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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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wisconsin Unions See Ranks Drop Ahead of Recall Vote

From The Wall Street Journal:

Public-employee unions in Wisconsin have experienced a dramatic drop in membership—by more than half for the second-biggest union—since a law championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker sharply curtailed their ability to bargain over wages and working conditions.

Now with Mr. Walker facing a recall vote Tuesday, voters will decide whether his policies in the centrist state should continue—or whether they have gone too far.

The election could mark a pivot point for organized labor.

Mr. Walker's ouster would derail the political career of a rising Republican star and send a warning to other elected officials who are battling unions. But a victory for the governor, who has been leading his Democratic opponent in recent polls, would amount to an endorsement of an effort to curtail public-sector unions, which have been a pillar of strength for organized labor while private-sector membership has dwindled.

That could mean the sharp losses that some Wisconsin public-worker unions have experienced is a harbinger of similar unions' future nationwide, union leaders fear. Failure to oust Mr. Walker and overturn the Wisconsin law "spells doom," said Bryan Kennedy, the American Federation of Teachers' Wisconsin president.

Mr. Walker, 44, has likened his policies to Ronald Reagan's breaking of the air-traffic-controllers union in 1981. He says unions make it difficult to balance budgets while maintaining government services without raising taxes. Backers have poured more than $30 million into his campaign since last year, compared with $3.9 million raised by his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who entered the race in late March.

A victory by Mr. Walker "will be a dramatic signal to local and state politicians they can, in the name of fiscal responsibility, tell unions…to come into parity with private-sector workers, especially on benefits," said Michael Lotito, a San Francisco attorney who represents management in labor disputes and has testified on labor issues before Congress.

The Walker law sharply curbed collective bargaining for nearly all the state's public-employee unions except those for police and firefighters. Unions no longer can represent members in negotiations for better working conditions or for pay raises beyond the increase in inflation.

Unions have spent millions of dollars on TV ads campaigning against Mr. Walker. "Unions are putting a lot on the line and if they win, they win big, but if they lose, they lose even bigger," said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University. A loss "will be interpreted as a sign of weakness and a lack of public sympathy."

Organized labor's strength has been declining for 60 years, as unions failed to keep pace with globalization, an increasingly service-oriented economy and more aggressive opposition from employers. Today, just one in eight American workers is a union member compared with more than one in three in the mid-1950s.

But that decline has come almost entirely in the private sector, where only 7% of workers today are union members. Public-sector union membership rates have held steady at around 37% since 1979, and the number of members has increased, thanks to growth in government employment. In 2009, for the first time, there were more union members in government than in companies.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Buzz Around Portman, the Un-Palin - He's moderate in style but generally well-liked by his party's conservative wing. Beyond credentials, there is the matter of the political importance of Mr. Portman's home state of Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying it,

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

As Mitt Romney ponders his choice of a running mate, the case for Ohio's Rob Portman is fairly simple: He wouldn't hurt the Romney cause in any significant ways, and could help it in others.

If that sounds like an underwhelming argument for Sen. Portman, it isn't. In the eyes of some Romney advisers, the one thing the presumptive Republican nominee can't afford to do is replicate his party's 2008 choice of Sarah Palin, who soared on the excitement scale but appeared unprepared for the presidency. She also served as a regular distraction from the actual presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, and ultimately became a reason to question his judgment.

And if the goal is to avoid a Palin-like experience—well, Rob Portman is the un-Palin of 2012. His résumé is sterling. There is no chance his credentials would be questioned, little chance he would hurt the ticket and only a slim chance he would commit a distracting gaffe.

These aren't small things to a campaign already famous for its methodical approach. Whether they are reason enough for Mr. Romney to pick him is, of course, anybody's guess. But this picture explains why Mr. Portman has, in the past few weeks, gone from oft-mentioned to most-mentioned vice-presidential choice.

The case for Rob Portman starts with that résumé. He served in the House for a dozen years before being elected to the Senate. He was head of White House legislative affairs for President George H.W. Bush, and held two cabinet-level positions—U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget—in the George W. Bush administration. He was part of the congressional supercommittee that tried—and failed—last year to come up with a master deficit-cutting plan.

He has practiced law and has helped run two family businesses in Ohio. He's moderate in style but generally well-liked by his party's conservative wing.

At the same time, he's actually done things with Democrats. When in the House, he often worked with a liberal Democratic colleague from Maryland, Ben Cardin, now also in the Senate. In recent weeks, he quietly helped work around conservative opposition within his own party to extend funding for the Export-Import Bank, a top business priority that had become endangered by ideological wrangling.

Beyond credentials, there is the matter of the political importance of Mr. Portman's home state of Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying it, and there is a high probability it will be essential again to Mr. Romney's chances.

Would he carry his home state for Mr. Romney? There is no guarantee, of course, but he'd likely help. In the course of his seven successful elections to a Cincinnati-area House seat, the share of the vote he won ranged from 70% to 77%.

When he ran for the Senate in 2010, it was assumed his problem was that he wasn't particularly well-known outside that home base of Cincinnati. Yet he raised a ton of money and destroyed an opponent well-known around the state, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, winning the race 57% to 39%, and carrying 82 of Ohio's 88 counties. He ran credibly in Democratic areas of the state.

Still, there are two significant arguments against Mr. Portman. The first is that his work as budget director in the latter stages of the George W. Bush administration would make it easier for the Obama campaign to underscore the case that the deficits that now plague Washington actually took root during the Bush years, and that a Romney presidency would simply mark a return to Bush economic policies that precipitated the great economic slide of 2008 and 2009.

The Portman response would be that he pushed back against deficits internally, persuading Mr. Bush to issue his first veto of a spending bill. "I sent to Congress a five-year, not a 10-year, but a five-year-balanced budget," he argued during a recent breakfast sponsored by Bloomberg View. "Wouldn't that be great to do today?"

The second argument against Mr. Portman is that he's simply too much like the Republican candidate himself, and therefore would represent a missed opportunity to broaden the ticket or provide an added attraction. Like Mr. Romney, he went to an Ivy League college (Harvard for Mr. Romney, Dartmouth for Mr. Portman). Both like numbers. Both can seem more comfortable with process than politics.

In other words, a Portman pick would risk the dreaded characterization of a "two boring white guys" ticket.

On the other hand, Mr. Portman may prove more intriguing than he seems at first glance. He speaks fluent Spanish, for example, and is an accomplished hunter and kayaker. Besides, lots of Republicans figure they got enough vice presidential excitement in 2008 to last a lifetime.

Senate Hopefuls Spar in Texas - In the spirit that now dominates the GOP, both say they hate the word "compromise."

Ted Cruz, left, and David Dewhurst, shown in a debate early this year, have clashed in their GOP primary race even as they hold similar positions.

Raphael "Ted" Cruz wants voters to see him as a warrior for conservative causes. In an hour's conversation, he uses the word "fight" 24 times. Propping his black cowboy boots on an ottoman, he lays out how he would represent Texas in the Senate: "If I don't have arrows up and down my torso, I won't be doing my job."

Most candidates say they will fight for their values, but Mr. Cruz's promise has captured the imagination of conservative leaders. Sarah Palin, tea-party kingmaker Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), the small-government group Club for Growth and others hope Mr. Cruz will top Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Tuesday's Republican primary for the Senate—or at least force Mr. Dewhurst into a runoff.

They are casting the 42-year-old Mr. Cruz as a leader of the coming generation of conservatives—the "next great conservative hope," National Review magazine called him—because of his personal story and résumé stocked with work for A-list conservative figures.

The son of a Cuban immigrant who entered the country with little money, Mr. Cruz earned a law degree at Harvard, clerked for the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and served in President George W. Bush's Justice Department. As the former Texas solicitor general, Mr. Cruz won cases before the Supreme Court supporting the Pledge of Allegiance, the right to display the Ten Commandments on state grounds and Texas' right to execute a Mexican citizen convicted of murder.

Mr. Dewhurst, 66, displays irritation at Mr. Cruz's rhetoric. "He's never been in a fight in his life," he told a Republican party gathering in Athens, Texas, earlier this month. "I've balanced five budgets without raising taxes," Mr. Dewhurst said in an interview. "I'm interested in representing the people of Texas, not a couple of United States senators in Washington."

Mr. Dewhurst is a self-made millionaire in the energy industry and one of the most powerful figures in Texas government. But Mr. Dewhurst's nearly 10 years as lieutenant governor have prompted critics to label him part of the establishment and to say he "split the baby" in deals with Democrats on tax-and-spending cuts.

Nine Republicans are trying to succeed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican who has served in the Senate since 1993, including former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and former NFL player and sports commentator Craig James. But the primary is mostly a contest between Messrs. Dewhurst and Cruz.

The winner of the GOP contest is highly favored in the general election against the winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary. That race includes former state lawmaker Paul Sadler and political newcomer Sean Hubbard.

A poll last week by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Mr. Dewhurst leading the GOP race by 46% to Mr. Cruz's 29%. Other polls have shown Mr. Cruz trailing by single digits.

To win, Mr. Cruz must prevent Mr. Dewhurst from taking half the vote on Tuesday, forcing him into a July 31 runoff in which Mr. Cruz would hope to consolidate the opposition to Mr. Dewhurst.

If that happens, Texas would join several other states in which challengers have caused trouble for Senate candidates identified with the GOP establishment.

In Indiana, six-term Republican Sen. Richard Lugar lost his primary. In Nebraska, state Sen. Deb Fischer trounced heavy-hitting Attorney General Jon Bruning. In Utah, Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving senator in state history, was forced into a runoff.

As of May 9, Mr. Cruz had raised $5.8 million. Mr. Dewhurst raised $6.4 million but lent the campaign more than $12 million from his own fortune.

The lieutenant governor has spent millions on ads lambasting Mr. Cruz's representation of Chinese tire interests and saying he lacks experience. Mr. Cruz is working to tar his older opponent as a weak, moderate conciliator. "The establishment has circled its wagons around David Dewhurst," Mr. Cruz said.

Mr. Dewhurst bristles at the idea that Mr. Cruz, who has spent most of his adult career in government, is an outsider. "I don't know that Ted is having much success in pushing himself as the anti-establishment candidate, with his out-of-state endorsements," Mr. Dewhurst said.

Despite the ferocity of the contest, the two men back many of the same issues. Both want to repeal the Obama health-care law, Dodd-Frank financial-industry regulations and most limits on domestic oil and gas drilling. Both favor deep cuts in income taxes and federal spending. And in the spirit that now dominates the GOP, both say they hate the word "compromise."

To a large degree Mr. Cruz is running on his image as a revolutionary and his personal narrative. "What an enormous blessing it is to be the child of an immigrant who fled oppression," he said.

Mr. Dewhurst thinks it takes more than that to make a difference in Washington. "I'm the only proven, tested conservative in this race," he said.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hold the ladder steady - Number of the Week: Half of U.S. Lives in Household Getting Benefits

From The Wall Street Journal:

49.1%: Percent of the population that lives in a household where at least one member received some type of government benefit in the first quarter of 2011.

Cutting government spending is no easy task, and it’s made more complicated by recent Census Bureau data showing that nearly half of the people in the U.S. live in a household that receives at least one government benefit, and many likely received more than one.

The 49.1% of the population in a household that gets benefits is up from 30% in the early 1980s and 44.4% as recently as the third quarter of 2008.

The increase in recent years is likely due in large part to the lingering effects of the recession. As of early 2011, 15% of people lived in a household that received food stamps, 26% had someone enrolled in Medicaid and 2% had a member receiving unemployment benefits. Families doubling up to save money or pool expenses also is likely leading to more multigenerational households. But even without the effects of the recession, there would be a larger reliance on government.

The Census data show that 16% of the population lives in a household where at least one member receives Social Security and 15% receive or live with someone who gets Medicare. There is likely a lot of overlap, since Social Security and Medicare tend to go hand in hand, but those percentages also are likely to increase as the Baby Boom generation ages.

With increased government spending comes the need to pay for it, and if taxes aren’t going to increase that means deficits. Nearly three-quarters of Americans blame the U.S. budget deficit on spending too much money on federal programs, according to a Gallup poll last year, but when the conversation turns to which programs to cut, the majorities are harder to find. For example, 56% of respondents oppose making significant changes to Social Security or Medicare.

The more people who receive benefits, the harder it’s going to be to make cuts, and it’s never popular to raise taxes. In some respects that argues for letting a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that is set to automatically hit in 2013 take effect. There’s just one problem: the Congressional Budget Office says it would sink the economy into recession.

Letting the 2013 provisions come into force would be like dealing with a weight problem by cutting off your right arm. It may not be popular, but a long-term, well-planned diet is the only solution.

Yes: GOP showing small shifts on taxes (You will recall the GOP's presidential candidates — all but one of whom signed the pledge — uniformly indicated in a debate that they would reject a deficit reduction deal that paired $1 in revenue increases for every $10 in spending cuts. Only John Huntsman has since said he regrets having so indicated.)

From The Washington Post:

In GOP activist circles it is known simply as “the pledge,” and over the past generation it has become the essential conservative credential for Republicans seeking elective office. Of the 242 Republicans in the House today, all but six have signed the pledge.

But now, an increasing number of GOP candidates for Congress are declining to sign the promise to oppose any tax increase, a small sign that could signal a big shift in Republican politics on taxes.

The pledge pushed by Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, compels candidates to “resist any effort” to raise tax rates for individuals and businesses. Signers also pledge to oppose the elimination of tax credits and deductions unless they are matched dollar-for-dollar with tax cuts.

Republican candidates declining to sign generally indicate that they nevertheless oppose tax hikes. But some chafe against the constraint on eliminating tax loopholes, believing those restrictions limit Republicans’ ability to negotiate seriously with Democrats on a deal to tackle the nation’s mounting debt.

In Pennsylvania, Republican state Rep. Scott Perry said he was disappointed to see his party’s presidential candidates — all but one of whom signed the pledge — uniformly indicate in a debate last year that they would reject a deficit reduction deal that paired $1 in revenue increases for every $10 in spending cuts.

“I just think it’s imprudent to hem yourself in where you can’t make a good agreement that overall supports the things you want to do,” said Perry, who said he generally opposes tax increases but recently won a Republican primary in a conservative district over candidates who had signed the pledge. “I just don’t see what the point of signing would be for me. . . . I’ve got a record, and everyone who wants to know where I’ve been and where I’m at can look to that.”

The refusals among some new candidates come as a handful of incumbent Republicans who signed the pledge when they first ran for office also are publicly rejecting it.

An erosion of support among candidates would be especially significant because Norquist has long aimed to collect signatures from Republicans before they take office. He encourages candidates to use their pledges to help to define their tax stance for voters.

Once the pledge is signed, Norquist considers it binding for the remainder of the candidate’s career in public service if he or she wins office.

But a new test looms: a colossal fight over spending and taxes at the end of the year, when the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the same time a series of deep cuts to defense and domestic programs is set to take effect.

Democrats have said they will not agree to renew some of the tax breaks or avert the defense cuts, as Republicans want, unless Republicans agree to impose higher taxes on the wealthy. Any wiggle room for Republicans on taxes could dramatically reshape that debate.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a fiscal conservative who has tangled with Norquist, said he believes candidates are starting to understand that the ATR pledge’s power has been exaggerated by Norquist and the media and that Norquist is wrong when he asserts that it is nearly impossible to win a Republican primary without signing the pledge.

“That’s him patting himself on the back,” Coburn said. “And I think it’s bull crap.”

I love it (even given the tremendous odds against her): In Massachusetts Senate Race, Top Democrat Has Rival

From The New York Times:

As the lone Democrat seeking to challenge Elizabeth Warren in the Senate primary in Massachusetts, Marisa DeFranco has been ridiculed, admonished and, worst of all, ignored.       

But for the moment, Ms. DeFranco, an immigration lawyer with high energy and a scrappy band of volunteers, is enjoying a burst of momentum. She surprised party insiders by collecting enough valid signatures by the May 1 deadline — more than 10,000, gathered everywhere from town meetings to town dumps — to qualify for the Democratic primary on Sept. 6.

If Ms. DeFranco clears one more hurdle — winning 15 percent of the delegate vote at the state Democratic convention in Springfield next Saturday — she will secure a spot on the primary ballot, giving Ms. Warren, a nationally known consumer advocate, an unwanted distraction from her anticipated showdown with Senator Scott P. Brown, the Republican incumbent.

“I’m sick and tired of party bosses or machines telling us who’s going to be the candidate,” said Ms. DeFranco, who is 41. “The democratic process should be messy; it’s a test, it’s a gauntlet.”

Ms. DeFranco tartly dismissed Ms. Warren’s recent call for Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, to resign from the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York after his company revealed that it had lost at least $2 billion in bad trades. “Who’s not going to be for firing Jamie Dimon?” she said. “It’s kind of like a throwaway. Tell me what you’re going to do that’s going to change the average person’s life in Massachusetts.”

Nor has Ms. DeFranco refrained from criticizing Ms. Warren’s handling of a controversy over whether she had misrepresented herself as a member of an ethnic minority, which stemmed from a Boston Herald article last month. The Herald reported that Harvard Law School, where Ms. Warren teaches, had once described her as American Indian when it was under criticism for hiring too many white men.

Ms. Warren has said she is descended from two tribes, saying she was told so by her family, but has offered no documentation. She has also not explained why a Harvard official described her to The Harvard Crimson as a Native American in 1996.

In Rarefied Sport, a View of the Romneys’ World

From The New York Times:

As Ann Romney immersed herself in the elite world of riding over the last dozen years, she relied on Jan Ebeling as a trusted tutor and horse scout. In her, he found a deep-pocketed patron.

A German-born trainer and top-ranked equestrian, Mr. Ebeling was at ease with the wealthy women drawn to the sport of dressage, in which horses costing up to seven figures execute pirouettes and other dancelike moves for riders wearing tails and top hats.

A taskmaster, Mr. Ebeling pushed Mrs. Romney to excel in high-level amateur shows. He escorted her on horse-buying expeditions to Europe. She shares ownership of the Oldenburg mare he dreams of riding in the Olympic Games this summer.

Protective of their privacy, they may also have been wary of the kind of fallout that came after Mr. Romney’s mention of the “couple of Cadillacs” his wife owned and the disclosure of plans for a car elevator in the family’s $9 million beach house in California, which prompted criticism that Mr. Romney was out of touch with average Americans.

Mrs. Romney took up dressage at age 50 as a therapy for multiple sclerosis, but it soon became her passion. Riding, she has said, “sings to my soul.”

Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was also drawn in. He also took up trail riding. In a recent conversation with Sean Hannity of Fox News not meant for broadcast but leaked to the Internet, Mr. Romney showed a familiarity with expensive, esoteric breeds, mentioning his wife’s Austrian Warmbloods and his own Missouri Fox Trotter — “like a quarter horse, but just a much better gait.”

Let's switch parties - N.C. Pastor Charles Worley: "Put Gays And Lesbians In Electrified Pen To Kill Them Off"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Voters Shrug at Revelations of Ethnic Claim in Senate Race

Ms. Warren should have  to answer for her past sins and transgressions. 

From The New York Times:

The controversy surrounding Elizabeth Warren’s ethnic heritage and whether she misrepresented herself as a minority in the past may have engulfed her Senate campaign and the news media, but in parts of western Massachusetts, voters seem either mystified by it or unconcerned.       

A new poll out Wednesday in the closely watched Senate race indicated that Ms. Warren’s ancestry — the subject of intense media scrutiny and mockery for nearly a month — has so far not made much difference to voters. The poll, conducted by Suffolk University/7 News in Boston, showed the contest nearly even between Ms. Warren and Senator Scott P. Brown, the Republican who in 2010 snatched the seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy Jr.

Taking back “Teddy’s seat” in deep-blue Massachusetts is a top priority for Democrats, and the race has become the most expensive Senate campaign in the country. Ms. Warren, who had never run for office before, joined the race last year with great fanfare, having developed a national following as a crusading consumer advocate and a darling of the press, with the ability to raise serious money from the party’s liberal base.

But she was caught off guard on April 27 when The Boston Herald reported that Harvard Law School, where Ms. Warren teaches, had once spotlighted her as an American Indian — though she appears thoroughly Caucasian — when the school was under criticism for hiring too many white men. The story has ballooned since then, with opponents saying Ms. Warren has damaged her credibility; supporters say her ancestry is a nonissue.

Other polls have showed the race neck and neck, but Suffolk’s is the first to be conducted since the ancestry story has been marinating. It showed Ms. Warren with 47 percent of the vote compared with Mr. Brown’s 48 percent. It was conducted May 20 through May 22 with 600 likely voters, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. In February, a poll by the same group showed Mr. Brown ahead by 49 percent to 40 percent.

The Brown campaign saw the poll as a modest victory. “We’re pleased with the results, given the fact that Scott Brown has been outspent on television 3 to 1 in the months of April and May,” said Colin Reed, a spokesman for Mr. Brown. (Mr. Brown has been advertising regularly on radio.) 
The Warren camp has tried to ride out the ancestry controversy by ignoring it, but even commenters in liberal outlets like The New Yorker and MSNBC’s Ed Schultz have urged Ms. Warren to answer questions about her background and motives more fully and forthrightly.       

“The campaign has bought some time,” said Mr. Paleologos of the Suffolk poll. “But that’s not to say the issue won’t bubble up again. Loose ends don’t work well in politics.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools

A growing number of states are passing laws that allow taxpayer-supported scholarship funds, but they have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children.

From The New York Times.

When the Georgia legislature passed a private school scholarship program in 2008, lawmakers promoted it as a way to give poor children the same education choices as the wealthy.       

The program would be supported by donations to nonprofit scholarship groups, and Georgians who contributed would receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits, up to $2,500 a couple. The intent was that money otherwise due to the Georgia treasury — about $50 million a year — would be used instead to help needy students escape struggling public schools.

That was the idea, at least. But parents meeting at Gwinnett Christian Academy got a completely different story last year.

“A very small percentage of that money will be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund,” Wyatt Bozeman, an administrator at the school near Atlanta, said during an informational session. “The rest of the money will be channeled to the family that raised it.”

A handout circulated at the meeting instructed families to donate, qualify for a tax credit and then apply for a scholarship for their own children, many of whom were already attending the school.
“If a student has friends, relatives or even corporations that pay Georgia income tax, all of those people can make a donation to that child’s school,” added an official with a scholarship group working with the school.

The exchange at Gwinnett Christian Academy, a recording of which was obtained by The New York Times, is just one example of how scholarship programs have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children.
Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools, the programs are operating in eight states and represent one of the fastest-growing components of the school choice movement. This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students, according to the Alliance for School Choice, an advocacy organization. Legislators in at least nine other states are considering the programs.

While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show. Even some private school parents and administrators have questioned whether the programs are a charade.

Most of the private schools are religious. Nearly a quarter of the participating schools in Georgia require families to make a profession of religious faith, according to their Web sites. Many of those schools adhere to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity. A commonly used sixth-grade science text retells the creation story contained in Genesis, omitting any other explanation. An economics book used in some high schools holds that the Antichrist — a world ruler predicted in the New Testament — will one day control what is bought and sold.

The programs are insulated from provisions requiring church-state separation because the donations are collected and distributed by the nonprofit scholarship groups.

A cottage industry of these groups has sprung up, in some cases collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative fees, according to tax filings. The groups often work in concert with private schools like Gwinnett Christian Academy to solicit donations and determine who will get the scholarships — in effect limiting school choice for the students themselves. In most states, students who withdraw from the schools cannot take the scholarship money with them.

Once Made in China: Jobs Trickle Back to U.S. Plants

Manufacturers are returning some production to the U.S. from abroad. But the experience of Whirlpool and scores of other companies shows the moves aren't creating a huge number of jobs.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When Bill Good was a student at Auburn University in Alabama in the 1980s, he worked at a company producing American-made fitness equipment—a business eventually wiped out by low-cost imports from Asia.

He later worked at Char-Broil LLC, a Columbus, Ga.-based maker of grills, where he was involved in a decision in 2004 to move production to China from the U.S., an episode he recalls as "extremely painful." It was part of a vast tide of similar decisions that helped reduce U.S. manufacturing employment by about six million jobs, or one-third, between 1997 and 2010.

Last September, Mr. Good finally got to reverse a tiny part of that flow. As a plant manager in Greenville for Whirlpool Corp., he brought back production of that company's KitchenAid hand mixers, which for the previous six years had been made by a contractor in Huizhou, China, near Guangzhou.

When Whirlpool decided to assemble the product in Greenville again, "there were a lot of high fives going around, that's for sure," Mr. Good says.

The net gain in U.S. jobs at Whirlpool? About 25.

The hand mixer line illustrates the promise—but also the limitations—of a trend that has been growing over the past two years: the "reshoring" of some manufacturing work that was "offshored" to low-cost producers like China in the past few decades. Producing in Asia "is not as big of a no-brainer as it was 10 years ago," says Mr. Good. Whirlpool is considering bringing back production of other small appliances.

Yet the return of some production to the U.S. by Whirlpool and scores of other companies isn't creating a huge number of jobs. Most of the parts for the mixers—including the motors—are still made in China because Whirlpool couldn't find U.S. suppliers that would make them cheaply enough. Plastic parts for the mixers are being made in the U.S.—but partly on equipment newly purchased from China.

Global companies still are expanding production capacity in Asia to serve those fast-growing markets. But more are questioning the logic of trying to meet North American demand from Asian factories, says Dr. Simchi-Levi. Companies are moving toward a regional-manufacturing model, he says, in which Asian plants serve Asian customers, North American ones serve Americans.

Products more likely to be reshored include heavy or bulky items for which the shipping costs are high in relation to the price, such as heavy machinery, says Cort Jacoby, a supply-chain expert at Hackett Group, a consulting firm. Other candidates for reshoring include expensive items subject to frequent changes in consumer demand for certain colors or styles, such as high-end clothing, home furnishings or appliances like Whirlpool's mixer, Mr. Jacoby says. Makers of products for which safety is a paramount concern—such as food or baby products—might choose to make them at home so they can closely monitor all of the suppliers of parts or ingredients, he says.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Little Bit Indian - Now that same claim — and her clumsy, “my grandfather had high cheekbones” attempts to defend it — has become perhaps the biggest obstacle in her quest to reclaim Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat for liberalism.

From The New York Times:

“I still have a picture on my mantel and it is a picture my mother had before that — a picture of my grandfather. And my Aunt Bea has walked by that picture at least a thousand times [and] remarked that he — her father, my papaw — had high cheekbones like all of the Indians do. ... Being Native American has been part of my story, I guess, since the day I was born.”       

— Elizabeth Warren, Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts, trying to explain why she identified herself as a “minority” law professor in the 1980s and 1990s.       

[T]he New England Genealogical Society acknowledged last week that there’s no firm evidence of [ Elizabeth Warren's] great-great-grandmother being Cherokee.

That supposed ancestral tie was what inspired the professor-turned-Senate candidate to identify as an ethnic minority in law school directories early in her career. More important, it was what inspired The Harvard Crimson to refer to Warren as Harvard Law School’s “one tenured minority woman” and The Fordham Law Review to cite her as Harvard Law’s “first woman of color” during the mid-1990s debates over faculty diversity.

Now that same claim — and her clumsy, “my grandfather had high cheekbones” attempts to defend it — has become perhaps the biggest obstacle in her quest to reclaim Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat for liberalism.       

Mr. Obama concluded in his first year that the Bush-era dream of remaking Afghanistan was a fantasy, and that the far greater threat to the United States was an unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan.

When President Obama joins other NATO leaders Sunday and Monday, the full extent of how his Afghan strategy has changed - from "war of necessity" to withdrawal on his terms - will be apparent.

From The New York Times:

Mr. Obama concluded in his first year that the Bush-era dream of remaking Afghanistan was a fantasy, and that the far greater threat to the United States was an unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan. So he narrowed the goals in Afghanistan, and narrowed them again, until he could make the case that America had achieved limited objectives in a war that was, in any traditional sense, unwinnable.
“Just think how big a reversal of approach this was in just two years,” one official involved in the administration debates on Afghanistan said. “We started with what everyone thought was a pragmatic vision but, at its core, was a plan for changing the way Afghanistan is wired. We ended up thinking about how to do as little wiring as possible.”
The lessons Mr. Obama has learned in Afghanistan have been crucial to shaping his presidency. Fatigue and frustration with the war have defined the strategies his administration has adopted to guide how America intervenes in the world’s messiest conflicts. Out of the experience emerged Mr. Obama’s “light footprint” strategy, in which the United States strikes from a distance but does not engage in years-long, enervating occupations. That doctrine shaped the president’s thinking about how to deal with the challenges that followed — Libya, Syria and a nuclear Iran.

In interviews over the past 18 months, Mr. Obama’s top national security aides described the evolution of the president’s views on Afghanistan as a result of three rude discoveries.

Mr. Obama began to question why Americans were dying to prop up a leader, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who was volatile, unreliable and willing to manipulate the ballot box. Faced with an economic crisis at home and a fiscal crisis that Mr. Obama knew would eventually require deep limits on Pentagon spending, he was also shocked, they said, by what the war’s cost would be if the generals’ counterinsurgency plan were left on autopilot — $1 trillion over 10 years. And the more he delved into what it would take to truly change Afghan society, the more he concluded that the task was so overwhelming that it would make little difference whether a large American and NATO force remained for 2 more years, 5 more years or 10 more years.       

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Number of the Week: Student Loan Bubble.

From The Wall Street Journal:

368%: The jump since 2007 in the measure of consumer credit held by the government comprised primarily of student loans.

If a student loan bubble were to pop, the government, not private banks, would be the one standing around with gum in its hair.

Issuance of student loans has soared in recent years, hitting $867 billion at the end of 2011, according to an analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, more than credit cards or auto loans. The jump has led some to classify the student-lending market as a bubble, comparing it with the housing mess that nearly brought down the banking system in 2008.

But there are some big differences between student loans and housing. For starters, mortgage credit absolutely dwarfs lending for higher education — by nearly a 10-to-1 ratio. Troubles in an $8 trillion market pose a much higher systemic risk.

The other big difference is who holds the loans. Commercial banks and investment firms held the bulk of the mortgages that were going sour when the housing bubble burst. But that’s not the case with student loans. Despite some recent signals of banks getting back into the student-loan business, private lending has been pretty much stagnant since the recession hit. Since December 2007 nonrevolving consumer lending by commercial banks — a measure tracked by the Federal Reserve that includes student loans as well as auto and other personal credit — is up less than 11%. Over the same period, total consumer loans owned by the federal government — a measure that includes loans originated by the Department of Education under the Federal Direct Loan Program — has more than quadrupled.

The good news in all of this is that if a student loan bubble pops, there’s little chance of a systemic crisis similar to the one that hit in 2008. But there’s still a lot of bad news to go around.

For one, though banks likely wouldn’t take a big hit, the government — meaning the taxpayer — would. That’s not great news for the deficit, but the numbers aren’t large enough to be a huge concern. At the same time, it’s much harder for the borrower to discharge a student loan than a mortgage. You can’t get rid of student loans in bankruptcy, for example. So there’s a much higher chance that the government would get its money back eventually.

The bulk of any burden from a student-loan debt bubble bursting is likely to fall on the borrowers themselves. While that means the broader economy can avoid a systemic crisis, it will struggle with a younger generation whose spending power is constrained limiting growth for years.

Will Sarah Palin continue string of successful endorsements this year?

From The Washington Post:

The question raised earlier this week about whether Sarah Palin is underestimated is more than a Washington parlor game.

The answer will be of great interest in Texas, where the former Alaska governor and Lone Star Gov. Rick Perry are backing different Republican Senate candidates in the state’s May 29 primary.

Both Palin and Perry have political baggage, of course. You may be forgiven for wondering whether it’s truly a blessing to be endorsed by “Game Change” Palin or “oops’’ moment Perry, fresh off an unsuccessful run for president.

But in Texas, two of the top candidates in the crowded field to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison obviously welcome the endorsements.

Perry threw his support behind Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. And last week, Palin announced her backing of former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz.

RedState.com was among those predicting that her endorsement will prove decisive for Cruz. But Dewhurst has been the front-runner in most polls

Palin wrote a letter to Cruz saying: “Your conservative principles, passionate defense of our Constitution and our free market system come at a time when these cornerstones of our freedom and prosperity are under attack.

“Our shared goal isn’t just to change the majority in control of the Senate, but to assure principled conservatives like you are there to fight for us,” she wrote.

Cruz responded: “I am humbled and honored to have Governor Palin’s support as we fight to restore fiscal sanity to the circus that is Washington.”

The endorsement is the latest for Cruz from prominent conservatives. Others include the Tea Party Express, Sen. Jim DeMint, Sen. Rand Paul, evangelical leader James Dobson, Family Research Council Action PAC and FreedomWorks, according to a Cruz campaign Web site.

Palin’s endorsement comes on the heels of her role in the upset this week in the Nevada GOP primary. Palin backed lesser-known state Sen. Deb Fischer, who beat two better-known and better-funded rivals to become the nominee for a U.S. Senate seat.

That follows, of course, Palin’s endorsement in the Indiana GOP primary, where a lesser-known candidate, Richard Mourdock, unseated incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar.

The timing of her endorsements this year seems designed to provide a late-stage boost to the candidates. Palin endorsed Fischer a week before the primary vote. And she endorsed Cruz right before early voting opened in the Texas primary this month.

Two years ago, Palin’s backing of GOP candidates, including Nevada’s Sharron Angle and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, seemed less of a positive.

On the other hand, two years ago, Palin endorsed Rick Perry in his reelection bid. He trounced Hutchison, the senator who is now retiring, to win another term as governor.

Rising Greek Political Star, Foe of Austerity, Puts Europe on Edge

From The New York Times:

At 37, and looking not a bit his years, Alexis Tsipras is clearly enjoying his moment. He vaulted to prominence less than two weeks ago, when his previously obscure left-wing party placed second in national elections with the promise of repudiating the loan agreement Greece’s previous leaders signed in February.

Since then, he has engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken with Europe’s leaders. While they have scrambled to put together contingency plans in case Greece exits the euro zone, Mr. Tsipras has calmly stated his case and let the rest of Europe sweat about the possibly disastrous ramifications if it does.

“It’s true,” he said Friday, with a smile and a glint in his eye, during an interview in his small office in the Greek Parliament. “I like to play poker.”

While Mr. Tsipras clearly has much of Europe on the run, he hardly seems to be breaking a sweat. “Our goal isn’t to blackmail or to terrorize, our goal is to shake them,” Mr. Tsipras said coolly of the foreign lenders whose austerity-for-loans deal he wants upended.

“We want to convince them,” he said. “They need to change the policies in Greece and change the policies in Europe, otherwise Europe will be at very large risk.”

In Mr. Tsipras’s view — which neatly dovetails with the rising anti-austerity tide across Europe — Greece’s problem is a European problem that needs a European solution. He insisted that he wants Greece to stay in the euro, just not under the terms of its current bailout. “The euro zone is a chain with 17 links,” he said, referring to its members. “Greece is one of these links. If one of these links breaks, the link is destroyed, but the chain falls apart, too.”

Poker references aside, Mr. Tsipras insisted that it was really the financial markets driving much of the crisis, not him or Greece.

“They don’t have any moral scruples, and if they push Greece out, they’ll just move on to the next country,” he said. The next countries in the firing line, he added, happen to be Italy and Spain — both too big to fail.

While other political parties in Greece are now also calling to renegotiate the loan deal, it is Mr. Tsipras, an untested leftist who could well become Greece’s next prime minister in elections on June 17, who has positioned himself in a showdown with Greece’s lenders.

In the interview, he said he would not veer from pledges to repudiate terms of Greece’s bailout that forced wrenching hardship on average Greeks, a stance that may lead Greece’s lenders to withhold further aid and set off a default.

But as far as he is concerned, negotiations over Greece’s debt deal “have already begun,” he said, largely because European leaders are already showing signs of being more lenient on austerity. “The red lines from before no longer apply,” he said.

But while Mr. Tsipras has sometimes been portrayed in the European news media as a wild-eyed radical — he even seems at times to delight in that caricature — he is a cool strategist playing a game of brinkmanship with the rest of Europe, and particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. In the past, German and other European leaders have made last-minute maneuvers to keep Greece in the euro, precisely because of fears that an exit would carry too high a cost, from bank collapses across Europe to destabilization of the global financial system.

Mr. Tsipras seems to be betting that they will blink again, but whether they will is far from clear.

Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Center for European Reform in London, said, “The Europeans may blink, but this time they might not blink enough.” He said that European leaders might propose a “mini-Marshall Plan” to stoke growth in Greece, but that what was needed were political changes to promote closer bonds among euro zone countries. “People are fed up,” Mr. Tilford added. “They would prefer that Greece stay within the euro zone, but they won’t take the political steps to make Greek membership sustainable.”

Indeed, on Friday, Ms. Merkel may have upped the ante even further, suggesting to the Greek president, Karolos Papoulias, that Greece ponder holding a referendum, in parallel with general elections in June, so Greek voters are clear what is at stake, the Greek government spokesman said. (Though a Merkel spokesman denied the remark, Mr. Tsipras released a statement later Friday accusing Ms. Merkel of treating Greece like a “protectorate.”)

In some ways, Mr. Tsipras’s arguments are not so different from those of some of the leaders gathered at the Group of 8 summit at Camp David on Friday. As growth has slowed, an anti-austerity backlash has swept Europe, forcing Ms. Merkel to soften her stance. Leaders, especially President François Hollande of France, were expected to press Ms. Merkel at the meeting to give Europe more breathing room for growth.

Mr. Tsipras agreed. “The message we’re giving to the G-8 is that we have to press Mrs. Merkel to follow the example of America, where the debt crisis wasn’t tackled with austerity measures but with an expansionist approach,” he said.

He added that Europe needed a more federal system, like the United States. He likened Greece to debt-ridden California, only that the United States would never allow California to exit, and has the federal structures to keep the union together.

Mr. Tsipras’s strategy of calling Europe’s bluff has been a winner at home as well. Some polls place his Syriza party first and others second in the campaigning for a second round of elections, which were called after he and other political leaders failed to form a government after May 6 elections.

An engineer by training, Mr. Tsipras said he had also studied economics and learned in the trenches with his “comrades” on the economic committee of Synaspismos, a proto-Communist strain within Syriza in which he came of age.

Lean, affable, yet somewhat inscrutable, Mr. Tsipras says he does not like wearing ties because they remind him of his days in the navy, where he did his mandatory military service. In recent speeches, he has said that the “terrorists” in suits and ties who are deciding Greece’s fate are worse than the anarchists in hoods. Some compare him to Andreas Papandreou, the founder of the Socialist Party and a gifted populist.

Mr. Tsipras may be riding the tide of anti-austerity, but it remains to be seen if he has what it takes to steer the ship. Pressed to present an alternative to the current loan agreement — or his plans for restoring Greece to growth while keeping it in the euro zone — he offered few, if any, specifics.

His party seeks a three-year suspension of loan payments until the Greek economy can recover, a reversal of the terms of the loan agreement that call for slashing wages, scaling back public employees and undoing collective bargaining agreements. It has also called for nationalizing banks in order to control their lending policies as part of a recapitalization now under way as part of the debt deal.

Critics say that under the guise of change, Syriza may offer little more than the status quo — or more state control in a country with a dysfunctional state. Indeed, business owners are particularly worried that Syriza’s plans for more state control would stifle growth further, transforming Greece into a kind of Bulgaria.

Mr. Tsipras said: “The healthy businesses here have nothing to fear from a government that’s going to try to stop this poison. Healthy businesses understand that austerity curbs consumption.”

Although he conceded that the Greek state had “significant dysfunctionalities and a need for deep structural changes,” he did not offer specifics beyond faulting the Socialists and center-right New Democracy for building up a jobs-for-votes system that helped Greece’s public debt balloon.

Instead, he kept repeating the mantra that he hoped would help him consolidate power in just over a month, in the form of a stark warning to Greece’s European partners: Pushing Greece out would be “cutting the branch that we’re all sitting on.”       

Friday, May 18, 2012

Food Stamps and the $41 Cake - How did this great nation travel from the common sense of our grandparents to where we are today?.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Beware of little expenses.
A small leak will sink a great ship.

—Benjamin Franklin

The vast majority of Americans—Democrat, Republican or independent—will readily help someone who cannot make ends meet in a bad economy. Americans want a hungry child to be fed. I know this because in no other country do people donate more to charities. Americans will go far beyond what our taxes already pay for to help the less fortunate. We have been blessed with overabundance in this land, and we are a very generous people.

But over the last four decades, our government has quietly done away with almost all of the restrictions once placed on food assistance. SNAP cards (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) can be used to purchase practically anything with the exception of liquor and cigarettes. These cards are also openly and illegally sold for cash, which allows the recipient to buy anything they want, including cigarettes and liquor.

Food assistance is helping many families keep their heads above water when they would otherwise not get by, and many of these families watch every dime. But the system also allows people to flagrantly disregard the program's original purpose.

Of course there are instances of fraud in every corner of the government, from Congress to defense spending. Why single out food stamps? Because, with over 48 million Americans now using some form of food assistance and few restrictions, the possibilities of waste are unlimited.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Whites Account for Under Half of Births in U.S.

From The Wall Street Journal:

After years of speculation, estimates and projections, the Census Bureau has made it official: White births are no longer a majority in the United States.       

Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended last July, according to Census Bureau data made public on Thursday, while minorities — including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race — reached 50.4 percent, representing a majority for the first time in the country’s history.

Such a turn has been long expected, but no one was certain when the moment would arrive — signaling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race, from the days of slavery, through a civil war, bitter civil rights battles and, most recently, highly charged debates over efforts to restrict immigration.

While over all, whites will remain a majority for some time, the fact that a younger generation is being born in which minorities are the majority has broad implications for the country’s economy, its political life and its identity. “This is an important tipping point,” said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, describing the shift as a “transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.”

Signs that the country is evolving this way start with the Oval Office, and have swept hundreds of counties in recent years, with 348 in which whites are no longer in the majority. That number doubles when it comes to the toddler population, Mr. Frey said. Whites are no longer the majority in four states and the District of Columbia, and have slipped below half in many major metro areas, including New York, Las Vegas and Memphis.

A more diverse young population forms the basis of a generational divide with the country’s elderly, a group that is largely white and grew up in a world that was too.

The trend toward greater minority births has been building for years, the result of the large wave of immigration here over the past three decades. Hispanics make up the majority of immigrants, and they tend to be younger — and to have more children — than non-Hispanic whites. (Of the total births in the year that ended last July, about 26 percent were Hispanic, about 15 percent black, and about 4 percent Asian.)       

Perhaps the most urgent aspect of the change is education. A college degree has become the most important building block of success in today’s economy, but blacks and Latinos lag far behind whites in getting one. According to Mr. Frey, just 13 percent of Hispanics and 18 percent of blacks have a college degree, compared with 31 percent of whites.       

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Boehner: "It is a line in the sand because Washington has kicked the can down the road, kicked the can down the road, kicked the can down the road, and the American people think we're crazy,"

From The Wall Street Journal:

House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that any increase in the government's borrowing limit must be accompanied by spending cuts and other budget savings of greater value, and he rejected tax increases as part of any deal to reduce the federal deficit.

Those positions signaled to the White House that congressional Republicans are prepared for fiscal brinkmanship at the end of the year, when Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire, large automatic spending cuts are set to begin and the government reaches its $16.394 trillion borrowing limit.

"It is a line in the sand because Washington has kicked the can down the road, kicked the can down the road, kicked the can down the road, and the American people think we're crazy," Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said at a Washington event hosted by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a group that pushes for deficit reduction.

Mr. Boehner succeeded last year in forcing the White House and congressional Democrats to agree to the same terms. But that showdown almost led the U.S. government to default on its obligations before they reached a last-minute agreement to raise the debt ceiling by more than $2 trillion and require spending cuts of a similar size.

The annual federal budget is about $3.8 trillion, and the government is expected to bring in roughly $2.5 trillion in taxes and other revenue this year.

The White House has said it won't extend the Bush-era tax cuts for families making more than $250,000 a year, while many GOP lawmakers have said they won't vote to raise taxes. Senate Democrats have said they won't repeal military-spending cuts set to begin in January without a deal to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Mr. Boehner also said the House would vote this fall to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts, and then address corporate and individual tax codes in 2013. The White House and Senate Democrats haven't agreed to any of these proposals, but they also haven't signaled how they plan to negotiate with Republicans.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), speaking at the Peterson Foundation event, said lawmakers would likely take steps after the November elections to delay the scheduled tax increases and spending cuts until they have more time to craft alternatives.

Some lawmakers have said it won't be clear who has more leverage going into the negotiations until after the elections.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The ESPN Man

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Two of the nation’s smartest analysts have just come out with reports on how the presidential election looks six months out. Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution argues that at this point President Obama has a modest advantage over Mitt Romney. The pollster Peter D. Hart says that “this election is no better than a 50-50 proposition for the president.”

But when I look at the data, a slightly different question comes to mind: Why is Obama even close? If you look at the fundamentals, the president should be getting crushed right now.

The economic mood of the country is terrible. Roughly 75 percent of Americans believe the economy is still in recession. According to a Quinnipiac survey, only 35 percent of Americans say they are better off than they were four years ago. Barely a third believe the country is heading in the right direction. The economic climate is as bad as or worse than it was in 1968, 1976, 1992 and 2000, years when incumbent parties lost re-election.

Then there is the ideological climate. Obama has governed from the left, but the country, as Galston notes, has shifted to the right. Forty percent of Americans call themselves conservatives, the highest number ever measured.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post survey, only 22 percent of voters believe Obama’s views on the size and role of government are a reason to vote for him. The share of Americans who say the current level of inequality is acceptable has increased by seven percentage points since 1998, to 52 percent. Obama’s main policy initiative, health care reform, remains decidedly unpopular: 39 percent now support it, and 53 percent oppose, according to another ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Finally, Obama has lost support among crucial constituencies. He alienated independents in 2009 and has never won them back. According to a Pew Research Center poll, his support among Catholics has fallen to 42 percent from 49 percent. Even young voters are moving away. And as Galston notes, voter registration among Hispanics has declined by five percentage points, the first significant drop in four decades.
The fundamentals suggest that Obama will go the way of Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy — incumbents who were trounced in hard times. And yet Obama isn’t on the same trajectory as other global leaders, left or right.

This race, like almost all re-election races, is shaping up to be a referendum on the incumbent, not a choice between two visions. Obama’s job approval numbers are driving everything else. Today, 48 percent of Americans approve of his performance. That’s high given the circumstances, and near the 50 percent threshold he will need to win.

How has he stayed so competitive?

First, the Democrats’ demographic advantages are kicking in. The population segments that are solidly Democratic, like single women and the unchurched, are expanding. The segments that are more Republican — two-parent families and observant Catholics — are shrinking.

But most of the cause is personal. There’s an interesting debate over how much personal qualities matter in a presidential election. The evidence this year suggests: a lot. Take one contrast. According to a Fox News poll, only 36 percent of voters believe Obama has a clear plan for fixing the economy. But 48 percent approve of his performance. That means 12 percent of Americans approve of Obama even though they don’t think he has an agenda for moving us forward. In survey after survey, Obama is far more popular than his policies.
The key is his post-boomer leadership style. Critics are always saying that Obama is too cool and detached, arrogant and aloof. But the secret to his popularity through hard times is that he is not melodramatic, sensitive, vulnerable and changeable. Instead, he is self-disciplined, traditional and a bit formal. He is willing, with drones and other mechanisms, to use lethal force.
Normally, presidents look weak during periods of economic stagnation, overwhelmed by events. But Obama has displayed a kind of ESPN masculinity: postfeminist in his values, but also thoroughly traditional in style — hypercompetitive, restrained, not given to self-doubt, rarely self-indulgent. Administrations are undone by scandal and moments when they look pathetic, but this administration, guarded in all things, has rarely had those moments.

In 2008, Obama had that transcendent, messianic tone. This year, he has adopted a Clinton 1996 type of campaign — strong partisan attacks combined with an emphasis on small and medium-sized policies — like the Buffett Rule and student loans — intended to display his common man values. As a result, Obama has come off aggressive, but also, (unlike Romney) classless and in touch with middle-income groups.

I’d say that Obama is a slight underdog this year: the scuffling economy will grind away at voters. But his leadership style is keeping him afloat. He has defined a version of manliness that is postboomer in policy but preboomer in manners and reticence.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Romney Advances With Evangelicals

From The Wall Street Journal:

Evangelical leaders praised Mitt Romney over the weekend after he sought to reassure Christians who harbor doubts about his Mormon faith and the depth of his conservative convictions.

Their remarks followed a commencement address the likely Republican presidential nominee gave Saturday at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which stressed what he called the importance of Judeo-Christian values and restated his opposition to gay marriage.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A great editorial from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer; listen up America: Two distressing symptoms of acute civic illness

From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

Two recent items might on the surface seem unrelated. They are, in fact, anything but.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said last month that a deficit-reduction plan put together by the bipartisan "Gang of Six" would probably not get much of a hearing on Capitol Hill.

"Leadership on both sides," Chambliss said, "has not been a real fan of our plan," for two reasons.

The first, disheartening enough by itself, is that said plan would involve "hard and tough" votes that might draw fire from key constituencies. (God forbid political courage for the greater good should trump political self-preservation.) The second, really just an extension of the first, is the intransigence of ideological purity: Democrats are unlikely to budge on spending or Republicans on taxes -- both of which are essential parts of the plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

The other significant development was last week's Indiana Republican primary defeat of six-term Sen. Richard Lugar by challenger Richard Mourdock. Lugar, who like Chambliss had established respect in both parties for his willingness to reach across the aisle, was in the political crosshairs of tea party groups and conservative "Super PACs" such as FreedomWorks and Club for Growth.

Former Sen. Sam Nunn carved out a distinguished career as a moderate Georgia Democrat who was as likely to support a Reagan-backed bill or take issue with Bill Clinton as to support the party line. Nunn called his former colleague Lugar "a statesman in every sense of the word: smart, skillful, strategic, diplomatic and wise," and offered an observation that sounds very much like a warning: "Elections should serve as a reminder that no serious problem facing America today can be solved by one political party."

Reasonable people can reasonably disagree about the specifics of the Gang of Six deficit plan or the political virtues and shortcomings of Dick Lugar. And you can almost taste the sour grapes in Lugar's comments following his defeat.

But when the lame-duck senator deplores the relentless political purging of "those who stray from orthodoxy," he gets close to the heart of our political paralysis.

"Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle," Lugar said. "One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas."

When bipartisanship itself is a political liability, something is seriously askew.

The "big tents" both major parties used to claim as havens of inclusion have become forbidding fortresses surrounded by political moats. Compromise has become collaboration -- a word we associate not with spirited debate but with mortal enemies -- and "loyal opposition" has been all but hooted out of our political vocabulary.

As vital signs of civic health, none of this bodes well.

Read more here: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2012/05/13/2045115/two-distressing-symptoms-of-acute.html#storylink=cpy

Edwards’s famed defense attorney, Abbe Lowell: “No one is going to deny that Mr. Edwards lied and lied and lied and lied.”

A couple of centuries ago Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott penned one of my favorite lines:

"Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!”

(Sir Walter Scott's Marmion.)

For a good account of the trial, see The Washington Post.

Tea Party Focus Turns to Senate and Shake-Up

From The New York Times:

The primary victory of a Tea Party-blessed candidate in Indiana illustrates how closely Republican hopes for a majority in the Senate are tied to candidates who pledge to infuse the chamber with the deep-seated conservatism that has been the hallmark of the House since the Republicans gained control in 2010.

Richard E. Mourdock, who last week defeated Senator Richard G. Lugar, a six-term incumbent, promises to bring an uncompromising ideology to Capitol Hill if he prevails in November. And he is not the only Senate candidate who contends that Senate Republicans are badly in need of new blood.
In Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas, Republican Senate candidates are vying for the mantle of Tea Party outsider. A number of them say that they would seek to press an agenda that is generally to the right of the minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and that they would demand a deeper policy role for the Senate’s growing circle of staunch conservatives.

Some say they have not decided whether they would support Mr. McConnell, who could find himself contending with the type of fractious rank and file that has vexed the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio.

“We need to shake up the Republicans,” said Sarah Steelman, the Missouri state treasurer, who is seeking her party’s nomination to run against Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat. Asked if that meant new leadership in the Senate, Ms. Steelman replied, “Possibly.”

John Brunner, another Missouri candidate, said conservatives needed to have a louder voice in the Senate leadership. “When you bring more people to the team, it raises the bar for everyone,” he said. Referring to Mr. McConnell, he added, “There could be people up there who could be sputtering now who could take it up a notch.”

Representative Todd Akin, a third Missouri Senate hopeful, said, “I haven’t made any commitments to anybody, and they haven’t made very many commitments to me either.”

Deb Fischer, who is seeking the Republican Senate nomination in Nebraska, said, “I don’t think anything is automatic.”

Mr. McConnell’s leadership does not appear to be in jeopardy. Aides to Mr. McConnell say he has already secured enough votes for his re-election as leader, regardless of the November results. And supporters say such threats have surfaced in the past, only to fizzle after Election Day.

Rand Paul of Kentucky made headlines in 2010 while running for the Senate when he declined to say whether he would back Mr. McConnell for leader after Mr. McConnell supported another
Republican in the primary. Ultimately, Mr. McConnell was unanimously re-elected as leader, and his standing has remained solid among Senate Republicans even as he has faced sniping from some on the right who say he is too much of a Washington insider.
Mr. McConnell evinced no concern.

“In November, if the American people give us the ability to set the agenda in the Senate, I’m confident our conference will have broad unity around our efforts to repeal Obamacare, reduce the size and scope of government, and prevent job-killing tax hikes,” he said in a statement.

Mr. McConnell has already made adjustments. He recently enlisted Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a freshman elected with Tea Party backing, to lead efforts to coordinate the Republican messages and agenda in the Senate and the House with the party’s presidential nominee. A spokesman for Mr. McConnell, Don Stewart, said Mr. McConnell was exploring joining Mr. Mourdock on the campaign trail.

But pressure remains. Several Republican freshmen in the Senate — among them Mr. Paul, Mr. Johnson, Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida — under the tutelage of the Tea Party kingmaker Jim DeMint of South Carolina, have laid the groundwork for a more conservative path in the Senate, often throwing their own logs on the fire of gridlock that has seized Congress.
The stakes are considerable. The country faces what the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, has called a “fiscal cliff” on Jan. 1, when the Bush-era tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are set to expire and across-the-board spending cuts of more than $1 trillion are to go into effect. If a bipartisan agreement cannot be reached before the end of the year, nearly $8 trillion in deficit reduction could go into force in a sudden rush, a boon to budget hawks but a potential disaster for the fragile economic recovery.

After the election, the losing party is more likely to limp back to a lame-duck session of Congress aggrieved at its perceived mistreatment, and the winners will feel more empowered.
But Mr. McConnell’s room to maneuver is shrinking with the rising calls against compromise and the diminishing ranks of Republican deal makers.

In recent months, Mr. McConnell has been trying to keep the right flank at bay, voting against a bipartisan highway bill, for example, that conservative members disliked. He has also endorsed an earmark ban, in sharp contrast to former years, when his earmarks for Kentucky were the stuff of campaign fodder.

At times, his attempts to navigate the treacherous divide between placating conservatives and not appearing obstinate fall flat. Late last year, he insisted on a vote on his own alternative to the Senate Democrats’ version of the payroll tax cut bill, to demonstrate that Republicans supported the continued cut. But Mr. DeMint and other conservatives led a rebellion, and the bill received a humiliating 20 votes. When Mr. McConnell talked his conference into approving a short-term measure instead, it blew up in the House, with conservative members there complaining that Mr. McConnell had sold them out.

On Thursday evening, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, tried to take up and quickly pass a bill to reauthorize the United States Export-Import Bank, an entity established in the 1930s whose authority to exist was to expire at the end of the month. The bill that Mr. Reid was turning to had passed the House on Wednesday, 330 to 93. But Mr. McConnell held out for amendments requested by Mr. DeMint and other conservative members who had denounced the bank as a government boondoggle.

“I used to just talk about the House wing of the Tea Party,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor on Thursday, “but it is over here now.”

Mr. Reid was so frustrated on Thursday that he suggested he might abrogate a gentleman’s agreement with Mr. McConnell and sign on to Democratic efforts to change the Senate’s filibuster rule. Republicans now use the filibuster routinely, not just to prevent final votes on legislation but to prevent bills from even reaching the floor for consideration.

Now, Republican hopefuls want the Senate to act more like the house. Dan Liljenquist, a Tea Party-backed Republican challenging Senator Orrin G. Hatch in Utah’s Primary next month, said Republican leaders in the House, many of them young upstarts themselves, ditched traditional rules of seniority last year and let energetic up-and-comers take on powerful roles. At 42, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman, has become perhaps his party’s most important policy maker.

In the Senate, Mr. Liljenquist said, “The leaders most anxious to take on the entitlement system and the entrenched problems the nation faces are being benched by a system that puts them at the bottom rung.”

Mr. McConnell, who has been the minority leader since 2007, also finds himself increasingly in the cross hairs of deeply conservative outside groups. Erick Erickson, a blogger, posted a Twitter message on Tuesday night that read: “Dear Mitch McConnell, I hope you heard the Tea Party of Indiana tonight. Heheheh. If not, you will come January.” A conservative radio host, Laura Ingraham, fired off her own Twitter missive: “Is Senate leadership effective under Leader McConnell?”

In some ways, Mr. McConnell has always been suspect to conservatives because of his history of supporting federal spending projects and because of his well-known deal-making ability, and recently because he voted for the bank bailout bill that was the match that lighted the Tea Party fire. But he has shown a formidable ability to survive the shifts in the Senate, including a loss of seats under his watch in 2008.