towards this higher life that God possesses. When Mormons say ‘Heavenly Father,’ they mean it. It’s not a metaphor.”

It is the blurring of the lines between God, Jesus and human beings that is hard for evangelicals to swallow, said Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., who has been involved in a dialogue group between evangelicals and Mormons for 12 years and has a deep understanding of theology as Mormons see it.

“Both Christians and Jews, on the basis of our common Scriptures, we’d all agree that God is God and we are not,” Mr. Mouw said. “There’s a huge ontological gap between the Creator and the creature. So any religious perspective that reduces that gap, you think, oh, wow, that could never be called Christian.”

Mormons tend to explain the doctrinal differences more gently. Lane Williams, a Mormon and a professor of communications at Brigham Young University-Idaho, a Mormon institution, said the way he understands it, “it’s not a ‘we’re right and they’re wrong’ kind of approach. But it’s as though we feel we have a broader circle of truth.

“My daily life tries to be about Jesus Christ,” he said. “And in that way, I don’t think I’m much different from my Protestant friends.”

In a Pew poll released in late November, about two-thirds of mainline Protestants and Catholics said Mormonism is Christian, compared with only about a third of white evangelicals. By contrast, 97 percent of Mormons said their religion is Christian in a different Pew poll released this month.

Mr. Mouw said that only a month ago he was called to Salt Lake City to mediate a theological discussion about Mormonism among four evangelical leaders who had collaborated with Mormon leaders to pass the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage in California. After two and a half days of discussions, the group was divided on Mormon theology, Mr. Mouw said.

“Two concluded that while Mormons are good people, they don’t worship the same God,” Mr. Mouw said. “Two concluded that Mormons love Jesus just as the evangelicals do, and they accepted the Mormons as brothers and sisters in Christ.
“That’s the split,” Mr. Mouw said, “and it’s very basic.”

The Battle for South Carolina - Rick Santorum will have appeal, but he's voted against right-to-work legislation, and South Carolina is a big right-to-work state.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Newt's a battering ram who'll wind up in splinters, but he can do plenty of damage along the way.  The candidate people immediately speak of here when talk turns to the GOP primary is a man named Romneybut. "I like Romney but I could change my mind." "I like Romney but I like Santorum too."

[I]f Mitt Romney wins here, he will win the nomination. And it's likely he will win here—that Romneybut will become Romney. But it's a real question how much damage will be done to him along the way.


People don't embrace Mr. Romney, they circle back to him. They consider him, shop around for something better, decide the first product they looked at will last longest and give value, and buy.

The non-Mitt candidates continue, fracturing the conservative vote. Because no one dropped out after New Hampshire, no consolidation of the non-Mitt vote can begin here and get in the way of the buying. Newt Gingrich, tops in state polls a few weeks ago, has damaged himself by the means and manner of his campaign. Rick Santorum will have appeal, but he's voted against right-to-work legislation, and South Carolina is a big right-to-work state. Ron Paul will have appeal too, not only in the coastal cities but among active and retired military personnel, who've been fighting the wars the past 10 years.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

ABC heavies were pitiful in debate Sat. night. I like George Stephanopoulos, but he embarrassed himself on national television with questions plainly intended to embarrass the Republican candidates. Diane Sawyer was no better; she is just plainly still not ready for big-time.

From The Wall Street Journal:

A funny thing happened on the way to the New Hampshire primary: ABC moderator George Stephanopoulos embarrassed himself on national television with questions plainly intended to embarrass the Republican candidates.

On Saturday night, Mr. Stephanopoulos stepped outside the role of honest interlocutor when he pursued Mitt Romney with the issue on nobody's lips or legislative agenda: whether states have the right to ban contraception. Likewise, fellow moderator Diane Sawyer, who asked Republicans what they would say, "sitting in their living rooms," to a gay couple.

Monday, January 09, 2012

In New Hampshire Newspaper, Gingrich Gets Coveted and Ferocious Supporter - Muskie destroyed his candidacy by breaking down and appearing to cry at paper's offices

From The New York Times:

Newt Gingrich may not have much money to spend on advertising here. But he does have Joseph W. McQuaid, the publisher of New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, The Union Leader. And Mr. McQuaid will happily spill barrel after barrel of ink trying to tear every other candidate down.    

 “Our job is to say, ‘Here’s our guy. Here’s why he’s the best, and why all the others are the worst,’ ” Mr. McQuaid said in a recent interview. He had just finished a front-page editorial for Sunday’s paper that ripped into Mitt Romney, who leads Mr. Gingrich by double digits in the polls. “Romney may be the WORST candidate,” he wrote.       

“There’s no reason to be subtle,” Mr. McQuaid said.

Subtle is not how many people would describe The Union Leader or Mr. McQuaid. Mr. Romney is “plastic” and “desperate,” he said. Ron Paul is a dangerous elf from the “Island of Misfit Toys.” And Rick Santorum? “Is he running for something?” Mr. McQuaid said, flashing an impish grin.

Mr. McQuaid and his newspaper are the Siberian tigers of political journalism: ferocious and endangered. At a time when editorials and newspapers themselves are playing a smaller role in American politics, the brash and biting Union Leader still commands the attention and respect of the country’s most prominent politicians. Every four years, they flatter and pay homage to the newspaper in hope that they can secure what remains one of the most coveted endorsements of the presidential election.

People have feared and loathed The Union Leader ever since the days of the curmudgeonly William Loeb III, who bought the paper in the 1940s and bullied a generation of politicians with vitriolic front-page editorials. Mr. Loeb headlined an article about Henry A. Kissinger’s appointment as secretary of state with an anti-Semitic slur. Edmund S. Muskie became “Moscow Muskie” and a flip-flopper. Mr. Muskie destroyed his candidacy by breaking down and appearing to cry while denouncing Mr. Loeb at a news conference outside the paper’s offices.

 The newspaper’s average in picking winners suggests that Mr. Gingrich should not start writing his victory speech just yet. Though it endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1980 and John McCain in 2008, Steve Forbes got the newspaper’s nod in 2000, and Pat Buchanan in 1992. Americans never got to see a President Pierre du Pont (endorsed in 1988) or a President Samuel Yorty (1972).     

Crying Foul: Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to FCC Cussing Crackdown

From The Wall Street Journal:

Should broadcasters be able to air whatever the &#%@ they want?

Nine years after Cher used a swear word during a live awards show, the U.S. Supreme Court is finally addressing the constitutional issues behind that question. On Tuesday, the court will consider whether the Federal Communications Commission's efforts to police the U.S. airwaves for dirty words and images violate broadcasters' right to free speech and due process.

The court's decision, expected by June, could affect the broadcast-television industry, which has been losing viewers to cable channels, Internet video and other forms of entertainment that by law can't be touched by the FCC's indecency cops.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Obama closes the book on the 9/11 era

David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post:

When you ask Obama administration officials to explain their foreign policy agenda for 2012, they point first to the defense budget. That’s where they want to make a “pivot” in U.S. strategy — away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and toward the 21st-century priority of China and the Pacific.

To underline the importance of this rebalancing, President Obama went to the Pentagon on Thursday for the budget announcement. He began by declaring victory in what used to be known as “the long war,” offering a string of valedictory phrases: The United States is “turning the page on a decade of war”; “we’ve succeeded in defending our nation”; “the tide of war is receding.”

Rhetoric about new strategies is standard fare, especially in an election year. But these claims should be taken seriously. The Pentagon budget cuts will make a difference, at home and abroad. They mark a genuine shift, one of the most important since 1945.

What will change? First, the administration is cutting ground forces sharply because it doesn’t expect any new Iraqs or Afghanistans. Obviously, it’s premature to declare victory in Afghanistan when that war is far from over. But the White House thinks that it can play the endgame effectively even if it maintains a steady drawdown of troops.

It was easy to miss the impact of Obama’s words: He was declaring that the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, is over. Al-Qaeda’s top leader is dead, and most of its cadres are on the run; secret peace talks are under way with the Taliban. And across the Arab world, the United States is talking with Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations that a few years ago might have been on terror lists. It’s a process that’s similar to the way Britain ended its long war with Irish terrorists, by engaging in negotiations with the IRA’s “political” wing.

What else will the shift mean? The Pacific focus inescapably means fewer resources for the traditional Atlantic partnership, symbolized by NATO. U.S. troops will be coming home from Europe, probably in larger numbers than expected. And given its recent economic jitters, Europe may feel abandoned. Will the Germans respond by drawing closer to Russia? Watch that space.

Obama’s pivot turns U.S. power toward China, and Beijing is understandably nervous. U.S. officials keep repeating that this won’t mean a policy of “containment” and that the United States accepts a rising China as a 21st-century inevitability. An Obama emissary was in Beijing last week, delivering that message of reassurance. But the Chinese aren’t stupid; they know that America is moving forces their way.

A period of rivalry and tension is ahead in the Pacific. One early test is whether the United States can expand on its recent opening to Burma. Another will be the delicate leadership transition in North Korea, which should be an area for Sino-American cooperation but might be the opposite. A third area will involve trade relations: Obama is pushing a ­“Trans-Pacific Partnership” that would create NAFTA-style links across the Pacific. But how realistic is this for an America that already has trade jitters?

As the United States changes its defense priorities, the wild cards are Pakistan and Iran, two countries powered by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of anti-Americanism. Pakistan, after years of chafing against U.S. tutelage, seems serious about reevaluating its ties, with its top general making a symbolic “we don’t need you” visit last week to the other superpower, China. For once, the United States wasn’t chasing after the Pakistanis trying to lecture and plead our way back to the status quo. That’s good, but Washington still needs a cooperative relationship with Islamabad, especially in settling the Afghanistan conflict.

As for the Iranians, they seem for the first time in years to be genuinely nervous — not because of U.S. or Israeli saber-rattling but because economic sanctions are causing a run on their currency and the beginnings of a financial panic in Tehran. And more sanctions are on the way this year. At some point, the Iranian regime will actually be in jeopardy — and it will punch back. That’s the scenario the White House must think through carefully with its allies. If the current course continues, a collision with Iran is ahead.

We’ll be seeing the details of the Pentagon cuts over the next few weeks, and the whining from Congress (let alone Europe and China) will begin in earnest. Don’t think this is a rerun of the usual budget follies. Thursday’s Pentagon announcement marked a real change, with big strategic consequences.

A Long History of Political Brawling for Santorum - “He was a bully who was not a potent enough force to be a bully.”

From The New York Times:

"[Rick Santorum] would attack people in a smug way that was harder-edged and more insulting than was necessary, said Mark Salter, the former chief of staff to Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, adding that lawmakers in both parties shared this view. “He was a bully who was not a potent enough force to be a bully.”

From the start of a legislative career that included two terms in the House and two in the Senate, Mr. Santorum earned a reputation for throwing haymakers with no regard for custom, sacred cows or his own newcomer status.

But in general, Mr. Santorum has tried to be more conciliatory in this election (a “good guy,” in wrestling parlance). He has not attacked Republican rivals in debates or campaign ads, he said — mostly true, although he has had almost no money to buy any ads. He spoke of working with Democrats in the Senate and winning elections in Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania. He urged compromise when possible. “The American people expect us to act like adults,” he said at a campaign stop in Perry, Iowa, on Monday, “not spoiled children.”

Former colleagues from his years in Washington, though, still remember his belligerence. One of Mr. Santorum’s first acts in the Senate was to attack Mark Hatfield, an Oregon Republican, for opposing a balanced-budget amendment that Mr. Santorum advocated, even suggesting that Mr. Hatfield, a veteran lawmaker, be sacked as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The late Senator Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat and one of the most devout traditionalists in the chamber, was appalled by Mr. Santorum. After the younger man accused Mr. Clinton of speaking “bald-faced untruths,” Mr. Byrd delivered a blistering speech in which he derided his colleague’s “insolence” and “rude language” and suggested that Mr. Santorum might be better-suited to “an alehouse or beer tavern.” He lamented that he had lived long enough “to see Pygmies stride like colossuses” in the august chamber.      

Boston Globe Endorses Huntsman

From The New York Times:

The Boston Globe has endorsed Jon M. Huntsman Jr. for the Republican nomination, the candidate announced Thursday night at a rally at a high school here.

Though from a Democratic-leaning editorial board, the endorsement nonetheless provides a potentially major boost to Mr. Huntsman’s dark-horse candidacy before a primary in which independents can prove pivotal.

With little money left in his campaign bank account and relatively low ­if slowly rising ­ poll numbers, Mr. Huntsman has been hoping to be the latest candidate to catch fire as the leading alternative to the
front-runner, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, much as Senator Rick Santorum did just before the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday.

It is the second time the paper has snubbed its former home-state governor: In 2008 it endorsed Senator John McCain, the nominee that year, who endorsed Mr. Romney on Wednesday. In the Democratic primary, The Globe endorsed Barack Obama.

The major newspaper in New Hampshire, The Union Leader of Manchester, has endorsed Newt Gingrich, who has seen his candidacy slide in the polls in recent weeks.