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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.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

David Brooks: Ryan’s Biggest Mistake

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

A few years ago, President Obama established a debt commission that was led by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and had a group of eminences, including Representative Paul Ryan.

When that commission came up with its proposal, some conservative Republicans, like Tom Coburn and Judd Gregg, voted yes, but Ryan voted no. This was a devastating blow. If Ryan and the other House Republicans had voted for the Simpson-Bowles proposal, it would have gone to Congress for up-or-down votes, regardless of how President Obama reacted. We would have had national action on debt reduction.
The Simpson-Bowles plan would have simplified the tax code and lowered rates. It would have capped the size of government. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, it would have brought the federal debt down from 73 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product today, to 67 percent of G.D.P. in 2022.
Ryan voted no for intellectually coherent reasons. He argued that the single biggest contributing factor to public debt is the unsustainable growth of Medicare. Yet the Simpson-Bowles plan did nothing to restructure Medicare, and it sidestepped health care issues generally. Ryan said that it was silly to come up with a debt-reduction proposal that didn’t fix the single biggest driver of the nation’s debt.
This is the sort of argument that makes a lot of sense in a think-tank auditorium. The problem was there were almost no Democrats who endorsed Ryan’s Medicare reform ideas. If Ryan was going to pinion debt reduction to Medicare reform, that meant there would be no debt reduction.
But Ryan had another way forward, noting: We’re going to have an election in 2012; the country will choose between two different visions; if we Republicans win, we’ll be able to reform Medicare our way and reduce the debt our way.
In other words, Ryan was willing to sacrifice the good for the sake of the ultimate.
In order to get this ultimate solution, though, Ryan was betting that three things would happen. First, he was betting that Republicans would beat President Obama. Second, he was betting that Republicans would win such overwhelming Congressional majorities that they would be able to push through measures Democrats hate. Third, he was betting that a group of Republican politicians would unilaterally slash one of the country’s most popular programs and that they would be able to sustain these cuts through the ensuing elections, in the face of ferocious and highly popular Democratic opposition.
To put it another way, Ryan was giving up significant debt progress for a political fantasy.
Ryan’s fantasy happens to be the No. 1 political fantasy in America today, which has inebriated both parties. It is the fantasy that the other party will not exist. It is the fantasy that you are about to win a 1932-style victory that will render your opponents powerless.
Every single speech in this election campaign is based on this fantasy. There hasn’t been a speech this year that grapples with the real world — that we live in a highly polarized, evenly divided nation and the next president is going to have to try to pass laws in that context.
It’s obvious why candidates talk about the glorious programs they’ll create if elected. It fires up crowds and defines values. But we shouldn’t forget that it’s almost entirely make-believe.
In the real world, there are almost never ultimate victories, and it is almost never the case (even if you control the White House and Congress) that you get to do what you want.
The real world looks a lot like the Simpson-Bowles commission, where you get a diverse group of people who try to make progress in the areas where that is possible and try to sidestep the areas where it is not.
The real world looks like the budget talks between Obama and John Boehner last summer, in which two party leaders get together and work out a budget deal between themselves (which is easy) and also try to write a deal they can sell to their party bases (which is hard).
In the real world, leaders have a dual consciousness. They have a campaign consciousness in which they argue for the policies they think are best for the country. But then they have a governing consciousness, a mind-set they put on between elections. It says: O.K., this is the team the voters have sent to Washington. How can we navigate our divides to come up with something suboptimal but productive?
Paul Ryan has a great campaign consciousness, and, when it comes to things like Medicare reform, I agree with him. But when he voted no on the Simpson-Bowles plan he missed the chance to show that he also has a governing consciousness. He missed the chance to do something good for the country, even if it wasn’t the best he or I would wish for.

Enough is enough; this is enough: Capitol Dome Is Imperiled by 1,300 Cracks and Partisan Rift - The dome needs a full rehabilitation, but the House has declined to appropriate the $61 million required for repairs as it pushes to reduce federal spending.

From The New York Times:

To the myriad indignities suffered by Congress, including stagnant legislation, partisan warfare and popularity on a par with petty criminals, add this: the Capitol’s roof is leaking, and there is no money to fix it.

The Capitol dome, the nation’s grandest symbol of federal authority, has been dinged by years of inclement weather, and its exterior is in need of repair.
The dome has 1,300 known cracks and breaks. Water that has seeped in over the years has caused rusting on the ornamentation and staining on the interior of the Rotunda, just feet below the fresco “The Apotheosis of Washington,” which is painted on the Rotunda’s canopy.
Like most of what the federal government is on the hook to fix — highways, bridges and airports — the dome is imperiled both by tough economic times and by a politically polarized Congress. While Senate appropriators have voted to repair the dome, which has not undergone major renovations for 50 years, their House counterparts say there is not money right now. In that way, the dome is a metaphor for the nation’s decaying infrastructure.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Still on Mr. Cheney's cusp as we have come the full circle, after ending their fight with each other: U.S. Says Iraqis Are Helping Iran to Skirt Sanctions

From The New York Times:

When President Obama announced last month that he was barring a Baghdad bank from any dealings with the American banking system, it was a rare acknowledgment of a delicate problem facing the administration in a country that American troops just left: for months, Iraq has been helping Iran skirt economic sanctions imposed on Tehran because of its nuclear program.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Peggy Noonan on Paul Ryan

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Americans are not ideologues. They think ideology is something squished down on their heads from on high, something imposed on them by big thinkers who create systems we're all supposed to conform to. Americans are more interested in philosophy, which bubbles up from human beings, from tradition and learned experience, and isn't imposed.

Lately we are hearing a bit about ideology, but the work of a great political philosopher, Edmund Burke, is more pertinent. Burke respected reality, acknowledged human nature, and appreciated political context. In "Reflections on the Revolution in France," he wrote, "Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind."

That's what Republicans and especially conservatives in this heady moment have to keep in mind: the circumstances.

Here are America's as the election unfolds: We are in economic crisis. People are afraid. Unemployment is high. Half the people in the country receive some sort of monthly check from the government—Social Security, veterans benefits, educational aid, disability, welfare. Why this is and what it portends is debate for another day. What is important now is that a lot of people don't feel they can afford to lose anything of what's coming in.


Normally, Republican candidates for national office get to be either stupid or evil. That's how the media and Democrats tag them. But they won't be able to tag Paul Ryan as either, because he's too well known as smart and decent.

So they will attempt to tag him as an ideologue, and this may take on some force. He's "extreme," "radical," his policy prescriptions are driven not by his knowledge of life as its lived but by abstractions, by something he read in a book or saw on a flow chart. And he wants to cut everything. He's a mad-ideologue-bean counter.

Republicans know how meaningful this campaign became when Mr. Ryan was picked: He changed its subject matter just by showing up. And he is right in his central insight, which is his central political reason for being: America, to be strong again, must get its spending and revenues more closely aligned. It is irresponsible of the Democrats to ignore and punt and play with this great challenge.

But Republicans must understand, also, that the race probably just became more of an uphill battle, because Paul Ryan has been very specific about what must and can be done. Americans will give Romney-Ryan a fair hearing, but everything has to go right now, everyone has to bring their A game.

Republicans should keep this picture in mind. There's a woman on a porch in eastern Ohio and she has a dog and likes guns and supports the NRA and sees herself as more or less conservative. She assumed she'd vote for Romney and not that big loser in the White House. But she's hearing about Ryan and she's hearing the word "cuts." She knows spending is out of control and she's worried about deficits and debt. But she's on disability and her husband's illness is being handled by Medicare, and she's wondering: "Do these guys really understand my life? Do they know how it is for us?" She's getting concerned, and not only for herself but her neighbors and friends. People are not just protective of themselves, they're loyal to others.

Ryan is associated with the word cutting. Republicans will have to make people believe the word to associate with him is "saving," that the Romney-Ryan ticket wants to save entitlement programs that aren't sustainable, that will in time collapse unless we impose ruinous taxes or continue with ruinous deficits.

Republicans have just a few weeks to get across—on the stump, at the conventions—that they're trying to save Medicare, not kill it, that they're the lifeguard, not the shark.


Go for broke on your fidelity to the safety net and your insistence on saving it. The other guy does nothing but talk, pose and let the crisis worsen.

Stick together. Romney and Ryan on the stump were dynamic and drew huge crowds. They look stronger, more substantive together. Now they've split up, which is standard: You can cover twice as much ground that way. But there's nothing standard about this year. They should break precedent and campaign together. It's Ryan with Romney, Romney with Ryan. They balance, enhance and moderate each other. One is long accused of being an opportunist, the other charged with being an idealist. Keep them together, it's an interesting package.

The more you see of Paul Ryan, the more you understand and appreciate his thinking. Get him doing long interviews, not short ones—full hours on the Sunday shows, sit-downs with Bret Baier and Charlie Rose. This is high risk. He does high risk.

With all the PAC money floating around, we've entered the Golden Age of mudslinging. When Democrats run the spot where a young guy throws grandma in the wheelchair off the cliff—well, don't wait for that ad.

Republicans should do their own spot, now—one that's comic and sweet. Grandma in the wheelchair is speeding on a downward slope toward a cliff. She looks terrified. Suddenly a young guy who looks like Clark Kent—that is, like Paul Ryan—springs forward, puts his body between the wheelchair and the edge, and stops it. She looks up at him, smiles, touches his face with her hand. He smiles, turns the chair around and begins to push her back to safety. "Romney-Ryan. Trying to get things back on firm ground."

Answer the "Does he understand my life?" question head on. How many of Mr. Ryan's constituents are on some kind of benefits? They keep electing him by healthy margins. There must be a reason. Find them. "My name is Kate, I receive the Social Security I earned, and my husband receives the veteran's benefits he earned. In these hard times we rely on them to live. We would never trust things to someone who didn't have our interests at heart. We've trusted Paul 14 years. He never let us down. He won't let America down."

Republican ads have to be clever, funny or moving. A central fact of this political year is that everyone's spending billions on ads, yet campaign consultants fear no one's watching them anymore—there's too many, they're propaganda, people use them for bathroom breaks. That sound you hear after the Obama attack ad is not cheers, it's toilets flushing.

Romney-Ryan should spend some money the old-fashioned way, not only on 60-second spots but on half-hour and full-hour live, voter-in-the-round question-and-answer sessions. And, of course, speeches. In 1976, Ronald Reagan was finished in the North Carolina primary until he borrowed the money to buy a half-hour of airtime the night before the voting. He ran a taped speech that turned everything around. Speeches are powerful! And Paul Ryan was once a speechwriter. For Jack Kemp, God bless him.

Mitt Romney just threw a long ball. Fine. The GOP will have to play an audacious, longball game.

An old cliché of politics has never been truer: "They don't care what you know unless they know that you care." Or, it's the circumstances, stupid.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan share glow of honeymoon

From The Washington Post:

After two full days of campaigning together, it has become clear that Rep. Paul Ryan is doing many of the things that Mitt Romney couldn’t do for himself.

The Republican presidential ticket is drawing huge and at times electric crowds, at long last energizing a conservative base that has hungered for an inspiring standard-bearer. Ryan is articulating clear convictions about fiscal austerity and offering an intellectual vision. And he’s fleshing out Romney’s biography, vouching for his character and values and trumpeting his accomplishments, such as turning around the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Uh-oh: China's New Target: Batteries

The Wall Street Journal reports that A123 Systems, a struggling maker of advanced batteries for electric vehicles that received a U.S. grant to begin manufacturing, agreed to sell a majority stake to Chinese auto-parts maker Wanxiang Group for $450 million.

Monday, August 06, 2012

In Kansas, Conservatives Vilify Fellow Republicans - Kansas politics have been tilting more to the right for at least the last two decades. And now that shift is prompting a bitter clash within the state’s Republian Party.

From The New York Times:

Kansas politics have been tilting more to the right for at least the last two decades. And now that shift is prompting a bitter clash within the state’s Republican Party. Conservatives are feverishly working to win the Senate and drive out the last remnants of what they see as moderate Republicanism in a state with a deep-rooted history of centrist Republicans in the mold of Bob Dole, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nancy Kassebaum.

What sets the battle in Kansas apart is the distance between the factions. Conservative and moderate Republicans essentially operate as separate parties, and so far, no one — including [Gov. Sam] Brownback — has stepped forward to try to bridge that gap in the popular tradition of moderation. Instead, each side claims to represent the soul of the party.
“We don’t even know what it means to be a Republican in the state of Kansas,” said Casey W. Moore, a conservative Senate candidate from the Topeka area.
Nationally, conservatives have been defining the party in their image. Last week, they scored a big victory in Texas when a Tea Party favorite defeated Gov. Rick Perry’s favored candidate in the primary for an open United States Senate seat. That outcome followed conservative victories this year over established Republicans in Senate primary races in Indiana and Nebraska.
Kansas conservatives are optimistic that they can do the same on the state level and upend long-held assumptions that the people of their state prefer moderate lawmakers.
Conservatives accuse moderates of being Republicans in name only, while moderates say their conservative counterparts lack pragmatism.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Friedman on Romney and his visit to Israel and beyond: Why Not in Vegas?

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

I’ll make this quick. I have one question and one observation about Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel. The question is this: Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway — how much Romney would abase himself by saying whatever the Israeli right wanted to hear and how big a jackpot of donations Adelson would shower on the Romney campaign in return. Really, Vegas would have been so much more appropriate than Jerusalem. They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas.
The observation is this: Much of what is wrong with the U.S.-Israel relationship today can be found in that Romney trip. In recent years, the Republican Party has decided to make Israel a wedge issue. In order to garner more Jewish (and evangelical) votes and money, the G.O.P. decided to “out-pro-Israel” the Democrats by being even more unquestioning of Israel. This arms race has pulled the Democratic Party to the right on the Middle East and has basically forced the Obama team to shut down the peace process and drop any demands that Israel freeze settlements. This, in turn, has created a culture in Washington where State Department officials, not to mention politicians, are reluctant to even state publicly what is U.S. policy — that settlements are “an obstacle to peace” — for fear of being denounced as anti-Israel.
Add on top of that, the increasing role of money in U.S. politics and the importance of single donors who can write megachecks to “super PACs” — and the fact that the main Israel lobby, Aipac, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are “pro” and which are “anti-Israel” and, therefore, who should get donations and who should not — and you have a situation in which there are almost no brakes, no red lights, around Israel coming from America anymore. No wonder settlers now boast on op-ed pages that the game is over, they’ve won, the West Bank will remain with Israel forever — and they don’t care what absorbing all of its Palestinians will mean for Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy.
It is into this environment that Romney wandered to add more pandering and to declare how he will be so much nicer to Israel than big, bad Obama. This is a canard. On what matters to Israel’s survival — advanced weaponry and intelligence — Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN on Monday, “I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
While Romney had time for a $50,000-a-plate breakfast with American Jewish donors in Jerusalem, with Adelson at his elbow, he did not have two hours to go to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, to meet with its president, Mahmoud Abbas, or to share publicly any ideas on how he would advance the peace process. He did have time, though, to point out to his Jewish hosts that Israelis are clearly more culturally entrepreneurial than Palestinians. Israel today is an amazing beehive of innovation — thanks, in part, to an influx of Russian brainpower, massive U.S. aid and smart policies. It’s something Jews should be proud of. But had Romney gone to Ramallah he would have seen a Palestinian beehive of entrepreneurship, too, albeit small, but not bad for a people living under occupation. Palestinian business talent also built the Persian Gulf states. In short, Romney didn’t know what he was talking about.
On peace, the Palestinians’ diplomacy has been a fractured mess, and I still don’t know if they can be a partner for a secure two-state deal with even the most liberal Israeli government. But I do know this: It is in Israel’s overwhelming interest to test, test and have the U.S. keep testing creative ideas for a two-state solution. That is what a real U.S. friend would promise to do. Otherwise, Israel could be doomed to become a kind of apartheid South Africa.
And here is what I also know: The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that “the Americans made me do it,” because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.
So how about all you U.S. politicians — Republicans and Democrats — stop feeding off this conflict for political gain. Stop using this conflict as a backdrop for campaign photo-ops and fund-raisers. Stop making things even worse by telling the most hard-line Israelis everything that they want to hear, just to grovel for Jewish votes and money, while blatantly ignoring the other side. There are real lives at stake out there. If you’re not going to do something constructive, stay away. They can make enough trouble for themselves on their own.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Mitt Romney resumes campaigning Thursday in Colorado, trying to rebuild momentum after a difficult overseas trip that took him away from U.S. voters and raised doubts about how comfortable he is on the world stage.

An article in The Washington Post noting that Mitt Romney resumes campaigning Thursday in Colorado, trying to rebuild momentum after a difficult overseas trip that took him away from U.S. voters and raised doubts about how comfortable he is on the world stage.

Palin Finds Nothing Succeeds Like Success

From The Wall Street Journal:

Ted Cruz's come-from-behind win in a Republican runoff in Texas this week rattled the state's GOP establishment and embarrassed Gov. Rick Perry, who had backed Mr. Cruz's opponent in the U.S. Senate primary.

In doing so, the upset victory gave another jolt of momentum to the endorsement machine of Sarah Palin, who gave Mr. Cruz a well-timed plug in May—and campaigned with him in Texas last week.

After fading to the margins during the presidential primary, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and conservative lightning rod is once again becoming a valuable ally in duels within her party, making endorsements in nine primary races so far in 2012, compared with more than 60 in the 2010 election cycle.

In many contests she was far from the sole decisive force, but her endorsements have helped propel several underdogs. And at times, she has played it safe, rallying behind party stalwarts such as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake.

Ms. Palin had a mixed endorsement record in 2010, when she backed more than 60 candidates, with nearly half coming up short in a primary or general election. A few Palin picks—Sharon Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware stand out—lost general-election races the GOP thought it should have won.

This year, Ms. Palin appears to be doling out her support more judiciously. That is garnering kudos from conservatives not normally disposed to applauding her.

"She has shown a level of political maturity that is surprising—and not just to me, but to others in the party," said Republican operative Rich Galen. "By limiting her involvement, she is giving her picks more weight. And that is helping her brand."

That brand still has its share of doubters among opinion-shapers in the party, though. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for one, said this week that it was a "mistake" for Sen. John McCain to have picked her in 2008.

In the Cruz race, as elsewhere, Ms. Palin continues to relish her role as bomb-thrower, fulminating most loudly against the political establishment, Republicans included. Mr. Cruz defeated David Dewhurst, who as the state's longtime lieutenant governor was a central figure in budget negotiations and legislative affairs—and is widely regarded as a staunch conservative.

Ms. Palin largely stayed on the margins of the GOP presidential primary fight earlier this year, after opting not to join the fray herself. The next big question is whether she will play any role in the party convention in Tampa, Fla., later this month.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The more things change the more they stay the same: The U.S. made its mark on Iraq with a military intervention. Iran has reshaped the country through shared religious beliefs. Now, as American influence wanes here, Turkey, a neighbor to the north, is wielding economic clout to become a major player in Iraq.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. made its mark on Iraq with a military intervention. Iran has reshaped the country through shared religious beliefs. Now, as American influence wanes here, Turkey, a neighbor to the north, is wielding economic clout to become a major player in Iraq.

Turkey is today the country's biggest trading partner, with exports nearly tripling since 2007. Rising Turkish influence is evident almost everywhere: Private companies are cleaning streets, training doctors, operating the best hotels and providing the bulk of electricity to Basra, one of Iraq's most power-challenged cities. Turkey's commercial offensive is part of the broader assertiveness that is transforming it into a regional power across the Middle East.

In a sense, Turkey's widening commercial role in Iraq has been late in coming. Turkey opposed the U.S.-led invasion, and then paid the price when the occupation government hamstrung Turkish trade and favored companies from more cooperative allies. Turkey, too, initially recoiled from the new Iraq, anxious about regional instability and a quasi-independent Kurdish region on its border.

One result: Iran, the other big regional power bordering Iraq, dramatically expanded its influence, building on historic ties with Iraq's majority Shia Muslims.