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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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

I worry that too much of Romney's criticism is driven by what he thinks is best politically, and not by any larger strategic vision

From The Wall Street Journal:

Mitt Romney's labeling of Russia this week as America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe" has drawn attention to his emerging hawkishness on several foreign policy fronts, from China's monetary policy to the war in Afghanistan—a trend that contrasts to his more muted style on domestic issues.

The Russia remark has fanned concerns among both Romney supporters and nonpartisan foreign-policy experts that Mr. Romney's desire to contrast himself with President Barack Obama has led the GOP candidate to take positions that would be difficult to maintain if he wins the presidency.

"I think Obama's foreign policy is seriously flawed, but I worry that too much of Romney's criticism is driven by what he thinks is best politically, and not by any larger strategic vision," said Dimitri Simes, a Russia expert who was a Romney foreign-policy adviser in 2008.

Mr. Romney's Russia blast came after Mr. Obama was heard on an open microphone in South Korea this week promising Russia's president more "flexibility" on arms-defense talks after the November election. Those comments drew widespread condemnation from Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, who wrote to Mr. Obama asking him to "clarify" what he meant.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Clock Ticks on U.S.'s Fiscal Time Bomb

David Wessel writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Pundits and pollsters speculate hourly on the outcome of the next Republican presidential primary. Business executives and investors increasingly focus on whether Congress and the president will defuse the fiscal time bomb they have built—or whether they will be so paralyzed that the bomb will go off at year-end.

Without congressional action before Dec. 31, here's what happens:

A payroll-tax holiday ends, which means a tax increase for workers of as much as 2% of wages.

Income-tax rates revert to pre-George W. Bush levels, rising not only for the rich but for nearly all taxpayers.

Across-the-board cuts in domestic and, particularly, defense spending are triggered.

The federal debt bumps up against the legal ceiling, at some point yet to be determined, reviving confidence-rattling headlines about a potential U.S. default.

That's just a partial list. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke calls this "a massive fiscal cliff." Abrupt tax increases and spending cuts, which together would equal roughly 3.5% of the nation's gross domestic product, would devastate an economy not fully recovered from a deep recession.

No one in Washington wants that. The rule of thumb is that if no one in Congress or the White House wants something, politicians will find a way to prevent it. But these days, well, you never know. There are three possible outcomes:
Scenario One: The grand compromise.
One reason this is politically tough is that there is no pain-free deficit cure. With a lid on annually appropriated spending, most Republicans' answer to long-term deficits is to cut future benefits from what they would otherwise be. The Democrats' answer is to cut benefits and raise taxes. Resolving that disagreement is key.

If Mitt Romney or another Republican wins the White House, congressional Republicans won't flinch on taxes in a lame-duck session. And if Barack Obama is re-elected and Republicans lose some seats in the House? Would an emboldened Mr. Obama and chastened Republicans cut a deal? Possible, but unlikely.

Just in case, though, the deficit-reduction lobby and sympathetic members of Congress are drafting plans. To make a point, a small bipartisan bunch is putting one tax-hike-and-spending-cut plan to a vote in the House this week.

Odds: 25%.
Scenario Two: A standoff.
If neither side wins big in November, Congress may be unable to pass legislation that defuses the time bomb—unless a measure hitches a ride to must-pass legislation to, say, lift the federal debt ceiling or avert a government shutdown.

If lawmakers can't agree, then taxes will go up and spending will be cut across the board. Then Congress and the president (the re-elected one or a new one) would negotiate from a new starting point, softening the blow retroactively. This has been done before, but it's unsettling and messy, and adds to already more-than-ample uncertainty.

Odds: 25%.
Scenario Three: Kick the can down the road.
Faced with unappealing alternatives, Congress is always tempted to look for a way out. The obvious one: Suspend the tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts for a time, declaring they would endanger the economy and national security. Promise—really, truly—to fix the deficit later. No one will advocate for this in advance, but at year-end, particularly if the economy isn't doing well, a six- or nine-month delay will be appealing.

To save face, this probably would be paired with another legislated commitment to deal with the deficit later. That may be expedient, but it won't help rebuild public trust. After all, Congress set these Dec. 31 deadlines last August to try to force its own hand.

Odds: 50%.

All these odds will change before year-end.

It matters who wins in November, and how decisively. A sweep by either party lifts the odds that its approach will prevail and reduces the odds of gridlock.

It matters when the next vote on raising the debt ceiling comes. If revenue falls short of projections and the Treasury runs out of maneuvering room, it may need an increase in the limit before year-end. That timing strengthens the hand of those who want to deal with the deficit in the lame-duck session, making that a condition of their vote on the debt limit. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Congress Wednesday, "My own view is that Congress is going to have to act on this before the end of the year."

It matters what financial markets do. So far, stock and bond markets have ignored the risk to the economy of the year-end deadlines and the longer-run risk posed by politicians' inability to restrain rising government debt. Someday, the markets will notice. When they do, politicians will find it harder to defer and delay.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Group Backs Simpson-Bowles Plan - House Members' Bid to Cut Deficit Looks a Long Shot but May Test Congress's Resolve for Budget Deal.

From The Wall Street Journal:

A small bipartisan group of House lawmakers, bucking their Democratic and Republican leaders, is advancing a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit by more than $4 trillion over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

A vote on the measure could come as soon as Wednesday. It is widely expected to fail, but the degree of support for the plan could prove a bellwether of whether Congress decides to pursue a broad bipartisan budget deal this election year.

The proposal pushed by Reps. Steve LaTourette (R., Ohio) and Jim Cooper (D., Tenn.), largely reflects the outline offered in 2010 by the White House's deficit-reduction commission chaired by Republican former Sen. Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles.

The new plan comes amid a number of budget proposals in recent weeks, including from the White House and Republican leaders. But the new House proposal is the first to be pushed in Congress this year with any level of bipartisan support and is already attracting support from top executives who are eager to see Congress tackle the deficit.

The LaTourette-Cooper proposal would lower tax rates but also eliminate or dramatically limit tax breaks, accounting for close to $1 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. It would also set a new limit on the long-term growth of federal health-care spending. It would instruct congressional panels to find $300 billion in spending cuts in federal programs, such as agriculture and federal retirement benefits.

The proposal would direct broader changes in Social Security and other entitlement programs than many Democrats have supported and larger increases in tax revenue than many Republicans have backed

At least seven other House members—Reps. Charles Bass (R., N.H.), Tom Reed (R., N.Y.), Robert Dold (R., Ill.), Mike Quigley (D., Ill.) and three more Democrats—support the plan.

The U.S. government is projected to have a deficit of roughly $1.2 trillion in the year ending Sept. 30, the fourth straight year with deficits over $1 trillion. The total U.S. debt reached $15.544 trillion on Monday.

Romney far behind Obama on test of basic popularity

From The Washington Post:

Half of all Americans now express unfavorable views of Mitt Romney, a new high for the GOP presidential hopeful in Washington Post-ABC News polling. The deteriorating public impressions of the former Massachusetts governor foreshadow a significant obstacle for him as he tries to shift the focus of his campaign toward a potential match-up against President Obama.

Romney’s negative numbers have jumped around this election cycle, but the overall pattern is similar to his trajectory four years ago: As he became better known, his unfavorables shot up far more rapidly than his positive numbers. Negative impressions are up eight percentage points in the past week, nudging past the previous high, which occurred about the time Romney suffered a big loss in the South Carolina primary.

In the new poll, 50 percent of all adults and 52 percent of registered voters express unfavorable opinions of Romney, both higher — although marginally — than Obama has received in Post-ABC polling as far back as late 2006.

However, the biggest difference between Romney and Obama is on the other side of the ledger: 53 percent of Americans hold favorable views of the president; for Romney, that number slides to 34 percent. Positive ratings of Obama steadily improved over the course of his fight for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination — something not evident in Romney’s ratings this time around, or last.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Support in U.S. for Afghan War Drops Sharply - A New York Times/CBS News poll found that 69 percent of Americans surveyed think that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan.

From The New York Times:

After a series of violent episodes and setbacks, support for the war in Afghanistan has dropped sharply among both Republicans and Democrats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The survey found that more than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan. Just four months ago, 53 percent said that Americans should no longer be fighting in the conflict, more than a decade old.       

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Can Mitt Romney hit the reset button on presidential campaign?

Dalz writes in The Washington Post:

It is easy to understand why last week’s Etch a Sketch moment was described as the perfect metaphor for a presidential candidate who has struggled to answer the question of who he is and what he believes. It was a gaffe that fed a stereotype that shapes the political image of Mitt Romney.

But lost amid all the fevered commentary and the din of tweets is the reality that sometime in the next few months, when the general election campaign starts in earnest, the public will take a relatively fresh look at what almost certainly will be a choice between the former Massachusetts governor and President Obama.

Advisers to the president now see their likely rival as having suffered potentially permanent damage from a campaign in which he has had to run to the right to win acceptance from his party’s conservative base. Romney’s advisers believe otherwise. They see any damage as overstated. They believe the president has vulnerabilities that have been largely ignored by the media while the Republicans have been on center stage. And they say that will change once the nomination battle ends.

Defining the terms of the general election is the coming competition. The past will not be swept away, as Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom seemed to be suggesting with his careless reference to the children’s toy that has become a campaign trail prop for Romney’s rivals. The record Romney has created during his long run for the nomination will be an important part of the backdrop for the fall, no matter how hard his campaign tries to shake up the landscape.

But by summer, the campaign conversation could sound different than it does today. The outcome in November surely will be affected by daily machinations and tactical moves and the instantaneous analysis and chatter that surround them. But it will be influenced more heavily by fundamentals — the state of the economy, the president’s approval rating, the deep and often rigid demographic lines that define red-blue politics. Moving those voters at the margins will be the challenge for Obama and Romney.

The way it looks now, Romney will have repair work to do to strengthen his appeal to some voters who may have been turned off by the GOP nomination campaign. The most significant could be Hispanics, whose votes will be critical in a number of the states that the Republicans will need to win back. Through the many GOP debates, Romney went more than the extra mile to run to the right of his opponents on the issue of immigration.

He denounced Texas Gov. Rick Perry for championing a law that provided in-state college tuition to resident children of illegal immigrants. He attacked former House speaker Newt Gingrich for suggesting that illegal immigrants who have been in the country for a quarter-century or more and have put down community roots should be allowed to stay as legal residents. He talked about “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants and described Arizona’s controversial immigration law as “a model for the nation.”

Romney’s Republican Party colleagues have complicated their eventual nominee’s efforts to win more votes of women, particularly suburban women, by extending the debate over Obama’s initial contraception policy and allowing it to turn into a conversation about women’s rights as much as religious liberty. The fact that Ann Romney recently began linking the economy to the concerns and worries of women shows that the campaign is sensitized to the need to find a way to talk to female voters about economic rather than social issues.

Romney’s misstatements, some taken out of context, have led to an image of a candidate out of touch with the lives of ordinary Americans. The former governor has talked about friendships with NASCAR owners, rather than talking about the drivers or the fans. When he talks about the economy on the trail, he speaks about business owners and entrepreneurs he’s met along the way more than he does about workers.

Romney describes the world from the perspective of a CEO, not that of the ordinary voter. Given the problems Obama has with white, working-class voters, Romney will win more of their support than the president. But Romney may have to work harder than the Republican nominee should to hold his share or enlarge it to offset the reality that the 2012 electorate will have a smaller share of white voters than in 2008.

So no, there is no wiping the slate clean of all that. But from the perspective of Romney’s advisers, those factors are not all that the campaign will be about. They see the general election much differently. The fall campaign, they say, will not be decided by Etch a Sketch gaffes or some of the questions about Romney that have dominated the primary season debate.

Instead, they believe the race will be framed by several broad realities: a president whose approval rating is below 50 percent, despite an improving economy; a country still traumatized by the economic collapse of 2008; and an electorate polarized by the president and his record.

Economic indicators may be pointing up, but Romney advisers believe many voters are still reeling from the effects of the recession. Those voters, they say, lack confidence about the future, have doubts about the president’s leadership and policies, and in the end will not be swayed by a message that things could have been worse if there is a credible alternative put forward.

In the same sentence in which he mentioned Etch a Sketch, Fehrnstrom talked about a reset moment for the campaign once the primaries end. That is a more apt description of what is coming. The Etch a Sketch moment has made it all the more difficult for Romney to try to undo some of what he’s done in the primaries. He can’t afford another replay of flip-flop.

But if Romney has his way, the shift from the nomination battle to the general election will be a moment of restating first principles, not a wholesale pivot back to the center. There are several touchstones that provide a guide to what he hopes to do in a general election. One is the speech he gave last summer when he announced his candidacy. Others are speeches he has given on the nights when he has won impressive primary victories, such as in Florida and last week in Illinois. In all of those cases, Romney’s message focused on the economy, on the size and shape of the federal government and on the president.

That’s the campaign Romney has wanted to run from the time he started looking seriously at a 2012 candidacy. He has been knocked off stride by his opponents, by the conservatism of his party and by his own hand. He needs a reset moment and no doubt will get it. But will Romney be ready and able when that moment comes?

As Supreme Court justices review health-care law, stakes will be hard to ignore

From The Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Monday joins the nation’s vitriolic debate over the landmark health-care law and the limits of federal power. And though thousands of pages of legal arguments about the Constitution’s history and the court’s precedents have landed on justices’ desks, the outcome may also hinge on less tangible factors.

Public opinion. The nation’s volatile political climate. The court’s self-consciousness about its own partisan divide. And the pivotal role it plays in deciding the nation’s thorniest social issues.

Experts say all of those go into the mix as justices consider the extraordinary step of striking down — for the first time since the New Deal — a monumental domestic program proposed by the president and passed by Congress.

[Justice John G. Roberts Jr.] and the court have gone to some lengths to show the nation the seriousness and evenhandedness of their inquiry.

They have scheduled six hours of arguments over three days, the most in 45 years. They will examine the law in detail, even parts that no judges below them have found constitutionally questionable. And while cameras are still forbidden, the court has changed its rules to release audiotape and transcripts of the arguments each day.

Roberts even made something of a preemptive strike this year when he defended his colleagues against criticism that some come to the arguments with agendas.

“We are all deeply committed to the common interest in preserving the court’s vital role as an impartial tribunal governed by the rule of law,” Roberts wrote in his annual report on the state of the judiciary.

But the case sets up a classic problem for the court: when to defer to the political branches as the elected representatives of the people and when to blow the whistle when those politicians have intruded on the Constitution’s protection of the people.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Implications Are Far-Reaching in States’ Challenge of Federal Health Care Law

From The New York Times:

A major issue in the Supreme Court battle over the new health care law is whether Congress can force states to make a huge expansion of Medicaid, to add millions of low-income people to the rolls.

States say the federal law is unconstitutionally coercive because all their Medicaid money would be at risk if they flout the new requirement.

The states’ argument has implications that go far beyond health care. It raises questions about Congress’s ability to attach conditions to federal grants to the states for other purposes, like education, transportation, law enforcement and protection of the environment.

The implications for the health care overhaul are also enormous. The Congressional Budget Office says that about half of the people expected to gain coverage under the new law — 16 million of the 31 million people — will get it through Medicaid.

The federal government normally pays 50 percent to 83 percent of Medicaid costs. But it will pay a much larger share for people who become eligible under the new health care law: 100 percent of the costs in 2014-16 and 95 percent in 2017, declining to 90 percent in 2020 and later years.
States say they cannot afford to turn down so much federal money — more than $500 billion from 2014 to 2020. But the Obama administration said this argument led to a perverse conclusion: When the federal government offers more money to states, on more generous terms, it becomes more coercive.       

Friday, March 23, 2012

Joe Klein: Mitt Romney’s Etch A Sketch Disaster

Joe Klein writes in TIME:

I’ve been thinking about this all night: Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch A Sketch gaffe yesterday may go well beyond a momentary embarrassment and become a campaign-defining disaster, much as John Kerry’s “I voted for it before I voted against it” gaffe — which came at almost exactly the same point in that campaign, as Kerry locked down the nomination — was in 2004. This is true for several reasons:

1. Most obviously, this was a classic Kinsleyan gaffe — an inadvertent blurting of the truth — that goes to the very heart of the character problems that have bedeviled Mitt Romney throughout this campaign. It provides a handy prop for Romney’s opponents and an obvious template for future TV ads.

 2. It makes it much harder, perhaps impossible, for Romney to begin to tack back to the center to appeal to centrist voters, an absolute necessity for the fall campaign after the free-range extremism of the Republican primary. Every time Romney makes a move or even a head fake, it becomes an Etch A Sketch moment.

3. There is a gestalt to every campaign, a deep organic spirit. Kerry’s campaign was infected by the candidate’s indecision about what to do regarding the war in Iraq. Bill Clinton’s campaign was propelled by his native resilience. George W. Bush succeeded because of his gormless certitude. The Obama campaign’s steadiness emanated from the candidate’s no-drama persona. In Romney’s case, this spirit expresses itself in embarrassing gaffes, often at the moment of victory — and it reflects the sterile management-consultancy ethos at the heart of the candidate. In last week’s issue of the New Yorker, Louis Menand had a terrific essay about how this ethos really is Romney’s defining characteristic. A management consultant or private equity turnaround specialist can wipe the slate — or Etch A Sketch — clean and start anew with each new project. A political candidate can’t. There has to be some passion for a presidential candidacy to work. Romney has none, just a deep abiding faith in his ability as a turnaround guy. A turnaround guy. A turnaround guy.

He never ceases to amaze. Santorum: Might as well have Obama over Romney

From the AP in the AJC

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Thursday said Republicans should give President Barack Obama another term if Santorum isn't the GOP nominee and for a second day compared rival Mitt Romney to an Etch A Sketch toy.

Health Law Slow to Win Favor - Some Provisions Stumble in Practice.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When the health-care overhaul became law after a bitter debate, many Democrats predicted Americans would grow to like it as they started enjoying some of the early benefits.

When the health-care overhaul became law after a bitter debate, many Democrats predicted Americans would grow to like it as they started enjoying some of the early benefits.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Calls Grow for Leader of Komen to Step Down; the carnage following the outcry that got Karen Handel continues

From The New York Times:

Calls for the resignation of Nancy G. Brinker, the founder and chief executive of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast cancer charity, grew Wednesday amid news that a second high-profile executive was leaving the group.       

The resignations come after a national outcry over Komen’s decision earlier this year to eliminate most of its financing for breast cancer education and screening to Planned Parenthood, which runs women’s health clinics that also provide birth control and perform abortions. At the time, the national Komen organization said it had decided not to finance grant applications from organizations under government investigation. Although Planned Parenthood was not the subject of an investigation, a Republican congressman, Cliff Stearns of Florida, was looking into whether the group had spent public money on abortions.
After critics charged that Komen was politicizing women’s health by trying to distance itself from Planned Parenthood, the breast cancer charity rescinded its decision in February and Ms. Brinker apologized. Days later, Karen Handel, the group’s senior vice president for policy, who had become a lightning rod for criticism over the Planned Parenthood issue, resigned. But the controversy, stoked by heated comments on social media sites like Twitter, has turned off some longtime supporters, resulting in reduced fund-raising at some affiliates

You gotta love it: How does Romney appeal to moderate swing voters in faceup against Obama? No problem. “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

Mitt Romney, in Arbutus, Md., said, "The issues I'm running on will be exactly the same," regardless of his aide's comments.

From The New York Times.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sunday game was a team at its best, and in fact, as good a played game as we will see this season. Why am I sad: Odds Don't Favor UNC After Marshall's Injury

From The Wall Street Journal:

North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall's injured right wrist has anyone with a stake in the Tar Heels worried about their chances of winning the national championship. North Carolina took the most money of any No. 1 seed before the tournament began, said Bovada sports-book manager Kevin Bradley. Bovada dropped UNC's title odds to 7-to-1 but still hasn't fielded many bets on the team since Sunday night. Although Marshall underwent successful surgery Monday, Bradley said Bovada probably won't set a line on the Sweet 16 game between UNC and Ohio until Marshall's status is more certain.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Have some pride; bring the boys home: U.S. Offers Concessions on Afghan Night Raids

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Obama administration is offering to cede some control over nighttime missions into Afghan village homes, U.S. officials say, in a bid to ease tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that took on new urgency with the deadly rampage in a Kandahar village last week.

The administration's most significant proposed concession on night raids would subject the operations to advance review by Afghan judges, U.S. military officials said. One option under discussion in U.S.-Afghan talks would require warrants to be issued before operations get the green light.

The so-called night raids by U.S. special-operations forces have long been a source of division between President Barack Obama and Mr. Karzai, and have been a stumbling block in negotiations on the role of the U.S. in Afghanistan after most troops pull out at the end of 2014.

The U.S. military says it considers night raids to be the most effective way of degrading the Taliban's command-and-control infrastructure, with minimal civilian casualties. There were nearly 2,500 such raids in the last year, military officials said.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Newspaperman Otis A. Brumby Jr., a force in Cobb, has died at 72 - Lower the flag to half-mast - A Great American and a Great Georgian has left this life

I feel honored to have met this gentleman.

See story in the AJC.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Geez: Mitt Romney said he would support statehood for Puerto Rico, if that was a path that residents of the island decided to pursue.

From The New York Times:

He often spoke for only a few minutes, and favored questions from the local media, which focused on Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state, and whether he would, like Rick Santorum, require residents to make English their “primary” language as a requirement for statehood.

“My view is that the people of Puerto Rico should be able to express an opinion on this issue, and if they decide they would like to be a state, I will help in the effort in Washington to secure that conclusion,” he said . . . .

All Odds Aside, G.O.P. Girding for Floor Fight

From The New York Times:

For the first time in a generation, Republicans are preparing for the possibility that their presidential nomination could be decided at their national convention rather than on the campaign trail, a prospect that would upend one of the rituals of modern politics.

The race remains Mitt Romney’s to lose, and if he continues to accumulate delegates at a steady clip starting with contests in Puerto Rico on Sunday and Illinois on Tuesday, he can still amass the 1,144 necessary to secure the nomination before the last primary, in Utah on June 26.
But as he struggles to win the hearts of conservative voters and hold off a challenge from Rick Santorum, party leaders, activists and the campaigns are for the first time taking seriously the possibility that neither he nor anyone else will get to that total.

In that case, the nomination would be decided by the more than 2,200 delegates — from obscure local officials and activists to national figures — who will attend the party’s convention in Tampa, Fla., in late August.

They would embark on an unscripted, contentious and televised drama that has not played out in 36 years, a period in which both major party conventions have become slickly produced and highly choreographed pep rallies kicking off the general election campaign.

With that in mind, campaign and party lawyers are dusting off their party rule books, running through decades-old procedural arcana and studying the most recent convention-floor fight, between Ronald Reagan and President Gerald R. Ford in 1976. Republican officials also are bracing for the possibility of a prenomination clash between the party’s establishment and members of the Tea Party movement, many of whom may be attending their first national convention.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

U.S. Officials Debate Speeding Afghan Pullout

From The New York Times:

The Obama administration is discussing whether to reduce American forces in Afghanistan by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013, reflecting a growing belief within the White House that the mission there has now reached the point of diminishing returns.       

Accelerating the withdrawal of United States forces has been under consideration for weeks by senior White House officials, but those discussions are now taking place in the context of two major setbacks to American efforts in Afghanistan — the killings on Sunday of Afghan civilians attributed to a United States Army staff sergeant and the violence touched off by burning of Korans last month by American troops.

Any accelerated withdrawal would face stiff opposition from military commanders, who want to keep the bulk of the remaining American troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, when the NATO mission in Afghanistan is supposed to end. Their resistance puts Mr. Obama in a quandary, as he balances how to hasten what is increasingly becoming a messy withdrawal while still painting a portrait of success for NATO allies and the American people.

The United States now has just under 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by September. There has been no schedule set for the withdrawal of the remaining 68,000 American troops, although Mr. Obama said last year that the drawdown would continue “at a steady pace” until the United States handed over security to the Afghan forces in 2014.

Monday, March 12, 2012

It's time to bring our boys home - Shootings Fray Afghan Ties

From The Wall Street Journal:

A U.S. soldier walked off his base in Afghanistan and opened fire on local villagers Sunday, Afghan and U.S. officials said, killing 16 people in a shooting spree that further complicates American efforts to end its longest foreign war.

From The New York Times:

The outrage from the back-to-back episodes of the Koran burning and the killing on Sunday of at least 16 Afghan civilians imperils what the Obama administration once saw as an orderly plan for 2012: to speed the training of Afghan forces so that they can take the lead in combat missions, all while drawing the Taliban into negotiations to end more than a decade of constant war.

[T]o many Americans — even onetime supporters of the Afghan mission in both parties — these episodes and the inevitable reaction they prompt only underscore the need to hurry to the exits in a war whose outcome, some military officials say, now seems less certain than at any time since Mr. Obama took office.

While it may take weeks or months to determine the motives of the killer in this case, military officials have said in recent days that these are the kinds of episodes that happen when a military force has been at constant war, with many repeat rotations in battle zones.

While some Republican presidential candidates — notably Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts — have criticized Mr. Obama for committing to leave Afghanistan before the Taliban are defeated, a growing number seem to be joining Democrats who say there is little more the United States can do.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Recent debate over contraception comes as GOP loses gains among women

From The Washington Post:

The fragile gains Republicans had been making among female voters have been erased, a shift that has coincided with what has become a national shouting match over reproductive issues, potentially handing President Obama and the Democrats an enormous advantage this fall.

In the 2010 congressional midterm elections, Republican candidates ran evenly with Democrats among women, a break with long-established trends. That was a major reason the GOP regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Now, female voters appear to be swinging back to Democrats.

A number of polls show that Obama’s approval among women has risen significantly since December, even as it has remained flat among men. The same trend, which began before the controversy in recent weeks, is also showing up further down the ballot.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Rush Limbaugh has gone orbit on this one (and then again, such posturing and absurity is his trademark). - SEE UPDATE: Limbaugh Apologizes for Attack on Student in Birth Control Furor

From The New York Times:

The election-year fight over the administration’s birth control policy escalated Friday, with two unlikely figures — a Georgetown University law student and the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh — taking center stage in the politically charged conflict and pulling much of official Washington into the fray.

On Friday, one day after Senate Democrats beat back a Republican challenge to the new policy, President Obama called Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown student who had come under incendiary attack from Mr. Limbaugh, to thank her for publicly backing his regulations mandating contraception coverage.

On his Wednesday show, Mr. Limbaugh said: “What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.” Those remarks and others whipped up a frenzy of denunciations, but on Thursday, Mr. Limbaugh held his ground, declaring: “If we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

From The New York Times:

In an about-face, the conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said Saturday that he was sorry for denouncing as a “prostitute” a Georgetown University law student who had spoken publicly in favor of the Obama administration’s birth control policy.

On Saturday, a day after President Obama telephoned the student, Sandra Fluke, to say he stood by her in the face of personal attacks on right-wing radio, Mr. Limbaugh published the apology on his Web site.

“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke,” Mr. Limbaugh wrote. He then reiterated his opposition to the Obama administration policy, which requires health insurance plans to cover contraceptives for women.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Republicans need to think long and hard about being a big tent, winning hearts and minds, and finding many more 80% friends rather than purging them.

From the 2-29-2012 Dublin Courier Herald:

Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine surprised the political world Tuesday with the announcement that she will not seek a fourth term in the U.S. Senate. The decision puts what was considered a safe seat for Republicans into play, and possibly the best potential for Democrats to pick up a seat from Republicans.

Republicans have looked at Senate takeover to ensure a newly elected President would not be saddled with Congressional gridlock. Republicans need 4 seats to attain a majority. Only 10 Republican Senators are up for re-election, while the Democrats will play defense on 23 seats.

Despite the unneeded speed bump placed in the Republicans path to a Senate majority, many conservatives have reacted with a “good riddance” attitude to the announcement. Snowe, along with her counterpart from Maine Senator Susan Collins, are among the Republican caucus’ least reliable members when party line votes are cast.

Snowe herself cited the partisan rancor that is not likely to subside in the near future as the primary reason she was not willing to commit to six more years in Washington. Real Clear Politics quotes her as saying “I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies [have] become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”

As one of the members in the Senate most likely to work across the aisle, Snowe has frustrated movement conservatives who believe that not holding a party line is tantamount to treason. They tend to point to Senators such as South Carolina’s Jim Demint as the prototype of their favorite non-compromiser de jour. They usually overlook the fact that Demint hails from uber-conservative South Carolina. Maine is not exactly South Carolina, and Maine Politics is about as similar to that of South Carolina as each state’s weather.

Zell Miller wrote the book “A National Party No More”, warning Democrats that their policies, values, and insistence that all Democrats match the policies of people in New York and Los Angeles were ending their viability to attract candidates and voters in much of the country. Perhaps Miller should pen an equally prescient warning to Republicans as they seek to purge all that do not speak the language of Republicans with a southern accent.

When Republicans became serious about building a majority party during the eighties and nineties, phrases such as “big tent” and “winning the hearts and minds” were operational battle cries. Ronald Reagan was quite proud to have his “Reagan Democrats” as part of the coalition that propelled him to victory, a group that even included a formal endorsement from the Teamsters.

Republicans in the 80’s and 90’s were much hungrier for victories than today. A forty year stint as the minority party will do that to you. Today, however, Republicans live with the contrast that they were “fired for cause” in 2006, only to return to a House Majority in 2010 and have a respectable shot at adding the White House and Senate in 2012. Lessons learned the hard way as the minority party are quickly forgotten with the arrogance and entitlement of majority status.

Yet math remains math, and retaining the majority requires 50% plus one vote. The math of primaries, however, favors the most unrelenting hardline positions be adopted. It is generally assumed that the other party will also favor an opposite extreme position, leaving voters in the center being volleyed between parties not as much in support, but as those running away from the positions of the last created majority.

Republicans at the national level face a stark choice. They can either understand that all Republicans are not created from the same political bases, and issues that play well with the Southern base are themselves insufficient to build a lasting national majority. Or, they may continue to try and purge those who do not fit within a pre-determined regional mold and ensure a uniformly principled party – one with a minority status.

Republicans are quick to quote Ronald Reagan when it serves their purpose, and even mis-quote him if necessary. Yet they don’t like being reminded of the Reagan Democrats, nor the line that an 80% friend is not the enemy. Republicans need to think long and hard about being a big tent, winning hearts and minds, and finding many more 80% friends rather than purging them.

Romney Reopens Whatever-It-Takes Playbook

This is an interest article from The New York Times.  Just a sample:

The Romney campaign’s shortcomings have been on vivid display in recent weeks, from verbal stumbles to a failure to stir the passions of the Republican base.       

But even his battered rivals acknowledge that Mr. Romney is proving unusually adept at defining, diminishing and disqualifying a serial cast of challengers through relentless attacks.       

His campaign has deployed every tactic in the negative-campaign playbook.

“It’s clear the negative ads are what’s keeping this guy alive,” said Nelson Warfield, a Republican strategist who worked for Mr. Perry. “It seems like Republican primary voters will not vote for Mitt Romney unless they are forced into it. And the way they’re forced into it is when he beats the other guy senseless.”       

Senate Rejects Step Targeting Coverage of Contraception

From The New York Times:

The Senate on Thursday upheld President Obama’s birth control policy, voting to kill a Republican effort to let employers and health insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives and other items they object to on religious or moral grounds.       

The 2010 health care law requires most insurers to cover preventive services without co-payments or deductibles. Under the administration policy, these services include all contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as sterilization procedures.       

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) says she’ll retire, citing partisanship in Congress

From The Wall Street Journal:

Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who for 33 years in Congress has personified an increasingly unfashionable Republican centrism, said she won't seek re-election, taking a final shot at the Senate's partisanship.

"I do find it frustrating...that an atmosphere of polarization and 'my way or the highway' ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions," she said Tuesday.

The decision, which took members of both parties by surprise, transforms this year's battle for the Senate. Democrats hold a 53-47 advantage in the chamber. But because they have to defend 23 seats to the Republicans' 10, most analysts have said the GOP has a good shot at retaking the Senate.

That just became harder, because Maine is a Democratic-leaning state. President Barack Obama won it by 17 percentage points in 2008, and Democrats say they are in a strong position to replace Ms. Snowe with a Democrat. Maine's filing deadline for congressional candidates is March 15, so Ms. Snowe's announcement gives the GOP little time to recruit a strong candidate.

Tuesday's announcement also reflects the dwindling number of centrists of both parties in the Senate. Sen. Scott Brown (R., Mass.), a fellow centrist, faces a tough race for re-election. On the other side of the aisle, Sens. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who usually votes with the Democrats, are both retiring.

Ms. Snowe fills the role of a centrist as much as anyone in the chamber. In early 2009, she was one of three Republicans who voted for Mr. Obama's stimulus law.

That year, she also voted for Mr. Obama's health-care overhaul at the committee level, declaring, "When history calls, history calls." She later voted against the bill on the floor.

Ms. Snowe, 65, is enormously popular in Maine. She was first elected to the state legislature in 1973, taking the place of her husband, who had died in an auto accident.

In her latest Senate election, in 2006, she won with 74% of the vote. But she said politics had become more bitter recently. "I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term," Ms. Snowe said in her statement Tuesday.

See also The Washington Post.