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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.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Syrian War’s Spillover Threatens a Fragile Iraq

See The New York Times for article on how Syria's civil war is worsening sectarian tensions in Iraq nine months after American forces left and causing Iraq's Shiite-led government to move closer to Iran.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Thank you President Obama: Egypt’s new Islamist president Mohamed Morsi initially sought to meet with President Obama at the White House during his visit this week, but he received a cool reception,

See The New York Times for story about on the eve of his first trip to the United States as Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi said the United States must fundamentally change its approach to the Arab world.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

GOP retreat on taxes likely if Obama wins - Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.): “If you deal with the Medicare issue, then Republicans are far more open to looking at revenues.”

From The Washington Post:

Senior Republicans say they will be forced to retreat on taxes if President Obama wins a second term in November, clearing the biggest obstacle to a deal with Democrats to defuse a year-end budget bomb that threatens to rock the U.S. economy.

Republicans have long resisted tax increases of any kind. But taxes are a major battleground in the campaign between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, Capitol Hill veterans say, and the victor will be able to claim a mandate for his policies.

“This is a referendum on taxes,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior member of the House Budget Committee. “If the president wins reelection, taxes are going up” for the nation’s wealthiest households, and “there’s not a lot we can do about that.”

With Election Day still more than six weeks away and the president holding a thin lead in national polls, Republicans say they are not conceding that an Obama victory is the likely outcome. But they are beginning to plan for that possibility.

If Romney wins the White House, Republicans say, their strategy is clear: They would push to maintain current tax rates through 2013, giving the new president time to draft a blueprint for overhauling the tax code and taming the $16 trillion national debt.
But if Obama wins, the GOP would have no leverage — political or procedural — to force him to abandon his pledge to raise taxes on family income over $250,000, according to senior Republicans in the House and the Senate.

So they are beginning to contemplate a compromise that would let taxes go up in exchange for Democratic concessions on GOP priorities.

“I hope, obviously, the status quo doesn’t prevail” on Nov. 6. “But if things stay as they are, and all the players are generally the same . . . finding a responsible reform for Medicare is the secret to unleashing very productive talks that would put in place a balanced solution to our fiscal problems,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “If you deal with the Medicare issue, then Republicans are far more open to looking at revenues.”

Friday, September 21, 2012

Romney Comments at Fundraiser on Taxes and Entitlements Draw Fire, Fuel Debate

From The Wall Street Journal:

A video of Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser, where he characterized nearly half the population as beholden to the government, sparked a political firestorm Tuesday and also a vigorous policy debate about taxes and entitlements.

Some 49% of the population lived in a household that received some type of government benefit in mid-2011, according to census data, up from 30% in the 1980s. Roughly one in seven households receives food stamps, a number that has risen sharply alongside the bad economy.

But the mix of benefits that touch nearly half the population varies more widely than Mr. Romney suggested. For example, 16.2% of Americans received Social Security benefits and 14.9% were covered by Medicare. Most people receiving these benefits have paid taxes to fund the programs for decades.

"The bulk of entitlement benefits go to people who earned them by working," said Robert Greenstein, founder and president of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, making a point that liberal critics have used to challenge Mr. Romney's characterization of the federal safety net.

It is also true that roughly 47% of Americans didn't pay federal income tax in 2010, according to the latest data from the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. That is largely because of targeted tax breaks such as assistance for the working poor and deductions for children in moderate-income families.

In 1992, 27% of households didn't pay federal income tax, according to the JCT. Many of those people do pay payroll taxes as well as state and local levies.

The growth in entitlement spending rankles conservatives who say the programs are growing out of control. They also argue that a declining percentage of people paying federal income taxes carries a danger of dividing the country into "makers" and "takers," where the latter have no skin in the game when it comes to federal budget policies.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Watershed for Democrats and Unions - The Chicago strike shows that school reform is no longer a partisan issue.

Joel Klein writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The Chicago teachers strike moved toward settlement over the weekend, but fell short. A question hanging over the negotiations: What has the strike really been about? From the press coverage, it seemed that if you asked 30 teachers why they were picketing, you'd get 30 different reasons. The economic differences and the noneconomic issues (regarding teacher evaluation and job security) were of a type that has been resolved elsewhere without a strike.

No, this strike feels more about attitude—"the mayor doesn't respect us"—than substance. And from the details of the proposed settlement that have been made public so far, both sides will make modest concessions that will leave their supporters somewhat disappointed.

In the long run, much more important than the settlement's specifics will be the fact that the strike occurred, especially during a presidential campaign in a city governed by the president's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The Democrats and teachers unions traditionally have walked in lock step—so much so that, when I became schools chancellor in New York City shortly after serving in the Clinton administration, my former colleagues offered commiserations that went something like this: "Unfortunately our party is killing you, isn't it? We should be for the kids but, truth is, we're beholden to the unions."

The Democrats-teachers union alliance has been quietly changing over the past few years, but not without resistance and obfuscation. For a long time, unions and their allies have tried to portray reformers who supported greater accountability for teachers and more choices for families as part of a right-wing fringe out to "privatize" public schools, or privateers out to make money off children. Even known Democrats like Bill Gates and Eli Broad—who have given generously to support school improvement—were vilified as members of a "billionaires' boys club." Some critics suggested that philanthropists supported charter schools or firing bad teachers because they harbored a secret wish to open private schools that could make them another fortune.

Most Americans don't follow the inside game of school reform and don't know that it wasn't just Republican governors who were fighting the unions. So was a group long considered to be hard-core union allies: Democratic mayors.

In addition to Michael Bloomberg of New York (formally an Independent but at heart on most issues a Democrat), Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Cory Booker of Newark, Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento have enthusiastically embraced reforms that unions opposed. The notion that these leaders want to "privatize" public education or are "disrespectful" of the teaching profession doesn't pass the laugh test.

To this list of big-city mayors now add Mr. Emanuel, maybe the most significant of all. He is from the heart of Obamaland—like the president, a Chicago politician who grew up deep inside the Democratic machine. Mr. Emanuel's willingness to be out front on school reform publicly signaled what insiders have long known: The president and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, have implemented policies—such as insisting on rigorous evaluations of principals and teachers, closing failing schools, and supporting charter schools—that are aligned with those of the reformers.

The administration has avoided calling attention to its reformist inclinations during the election season, not wanting to alienate unions and teachers. But Mr. Emanuel decided to broadcast this fresh direction by not cutting any last-minute deals and letting the strike unfold—immediately following the Democratic convention, where harmony had reigned and the party emerged united. The Chicago teachers must have been stunned, almost as surprised as they were to find that the liberal media voices who are usually so reliable in supporting unions did not join them at the barricades.

Mayor Emanuel is not known for his soft-spoken manner. Even if he has to make some compromises in the strike settlement, the fact that he engaged in a standoff with the teachers union sounded a loud and encouraging note: School reform is increasingly and unashamedly becoming less of a partisan issue.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Steve Rattner: Beyond Obamacare

Steve Rattner writes in The Wall Street Journal:

WE need death panels.
Well, maybe not death panels, exactly, but unless we start allocating health care resources more prudently — rationing, by its proper name — the exploding cost of Medicare will swamp the federal budget.
But in the pantheon of toxic issues — the famous “third rails” of American politics — none stands taller than overtly acknowledging that elderly Americans are not entitled to every conceivable medical procedure or pharmaceutical.
Most notably, President Obama’s estimable Affordable Care Act regrettably includes severe restrictions on any reduction in Medicare services or increase in fees to beneficiaries. In 2009, Sarah Palin’s rant about death panels even forced elimination from the bill of a provision to offer end-of-life consultations.
Now, three years on, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Paul D. Ryan, has offered his latest ambitious plan for addressing the Medicare problem. But like Mr. Obama’s, it holds limited promise for containing the program’s escalating costs within sensible boundaries.
The Obama and Ryan plans are not without common ground; both propose an identical formula for capping the growth in Medicare spending per beneficiary. And both dip into the same toolbox (particularly lower payments to providers) to achieve a reduction of nearly $1 trillion in Medicare expenditures over the next decade from projected levels.
That’s where the agreement ends. Mr. Ryan believes that meeting the goal over the long term requires introducing more competition into Medicare through vouchers to purchase private insurance.
But Ryan’s approach was rendered toothless when the issue’s brutal politics forced him to retreat from his initial tough plan to simply cap the growth in government spending on Medicare and stick the inevitable overage onto beneficiaries. Under his revised plan, private insurers would be required to offer the same level of benefits as traditional Medicare, meaning that any savings would have to come from unidentified efficiencies (the ever-popular “waste, fraud and abuse”).
If the cap was breached — as it almost certainly would eventually be — Mr. Ryan blithely says, “Congress would be required to intervene.” Fat chance; Congress regularly does the opposite when it rolls back caps on payments to doctors and hospitals.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s hopes for sustained cost containment are pinned on a to-be-determined mix of squeezing reimbursements, embracing a selection of the creative ideas that have spewed forth from health care policy wonks and scouring the globe for innovations.
To Mr. Obama’s credit, his plan has more teeth than Mr. Ryan’s; if his Independent Payment Advisory Board comes up with savings, Congress must accept either them or vote for an equivalent package. The problem is, the advisory board can’t propose reducing benefits (a k a rationing) or raising fees (another form of rationing), without which the spending target looms impossibly large.
That’s the view of the bipartisan Medicare trustees, whose 2012 report stated: “Actual future Medicare expenditures are likely to exceed the intermediate projections shown in this report, possibly by quite large amounts.”
To be sure, health care cost increases have moderated, in part because of the recession and in part because Medicare has been tightening its reimbursements. But those thumbscrews can’t be tightened forever; Medicare reimbursement rates are already well below those of private providers.
Let’s not forget that with the elderly population growing rapidly, even if cost increases for each beneficiary can be contained, Medicare would still claim a rising share of the American economy.
Medicare needs to take a cue from Willie Sutton, who reportedly said he robbed banks because that’s where the money was. The big money in Medicare is not to be found in Mr. Ryan’s competition or Mr. Obama’s innovation, but in reducing the cost of treating people in the last year of life, which consumes more than a quarter of the program’s budget.
No one wants to lose an aging parent. And with price out of the equation, it’s natural for patients and their families to try every treatment, regardless of expense or efficacy. But that imposes an enormous societal cost that few other nations have been willing to bear. Many countries whose health care systems are regularly extolled — including Canada, Australia and New Zealand — have systems for rationing care.
Take Britain, which provides universal coverage with spending at proportionately almost half of American levels. Its National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence uses a complex quality-adjusted life year system to put an explicit value (up to about $48,000 per year) on a treatment’s ability to extend life.
At the least, the Independent Payment Advisory Board should be allowed to offer changes in services and costs. We may shrink from such stomach-wrenching choices, but they are inescapable.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

This week has not been a good one for Mitt Romney.

From The Washington Post:

This week has not been a good one for Mitt Romney.

First, his campaign pollster — the widely respected Neil Newhouse — put out a polling memo, seeking to discredit the idea of a post-convention bump for President Obama, that seemed decidedly defensive.

Then came his campaign’s controversial comments on the Obama Administration’s posture toward the Middle East, comments that Romney doubled down on during a Wednesday morning press conference even after it was revealed that the U.S. ambassador to Libya had been killed. That series of events has some within the party concerned that the race is slipping from them, or at least that their nominee is acting as though that’s the case.

“They allow tactics to dictate strategy, instead of vice versa,” said John Weaver, a Republican strategist. “Where is the narrative? Where is conduct representing what a President Romney would do?”

Added another Republican consultant granted anonymity to speak candidly: “I wished they’d panicked months ago; that’s when I started to. Their biggest problem is the state-by-state situation in the swing states, and that situation has been clear for a really long time.” (The Fix wrote about Obama’s Electoral College advantage on Wednesday morning.)

The source added that the “blooper” on Libya followed another misstep over the weekend, in which Romney’s comments on “Meet the Press” suggested he would retain some elements of Obama’s health care law if elected.

“How can you overturn Obamacare as your first act in office and then say that (the) parts (that test well in the polls) should be kept?” asked the source.

Pitiful Gov. Romney - politicizing a national tragedy. You deserve the withering criticism for distorting the chain of events overseas and appearing to seek political advantage from an attack that claimed American lives.

It was time to apologize Governor, not double down the next day:

“They clearly — they clearly sent mixed messages to the world. And — and the statement came from the administration — and the embassy is the administration — the statement that came from the administration was a — was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a — a — a severe miscalculation.”

From The New York Times:

 The deadly attack on an American diplomatic post in Libya propelled foreign policy to the forefront of an otherwise inward-looking presidential campaign and presented an unexpected test not only to the incumbent, who must manage an international crisis, but also to the challenger, whose response quickly came under fire.

While President Obama dealt with the killings of an ambassador and three other Americans and deflected questions about his handling of the Arab world, Mitt Romney, the Republican seeking his job, wasted little time going on the attack, accusing the president of apologizing for American values and appeasing Islamic extremists.
“They clearly sent mixed messages to the world,” Mr. Romney told reporters during a campaign swing through Florida.
But Mr. Romney came under withering criticism for distorting the chain of events overseas and appearing to seek political advantage from an attack that claimed American lives. A statement he personally approved characterized an appeal for religious tolerance issued by the American Embassy in Cairo as sympathy for the attackers even though the violence did not occur until hours after the embassy statement. Mr. Romney on Wednesday said the embassy statement, which was disavowed by the administration, was “akin to apology, and I think was a severe miscalculation.”
Mr. Obama fired back later in the day, accusing his opponent of politicizing a national tragedy. “Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later,” he told CBS News for its “60 Minutes” program. “And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that — that, you know, it’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts, and that you’ve thought through the ramifications.”

Sunday, September 09, 2012

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

I feel honored to have met and talked with the gentleman.

See story at AJC.

David Brooks: Character, Not Audacity - America will only be governable again if there is a leader who breaks the mold and reframes the debate. Romney is unlikely to do that, and Obama’s speech didn’t offer much either.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

As I listened to President Obama on stage in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday night, I thought back to the days more than four years ago, when he spoke at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, or on the night he won the caucuses of that state. There was his romantic vision, the possibility of transformational change.
I don’t know if we are worse off now than we were back then, but we were certainly worse off then than we knew. The financial crisis of the past years has exposed debilitating flaws in our way of life. It’s exposed the crushing burden of debt and the unsustainability of our entitlement system. It’s exposed flaws in our style of capitalism — the overreliance on finance, the concentration of power. It exposed a widening education gap; the educated have recovered from the recession while the unskilled fall further behind. It exposed even deeper dysfunctions in our political system.
Obama was rhetorically grand back then, but many of us have spent this year looking for even bigger strategies and policies.
The Republicans understand the severity of our economic problems, but they put too much faith in tax cuts. The Republicans understand that unless Medicare is reformed, it will swallow everything else, though judging from their convention, they are too timid to explain the problem or champion their own plan.
So, as I looked to President Obama’s speech Thursday night, I was looking to see if he was capable of a new burst of change.
There were parts of his speech that raised the old expectations. I liked the emphasis he put not on himself but on the word “you” — the idea that change comes organically from the bottom up. I liked his extraordinary self-awareness, his willingness to admit that often life on the campaign trail requires candidates to do silly things. I liked the sense of citizenship that pervaded his address, the sense of mutual obligation.
But what I was mostly looking for were big proposals, big as health care was four years ago. I had spent the three previous days watching more than 80 convention speeches without hearing a single major policy proposal in any of them. I asked governors, mayors and legislators to name a significant law that they’d like to see President Obama pass in a second term. Not one could. At its base, this is a party with a protective agenda, not a change agenda — dedicated to defending government in all its forms.
The Obama speech offered some important if familiar hints of big policy ideas. There was a vague hint of a major tax reform. There was a vague promise to accept an agreement based on the principle of the Simpson-Bowles committee on deficit reduction. But it’s hard to be enthusiastic about President Obama truly championing initiatives that get no more than a sentence or a clause.
Over all, the speech had a fierce opposition toward the Republicans and a desire for incremental continuity about what the Democrats themselves would offer. Worse, the speech was dominated by unexplained goals that were often worthy, but also familiar, modest and incommensurate with the problems at hand. The government should help more students attend community colleges. It should recruit more math and science teachers. These are good existing programs, but these are not policies to pinion a presidency around.
It would be nice if exports doubled. It would be nice if deficits came down gradually over the next 10 years. But the goals President Obama set in these spheres will probably be met if everybody in Washington carried on the status quo. They do not entail big change.
President Obama offered other small and worthy ideas, familiar to him since his days in the Senate, that would make America better — more long-lasting batteries, more trade agreements. But these are improvements fit for countries that are already firmly on the right track.
The country that exists is not on the right track. It has a completely dysfunctional political system. What was there in this speech that will make us think the next few years will be any different? America will only be governable again if there is a leader who breaks the mold and reframes the debate. Romney is unlikely to do that, and Obama’s speech didn’t offer much either.
In short, change is still the issue, and the focus of his solid but not extraordinary speech was incremental improvement. The next president has to do three big things, which are in tension with one another: increase growth, reduce debt and increase social equity. President Obama has the intelligence, the dexterity and the sense of balance to navigate these crosscutting challenges. But he apparently lacks the creativity to break out of the partisan categories, the trench warfare gridlock.
Thursday night’s speech showed the character and his potential. It didn’t show audacity and the fulfillment of that potential.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Bill Clinton delivers for Obama at Democratic convention. Polls show him with a 69 percent approval rating, about 18 percentage points higher than Obama’s.

From The Washington Post:

Here strode Bill Clinton onto the national convention stage once again, the Democratic man for all reasons.

Twelve years out of office but still and always ready to be needed, he took to prime time as master explainer and policy clarifier, party morale booster extraordinaire, voice of experience, historian longing for the old days of political bipartisanship, earnest economics instructor, hoarse whisperer to the middle class, and empathetic testifier for President Obama, who came to the Democratic National Convention arena on Wednesday night to watch as the former president placed his name in nomination.

It was at Obama’s request that Clinton gave the nominating speech, and in gratitude, in what was more a surprisingly modest gesture than a grand moment, the two men stood arm in arm onstage when Clinton was done. If they were not exactly basking in the glow of a deep friendship, there was at least the sense that Clinton had done precisely what he was asked to do in a way that only he could do it.

Even as his speech went on and on toward the 48-minute mark, blasting way past his allotted time, Clinton did not seem rambling so much as direct and fast and eager. His voice grew more powerful if scratchy, his signature gesticulations became more frequent — the thumb point, the finger point and finger roll, the open-handed can-you-believe-it lament, the raised eyebrows — as he made the case for Obama and against the Republicans and moved through the issues one after another, from health-care reform to the auto industry bailout to Medicare to tax and budget cuts.

In classic Clinton style, the more he got going, the less inclined he was to follow his printed text, ad-libbing his way through a series of knowing asides such as, “I know; I get it; I’ve been there.” He took his listeners on a kaleidoscopic tour of recent political history and deep into the Clintonian method, a modern-day variation of the Socratic method in which every question is worthy of consideration, and every opposing argument is given its due before being shredded.

Polls show him with a 69 percent approval rating, about 18 percentage points higher than Obama’s.

Emanuel Takes On New Role as a ‘Super PAC’ Wrangler

From The New York Times:

Senior Democrats put aside any remaining qualms about jumping into the “super PAC” era, enlisting Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago to focus on raising money for outside groups that are seeking to help the White House rather than keep a leadership role in President Obama’s re-election campaign.

Mr. Emanuel, who is leaving his honorary position as co-chairman of Mr. Obama’s campaign, intends to help funnel donations to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC founded by two former Obama aides. The group is more than $60 million short of its goal, reflecting a philosophical objection to outside groups among many wealthy liberals, and a feeling among donors that the White House has been insufficiently attentive to them.
The move thrusts Mr. Emanuel into the kind of role long played by Karl Rove, the Republican strategist who advises and raises money for a network of Republican-leaning outside groups that intend to spend as much as $500 million in the campaign.
Mr. Emanuel is the latest and among the most high-profile examples of how the lines have blurred between campaigns and their outside supporters. A former White House chief of staff to Mr. Obama and the current mayor of the president’s hometown, Mr. Emanuel is deeply immersed in his party’s strategy. Now he is barred from coordinating with the Obama campaign — a prohibition that has proved to be of little consequence to prominent members of either party at a time when relatively weak rules have been exploited to knit the parties’ official and unofficial wings into unified machines.

The law of unintended consequences; way to go America; Saddam Hussein used to keep Iran in check, etc.: Iran Supplying Syrian Military via Iraqi Airspace

Iran has resumed shipping military equipment to Syria over Iraqi airspace, showing the limits of American influence in the region after the White House pressed Baghdad to close the corridor.  For article, see The New York Times.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Valerie Jarrett - The Other Power in the West Wing

From The New York Times:

A Chicagoan who helped Mr. Obama navigate his rise through that city’s aggressive politics, Ms. Jarrett came to Washington with no national experience. But her unmatched access to the Obamas has made her a driving force in some of the most significant domestic policy decisions of the president’s first term, her persuasive power only amplified by Mr. Obama’s insular management style.
From the first, her official job has been somewhat vague. But nearly four years on, with Mr. Obama poised to accept his party’s renomination this week, her standing is clear, to her many admirers and detractors alike. “She is the single most influential person in the Obama White House,” said one former senior White House official, who like many would speak candidly only on condition of anonymity.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

PTL. No let's move on: No Charges Filed on Harsh Tactics Used by the C.I.A.

From The New York Times:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the C.I.A.

Mr. Holder’s decision in 2009 to open a new investigation into the C.I.A. interrogations was sharply criticized by some former intelligence officials and Republicans in Congress. The harsh interrogation methods, including the near-drowning of waterboarding, had been authorized in Justice Department legal opinions, and the deaths in custody had been previously reviewed by prosecutors during Mr. Bush’s presidency.