.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Cracker Squire


My Photo
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, July 31, 2014

Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent - “I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas, The silence is deafening.”

From The New York Times:

CAIRO — Battling Palestinian militants in Gaza two years ago, Israel found itself pressed from all sides by unfriendly Arab neighbors to end the fighting.
Not this time.
After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.

“The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents.
“I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas,” he said. “The silence is deafening.”
Although Egypt is traditionally the key go-between in any talks with Hamas — deemed a terrorist group by the United States and Israel — the government in Cairo this time surprised Hamas by publicly proposing a cease-fire agreement that met most of Israel’s demands and none from the Palestinian group. Hamas was tarred as intransigent when it immediately rejected it, and Cairo has continued to insist that its proposal remains the starting point for any further discussions.
But as commentators sympathetic to the Palestinians slammed the proposal as a ruse to embarrass Hamas, Egypt’s Arab allies praised it. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt the next day to commend it, Mr. Sisi’s office said, in a statement that cast no blame on Israel but referred only to “the bloodshed of innocent civilians who are paying the price for a military confrontation for which they are not responsible.” 
“There is clearly a convergence of interests of these various regimes with Israel,” said Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to Palestinian negotiators who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. In the battle with Hamas, Mr. Elgindy said, the Egyptian fight against the forces of political Islam and the Israeli struggle against Palestinian militants were nearly identical. “Whose proxy war is it?” he asked.
The dynamic has inverted all expectations of the Arab Spring uprisings. As recently as 18 months ago, most analysts in Israel, Washington and the Palestinian territories expected the popular uprisings to make the Arab governments more responsive to their citizens, and therefore more sympathetic to the Palestinians and more hostile to Israel.
But instead of becoming more isolated, Israel’s government has emerged for the moment as an unexpected beneficiary of the ensuing tumult, now tacitly supported by the leaders of the resurgent conservative order as an ally in their common fight against political Islam.
Egyptian officials have directly or implicitly blamed Hamas instead of Israel for Palestinian deaths in the fighting, even when, for example, United Nations schools have been hit by Israeli shells, something that occurred again on Wednesday.
And the pro-government Egyptian news media has continued to rail against Hamas as a tool of a regional Islamist plot to destabilize Egypt and the region, just as it has since the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood one year ago. (Egyptian prosecutors have charged Hamas with instigating violence in Egypt, killing its soldiers and police officers, and even breaking Mr. Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders out of jail during the 2011 uprising.)
The diatribes against Hamas by at least one popular pro-government talk show host in Egypt were so extreme that the government of Israel broadcast some of them into Gaza.
“They use it to say, ‘See, your supposed friends are encouraging us to kill you!’ ” Maisam Abumorr, a Palestinian student in Gaza City, said in a telephone interview.
Some pro-government Egyptian talk shows broadcast in Gaza “are saying the Egyptian Army should help the Israeli Army get rid of Hamas,” she said.
At the same time, Egypt has infuriated Gazans by continuing its policy of shutting down tunnels used for cross-border smuggling into the Gaza Strip and keeping border crossings closed, exacerbating a scarcity of food, water and medical supplies after three weeks of fighting.
“Sisi is worse than Netanyahu, and the Egyptians are conspiring against us more than the Jews,” said Salhan al-Hirish, a storekeeper in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. “They finished the Brotherhood in Egypt, and now they are going after Hamas.”
Egypt and other Arab states, especially the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are finding themselves allied with Israel in a common opposition to Iran, a rival regional power that has a history of funding and arming Hamas.
For Washington, the shift poses new obstacles to its efforts to end the fighting. Although Egyptian intelligence agencies continue to talk with Hamas, as they did under former President Hosni Mubarak and Mr. Morsi, Cairo’s new animosity toward the group has called into question the effectiveness of that channel, especially after the response to Egypt’s first proposal. 

As a result, Secretary of State John Kerry turned to the more Islamist-friendly states of Qatar and Turkey as alternative mediators — two states that grew in regional stature with the rising tide of political Islam after the Arab Spring, and that have suffered a degree of isolation as that tide has ebbed.
But that move has put Mr. Kerry in the incongruous position of appearing to some analysts as less hostile to Hamas — and thus less supportive of Israel — than Egypt or its Arab allies.
For Israeli hawks, the change in the Arab states has been relatively liberating.
“The reading here is that, aside from Hamas and Qatar, most of the Arab governments are either indifferent or willing to follow the leadership of Egypt,” said Martin Kramer, president of Shalem College in Jerusalem and an American-Israeli scholar of Islamist and Arab politics. “No one in the Arab world is going to the Americans and telling them, ‘Stop it now,’ ” as Saudi Arabia did, for example, in response to earlier Israeli crackdowns on the Palestinians, he said. “That gives the Israelis leeway.”
With the resurgence of the anti-Islamist, military-backed government in Cairo, Mr. Kramer said, the new Egyptian government and allies like Saudi Arabia appear to believe that “the Palestinian people are to bear the suffering in order to defeat Hamas, because Hamas cannot be allowed to triumph and cannot be allowed to emerge as the most powerful Palestinian player.”
Egyptian officials disputed that characterization, arguing that the new government was maintaining its support for the Palestinian people despite its deteriorating relations with Hamas, and that it had grown no closer to Israel than it was under Mr. Morsi or Mr. Mubarak.
“We have a historical responsibility toward the Palestinians, and that is not related to our stance on any specific faction,” said a senior Egyptian diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. “Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Palestine.” 
Egyptian officials noted that the Egyptian military and the Red Crescent had delivered medical supplies and other aid to Gaza. Cairo continues to keep open lines of communication with Hamas, including allowing a senior Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouq, to reside in Cairo.
Other analysts, though, argued that Egypt and its Arab allies were trying to balance their own overriding dislike for Hamas against their citizens’ emotional support for the Palestinians, a balancing act that could grow more challenging as the Gaza carnage mounts.
“The pendulum of the Arab Spring has swung in Israel’s favor, just like it had earlier swung in the opposite direction,” said Mr. Elgindy, the former Palestinian adviser.
“But I am not sure the story is finished at this point.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chief Executive to do job as he see fit rather than what law requres; amazing: Obama Weighs Fewer Deportations of Illegal Immigrants Living in U.S. - Movement Toward Broad Steps, Including Work Permits, Follows Demise of Legislation

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—For months, President Barack Obama said there were limits to his power to protect people living illegally in the U.S. from deportation. Now, he is considering broad action to scale back deportations that could include work permits for millions of people, according to lawmakers and immigration advocates who have consulted with the White House.

The shift in White House thinking came after House Republicans said they wouldn't take up immigration legislation, which Mr. Obama and advocates for immigrants had hoped would create a path to citizenship for many in the U.S. illegally.

Mr. Obama already has offered work permits and safe harbor from deportation to so-called Dreamers—about 500,000 people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The new action could expand those protections to their parents or to other sets of illegal immigrants.
Such a move would please many Hispanic Americans and immigrant-rights advocates, who have pressed Mr. Obama to use executive authority to protect illegal immigrants with roots in the U.S. But it certainly would anger Republicans, who say Mr. Obama already has overstepped his authority by expanding protections from deportation.

"Such unlawful and unconstitutional action, if taken, cannot stand," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) said on the Senate floor this week.
An announcement is expected soon after Labor Day, an administration official said. The White House said Tuesday that no decisions on new deportation policy had been made.

The matter is being debated as the administration also responds to a surge in Central American children crossing the U.S. border. In that case, Mr. Obama has taken a tough stance, saying that everyone who doesn't meet narrow legal criteria to stay will be deported.

The border crisis doesn't appear to be dissuading Mr. Obama from considering policy changes to offer a measure of safe harbor for at least some of the 11 million people already settled illegally in the U.S. After legislation died in Congress that would grant many of them a route to citizenship, he said he would "fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress."

Last month, Mr. Obama told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus he was prepared to take significant executive action, said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.). The lawmaker said Mr. Obama suggested he would offer safe harbor from deportation to certain illegal immigrants with roots in their communities and family ties to U.S. citizens.

One option under consideration would expand the program that offers work permits and protection from deportation to many young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

In a series of meetings with immigration advocates, faith leaders and experts, senior White House officials have asked how the administration might structure an expansion of that program, such as who might be included, participants said. The meetings have been run by White House Counsel Neil Eggleston and Cecilia Munoz, who heads the White House Domestic Policy Council.

One possibility under discussion is to protect people with children who are U.S. citizens, participants said. That group numbers about 4.4 million, according to the research group National Foundation for American Policy.

Another option is to include parents of existing participants in the deferred-action program, a group estimated to range from 550,000 to 1.1 million. Other options include defining the group based on length of U.S. residence or employment status.

Participants said administration officials have also asked about an alternative approach to protecting people called "parole in place," which has a different legal foundation but also could allow the government to issue work permits to illegal immigrants.

"It was clear the administration is really, finally looking at providing a temporary solution to the 11 million that are here," said one participant, Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. Laura Murphy, who heads the ACLU's Washington legislative office, said she came out of her meeting sure that the administration is considering significant action to help undocumented residents.

The White House is currently debating the limits of its legal authority, knowing its actions could be challenged in court by opponents.

In the spring, Mr. Obama announced an administrative review of deportation policy, and for months, administration officials signaled the results would be modest, partly to keep the pressure on Congress to enact a permanent fix.

The ideas discussed then are still under consideration, officials said. Those included making it clear that people with immigration violations but not criminal records aren't priorities for deportation, and changes to the controversial Secure Communities program, which uses local law-enforcement agencies to identify and hold people in the U.S. illegally.

In the past, Mr. Obama suggested he didn't have the power to do more. At an event last fall, a heckler yelled that he had the power to stop deportations. He replied, "Actually, I don't. If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we're also a nation of laws."

The change in heart also comes after significant pressure from immigration activists, who have branded Mr. Obama the "deporter in chief" for record deportations under his administration. That continues on Thursday, when faith leaders will protest outside the White House, and then on Saturday, with a march from the National Mall to the White House sponsored by the #Not1More campaign.

Marisa Franco, who is helping to organize the march for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said her group was pushing for safe harbor for an even larger group—some 8 million people who would be eligible for legal status under legislation passed by the Senate. "The only question left is the scope of the change the president will make and whether it will be the fullest of what people deserve," she said.

Activists pressured Mr. Obama in 2012 to offer safe harbor to young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The White House at first said it had no power to do so, and then changed its mind.

One person familiar with the internal discussions said shifts like this come about because policy makers are initially told by White House lawyers that a particular executive action is "challenging and hard." That was the case with the deferred-action program for some children. When policy aides later pushed and ask for a full vetting by the lawyers, the lawyers then concluded the action was "aggressive" but permissible under the law, this person said.

Monday, July 28, 2014

New U.S. help arrives for Syrian rebels as government, extremists gain

From The Washington Post:

A U.S.-backed effort to arm the moderate Syrian opposition is finally ramping up along the Turkey-Syria border, but it may come too late to save the rebels from defeats on two fronts, by President Bashar al-Assad’s government and by the extremists seeking to carve out an Islamic state.

Spurred by concerns that the al-Qaeda-inspired radicals will continue their relentless march across Iraq and Syria, the United States and its allies have begun accelerating the supply of arms and ammunition to a small number of vetted rebel groups in northern Syria, according to diplomats and rebels who have been receiving the deliveries.

Yet even as the fresh support arrives, challenges are mounting for the embattled moderates, who have been pushed out of eastern Syria by extremists, are being encircled in Aleppo by the government and are seeing their ranks eroded by defeats, desertions and infighting.

The outlook for the revolt against Assad’s rule is now bleaker than at any time in the past three years, rebel commanders say, diminishing the chances that the opposition will be able to present any meaningful challenge to the regime or even to serve as a counterweight to Islamist radicals, as U.S. policymakers are hoping.

Prospects Brighten for Republicans to Reclaim a Senate Majority - Strong GOP Candidates, Obama's Sagging Approval Expand Party's Map

From The Wall Street Journal:

With 100 days to go until the midterm election, unexpectedly strong bids by several Republican candidates and President Barack Obama's continued sagging approval ratings are boosting GOP chances of capturing a Senate majority.

A battery of recent polling shows Republican candidates mounting competitive bids for at least 10 Senate seats now held by Democrats, including in Iowa and Colorado, states that have been leaning Democratic in recent years. Many Republican candidates have narrowed their opponents' fundraising advantage, according to the latest campaign-finance reports. And a series of international crises has dealt the president some of the lowest approval marks of his second term, weighing on his party's candidates.
This year's map clearly favors the GOP even as Democrats continue to lead on the question of which party Americans would rather see control Congress, according to a compilation of polls by the website Real Clear Politics. The Republican Party also remains far less popular than the president or the Democratic Party, public-opinion surveys show, particularly among women.
But Republicans this year are betting on an anti-Obama message, linking Democratic candidates to a president who is unpopular in many of the battleground states. Democrats, meanwhile, are doing what incumbents typically do when facing a negative election environment: building campaigns around local issues and reminding voters of all the things they do in Washington to help people back home.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

How the U.S. Stumbled Into the Drone Era - Before 9/11, Washington was still locked in debate over a now familiar weapon

From The Wall Street Journal:

On Sept. 7, 2000, in the waning days of the Clinton administration, a U.S. Predator drone flew over Afghanistan for the first time. The unmanned, unarmed plane buzzed over Tarnak Farms, a major al Qaeda camp. When U.S. analysts later pored over video footage from this maiden voyage, they were struck by the image of a commandingly tall man clad in white robes. CIA analysts later concluded that he was Osama bin Laden.

From that first mission, the drone program has grown into perhaps the most prominent instrument of U.S. counterterrorism policy—and, for many in the Muslim world, a synonym for American callousness and arrogance. The U.S. has used drones to support ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and, particularly under President Barack Obama, to hammer the high command of al Qaeda. A recent study by the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C., estimates that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 2,000 to 4,000 people. Other countries are trying to get into the act, including Iran, which U.S. officials say has flown drones over Iraq during the current crisis there.

Drones seem to be everywhere these days, buzzing into civilian life and even pop culture. French players complained before the World Cup that a mysterious drone-borne camera had spied on their training sessions. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos hopes to use drones for faster home delivery. Tom Cruise starred last summer as a futuristic drone repairman in the sci-fi thriller "Oblivion," and Captain America himself faced down lethal super-drones in this spring's "The Winter Soldier." Hollywood is even using drones in real life, helping to film such tricky scenes as the chase early in the 2012 James Bond caper "Skyfall," when Daniel Craig as 007 races across the rooftops of Istanbul.
But as ubiquitous as Predators, Reapers, Global Hawks and their ilk may now seem, the U.S. actually stumbled into the drone era. Washington got into the business of using drones for counterterrorism well before 9/11—not out of any steely strategic design or master plan but out of bureaucratic frustration, bickering and a series of only half-intentional decisions.
The birth of the armed-drone program underscores two central ironies. First, the weapon that the U.S. deployed so eagerly after 9/11 was a hot potato that it juggled around internally beforehand. (Indeed, the George W. Bush administration devoted most of its lone pre-9/11 cabinet-level meeting on al Qaeda—convened on Sept. 4, 2001—to wrangling about the drone program.) Second, for a program now so widely criticized in the Muslim world for killing civilians, pre-9/11 policy makers were actually driven toward armed drones because the more traditional alternatives involved unacceptable risks of collateral damage.
The origins of the armed-drone program have long been hiding in broad daylight—in the pages of "The 9/11 Commission Report," released 10 years ago this week. (I was one of the many commission staffers who pieced together the story; details in this article are from the report, unless noted otherwise.)
The U.S. wound up using drones only after trying many other ways to take the fight to al Qaeda, which was proving increasingly lethal—particularly after Aug. 7, 1998, when its suicide bombers destroyed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Bin Laden survived U.S. reprisal airstrikes on Afghanistan, and the Clinton administration began a frustrating search for other options—ranging from working with unreliable proxy forces to try to capture bin Laden to a cumbersome proposal to kill him with Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from submarines in the Arabian Sea. But many senior officials never felt they had truly "actionable intelligence" for such strikes, the risk of killing nearby civilians loomed large, and the lag time between learning of bin Laden's whereabouts and the missiles' impact would have given him hours to move.
In March 2000, after Mr. Clinton complained that the U.S. could surely do better against bin Laden, counterterrorism officials renewed their brainstorming. One key problem: The intelligence community wasn't coming up with information about bin Laden's whereabouts reliable enough to green-light airstrikes. Pentagon officials suggested flying unarmed Predator drones over al Qaeda camps. Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief, liked the idea and dubbed it "Afghan Eyes."
The Predator is a snub-nosed, light, unmanned plane with a wingspan of about 55 feet, made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. More primitive Predators were first flown in 1994, when the Pentagon hoped that they would provide aerial video and reconnaissance to help dominate 21st-century battlefields. But they were built as surveillance platforms, not as remote-control bombers.
After the first Predator buzzed Afghanistan in 2000, Mr. Clarke called the footage "truly astonishing." After another drone flight on Sept. 28 spotted the "man in white," the intelligence community concluded that he was probably bin Laden.
Counterterrorism officials grew more eager for drone missions after al Qaeda operatives in Yemen rammed the USS Cole on Oct. 12 of that year, leaving 17 U.S. sailors dead. Mr. Clarke's staff prepared a strategy paper calling for more Predator flights starting in March 2001, after the worst of the Afghan winter. But it was only after 9/11 that the new Bush administration flew drones over Afghanistan.
Mr. Clarke, who had been kept on at the National Security Council, grew even more excited after he learned that the Air Force might be able to rig up Predators with Hellfire missiles—allowing the U.S. to spot and shoot bin Laden from the same platform. But Cofer Black, the head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, wanted to wait until armed drones were ready, writing that "the possible recon value" paled beside the risk of "the Taliban parading a charred Predator in front of CNN." The new national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, backed the CIA and held off on reconnaissance flights.
As intelligence flooded in during the summer of 2001 about potentially "spectacular" al Qaeda attacks, the CIA and the Pentagon bickered about the costs and control of the drone program. Meanwhile, George Tenet, the CIA director, was "appalled" by the idea of CIA leaders deciding whether to take a shot with an armed drone.
During the Bush administration's first cabinet-level meeting on al Qaeda, the still-grounded drones dominated the discussion. Dr. Rice suggested holding off until the spring and then flying armed Predators. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was "skittish" about trying to kill an individual with a drone. Senior officials grappled with who would pull the trigger: Mr. Tenet or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld? Having foregone months of reconnaissance flights, the administration now concluded that they were a "good idea," and Mr. Tenet told the CIA to prepare for them.
They were still preparing a week later, on Sept. 11.
In November 2001, a Predator drone killed al Qaeda's military commander, Muhammad Atef —the "first known killing by armed drones," according to the Council on Foreign Relations. A counterterrorism instrument that had confounded policy makers before 9/11 began to turn into a favored weapon in the U.S. arsenal.
Drones have since become a formidable symbol of American power—in ways that those present at the creation could scarcely have imagined.

So sad: Jihadists in Iraq Erase Cultural Heritage - Tomb of Jonah, who was revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims

From The Wall Street Journal:

BAGHDAD—A campaign by Sunni insurgents to establish an Islamic caliphate across Iraq and Syria and expel other Muslim sects and religions is taking a sharp toll on the countries' cultural heritage.

The latest casualty was a shrine in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul said to contain the tomb of Jonah, who is revered as a prophet by Jews, Christians and Muslims—who call him Younes. The Nabi Younes Mosque, a towering structure that housed the shrine, was also destroyed in Thursday's blast.

Militants from Islamic State, the al Qaeda spinoff that seized Mosul on June 10, wired the periphery of the mosque with explosives and then detonated them, residents said, erasing a revered piece of Iraqi heritage. It collapsed in a massive explosion that sent clouds of sand and dust tumbling into the air.

"They turned it to sand, along with all other tombs and shrines," said Omar Ibrahim, a dentist in Mosul. "But Prophet Younes is something different. It was a symbol of Mosul," said Mr. Ibrahim, a Sunni. "We cried for it with our blood."

Though its population is predominantly Sunni, Mosul was a symbol of religious intermingling and tolerance in Iraq. Nineveh, the wider province, is a Assyrian Christian center dating back thousands of years. That Jonah's shrine was in a mosque was a proud reflection of that coexistence.

Visitors used to stream from across Iraq to pray at the mosque, unique in the country for its grand ascending stairs and alabaster floors. Its large prayer rooms had arched entrances inscribed elaborately with Quranic verses.
The site was a monastery centuries ago before it was turned into a mosque, said Emil Nona, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul. "Nabi Younes was famous in the city of Mosul, the most famous mosque in the area," Archbishop Nona said. "I'm very sorry to see this place destroyed."

Islamic State and other groups following ultraconservative Sunni ideology believe the veneration of shrines or tombs is unholy. Many also denounce the veneration of any prophet besides Muhammad, believed by Muslims to be God's messenger.

The group has announced by decree its plan to destroy graves and shrines, a strategy it has already followed in neighboring Syria, where the militants have thrived in parts of the north and east.
In Mosul, they have already destroyed at least two dozen shrines, as well as Shiite places of worship, and raided the Mosul Museum, officials said.
"This most recent outrage is yet another demonstration of the terrorist group's intention to shatter Iraq's shared heritage and identity," said Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations secretary-general's special representative for Iraq, on Friday.
Iraqi officials at the tourism ministry and religious officials in Mosul confirmed the shrine as destroyed in a militant attack on Thursday. The attack is captured in amateur video footage shot by locals and posted online. In one, a thick plume of brown smoke rises in the air, presumably over the mosque as it collapsed, as the narrator says: "No, no, no. There goes the Prophet Younes."
The shrine held particular significance for Iraqis because Jonah—who in stories in both the Bible and Quran is swallowed by a whale—"was a prophet for all," said Fawziya al-Maliky, director of heritage at the tourism ministry. "We don't know what these backward militants are thinking, what kind of Islam they are pursuing," she said. "They are pursuing the end of civilization."
The attack was another blow to the country's Christian community. The Islamic State has been pursuing a deliberate anti-Christian campaign in Iraq.
Thousands of Christians fled Mosul last week after Islamic State posed an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a tax, flee or face death. Christian residents said they were terrorized and humiliated in their own city as militants singled out their homes.
Candida Moss, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, called it "part of the irreversible eradication of Christian history and culture in Iraq."

See also this 7-31-2014 article in The New York Times.

In U.S. custody, migrant kids are flown thousands of miles at taxpayer expense

From The Washington Post:

Before they sloshed and skidded across the Rio Grande, Greysi and Claudia Paula had never been on a plane.

Now the teenage Honduran sisters are frequent fliers, crisscrossing America on government chartered jets and settling into commercial airliner seats at taxpayer expense. In the harried and jumbled scramble to house a wave of unaccompanied minors illegally entering the United States, U.S. officials have ordered the girls flown from Texas to Arizona, from Arizona to Oklahoma and from Oklahoma back to Arizona — all in a matter of weeks.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Most Migrant Children Entering U.S. Are Now With Relatives, Data Show

From The New York Times:

LOS ANGELES — The vast majority of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in the United States from Central America this year have been released to relatives in states with large established Central American populations, according to federal data released Thursday night.

A total of 30,340 children have been released to sponsors — primarily parents and other relatives — from the start of the year through July 7, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has overseen the care of the children after they are turned over by Customs and Border Protection. More children have been released in Texas than in any other state, with sponsors there receiving 4,280 children, followed by New York with 3,347. Florida has received 3,181 children and California 3,150. Maryland and Virginia have each also received more than 2,200 children.
The numbers do not include those children who are still being cared for in shelters, which have prompted the most outrage from governors and other local officials across the country. Many children who are placed in shelters for some period of time — anywhere between a few days and a few months — have later been released to family members.
Officials have said that more than half of all children initially placed in shelters have gone on to be reunited with at least one parent already living in the United States, and 85 percent of all children have been placed with a close family member.

Payback time is here: Health-Law Patients Boost Hospital Profits

From The Wall Street Journal:

A wave of newly insured patients helped boost hospitals' earnings in recent months, two hospital operators said Friday, a sign the law's coverage expansion is leading more patients to seek treatment.

Under the law, up to 26 million people are expected to gain coverage over the next few years through expanded state-run Medicaid programs and through the new, online marketplaces that allow consumers to get subsidies to buy coverage. Many who were previously uninsured already received hospital care, but sometimes racked up bills that were never paid.

The hospital industry supported the 2010 law—which was expected to cost hospitals $155 billion in penalties and government pay cuts over a decade—on the promise that it would deliver a wave of new, paying patients. But hitches as the law rolled out, including a Supreme Court decision that allowed states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion and a troubled launch of the marketplace websites, threw doubt on whether those gains would materialize.

The War That Broke a Century - A king, a kaiser, a czar—all were undone as they realized what they had unleashed with World War I.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Next week marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. It was the great disaster of the 20th century, the one that summoned or forced the disasters that would follow, from Lenin and Hitler to World War II and the Cold War. It is still, a century later, almost impossible to believe that one event, even a war, could cause such destruction, such an ending of worlds.

History still isn't sure and can never be certain of the exact number of casualties. Christopher Clark, in "The Sleepwalkers" (2013), puts it at 20 million military and civilian deaths and 21 million wounded. The war unleashed Bolshevism, which brought communism, which in time would kill tens of millions more throughout the world. (In 1997, "The Black Book of Communism," written by European academics, put the total number at a staggering 94 million.)

Thrones were toppled, empires undone. Western Europe lost a generation of its most educated and patriotic, its future leaders from all classes—aristocrats and tradesmen, teachers, carpenters and poets. No nation can lose a generation of such men without effect. Their loss left Europe, among other things, dumber.

Reading World War I histories, I have been startled to realize the extent to which the leaders or putative leaders of the belligerent nations personally suffered. A number of them fell apart, staggering under the pressure, as if at some point in the day-to-day they realized the true size and implications of the endeavor in which they were immersed. They seemed to come to understand, after the early hurrahs, that they were involved in the central catastrophe of the 20th century, and it was too big, too consequential, too history-making to be borne. Some would spend the years after the war insisting, sometimes at odd moments, that it wasn't their fault.

As Miranda Carter shows in " George, Nicholas and Wilhelm " (2010), the king of England, the czar of Russia and the kaiser of Germany—all cousins, all grandchildren of Victoria—were all in different ways wrecked by the war.

Kaiser Wilhelm, whose bombast, peculiarities of personality and lack of wisdom did so much to bring the conflict, folded almost from the start. Two years in, he was described by those around him as a "broken man"—depressed, lethargic, ill. An aide wrote of him as "violent and unpredictable."

Barbara Tuchman, in the classic "The Guns of August" (1962), notes how in the early days of the war Wilhelm's margin notes on telegrams became "more agitated." ("Rot!" "He lies!" "False dog!") In time, top brass shunted him aside and viewed him as irrelevant. The kaiser rarely referred to the sufferings of his people. Ms. Carter writes: "Wilhelm had always had difficulty in empathizing with others' difficulties." When his country collapsed, he fled to Holland, where in conversation he referred to his countrymen as "pigs" and insisted that the war was the fault of others. He died at age 81 in 1941, two years into World War II.

King George V did have empathy, and it almost killed him. Touring the Western Front, he suffered at the sights—once-rich fields now charred craters, villages blasted away, piles of dead bodies. He aged overnight, his beard turning almost white. Ms. Carter writes that he now surveyed the world with a "dogged, melancholic, unsmiling stare." A year into the war, a horse he was riding on a visit to the front got frightened, reared, and fell on him. The king never fully recovered from the injuries. Years later, he was haunted by what he called "that horrible and unnecessary war." In 1935, war clouds gathering once again, he met up with his wartime prime minister. The king, wrote Lloyd George, "broke out vehemently, 'And I will not have another war, I will not.' " He also said that the Great War had not been his fault. He died the following year.

Czar Nicholas II of Russia, of course, would lose everything—his throne and his life, as his family would lose theirs. But from the early days of the war he too was buckling. His former chief minister, Vladimir Kokovtsov, called Nicholas's faded eyes "lifeless." In the middle of conversations, the czar lost the thread, and a simple question would reduce him to "a perfectly incomprehensible state of helplessness."

Two years in, Kokovtsov thought Nicholas on the verge of nervous breakdown. So did the French ambassador, who wrote in the summer of 1916: "Despondency, apathy and resignation can be seen in his actions, appearance, attitudes and all the manifestations of the inner man." The czar wore a constant, vacant smile, but glanced about nervously. Friendly warnings that the war was not being won and revolution could follow were ignored. For him, in Ms. Carter's words, "Contradiction now constituted betrayal." At the end, those close to Nicholas wondered if he failed to move to save his throne because he preferred a crisis that might force his abdication—and the lifting of burdens he now crushingly understood he could not sustain.

Then there is Woodrow Wilson at his second Versailles peace conference, in the spring of 1919. Negotiations were draining, occasionally volatile. The victors postured, schemed and turned on each other for gain. They had literally argued about whether windows should be opened, and about what language should be the official one of the talks. (They settled on three.) President Wilson developed insomnia and a twitch on the left side of his face. He was constantly tired, occasionally paranoid. After a trying meeting with France's finance minister, Louis Klotz, Wilson joked with a friend of his weariness: "I have Klotz on the brain."

He may have. Weeks earlier, weak and feverish, he had physically collapsed. It was a flu, a cold, possibly encephalitis. He rallied and returned to work but sometimes appeared impatient, euphoric or energized to the point of manic.

On the afternoon of May 1 at the peace conference, Wilson suddenly announced in his office, to his wife and his doctor, Adm. Cary Grayson, "I don't like the way the colors of this furniture fight each other." As biographer A. Scott Berg notes in "Wilson," published last year, the president continued, saying: "The greens and the reds are all mixed up here and there is no harmony. Here is a big purpose, high-backed covered chair, which is like the Purple Cow, strayed off to itself, and it is placed where the light shines on it too brightly. If you will give me a lift, we will move this next to the wall where the light from the window will give it a subdued effect. And here are two chairs, one green and the other red. This will never do. Let's put the greens all together and the reds together."

Mr. Berg : "Wilson's bizarre comments did not end there. He described the Council of Four meetings, how each delegation walked like schoolchildren each day to its respective corners. Now, with the furniture regrouped, he said each country would sit according to color"—the reds in the American corner, the greens in the British.

Grayson didn't know what to think. Perhaps it was nervous exhaustion, perhaps a sign of something more serious. After returning to the U.S., Wilson launched a grueling campaign for America to join the League of Nations. That fall, in the White House, he would suffer the stroke or strokes that would leave him disabled the rest of his life.

So what are we saying? Nothing beyond what I suppose has long been a theme, which may be a nice word for preoccupation, in this space: History is human.

And sometimes it turns bigger than humans can bear.

The administration is incompetent. Just as with tax inversion, he is asleep at the wheel and problem gets ahead of him. Solution. Make it legal: Obama Says U.S. Could Start Limited Refugee Program in Central America - President Speaks Following Meeting With Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador Leaders

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama said Friday the U.S. is considering a limited refugee program in Central America, for the first time allowing young people to apply for entry without first making the dangerous trek north.

With Congress deadlocked on a broader White House request for border funding, the refugee plan is one step the administration says it can take on its own to try to stem a surge in unaccompanied Central American minors illegally entering the U.S. from Mexico. White House officials said the program would be based in Honduras, a nation gripped by gang violence and the source of the largest number of unaccompanied Central American minors apprehended on the U.S. border this fiscal year.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Deal sends Obama letter about immigrant children in Georgia


ATLANTA — There are new concerns from Gov. Nathan Deal about who is going to pay for the influx of immigrant children that are ending up in the state of Georgia. He sent a letter to President Barack Obama Thursday demanding answers.
[A]bout 1,100 immigrant children now living in the Georgia.
In the letter, Deal said he was surprised to learn about the influx of immigrants.

 “We were surprised as anyone this week, to discover how many unaccompanied minors were sent to Georgia just in the last six months,” he wrote.

Deal also asked how much they will cost taxpayers and said that he was concerned about what may e a surge in school district enrollment.

This won't help the Democrats at mid-terms: U.S. Considering Refugee Status for Hondurans

From The New York Times:

Hoping to stem the recent surge of migrants at the Southwest border, the Obama administration is considering whether to allow hundreds of minors and young adults from Honduras into the United States without making the dangerous trek through Mexico, according to a draft of the proposal.

If approved, the plan would direct the government to screen thousands of children and youths in Honduras to see if they can enter the United States as refugees or on emergency humanitarian grounds. It would be the first American refugee effort in a nation reachable by land to the United States, the White House said, putting the violence in Honduras on the level of humanitarian emergencies in Haiti and Vietnam, where such programs have been conducted in the past amid war and major crises.
Critics of the plan were quick to pounce, saying it appeared to redefine the legal definition of a refugee and would only increase the flow of migration to the United States. Administration officials said they believed the plan could be enacted through executive action, without congressional approval, as long as it did not increase the total number of refugees coming into the country.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Schumer offers flawed solution to gridlock - Of California's two reforms, it was the nonpartisan redistricting, not the jungle primary, that returned the state to governability.

n The Washington Post:

Would the dysfunction of U.S. politics be dispelled if we got rid of partisan primaries? That’s the contention of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). In an op-ed for the New York Times, Schumer argued that the primary system in most states, in which voters choose nominees for their respective parties who then run head to head in November, gives too much weight to the party faithful, who are inclined to select candidates who veer either far right or far left. The cure Schumer proposes for this ill is the “jungle primary,” in which all primary candidates, regardless of party, appear on the same ballot, with the top two finishers, again regardless of party, advancing to the general election.

The senator cites the example of California — once the most gridlocked of states, now a place where legislation actually gets enacted — as proof that such primaries work. But Schumer misunderstands what got California working again. In so doing, he also misses the fatal flaws of the jungle primary.

Before 2010, California government was inarguably paralyzed. State law required a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature to pass a budget and raise taxes. Divided after the 2008 financial crash between Democrats who wanted to avoid draconian cutbacks and Republicans opposed to tax increases, budgets went unpassed. Support for colleges, health care and infrastructure plummeted, and the state was briefly compelled to pay its employees and contractors with IOUs.

In 2010, however, voters enacted a series of ballot initiatives that brought an end to Sacramento’s stagnation. They repealed the requirement that budgets needed a two-thirds vote for passage; no budget deliberations have exceeded the legal deadline since. They took redistricting for both congressional and legislative seats out of the hands of the legislature and handed it to a nonpartisan commission. And they enacted the jungle primary.

Of the two latter reforms, it was the nonpartisan redistricting, not the jungle primary, that returned the state to governability. The new districts, which were put in place in time for the 2012 election, no longer were carved to protect incumbents of either party. The effect of these changes, beyond eliminating some incumbents of both parties, was to create districts in which the rising number of Latino and Asian voters across the state gave the Democrats an edge — so much so that the party won a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses, enabling state government to raise revenue again.

And what has the jungle primary accomplished? Its adherents had hoped that, in heavily conservative districts where the top two primary finishers were both Republicans, the more centrist of the two would win the November runoff by corralling more Democratic and independent votes. So far, however, that hasn’t happened. Democrats representing more centrist districts, generally in inland California, do tend to be less liberal, but that was the case long before the jungle primary came into effect.

The jungle primary has had one stunningly perverse effect, however. In a new congressional district east of Los Angeles, Democratic voters had a clear majority — so clear that four Democratic candidates and two Republicans sought the seat in the 2012 primary. Democratic votes split four ways, enabling the two Republicans to advance to November’s ballot. The eventual winner, Gary Miller, chose not to run for reelection this year — understandably, since his record in no way reflected the desires of most district voters.

A weird one-off result? This June, three Democrats and two Republicans sought the statewide office of controller. More Democrats than Republicans tend to file for statewide office in California, and for good reason: The GOP is in free-fall in the state; its share of registered voters has dropped beneath 30 percent; just one Republican (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been elected to any of California’s 10 statewide offices in the past 20 years. But since Democrats split their votes three ways for the controller’s slot and Republicans just two, a shift of less than 2 percent of the vote would have saddled voters with a Republican-vs.-Republican runoff.

Fast-forward to 2018, when Democrat Jerry Brown, almost certain to be reelected this November, will be term-limited out of the governor’s office. More Democrats than Republicans will surely line up to succeed him. But under the jungle rules, even though it’s all but certain that the Democratic candidates will collectively aggregate more support, it’s a distinct possibility that two Republicans will face off in November.

This is your solution, senator? Think again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hamas Gambled on War as Its Woes Grew in Gaza

From The New York Times:

GAZA CITY — When war between Israel and Hamas broke out two weeks ago, the Palestinian militant group was so hamstrung, politically, economically and diplomatically, that its leaders appeared to feel they had nothing to lose.

Hamas took what some here call “option zero,” gambling that it could shift the balance with its trump cards: its arms and militants.

Now, this conflict has demonstrated that while Hamas governed over 1.7 million people mired in poverty, its leaders were pouring resources into its military and expanding its ability to fight Israel. If it can turn that improved military prowess into concessions, like opening the border with Egypt, that may boost its standing among the people of Gaza — although at an extraordinarily high cost in deaths and destruction.
“There were low expectations in terms of its performance against the recent round of Israeli incursions. It’s been exceeding all expectations,” said Abdullah Al-Arian, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar who is currently in Washington. “And it’s likely to come out in a far better position than in the last three years, and maybe the last decade.”
Hamas had been struggling. The turmoil in the region meant it lost one of its main sponsors, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whom it broke with over his brutal fight against a Sunni Muslim-led insurgency, and weakened its alliance with Iran. It lost support in Egypt when the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted and replaced with a military-backed government hostile to Hamas.
Unemployment in Gaza is around 50 percent, having risen steeply since Israel pulled out its troops and settlers in 2005 and severely tightened border restrictions.
Hamas appeared powerless to end the near-blockade of its border by Israel and more recently Egypt. It could not even pay its 40,000 government workers their salaries.
The group was so handicapped that it agreed to enter into a pact with its rival party, Fatah, to form a new government. But that seemed only to make matters worse, sowing division within its own ranks, with some in the military wing angry at the concession, while providing none of the economic relief Hamas had hoped for.
When Hamas sent a barrage of rockets into Israel, simmering hostilities, and back and forth strikes, erupted into war.
At first, when Hamas rockets were being intercepted mainly by Israel’s Iron Dome system as Israel hit Gaza with devastating force, the group strove to persuade its supporters that it was having enough impact on Israel to wrest concessions: Its radio stations blared fictional reports about Israeli casualties.
But as it wore on, the conflict revealed that Hamas’s secret tunnel network leading into Israel was far more extensive, and sophisticated, than previously known. It also was able to inflict some pain on Israel, allowing Hamas to declare success even as it drew a devastating and crushing response. Its fighters were able to infiltrate Israel multiple times during an intensive Israeli ground invasion. Its militants have killed at least 27 Israeli soldiers and claim to have captured an Israeli soldier who was reported missing in battle, a potentially key bargaining chip.
And on Tuesday its rockets struck a blow to Israel — psychological and economic — by forcing a halt in international flights. Hamas once again looks strong in the eyes of its supporters, and has shown an increasingly hostile region that it remains a force to be reckoned with.
Hamas, Mr. Arian said, has demonstrated that “as a movement, it is simply not going anywhere.”
But Hamas’s gains could be short-lived if it does not deliver Gazans a better life. Israel says its severe restrictions on what can be brought into Gaza, such as construction materials, are needed because Hamas poses a serious security threat, and the discovery of the tunnels has served only to validate that concern.
So far, at least 620 Palestinians have died, around 75 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations, including more than 100 children. Gazans did not get a vote when Hamas chose to escalate conflict, nor did they when Hamas selected areas near their homes, schools and mosques to fire rockets from the densely populated strip. At the family house of four boys killed last week by an Israeli strike while playing on a beach, some wailing women cursed Hamas along with Israel.
“It comes at an exceptionally high price,” said Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. “When the bombs stop and the dust settles, people might have different calculations about cost-benefit.”
It is also unclear whether, when the fighting ends, Hamas will have the same kind of foreign support it has had in the past to rebuild its arsenal or its infrastructure; Egypt, under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has destroyed hundreds of the tunnels that were used to bring in arms, money and supplies, and has kept the proper border crossing mostly closed. There are also some diplomatic efforts underway seeking to force Hamas to surrender its weapons in exchange for a cease-fire, a demand it is not likely to accept.

Omar Shaban, an economist and political independent, sat in his walled garden in the southern Gaza town of Deir al-Balah as shells crackled nearby and said he fervently hoped, but also doubted, that both Hamas and Israel’s government would reach for a substantive deal.

“This war will end tomorrow or after tomorrow, we will have another cease-fire, we will have another siege and Hamas will continue to run the scene,” he said.
“Gaza is a big problem for everybody, for Hamas, for Fatah, for Israel,” he added, ticking off the list: shortages of water, housing and medicine, a population explosion, growing extremism.
In exchange for a cease-fire, Hamas is demanding Israel and Egypt open their borders to end the restrictions on the movement of people and goods — the most immediate issue for ordinary Gazans. It is also asking for the release of prisoners — but avoiding the deeper political issues of the conflict.
Mr. Shaban said that Hamas, confronted in recent years with the often conflicting requirements of its roles as an armed resistance group and a governing party, for once was “being clever enough to demand conditions that are in touch with the people. The people are realistic.”
Bassem Naim, a member of Hamas’s political wing and a former health minister in Gaza, acknowledged that relations have soured with Iran and the Arab world, but said that it could survive.
“I can’t deny the difficulty,” he said in a recent interview. “But Hamas was active and operating here inside the country before the Muslim Brotherhood was in the presidential palace” in Egypt.
Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, but an international boycott prevented it from governing. It returned to power in Gaza in 2007 after ousting the Fatah-led government by force.
Hamas overreached, Mr. Shaban said, more than doubling Gaza’s administrative budget to more than $800 million — not including the financing of the militant Izzedine al-Qassam brigades.
But as the recent fight with Israel has revealed, Hamas was importing tons of cement — desperately needed for Gazan schools and houses and construction jobs — to reinforce the tunnels it built to infiltrate Israel and hide its weapons.
“They have different priorities,” Mr. Shaban said of the military wing. “Don’t send rockets while we don’t have milk for our children.”

But, he added, “do we stop struggling with Israel? I believe in peace, a two-state solution, I never liked conflict. But Israel did not leave us anything. What Hamas is doing is partially supported by the people.”

Recount looks likely in Republican superintendent race

From the AJC:

Either Woods or Buck would take on Valarie Wilson in the general election this fall. Wilson, the former chairwoman of the City Schools of Decatur school board, defeated state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, in the Democratic runoff Tuesday.

Morgan, who has served in the House for a dozen years, was a favorite on the Democratic side from the moment she entered the race. But her support for a 2012 constitutional amendment that clarified the state’s authority to create charter schools angered many in her party.

While that amendment was approved by voters, Democratic officials who had opposed it didn’t forget that Morgan had allied herself with conservative Republicans in that fight. Much of the party apparatus backed Wilson in the primary and the runoff.

A Woods win over Buck could expose fissures in the GOP this fall. Woods opposes the controversial set of national academic standards known as Common Core. That stance holds him in good standing with tea party activists, who share his view of the standards as a federal intrusion into state control of public education.

But business and military groups – not to mention top Republicans like Gov. Nathan Deal – support the standards. An effort in the General Assembly to essentially pull Georgia out of the Common Core was defeated this year – but not before a bitter fight that left many tea party activists angry with the GOP.

Buck said the passionate opponents of Common Core contributed to Woods’ strong showing on Tuesday.

“I thought it would be close,” he said. “Obviously, his position on Common Core appeals to a certain group. That group is very likely to show up en masse. To their credit, they showed up at the polls. I fully anticipated it would be close.”

Some good reporting: 5 reasons David Perdue shocked Georgia’s political world to win GOP Senate nod

Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy write in the AJC's Political Insider:

David Perdue’s stunning victory over Rep. Jack Kingston was both a rebuke to Georgia’s political establishment and a reminder that November will be a very unconventional race. Here are five factors that played into Perdue’s upset victory:

Metro Atlanta’s Perdue support offset south Georgia’s Kingston backing. While Kingston held onto his big margins in south Georgia, Perdue more than wiped him out with big showings in populous metro Atlanta and other urban areas across the state. Perdue’s camp was ecstatic that Kingston’s net margin over Perdue in Savannah’s Chatham County was 12,000 – close to what they expected. If Kingston landed the same vote totals in coastal Georgia he tallied during the May primary, he’d be waking up to a different headline today.

A slow windup and powerful close. Perdue’s camp went up with its infamous “Babies” TV ads early in the primary to define the race. But in the nine-week runoff – the longest in state history – they largely held their fire until the final weeks before the contest. Perdue’s aides said that helped them refuel and better target Kingston. As we’ve noted, Perdue and his allies were vastly outspent by Kingston in metro Atlanta, but spent far more than him elsewhere in the state.

An effective grassroots network. Perdue advisers said it never got much media attention, but they built a formidable network of activists across the state who tapped an anti-incumbent streak to boost their candidate. That foundation is still intact, they say, and will come in handy against Nunn.

The Chamber was both boon and burden. The closing days back-and-forth involved the U.S. Chamber’s heavy investment in the race on Kingston’s behalf, with a flood of positive ads (and a last-minute negative that few voters likely saw). Perdue used it as evidence that Kingston secretly supported “amnesty.” Talk radio host Erick Erickson tweeted that he had trouble convincing many friends to vote Kingston because of the Chamber’s backing.

Very few people like Congress. Kingston had to own 22 years in Congress. As he put it Tuesday: “You know, people are very frustrated with Washington, D.C. and I think that was a big hurdle. And my opponent capitalized on that – as he should.”

And from The Wall Street Journal:

David Perdue Edges Out Jack Kingston in GOP Senate Runoff in Georgia - Businessman to Take On Democrat Michelle Nunn in November

ATLANTA—Multimillionaire businessman David Perdue seized the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Georgia on Tuesday night, and must now pivot toward the November general election that could help decide whether Democrats maintain control of the chamber.

Mr. Perdue won the runoff with about 51% of the vote, with nearly all precincts reporting, with his biggest support in Atlanta's affluent northern suburbs. He edged out U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, who ran strongest in his Savannah district and southeastern Georgia.

Mr. Perdue, the 64-year-old former chief executive of Dollar General Corp., faces Michelle Nunn, 47, a daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn who is running as a centrist Democrat.

The GOP primary runoff lasted an unusually long and testy nine weeks, the result of a shift in federal election timetables in Georgia.

Both Republicans had scored endorsements from well-known Georgians. Mr. Kingston had the backing of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Erick Erickson, who produces the influential Red State blog. Mr. Perdue had help from his cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, and former presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

Mr. Perdue's supporters said they liked his experience in business and his relative inexperience in politics. "He can't solve [our problems] but he can be the beginning of the solution," said Brannon Lesesne, a 75-year-old investment counselor from suburban Atlanta.

The victory of Mr. Perdue was a blow to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent at least $2.3 million on campaign ads backing his opponent. The business lobby liked that Mr. Kingston, an 11-term congressman, has pushed hard for federal funding to deepen the Savannah, Ga., harbor to expand capacity for trade.

The prolonged fight has given Ms. Nunn the chance to raise money and use her advertising budget to talk about her experience running the Points of Light Foundation Inc., a charity promoting volunteerism that was founded by former Republican President George H.W. Bush. Ms. Nunn has raised about $9.3 million, according to her campaign. Outside groups also will spend millions on both sides.

As of July 2, Mr. Perdue's campaign raised $5.8 million—$3.2 million from the candidate himself—and spent $5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks election contributions.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why Putin Is Willing to Take Big Risks in Ukraine - A Look at Differing Fates of Poland, Ukraine Gives Clues

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

To understand what Vladimir Putin is really up to in Ukraine—why he is willing to take the kinds of risks that produced the destruction of a civilian airliner, and why the U.S. and its allies should see his power play as an effort to alter not just the arc of Ukraine but all of Europe—it's necessary to look at the tale of two countries.

The first is Poland, a country of 38 million. After the end of the Cold War, this former Warsaw Pact nation turned westward. It almost immediately sought membership in the European Union and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999. After modernizing its economy, it officially became part of the EU in 2004.

Next door to Poland lies Ukraine, a country of 44 million. After the end of the Cold War, this former Soviet satellite didn't turn west but rather stayed focused on its traditional relationship with Russia to the east.
What has happened to these two neighbors in the quarter-century since the Berlin Wall fell? In a nutshell, they have moved in opposite directions.
Poland, the country that integrated itself into the Western economy, has grown almost twice as fast as Ukraine. Last year, its growth rate was three times larger. Though it's the slightly smaller of the two neighbors, Poland now has a gross domestic product more than twice the size of Ukraine's. It has only half the share of its population living under the poverty line as does Ukraine.
This is the contrast that must scare Mr. Putin. It also is the one that set off alarm bells when Ukraine, emulating neighboring Poland, began to pivot westward earlier this year. To allow that turn to happen, in the most important of Russian satellites, would have been the end of any near-term dreams of rebuilding a Russian empire.
In short, the goal of re-creating a Russian sphere of influence was colliding head-on with the spread of a Westernized, EU model for Europe, which was seeping toward Russia's doorstep. Mr. Putin faced a historic choice: swim with the tide or try to turn it. He chose the latter.
"I think [Russia's] goal is a weak and divided Ukraine, and a bigger goal is a weak and divided Europe—a weak and divided EU," says Robert Hormats, under secretary of state in the first Obama term. Moreover, to the extent a country such as Poland prospers, he adds, "it creates a very, very stark contrast to the troubled economic prospects in Russia" itself.
Mr. Putin had to move quickly to reverse those trends, for he is at a moment of relative but passing strength. Today, Western Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas gives him some economic leverage. As Europe has gobbled up more of Mr. Putin's gas, EU trade with Russia has tripled in value over the last decade.
This Russian economic advantage doesn't figure to last; eventually, Europe will wean itself away from its dependence on Russian carbon fuels. But for now, Mr. Putin must have calculated, he could make his play in Ukraine and face a muted Western response.
And if that was his calculation, he was mostly correct. Business interests, not just in Europe but in the U.S., have resisted toughening economic sanctions. Perhaps the downing of an airliner has changed that; we'll learn more at a meeting of EU leaders Tuesday.
This also explains why Poland looks with alarm at Russian bullying of Ukraine, and at the Western response so far. Poland knows from history that it is vulnerable to being yanked back toward the east, so it seeks more help from the Western club to which it now belongs.
"The crisis in Ukraine could have been prevented," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in an interview with German journalists published over the weekend. "Europe has done too little to influence Russia's behavior in the different stages of the conflict. When a Russian trade boycott against Ukraine was imposed last year to punish it for its European course, I pleaded with my colleagues to take action." If the West had moved then, he added, today's "escalation" probably would have been avoided.
If Poland is indeed the success story, it's a particularly troubling note for President Barack Obama that a Polish magazine last month quoted Mr. Sikorski as saying, in a leaked tape of a private conversation, that Poland's defense ties to the U.S. were "worthless."
In his weekend interview he was more diplomatic but still argued for more Western defense help to avoid Ukraine's fate. "The reality [is] that there are large [Western] military bases in countries that are safe. And there is a hesitation to build these bases in states that feel threatened."