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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.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Part II on Romney London Gaffe: For Romney, an Olympic Stage Less Welcoming Than the One in 2002

From The New York Times:

[Romney] insisted on heading abroad for this year’s opening ceremony, against the advice of some aides who worried about leaving the country in the middle of such a heated presidential election.

Throughout the election cycle, Mr. Romney’s team has tried to build a low-risk campaign — refusing to release more than two years’ tax returns, holding infrequent news conferences, limiting the national news media’s access to him and now planning a foreign trip whose first stop included few public events.
The result is a campaign that, rather than making news and controlling the script, often finds itself scrambling to catch up.

Mr. Romney’s caution and hesitancy have a personal history. He watched the presidential hopes of his father, George W. Romney, then the governor of Michigan, implode after an offhand remark about having been “brainwashed” in Vietnam.

The aftermath was swift and vicious, with the British press devouring Mr. Romney like a pile of mushy peas. His campaign was slow and flat-footed in recognizing it had a problem, and unable to improvise a quick response.
Instead, staff members were forced to watch as David Cameron, the British prime minister, offered a tart and public rebuke on Thursday. “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” Mr. Cameron said, an obvious allusion to the Games Mr. Romney oversaw in Salt Lake City.
Afterward, the campaign said that Mr. Romney had misspoken because he was tired and jet-lagged. “Even the Energizer Bunny needs new batteries once in a while,” said an adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate topic.

Two British television networks led with the gaffe on their nightly broadcasts (a third ran it second), and Mr. Romney awoke to British headlines proclaiming him a “party-pooper” and “Mitt the Twit.”
Though Britain had a field day with Mr. Romney’s comment, it remains to be seen whether they will have any impact on voters in the United States. But so far, the images and moments from the Olympics cannot be quite what the Romney campaign had been hoping for.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hospitals Are Worried About Cut in Fund for the Uninsured (Don't forget, the law reduces the deficit, and I am from the government, and I am here to help you).

From The New York Times:

President Obama’s health care law is putting new strains on some of the nation’s most hard-pressed hospitals, by cutting aid they use to pay for emergency care for illegal immigrants, which they have long been required to provide.

The federal government has been spending $20 billion annually to reimburse these hospitals — most in poor urban and rural areas — for treating more than their share of the uninsured, including illegal immigrants. The health care law will eventually cut that money in half, based on the premise that fewer people will lack insurance after the law takes effect.
But the estimated 11 million people now living illegally in the United States are not covered by the health care law. Its sponsors, seeking to sidestep the contentious debate over immigration, excluded them from the law’s benefits.
As a result, so-called safety-net hospitals said the cuts would deal a severe blow to their finances.
The hospitals are coming under this pressure because many of their uninsured patients are illegal immigrants, and because their large pools of uninsured or poorly insured patients are not expected to be reduced significantly under the Affordable Care Act, even as federal aid shrinks.

Tea-Party Favorite Surges in Texas Senate Race

From The Wall Street Journal:

Tea-party favorite Raphael "Ted" Cruz is aiming to pull off an upset in a U.S. Senate primary runoff next week, aided by a rush of super PAC spending.

Just weeks ago, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appeared to have a comfortable lead in the race to become the Republican candidate—the main event in the conservative Lone Star State—after he finished first in the May primary. But his 10-point margin wasn't enough to avoid next Tuesday's runoff with Mr. Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general.

Now, against a backdrop of heavy spending by independent political-action committees, Mr. Dewhurst looks to be in the fight of his life. Recent polls suggest momentum has shifted to Mr. Cruz, a Harvard Law School graduate and son of Cuban immigrants.

Mr. Cruz became a darling of tea-party activists through his muscular support of states' rights and criticism of the federal government. He favors allowing states to pass Arizona-style legislation targeting illegal immigration and has called for reducing income-taxes rates and federal spending, including shuttering agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

What? You, the guest, come to my house and fuss about what we're serving for dinner? And you want to be my leader? - Mitt Romney tries to steer around Olympics controversy in London meetings

From The Washington Post:

Thursday was supposed to be the easy day, when Mitt Romney would audition as a world leader here by talking about his shared values with the heads of the United States’ friendliest ally.

Instead, the Republican presidential candidate insulted Britain as it welcomed the world for the Olympics by casting doubt on London’s readiness for the Games, which open Friday, saying that the preparations he had seen were “disconcerting” and that it is “hard to know just how well it will turn out.”

The comments drew a swift rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron and, by day’s end, a public tongue-lashing by the city’s mayor as the Olympic torch arrived in Hyde Park.

Cameron, responding to the candidate with a note of irritation, said that “of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” an apparent reference to Salt Lake City. That city held the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, which Romney organized.

It was a difficult start to Romney’s first foray on the international stage as the presumptive Republican nominee, one that was supposed to present him to U.S. voters as a potential commander in chief. Beyond his Olympics remarks, Romney had a series of uncomfortable moments — some of them seemingly minor, but distractions nonetheless.

At one point, he told reporters about his previously undisclosed meeting with the head of the MI-6, Britain’s secret intelligence agency.

For any candidate on a foreign trip, the margin for error is small, with every misstep magnified, fairly or not — especially so for Romney, whose visit is drawing inevitable comparisons to Barack Obama’s largely successful foreign tour as a candidate in 2008.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

G.O.P. Edge as Dynamics Shift in House Races

From The New York Times:

Since 2006, members of the House have faced electoral waves that swept away scores of incumbents.

But the 2012 struggle for control of the House is shaping up less as a partisan surge than as a series of squalls, in which the outcome will largely depend on individual survival skills rather than a national movement.

The overall dynamic favors Republicans, who look poised to maintain their hold on the House. More Democrats than Republicans have retired in districts where they were endangered, and more Republicans benefited from the decennial redistricting, leaving the Democrats with too small a cushion of Teflon incumbents as they try to regain a majority in the House.

Of the 80 races viewed as most competitive by The New York Times, based on polls and interviews with independent analysts, 32 are leaning Republican, 23 are leaning Democratic and 25 are tossups.
Although lawmakers’ approval ratings have hit historical lows, it appears that many voters want their representatives to continue to take the fight to the opposing party.
“There is no doubt that voters believe Washington is broken,” said David Wasserman, the House editor of The Cook Political Report. “But most believe it is broken because the other side broke it.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Put it to the coward Mayor, stay after him: Kasim Reed slams DeKalb NAACP chief over T-SPLOST

UPDATE:  I just received an email that forwards a comment I have not yet read other than to see the caption of my post was misconstrued, I was not clear enough, or perphas a combination thereof.  I will read the comment later, but for the moment suffice it to say that the coward is not the Mayor God forbid, a person for whom I and I think the State of Georgia has much, much respect and admiration, not to mention appreciation.  The coward is the subject of the Mayor's attack, John Evans (or "whatever the fellow’s name is").

Jim Galloway reports in the AJC's Political Insider:

A fascinating and heated non-debate over the TSPLOST, between Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the president of the DeKalb County NAACP, took place this morning via radio station V-103 and its large African-American audience.

DeKalb has the highest concentration of Democratic voters in Georgia, and is crucial to the formula for passage next week of the transportation sales tax in metro Atlanta. But John Evans, who heads up the DeKalb NAACP chapter, has come out against the TSPLOST, saying it doesn’t do enough for south DeKalb.

Evans and Reed appeared back-to-back on V-103’s “Frank and Wanda Show” to discuss the issue. Evans was first, and said:

“Everybody has a reason they don’t want to pay the tax. They may not all be related to transportation. There are those in these outlying counties who want no part of transportation where we’re going to be bringing black folk and others to their communities. They don’t want it. And so they’ll have their reason for voting.

“The NAACP’s reason for not wanting it is, they have been promising us rail for 20 years, and have not paid the price to do it….They’ve had county commissioners who would support it in Fulton, and wouldn’t support it in DeKalb…They think we’re the weakest folk in the game, and so they think they can get away with it. And when can get certain blacks to fold into that thesis, they think they can influence all of black folk, everywhere….

“First of all, they’re talking about 200,000 jobs. That’s the biggest lie I ever heard. I want a list. That’s an estimate. Even at that, if you’re not secure in contracts in writing, and we may have to end up taking them to court….We can’t afford to play this mealy mouth stuff, accepting everything that the system says.

“When they had the roundtable, they had 21 people. Four of them were black. None of them supported us. None…they tried to buy us off by saying, ‘Okay, you said you wanted rail. We’ll give you $225 million to come up with some jive bus system.’ That’s not it.”
By the time he rolled into the studio, the mayor of Atlanta was plenty steamed. Reed laid into Evans:

”I was listening to that funny fellow you had before I was on. I think he ought to say that to me. When I saw him in the hall, all he did was walk up and shake my hand, and ask me how I was doing. If he’s going to get on the radio and make those kinds of false statements, talk that trash to the people of Atlanta, he ought to do it while we’re both sitting here on ‘V’.

“….That’s what a man would do. This man just got on the radio, said all these false things, used the name of the south DeKalb NAACP, talked about whether I was on the roundtable, talked about this being a rich man’s game. How many people has he ever employed? How many businesses has he brought to the city of Atlanta?….

“He talks that talk because he doesn’t have any responsibility. He doesn’t have a job to do. He doesn’t have to deliver for people every single day. He doesn’t have to look into the eyes of mothers who are trying to get jobs for their kids. He doesn’t have to look at them. He runs around, all day, God knows what he does, talking this talk. Comes on the radio, and then smiles at me in the hall. [To the already departed Evans] Please come on ‘V’ with me…

“MARTA’s getting $600 million in investments. I don’t know how he believes that $600 million is a small amount of money. It’s the biggest investment in MARTA that MARTA has had in 20 years that’s not from the federal government…

“Did you know that right now, folks in Clayton County can’t get on a bus and get into the heart of the city? That’s 1960s, 1970s stuff. If I live in Clayton County, and I’m a working person, I can’t get on public transit and get into downtown or Buckhead or east Atlanta or Cobb or Gwinnett from home? You know what that means? That means I have to take extraordinary steps just to keep a job, just to keep a roof over my head.

“Do you know who put the $225 million in for the south DeKalb line in at all? I did. I did….
“If you all walked out of your front door right now, and put a for sale sign out on your home, you’d be lucky if you broke even. Most of us would have to take a loss. That’s the environment we’re in right now. And John Evans, or whatever the fellow’s name is, see, he doesn’t have to go recruit businesses into Georgia, or recruit businesses into the city of Atlanta.

“The reason I’m working on this is because I sit in those meetings, and we’re losing businesses coming to our town that used to say yes without me even showing up…..

European Crisis Seen Spreading to Russia

From The Wall Street Journal:

Russia's economy is more vulnerable to the effects of the euro zone's fiscal and banking crises as commodity prices fall, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said Wednesday.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Firms Pass Up Tax Breaks, Citing Hassles, Complexity .

My office took the tax credit for providing our employees health-care coverage.  But wow!  What an effort getting up all of the information required on the Form 1120S.

From The Wall Street Journal:

For years, politicians have used targeted tax breaks to try to influence corporate behavior, offering lower tax bills as an incentive to hire more workers, boost energy efficiency and buy more equipment, among other things.

But executives, particularly at small and medium-size companies, complain that many of the tax deductions are either too cumbersome or too confusing.

The result: many companies are saying "no, thanks" and are likely paying more taxes than legally required. And corporate breaks that Washington hopes will boost the economy often prove ineffective.

A tax credit that Congress enacted in 2010—for small businesses providing health-care coverage—was claimed by only about 170,300 employers, out of an eligible pool of between 1.4 million and four million businesses, according to the Government Accountability Office.

"The calculation was ridiculous," says Barbara Webber, property manager for Presidential Estates in Quincy, Mass., an owner of apartment complexes. Despite an accounting background, she said, "I struggled with it." In the end, she says, she didn't qualify due to IRS wage restrictions.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Noonan: President Obama's approach was, as it often is, accusatory and vaguely manipulative. Which makes people lean away from him, not toward him.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Obama was trying to conflate a nice thought—we must help each other—with a partisan and ideological one, that government has and needs more of a role in creating personal success. He did not do it well because his approach was, as it often is, accusatory and vaguely manipulative. Which makes people lean away from him, not toward him.

It is odd he does not notice this, because communicating is his obsession. He made this clear again in his interview last week with Charlie Rose. "The mistake of my first couple of years was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right," he said. "But, you know, the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism."

I am certain the president has no idea how patronizing he sounds. His job is to tell us a story? And then get our blankie and put us to sleep?

When he says "a story" he means "the narrative," but he can't use that term because every hack in politics and every journalist they spin uses it and believes in it.

We've written of this before but it needs repeating. The American people will not listen to a narrative, they will not sit still for a story. They do not listen passively as seemingly eloquent people in Washington spin tales of their own derring-do.

The American people tell you the narrative. They look at the facts produced by your leadership, make a judgment and sum it up. The summation is spoken—the story told—at a million barbecues in a million back yards.

The narrative on the president right now is: He's not a bad guy, but it hasn't worked.
Some people will vote for him anyway, some won't. But all, actually, know it hasn't worked. That's the narrative.

To get that wrong—that the American summation comes from the bottom up and not the top down—is a big mistake. It means you don't know you've got to change some facts, as opposed to some words.

Peggy Noonan: Mitt Romney's tax returns and Bill Clinton's old underwear

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The reason Mitt Romney isn't releasing more tax returns can be reduced to three words: Bill Clinton's underwear. When he first ran for president, Bill Clinton put out his tax returns. Lisa Schiffren, an enterprising young writer for The American Spectator, went through them and found that the Clintons, when they were in Little Rock, had gone to great lengths to limit their tax bills, to the point of itemizing each contribution to local charities, including Mr. Clinton's old underwear. Hilarity ensued. This is the kind of thing everyone in national politics fears.

But the question remains. Mr. Romney has known at least since 2007 that he would be running for president. He never in that time made sure his taxes from that date would pass rigorous public examination? This is odd, especially since he's supposed to be so methodical, tidy, organized and prudent. The political answer to the question "Should Romney reveal more tax returns?" is, "That depends on what's in them." But the nonpolitical answer is yes, he should.

The failure of communication here involves failing to arm proactively against the problem, and reacting flat-footedly when it arrived.

I still love this clip where Miller puts it to Chris: Spitballs. That was a metaphor. You know what a metaphor is don't you Chris Matthews? - Miller, who served as gov. when a Democratic City Hall & a Democratic state Capitol operated in utterly separate worlds, is fascinated by the working relationship between Gov. Deal & Mayor Kasim Reed.

Jim Galloway of the AJC's Political Insider also takes us down memory lane with an update on Zell Miller.

Jim writes:

Miller, who had given the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1992, played the same role for Republicans in 2004 – damning Democrat John Kerry for his alleged plans to fight world terrorism with “spitballs.”

The last glimpse that most Georgians had of Miller was his vein-popping, post-speech interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “I wished we lived in the day when you could challenge a person to a duel,” Miller snapped that day.

Miller, who served as governor when a Democratic City Hall and a Democratic state Capitol operated in utterly separate worlds, is fascinated by the working relationship between Deal, a Republican, and Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat.

It is tempting to write that Miller, one of the most confrontational politicians ever to haunt the Capitol, has mellowed. And it is true that Miller is interested in rebuilding some of those bridges that have been burned over the years.

But it would be more accurate to say that Miller has turned inward. At times, he is his own harshest critic. Take that 2004 televised confrontation with Matthews.

“That was terrible. I embarrassed myself. I’d rather it had not happened,” Miller said. “But Chris Matthews is not one of my favorite people.”

You didn't embarrass me Governor. I was watching it live and loved ever minute of it.

From the Cracker Squire Archives - Speaking of Marvin Griffin and Carl Sanders . . .

The previous post and mention of Carl Sanders and Marvin Griffin reminded me of an earlier post entitled "From the Cracker Squire Archives - I know many of you who live in Ga. - rather than the Other Ga. - have not heard of some places . . . .":

From a 12-11-04 post:

I know many of you who live in Georgia -- rather than the Other Georgia -- have not heard of some of the places that I might write about from time to time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvin Griffin stump speech, Douglas, GA, September 1, 1962 - Though only a kid and on "cuff link" Carl's side big time, this trip down Memory Lane is fun.

Marvin Griffin stump speech, Douglas, GA, September 1, 1962 (embedding to this YouTube link was disabled).

I started this blog in August 2004, and alluded to my support as a youngster in an August 2004 post that provided in part:

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

T-SPLOST - I will most definitely be voting YES

As Sen. Chambliss has observed, "it will create jobs for southwest Georgia and make a very rural part of the state more attractive for economic development." (From the AJC's Political Insider.) 

The same can be said for my area of the Other Georgia.

And an appreciative word to both U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson for sharing with the public that each will be voting "yes" for T-SPLOST.

12th Congressional District up for grabs - Augusta's hotly contested Democratic primary for sheriff should really help Anderson.

Larry Peterson writes in The Savannah Morning News:

John Barrow’s been in Republican crosshairs since 2004, when he upset a GOP incumbent in the 12th Congressional District.

The Republican-led state legislature has twice undermined Democrat Barrow’s political base by redrawing the 12th’s boundaries.

After it excised his hometown of Athens, he barely survived in 2006 after moving to Savannah.

Now Savannah’s gone, and Barrow, who’s moved to Augusta, faces an uphill battle on Democrat-unfriendly turf.

The July 31 primary has drawn four Republican candidates.

State Rep. Lee Anderson of Grovetown, Augusta businessman Rick Allen, Dublin lawyer Maria Sheffield and Augusta lawyer Wright McLeod differ little on the issues.

One much-asked question is how many GOP voters in Augusta will cast ballots in a hotly contested local Democratic primary for sheriff.

Augusta is McLeod and Allen’s hometown, and some analysts say a big cross-over vote will help Sheffield, Anderson or both.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Liberal Donors Finding Home in Massachusetts Senate Race

From The New York Times:

Elizabeth Warren has been so prodigious in raising money for her Senate campaign in Massachusetts that she is on track to become the top fund-raiser for the Senate this year, as well as one of the top Congressional fund-raisers of all time.

Despite Ms. Warren’s clear fund-raising advantage, she and Mr. Brown are running neck and neck in the polls, a fact that underscores a hard reality for Ms. Warren: while she is popular across the country and has received contributions from all 50 states, the voters in 49 of those will not matter.

Along with a handful of other tossup races, this one could determine the balance of power in the Senate. But unlike the others, it has captured national attention. In deep blue Massachusetts, Mr. Brown, once a little-known state legislator, rode a wave of Tea Party anger to snatch the seat left vacant by the death in 2009 of the liberal lion Edward M. Kennedy, who held it for 47 years.
The Democrats want it back.

Voters in Compton, Calif., Approve Redistricting Measure as City's New Majority Invokes Voting-Rights Protections - The Justice Department filed a complaint earlier this year against a Nebraska county, alleging that election materials weren't provided in Spanish.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When Lillie Dobson moved to Compton, Calif., in 1966, the population was predominantly white. Over the years she watched as white residents moved out and blacks moved in. Now 73 years old and a City Council member, Ms. Dobson is watching another change sweep the city, one with equally profound consequences for the Los Angeles suburb and its government.

A generation ago, African-Americans made up three-quarters of the residents. The latest Census shows two-thirds of Compton's 96,000 residents are Hispanics. That change was the catalyst behind a lawsuit, settlement and election in June that will give Hispanics a major leg up when residents elect the next City Council in 2013.

Amid changing racial and ethnic demographics in Compton and elsewhere, voting-rights laws that were crafted in the 1960s to help African-Americans are now being used once again, but this time by new minority groups.

There are hundreds of challenges and proposals at the local, state and federal level that have been spawned by changes in the way America looks, legal experts say. The Justice Department, for example, filed a complaint earlier this year against a Nebraska county, alleging that election materials weren't provided in Spanish.

According to recent Census data, Hispanics, already the largest minority group in the U.S., are also the fastest-growing demographic. Data released in May showed that between July 2010 and July 2011, whites of European ancestry accounted for less than half of the newborn children, the first time in U.S. history that has happened.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, the foundation of many of the current challenges, was created to stop voting discrimination aimed primarily at African-Americans. It was amended in the 1970s to include other minorities.

Business Shifts Its Support to GOP - Most Donations From Company PACs, Staff Go to Party in $300 Million Swing From Democrats

From The Wall Street Journal:

During the 2008 presidential election, employees of AT&T Inc. T -0.54%and the company's political-action committee spread their donations pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

This election, they have given twice as much to Republicans as to Democrats.

Companies are taking a clear stand ahead of the November ballot. So far, Republicans have received 56% of the donations made by company PACs and employees, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. It is a turnaround from the 2008 election, when corporate PACs and employees gave 55% of their donations to Democratic candidates. That's when President Barack Obama was elected and Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. In between, during the 2010 midterms, companies split their donations more or less evenly.

The shift implies a financial swing to the GOP of as much as $300 million, and suggests that corporations are betting Republicans will win seats in the Senate and hold on to the House—although employers might not tell their employees outright where to donate.

"Corporate PACs blow with the political winds," said John Feehery, a Republican strategist and corporate consultant. "When the wind is not blowing, they spread their donations 50-50 between the parties. When the wind is blowing hard in a certain direction, then they give to the side that they think is going to win the election."

After supporting Democrats by a wide margin in 2008, the financial sector tilted narrowly toward Republicans in the midterm elections. Now, the industry appears firmly in the GOP's corner, donating $56 million to the party, compared with $35 million for Democrats, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Military companies and their employees, too, have given $9.9 million to Republican candidates this year, compared with just $6.7 million to Democrats. And after spending the past two elections narrowly supporting Democrats, drug companies have so far given 55% of their $11 million in donations to Republicans.

[L]awyers and lobbyists, has sent about two-thirds of its donations to Democrats so far this election, down from about three-quarters in 2008.

In few places is the shift more pronounced than on Wall Street. Securities and investment firms have given 62% of their donations so far this year to Republicans, up from 43% in 2008. That year, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s PAC and staff sent 75% of more than $6 million in donations to Democrats. The company's employees were the No. 2 source of campaign cash for Mr. Obama, at more than $1 million.

Companies are usually reluctant to choose sides in races lacking an incumbent. This year, some appear to be game.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New welfare restrictions target booze, tattoos

From the AJC:

Taking aim at what they call an abuse of the taxpayers' money, a growing number of states are blocking welfare recipients from spending their benefits on booze, cigarettes, lottery tickets, casino gambling, tattoos and strippers.

While the crackdown has strong populist appeal in Democratic and GOP states alike in this era of tight budgets and tea party demands for fiscal discipline, advocates for the poor argue that the restrictions are based on stereotypes about people on welfare, and they say the notion of any widespread abuse is a myth. Most people on public assistance, they contend, are single mothers struggling just to get by.

The movement has been spurred in part by Congress. Under legislation signed by President Barack Obama in February to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, welfare recipients are barred from using their cash assistance in strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores. States must change their own laws to conform by 2014.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Coalition urges tax hikes, entitlement cuts to tame national debt - 'The math on this is simple. It’s the political will that’s been lacking.'

From The Washington Post:

A coalition of business leaders, budget experts and former politicians launched a $25 million campaign Tuesday to build political support for a far-reaching plan to raise taxes, cut popular retirement programs and tame the national debt.

With anxiety rising over a major budget mess looming in January, the campaign — dubbed “Fix the Debt” — is founded on the notion that the moment is finally at hand when policymakers will be forced to compromise on an ambitious debt-reduction strategy.

After nearly three years of bipartisan negotiations, the broad outlines of that strategy are clear, the group’s leaders said during a news conference at the National Press Club: Raise more money through a simplified tax code and spend less on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the primary drivers of future borrowing.

“Everyone knows in their hearts and their minds what has to be done,” said former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D), who is chairing the group with former New Hampshire senator Judd Gregg (R). The goal of the campaign is to “create a safe environment where it’s not only good policy, but good politics as well.”

The campaign was founded by former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming. The two men led an independent fiscal commission that in 2010 produced a $4 trillion debt-reduction framework that has won praise from politicians across the political spectrum.

But the Bowles-Simpson plan never won the explicit backing of President Obama or GOP leaders, and therefore never gained real traction in Congress.

Now, with a high-stakes election at hand, “we got two wings out there flapping in the American political system and the fuselage is missing,” said former Georgia senator Sam Nunn (D), a member of the campaign’s steering committee. “The middle of America is going to have to rally and they’re going to have to support people who are willing to work together.”

The campaign plans to launch a social media drive to persuade lawmakers to approve a plan similar to the Bowles-Simpson framework by July 4, 2013 — replacing $600 billion in abrupt tax hikes and sharp spending cuts that are otherwise set to take effect in January.

The campaign is also pressing for one of this fall’s presidential debates to be focused on forcing Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney to offer plans for stabilizing the debt, which, at $15.9 trillion, is now larger than the U.S. economy.

The most important development, however, may be creation of a Business Leaders Council that includes the chief executives of 100 of the Fortune 500 companies. The council will lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill as well as people in their own communities, said Honeywell CEO David M. Cote, who also served on the Bowles-Simpson commission.

After watching last summer’s train wreck, when lawmakers came within days of defaulting on the national debt, Cote said, “there’s a lot of us that are a little scared about” the $600 billion cliff looming in January.

Going over that cliff would “drive a worldwide recession. You can’t let that happen,” Cote said. “So what we’re trying to do is get all politicians on all sides mobilized to say, yes, there’s a solution here.”

“The math on this is simple. It’s the political will that’s been lacking.”

Shift in Welfare Policy Draws G.O.P. Protests

From The New York Times:

A move by the Obama administration to give states more latitude in running federal welfare-to-work programs has set off a firestorm among Republicans, who say it undercuts the work requirements set forth in the 1996 overhaul of welfare policy.       

The Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that it would grant states waivers to experiment with how they administer the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which distributes aid to the poorest Americans while they look for work.

The directive results from a broader effort by the Obama administration to peel back unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and allow states to spend federal money more efficiently. But Republicans, who characterize the move as a power grab by the executive branch, have criticized the waivers, saying they prove that the president and Democrats support providing welfare money without encouraging the recipients to find work.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program is derived from welfare legislation in 1996, which created it as a block grant to states. In the fiscal year 2011, more than 4.4 million people in more than 1.8 million families nationwide were enrolled in the program, which received more than $20.8 billion in federal money.
What is happening now is a result of a presidential memo in February 2011 that urged executive departments and agencies to ask states for ideas on how to make the federal government more nimble. As the Health and Human Services Department began to solicit suggestions, a handful of states complained about being burdened by the welfare program’s paperwork and reporting requirements.

Even with waivers, some states’ experimentation with welfare will probably be sharply limited by constricted budgets.

'Many Republicans are starting to realize something important: On Jan. 1, if we haven’t gotten to a deal, Grover Norquist and his pledge are no longer relevant to this conversation.'

From The New York Times:

Senate Democrats — holding firm against extending tax cuts for the rich — are proposing a novel way to circumvent the Republican pledge not to vote for any tax increase: Allow all the tax cuts to expire Jan. 1, then vote on a tax cut for the middle class shortly thereafter.

The proposal illustrates the lengths lawmakers are going to in an effort to include new federal revenues in a fix for the “fiscal cliff,” the reckoning in January that would come when all Bush-era tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs kick in.
Virtually every Republican in Congress has taken the pledge, pushed by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, never to vote for a tax increase — a pledge both parties see as a serious impediment to a tax compromise. But if tax rates snap back to the levels of the Clinton presidency on Jan. 1, any legislation to reinstate some of those tax cuts — but not all of them — would be considered a tax cut.
“Many Republicans are starting to realize something important: On Jan. 1, if we haven’t gotten to a deal, Grover Norquist and his pledge are no longer relevant to this conversation,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said this week in a speech at the Brookings Institution. “We will have a new fiscal and political reality.”

President Obama has proposed allowing tax cuts to lapse on incomes over $250,000, raising the top two income tax brackets, allowing capital gains tax rates for affluent families to rise slightly and letting dividend income be taxed as ordinary income, as it was before 2003. Of the $5 trillion in tax increases that will ensue over 10 years if nothing is done, Mr. Obama’s plan would stave off all but $849 billion.
That tax increase on the rich would amount to 0.38 percent of the economy, considerably smaller than the tax increase secured by President Bill Clinton in 1993, which equaled 0.63 percent of the economy, according to White House calculations.

Next week, Senate Democrats will push tax legislation that makes a significant concession to Republicans. It would secure Mr. Obama’s tax increases on the rich, but it would tax dividends and capital gains at a 20 percent rate for households that earn more than $250,000. The White House this year proposed allowing dividends to be taxed again at ordinary income rates, a plan that would increase tax rates on dividends to as high as 44.7 percent, from 15 percent, according to a new report by the accounting firm Ernst & Young.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Peggy Noonan: America is in crisis. Why is the presidential campaign so lifeless?

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The 2012 presidential election is unusual. It is a crisis election like 1932 or 1980, with the American people knowing we're at a turning point and knowing that who we pick now really matters. But crisis elections tend to bring drama—a broad sense of excitement and passion. We're not seeing that this year. We're not seeing passionate proclamations from supporters of one candidate or the other that their guy is just right for the moment, their guy is the answer. I'm speaking of the excitement of deep belief: "FDR will save the day." "Reagan will turn it around."

President Obama's supporters don't talk like that, or think it. Neither do most of Mitt Romney's. It's all so subdued.

What is behind the general lack of passion? A theory in two parts:

First, people know that what America needs right now is the leadership of a kind of political genius. Second, they know neither of the candidates is a political genius.

That's why it seems so flat when you talk to voters or political professionals.

It's as if the key job opened up just when the company might go under. A new CEO would make all the difference. But none of the applicants leaves the members of the board saying, "This guy is the answer to our prayers." In the end, they'll make a decision, and it will be a prudent, tentative one: "This one seems a bit better than that one."

Why do people think we need a kind of political genius? Because they know exactly how deep our problems are and exactly how divided our nation is. We need a president who knows and understands politics because he knows and understands people and can galvanize them. When he speaks, you listen, in part because you believe he'll give it to you straight, in part because his views seem commonsensical, in part because something in his optimism pings right into your latent hopefulness, and in part because he's direct and doesn't hide his meaning in obfuscation, abstraction, clichés and dead words.

Think of what we face domestically—only domestically.

Every voter in the country knows we have to get a hold of spending and begin to turn it around. At the same time—really, the same time—we have to get a hold of the tax system and remake it so that at the very least we can remove the sense of agitated grievance that marks our daily economic life, and at most we can encourage growth. If you really try to do these things, you will make a lot of people unhappy. It will take a political talent of the highest order to hold people together during the process, to allow them the luxury of feeling trust in your judgment.

The next president will have to wrangle with Congress, and when lawmakers balk, he'll have to go over their heads and tell the American people the plan, the reasons it will work, and why it's fair and good. He'll have to get them to tell their congressmen, by phone calls and mail and by collaring them in the neighborhood and at the town hall, to back the president. When this happens to enough of them—well, as Reagan used to say, when they feel the heat, they see the light. The members go to the speaker, and suddenly the speaker is knocking back a drink with the president, and in the end a deal gets made. Things get pushed inch by inch toward progress, and suddenly there's a sense things can work again. That encourages an air of unity and of national purpose, which itself gives a boost to public morale.

Anyway, the next president will have to do that sort of thing, and it will take deep political gifts. We have not seen that genius in Mr. Obama. Whether you will vote for him or not, you know you haven't seen it. He seems to view politics as his weary duty, something he had to do on his way to greatness.

When he goes over the heads of Congress to the people, it's like he threw a dead fish over the transom—it lands with a "Thwap!" and makes a mess, and people run away. As for Mr. Romney, it is a commonplace in punditry to implore him to speak clearly of where he'll go and how and why we should follow.

Both candidates seem largely impenetrable—it's hard to know them, figure them. With Mr. Romney, you have a sense of what he's been, what jobs he's held, and his general approach. But do you have a solid sense of who he'd be and what he'd do as president? Probably not. Even he may not know. As for Mr. Obama, the more facts you know, the more you don't understand him, the more you can't quite grok him.

Neither has a flair for politics, and neither seems to love it. Both come from minority parts of the American experience, and both often seem to be translating as they speak, from their own natural inner language to their vision of how "normal Americans" think.

What does all this suggest? That voters this year will tend to be practical in their choice and modest in their expectations. Which isn't all bad. But joy would be more fun.

We must end with some burly, optimistic thoughts or we'll hurl ourselves over a transom and go "Thwap!"

1. There's still time—more than 100 days—for each candidate to go deeper, get franker, and light some kind of flame. 2. The acceptance speeches are huge opportunities to do that. 3. The debates, if they do not sink into formalized torpor or anchor-led superficialities, could be not only decisive but revealing of greater depths. 4. Mr. Romney's vice presidential choice will matter.

About which a note. Speaking the other day to a gathering of businesspeople from across the country, I mentioned the subdued nature of the election and my thoughts as to its reasons. I was surprised to get no pushback afterward, even from political enthusiasts, only agreement.

But the news: When conversation turned to the vice presidential nominee, I said we all know the names of those being considered, spoke of a few, and then said Condoleezza Rice might be a brilliant choice.

Here spontaneous applause burst forth.

Consider: A public figure of obvious and nameable accomplishment whose attainments can't be taken away from her. Washington experience—she wouldn't be learning on the job. Never ran for office but no political novice. An academic, but not ethereal or abstract. A woman in a year when Republicans aren't supposed to choose a woman because of what is now called the 2008 experience—so the choice would have a certain boldness. A black woman in a campaign that always threatens to take on a painful racial overlay. A foreign-policy professional acquainted with everyone who's reigned or been rising the past 20 years.

I should add here the look on the faces of the people who were applauding. They looked surprised by their own passion. Actually they looked relieved, like a campaign was going on and big things might happen and maybe it could get kind of . . . exciting.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ very first gig, which took place at the Marquee Club, then one of London’s most popular jazz venues.

Enjoy if you have not see this one on YouTube of Gov. Mike Huckabee discussing his pardoning Keith Richards.

And while on Huckabee, and getting away from the topic of one of my favorite groups, do you recall the following from a 1-8-2008 post:

During a debate Saturday, Romney accused [Huckabee] of mischaracterizing his position on the war in Iraq. "Which one?" Huckabee shot back, earning laughter from the audience and a scornful glance from the former Massachusetts governor.

[Title from ABC News.]

Mitt Romney's Summer Vacation - If that jet-ski ride was the candidate's call, his campaign is headed for a Dukakis-like catastrophe.

Daniel Henninger writes in The Wall Street Journal:

"You know, I'm delighted to be able to take a vacation with my family. I think all Americans appreciate the memories they have with their children and their grandchildren."

—Mitt Romney, July 6, 2012

Truer words were never spoken. Fourth of July, family, grandkids. That's what it's all about. So how did it come to pass that in this particular Fourth of July week, amid a presidential election, the memory Mitt Romney allowed to imprint itself on the American electorate was an Associated Press photo of himself looking absolutely fabulous on a fire-engine red jet ski driven by his fabulous-looking wife?

Surly news editors instantly likened it to failed presidential candidate John Kerry windsurfing off Nantucket Island. Political junkies by the thousands stepped away from backyard grills to send the jet-ski photo to their distribution lists: "Have you seen this??!!"

What the Romneys thought they were doing with this innocent spin around the lake is irrelevant. Mr. Romney happens to be the GOP's candidate for the American presidency. That fellow in the jet-ski photo would be the same Mitt Romney described in political analysis the previous week as having taken on water with the public because of the Obama campaign's attacks on him as a rich guy from Bain Capital.

It would be the same Mitt Romney whom Barack Obama plans to define from now till November as out of step with a middle-class America in which "so many folks are just trying to get by."

And this would be the same Mitt Romney who had to interrupt his July 4 respite to personally address and disentangle the mess his campaign made over the Supreme Court's ruling on the Obama health-care mandate.

Coming atop these events, the jet-ski photo was a little like the kid who celebrates the Fourth of July by lighting and dropping a cherry bomb at his own feet. This was the week that got people wondering if the Romney campaign needs a change of personnel.

Little noticed with the jet-ski photo making waves was an alternative photo of Mitt Romney taken by the AP's paparazzi, one that put the candidate perfectly in sync with middle-class anxiety. It was a photo of an older, middle-aged guy in a bathing suit, schlumped in a plastic chair on a spit of beach, his wife beside him, surrounded by their grown children and a covey of grandkids playing in the sand.

This is a photo of an American at rest with his family. It is the man Mr. Romney no doubt wants the country to vote for. The guy in the jet-ski photo is the man they don't want to vote for—not amid the current anxiety.

A question of some urgency hangs over these two photos. We may assume the family beach photo was the one intended to run through the July Fourth news cycle. If so, did anyone in the Romney campaign warn the candidate that the beach photo would evaporate the moment the couple on that jet ski entered a lake teeming with press-corps piranhas? Two possible conclusions flow from the answer.

If no one warned Mr. Romney of the Kerryesque lobster roast his ride would guarantee, then calls for a campaign upgrade are plausible.

But what if the campaign staff did warn Mr. Romney but were waved off by the candidate himself, confident in his own judgment? If that happened, then neither the second coming of Lee Atwater nor James Carville will save this candidate from blowing himself up eventually with another bad call, such as a Dukakis-like photo of the candidate riding in an Abrams tank in front of the press.

Mr. Romney is right that he was entitled to a family vacation. But let's put it this way. The man on that jet ski will be able to spend the next four years on vacation. The granddad on the beach just might spend four years with the grandchildren playing in the White House. If the candidate can't see the difference between the two, he really does need someone along for the ride who can.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Russia to join World Trade Organization

From The Washington Post:

Russia’s parliament voted Tuesday to ratify the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization, capping 18 years of negotiations and wavering resolve.

President Vladimir Putin had supported the move, albeit at times unenthusiastically. As a member of the global system that is designed to ensure free trade, Russia will have to dismantle its protectionist policies, but the goal is to attract more foreign investors with the new reassurance that rules will be obeyed and not subject to bureaucratic caprices.

Membership becomes official in 30 days and will put U.S. companies at an immediate disadvantage. In 1974, a trade law amendment known as Jackson-Vanik was introduced to pressure the then-Soviet Union to allow Jews and others to emigrate, although the sanctions have been waived each year since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Once Russia joins the WTO, the amendment’s existence will put the United States in violation of the organization’s rules, resulting in unfavorable trade terms for U.S. firms doing business with Russia.

A delegation from Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, is in Washington meeting with members of Congress over moves by the Obama administration and U.S. business leaders to repeal Jackson-Vanik. One of the arguments by the Russians is that Russia and Israel today allow reciprocal visa-free travel.

But there is a proposal to tie repeal of Jackson-Vanik to passage of the Magnitsky bill, which places U.S. visa and financial sanctions on Russian officials associated with the death in pretrial detention of a whistleblower who unearthed a $230 million tax fraud, only to be charged with the crime himself.

That bill has been denounced by Russian officials, who see it as an intrusion into their domestic affairs and worry about the precedent it would set.

The Obama administration has resisted the bill but is reportedly resigned to its passage.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Obama Intensifies Tax Fight - President Calls for Extension of Bush Cuts for Some; High Earners Would See Increase

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama proposed a one-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 a year but would let them rise for wealthier Americans, a move that both shifts the election debate to tax rates and sets the table for a showdown with Republicans in Congress.

Mr. Obama's move didn't break new policy ground—he essentially repackaged his existing policy for the campaign season. Nor is it likely to pave the way for action from a deeply divided Congress already in the thrall of the campaign.

But by highlighting on Monday his desire for stable tax rates for the middle class along with higher taxes on upper-income Americans to deal with the deficit, and prompting Republicans to reiterate their sharply different vision for lower rates for all, Mr. Obama's move had the effect of showing a clear partisan contrast that had been obscured by the campaign focus on jobs.

It is a debate that will be resolved only by voters—and perhaps by both parties' stated intention to move beyond the argument about rates to a new discussion about fundamental tax overhaul after the election.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Democrats and the Tax Cliff - Several Senators suggest they may not want to take the November leap

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Obama has staked his re-election on the promise to raise taxes on anyone making more than $200,000 a year, but it's going to be fascinating to see if he can hold other Democrats through Election Day. June marked the third month in a row of lousy job creation, and the economy is growing slowly even as the January 2013 tax cliff grows closer by the day.

Already, as many as six Democratic Senators are hedging their bets as the economy looks worse. That list includes Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jim Webb of Virginia. The first four are running for re-election this year, while the last two are leaving the Senate. They haven't all declared outright support for postponing the tax hikes, but they have expressed a willingness to negotiate a deal with Republicans that would avoid raising taxes on anyone next year.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Number of Georgians on food stamps balloons

From the AJC:

Nearly one in five Georgians now gets federal assistance to put dinner on the table.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Bond - As 007 celebrates his 50th anniversary on the silver screen, an exhibition looks at the British secret-service agent's style through the years

Sean Connery in 'Dr. No'

IT'S HALF A CENTURY SINCE Sean Connery stepped out as Lieutenant Commander James Bond in "Dr. No," the first in the 007 movie series. Ever since, Ian Fleming's British secret service agent seems to have only grown in stature, standing as an immortal icon for generations of men.

Israel Grapples With Influx of Africans as Tensions Grow

From The Wall Street Journal:

Israel has stepped up its efforts to round up and repatriate South Sudanese migrants and is building a tent-city detention center in the desert, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government struggles to stem the monthly tide of thousands of Africans crossing illegally from Egypt.

The South Sudanese represent a fraction of some 60,000 Africans who took advantage of lax Egyptian border controls in recent years to slip into Israel. With human-rights groups calling them asylum seekers and the Israeli government insisting they are looking for jobs, the Africans' growing presence has become a lightning rod for racial violence in Tel Aviv and other cities.

In June, Mr. Netanyahu began the repatriation program, a month after naming the African illegal immigrants as a national threat to Israel—along with Iran and missile stockpiles in the region. He warned that their numbers could reach into the hundred thousands and change the character of the state of eight million, while acknowledging that the majority—who hail from Eritrea and Sudan—can't be swiftly deported.

To deter new arrivals, Israel is building a fence along its border with Egypt and detention facilities in the desert near the border.

"Maybe I sound like a racist, or unenlightened, hateful of foreigners," said Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has been the most vocal advocate of deporting the Africans, in a post on his Facebook page. "This is not a campaign against the infiltrators, but rather a campaign to preserve the identity of the Jewish Zionist state."

Both Israelis and the Africans say they are afraid of one another.

"It's not safe for a black person to walk around in some areas," said Yohannes Bayu, director of the African Refugee Development Center in Tel Aviv.

Israel's parliament earlier this year mandated a three-year incarceration for the illegal immigrants, and the Defense Ministry began building detention centers to hold as many as 25,000 migrants in the desert region near the border.

Democrats keeping their distance from Mr. Obama are being encouraged, not shunned, by party leaders, who believe that each candidate needs to do what is necessary for his or her own political survival.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Democrats facing re-election in conservative states are finding a plethora of ways to keep their distance from President Barack Obama. Some voted last week against his attorney general. Next week, some will vote against his health-care law. Several plan to skip the party's convention this summer. And some Democrats—including senior officials in West Virginia, where Mr. Obama's approval ratings are in the cellar—won't even commit publicly to voting for the president.

That keep-your-distance strategy is a time-honored campaign gambit, employed by members of both parties when they find themselves more popular among local voters than the person at the top of the ticket is.

Next week, when the House holds a vote to repeal the health-care law, Rep. Larry Kissell, who is in a tough race in of North Carolina, plans to join the repeal forces. He didn't in January 2011, when a similar repeal vote was held and only three Democrats defected.

Democrats keeping their distance from Mr. Obama are being encouraged, not shunned, by party leaders, who believe that each candidate needs to do what is necessary for his or her own political survival. But the tactic will take a toll on attendance at the party's convention in Charlotte. A growing number of Democrats in close races have announced that they won't attend.

States Interpret Ruling to Cut Medicaid Now - Asserting Health-Care Decision Paves Way, Maine Plans to Drop 20,000 Recipients; New Round of Court Battles Possible

From The Wall Street Journal:

Some cash-strapped states have seized on a section of the Supreme Court's health-law decision to pare their existing Medicaid programs, saying the ruling lifts the March 2010 law's ban on such cuts.

The court, which upheld most of the law, struck down penalties for states choosing not to expand Medicaid. A few states are also trying to go farther, arguing that the ruling justifies cuts to their existing programs.

Within hours of the Supreme Court's ruling on June 28, lawyers in the Maine attorney general's office began preparing a legal argument to allow health officials to strike more than 20,000 Medicaid recipients from the state's rolls—including 19- and 20-year-olds—beginning in October to save $10 million by next July.

"We think we're on solid legal ground," Attorney General William Schneider said in an interview. "We're going to reduce eligibility back to the base levels in a couple of areas," he said. Maine, like some other states eyeing cuts, earlier expanded its Medicaid program beyond national requirements.

Other states, including Wisconsin and Alabama, are expected to follow Maine's lead, though there is disagreement over whether the high court gave the states such leeway. That could lead to battles between states and the federal government that could drag the health law back to the courts. New Jersey and Indiana also said they were evaluating the decision and did not rule out challenging the requirements.

Last week's Supreme Court decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, largely upheld the federal health law, but said Washington couldn't penalize states that refuse to enroll millions more low-income people in their Medicaid programs by withdrawing support for their existing programs; the expansion effort is supposed to start in 2014 with a large injection of federal financing.

Some states are now asserting they have more flexibility to manage other aspects of the program. The law had required states to keep their existing eligibility standards for current beneficiaries in place or risk losing federal funding at least until 2014. Some state officials said the Supreme Court ruling nixed that penalty, too.

The federal government currently contributes around 57% of the financing for Medicaid programs carried out by the states, and sets restrictions on how states use the money.

States facing budget crunches have been trying to limit Medicaid eligibility for the last year and a half, but had little sympathy from Washington. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told governors in February 2011 that they should look for cuts elsewhere, such as cutting back on benefits. "This has a game changing potential that goes beyond what people think is just a simple straightforward question about Medicaid expansion," said Dennis Smith, Wisconsin's health secretary. "States are scrambling to see how far they can stretch it."

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Georgia Physicians Troubled by Potential Medicaid Expansion

From WABE Public Radio:

One of the state’s leading physician groups isn’t convinced a proposed Medicaid expansion would be a good idea for the state.

The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, but allowed states to opt out of the law’s Medicaid expansion. If the state decides to expand, 600,000 additional enrollees are expected. It’s projected to cost the state more than $4 billion over 10 years.

The Medical Association of Georgia isn’t taking a position yet, but it’s fair to say the physician advocacy group is entering the debate highly skeptical.

“We do not believe expansion is financially sustainable especially with our state budget looking at a $400 million hole on Medicaid,” said MAG Executive Director Donald Palmisano.

He says there’s been a 15 percent drop in physician participation in Medicaid for a reason - doctors get paid about 75 percent of the true cost of care.

Even with a flood of federal dollars and a primary care payment bump built into the Affordable Care Act, Palmisano doesn’t see an expansion, in and of itself, being good for providers.

“By expanding another 600,000 additional patients into the system where the system itself does not cover the cost of providing the care, it only makes it that much more difficult for a physician to be able to accept those patients and remain financially viable.”

This past legislative session, the state raised physician Medicaid rates for the first time in years. It came a year after the legislature cut payment rates for physicians and implemented a tax on hospitals.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Charlie Harper pens a keeper: 'For those who choose to wish to return to the will of the founding fathers, perhaps a deeper study in their ability to compromise as a method of securing their principles rather than to abandon them is needed.'

Charlie Harper writes in The Dublin Courier Herald:

On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the birth of a nation. We also celebrate and remember the wisdom and courage of our founding fathers. They are men who gathered together to put into place a nation where the power and freedom ultimately lies within the individual. They also cobbled together a system of government that has managed to last well into a third century despite great social, technological, and economic changes.

Their accomplishments were great, especially as measured by America’s ascension to dominance in military and economic power. Their framework has allowed a people without a common heritage to melt together as one. Their success has led some to put them on a pedestal and impose super human traits on the men who were certainly wise and pillars of their community, but were neither monolithic in their beliefs nor infallible in their execution.

While the declaration of independence was signed on July 4th, 1776, the path to our constitution was neither easy nor quick. It was not drafted until 1787 and the first Congress and George Washington were not sworn in to begin our current form of American government until 1789.

The period between the declaration and the implementation of our Constitution involved the Revolutionary war, and government under Articles of Confederation. Even after the war was won, the Articles proved to be too loose to allow for an effective government, even for the very limited government desired by the founding fathers and the citizens who had just fought to shed themselves from oppressive government control.

The fact of the matter is that the first attempt of the founding fathers to form a workable federal government was a failure. Failure is OK, as it can reveal the needed path to success. The fear of a federal government found in the Articles of Confederation revealed the need for a strong federal government for certain functions that are found in the Constitution.

Under our initial government, Britain would not honor the terms of the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War. Spain would not allow American farmers to use the port of New Orleans. States printed their own currency under different standards making it difficult to trade even between the states, much less internationally. For matters of trade, treaty, taxation, and national defense, a strong central government was proven to be necessary for America to truly become a nation.

The period of the Articles of Confederation and the process of adopting the Constitution also shows the founding fathers to be anything but uniform of thought and opinion on the proper role and function of government and the execution of its powers. Thus it is a continued source of amusement to watch certain armchair constitutional scholars cherry pick quotes for individual statesmen of the era as if that represents the definitive purpose or motivation for our government.

It is roughly akin to folks that choose to selectively pick versus from the book of Leviticus to explain the entire intention of the Bible. The results are overly simplistic and less than comprehensive.

The fact of the matter is that the founding fathers were a great big group of compromisers. While that word is the equivalent of blasphemy today, it was not at the time. The founders, especially after the experience with the Articles of Confederation, understood the value of compromise to get to what was actually important. They put the big picture ahead of petty squabbles, the end goal above heated personal and regional rivalries.

The end result of the compromises was not failure, but the greatest country in the history of the free world.

The key to many of the compromises was establishing clearly what the role of the federal government would be, and what it would not. There are defined roles for the federal government. All other powers are left to the states or to the people.

Ultimately, it is the people that decide what this country means and what it will be in the future. It is the people that decide to preserve their powers or to relegate more and more to a federal government. For those who choose to wish to return to the will of the founding fathers, perhaps a deeper study in their ability to compromise as a method of securing their principles rather than to abandon them is needed.

More state leaders considering opting out of Medicaid expansion - La. Gov. Bobby Jindal: “It seems to me like the president measures success by how many people are on food-stamp rolls and government-run health care. That’s not the American Dream.”

From The Washington Post:

A growing number of Republican state leaders are revolting against the major Medicaid expansion called for under President Obama’s health-care overhaul, threatening to undermine one of the law’s most fundamental goals: insuring millions of poor Americans.

The Supreme Court opened the door Thursday when it announced that although the rest of the law is constitutional, the federal government cannot punish states that refuse to adopt the measure’s more generous eligibility rules for Medicaid.

The Republican governors of four states — Florida, Iowa, Louisiana and South Carolina — have declared that they want to opt out of the expansion. Leaders of half a dozen other states — including Texas, home to one of the largest concentrations of uninsured people — are considering following suit.

The governors argue that expanding their Medicaid programs, which are jointly funded with state and federal money, would crush state budgets. And they are turning the issue into a roiling election-year battle over the federal government’s role.

“The president . . . needs to understand what makes this country great in part is that we’re not dependent on government programs,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Tuesday on Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” program. “It seems to me like the president measures success by how many people are on food-stamp rolls and government-run health care. That’s not the American Dream.”

“This has always been the core of the law, and the court has just made it optional,” said Matt Salo, director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

The prospect has alarmed and energized not just advocates for the poor but also representatives of hospitals, which are chronically burdened with the cost of treating the uninsured. Hospital associations agreed to help fund the law by accepting various cuts to their reimbursement rates with the expectation that they would be more than compensated by money from patients newly insured through Medicaid.

Now they worry that they will be stuck with only the downside of that bargain, said Bruce Rueben, president of the Florida Hospital Association.

“If you’re dealing with a high number of uninsured people and your payments from other sources go down, you have no way to cover that unmet cost,” he said.

Salo predicted that hospital representatives will soon be directing a lobbying blitz at governors and state legislatures — which, in most cases, will decide whether to expand Medicaid.

Wooing Swing Voters, Both Parties Wary of Overemphasizing Health Care - In 2010 Democrats simply avoided the subject of the historic health care law they had just passed. That got them trounced.

From The New York Times:

[Both parties'] core voters are energized, either by rage or elation, but the independents who are likely to decide the 2012 elections may be ready to move on.

Leaders in both parties acknowledge that the ruling has thrown a wrench into their campaigns for control of the House and the Senate. House Republicans have scheduled another vote next week to try to repeal the law, known as the Affordable Care Act. And they say they are ready to play offense on the reinvigorated health care debate.
But even as they highlight that mobilization, leaders of both parties say overemphasizing the health care issue could turn off weary swing voters who, they fear, just want to put the issue aside.

The message is muddy for both parties, in part because neither is sure whether 2012 will turn solely on the economy or echo the dynamics of 2010, when the health care law was a driving force. Democrats know they cannot repeat their strategy of that election, when they simply avoided the subject of the historic health care law they had just passed, said Representative Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That got them trounced.

[In 2012] Democrats will be aggressive and try to reframe the health care debate away from the size and reach of government to the issues that motivated them in the first place: access and delivery of care. That means tagging Republicans as defenders of the health insurance industry, trying to deny consumer protections even as they dismantle Medicare.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

I love it: Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign on Monday rejected a Republican attack on the Affordable Care Act, repudiating a contention made in last week’s Supreme Court decision that the law’s requirement that individuals carry medical coverage amounts to a tax.

Romneys in New Hampshire

From The Washington Post:

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign on Monday rejected a Republican attack on the Affordable Care Act, repudiating a contention made in last week’s Supreme Court decision that the law’s requirement that individuals carry medical coverage amounts to a tax.

The Romney team’s refusal to invoke the word “tax” with regard to the individual mandate puts the candidate at odds with others in his party at a moment when Republicans are attempting to capi­tal­ize on the Supreme Court’s decision, which deemed President Obama’s health-care law constitutional. Some Republican-led states are trying to thwart the legislation’s effort to cover the poor.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

U.S. nixes larger office for Afghan defense minister

From The Washington Post:

KABUL — The United States is spending $92 million to build Afghanistan a new “Pentagon,” a massive five-story military headquarters with domed roofs and a high-tech basement command center that will link Afghan generals with their troops fighting the Taliban across the country.

But when Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak asked for a bigger office in the building — a change that would cost about $300,000 — he got a firm “no” in response. These types of changes cost time and money, U.S. military officials said, and in Afghanistan, both are in ever-shorter supply.

Roberts’s health-care ruling sends a message to politicians - The assumption of most Americans is that the court, of the three branches of government, should be insulated from partisan politics and careful to protect itself from being seen as aiding or abetting those partisan wars.

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. delivered more than a historic ruling with his opinion upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Deliberately or not, he sent a message to politicians about the importance of protecting the vitality and reputation of public institutions.

That’s a message badly needed in Washington and nowhere more so than in the Capitol building that sits across the broad lawn from the Supreme Court. Congress is an institution designed to represent the people. It has become a body where too often its members act as if they represent only Republicans or only Democrats. No wonder so many Americans hold it in such low regard.

It is useful to remember that, in the run-up to the health-care ruling, one strong subtext of discussion and analysis was what a decision striking down President Obama’s health-care law would do to the court itself. Would the court, under those circumstances, be vulnerable to the charge that it had become as politicized as the other branches of government?

Fearing defeat, Democrats were preparing to make the court a target in the fall election. They were connecting the dots, from the Bush v. Gore ruling that handed the presidency to George W. Bush, to the Citizens United decision that helped unleash a torrent of big-money contributions in this year’s election cycle (a huge share of the money going to Republican super PACs), and, finally, to health care and a decision that would have been seen as toppling the president’s signature first-term accomplishment.

No Supreme Court is immune from the political currents swirling at any given time. But the assumption of most Americans is that the court, of the three branches of government, should be insulated from partisan politics and careful to protect itself from being seen as aiding or abetting those partisan wars. Its decisions may offend one side or the other, but its legitimacy should remain inviolate.

Had a majority of the justices struck down Obamacare, the court — fairly or unfairly — would have become a bigger issue in the presidential campaign than usual and in ways that could have been damaging to its authority.

How much the court’s place and reputation entered into Roberts’s thinking may never be known. Someday, the full story of how he found his way to writing a majority opinion on the health-care case with the four liberal justices may become known. Legal and political scholars would love to know how it happened and have been speculating in the absence of hard information.

The opinion Roberts wrote was, in the estimation of some legal experts, either tortured or fiendishly clever in maneuvering toward an outcome that upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act while attempting to adhere to conservative principles aimed at restraining the power of the federal government.

One can only imagine how Obama, the former constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago, analyzed the health-care opinion on Thursday and how he evaluated the motivations of the chief justice who, surprising to some, handed him a major legal and political victory in the middle of his tight reelection campaign.

That was all the more intriguing because the president and the chief justice have had a particularly testy relationship. It began with Obama’s speech outlining his opposition to Roberts’s nomination in 2005. He said Roberts had the intellect and temperament to sit on the court but questioned whether he had the values and heart not to side with the strong over the weak.

Their relationship may have reached its nadir when Obama publicly rebuked Roberts and the court for the Citizens United decision as the justices sat uncomfortably before him in the House chamber during his 2010 State of the Union address.

Roberts’s detractors believe that he reinterpreted what Congress said in the legislation to find a legal justification for upholding it — by defining the individual mandate, the most controversial part of the act, as a tax. For that, he is taking considerable heat from conservatives. Coincidentally, he handed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the Republicans a new justification to attack Obama for raising taxes.

Roberts said in his opinion that he was not making a judgment about the wisdom of the policy; he said only that it was constitutionally permissible. He has thrown the debate over health care back into the political arena for adjudication in November and perhaps beyond. Those who looked to the court to redress political grievances over a health-care law that was passed on a party-line vote have the opportunity to win their case in the court of public opinion, which is the right place given all its history.

In his act of judicial activism, as some of his critics have described it, Roberts demonstrated restraint of a different kind — a bow to the political branches of government to exercise their powers within the broad framework of the Constitution. If it was judicial activism, it was in the service of institutional deference.

The ruling was handed down at the close of a week in which Congress finally approved a transportation bill and a measure that prevented student-loan interest rates from rising. The actions came after months of discord and against strict deadlines that would have imposed hardship on students and transportation workers had Congress not found agreement.

The passage of the two bills is an exception in an institution that is a forum more often used to advance partisan agendas or to seek political advantage in the next election. The public image of Congress is historically low. The successes of the past few days aren’t likely to do much to enhance its dismal image in the eyes of the public.

The chief justice helped remind the country that each branch of government has particular powers, responsibilities and obligations. The legislative branch is designed for partisan debate — occasionally, angry partisan debate — but, ultimately, it is there to make laws and solve problems that it alone can solve. On many big issues, Congress has ducked or deferred, with members hoping that with the next election, they will be given a mandate — and the majorities required — to do what they want with minimal compromise.

That the country is polarized is beyond question. Obama has proved to be a divisive president, despite his insistence that he is open to compromise and accommodation. Congress reflects and feeds that polarization. As a result, as an institution, it enjoys little public confidence or respect. Congress has become an arena not to solve problems, but to avoid solving them. Even Americans with sharply partisan views find that distasteful.

Congress will get another chance to show leadership after the election, when a series of fiscal issues come to a head. If, for political reasons, the leaders choose to postpone some of the hard decisions, they will have to face them in 2013.

On one of the most politically charged cases in years, the chief justice chose to exercise the leadership that goes with his position. He may have protected his institution at the same time. The members of Congress have not done that very often in recent years. That is one lesson they can take away from the court’s historic ruling.