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Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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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, April 29, 2012

A Bush League President - Republicans are aggravated by Obama. They should cheer up. So is everyone else.


Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

There is every reason to be deeply skeptical of President Obama's prospects in November.

Republicans feel an understandable anxiety about Mr. Obama's coming campaign: It will be all slice and dice, divide and conquer, break the country into little pieces and pick up as many as you can. He'll try to pick up college students one day and solidify environmentalist support the next, he'll valorize this group and demonize the other. He means to gather in and hold onto all the pieces he needs, and turn them into a jagged, jangly coalition that will win it for him in November and not begin making individual demands until December.

But it still matters that the president doesn't have a coherent agenda, or a political philosophy that is really clear to people. To the extent he has a philosophy, it tends to pop up furtively in stray comments and then go away. This is to a unique degree a presidency of inference, its overall meaning never vividly declared. In some eras, that may be a plus. In this one?

Republicans are worried about the power of incumbency, and it is a real power. Presidents command the airwaves, as they used to say. If they want to make something the focus of national discussion, they usually can, at least for a while. And this president is always out there, talking.

But—and forgive me, because what I'm about to say is rude—has anyone noticed how boring he is? Plonking platitude after plonking platitude. To see Mr. Obama on the stump is to see a man at the podium who's constantly dribbling away the punch line. He looks pleasant but lacks joy; he's cool but lacks vigor. A lot of what he says could have been said by a president 12 or 20 years ago, little is anchored to the moment. As he makes his points he often seems distracted, as if he's holding a private conversation in his head, noticing crowd size, for instance, and wishing the front row would start fainting again, like they used to.

I listen to him closely and find myself daydreaming: This is the best-tailored president since JFK. His suits, shirts and ties are beautifully cut from fine material. This is an elegant man. But I shouldn't be thinking about that, I should be thinking about what a powerful case he's making for his leadership. I'm not because he's not.

It is still so surprising that a person who seems bored by politicking has risen to the highest political office in the land. Politics is a fleshly profession, it's all hugging, kissing, arm twisting, shaking hands. It involves contact. When you see politicians on C-Span, in the well of the House or the Senate after a vote, they're always touching each other's arms and shoulders. They touch each other more than actors! Bill Clinton was fleshly, and LBJ. How odd to have a Democratic president who doesn't seem to like humans all that much.

He's raised a lot of money, or so we keep reading. He has a sophisticated, wired, brilliant computer operation—they know how to mine Internet data and get the addresses of people who've never been reached by a campaign before, and how to approach them in a friendly and personal way. This is thought to be a secret weapon. I'm not so sure. All they can approach their new friends with is arguments that have already been made, the same attacks and assertions. If you have fabulous new ways to reach everyone in the world but you have little to say, does that really help you?

A while back I talked to a young man who was developing a wonderful thing for a website, a kind of constant live TV show with anyone anywhere able to join in and share opinions live, on the screen. You're on your iPad in the train station, you log on and start talking. He was so excited at the technology, which seemed impressive. But I thought: Why do you think people will say anything interesting or important?

This is the problem of the world now: Big mic, no message. If you have nothing to say, does it matter that you have endless venues in which to say it?

The old Washington gossip was that the Obama campaign was too confident, now it is that they are nervous. The second seems true if you go by their inability, months after it was clear Mitt Romney would be running against them, to find and fix on a clear line of attack. Months ago he was the out-of-touch corporate raider. Then he was a flip-flopping weasel. They momentarily shifted to right-wing extremist. This week he seems to be a Bushite billionaire.

Will all this work? When you look at Romney you see a wealthy businessman, a Mormon of inherently moderate instinct, a person who is conservative in his personal sphere but who lives and hopes to rise in a world he well knows is not quite so tidy. He doesn't seem extreme.

It's interesting that the Obama campaign isn't using what incumbent presidents always sooner or later use, either straight out or subliminally. And that is "You know me. I've been president for almost four years, you don't know that other guy. In a high-stakes world do you really want someone new?"

You know why they're not using "You know me"? Because we know him, and it's not a plus.

Here's one reason why.

There is a growing air of incompetence around Mr. Obama's White House. It was seen again this week in Supreme Court arguments over the administration's challenge to Arizona's attempted crackdown on illegal immigration. As Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News wrote, the court seemed to be disagreeing with the administration's understanding of federal power: "Solicitor General Donald Verrilli . . . met resistance across ideological lines. . . . Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court's only Hispanic and an Obama appointee, told Verrilli his argument is 'not selling very well.'" This follows last month's embarrassing showing over the constitutionality of parts of ObamaCare.

All of this looks so bush league, so scattered. Add it to the General Services Administration, to Solyndra, to the other scandals, and you get a growing sense that no one's in charge, that the administration is paying attention to politics but not day-to-day governance.

The two most public cabinet members are Eric Holder at Justice and Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security. He is overseeing the administration's Supreme Court cases. She is in charge of being unmoved by the daily stories of Transportation Security Administration incompetence and even cruelty at our airports. Those incidents and stories continue, but if you go to the Homeland Security website, there is no mention of them. It's as if they don't even exist.

***

Maybe the 2012 election is simpler than we think.

It will be about Mr. Obama.

Did you like the past four years? Good, you can get four more.

Do the president and his people strike you as competent? If so, you can renew his contract, and he will renew theirs.

If you don't want to rehire him, you will look at the other guy. Does he strike you as credible, a possible president? Then you can hire him.Republicans should cheer up.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

George Allen, a Republican, and Tim Kaine, a Democrat, are in a tight race for a seat both sides see as potentially decisive when it comes to party control of the Senate.

From The New York Times:

[N]o other race appears to be quite so evenly matched, featuring two former governors with near-universal name recognition, rich campaign war chests and national patrons. It is seen by those on both sides as potentially decisive when it comes to party control of the Senate. 

Mr. Kaine, then the national Democratic Party chairman, was dragged into the race reluctantly after the current Democratic senator, Jim Webb, announced his retirement after a single term. During six agonizing weeks, Mr. Kaine was pressed hard by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to drop his chairmanship and re-enter electoral politics. He consulted former and current Virginia senators, including John W. Warner, a Republican, and Mark Warner, a Democrat. Finally he talked it over at length with President Obama before announcing last April that he had changed his mind and would run.

For Mr. Allen, 2012 is about redemption. He was once considered a leading presidential prospect and a rising Republican star. Then came 2006 and his stumbling, bumbling campaign for re-election, followed by defeat at the hands of Mr. Webb, a political neophyte. The fatal hiccup may have come when he introduced a dark-skinned Democratic Party “tracker” filming his every move as “macaca.” The incident quickly escalated into a racial controversy.

The contest will play out in a state as purple as any in the nation, divided by race and geography, prosperity and poverty — and critical to the balance of power in Washington, both on Capitol Hill and the White House. And the winner may be determined as much by the larger forces of presidential politics as by the two candidates’ rich histories in Virginia, for better or for worse.    

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2 House Democrats Defeated After Opposing Health Law - With redistricting, the Democratic Party has become more liberal and the GOP more conservative.

From The New York Times:

The defeat of two conservative House Democrats by more liberal opponents in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary illustrates the strong hold the new health care law still has over committed Democratic voters and foreshadows an even more polarized Congress next year in the aftermath of the latest round of redistricting.       

Representatives Jason Altmire and Tim Holden both lost in primaries to opponents who joined together with activist groups to pummel the veteran lawmakers over the opposition to the new health care law and climate change legislation — positions they had used to their advantage in the past to show their independence from President Obama and the Democratic Party.

“A lot of us thought of his record as his strength,” said Hugh M. Reiley, the chairman of the Schuylkill County Democratic Party, referring to Mr. Holden. “He was not falling prey to all that party bickering. He was able to reach across the aisle.”       

“Last night, the Democratic Party became more liberal,” he added.

While Republicans have seized on the health care law as a political weapon to employ against the president and Congressional Democrats, many Democratic voters and party activists see it as a major achievement and are poised to punish Democrats who fought it. The results on Tuesday also suggest health care could be a major rallying cry if the Supreme Court overturns all or part of the law this summer.

In eastern Pennsylvania, state Republicans stuffed the Democratic cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre into Mr. Holden’s formerly conservative-leaning seat. The result: A 10-term congressman and founding member of the centrist Blue Dog coalition was trounced by a newcomer, Matt Cartwright, a Scranton lawyer who ran hard against Mr. Holden’s moderate voting record.

The ouster of the Democratic incumbents — and the tough primaries being waged against some House Republicans — suggest that redistricting ultimately is going to send more liberal Democrats and more conservative Republicans to the House.

The parties have become more polarized in recent decades, several academic studies have found. The demise of the conservative “Dixiecrats” in the 1960s and ’70s made the Democratic Party more liberal, and Republicans have moved even further to the right than Democrats have moved to the left, the studies show. Elections like Tuesday’s suggest Democrats may be taking the Republicans’ cue, driven by the same activist forces that pushed them rightward.

“In civics class in high school, you learn there are 435 members of Congress, and every one of them could lose in the next election. Now we’re down to less than 100 who can ever get beat in a general election,” lamented Representative Mike Ross of Arkansas, a Blue Dog co-chairman who is retiring from Congress this year. “So the Democrats run to their corner. The Republicans run to their corner, and as a result the country is being run by the extremes.”

“Redistricting,” he added, “has been bad for the country.”       
_______________

And from The Washington Post is an article entitled "Blue Dog Democrats trying to stave off extinction following Pennsylvania losses":

Just two years removed from being the most powerful voting bloc on Capitol Hill, Blue Dog Democrats are now trying to stave off political extinction.

It’s increasingly unclear whether Democrats can ever reclaim the House majority unless they pick up ground in the conservative-leaning terrain that the Blue Dogs once represented. In addition, with so few moderates left, there are fewer House members in the political center to create the sort of bipartisan coalition that in the past has provided the bulwark of support for budget compromises.

Once boasting 54 members in 2010, the Blue Dogs shrank to 26 after those midterm elections scared many into retirement and left many others exposed to political winds that knocked them out that fall.

The centrist Democrats known as "Blue Dogs" sometimes say they've been "choked blue" by the liberals who dominate their party. But now it is Republicans and redistricting that are threatening to cripple this once-influential group of House members.



From The Wall Street Journal:

The centrist Democrats known as "Blue Dogs" sometimes say they've been "choked blue" by the liberals who dominate their party. But now it is Republicans and redistricting that are threatening to cripple this once-influential group of House members.

The ranks of the Blue Dogs—known for their fiscal conservatism and the central role they played in the 2010 debate over health care—have already fallen from 54 members before the last election to 25 today. With the defeat of two leading members in Tuesday's Pennsylvania primaries, Reps. Tim Holden and Jason Altmire, the group has absorbed another blow.

Adding to their woes, five Blue Dogs have announced they're leaving the House this year, in several cases after Republicans redrew their districts.

Still others face tough elections in November. Rep. Leonard Boswell (D., Iowa) is pitted against a fellow incumbent, Republican Rep. Tom Latham. Rep. Jim Matheson (D., Utah) is being challenged by Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, a rising star who would be the first black Republican woman in Congress.

It's always possible that new Blue Dogs will be elected this year to replace those departing. But House districts are increasingly drawn to favor conservative Republicans or liberal Democrats, making it harder for centrists to win office.

Rep. Mike Ross (D., Ark.), co-chairman of the Blue Dogs, who is himself retiring, blamed redistricting and polarization for the group's struggles. "Folks in the middle get attacked from the far right and the far left, because we are not driven by the all-too-common ideological partisan divide," he said.

Another Blue Dog leader, Rep. Heath Shuler (D., N.C.), who's also stepping down, said the group's dwindling numbers make legislative compromise harder.

It wasn't long ago that Blue Dogs were seen as Washington power brokers. In 2006 and 2008, Democrats recruited conservative candidates in swing districts. The result was the election of 19 new Blue Dogs, giving the group a voice on issues such as health care and energy.

Blue Dogs forced President Barack Obama two years ago to drop his goal of including a government-run insurance plan in his health-care overhaul, which eventually won a House majority and became law.

In recent months, Blue Dogs have taken a leading role in trying to forge a deficit-cutting deal with both spending cuts and tax increases.

Republicans say the Blue Dogs' fading fortunes reflect a Democratic shift to the left that is making the party more hostile to centrists. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R., Ga.) said that when Democrats held a 257-178 House majority after 2008, they didn't need the Blue Dogs and passed a series of liberal bills that turned off voters in swing districts. "The Blue Dogs lost because the Democrats had too big of a majority," he said.

Democrats scoff at this, saying their party is far more open than today's GOP to a spectrum of views. "I don't think there's any doubt that the House Democratic caucus is still the most diverse body of legislative representatives you will find," said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D., Calif.).

Messrs. Holden and Altmire were defeated Tuesday by more liberal Democrats, rather than losing to conservative Republicans, the fate that met many other Blue Dogs. But their defeats did result from aggressive redistricting by Pennsylvania Republicans.

As part of their effort to boost GOP incumbents, party leaders moved thousands of liberal voters from the district of Rep. Lou Barletta (R., Pa.) into Mr. Holden's district. Mr. Holden's centrist record was unpopular among these voters, who on Tuesday nominated attorney Matt Cartwright.

Mr. Altmire was forced by redistricting to run against another incumbent Democrat, Rep. Mark Critz, who was aided by unions that were upset by Mr. Altmire's record, including his vote against Mr. Obama's health-care law.

Mr. Cartwright is now favored in November, while Mr. Critz faces a tougher road in a Republican-leaning district against GOP nominee Keith Rothfus.

In a twist, the Blue Dogs did see recent growth from one quarter, as Rep. Larry Kissell (D., N.C.), facing a difficult re-election battle, joined the group in the past few days. Redistricting gave Mr. Kissell's district more Republicans, and the Blue Dog label could help with conservative voters.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stress Rises on Social Security - Report Says Program Will Exhaust Reserves Three Years Earlier Than Expected. The Social Security disability program and the Medicare program that covers hospital care are already paying more in benefits than they collect through tax revenue.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Social Security, which pays retirement and disability benefits to 56 million Americans, will exhaust its reserves by 2033, three years sooner than previously estimated, a new government report said Monday.

The forecast raises pressure on the White House and Congress to tackle the entitlement program, which many politicians fear changing because of potential voter backlash.

The trustees who oversee Social Security's two trust funds—one for disability benefits, the other for retirees—said reserves for the fund that pays disability benefits would be exhausted by 2016, two years earlier than projected last year. And if the disability fund were combined with the larger fund that pays retiree benefits, all reserves would be exhausted by 2033, three years sooner than projected last year.

Benefits would automatically be cut roughly 25% if the trust funds were exhausted. Monthly Social Security benefits averaged $1,125 per recipient in March, according to government data.

Social Security and Medicare, the government-run health plan for senior citizens, are together the largest U.S. public benefit programs and account for one-third of the federal budget. The programs' costs are projected to grow rapidly because of the aging U.S. population and, in Medicare's case, the rising cost of health care.

Democrats and Republicans, in a battle over public spending, are making the role of government a central issue in the November election. Social Security is yet to emerge in the debate because, according to one argument, the program's financial problems remain decades away. Also, many older Americans who receive the government benefits vote in large numbers and have resisted cuts, striking fear in politicians.

"It is time for Congress to take on the task of retooling Social Security for the long haul," said Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue.

The Social Security trust-fund balances are essentially the difference between the taxes that have been paid into the programs and the total number of benefits that have been paid out over the years.

The government has borrowed from the Social Security trust fund to pay for other operations and pays interest to the program. By law, benefits are paid in full as long as the fund balances represent a surplus.

Social Security and Medicare are primarily funded through taxes paid by workers and employers. An effort to bolster the programs' finances would require increasing revenue, cutting costs, or some combination.

Congress has lowered the payroll tax that funds Social Security since 2011 to spur economic growth, and the Treasury Department has made up the lost revenue by essentially making payments into the Social Security funds.

The Social Security disability program and the Medicare program that covers hospital care are already paying more in benefits than they collect through tax revenue. They make up the difference by drawing down trust funds built over many years when they collected more than they spent. The Social Security retirement system still collects more than it spends.

Social Security's worsening outlook comes from a combination of higher cost-of-living adjustments pushing benefits up and lagging wage growth holding down tax revenue.

In recent years, the Social Security disability rolls have soared, as many Americans with mental and physical health problems sought to enter the program and others with less severe issues applied because of a scarcity of work.

In 2011, Social Security paid $596.2 billion in retirement benefits to 44.8 million Americans and $128.9 billion in disability benefits to 10.6 million recipients.

Charles Blahous, a Republican trustee for Social Security and Medicare, said, "By any objective measure, the problems in Social Security are growing somewhat more serious." He called for a congressional deal, which he said needed to be "responsible, decisive, and prompt."

Mr. Astrue, a Republican, urged Congress to address the funding shortfalls but said in the interim lawmakers could consider redirecting some of the money meant for the retiree program to the disability fund.

The trustees also provided an update on Medicare's finances. They projected the Medicare fund that pays for hospital benefits would be exhausted in 2024, unchanged from their projection last year.

But, foreshadowing the financial pressures on Medicare in coming years, the trustees said the number of people covered by Medicare rose to 48.7 million in 2011. That meant, on average, 100,000 Americans joined Medicare each month.

The Obama administration has said it would support changes to Social Security to improve the program's solvency but hasn't proposed any. White House officials and congressional Republicans met privately last year to discuss possible changes to Social Security. Those talks fell apart when negotiators couldn't reach a broader deal to reduce the federal budget deficit. One change discussed by both sides would have slowed how benefits are increased to take account for inflation.

Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has proposed gradually raising the retirement age and slowing the rate of benefit inflation for wealthier Americans. Currently, Americans can claim full Social Security retiree benefits at age 66, or seek smaller benefits when they turn 62.

President Barack Obama's re-election campaign used the new data to attack Mr. Romney, with spokesman Ben LaBolt saying the former Massachusetts governor would make "devastating cuts to Medicare and Social Security" which "would end America's social compact with our seniors."

Lanhee Chen, Mr. Romney's policy director, said in a statement that Mr. Obama's "inaction on Social Security reforms means that seniors will be left to face across-the-board benefit cuts. His failure on this issue stands in stark contrast to the meaningful reforms that Mitt Romney has proposed—reforms that will ensure Social Security remains solvent and strong for at least the next 75 years."

On Medicare, White House officials say the 2010 health care law has added eight years to the program's solvency and last year they proposed even more changes. Republicans dispute many of the figures. Last year, Mr. Obama privately explored with Republicans the idea of raising the eligibility age for Medicare, but those talks collapsed.

Mr. Romney has proposed changing Medicare to allow seniors to sign up with the government program or shop for private insurance, with the government providing some assistance for premium payments. He would also change the program to give more support to low-income seniors and less support to wealthier Americans. He has proposed curbing the growth of Medicare spending, in part, by raising the eligibility age from 65 by one month per year beginning in 2022.

With the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, and $1.2 trillion in defense and other spending reductions set to begin in January, lawmakers in both parties have said they hope a broad, bipartisan deficit-reduction plan could come together by the end of the year.

Republicans have said that big changes to Medicare and potentially Social Security should be included in any talks that might raise new taxes, but so far both sides appear far apart on any deal.

Thank the Good Lord for courageous statesmen - Sen. Saxby Chambliss: We need a presidential debate this fall dedicated to the federal fiscal crisis that will immediately follow the November election.


From the AJC's Political Insider:

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss on Monday said he’s taken heart from Mitt Romney’s mention of the possibility of doing away with mortgage interest deductions on second homes, and said he’d like to see a presidential debate this fall dedicated to the federal fiscal crisis that will immediately follow the November election.

“I was glad to see [Romney] at least allude to that. That’s the kind of conversation that we’re going to have to have,” Chambliss said.

In a speech to the Atlanta Press Club, Chambliss gave an update of his “Gang of Six” efforts with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., to broker a bipartisan solution to the ballooning federal deficit – and the possible end of George W. Bush-era tax cuts that will expire on Dec. 31.

The Georgia senator also warned that whoever wins the White House will have to almost immediately come before Congress to request another increase in the debt ceiling. “You remember that ugly fight last summer? It will be even less good-looking in January, I promise you,” Chambliss said.

With Pact, U.S. Agrees to Help Afghans for Years to Come

From The New York Times:

After months of negotiations, the United States and Afghanistan completed drafts of a strategic partnership agreement on Sunday that pledges American support for Afghanistan for 10 years after the withdrawal of combat troops at the end of 2014.       

It covers social and economic development, institution building, regional cooperation and security.    

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Scandals Undercut Obama's Message - Secret Service, GSA Cases Fuel Dissatisfaction, Make It Harder to Argue That Government Helps People


From The Wall Street Journal:

The scandals simultaneously plaguing the Secret Service and General Services Administration have been disconcerting enough for the Obama administration. But beyond that, they have the potential to be a political liability for Democrats, who are making an election pitch to voters that the government is here to help.

Public confidence in nearly all facets of federal government has been on the decline for years. A January Gallup Poll found 69% of respondents somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the size and power of the federal government. Now, political scientists say, these tawdry tales and evidence of government waste are likely to fuel cynicism about Washington.

"For those who tend to be skeptical about the increasing power of the federal government—which includes a lot of independents—these outrageous escapades really provide a dramatic and tangible example of their wildest nightmares," said Bill Adams, a professor of public policy and public administration at George Washington University.

For President Barack Obama, who has argued government is the solution to some of the country's most urgent problems, recent revelations could undercut his message, perhaps unfairly given the relatively small scope of the scandals, some Republicans said.

The Secret Service scandal "could politically hurt the president, but it shouldn't.…The president has no responsibility for this," said Rep. Peter King, (R., N.Y.). The actions of a small number of agents aren't an extension of the president or his policies, he said, but some people don't draw that distinction.

The General Services Administration has come under fire for a raucous conference near Las Vegas that cost taxpayers more than $800,000. An assortment of other perks for GSA managers and their family members also has sparked criticism.

Republicans have been cautious about making a partisan issue out of the events, in part because the Obama administration is not the first to endure scandal. Democrats note that confidence in government declined precipitously on President George W. Bush's watch, as questions mounted about his handling of the Iraq war and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

While there's general agreement that the Secret Service is necessary, limited-government advocates see these scandals as evidence the federal bureaucracy should be scaled back. Republicans and Democrats are divided over how much government is too much, sparring over issues ranging from the auto bailout to the health-care law.

Before taking office, Mr. Obama argued the government could be a positive force to revive the economy and succeed where the private sector had failed. In this year's State of the Union address, he invoked Abraham Lincoln, saying government "should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more."

For many Republicans, that remains too much, at least in Mr. Obama's definition. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, has called for a smaller, simpler bureaucracy. He promised to make cuts to government departments including housing and education.

Obama Sees Steep Dropoff in Cash From Major Donors

From The New York Times:

President Obama’s re-election campaign is straining to raise the huge sums it is counting on to run against Mitt Romney, with sharp dropoffs in donations from nearly every major industry forcing it to rely more than ever on small contributions and a relative handful of major donors.       

Arizona immigration law: Supreme Court again examines federal power

From The Washington Post:

The Supreme Court will conclude one of its most significant and controversial terms in decades by taking on one more issue that has divided the nation: Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants.

The court’s final oral argument on Wednesday — Arizona v. United States — provides yet another chance for the justices to confront fundamental questions about the power of the federal government. And the rulings the court will issue between now and the end of June could dramatically alter the nation’s election-year landscape.

The court has considered President Obama’s health-care law, has taken its first look at the political redistricting battles being fought across the nation and will decide whether federal regulators still hold the authority to police the nation’s airwaves.

The Obama administration has moved aggressively against Arizona’s SB 1070, which directs law enforcement to play a much more active role in identifying illegal immigrants and makes it a crime for them to seek work. The administration has persuaded courts to put aside key parts of the law.

And, as with last month’s hearings on the health-care law, in the Arizona case the government is asking the court to recognize that the Constitution gives the federal government vast powers to confront national problems, such as illegal immigration.

“As the framers understood, it is the national government that has the ultimate responsibility to regulate the treatment of aliens while on American soil, because it is the nation as a whole — not any single state — that must respond to the international consequences of such treatment,” Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the court in the government’s brief.

Immigration is one of the nation’s thorniest political issues. Obama and his administration have been accused of not properly securing the nation’s borders and criticized for not delivering comprehensive immigration reform. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s tough stance against illegal immigration has angered some interest groups and is said to have cost him among increasingly influential Latino voters.

And even as the pace of illegal immigration has slowed, it has left a changed picture of undocumented immigrants in the United States. According to the liberal Center for American Progress, 63 percent of illegal immigrants have been in the country for more than 10 years and more than 16.6 million people in the United States have at least one undocumented family member.

“This debate is not just about SB 1070,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) said in a statement when the state filed its brief in the case. “Rather, it is for the constitutional principle that every state has a duty and obligation to protect its people, especially when the federal government has failed in upholding its core responsibilities.

“SB 1070 is Arizona’s way of saying ‘enough!’ ”

The Supreme Court in its previous term signaled that immigration enforcement is not solely the province of the federal government. In a 5 to 3 vote, it agreed that Arizona could revoke the business licenses of companies that knowingly employ undocumented workers.

Utah’s Hatch Will Face a Primary for Senate


From The New York Times:

United States Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a six-term Republican who had been targeted for elimination by Tea Party groups, survived a test from nine challengers at his party’s state convention here on Saturday, but failed to win the supermajority needed to avoid a primary race.

[Mr. Hatch] said that experience and “the respect of both sides” is what gets things done in Washington, not wild claims and promises.
     
Mr. Hatch, 78, fought for months to avoid the fate of a former Senate colleague and Utah Republican political powerhouse, Robert F. Bennett, who was tossed out by Republican delegates at their state convention in 2010. His seat is now held by Senator Mike Lee, a Republican who had strong Tea Party support.

Charles W. Colson, Watergate Felon Who Became Evangelical Leader, Dies at 80


From The New York Times:

Charles W. Colson, who as a political saboteur for President Richard M. Nixon masterminded some of the dirty tricks that led to the president’s downfall, then emerged from prison to become an important evangelical leader, saying he had been “born again,” died on Saturday. He was 80.       

Mr. Colson was a 38-year-old Washington lawyer when he joined the Nixon White House as a special counsel in November 1969. He quickly caught the president’s eye. His “instinct for the political jugular and his ability to get things done made him a lightning rod for my own frustrations,” Nixon wrote in his memoir, “RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon.” In 1970, the president made him his “political point man” for “imaginative dirty tricks.”

“When I complained to Colson, I felt confident that something would be done,” Nixon wrote. “I was rarely disappointed.”

Mr. Colson and his colleagues “started vying for favor on Nixon’s dark side,” Bryce Harlow, a former counselor to the president, said in an oral history. “Colson started talking about trampling his grandmother’s grave for Nixon and showing he was as mean as they come.”

As the president’s re-election campaign geared up in 1971, “everybody went macho,” Mr. Harlow said. “It was the ‘in’ thing to swagger and threaten.”

Few played political hardball more fiercely than Mr. Colson. When a deluded janitor from Milwaukee shot Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama on the presidential campaign trail in Maryland in May 1972, Nixon asked about the suspect’s politics. Mr. Colson replied, “Well, he’s going to be a left-winger by the time we get through.” He proposed a political frame-up: planting leftist pamphlets in the would-be killer’s apartment. “Good,” the president said, as recorded on a White House tape. “Keep at that.”

Mr. Colson hired E. Howard Hunt, a veteran covert operator for the Central Intelligence Agency, to spy on the president’s opponents. Their plots became part of the cascade of high crimes and misdemeanors known as the Watergate affair.

The subterfuge began to unravel after Mr. Hunt and five other C.I.A. and F.B.I. veterans were arrested in June 1972 after a botched burglary and wiretapping operation at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington. To this day, no one knows whether Nixon authorized the break-in or precisely what the burglars wanted.

“When I write my memoirs,” Mr. Colson told Mr. Hunt in a November 1972 telephone conversation, “I’m going to say that the Watergate was brilliantly conceived as an escapade that would divert the Democrats’ attention from the real issues, and therefore permit us to win a landslide that we probably wouldn’t have won otherwise.” The two men laughed.

That month, Nixon won that landslide. On election night, the president watched the returns with Mr. Colson and the White House chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman. “I couldn’t feel any sense of jubilation,” Mr. Colson said in a 1992 television interview. “Here we were, supposedly winning, and it was more like we’d lost.”

“The attitude was, ‘Well, we showed them, we got even with our enemies and we beat them,’ instead of ‘We’ve been given a wonderful mandate to rule over the next four years,’ ” he said. “We were reduced to our petty worst on the night of what should have been our greatest triumph.”       

The Watergate operation and the dirty tricks campaign surrounding it led to the criminal indictments and convictions of most of Nixon’s closest aides. On June 21, 1974, Mr. Colson was sentenced to prison and fined $5,000. Nixon resigned seven weeks later after one of his secretly recorded White House tapes made clear that he had tried to use the C.I.A. to obstruct the federal investigation of the break-in.

Mr. Colson served seven months after pleading guilty to obstructing justice in the case of Daniel Ellsberg, a former National Security Council consultant who leaked the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the Vietnam War, to The New York Times. In July 1971, a few weeks after the papers were published, Mr. Colson approved Mr. Hunt’s proposal to steal files from the office of Mr. Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. The aim was “to destroy his public image and credibility,” Mr. Hunt wrote.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Now you speak up Barney; a day late, many dollars short. Thanks for nothing.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Regrets, they've had a few. North Carolina Democrat Brad Miller recently said that "we would all have been better off—President Obama politically, Democrats in Congress politically, and the nation would have been better off" if his party had tabled ObamaCare. Even bellwether liberal Barney Frank recently chimed in that "I think we paid a terrible price for health care" and suggested Democrats should have done something else after Republican Scott Brown's January 2010 Senate election victory.

Big Test Set for Tea Party Muscle - Fates of Sens. Hatch, Lugar and Other Targets to Signal Staying Power of Republican Insurgency.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The tea-party movement, which roiled American politics in 2010, faces a new test of its promise to reshape the Republican Party with a push to create a new generation of budget-cutting lawmakers.

On Saturday, the movement is forcing a powerful veteran of the Republican establishment, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, to fight for his political future. In early May, the focus shifts to Richard Lugar of Indiana. The two Capitol Hill icons have been targeted by well-organized groups who say they haven't showed enough loyalty to conservative principles.

Mr. Hatch on Saturday addresses the Utah Republican convention as its delegates decide whether he qualifies for a June 26 primary. Failure to win 40% of the delegates would deny him a slot on the ballot, as happened to his home-state colleague Sen. Robert Bennett two years ago. But Mr. Hatch has a shot at winning the 60% that would clinch the nomination and avert a primary vote.

Mr. Lugar is in a shakier position in advance of the May 8 Indiana primary, his first difficult race in decades, amid signs that challenger Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer, is closing in.

Mr. Hatch, 78 years old, and Mr. Lugar, 80, were elected to the Senate in 1976 and are among its most senior and recognizable Republicans. This year, they are the top targets of conservatives looking to knock off Republicans they say have compromised too much and been in Washington too long. Their fates will go a long way toward answering a much-asked question this election year: Does the tea party have a second act?
_______________

And also see an article in The Washington Post about the following:

Two years ago, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch looked like a sure goner. Tea party conservatives were after him and it was only a matter of time before they got him.

But the six-term Republican from Utah enters the state Republican convention Saturday as the heavy favorite with the real possibility of securing enough support to win the Senate nomination outright, forgoing the need for a statewide primary. His standing is a clear triumph over the insurgent, tea party element of the GOP, both in Utah and nationally, and it has served notice that the establishment can fight back.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Nicolas Sarkozy could be the first one-term French president since 1981, with the first round of voting scheduled for Sunday.

See story in The New York Times.

New District Maps Toughen Democrats’ Race for House

From The New York Times:

Congressional redistricting, a decennial process that generally allows the party in legislative power in each state to draw new lines, has not created many opportunities for new seats for Republicans, as the party’s leaders once expected. But it has forced multiple House Democrats, viewing their odds in new districts as slim, into retirement. Many of those districts are now either in play or solidly Republican, making the climb for Democrats all that more onerous.       

On paper, Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats to take back House control. In reality, the number is closer to 30 or even 35, since the party is likely not only to lose the seats of retiring Democrats in North Carolina, but also to face tougher odds in Arkansas, California, Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois and perhaps in Arizona, in the district once served by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Over all, 15 Democrats have announced their retirements from the House, compared with 10 Republicans. Seven Democrats and eight Republicans have also opted to run for other offices. Among the lot, Republicans leave far more safe seats behind than their Democratic counterparts.       

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Latino voters take center stage in both presidential campaigns

From The Washington Post:

With the GOP presidential nomination no longer in doubt, President Obama and Mitt Romney this week are urgently turning their focus to Hispanic voters — a group whose alienation from Republicans threatens GOP prospects for winning the White House and has given the Obama campaign an early opportunity to lock in the support of a key constituency.

Sensing a chance to exploit the disconnect, the Obama reelection campaign is accelerating its efforts to reignite the intensity that brought out Latino voters in record numbers four years ago.

At a private fundraiser Sunday night in Palm Beach, Fla., Romney told supporters that “we have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party” and warned that a big win of that group by Obama “spells doom for us.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

David Brooks: If the president is truly committed to a strategy for progressive fiscal stability, as Bill Clinton was, he’ll make that the center of his campaign. He’ll earn a mandate.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Going back to 1962, domestic spending has hovered around 3.3 percent of G.D.P. In big-spending years (the Jimmy Carter years), it rose to about 4.4 percent. In low-spending years (Ronald Reagan’s and Bill Clinton’s second terms), it fell to about 2.9 percent of G.D.P.

During Obama’s presidency, domestic spending topped out at 4 percent of G.D.P. But, in the Obama budget, over the next 10 years, that spending would fall to 2.2 percent, much lower than anything Reagan achieved. Under Paul Ryan’s budget, by the way, that spending would fall to 1.8 percent, which the Obama administration regards as savagely low.

I’ll just say that my conversations reaffirm my conviction that Obama is a pragmatic liberal who cares about fiscal sustainability, who has been willing to compromise for its sake, but who has not offered anything close to a sufficient program to avoid a debt crisis.

But we have a campaign in front of us. If the president is truly committed to a strategy for progressive fiscal stability, as Bill Clinton was, he’ll make that the center of his campaign. He’ll earn a mandate. He’ll win over independents who want fiscal discipline but worry about the way Republicans get there.

If he doesn’t have a passion for fiscal stability, he’ll campaign on side issues and try to win by scaring everybody about the other side.

We’ll see.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chris Cillizza: Swing states: Obama still has electoral advantages despite a much-changed map

Chris Cillizza writes in The Washington Post:

This year will not be like 2008, at least as far as the electoral map is concerned.

Four years ago, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) swept to an eye-popping 365-electoral-vote victory — and a nearly 10 million popular-vote edge — with wins in places where a Democrat hadn’t won a presidential race in decades, such as Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia.

Today, the expanded map of 2008 has shrunk somewhat, with states including Indiana and Missouri almost certain to go Republican and longtime Democratic strongholds such as Michigan and Wisconsin looking more tenuous than in the recent past because of the continuing struggles of the manufacturing economy.

That means the 2012 map is more likely to resemble the 2004 map. That year, President George W. Bush eked out a 286-electoral-vote win over Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).

And yet, according to a detailed Fix analysis of the electoral playing field, President Obama retains major advantages over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee, when it comes to winning the 270 votes he needs for a second term. Not only does Obama have more paths to 270 than Romney, but he has considerable leeway — judging from his 2008 performance — in many of the purest swing states.

Let’s start with the states that are genuinely a tossup. Our analysis suggests that nine of them fit well in that swing category: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Republicans would argue for the inclusion of three more — Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Mexico — but of those, only New Mexico has voted for the GOP nominee in any of the past five presidential elections (Bush in 2004).

Democrats would argue that Arizona, Indiana and Missouri should be included in the swing category. But neither Arizona nor Missouri has voted for a Democrat for president in any of the past three elections, and Obama’s 0.9-percentage-point margin in Indiana seems like a major outlier in a state that backed Bush with 60 percent in 2004 and 57 percent in 2000.

That leaves us with nine states that truly qualify as swing — meaning it’s nearly certain that both candidates and the national party committees will spend heavily to win them.

A detailed look at those nine states reveals Obama’s strength when it comes to the electoral map.

First, he carried every one of our nine swing states in 2008. Second — and even more surprising — his average (yes, average) margin of victory across those nine states was nearly 7.6 points. Remove North Carolina, where Obama won by just four-tenths of a percentage point, from the equation and his average winning margin stands at a whopping 8.5 points. (Perhaps the most amazing state margin for Obama was in Wisconsin, which he captured by 14 points just four years after Kerry won it by four-tenths of a point.)

That means Obama’s path to a second term goes through states he has already won once — and by considerable margins in most cases. Although no one — not even people within the Obama campaign — expect him to carry Virginia by seven points or Colorado by nine points, the fact that he averaged a 7.5-point win across these nine states four years ago is nothing to sneeze at.

Republicans will, rightly, point to history in these nine states — a view that suggests at least the possibility that Obama’s 2008 victory was anomalous. Before his wins in 2008, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia had all voted for the Republican presidential nominee in the previous two elections.

If all six of those states revert to their 2000/2004 form, Republicans carry Indiana (as seems likely) and Obama wins no other state that he lost in 2008 (as seems likely), the incumbent would drop to 258 electoral votes and lose the presidency. But if Obama wins any one among Florida, North Carolina, Ohio or Virginia, he will be reelected.

If Romney can turn Wisconsin — and its 10 electoral votes — or Michigan (16) or Pennsylvania (20) to his side while also winning the vast majority of the six swing states mentioned above, he will have a bit more wiggle room for a national victory.

There’s no doubt that the 2012 playing field will be narrower than the one Obama dominated in 2008. But the president still retains far more flexibility than Romney in building a map that adds up to 270 electoral votes.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In War Against Iran, U.S. Firepower Would Vie With Guerrilla Tactics

From The Wall Street Journal:

Adm. Jonathan Greenert made an important observation last fall from the tower of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis while in the Strait of Hormuz on the southern coast of Iran, the world's busiest oil-shipping lane.

The chief of naval operations was sailing in a flotilla that showed off the Navy's overwhelming power to strike at long distances: F-18 fighter jets, Tomahawk cruise missiles and deck guns able to fire a shell 15 miles.

Yet in the claustrophobic waters of the strait, which narrows to just 24 miles, Adm. Greenert noted that all that long-range firepower could potentially be countered by the Iranian patrol boats that came out to track the U.S. warships. Faced with a fight in close quarters, Adm. Greenert told a Senate panel recently, "You also may need a sawed-off shotgun."

As the U.S. and other Western powers prepare to meet Saturday in Istanbul with Iran to resume negotiations over its nuclear program, the U.S. military is sharpening its contingency planning. Advocates of peaceful engagement say economic sanctions against the Islamic regime are starting to bite, and are hopeful that Tehran will give up its uranium-enrichment program. Iran says the program is for use in electricity generation, but intelligence services say the regime is close to developing the capability of building a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration plays down the chances of a breakthrough at this meeting, the first face-to-face encounter between US. and Iranian diplomats in more than a year, saying the best outcome may be agreement for a second round.

Should all else fail and the U.S. or Israel decide to attack Iran, say analysts, they would face a miniature version of the U.S. military, circa 1975—sustained, barely, by a world-wide spare-parts bazaar. Experts say the Islamic Republic's claims of advanced weaponry—such as armed, Predator-style drones—are mere boasts.

Military officers and defense analysts say the U.S. could quickly overwhelm Iran's air defenses, leaving evenly spaced bomb craters, for example, on runways to disable Iranian air bases. Pinpoint airstrikes would attempt to destroy all Iran's known nuclear facilities—a goal complicated by the fact that the regime has buried some of its production sites. The Pentagon is rushing to upgrade its largest conventional bomb to better penetrate fortified underground facilities.

Naval officers believe Iran would retaliate by waging the naval equivalent of guerrilla warfare in the Persian Gulf by mining the Strait of Hormuz or swarming U.S. naval vessels with small boats.

Such threats, so-called asymmetric warfare, could prove as dangerous and unpredictable as roadside bombs in Afghanistan or Iraq, with an low-cost mine potentially crippling or sinking a billion-dollar warship.

In such a scenario, the U.S. military would face a time-consuming and often perilous effort to reopen shipping lanes to international oil traffic.

"They have stayed true to their stripes," said a senior military officer in the Middle East. "They have always taken an asymmetric approach, going back to the '80s."

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran had among the most formidable conventional arsenals in the region, equipped with modern weaponry sold to the Shah by U.S. defense firms.

Iran's military was later battered during eight years of war with Iraq in the 1980s. Iran has since cobbled together an array of weapons—some homegrown but much acquired from China, North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

Iran has already threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in response to tighter international sanctions. Military analysts now estimate Iran has amassed as many as 5,000 naval mines, ranging from rudimentary devices that explode on contact, to high-tech mines that, tethered to the sea floor, can identify the acoustic signature of specific types of ships and explode only under the richest targets.

Scott Truver, a mine warfare analyst, said finding and clearing Iranian mines would be a cat-and-mouse game for the Navy. Mine warfare, he said "is as tough and dangerous as the IEDs on land were. Mines are equally hard to detect, if not harder."

The U.S. Navy knows firsthand. In April 1988, the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian mine, which blew a hole the size of a pickup truck in the hull, and nearly sank the ship. The U.S. retaliated by attacking two Iranian oil platforms and sinking several Iranian vessels.

Among the newest threats are sophisticated torpedoes Iran acquired from Russia that can home in on the turbulence of a ship's wake and aren't easily fooled by the decoys commonly used by warships.

Military planners worry about torpedoes launched from Iran's three Russian-built Kilo submarines, as well as approximately four North Korean Yono-class mini-submarines, the class of vessel that sank a South Korean warship in 2010, killing 46 sailors.

Iran's mini-subs cannot range far or stay long under water. But in the close quarters of the Strait of Hormuz, they could be easily positioned for attacks.

Iran also is known for its fleet of hundreds of small speedboats that can carry everything from machine guns to large antiship missiles. While a single speedboat may not imperil a warship, a swarm of small boats could overwhelm a larger ship's defenses. In early 2008, a cluster of Iranian patrol boats sailed close to a convoy of U.S. warships. No shots were fired, but the provocation underscored potential dangers.

Conventional naval vessels aren't the only concern. Iran can deploy mines or even missiles from merchant vessels, or dhows. Such threats would be nearly impossible to spot in the crowded shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf.

Ten years ago, the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon held a top-secret war game to test a Persian Gulf scenario. A maverick Marine Corps general, Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, led the "Red Team," the fictional Iranian adversary. Gen. Van Riper relayed orders to his front-line troops by motorcycle messenger, so the U.S. could not hack into his networks; he sent out speedboats armed with missiles and explosives to swarm U.S. warships. After the fictional smoke cleared, more than a dozen U.S. warships were at the bottom of the Persian Gulf.

That exercise, known as Millennium Challenge, was a wake-up call about the potential of asymmetric warfare. The Navy has since unveiled plans to boost the defenses of its ships in the Gulf.

Adm. Greenert said the Navy is interested in new robotic underwater vehicles that can search for mines and submarines and improved Gatling guns to counter Iranian small-boat attacks. The Navy has rushed to test and field a new anti-torpedo torpedo—a weapon that would potentially counter Iran's more sophisticated torpedoes.

The Navy recently announced plans to double its fleet of Avenger-class minesweeping ships in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. military is taking other steps. Earlier this year, the Pentagon unveiled plans to refit a transport ship as a staging platform for different kinds of missions, from countering mines to launching remotely piloted aircraft. It also could be used as a platform for launching commando operations with small patrol boats to intercept Iranian vessels, escort ships or protect oil platforms.

Beyond the waters of the Persian Gulf, military planners worry about Iran's expanding arsenal of ballistic missiles, built with North Korean cooperation and know-how. The Defense Department estimates Iran has around 1,000 short- and long-range missiles that can travel from 90 to 1,200 miles, the largest inventory in the Middle East.

The longer-range Shahab-3, which could reach Israel, has received the most attention. But Iran's shorter-range Scuds are on mobile platforms, allowing them to more easily evade detection.

Within striking distance of Iranian missiles are U.S. Army installations in Kuwait, a command post in Qatar, and the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.

While relatively inaccurate, those missiles may have the potential to strike panic or provoke a wider war if they hit U.S. allies in the region. A retired Navy officer said the missiles don't have sophisticated targeting but could score a blind hit on a Saudi oil field, a Qatari gas production facility or a city in the United Arab Emirates. "Face it, how accurate does it need to be?" he said.

Officials with Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards threaten reprisals against any country used as a launch pad for strikes against Iran. A conflict with Iran, then, could be a real-world test for U.S. missile-defense plans. As part of a shift from Bush-era missile defense, which focused on defending U.S. territory from a long-range missile attack, the Obama administration has sought defenses against shorter-range Iranian missiles targeting U.S. troops overseas, as well as allies.

There is also a presumed terror threat. Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security could activate so-called sleeper agents for acts of sabotage or terror attacks, according to U.S. officials. Militants sponsored or trained by Iran might attack U.S. diplomatic facilities in Iraq or bases in the Middle East.

"The assumption is that there are sleeper cells all around that would be activated in some way," said retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former head of U.S. Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters that oversees the region.

Military professionals generally agree that U.S. forces would quickly overwhelm Iran's air defenses. Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley, an architect of the shock-and-awe air campaign against Saddam Hussein in 2003, said a U.S. air campaign could inflict "a sense of strategic paralysis" on Iran's air defenses by targeting command-and-control facilities, early warning radars and airfields.

But, Gen. Moseley said, Iran's air-defense system—comprised of mostly older U.S. Hawk missiles and some surface-to-air missiles of Soviet design—was "not a trivial" threat to U.S. aircraft. "Anything that shoots at you merits some respect," he said.

Military officials said Iran's forces shouldn't be entirely discounted. In the late 1970s, the Iranians "had all the latest and greatest stuff" from the U.S., said Richard Brown, a Navy fighter pilot who helped train Iranian aviators in Isfahan.

Iran maintains a fleet of Vietnam-era F-4 and F-5 jets, according to defense analysts; its helicopter fleet, which includes versions of the Chinook, the Cobra and the Huey, would look familiar to a U.S. military veteran.

It still flies the F-14 Tomcat, made popular in the movie "Top Gun." Iran was the only foreign military customer for the F-14, once a high-end U.S. fighter.

Today, many of these aircraft are close to the end of their service life. Aviation experts say Iran keeps them airworthy by cannibalizing and reverse-engineering spare parts. Iran bought nearly 80 of the F-14s. Analysts believe around 25 can still fly. By comparison, Saudi Arabia's fleet of U.S.-made F-15 fighters outnumbers Iran's F-14s by about six to one.

Veterans of the 1970s training programs in Iran doubt the Iranians have maintained enough parts to keep its U.S.-made aircraft in flying condition. Ric Morrow, a naval aviator who worked on the Iranian F-14 training program, said what remained of the Iranian air force would be "no contest" for the U.S.

The air-to-air weapons built for Iran's aircraft also may have outlived their shelf life. Steve Zaloga, a missile expert at the Teal Group, a defense consultancy, said the solid rocket motors and batteries go bad over time.

Some evidence suggests, however, that Iran operates a global procurement network to buy spare U.S. military parts. Since 2007, the U.S. Justice Department has handled more than two dozen export and embargo-related criminal prosecutions related to military spare parts destined for Iran.

Clif Burns, an export attorney at the law firm Bryan Cave in Washington, D.C., tracks such cases. He said Iran appeared to give shopping lists to independent contractors who buy parts in the world's aviation market. "The procurement effort is pretty large and enforcement alone isn't able to stop the flow of aircraft parts into Iran," he said.

Lead-up to Labor Day may determine winner of presidential race - Labor Day was once seen as the official kickoff to the general election, a characterization that seems quaint in this era of round-the-clock politics and hyper communications.

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post:

The intensity of the initial skirmishes in the campaign between President Obama and Mitt Romney underscores a new reality about presidential politics. What happens in the months before Labor Day and the candidates’ debates in the fall will shape the race and, if history is a guide, determine who wins in November.

The next 60 to 90 days may be among the most important of the general election. Obama and Romney will attempt to frame the issues on terms most favorable to their candidacies. Their campaign teams will try to define their opponent as negatively as possible. Both sides will put in place the money and machinery needed to spread their messages and turn out their voters on Election Day. Mistakes will be costly.

What used to be seen as a transitional period between the nomination season and the general election has disappeared, leaving little margin for error, particularly for the challenger and his team who are coming off a long primary fight that has left them exhausted and the campaign’s resources depleted.

“There’s no such thing as a fall campaign anymore,” said Steve Schmidt, who was the chief strategist for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 general election campaign. “Once the nomination is sewn up, a presidential campaign is a continuous enterprise. The fall campaign is fundamentally about executing on the platform you build over the spring and summer. Wasted time is hard to make up.”

The past week was emblematic of the pace and demands of today’s general election campaigns. Romney’s last major opponent, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, suspended his campaign last Tuesday, but there was no time for celebration or relaxation in Romney’s Boston headquarters.

In the days since, Romney’s team has engaged in a heated exchange over working mothers. The candidate delivered the first of what are likely to be several speeches aimed at drawing contrasts with the president. Obama’s campaign moved aggressively to try to keep Romney on the defensive, while running as quickly as it could away from Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen’s sharply worded criticism of Romney’s wife, Ann, as a woman who had never worked “a day in her life.”

Labor Day was once seen as the official kickoff to the general election, a characterization that seems quaint in this era of round-the-clock politics and hyper communications. In fact, early September may be the moment that signals to the country which candidate is likely to win.

It is overwhelmingly the case that the candidate who has led just after Labor Day has gone on to win the election. The fact that the conventions are now held around Labor Day, rather than much earlier, means that the first polls taken after the post-convention bounces have dissipated will be key indicators as to how the race will go.

Among the exceptions: Ronald Reagan trailed Jimmy Carter in a mid-September 1980 Gallup poll and went on to win an electoral landslide. Al Gore led George W. Bush narrowly in an early September 2000 Gallup survey. He won the popular vote but not the presidency. But in virtually every other case dating to 1952, the leader in the Gallup Poll around Labor Day went on to win.

Four years ago, McCain led Obama briefly in mid-September, but that was more a reflection of the boost he got from his convention. But those polls were an anomaly in a campaign in which Obama always appeared in control. Through much of July and August that year, McCain’s campaign team feared that the election was already lost.

All general election campaigns include signature moments that long have been seen as helping to shape the outcome. For both Obama and Romney, the speeches they deliver at their respective national conventions will give them a chance to define the choices before huge national audiences.

The presidential debates will offer the public a last look at the two nominees side by side, though they have only occasionally been seen as the decisive moments of the campaigns.

Romney will help define himself further with the choice of a vice presidential running mate. The way he manages that process and his choice of a running mate will affect public perceptions of him as a possible president. Obama will command the stage in his official duties, often a decided advantage in a reelection contest.

Most of those events will come in the second half of a campaign that will go on for almost seven months. But long before they take place, the skill and aggressiveness of the two candidates will help to lock perceptions of voters into place.

Obama appears to be taking a page from Bush’s 2004 playbook by moving as quickly as possible to define Romney negatively.

“We made a decision that we needed to and wanted to frame the election on our terms and to do it as early as possible and as forcefully as possible,” McKinnon said of Bush’s 2004 campaign. “Their nominee was physically exhausted and depleted in resources and that was a perfect time to strike.”

Tad Devine, who was a top strategist for Democratic candidate John Kerry, said those early days were a huge mismatch between a Bush campaign that had, by his recollection, $100 million in the bank and a Kerry operation that ended the primaries with only about $2 million in cash on hand.

It was during that early phase, however, that Kerry made a critical mistake — saying he had voted for funding the war in Iraq before he voted against it — that gave the Bush team fresh ammunition to drive home its favored message, that Kerry was a flip-flopper.

Obama’s campaign, like Bush’s in 2004, has had months to prepare for a general election contest against Romney. Obama advisers assumed from the start of the campaign a year ago that Romney would be their likely opponent and have been attacking him for months, though not with much paid advertising. That is expected soon.

Obama’s campaign also has stockpiled its cash for this moment. That puts Romney, who needs to replenish his bank account, at an obvious disadvantage at the start of the general election. But he has one asset that Kerry could not count on eight years ago, which is the existence of super PACs that can help to provide cover for the Republican candidate as his campaign seeks to replenish its bank account and expand its fundraising capacity for the general election.

Romney also has to do two things at the same time: unite a party whose conservatives still regard him with some suspicion and move to the middle to make up ground lost during the primaries. His deficit among women is particularly large. The speed with which his campaign began to address that problem since Santorum dropped out showed not only that his team sees it as a problem but also that the campaign is prepared to act immediately to try to correct it.

All of that explains the sense of urgency in Boston and Chicago. “The loser of this period can still go on to win the election,” Devine said. “But the loser of this period is more likely to lose the election.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Good job Mr. President, letting politics influence business decisions: With a $5 Billion Pipeline Project, Canada Looks to Bypass U.S. for Asia .

From The Wall Street Journal:

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP KMP +1.11%said Thursday it will begin a $5 billion expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline, nearly tripling the capacity of crude oil it can ship to Canada's west coast—the latest project aimed at moving the country's rising oil production to markets outside the U.S.

Currently, almost all Canadian crude exports travel to the U.S. While Canadian oil output has been climbing fast, pipeline capacity to move it from the country's biggest oil patch in landlocked Alberta to U.S. refining markets is stretched.

The resulting glut, and rising oil production in the U.S. itself, has depressed prices for Canadian crude. Canadian government officials, meanwhile, have boosted support for westward-flowing pipelines in order to diversify toward Asian markets. That effort accelerated after the White House earlier this year rejected a big pipeline-expansion project, TransCanada Corp.'s TRP +0.87%Keystone XL, which would have sent more Alberta crude south of the border.

Canadian oil executives have sought to open new markets for their crude, especially after the White House rejected the Keystone XL project. The pipeline became ensnared in a political battle in Washington, with environmental groups and many Democrats opposing the pipeline. Republicans embraced it as a way to bolster energy security and create jobs.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said he is open to reviewing Keystone XL again, if TransCanada reapplied for a permit. A decision wouldn't be made, though, before this year's presidential election. Late last month, the government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it would streamline regulatory reviews of big energy and mining projects meant to move resources to markets.Mr. Harper and other Canadian officials have said they want to open up new markets for Canada's resources in China and Asia, instead of relying on the U.S. as its biggest buyer.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tom Friedman: Obama should have accepted his own Simpson-Bowles deficit commission because it offered a plan to cut and tax that was at the scale of the problem

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times:

Obama has proposed his own 10-year budget. It is much better than Ryan’s at balancing our near-term need to revitalize the pillars of American success, by cutting, taxing and investing. But it does not credibly address the country’s long-term fiscal imbalances, which require cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

Said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: “The president’s budget [is] a step in the right direction on deficit reduction, but not nearly sufficient. The president’s budget would stabilize the debt as a share of the economy through the second half of the decade, but would do so at too high of a level and without the necessary entitlement reforms to bring down the debt over the long-run. ... It is highly disappointing that the president didn’t go further in his proposals and offer a plan that is large enough to deal with the nation’s fiscal challenges in the medium and long term.”
Or as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner testified to Congress: “Even if Congress were to enact this budget, we would still be left with — in the outer decades as millions of Americans retire — what are still unsustainable commitments in Medicare and Medicaid.”
       
So the president, too, lacks a long-term plan to cut, spend and invest at the scale we need in a way to win enough bipartisan support to make it implementable. This gets to my core difference with the president’s strategy. I believed he should have accepted his own Simpson-Bowles deficit commission because it offered a plan to cut and tax that was at the scale of the problem and enjoyed at least some G.O.P. support, had the overwhelming backing of independents and even Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, now says she felt “fully ready to vote for that.”

If Obama had embraced the long-term deficit commission, he would have had a chance of combining it with some near-term stimulus — investments in infrastructure — that would have helped the economy and grow jobs. Without pairing it with Simpson-Bowles, Obama had no chance of getting more stimulus.

Obama says his plan incorporates the best of Simpson-Bowles. Not only is that not true, but it misses the politics. Republicans will never vote for an “Obama plan.” But had Obama embraced the bipartisan “Simpson-Bowles,” and added his own stimulus, he would have split the G.O.P., attracted gobs of independents and been able to honestly look the country in the eye and say he had a plan to fix what needs fixing. He would have angered the Tea Party and his left wing, which would have shown him as a strong leader ready to make hard choices — and isolated Romney-Ryan on the fringe.

Instead, Obama is running on a suboptimal plan — when we absolutely must have optimal — and the slogan “I’m not Mitt Romney.” If he’s lucky, he might win by a whisker. If Obama went big, and dared to lead, he’d win for sure, and so would the country, because he’d have a mandate to do what needs doing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Lie Races Across Twitter Before the Truth Can Boot Up

From The New York Times:

It took only two minutes. An unfounded report on a little-known blog claiming that Gov. Nikki R. Haley was about to be indicted rocketed from South Carolina political circles into national circulation, along the way becoming the latest lesson in the perils of an instantaneous news culture.       

The item’s rapid journey from hearsay to mainstream journalism, largely via Twitter, forced Ms. Haley to rush to defend herself against a false rumor. And it left news organizations facing a new round of questions about accountability and standards in the fast and loose “retweets do not imply endorsement” ethos of today’s political journalism.

There were elements of old-fashioned South Carolina sabotage: an embattled Republican governor and possible vice-presidential contender dogged by unproven accusations of impropriety. And there were modern twists: a liberal-leaning 25-year-old blogger eager to make a name for his new Web site, and a buzz-seeking political press corps that looks to the real-time, unedited world of Twitter as the first place to break news.

Both Parties Wooing Seniors - Over the last decade, voters over age 65 have increasingly turned to the GOP

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama and Democrats are counting on regaining support from older voters who switched to the GOP in 2008 and 2010 by attacking Republican plans to revamp Medicare. But Mitt Romney is proving to be a formidable competitor in this battle.

The Republican presidential front-runner has drawn large shares of older voters during the primaries, and recent polls show him ahead of Mr. Obama among seniors in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

The battle for seniors is being fought in large part over the House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.). It calls for seniors, starting in 2023, to choose among private health-insurance plans or the traditional government-run option and receive aid from the government for their insurance premiums. The new model would apply to people who currently are under age 55.

Democrats are doing what they can to link Mr. Romney to the Ryan Medicare plan. Mr. Obama noted in a speech last week that Mr. Romney called the Ryan budget "marvelous," and said the proposed Medicare changes in particular are "a bad idea, and it will ultimately end Medicare as we know it."

Republicans say the Ryan Medicare plan would shore up the program's shaky finances and preserve it for future generations, without affecting current retirees' benefits. They also believe they can inoculate themselves against charges they are cutting Medicare, because Mr. Obama's 2010 health-care law included provisions that curbed Medicare spending growth by some $500 billion over 10 years.

Republicans have noted that Mr. Obama's limits on Medicare growth helped the GOP win a special House election in Nevada last year.

Mr. Romney took that line of attack as he campaigned before last week's Wisconsin primary with Mr. Ryan at his side. "You'll see signs during the campaign: 'Republicans keep your hands off my Medicare,'" he said at a town hall in Middleton, Wis. "Hey guys, go back and meet your own president. It is the president who went after Medicare."

Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats are trying to reverse a growing trend: Over the last decade, voters over age 65 have increasingly turned to the GOP, in stark contrast to the Democratic-leaning "Greatest Generation" that preceded them. In 2008, Mr. Obama improved on his party's 2004 showing among every age group—except among seniors.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press concluded that the over-65 set is now more conservative on social issues, angrier about the direction of the country and more uneasy about the growth of diversity in the U.S. than younger generations.

Seniors favored GOP nominee John McCain in 2008 by 53% to 46% for Mr. Obama. Things got worse for Democrats in 2010, when older voters favored GOP candidates by 59% to 38%.

Seniors have been drawn to support Mr. Romney in GOP primaries in part because he has focused so much on the economy—the top concern of older voters, surveys find. Older people also tend to be more change-averse, and many are reassured by Mr. Romney's reputation for pragmatic competence. "He did a good job in Massachusetts and I know he did an excellent job with the Olympics," said Alice Allen, a retired Mississippi insurance agent who voted for Mr. Romney in her state's primary.

Last year, Mr. Ryan stirred controversy with a proposal to replace Medicare's fee-for-service system with a series of private insurance plans, which would receive federal subsidies and offer policies to seniors. The plan was rejected in the Senate.

Mr. Romney has embraced Mr. Ryan's latest budget. "A few common-sense reforms are going to ensure that we can make good on our promises to our seniors and we can also save Social Security and Medicare for the future generations," said Mr. Romney in a Detroit speech, when he also called for increasing the eligibility age for Medicare.

The Obama campaign has gone on the attack, sending Vice President Joe Biden to retiree-rich South Florida. "There's a fundamental difference between us and the Republicans: We believe in strengthening Medicare. They don't," said Mr. Biden.

Democrats are singing the same tune in congressional races. In the hotly contested Virginia Senate race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is blasting former Sen. George Allen, a Republican, for speaking favorably about the Ryan budget a year ago.

When the House voted on the Ryan budget on March 29, Rep. Dennis Rehberg of Montana was one of the 10 Republicans who voted against it. He is running for the Senate and cited concerns about the Medicare provisions.

Some older voters are growing weary of the scare tactics. "I'm tired of the fear mongering," said Dawn Heilman, a retired teacher in Ohio who backs Mr. Romney. "If you are realistic you have to accept some changes."

Women Buoy Democrats in Senate - Polls Show Female Voters Tipping the Balance in Some Races; GOP Gets More Support Among Men.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Democratic Senate candidates in several battleground states are benefiting from a significant advantage among women voters, helping them build leads in some places and preventing them from falling behind in others.

It isn't clear whether this gender gap, which is affecting races from Ohio to Michigan to Florida, will persist, or whether it reflects Democrats' allegations of a Republican "war on women" or is linked to broader issues. But Democratic leaders plan to keep pressing their advantage among women in their fight to keep control of the Senate.

Republicans don't deny that Democrats lead among women in several states, but they say it is equally true that Republicans have an advantage among men.

"It's clear that there is a serious gender-gap problem for Democrats with male voters," said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which coordinates the GOP Senate campaigns.

Republican strategist David Winston said the hard-fought GOP presidential primary may have turned off some female voters who wanted to hear more about economic issues. "Part of the challenge for Republicans is to ensure that the issues women are concerned about are effectively addressed," he said. "Women are most concerned about jobs and the economy."

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Wisconsin recall effort against Gov. Scott Walker now at center stage nationally

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post:

It’s not yet clear whether Wisconsin will become a presidential battleground in November. But at least for the next two months, the Badger State will be at the epicenter of American politics as voters decide for only the third time in the nation’s history whether to recall a sitting governor.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been in office for only 15 months, and his state has been in turmoil virtually the entire time. His decision to eliminate most collective-bargaining rights for public employee unions has touched off a political war that has left Wisconsin as polarized as any state in the country.

This homegrown fight has national implications. Walker has become a symbol of Republican governance in today’s GOP. He is campaigning energetically and unapologetically, arguing that he took courageous action to deal with his state’s severe fiscal problems — the same thing Republicans are saying should be done nationally. Walker contends that his policies have been good for the state’s economy and its taxpayers.

His opponents see those policies almost exactly the way President Obama described the federal budget written by Walker’s Wisconsin soul mate, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, and passed recently by the House. Last week, Obama called the Ryan budget a radical document that would put the country in decline. That echoes the view of Walker’s opponents, who say his actions have hurt the state and unfairly punished state employees.

There is no question that the unions — led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union and the state’s teachers union — are doing everything they can to oust Walker. But much of the energy behind the recall is homegrown.

Anti-Walker forces needed about 550,000 valid signatures on their petitions to get the recall on the ballot. With the help of 30,000 petition carriers who crisscrossed the state, they collected more than 900,000. Rarely has a political party in a state this size begun a campaign with 900,000 identified supporters — names, addresses and in many cases e-mail addresses. To put that in perspective, Walker got 1.1 million votes when he was elected in 2010.

Walker is a hero to Republicans. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were the featured attractions at the Waukesha County dinner before last week’s primary, but it was Walker who generated by far the most energy in the room. He was greeted with several standing ovations.

Republicans don’t just approve of the job he’s doing; they enthusiastically embrace him. More than nine in 10 “strongly approve” of the job he is doing, according to exit polls from Tuesday’s presidential primary. Among strong tea party supporters, strong approval is 94 percent. Among very conservative voters, it’s 92 percent.

Democrats dislike him with almost equal intensity. In Wisconsin, there is virtually no middle left. But the June election will be fought over the relative handful of voters who constitute that middle.
Some Democrats would have preferred that there be no recall campaign against Walker, among them some of Obama’s political advisers. They know the election will be a drain on resources, that it will deepen the polarization in the state and that it could have unintended consequences.

[L]ast week’s presidential primary, for all its implications in the GOP race, was seen in Wisconsin almost as a distraction. The main event is now at center stage.