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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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

For a day at least, Hurricane Sandy appears to have done for President Obama what he has not been able to do for himself - Romney did not respond to reporters who asked whether he is reconsidering his earlier assertion that disaster management is a job that should be turned over to the states.

From The Washington Post:

For a day at least, Hurricane Sandy appears to have done for President Obama what he has not been able to do for himself.

In a campaign notable mostly for its negativity, the historic storm provided Obama with a commander-in-chief moment a week before Election Day. The president gained a rare moment of bipartisan praise, with Democratic and Republican governors alike commending the performance of the federal government. And the storm put on pause, for now, the sense that rival Mitt Romney had all the momentum in the home stretch.

Romney . . .  did not respond to reporters who asked whether he is reconsidering his earlier assertion that disaster management is a job that should be turned over to the states.

For now, the president’s Chicago-based reelection team is exhibiting no urgency to return him to the campaign trail. The campaign canceled two rallies in Ohio on Wednesday, and one aide said Obama’s schedule is being determined by the president, along with White House advisers such as David Plouffe and Chief of Staff Jacob Lew.

This aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about internal strategy, suggested that at this point, the rallies are marginally helpful in getting supporters to vote, but that otherwise “the race is set.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

David Brooks: If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis; if Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform. Romney is more of a flexible flip-flopper than Obama. He has more influence over the most intransigent element in the Washington equation House Republicans. He’s more likely to get big stuff done.

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Let’s try to imagine what the world would look like if President Obama is re-elected.
Washington over the next four years would probably look much as it has over the last two: Obama running the White House, Republicans controlling the House and Democrats managing the Senate. We’d have had a long slog of an election before a change-hungry electorate, and we’d end up with pretty much the same cast of characters as before.
Obama would probably try to enact the agenda he laid out most clearly in his recent interview with The Des Moines Register:
Obama said he would try to recreate the Obama-Boehner budget deal of two summers ago, with $2.50 of spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Then he’d try immigration reform. Then he’d cut corporate tax rates as part of corporate reform. Then he’d “weed out” unnecessary regulations. All the while, he would implement Obamacare and increase funds for infrastructure. This is a moderate and sensible agenda.
The first order of business would be the budget deal, averting the so-called fiscal cliff. Obama would first go to Republicans in the Senate and say, “Look, we’re stuck with each other. Let’s cut a deal for the sake of the country.” He would easily find 10 Republican senators willing to go along with a version of a Grand Bargain.
Then Obama would go to the House. He’d ask Eric Cantor, the majority leader, if there were votes for such a deal. The answer would probably be no. Republican House members still have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right than from a general election challenge from the left. Obama is tremendously unpopular in their districts. By running such a negative presidential campaign, Obama has won no mandate for a Grand Bargain. Obama himself is not going to suddenly turn into a master legislative craftsman on the order of Lyndon Johnson.
There’d probably be a barrage of recriminations from all sides. The left and right would be consumed with ire and accusations. Legislators would work out some set of fudges and gimmicks to kick the fiscal can down the road.
The ensuing bitterness would doom any hopes for bipartisan immigration reform. The rest of the Obama second term would be about reasonably small things: some new infrastructure programs; more math and science teachers; implementing Obamacare; mounting debt; a president increasingly turning to foreign affairs in search of legacy projects.
If you’re a liberal Democratic, this is an acceptable outcome. Your party spent 80 years building the current welfare state. This outcome extends it.
Now let’s try to imagine the world if Mitt Romney were to win. Republicans would begin with the premise that the status quo is unsustainable. The mounting debt is ruinous. The byzantine tax and regulatory regimes are stifling innovation and growth.
Republicans would like to take the reform agenda that Republican governors have pursued in places like Indiana and take it to the national level: structural entitlement reform; fundamental tax reform. These reforms wouldn’t make government unrecognizable (we’d probably end up spending 21 percent of G.D.P. in Washington instead of about 24 percent), but they do represent a substantial shift to the right.
At the same time, Romney would probably be faced with a Democratic Senate. He would also observe the core lesson of this campaign: conservatism loses; moderation wins. Romney’s prospects began to look decent only when he shifted to the center. A President Romney would look at the way Tea Party extremism had cost the G.O.P. Senate seats in Delaware and Nevada — and possibly Missouri and Indiana.
To get re-elected in a country with a rising minority population and a shrinking Republican coalition, Romney’s shape-shifting nature would induce him to govern as a center-right moderate. To get his tax and entitlement reforms through the Democratic Senate, Romney would have to make some serious concessions: increase taxes on the rich as part of an overall reform; abandon the most draconian spending cuts in Paul Ryan’s budget; reduce the size of his lavish tax-cut promises.
As President Romney made these concessions, conservatives would be in uproar. Talk-radio hosts would be the ones accusing him of Romneysia, forgetting all the promises he made in the primary season. There’d probably be a primary challenge from the right in 2016.
But Republicans in Congress would probably go along. They wouldn’t want to destroy a Republican president. Romney would champion enough conservative reforms to allow some Republicans to justify their votes.
The bottom line is this: If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis; if Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform. Romney is more of a flexible flip-flopper than Obama. He has more influence over the most intransigent element in the Washington equation House Republicans. He’s more likely to get big stuff done.       

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The result has been that House Republicans start off with 190 districts that have a historic performance safely in their corner, while Democrats begin with just 146 such districts. That leaves just 99 districts viewed as regularly competitive, an all-time low.


From The Washington Post:

President Obama remains at least an even bet to win reelection. Democrats are favored to hold on to the Senate — an outcome few prognosticators envisioned at the beginning of the year. And yet, with a little more than a week to go, the party holds almost no chance of winning back the House.

“They called the fight. It’s over. We’re going to have a House next year that’s going to look an awful lot like the last House,” Stuart Rothenberg, the independent analyst who runs the Rothenberg Political Report, said.

The outlines of a comeback for Democrats seemed possible. From its opening act, the 112th Congress was dominated by a raucous class of House freshmen who pushed Washington to the brink of several government shutdowns and almost prompted a first-ever default on the federal debt. It became the most unpopular Congress in the history of polling and, by some measures, the least productive.

Analysts cite several factors why the Democrats haven’t been able to take advantage. First was a redistricting process that made some Republicans virtually impervious to a challenge and re-election more difficult for about 10 Democrats. A few Democratic incumbents have stumbled in their first competitive races in years. And Republicans have leveraged their majority into a fund-raising operation that has out-muscled the Democrats.

First among those critics was Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), labeled the “face of defeat” after overseeing the loss of 63 seats two years ago. Defying recent precedent, Pelosi gave up the speaker’s gavel but stayed on as party leader. She vowed that “the tea party Congress” was so unpopular that Democrats would ride Obama’s coattails back to the majority.

Now, with a second straight election about to leave Democrats in the minority, Pelosi, 72, has not signaled whether she will remain in office. She delayed her leadership elections until after Thanksgiving, prompting more speculation about her future than about next year’s House majority.

The result has been that House Republicans start off with 190 districts that have a historic performance safely in their corner, while Democrats begin with just 146 such districts, according to an analysis by the independent Cook Political Report.

That leaves just 99 districts viewed as regularly competitive, an all-time low. Democrats will likely have to carry 72 of those 99 seats to reach the bare majority of 218.

“That’s a really bad omen for Democrats, not just this year but in future years,” said David Wasserman, the House editor for the Cook report.

Let the games begin! - U.S. Set to Sponsor Health Insurance

From The New York Times:

The Obama administration will soon take on a new role as the sponsor of at least two nationwide health insurance plans to be operated under contract with the federal government and offered to consumers in every state.
These multistate plans were included in President Obama’s health care law as a substitute for a pure government-run health insurance program — the public option sought by many liberal Democrats and reviled by Republicans. Supporters of the national plans say they will increase competition in state health insurance markets, many of which are dominated by a handful of companies.
The national plans will compete directly with other private insurers and may have some significant advantages, including a federal seal of approval. Premiums and benefits for the multistate insurance plans will be negotiated by the United States Office of Personnel Management, the agency that arranges health benefits for federal employees.
The new health care law stipulates that at least one of the multistate plans must provide insurance without coverage of abortion services. If a plan does cover abortions, it must establish separate accounts, one with money for abortion and one for all other medical services.
National insurance plans will be subject to regulation by the federal government, state insurance commissioners and state insurance exchanges. That mix could cause confusion for some consumers who have questions or complaints about their coverage.
The federal standards will pre-empt state rules in at least one respect: the national health plans will automatically be eligible to compete against other private insurers in the new exchanges, regardless of whether they have been certified as meeting the standards of those exchanges.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Most of the political realities that inspired Bin Laden’s organization are still in place, including America’s apparently unqualified support for Israel and the rulers of the Persian Gulf states.

From The New York Times:

One of the currents running through the presidential campaign has been a tacit but fundamental question: After 11 years of the war on terror, what kind of threat does Al Qaeda pose to America?
The candidates offered profoundly different answers during their final debate last week, with President Obama repeating his triumphant narrative of drone attacks and dead terrorists, and Mitt Romney warning darkly about Islamists on the march in an increasingly hostile Middle East.
In a sense, both are true. The organization that planned the Sept. 11 attacks, based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is in shambles; dozens of its top leaders have been killed since Mr. Obama assumed office, and those who remain appear mostly inactive.
At the same time, jihadists of various kinds, some identifying themselves with Al Qaeda, are flourishing in Africa and the Middle East, where the chaos that followed the Arab uprisings has often given them greater freedom to organize and operate. The death of J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, in September during an assault by armed Libyan jihadists on the American mission in Benghazi has driven that home to the American public.
But there is an important distinction: most of the newer jihadist groups have local agendas, and very few aspire to strike directly at the United States as Osama bin Laden’s core network did. They may interfere with American interests around the world — as in Syria, where the presence of militant Islamists among the rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad has inhibited American efforts to support the uprising. But that is a far cry from terrorist plots aimed at the United States itself.
“In a lot of ways we’ve gone back to the way the world was before Sept. 11,” said Brian Fishman, a research fellow in counterterrorism at the New America Foundation. “It’s local jihadi groups focused on projects within their own countries, even if they sometimes maintain the rhetorical framework of Al Qaeda and its global struggle.”
While these local groups may have benefited in the short term from the turbulence that followed the Arab Spring uprisings, they have also suffered an ideological blow that could make it far more difficult to recruit young followers. Peaceful protest movements brought down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, and there, as in the more violent conflicts in Libya and Yemen, the United States was on the side of change.
The idea of attacking the United States, “the far enemy” in jihadist parlance, was always unpopular for many Islamic radicals, whose chief goal was replacing their own governments with theocracies. The concept became more unpopular after the Sept. 11 attacks when Osama bin Laden and his followers were driven out of their sanctuary in Afghanistan. In the following years, Al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Saudi Arabia did the brand considerable harm by killing large numbers of Muslims, although killing American soldiers in Iraq, where those troops were seen as Crusader-like occupiers, still met with wide approval.
What Al Qaeda retains is a mystique, the legend of a small band of warriors who took on an empire and struck a devastating blow. That mystique still has tremendous appeal, even for insurgents who differ with Al Qaeda’s methods or its focus on attacking America.
Recent years have seen the proliferation of jihadist movements that may take some inspiration from Al Qaeda, but have greatly divergent goals. In Nigeria, the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in the past few years in its struggle to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state. There, the struggle is largely sectarian; Boko Haram has struck mostly at Christians and burned churches.
Jihadists now control Mali’s vast north, as Mr. Romney mentioned more than once in the last debate, and have links to an older group officially affiliated with Al Qaeda that grew out of Algeria’s civil conflict in the 1990s. Although these groups are well armed and dangerous, some appear to be more criminal than ideological, focused on kidnapping and drug smuggling. Jihadists have also gained strength in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, just across the border from Israel.
At one point during the debate, Mr. Romney appeared to link these varied threats with the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt. To some terrorism analysts, this kind of talk is counterproductive, because it blurs crucial distinctions between potential allies who profess to believe in democracy and civic rights, like the Brotherhood, and more militant Islamists who view those principles as heresy.
“There is still a tendency to talk about the enemy in grand terms, linking them all together, because it makes you sound tough,” Mr. Fishman of the New America Foundation said. “In fact, it does the opposite, because it obscures differences that should be at the heart of our counterterrorism efforts.”
The most dangerous Qaeda movement, from an American perspective, is the one in Yemen, which has tried repeatedly to plant bombs on airliners bound for the United States. There, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, American drone strikes have had a devastating effect, killing the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and many other top leaders. The group took over vast territories of southern Yemen last year while the Yemeni government was distracted with street protests in the capital; but the jihadists were driven back in June, with American military assistance.
At the same time, most of the political realities that inspired Bin Laden’s organization are still in place, including America’s apparently unqualified support for Israel and the rulers of the Persian Gulf states. The American military is still fighting in Afghanistan, and the Taliban, which hosted Al Qaeda during the 1990s, could gain greater power after an American withdrawal.
Al Qaeda “was never a mass movement; it was always meant to be a vanguard,” Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, said. “So even with the first generation of leaders largely gone, it’s very difficult to declare the movement dead.”

Sign me up (except for estate tax rates reverting): Meet the fiscal cliff-divers, who think jumping off could be our best bet

From The Washington Post:

The very notion of a “fiscal cliff” suggests that the country is approaching a calamitous drop-off at the end of the year — and it would be tantamount to suicide to jump off.

But a contingent of policy wonks and Democrats insist that letting the Dec. 31 deadline come and go — thus triggering automatic tax increases and spending cuts — could produce the best outcome for the country. Once the tax hikes have kicked in, the reasoning goes, Republicans would be hard-pressed to roll them all back and would have to accept a deal on taming the deficit that contains more new tax revenue than GOP lawmakers want.

So some policy analysts and legislators say they are willing to go over the brink—and some are even gunning for Congress to do it.

Call them the cliff-divers.

“It will be much easier to negotiate a budget deal going over the cliff,” said William Gale, an economist at the Brookings Institute and former adviser to George H.W. Bush. “It seems to be the only way we can boost revenues.”

”I wouldn’t say it’s desirable, but it may be necessary,” explains former White House budget director Peter Orszag, who believes that going past the Dec. 31 could produce the best policy outcome in the face of a political stand-off.

In an ideal world, these figures would want Congress to reach a reasonable deal before the deadline. But they are skeptical that will happen, given the politics surrounding the fiscal cliff, and argue that going over the cliff would remove what they believe is the biggest stumbling block.

Since individual tax rates would go up automatically—rising from 35 to 39.6 percent for the highest-income bracket and 10 to 15 percent for the lowest—Congress would technically be voting to cut them rather than raise them. It’s a distinction that the cliff-divers believe will make all the difference. “Republicans won’t have to violate their ‘no new taxes’ pledge,” says Gale. “The politics are a lot easier and the incentives are a lot stronger.”

President Obama, for his part, promised to veto any legislation that kept the cuts for the wealthy intact.

The cliff-divers don’t deny that the fiscal cliff would deal a serious blow to the economy, knocking the US back into a recession if the spending cuts and tax hikes remain in effect for all of next year. But these advocates say the immediate risk is overblown.

The cliff-divers worry, moreover, that rushing to meet fiscal cliff deadline at all costs could convince Congress to accept a subpar deal.

While they don’t think Dec. 31 is a drop-dead deadline, the cliff-divers also don’t believe that Congress has all the time in the world: They say Congress has a few weeks, at most, to work out a deal before the fiscal cliff starts to do real harm to the economy and the markets. “We won’t go over the fiscal cliff for very long,” concluded Gale.

Peggy Noonan: The Real Obama

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

We all say Ohio, Ohio, Ohio. But it's all still Denver, Denver, and the mystery that maybe isn't a mystery at all.

If Cincinnati and Lake County go for Mitt Romney on Nov. 6 it will be because of what happened in Denver on Oct. 3. If Barack Obama barely scrapes through, if there's a bloody and prolonged recount, it too will be because of Denver.

Nothing echoes out like that debate.

Which gets us to Bob Woodward's "The Price of Politics," published last month. The portrait it contains of Mr. Obama—of a president who is at once over his head, out of his depth and wholly unaware of the fact—hasn't received the attention it deserves. Throughout the book, which is a journalistic history of the president's key economic negotiations with Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama is portrayed as having the appearance and presentation of an academic or intellectual while being strangely clueless in his reading of political situations and dynamics. He is bad at negotiating—in fact doesn't know how. His confidence is consistently greater than his acumen, his arrogance greater than his grasp.

He misread his Republican opponents from day one. If he had been large-spirited and conciliatory he would have effectively undercut them, and kept them from uniting. (If he'd been large-spirited with Mr. Romney, he would have undercut him, too.) Instead he was toughly partisan, he shut them out, and positions hardened. In time Republicans came to think he doesn't really listen, doesn't really hear. So did some Democrats.

Business leaders and mighty CEOs felt patronized: After inviting them to meet with him, the president read from a teleprompter and included the press. They felt like "window dressing." One spoke of Obama's surface polish and essential remoteness. In negotiation he did not cajole, seduce, muscle or win sympathy. He instructed.

He claimed deep understanding of his adversaries and their motives but was often incorrect. He told staffers that John Boehner, one of 11 children of a small-town bar owner, was a "country club Republican." He was often patronizing, which in the old and accomplished is irritating but in the young and inexperienced is infuriating. "Boehner said he hated going down to the White House to listen to what amounted to presidential lectures," Mr. Woodward writes.

Mr. Obama's was a White House that had—and showed—no respect for trying to negotiate with other Republicans. Through it all he was confident—"Eric, don't call my bluff"—because he believed, as did his staff, that his talents would save the day.

They saved nothing. Washington became immobilized.

Mr. Woodward's portrait of the president is not precisely new—it has been drawn in other ways in other accounts, and has been a staple of D.C. gossip for three years now—but it is vivid and believable. And there's probably a direct line between that portrait and the Obama seen in the first debate. Maybe that's what made it so indelible, and such an arc-changer.

People saw for the first time an Obama they may have heard about on radio or in a newspaper but had never seen.

They didn't see some odd version of the president. They saw the president.

And they didn't like what they saw, and that would linger.

Friday, October 26, 2012

David Brooks: What Moderation Means

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

Over the past month, Mitt Romney has aggressively appealed to moderate voters. President Obama, for some reason, hasn’t. But, in what he thought was an off-the-record interview with The Des Moines Register, Obama laid out a pretty moderate agenda for his second term.
It occurred to me that this might be a good time to describe what being a moderate means.
First, let me describe what moderation is not. It is not just finding the midpoint between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting yourself there. Only people who know nothing about moderation think it means that.
Moderates start with a political vision, but they get it from history books, not philosophy books. That is, a moderate isn’t ultimately committed to an abstract idea. Instead, she has a deep reverence for the way people live in her country and the animating principle behind that way of life. In America, moderates revere the fact that we are a nation of immigrants dedicated to the American dream — committed to the idea that each person should be able to work hard and rise.
This animating principle doesn’t mean that all Americans think alike. It means that we have a tradition of conflict. Over the centuries, we have engaged in a series of long arguments around how to promote the American dream — arguments that pit equality against achievement, centralization against decentralization, order and community against liberty and individualism.
The moderate doesn’t try to solve those arguments. There are no ultimate solutions. The moderate tries to preserve the tradition of conflict, keeping the opposing sides balanced. She understands that most public issues involve trade-offs. In most great arguments, there are two partially true points of view, which sit in tension. The moderate tries to maintain a rough proportion between them, to keep her country along its historic trajectory.
Americans have prospered over the centuries because we’ve kept a rough balance between things like individual opportunity and social cohesion, local rights and federal power. At any moment, new historical circumstances, like industrialization or globalization, might upset the balance. But the political system gradually finds a new equilibrium.
The moderate creates her policy agenda by looking to her specific circumstances and seeing which things are being driven out of proportion at the current moment. This idea — that you base your agenda on your specific situation — may seem obvious, but immoderate people often know what their solutions are before they define the problems.
For a certain sort of conservative, tax cuts and smaller government are always the answer, no matter what the situation. For a certain sort of liberal, tax increases for the rich and more government programs are always the answer.
The moderate does not believe that there are policies that are permanently right. Situations matter most. Tax cuts might be right one decade but wrong the next. Tighter regulations might be right one decade, but if sclerosis sets in then deregulation might be in order.
Today, we face our own set of imbalances. Inequality is clearly out of whack. The information age, family breakdown and globalization have widened income gaps. Government spending and government debt are also out of whack. The aging population and runaway health care costs have pushed budgets to the breaking point. There’s also been a hardening of the economic arteries, slowing growth.
The moderate sees three big needs that are in tension with one another: inequality, debt and low growth. She’s probably going to have a pretty eclectic mix of policies: some policies from the Democratic column to reduce inequality, some policies from the Republican column to reduce debt.
Just as the founding fathers tried a mixed form of government, moderates like pluralistic agendas, mixing and matching from columns A, B and C. They try to create harmonious blends of policies that don’t, at first glance, go together.
Being moderate does not mean being tepid. It will likely take some pretty energetic policies to reduce inequality or control debt. The best moderates can smash partisan categories and be hard-charging in two directions simultaneously.
Moderation is also a distinct ethical disposition. Just as the moderate suspects imbalance in the country, so she suspects it in herself. She distrusts passionate intensity and bold simplicity and admires self-restraint, intellectual openness and equipoise.
There are many moderates in this country, but they have done a terrible job of organizing themselves, building institutions or even organizing around common causes. There are some good history books that describe political moderation, like “A Virtue for Courageous Minds” by Aurelian Craiutu, a political scientist at Indiana University. But there are few good manifestoes.
Therefore, there’s a lot of ignorance about what it means to be moderate. If politicians are going to try to pander to the moderate mind-set, they should do it right. I hope this column has helped.

While female voters generally tend to favor President Obama, that cannot be said of white women without college degrees, a subset known - in this race - as waitress moms

From The New York Times:

The quadrennial obsession with winning over female voters can sometimes lead to mythmaking. Pollsters now question the validity of soccer moms as a distinct voting bloc; the term came into vogue in the 1996 presidential election but vanished soon after, to be replaced by the equally dubious post-9/11 “security moms.”
Whether or not the term “waitress moms” endures, it defines a distinct demographic: blue-collar white women who did not attend college. And they are getting a lot of attention from both campaigns as the presidential race barrels toward its conclusion because even at this late date, pollsters say, many waitress moms have not settled on a candidate. They feel no loyalty to one party or the other, though they tend to side with Republicans.
While women in general have historically supported Democratic presidential candidates, working-class white women without college degrees are among their weakest links. Mr. Obama lost them to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries in 2008, and to John McCain, the Republican, in the general election.
But Mr. Obama won women over all because black and Hispanic female voters turned out in greater numbers than usual and supported him overwhelmingly, as did white college-educated women. As he seeks to rebuild a winning coalition in battleground states like this one, analysts say, he needs to keep his losses among waitress moms to a minimum.
“Women are the volatile vote at the end, particularly independent, non-college-educated, married women,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has long specialized in women’s voting patterns. Important as these women are to both campaigns, they are only one slice of the much sliced and diced female electorate. Pollsters tend to find women more interesting than men because women are more likely to be swing voters, while men usually make up their minds early.
Pollsters have found differences among women in all kinds of ways that seem to correlate with their voting habits. Unmarried women, for example, tend to vote Democratic, they say, while married women tend to vote Republican.
The multiple differences among women have created a kind of kaleidoscopic inter-gender gap, from which catchy labels sometimes emerge. Apart from waitress moms, there are now “Walmart moms,” a group defined by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm — and adopted by the retail giant — as any woman who has shopped at a Walmart in the last 30 days. They differ from waitress moms in that many have college degrees and higher incomes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Say it's not true: Suspect in Libya Attack, in Plain Sight, Scoffs at U.S.

From The New York Times:

Witnesses and the authorities have called Ahmed Abu Khattala one of the ringleaders of the Sept. 11 attack on the American diplomatic mission here. But just days after President Obama reasserted his vow to bring those responsible to justice, Mr. Abu Khattala spent two leisurely hours on Thursday evening at a crowded luxury hotel, sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments.

Libya’s fledgling national army is a “national chicken,” Mr. Abu Khattala said, using an Arabic rhyme. Asked who should take responsibility for apprehending the mission’s attackers, he smirked at the idea that the weak Libyan government could possibly do it. And he accused the leaders of the United States of “playing with the emotions of the American people” and “using the consulate attack just to gather votes for their elections.”
Mr. Abu Khattala’s defiance — no authority has even questioned him about the attack, he said, and he has no plans to go into hiding — offered insight into the shadowy landscape of the self-formed militias that have come to constitute the only source of social order in Libya since the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Smart, real smart. I was waiting for this headline.If I were running either campaign, this would be the headline about which care and that will win the election: Ryan Says GOP Win Would Spur a Tax Deal .

From The Wall Street Journal:

Rep. Paul Ryan said the presidential campaign, despite its contentious tone, is putting a focus on taxes and deficit cutting that could pave the way for a bipartisan overhaul if running mate Mitt Romney wins the White House.

Mr. Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, said a Romney administration would be able to work with Democrats to pass a tax overhaul, including Mr. Romney's plan for a 20% reduction in individual tax rates. But he said the GOP ticket wouldn't detail which tax breaks it wanted to scale back in order to prevent the tax cut from adding to the deficit, and that it was sufficient for Mr. Romney to lay out general principles.

"We shouldn't be negotiating the details of tax reform in the middle of a campaign," Mr. Ryan said in his first interview with a national newspaper since he debated Vice President Joe Biden last Thursday.

The Wisconsin congressman also said that Mr. Romney had asked him to take on the role of working with Congress on fiscal matters if he is elected vice president. "This is one of the reasons why he asked me to sign on" to the Republican ticket, said Mr. Ryan, who has championed plans to cut federal spending and overhaul entitlement programs from his post as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

"It was because of my leadership and the reforms I'd been pushing that he asked me," Mr. Ryan said. "He said, 'I need help. I want your help to help me save this country from a debt crisis, to get this economy back on track.' "

The interview came as the Romney campaign was making a renewed effort to gain support in Ohio, where polls show the GOP ticket continuing to lag behind slightly amid its surge in the national polls.
Whatever the outcome of the Nov. 6 election, Mr. Ryan will hold tremendous sway either from the executive branch or the House of Representatives over fellow Republicans as the two parties work to craft a deficit-reduction plan that could include changes to taxes and entitlement programs.

Before year-end, Congress and the president will be forced to confront a series of tax cuts that are set to expire right as billions in automatic spending cuts take effect.

Despite the increasingly bitter tone of the White House race, Mr. Ryan expressed optimism that the two parties would come together if his ticket won the race, arguing the overhauls he and Mr. Romney are pushing have historically garnered Democratic support. He cited the Medicare overhaul plan he co-authored with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, which would give beneficiaries the choice between traditional Medicare and subsidized private insurance. He also pointed to the so-called Simpson-Bowles commission on debt and deficits that recommended cutting tax rates and reducing deductions, although Mr. Ryan, a commission member, voted against that recommendation.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Peggy Noonan: In terms of content—the seriousness and strength of one's positions and the ability to argue for them—the debate was probably a draw, with both candidates having strong moments. But in terms of style, Mr. Biden was so childishly manipulative that it will be surprising if independents and undecideds liked what they saw.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The vice presidential debate was uniquely important because if Paul Ryan won it or did well, the Romney-Ryan ticket's momentum would be continued or speed up. If he did not, that momentum would slow or stop. So the night carried implications.

There were fireworks all the way, and plenty of drama. Each candidate could claim a win in one area or another, but by the end it looked to me like this: For the second time in two weeks, the Democrat came out and defeated himself.

Last week Mr. Obama was weirdly passive. Last night Mr. Biden was weirdly aggressive, if that is the right word for someone who grimaces, laughs derisively, interrupts, hectors, rolls his eyes, browbeats and attempts to bully. He meant to dominate, to seem strong and no-nonsense. Sometimes he did—he had his moments. But he was also disrespectful and full of bluster. "Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy!" he snapped at one point. It was an echo of Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle, in 1988. But Mr. Quayle, who had compared himself to Kennedy, had invited the insult. Mr. Ryan had not. It came from nowhere. Did Mr. Biden look good? No, he looked mean and second-rate. He meant to undercut Mr. Ryan, but he undercut himself. His grimaces and laughter were reminiscent of Al Gore's sighs in 2000—theatrical, off-putting and in the end self-indicting.

Mr. Ryan was generally earnest, fluid, somewhat wonky, confident. He occasionally teetered on the edge of glibness and sometimes fell off.

Mr. Ryan was strong on spending and taxes. On foreign affairs and defense spending, he was on weaker ground. Medicare and Social Security were probably a draw.

[T]he problem with the debate: it was the weird distance between style and content, and the degree to which Mr. Biden's style poisoned his content. 

In terms of content—the seriousness and strength of one's positions and the ability to argue for them—the debate was probably a draw, with both candidates having strong moments. But in terms of style, Mr. Biden was so childishly manipulative that it will be surprising if independents and undecideds liked what they saw.

Meaning the next debate is even more important. Which means, since the next debate is a town hall and won't be mano-a-mano at the podium, that the third debate, on foreign policy, will be the most important of all.

Ms. Raddatz acquitted herself admirably, keeping things moving, allowing the candidates to engage, probing. There was a real humanity to her presence. We just saw Jim Lehrer beat up for what was also good work. May her excellence go unpunished.

G.O.P. Senate Hopes Fade, Even as Romney’s Rise, Polls Show

From The New York Times:

Mitt Romney has had a pronounced change of fortunes since the first presidential debate in Denver. After trailing President Obama by 4 or 5 points in the polls on Oct. 1 — a position that very few candidates have come back from — he now holds ties or small leads in many national polls and has cut the advantage Mr. Obama had in swing states to a razor-thin margin.

There is little sign, however, that Mr. Romney’s rebound has translated into races for the Senate. Although Republicans have made modest gains in a few Senate races, the polls have been poor for them on the whole. Some races have already gotten away from them, while others are on the verge of being lost.

The FiveThirtyEight forecast model now gives Republicans just about a 16 percent chance of winning control of the Senate. This is a precipitous drop from just two months ago. On Aug. 19, the forecast put their odds at close to 62 percent.

Emblematic of Republicans’ problems is Florida, a state where Mr. Romney has made considerable gains in the polls and where their Senate candidate, Representative Connie Mack, had drawn nearly even this summer with the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. But Mr. Mack fell behind in the polls in September, and two of the four polls published since the presidential debate had Mr. Nelson with a double-digit lead. Another poll showed Mr. Mack down by 5 points, despite giving Mr. Romney a 7-point lead in the presidential race.

The Republican candidate in Ohio, State Treasurer Josh Mandel, has followed a similar trajectory to Mr. Mack, with most surveys showing the Democratic incumbent, Sherrod Brown, with a solid lead. In Michigan, the Republican candidate, former Representative Peter Hoekstra, fell behind in the race early and now lags by double digits.

Three other races remain highly competitive but are showing the Democratic candidate with a more consistent lead in the polls.

One case is Massachusetts, where the Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, has led in four of five polls since the presidential debate. In Wisconsin, the Democrat, Representative Tammy Baldwin, has led in all post-debate surveys.

The polling has been more varied in Virginia, a battle between a Democratic former governor, Tim Kaine, and a Republican former senator, George Allen. But Mr. Kaine pulled slightly ahead in the polls in September and has continued to lead in a majority of post-debate polls.

There have been no polls of Missouri taken since the debate, but two conducted just before it had the incumbent, Claire McCaskill, with a 6-point lead over her Republican challenger, Representative Todd Akin.

Republican candidates are also struggling to hold their ground in other races that once appeared to be likely wins for them. The most recent poll of North Dakota showed an exact tie between the Democrat, Heidi Heitkamp, and the Republican, Representative Rick Berg.

There have been few high-quality polls of the Senate race in Arizona, but the available ones suggest an extremely close race, even though the Republican, Representative Jeff Flake, was once favored to beat the Democrat, Richard Carmona.

The FiveThirtyEight Senate forecasts still list the Republicans as favorites in Arizona and North Dakota given the states’ history of voting Republican. But it has a third red-leaning state, Indiana, as a dead heat between the Republican, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, and the Democrat, Representative Joe Donnelly.

Republicans have gotten better news in a few Senate races. In Nevada, Senator Dean Heller continues to hold the lead over the Democrat, Representative Shelley Berkley. In Connecticut, Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate, has remained competitive against the Democrat, Representative Christopher S. Murphy, although Mr. Murphy led in the only post-debate poll.

The best news for Republicans, however, may be Mr. Romney’s gains. If he wins the Electoral College, they would be able to control the Senate with a net gain of three seats since the new vice president, Paul D. Ryan, would then cast the tiebreaking vote.

Republicans’ best route to pick up three seats would be in Nebraska, where they are nearly assured of a win, and North Dakota and Montana, where the FiveThirtyEight model has the Democratic incumbent, Jon Tester, as a slight underdog to his Republican challenger, Representative Denny Rehberg.

But Republicans are likely to lose a seat in Maine, where the independent candidate, former Gov. Angus King, remains well ahead in the polls and is likely to caucus with Democrats if he wins. And in Massachusetts, the Republican senator, Scott P. Brown, is now the underdog to Ms. Warren.

Even if Republicans avoided taking any other losses — and even if Mr. Romney won the presidency — they would then need to find two more Democratic seats. Connecticut, Virginia and Wisconsin remain the most likely possibilities, but the Republicans are modest underdogs in each race.

And if Democrats win the tossup races, they could actually gain Senate seats. Only Nebraska looks like a sure loss for them, while Arizona, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada are all potential pickups.

That could bolster Democratic prospects for 2014, when Democrats will again have more incumbents up for re-election and will face a challenging climate in states like Alaska and Louisiana.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

If we don’t get Medicare right, there’s no money for anything else. On this particular policy issue, the Republicans have the edge.

David Broooks writes in The New York Times:

In Thursday night’s debate, Vice President Joe Biden will almost certainly go after Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. And why shouldn’t he? It’s unpopular. But I’d like to make a case for that plan. It’s the best thing the Romney-Ryan campaign has going for it.
First, let’s define the problem. Today, Medicare costs about $550 billion. By 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it will cost more than $1 trillion, sucking money away from every other government program.
According to the Urban Institute, the average couple in 2010 had paid $109,000 in Medicare taxes during their working years but would be able to receive about $343,000 in benefits. A chunk of that $234,000 gap will be paid for by their grandkids. That should weigh on the conscience of every American over 55. You’re supposed to help your grandkids, not take from them.
Basically, there are two ways to reduce Medicare inflation, through the political system or through a market system. Obamacare tries the former. The current budget projections are so bad because almost no one outside the employ of the president believes this approach will reduce Medicare costs. Obama’s primary cost-control instrument is an independent board of experts that Mitt Romney mentioned often in last week’s debate. It’s supposed to lower payment levels.
There are problems. It’s hard for a few people in Washington to centrally rejigger something that complex. Second, the board is not really out of political control. Congress has already restricted its power and has devised gimmicky ways to overrule an unpopular decision. (All decisions to restrict benefits are unpopular.)
The history of Medicare is strewed with efforts to control costs by controlling prices. The results are terrible. Providers just increase the number of services, redefine the classification of services or find other ways to get their money back. A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that, between 1997 and 2005, Medicare payments for individual treatments fell by 5 percent, but the total spent on these services skyrocketed by 35 percent. Doctors made up in volume what they lost in reimbursement levels.
The second approach is to replace the fee-for-service system with more normal market incentives. Give recipients a choice among insurance options and have providers compete to offer comprehensive coverage like today’s Medicare.
This idea has been floating around for a while, and it used to be popular in parts of the Democratic Party until the party swung left. Senator John Breaux, a Democrat, co-led a commission that promoted this idea in 1997. Bill Clinton floated a “managed competition” plan for Medicare late in his presidency. Democrat Alice Rivlin and Republican Pete Domenici have co-authored a premium support plan for the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Paul Ryan wrote his own version a few years ago and has come up with a more moderate version with Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat. Whenever you hear a Democrat say that Romney and Ryan would end Medicare or cost seniors $6,000, that is a misleading reference to the original Ryan plan, not anything on offer today. Today’s Romney plan would not shift costs to seniors.
Would a market-based approach reduce costs? There are some reasons to think so. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that if Ryan-Wyden had been in place between 2006 and 2009, costs might have come down by around 9 percent with no reduction in benefits. Under a demonstration project in Denver in the 1990s, private plans bid 25 percent to 38 percent less than government-determined payment rates.
The Medicare drug benefit began in 2006 with a voucher approach. Costs have been about 30 percent below early estimates. A RAND Corporation study of consumer-directed high deductible plans found that when families had an incentive to monitor costs, they spent about 14 percent less.
Do these and other studies prove that market-based approaches would work? Absolutely not. In each case, the situation is complicated. Voucher plans may save money, but perhaps by shedding the sickest customers.
There are serious health economists who scoff at market-based strategies. Others just don’t know. The leader of the Congressional Budget Office, Doug Elmendorf, candidly admitted at a Congressional hearing that his agency doesn’t know how behavior would change under this sort of competition.
My bottom line is this: The status quo is cataclysmic. The national debt problem is a Medicare problem. The Democrats’ price-control approach has little chance of working.
The Romney-Ryan approach might work. If it doesn’t, the federal budget would suffer but seniors wouldn’t. Today’s seniors would be left untouched anyway, and tomorrow’s would have the option of private plans or traditional Medicare. At worst, if the market approach flopped, we’d be back to where we started.
If we don’t get Medicare right, there’s no money for anything else. On this particular policy issue, the Republicans have the edge.

Brave Talaban: Taliban Gun Down Girl Who Spoke Up for Rights

From The New York Times:

At the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai took on the Taliban by giving voice to her dreams. As turbaned fighters swept through her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, the tiny schoolgirl spoke out about her passion for education — she wanted to become a doctor, she said — and became a symbol of defiance against Taliban subjugation.

On Tuesday, masked Taliban gunmen answered Ms. Yousafzai’s courage with bullets, singling out the 14-year-old on a bus filled with terrified schoolchildren, then shooting her in the head and neck. Two other girls were also wounded in the attack. All three survived, but late on Tuesday doctors said that Ms. Yousafzai was in critical condition at a hospital in Peshawar, with a bullet possibly lodged close to her brain.