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Cracker Squire


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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Syria War Tests Obama’s Security Doctrine - The lack of good options tails the president as he meets world leaders this week at the United Nations

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Every president, it seems, gets one foreign-policy problem from hell, one that defies resolution, that refuses to be ignored, that tests the White House’s strategic theories—and that hangs over the presidential legacy.

Jimmy Carter had Iran, Ronald Reagan had Lebanon, Bill Clinton had the Balkans and George W. Bush had Iraq.

For President Barack Obama, it’s increasingly clear that his problem is Syria. The mess there tails him as he moves around the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. It produced some tense moments when he met Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is taking advantage of the chaos in Syria to establish a bigger foothold for himself in the Middle East.

Syria’s war rages on, 4 1/2 years after it began and two years after Mr. Obama made a conscious decision not to get directly involved. Since then, the conflict has spawned a growing Islamic extremist army, opened the door to establishment of Islamic State and touched off an international refugee crisis.

It isn’t clear, of course, how much, if any, of this calamitous situation could have been prevented with more direct American intervention. Certainly more than a decade’s worth of involvement on the ground next door in Iraq hasn’t produced a happy outcome, and at the cost of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

Clearly, though, Mr. Obama’s gamble that the U.S. could steer Syria toward a better outcome without having to intervene directly hasn’t worked. Syria has become the insoluble problem, and along the way has tested some of the basic precepts of the Obama security doctrine.

In an address to the U.N. Monday, Mr. Obama acknowledged the intractability of the Syrian problem, saying that “nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria.” And he said he is willing to work with “any nation, including Russia and Iran” to find a solution.

The Syrian war erupted in 2011, amid the Arab Spring revolts against established regimes, and immediately threatened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In theory, the ouster of Mr. Assad would have been fine for American interests. He is no friend of the U.S., and the Arab Spring uprisings suggested history was turning against ruthless and undemocratic regimes such as his. Mr. Assad’s brutality in trying to put down the incipient rebellion only seemed to confirm that.

So the Obama administration declared that it was time for him to go. Behind that call, though, was a hope that the U.S. could call for his ouster without actually having to arrange it—and that it could somehow help from a distance to ensure that what followed would be better.

The crucial moment came in the late summer of 2013, when Mr. Obama walked to the edge of ordering American airstrikes in Syria in retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, and then backed away.

That fateful decision reflected many of the changes Mr. Obama has tried to bring to America’s strategic approach to international affairs. In part, it grew out of a belief that America was weary of intervention in the Middle East. In part it reflected a conviction that a new model could be—indeed, had to be—found in which the U.S. could help steer events without resorting reflexively to military action.

It also reflected a belief that the American foreign policy agenda needed to shift away from endless entanglements in the Middle East to focus more on the problems of tomorrow: the rising importance of Asia, international cooperation on climate change, economic globalization. Embedded in the decision was a desire for America’s allies, particularly those in the region, to step up to resolve their own problems.

The decision represented a calculation that a distant problem could remain exactly that—distant—and that it wouldn’t reach America’s shores. Now the original goal of getting rid of Mr. Assad without letting Islamic State extremists fill the vacuum is evaporating. Increasingly, it appears U.S. policy is faltering on both counts: Though Mr. Obama insisted again at the U.N. Monday that Mr. Assad must go, the most likely near-term prognosis is at least a temporary continuation of his rule without a serious rollback of Islamic State advances in his country.

The attempt to conjure up some moderate alternative in Syria has been an almost complete failure. Meanwhile the threat of Islamic State terrorism has brought the problem home.

Perhaps the increasingly active involvement of Russia and France may mean the hope for an international coalition to stop Islamic State is finally, belatedly being realized. But America’s ability to steer events is diminished and Iran’s influence in Syria persists. Maybe those results were inevitable, or maybe the lesson is that America, whether it likes it or not, remains the one indispensable power.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I can't believe Carly Fiorina said this: "John Boehner's season was coming to an end." - GOP Discontent That Helped Sink John Boehner Isn’t Easing Up - Speaker’s exit likely won’t mollify conservative lawmakers or presidential primary voters

From The Wall Street Journal:

“John Boehner’s season was coming to an end,” Ms. Fiorina said Sunday on NBC. “Republicans are quite frustrated, having worked very hard, to restore historic majorities to the House and a majority to the Senate, but there haven’t been a lot of results.”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fiorina’s record at HP defines her candidacy — which could be a problem

Great read in The Washington Post.  I followed Hewlett-Packard daily at the time, and agree with the assessment 100%.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Warily Eyeing China, Philippines May Invite U.S. Back to Subic Bay

From The New York Times:

SUBIC BAY, Philippines — In a flash of anticolonialist fervor nearly a quarter-century ago, lawmakers in the Philippines expelled the United States from an enormous naval base here, then the largest overseas outpost of the American military. Promising to break free from the “shackles of dictatorship,” they declared that foreign troops would never return.

But with China forcefully pressing its claim to a vast expanse of sea west of here, the Philippines is now debating whether to welcome the United States Navy back to the deepwater docks, airstrips and craggy shores of Subic Bay, which served as a haven for bruised battleships and weary soldiers during the Vietnam War.

It is also asking Washington for hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding to strengthen its own military, one of the weakest in Asia.

The change of heart is just one sign of the shifting strategic calculations in the region as President Xi Jinping of China has sought to reinforce Beijing’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea by turning reefs into islands and putting military facilities on them. Satellite photos taken last week appear to show China preparing to build a third airstrip on one of the new islands.
Last year, the government in Manila signed a 10-year agreement that would let the United States station troops, weapons and matériel at bases across the Philippines, setting the stage for an American return to several facilities, including Subic Bay and the sprawling Clark Air Base nearby. But the pact has been tied up by a legal challenge.
Filipinos, by a wide margin, hold favorable views of the United States, polls show. There is ambivalence, however, about allowing American troops to be stationed in the country — a concern amplified by the Philippines’ history as an American territory from 1898 to 1946 — and anxiety over how China might respond.
Washington has expressed frustration with the delay in carrying out the agreement, which President Obama announced with fanfare during a visit to Manila last year. The case is not expected to be decided in the Philippines Supreme Court until later this fall at the earliest.
If it goes forward, the pact would give the United States the ability to operate a stronghold on the shores of the South China Sea, less than 500 miles from the new islands built by the Chinese. Currently, American forces in the region rely largely on bases more than 1,500 miles away, in Japan and the United States territory of Guam, for repairs.

Friday, September 18, 2015

UPDATED: E.U. nations pull welcome mats for migrants, imposing new restrictions

The story that is headlined is from The Washington Post and begins as follows:

European nations once friendly to refugees abruptly yanked their welcome mats Thursday, as Germany considered slashing its benefits and Croatia announced it was closing most of its road links with Serbia “until further notice.”

The German measures would overhaul asylum codes to stem the massive flow of migrants into Europe, scaling back the generous policies that have made Germany a beacon for desperate war refugees and economic migrants pouring out of the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
And see from The New York Times the following: 17,000 Migrants Stranded in Croatia by Border Crackdown.  It is also about the region and not just the migrants, noting:

The shifting of the crisis to the Balkans has added a whole new dynamic to the crisis, threatening to reopen old wounds and distrust. The masses of migrants and refugees are struggling through the clutch of countries that once formed Yugoslavia, until the wars of the 1990s bloodily broke the former Communist state apart.

The remarks were revealing of the tensions the migrants are now sowing among nations with weak economies, uncertain futures in Europe, creaking welfare states and deep wounds from the past. Those factors are hobbling the region’s ability to respond to a crisis that even richer nations in Europe have struggled to address.

On the surface, the countries of the former Yugoslavia, whose bloody disintegration shocked the world, would seem naturally sympathetic to the plight of refugees, and indeed the outpouring of sympathy and aid in recent days has been notable.
The exodus resulting from war and suffering in the former Yugoslavia presented Europe with what was then its biggest refugee crisis since World War II. By 1992, some 2.3 million people had fled, making the sight of refugees fleeing a daily and visceral occurrence.
But after gaining independence, countries in the region have struggled to bounce back — the average gross monthly wage in Serbia is 518 euros, about $585, while unemployment hovers at about 18 percent, according to the government statistics office.
Such realities have left the people of the Balkans the “have-nots” of Europe, and now reluctant to accommodate the thousands of refugees who have even less than them.
“We have much empathy in the region for migrants but countries across the region are poor, their institutions are not yet developed, and most states can barely deal with the daily problems of government, nevermind a migration crisis,” said Sead Numanovic, a former editor in chief of Avaz, a leading Bosnian newspaper. “These countries just don’t have the capacity.”

The situation in many Balkan nations is so difficult that many of those seeking asylum in Germany come from Serbia, Albania and Kosovo. This has pushed Germany to have these countries declared “safe” by the European Union so that Germany can immediately reject any of their citizens applying for asylum.
In the spring, the German government began a campaign to discourage the tens of thousands Kosovars from coming. Nearly 34,000 Kosovars applied for asylum between January and August.
The response in the Balkans has also been complicated by the fact that several countries such as Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bosnia, buffeted by economic hardship, corruption and weak institutions, have not yet been accepted into the European Unio
In Bosnia, which is bracing for as many as 10,000 migrants, the country is so hobbled by strong residual nationalism among its disparate ethnic groups that it can barely govern itself.
“The Balkans is an area that has not recovered fully from the wars in the 1990s and the countries of the region remain in limbo in terms of European integration,” said Danilo Turk, former president of Slovenia and a former United Nations assistant secretary general for political affairs.
In a region long plagued by bloody conflicts over land, it is hard enough to police borders where regional rivalries still remain. Slovenia, the first former Yugoslav nation to join the European Union in 2004, and Croatia, which joined in 2013, cannot agree where Croatia ends and Slovenia begins — a dispute that dates to Yugoslavia’s collapse.
Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is struggling to maintain stability and neighborly relations with Serbia, which it views as its former oppressor. Montenegro has made some progress but the European Union has made it clear there might not be new members admitted in the next five years.
“All of these issues make the status of this region somehow provisional in its relation to the E.U. and that is not in the interest of stability, but quite the opposite,” Mr. Turk said.
Even without all of those challenges, there is also a risk of an anti-Muslim backlash or resentment in a region that has known ethnic violence perpetrated against Muslims and where reconciliation has sometimes proved elusive. In Bosnia, for example, the Serbian republic that is part of the country has denied that the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys during the war in 1995 constitutes genocide.

Slovenia still lacks a mosque although there has been a Muslim minority there for decades.

As refugees from Syria and other countries in the Middle East seem poised to approach Slovenia over the summer, Damir Crncec, a former director of Slovenia’s Intelligence and Security Agency, warned of “a grand strategy of a slow destruction of Christian-Jewish values and roots. A new, more sophisticated version of Turkish invasions.”
Against such a backdrop, the influx left Croatia scrambling to create more migrant processing centers, including using a military barracks in the town of Beli Manastir, which is near the borders with Hungary and Serbia. The barracks, intended to house 200, was flooded by 8,000, said the town’s mayor, Ivan Dobos. They had arrived suddenly by bus and train, from the border towns of Tovarnik and Batina, he said.

Interesting observations after 2nd GOP debate from David Brooks: The Marco Rubio-Carly Fiorina Option -

David Brooks writes in The New York Times:

My PBS colleague Mark Shields recently reminded me of the old saying that Democrats fall in love but Republicans fall in line.
Democrats have historically liked presidential nominees they can go gaga for, even if they lack experience: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. Republicans on the other hand like to nominate the guy who’s paid his dues and already lost a presidential run: Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
So far this year, the parties have switched love languages. Democratic voters have become responsible and middle-aged, telling pollsters they want experienced pols who can work within the system. Republicans are embracing their inner adolescent.
By a majority of 64 to 30, conservative Republicans tell pollsters they want their candidate to be an outsider. Republican governors in the debates reel off long data-filled paragraphs about their accomplishments, and you can feel the entire Republican electorate doing the bored valley girl eye roll.
Republicans radiate more alienation than the sophomore class at a Berkeley alternative high school. They have also entered a weird post-material political space. Many Republicans show little interest in candidates who offer proposals, but flock to the ones who offer outrageous self-expression.
Donald Trump has emerged as the prankster narcissus. It doesn’t matter that he might not be able to find Syria on a map; he offers America hair, boasting, misogyny and insult. There’s no woman who can’t be reduced to a physical object. The socially insecure rise and applaud as he insults the people they’d never have the guts to take on themselves.
Republicans used to be split between economic and social conservatives. But this year the big fight is tactical.
One group wants to rip up the political process and disrupt everything. Renounce the Iran deal on Day 1, no matter what our allies say. Ignore the Supreme Court and effectively disallow gay marriage. Shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood. Magically deport the 11 million illegal immigrants.
This is more or less the Bobby Jindal-Ted Cruz wing. (During those milliseconds when Trump is capable of entertaining a policy thought, he wanders into this camp.)
The others, like Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, live within the confines of reality. You can’t actually defund Planned Parenthood or end Obamacare if you don’t control the White House. Offending every global ally on the first day of a new administration might have some nasty knock on effects. You can’t actually erase the 14th Amendment and end birthright citizenship.
Over the summer the burn-down-the-house crowd had an amazing run, but if this week’s debate is a sign of anything, it is that the party is going to go off on a different trajectory. The outsiders are about to slide. Trump’s Don Rickles act wears thin. His ego may be galaxy-sized, but his policy ignorance is a void that overspills the known universe. He’s the Wizard of Oz. When the bluster curtain falls down, what’s left is pathetic.
That doesn’t mean the party will snap back to its old establishmentarian tendencies. Bush had several moments to deliver a devastating blow — like challenging Trump for going after his wife — but he couldn’t quite turn them into hot-blooded signature moments. Three hundred and fifty years of WASP reticence have left habits of gentility and emotional guardedness that inhibit him, just as they inhibited his father.
When Trump attacked him for his bilingualism, Bush retorted, “Well, I’ve been speaking English and I’ll keep speaking English!” This is not exactly a killer retort. It’s a nice guy’s impersonation of a killer retort.
Instead, the party will veer on a course midway between outsider and establishment. It will probably end up with some hybrid candidate — sharp of tongue, gifted in self-expression and yet still anchored in the world of reality.
That’s where Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio come in. So far, Fiorina has looked like the most impressive candidate. She has a genius for creating signature moments. (“If you want to stump a Democrat, ask them to name an accomplishment of Mrs. Clinton’s.”) But her spotty record at Hewlett-Packard probably means she can’t start at the top of the ticket.
Rubio is young and thus uncorrupted, and he is a genius at relating policy depth in a way that is personal. He has clarity of mind and can sum up a complex subject — Russia, the Middle East — in a way that is comprehensible but not oversimplified.
This debate was one moment in time, but you can see the vectors of where this campaign is headed. This is no longer Bob Dole’s or George H.W. Bush’s G.O.P. But it’s not going to completely lose its mind, either.
It’s going to be somewhat the same, but edgier and more renegade. Right now, Rubio, Fiorina and maybe Chris Christie are best positioned to occupy that space.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fix it, now! GE Move Rekindles Partisan Fight Over Ex-Im Bank Closure - General Electric to move around 500 U.S. jobs overseas to avoid losing business to foreign rivals

From The Wall Street Journal:

General Electric Co.GE2.14% made good on months of threats by announcing Tuesday plans to begin moving U.S. jobs abroad, marking an escalation in the battle between U.S. corporations and congressional Republicans over the now-dormant U.S. Export-Import Bank.

The company’s announcement that it would transfer 500 jobs, while a tiny fraction of GE’s 136,000 U.S. workers, advances a long-running drama over the bank that has divided Republicans and sent tremors of unease through the corporate sector.

For months, companies have warned they faced the loss of overseas contracts after congressional Republicans, who have singled the agency out as an example of corporate welfare, allowed the bank’s charter to lapse in July.

The Ex-Im Bank helps overseas customers of U.S. companies finance purchases with loans and credit guarantees. Supporters have said political gridlock would be broken only after companies start cutting American jobs.

GE said Tuesday it would transfer the 500 jobs mainly to Europe over the next year to field competitive bids for turbines and other industrial equipment with financing from foreign export credit agencies. The job losses will come from facilities in Texas, South Carolina, New York and Maine, GE said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have fought to keep the bank afloat. Most of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates oppose the bank, but lawmakers are split.

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) voiced concern earlier this year about job losses from letting the 81-year-old agency close suddenly, but so far he has yielded to GOP lawmakers who oppose allowing a vote on the measure.

GE said Tuesday it had signed agreements with France’s export credit agency for a line of credit on sales of power generation equipment. The company also said it would move final assembly of jet turbines from Houston to facilities in Hungary and China, making it eligible for similar agreements there.

Other companies warned of more repercussions if the Ex-Im Bank doesn’t reopen for business.

Boeing Co.BA1.39% said Tuesday it had been notified by Kacific, a broadband satellite operator based in Singapore, that it wouldn’t consider bidding on a contract from Boeing without Ex-Im Bank assistance.

Last month, Boeing said a roughly $85 million satellite contract order was in jeopardy after Asia Broadcast Satellite, a Bermuda-based telecommunications company, said it would look outside the U.S. for better financing terms.

Other large industrials that include Caterpillar Inc.,CAT2.49% Dow Chemical Co.DOW1.23% and Westinghouse Electric Co. have warned that foreign competitors are exploiting the Ex-Im Bank shutdown to strengthen their position at the bargaining table.

Most export credit agencies—including the Export-Import Bank—require that most production and jobs for deals they finance be located in their respective countries.

GE executives say they are bidding on $11 billion in industrial projects, mostly in developing nations, that require export-credit agency sponsorship for customers. Countries requiring such sponsorship have accounted for 80% of total sales of gas turbines used in aviation over the past three years, GE said.

“This is not a choice that we made,” John Rice, vice chairman at GE, said in an interview. “This is a choice that was forced on us.”

GE’s announcement Tuesday stoked debate over the fate of the agency, which retains significant support in Washington. President Barack Obama and most Democrats support renewing the bank’s charter, and 64 senators voted in July to reopen the bank.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, (R., Texas), who as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee has led the effort to close the bank, said in a statement Tuesday he was troubled that GE was announcing that it “is leaving Connecticut because the state’s taxes are too high and is choosing to send jobs overseas because U.S. taxpayer-provided subsidies are too low.”

Bank critics called GE’s announcement a ploy to rally support for an agency that overwhelmingly supports a few multinational companies and say Washington should stop picking winners and losers by subsidizing sales.

Smaller manufacturers, which don’t have the option of moving production abroad, say contracts for exports, already under pressure from a rise in the dollar, could be lost if they can’t find credit insurance or other financing to replace Ex-Im Bank.

Cardinal Resources, a maker of solar-powered systems to clean drinking water, had an application pending for a $29 million deal with the government of Cameroon that has been in limbo since the bank shutdown. “We had hiring scheduled that we weren’t able to do,” said Kevin Jones, chief executive of the Pittsburgh-based manufacturer.

Mr. Jones said he hasn’t been able to find private financing yet for the project. Instead, he said, he was approached by a major Chinese bank last month, a deal that would require purchasing raw materials in China.

He declined the offer and said he hoped the Ex-Im Bank was reauthorized before his customer was lured away.

While Ex-Im makes some loans, much of its business focuses on loan guarantees and insurance programs. Sullivan-Palatek Inc., a maker of industrial portable air compressors in Michigan City, Ind., has boosted export sales over the past four years by using Ex-Im for receivables insurance, a policy that ensures the company is paid for goods sold to foreign customers.

The policy expires on Oct. 1, chief executive Bruce McFee said, putting in jeopardy about half of the company’s export sales, which represent about one fifth of total sales.

“It’s going to substantially put us back in our ability to hire,” he said.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The headline should be no surprise; he is W's brother (and I didn't say H.W.): Jeb Bush’s new tax plan could cost $3.4 trillion over next decade

From The Washington Post:

The tax-reform plan that Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush detailed on Wednesday combines a faith in supply-side economics with a handful of measures meant to court populists and the middle class. It builds on the tax plan of the GOP’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, and it is projected to grow federal budget deficits in the same manner as the tax policies of the last Republican president, Bush’s brother, George W. Bush.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

It’s on: Jeb Bush embraces a risky fight with Donald Trump

From The Washington Post:

Republicans said the dilemma for Bush is obvious. If he hangs back, voters may conclude he is weak. If he attacks, he engages a candidate who has proved to be an effective counterpuncher. For now, the conclusion in the Bush campaign is that appearing weak is the greater risk.

Other candidates are letting Bush and Trump squabble while continuing to try to build support for their campaigns in traditional ways. For some, the absence of attention is considered beneficial right now, as none of the others want to get into a public fight with Trump.

“We’ve gotten out our popcorn. It’s wonderful,” said a strategist for a rival campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter frankly. “I don’t think it’ll work.”

Although Bush remains the GOP establishment favorite, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could emerge as alternatives if Bush struggles. Kasich is rising in the polls in New Hampshire, Walker is seeking a campaign reboot and Rubio has stuck to casting himself as a new-generation candidate while mostly avoiding the fights that have consumed Trump and Bush.