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Sunday, September 30, 2012


Ky. voices: True faith requires acceptance, openness By Paschal Baute

"You know all Catholics are going to hell," my mother-in-law told my wife after we married.

"But mother, there are a lot of Catholics in the world," she replied.

"Honey," said her mother, "heaven won't be crowded." Then she added, "It's my duty to judge others."

Much later, after being in our home many times, she mellowed remarkably.

Growing up Catholic in a small Kentucky town, we were taught and believed that all Protestants were going to hell. The "we-they, white-versus-black" dichotomy was so strong. Catholic boys were forbidden to join the Boy Scouts because all the troop leaders were Protestant. Religion invites us to make our world views absolute. Is this still the main challenge of our civilization?

In both the West and the East, religious faith has assumed a monopoly on God's favor. The result has fueled wars, crusades, inquisitions, massive killing and now, suicide bombers. Religious persecution was so bad in Europe that inhabitants of 12 of our original 13 colonies crossed oceans to find religious freedom.

The superior privilege of Christian faith encouraged us to view native Americans as savages and so justify our actual genocides. Because the Bible accepted slavery, Christians justified the mass importation of Africans for slave labor in the cotton fields of the South. We fought a great and terrible Civil War, each region believing "God is on our side." Nazi Germany had 20 million Catholics and 40 million Lutherans. Some worshiped even in sight of the smoke of the crematoriums where 6 million Jews perished.

Each of the major faiths still claims a monopoly on the mysteries of God. This claim, I suggest, is the source of much hate and violence everywhere, not just in the Middle East. This "power over" attitude easily trickles down into political discourse. Rancor, stereotyping, labeling, misrepresentation and even lying are justified politically. We can too easily demonize those who think differently. Cable news and talk radio are full of this.

All the Abraham religions — Hebrew, Christian and Muslim — are guilty of these exclusive claims today. When we are raised in such cultures, we can easily transfer the absolute claims to other views, moral, social and political. We are so sure of our point of view that we do not need to listen to strangers. Civil discourse becomes almost impossible.

Yet Abraham kept his tent open on all four sides so he and Sarah could see strangers coming from all directions and so have food ready to welcome them. The Hebrew Bible commands us to "love the stranger" some 36 times. Is it time for religious leaders to surrender the exclusive claims of their traditions? This claim divides the world into "us" versus "they" — assuming privilege from God. Yet faith can only be truly accepted as a gift, as an obligation. We are commanded to love one another, even and especially, those who are different from us.

Our country was the first in history to be founded on principle rather than power. We claim power is from the people, not from the top down. Have we outsourced conscience? Should Americans be the first to remind all leaders, "All humans are created in God's image. We have the God-given freedom to find our own way." God now speaks in 7.000 different languages — not merely through the King James version of the bible.

My favorite quote from Christian tradition is from Gregory of Nyssa: "Concepts create idols; only wonder and awe understand anything." When we accept the incredible gift of faith, we are empowered with a vision of compassion, hope, forgiveness and graciousness. In contrast, the exclusive claims of religion divide us. Sadly, they are causing us to lose a generation of young people from our faith communities.

Human nature seeks power, but religion and power do not mix. We should stand up to religious leaders whose teachings serve to divide us. Can any of us presume to understand the heart of God if we have no heart for those who are unlike us?

Read more here:

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Saturday, September 29, 2012



Friday, September 28, 2012



Thursday, September 27, 2012



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kentucky's Hypocrisy On Health Reform: Insured Lawmakers Ignore Citizen Need.

Hypocrisy on health reform: Insured lawmakers ignore citizen need
Insured lawmakers ignore citizen need

Two thirds of Kentucky's state legislators get their medical care through the health insurance plan for state employees.

That's 91 of the current 136 members of the General Assembly. (Two seats are vacant.)

The legislature is made up of 72 Democrats, 63 Republicans and one Independent, which means lawmakers of both parties are insuring themselves and their dependents through the taxpayer-supported state health plan.

We bring this up only to say that lawmakers should think twice before denying access to affordable health care to Kentuckians who, unlike themselves, lack the luxury of enrolling in the state plan.

Republican lawmakers in particular should consider whether they're hurling stones at "Obamacare" from glass houses.

The latest sniping erupted last week at a meeting of the Joint Health and Welfare Committee, which was set to hear from two administration officials on the state health insurance exchange.

A component of the Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, the exchange will provide a virtual marketplace in which consumers can comparison shop for health insurance and learn about new tax credits for employers and government subsidies to help make coverage more affordable.

The committee was hoping to get answers to questions raised by Republicans which administration officials could not answer at an earlier meeting. Instead, the Republicans introduced a motion condemning Gov. Steve Beshear's use of an executive order to set up Kentucky's exchange.

Republicans didn't even ask for the answers they had sought — or show any interest in more than 600,000 uninsured Kentuckians — before pulling their surprise. This tell us they were more interested in getting grist for campaign ads by forcing a pre-election vote on "Obamacare" than they were in getting answers to their questions, which were good questions.

Rather than walk into the trap, Democrats walked out, depriving the committee of a quorum. The Republicans approved the motion anyway, though it's unclear what effect, if any, a condemnatory motion by a quorum-less interim committee might have.

If there is solid legal ground for contesting Beshear's creation of the exchange, someone will probably file a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, 18 percent of adult Kentuckians under age 65 lack health insurance. Lack of health insurance is one of the reasons life expectancy is decreasing for white Americans who did not finish high school, a category that includes a lot of Kentuckians.

The federal government will run exchanges when states fail to establish them. But several interests, including the state Chamber of Commerce and Kentucky Hospital Association, have said a state-run exchange would be better.

Maybe once the election is past, Republican lawmakers will channel their knowledge and experience into helping solve Kentucky's health care challenges. They are huge and many, including designing a Medicaid expansion and making managed care Medicaid work.

That so many part-time lawmakers who have private-sector jobs rely on state government for their health care reveals how limited affordable options are. Surely, Republicans won't stand in the way of fellow Kentuckians' chances at better health. Read more here:

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MAUREEN DOWD: Why Not Debtors’ Prison?

Why Not Debtors’ Prison? By MAUREEN DOWD

While the Muslim world was burning, Mitt Romney was telling Kelly Ripa that he wears as little as possible to bed. And on the day world leaders gathered at the United Nations, President Obama’s only high-level sit-down in New York was with the ladies of “The View,” teasing, “I’m just supposed to be eye candy here for you guys.”

Romney said he was very troubled that Obama went on “The View” and skipped meeting other leaders, especially Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Netanyahu did not deserve a meeting and neither did President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. But Obama would have been better off spending time in New York talking to Hamid Karzai, given that American troops are still in Afghanistan and given how chary we are about turning over security to that less-than-inspiring government.

In a world of dogs, diplomatically speaking, Obama is a cat. Just as he suffered from his standoffish approach with Congress, donors and his base, our feline president can be oblivious to the neediness of other less Zen leaders.

As Helene Cooper and Robert Worth wrote in The Times on Tuesday, some Arab officials are critical of Obama’s impersonal, distant style.

“You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” one Arab diplomat told The Times.

At least the president has a foreign policy. Romney and Paul Ryan haven’t spent time thinking and speaking a lot about foreign policy. They have simply taken the path of least resistance and parroted the views of their neocon advisers. They talk all tough at Iran and Syria and label the president a weak apologist and buildup bogymen and rant about how America must dictate events in the Middle East. That’s not a doctrine; it’s a treacherous neocon echo.

It’s amazing that many of the neocons who were involved in the Iraq debacle are back riding high. (Foreign Policy magazine reports that 17 of Romney’s 24 special advisers on foreign policy were in W.’s administration.) But no one has come along to replace them, or reinstitute some kind of Poppy Bush-James Baker-Brent Scowcroft realpolitik internationalism.

The neocons are still where the G.O.P. intellectual energy is, and they’re still in the blogosphere hammering candidates who stray from their hawkish orthodoxy. Democrats have claimed the international center once inhabited by Bush senior and his advisers.

On foreign and domestic policy, Republicans have outsourced their brains to right-wing think tanks. It’s one thing for conservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and other think tanks to sit around and theorize about the number of people who are “dependent” on government programs and to deplore the trend, or to strategize on privatizing Medicare. If you’ve got a lot of people on government programs, their response is not to help those people get off the programs, it’s to cut the programs.

The Romney campaign has turned conservative theory into ideology and gone off the cliff with it. If you want to inspire, lead and unite people, it won’t fly to take ideologically driven findings and present them unvarnished to voters.

At the Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday, Romney talked about tying foreign aid to “the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise” in the Middle East and other developing countries.

It was a variation on what Romney said on the infamous leaked tape to the fat-cat donors about half the country being victims and moochers, promulgating the idea that any aid makes people worse off instead of better off. Next he will want to bring back debtors’ prisons.

(It’s the same in Europe, as Germany debates how much to give to Greece, Spain and Portugal, or whether to dismiss them as bad, reckless and unworthy of being bailed out more.)

Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons were inspired by deus ex machina theories baked at the A.E.I. to try and force democracy on Iraq, assuming that people would just become better — and incredibly grateful to us.

Now the neocons inside Romney’s head are pushing the same idea: that we can whack countries in the Middle East and they’ll behave.

As Dan Senor, a top foreign policy adviser to both Romney and Ryan, told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC on Tuesday about Iran: “We’re not saying the military action should be used. But we are arguing that the threat of military action should be credible so it focuses the Iranian leadership on reaching some diplomatic solution.”

That was exactly the argument the same neocon gaggle used when they were pushing an invasion of Iraq. But somehow the diplomatic part got superseded.

As President Obama said on “60 Minutes,” “If Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so.”

Looking at crumpling poll numbers, Romney may learn that when you don’t think for yourself, you tank.




Tuesday, September 25, 2012



Monday, September 24, 2012

CLARENCE PAGE: [MITT] Romney Misjudges Voters.

CLARENCE PAGE: Romney misjudges voters
GOP contender may have alienated a large voting bloc over recorded statements

An old tape that shows President Barack Obama saying he believes in “redistribution” is hardly the big scoop that Republican opponent Mitt Romney’s campaign claims. To some degree, we’re all redistributionists now, even Romney.

Romney’s campaign and conservative media have been touting the 1998 video clip of then-state Sen. Barack Obama at Chicago’s Loyola University, in which he says, “I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”

That R-word is a fighting word to the far right, especially the wingnuts who view Obama as a quasi-Marxist, secret Muslim and secret Kenyan who can’t wait to hand your nest egg over to welfare cheats.

However, as more sensible conservatives point out, the “redistribution” sound-bite is hardly hot news. We chewed over the redistributionist rap quite well after candidate Obama told Sam “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher four years ago that he wanted to “spread the wealth around.”

Besides, in an uncut version of the Loyola tape unearthed by NBC, Obama goes on to argue for competition and free market capitalism, coupled with a need to help the least fortunate. That’s a thoroughly mainstream argument.

In fact, whether we Americans face up to it or not, we’re all redistributionists now, including Romney.

Take, for example, Social Security and Medicare. They remain two of the government’s most popular, fiercely protected programs, despite their long-term funding woes. Mend them, don’t end them, voters say. Yet each program is redistristributive in its own way.

So is our progressive tax structure, with its complicated array of income brackets and exemptions. Even flat-tax proponents tend to be redistributionists. They merely want to redistribute the taxing-and-spending burdens and benefits in a different way from the existing system.

That’s where Romney rolled off the rails, in my view, in his far more damaging, secretly videotaped remarks at a Boca Raton fundraiser – a video clip from which his camp has tried in vain to divert attention with the Obama video.

Responding to a question about his campaign, Romney declared that he was not going to worry about the “47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what” because they “pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.” They were “dependent upon government,” Romney said, and they believe that they are “victims” and “are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

But the 47 percent who didn’t pay federal income taxes in 2011 didn’t pay because they did not owe any taxes. More than half of them did work and paid payroll taxes and state and local taxes, but did not earn enough to pay federal income taxes, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. The rest were mostly elderly. Fewer than one in 10 were classified as nonworking.

And the taxes they paid amounted to a higher percentage of their income than they did for upper income earners, the center reports.

Although Romney allowed in a Fox News interview that he could have been more “elegant” with his remarks, he didn’t back away from them. Rather, he believed we should have enough well-paying jobs that “people have the privilege of higher incomes” that would enable them to pay taxes.

“I think people would like to be paying taxes,” he said in what may be the nicest thing that a major Republican candidate has said about taxes since the era before Ronald Reagan.

In fact, Romney used to like redistributive programs more back in the days when he was a moderate governor of Massachusetts. It appears that he has since put that former self into a blind trust held by the tea party.

That’s politics. The political issue is not whether government redistributes but who pays and who benefits.

Besides, Romney should know better than to conflate the nonpaying 47 percent with committed Obama voters. Only about two-thirds of people in families earning less than $30,000 voted for Obama in 2008, according to exit polls. The rest voted for Obama’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain. If Romney really wants to give those low-income voters away, I’m sure Obama would be delighted to take them.


MAUREEN DOWD: The Son Also Sets.

The Son Also Sets By MAUREEN DOWD

SOMETIMES in the course of human events, we must ask, as Hemingway did in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” what is that leopard doing at this altitude?

As a candidate, Mitt Romney is awkward, off-putting and hollow, so bad that if he were a Bain company, he would shut himself down.

The billion-dollar Republican campaign should be sweeping the floor with the deflated President Obama after four years of 8 percent-plus unemployment. Yet it is curdling. The little donations have dried up; how long before the big money follows?

We must also ask the Hemingway question about Stuart Stevens, the Hemingway manqué running Mitt’s campaign. “The Square and the Flair,” The New Republic dubbed the synthetic candidate and his sentient adviser, who started as Eudora Welty’s paperboy and lived by the Oscar Wilde maxim: “Nothing succeeds like excess.”

The 58-year-old Mississippi native has written a sexy political novel, scripts for “Northern Exposure” and Evelyn Waugh-style travel odysseys. He was a consultant for George Clooney on “The Ides of March” and has even written an HBO docudrama about W.’s warrantless domestic spying program, centering on The Times’s decision to publish the article by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau that exposed it.

It’s hard to believe that the self-styled Renaissance Man who wrote this in “Feeding Frenzy” — “But next there was the Fricassee De Homard Breton Au Jus De Viande aux chicons confits au gingembre et citron vert. It was fabulous, contradictory but not conflicting, every taste a surprise” — works for the Tin Man, whose favorite meal is chocolate milk and peanut butter.

Stevens skied 100 miles to the North Pole and biked 450 miles through the Pyrenees. He wrote a piece for Outside magazine about taking steroids for a French bike race. After Oxford and U.C.L.A. film school, he fell into politics as an escapade, and he likes to maintain that larky affect.

In 2000, when he worked for W., as New Hampshire Republicans headed to the polls on Primary Day to deliver a near-fatal 19-point drubbing of his candidate, Stevens headed out from his hotel carrying skis. Asked by a reporter about his insouciance, he replied that there was nothing he could do at that point.

But his “devil-may-care routine,” as The New Republic calls it, may be wearing thin. This isn’t merely a plotline for some future script.

This is the real deal.

You get the sense that the strategist considers himself cooler than the candidate, that he’s too hip to walk through fire for Mitt and that he lacks confidence that Romney could be a better campaigner. He treats Mitt like a cardboard cutout, never asking him to risk anything or pushing him to be big, bold and inspirational.

Ann Romney is clearly feeling the strain. On Radio Iowa, she ordered whining Republicans: “Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring.” She said Americans should realize “how lucky” they were to have Mitt. She sounded entitled, even as her husband dismissed half the country as entitlement junkies.

An Obama adviser calls the Romney campaign “a study in mismanagement,” while the conservative columnist Peggy Noonan deems it “a rolling calamity.” Yet after Tampa, Romney gave promised bonuses totaling $192,440 to at least nine senior campaign staff members working under Stevens.

Even if voters are inclined to fire the incumbent, they need reassurance about what the replacement would do. Romney has failed to give details where needed, and when he does give details, they contradict his own past stands.

He finally released a tax return from 2011, showing he paid a higher tax rate than required. The press immediately unearthed a Romney quote from July: “If I had paid more than are legally due, I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president.” Case closed.

Aside from Mitt’s penchant for being a piñata, the campaign is a moveable feast of missteps: spending money at the wrong time; putting on biographical ads too late; letting the Obama camp define Romney before he defined himself; staging a disastrous foreign trip; fumbling the convention; and somehow neglecting to tell the candidate that there is no longer any such thing as off the record, if there ever was.

Some Republican strategists, watching it slip away, privately complain that Stevens is a poseur and political atheist who is so busy being a dilettante that he forgets the need to actually have faith.

Was the Hollywood dabbler so swept up in the idea of Clint Eastwood’s benediction that he didn’t vet the 82-year-old actor’s script, or wonder about that empty chair?

He doesn’t realize that having Romney stand for nothing and everything is not as good as having Romney say: Follow me, we’re going to go over here.

“If you don’t believe your guy can lead you to a better place,” said one G.O.P. strategist, “it’s hard to get anybody else to believe it.”

Romney said he liked to fire people. But his downfall may be that he does not.




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Mitt Romney Gives Democrats Support For "Politically Manipulated" 2011 Tax Deductions Claim. .

Romney gives Dem support for tax deductions claim

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to supporters during a rally Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, in Las Vegas.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney has given Democrats plenty of support for their claim he manipulated his deductions to keep his overall 2011 federal income tax rate above a certain threshold for political purposes.

The Republican presidential nominee, whose wealth is estimated as high as $250 million, seems hemmed in by a comment to reporters in August that he had never paid less than 13 percent in taxes in any single year over the past 10. Had he taken the full charitable deduction last year, it would have pushed his tax liability below 13 percent.

The former Massachusetts governor and his wife, Ann, could have claimed more in deductions, the trustee of Romney's blind trust said when the candidate's 2011 tax returns were released.

But, Brad Malt acknowledged, the couple "limited their deductions of charitable contributions to conform to the governor's statement in August, based on the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13 percent in income taxes in each of the last 10 years."

The tax returns had become a distraction for his campaign, with Democrats and even some fellow Republicans this summer urging Romney, who earlier had released 2010 data and a preliminary 2011 return, to disclose more than two years of information. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had kept the issue alive by making an unsubstantiated and roundly criticized claim that Romney had not paid any taxes for 10 years. Romney's statement about the 13 percent level had come in reaction to Reid's assertion.

Romney probably also will be reminded by the Democrats by something else he said in August. Defending his right to pay no more taxes than he owed, he said, "I don't pay more than are legally due, and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president."

The decision of Romney's trustee to limit the use of charitable deductions in 2011 in order to adhere to the candidate's claim raised the eyebrows of several tax law experts. They noted that the trustee's use of numerous tax strategies gives Romney the rare ability to loosen or limit his tax payments at will.

The Romneys donated roughly $4 million to charities last year, but only claimed a deduction of $2.25 million on their tax return, filed with the Internal Revenue Service on Friday.

That information, Reid said, "reveals that Mitt Romney manipulated one of the only two years of tax returns he's seen fit to show the American people - and then only to 'conform' with his public statements. That raises the question: What else in those returns has Romney manipulated?"

Romney made $13.7 million last year and paid $1.94 million in federal income taxes, giving him an effective tax rate of 14.1 percent. That was a bit above the 13.9 percent rate paid on 2010 income.

More precisely, the returns showed that the couple paid $1,935,708 in taxes on income of $13,696,951.

Romney, one of the wealthiest candidates ever to seek the presidency, paid taxes at a rate lower than taxpayers whose income was mostly from wages, which can be taxed at higher rates.

He released his 2010 returns in January, but he continues to decline to disclose returns from previous years — including those while he worked at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded.

The Obama campaign and other Democrats have pushed for fuller disclosures, reminding the Republican candidate that his father, George Romney, released a dozen years of returns when he ran for president.

Overall, the Romneys' main tax return and separate forms for blind trusts totaled more than 800 pages. The blind-trust income came from hedge funds and other complex investment vehicles. The couple also reported $3.5 million in income "from sources outside the United States," citing "various countries." Their forms included filings on holdings in Switzerland, Ireland, Germany and the Cayman Islands.

The Obama campaign accused Romney anew of profiting from millions invested overseas and "loopholes and tax shelters only available to those at the top." Apparently hoping to resolve basic questions voters might have, the Romney campaign released a letter from his accountants saying that in the 20 years prior to 2010 the Romneys paid an average annual effective rate of 20.2 percent, never lower than 13.66 percent.

On average, middle-income families — those making from $50,000 to $75,000 a year — pay 12.8 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation. But many pay a higher rate.

Romney is aggressively competing with Obama for the support of middle-class voters.

Obama's tax return for last year showed that he and his wife, Michelle, paid $162,074 in federal taxes on $789,674 in adjusted gross income, an effective tax rate of 20.5 percent. Their income plunged from $1.7 million in 2010, with declining sales of the president's books. In 2009, the Obamas reported income of $5.5 million, fueled by the best-selling books.

The Romneys' tax bill could have been lower. They gave $2.6 million in cash to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the documents show. They gave just over $2 million in noncash charitable contributions, including donations of stock holdings in Domino's Pizza, Dunkin Donuts and Warner Chilcott, to a family trust.

"It's interesting he didn't take the full charitable deduction," said Victor Fleischer, a University of Colorado law professor who has testified before Congress urging tightened oversight of private equity firms. "You're in a pretty lucky position when you can pay more tax" to get up to a 13 percent rate. Fleischer and several others said it was doubtful Romney could later take any unclaimed deductions in future years.

The Romneys had obtained a filing extension beyond the usual April 15 tax deadline.

Most of their income is from investments held in a blind trust, and campaign aides have stressed that he makes no decisions on how his money is invested. Capital gains and dividend interest is now generally taxed at 15 percent whereas the top marginal rate for income from wages is 35 percent.

The Romneys reported $6.8 million in capital gains, such as from the sale of stocks and other securities, and $6.37 million from dividends and taxable interest.

Several tax law experts said the newly released tax returns would not be much help in resolving critics' questions about his finances: whether he used aggressive tax-deferral strategies, what might be the specifics and tax advantages of his numerous offshore investments, what was the source of his massive retirement account and what are the details behind his now-closed $3 million Swiss bank account.

Analysts said details about his investments could emerge only if Romney provided far more of his tax returns, including files dating back to his years at Bain, the private firm he left in 2001. Romney, who initially refused to disclose any tax returns, has drawn the line at providing those from the past two years.

The Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and his wife, Janna, whose returns were also released Friday by the Romney campaign, paid $64,764 in taxes on $323,416 of adjusted gross income in 2011, for an effective rate of 20 percent.

Just over half of their income came from Ryan's congressional salary. Other income flowed from rental real estate and other investments, including a trust inherited by Janna Ryan. They donated $12,991 to charity, including to the Boy Scouts of America.

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FBI Is Investigating Richie Farmer's Stint As Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner.

FBI investigating Richie Farmer's stint as Kentucky agriculture commissioner

FRANKFORT, KY. — The FBI is investigating Richie Farmer’s stint as agriculture commissioner, his successor says.

“The attorney general’s office has notified me that the FBI is investigating the previous administration...” Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said in an interview Friday. “They said that the FBI would be contacting some of our employees” who remain from Farmer’s years as commissioner.

“They told us this because these workers would obviously have to leave work early ... and these meetings could last several hours,” Comer said.

Comer said his office was notified late last week by Attorney General Jack Conway’s staff.

Comer said his staff was not told what aspects of Farmer’s 2004-11 tenure are under investigation.

Farmer’s tenure as agriculture commissioner was blasted in an April 30 audit by state Auditor Adam Edelen. The audit criticized Farmer’s administration on a wide range of financial and management isuues including possible misuse of state and federal funds.

Comer said he was not told what particular areas were of interest to the FBI. “I have no idea,” he said. “I’m just focused on running the Department of Agriculture.” The audit has been under review since April 30 by the attorney general’s office and the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

Allison Martin, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment on whether the FBI has also started to investigate. “It is the policy of our office not to confirm or deny the existence of investigations or lack thereof,” she said.

Mary Trotman, FBI special agent and media coordinator for the Louisville office, also said the FBI could neither confirm nor deny any investigation.

Farmer’s attorney, Guthrie True of Frankfort, said he was unaware of any FBI interest in Farmer. “I’ve always said I didn’t see anything in the audit that I thought would really get the interest of any investigative authority,” True said. “And I’m certainly not aware of anything in there that would be of interest to the FBI.”

Edelen’s audit found that Farmer used state employees for his personal benefit, including having them help build a basketball court in his backyard.

The audit criticized spending of $96,000 in state funds for an extravagant convention. It found time and travel abuses by favored employees as well as apparent violations of state law in the hiring and promotion of merit system employees.

In one instance involving federal resources, Edelen’s report found that Farmer’s department rerouted about $43,000 required to be spent on benefiting the ginseng industry to purchase vehicles for animal enforcement officers instead.

Meanwhile on Friday, Franklin County Judge Squire Williams rejected Farmer’s request to reduce his $1,227-a-month child-support payments, saying the former University of Kentucky basketball star is “voluntarily underemployed.”

However, Williams said Farmer won’t have to pay the money for two months while he recovers from hip surgery.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Williams said he couldn’t conclude that Farmer has been diligent about finding regular work since January.

Farmer had asked that the payments be reduced because of his surgery and because they were based on his $110,000 annual salary as agriculture secretary.

The payments would go toward his three sons, who are living his former wife, Rebecca.

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"Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives." -- John Adams, letter to Benjamin Rush, 1808




peggy noonan: Romney Needs A New CEO. Not Sure That Will Help, But It Sure Beats Doing Nothing Now!

Romney Needs a New CEO How to save a listing campaign, the Baker Way

“Nothing is written.” That was T.E. Lawrence to the Arab tribesmen in Robert Bolt’s screenplay, a masterpiece, of “Lawrence of Arabia.” You write no one off. Nothing is inevitable. Life is news—”What happened today?” And news is surprise—”You’re kidding!”

But you have to look at the landscape and see the shape of the land. You have to see it clearly to move on it well.

So here’s one tough, cool-eyed report on what is happening in the presidential race. It’s from veteran Republican pollster, now corporate strategist, Steve Lombardo of Edelman public relations in Washington. Mr. Lombardo worked in the 2008 Romney campaign. He’s not affiliated with any candidate. This is what he wrote Thursday morning, and what he sees is pretty much what I see.

“The pendulum has swung toward Obama.” Mitt Romney has “a damaged political persona.” He is running behind in key states like Ohio and Virginia and, to a lesser extent, Florida. The president is reversing the decline that began with his “You didn’t build that” comment. For three weeks he’s been on a roll. The wind’s at his back.

How did we get here? What can turn it around?

1. Mr. Romney came out of the primaries “a damaged and flawed candidate.” Voters began to see him as elitist, rich, out of touch. “Here the Democrats’ early advertising was crucial.” Newt Gingrich hurt too, with his attacks on Bain.

2. The Democrats defined Mr. Romney “before he had a chance to define himself.” His campaign failed in “not doing a substantial positive media buy to explain who Mitt Romney is and what kind of president he might be.”

3. “Perceptions of the economy are improving.” Unemployment is high, but the stock market has improved, bringing 401(k)s with it.

4. Obama’s approval ratings are up five to six points since last year. He is now at roughly 49% approval, comparable to where President Bush was in 2004.

5. “The president had a strong convention and Romney a weak one.” The RNC failed “to relaunch a rebranded Romney and create momentum.”

6. Team Romney has been “reactive,” partly because of the need for damage control, but it also failed to force the Obama campaign to react to its proposals and initiatives.

7. The “47%” comment didn’t help, but Mr. Romney’s Libya statement was a critical moment. Team Romney did not know “the most basic political tenet of a foreign crisis: when there is an international incident in which America is attacked, voters in this country will (at least in the short term) rally around the flag and the President. Always. It is stunning that Team Romney failed to recognize this.”

But, says Mr. Lombardo, nothing is over, much remains fluid. The president and his campaign know it. “Among likely voters nationally only two-three points separate the two candidates.” The debates are critical. “If Romney clearly wins the first debate” Oct. 3, “he has a good chance of reversing the trajectory of the last three weeks.”

Why? “Because support for Obama remains lukewarm.” That’s why “he is not running away with this thing even after Romney’s myriad stumbles.”
Finally, “the economy is still weak and the jobs report on October 5th will be pivotal. A strong one may ensure an Obama victory. On the other hand, a poor one on the heels of a Romney debate win could re-align this race.”


It is true that a good debate, especially a good first one, can invigorate a candidate and lead to increased confidence, which can prompt good decisions and sensible statements. There is more than a month between the first debate and the voting: That’s enough time for a healthy spiral to begin.

But: The Romney campaign has to get turned around. This week I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite. I really meant “rolling calamity.”

A lot of people weighed in, in I suppose expected ways: “Glad you said this,” “Mad you said this.” But, some surprises. No one that I know of defended the campaign or argued “you’re missing some of its quiet excellence.” Instead there was broad agreement with the gist of the critique—from some in the midlevel of the campaign itself, from outside backers and from various party activists and officials. There was a perhaps pessimistic assumption that no one in Boston would be open to advice. A veteran of a previous Romney campaign who supports the governor and admires him—”This is a good man”—said the candidate’s problem isn’t overconfidence, it’s a tin ear. That’s hard to change, the veteran said, because tin-earness keeps you from detecting and remedying tin-earness.

There were wistful notes from the Republicans who’d helped run previous campaigns, most of whom could be characterized as serious, moderate conservatives, all of whom want to see Mr. Romney win because they believe, honestly, that the president has harmed the country financially and in terms of its position in the world. They’re certain it will only get worse in the next four years, but they’re in despair at the Romney campaign. Some, unbidden, brought up the name James A. Baker III, who ran Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1984 (megalandslide—those were the days) and George H.W. Bush’s in 1988 (landslide.)

What they talked about, without using this phrase, is the Baker Way.

This was a man who could run a campaign. Twice in my life I’ve seen men so respected within their organizations that people couldn’t call them by their first names. That would be Mr. Paley, the buccaneer and visionary who invented CBS, and Mr. Baker, who ran things that are by nature chaotic and messy—campaigns and White Houses—with wisdom, focus, efficiency, determination and discipline. And he did it while being attacked every day from left, right and center—and that was in the Reagan White House, never mind outside, which was a constant war zone.

Mr. Baker’s central insight: The candidate can’t run the show. He can’t be the CEO of the campaign and be the candidate. The candidate is out there every day standing for things, fighting for a hearing, trying to get the American people to listen, agree and follow. That’s where his energies go. On top of that, if he’s serious, he has to put in place a guiding philosophy that somehow everyone on the plane picks up and internalizes. The candidate cannot oversee strategy, statements, speechwriting, ads. He shouldn’t be debating what statistic to put on slide four of the PowerPoint presentation. He has to learn to trust others—many others.

Mr. Baker broke up power centers while at the same time establishing clear lines of authority—and responsibility. When you screwed up, he let you know in one quick hurry. But most of all he had judgment. He delegated, and only the gifted were welcome: Bob Teeter, Dick Darman, Roger Ailes, Marlin Fitzwater. He didn’t like hacks, he didn’t get their point, and he knew one when he saw one.

A campaign is a communal exercise. It isn’t about individual entrepreneurs. It’s people pitching in together, aiming their high talents at one single objective: victory.

Mitt Romney needs to get his head screwed on right in this area. Maybe advice could come from someone in politics who awes him. If that isn’t Jim Baker then Mitt Romney’s not awe-able, which is a different kind of problem.


Sunday, September 23, 2012


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Saturday, September 22, 2012



Friday, September 21, 2012



Thursday, September 20, 2012


COURT: Ky students have no statutory "right" to attend neighborhood schools

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that Kentucky public school students have no statutory right to attend a particular school.

The ruling goes on to say that, "student assignment within a school district in Kentucky is a matter that the legislature has committed to the sound discretion of the local school board."

The decision comes as a serious blow to proponents of so-called "neighborhood schools."

Ted Gordon, the attorney for the plaintiffs' in the case, released the following statement after the ruling:

"While we will always respect the decision by the majority of the justices at the Kentucky Supreme Court, we have to wonder at the obvious attempts by JCPS to influence this decision by JCPS ever-changing student assignment plans," Gordon said. "With each new plan, JCPS has inched closer to neighborhood schools, which they realize that parents want and children need to improve the horrendous education that our children are now getting."

"All the parents in this case were courageous to take on the school system, and even though they did not win this round, they have made JCPS turn the corner, away from the outdated social experiment of busing," he continued. "Now these parents are hopeful that JCPS will start improving the education outcome for all our children."

JCPS officials have maintained that letting students attend the school closest to their home would return the community to segregation.

The court heard arguments from both sides in April, but the issue really boils down to one thing -- what does the word "enroll" mean?

Byron Leet of JCPS, said nowhere does the word "enroll" also mean "attend."

"We went to three different dictionary definitions of what it means to enroll. Not a one of those definitions, whether Black's Law Dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary or the Merriam Webster Dictionary, tells us that the words enroll and attend mean the same thing," he said.

But Gordon, argued that it's clear what the legislature intended: "The common sense meaning applicable here is that enroll, there's no 'in,' there's no 'at,' enroll in that school is the contemplation that these children go to school where they enroll."

School district supporters warned of dire consequences should they lose.

"The schools in Jefferson County will resegregate," said Louisville NAACP president Raoul Cunningham in April. "There's no doubt. if you go back to a neighborhood concept of schools, there's no question, the schools will resegregate."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Click HERE to read the ruling.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Was "Fast and Furious"' And What Went Wrong?

What was 'Fast and Furious,' and what went wrong?
By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) -- The long-awaited report on the controversial gun-trafficking operation known as Fast and Furious was issued by the Justice Department inspector general Wednesday. This question-and-answer looks at various aspects of the case and its controversies.

What was 'Fast and Furious'?

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- in cooperation with legal gun dealers -- traced weapons of low-level buyers, who they believed were acquiring them illegally for Mexican drug cartels.

Nearly 2,000 firearms from the program went missing, some turning up at killing scenes in Mexico -- and at the site of a December 2010 gunbattle in Arizona that left U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry dead.

The program has been blamed for contributing to crimes including Terry's death, and became a partisan bone of contention with the November elections approaching.

What went wrong?

The report released Wednesday by the Justice Department's inspector general focused blame on ATF headquarters, the agency's Phoenix, Arizona, field office, and the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona. The report cited "a series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment, and management failures that permeated ATF headquarters and the Phoenix Field Division, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona."

Before the release of the report, ATF officials in Arizona said they were following guidelines from ATF headquarters in Washington.

Did ATF intentionally let guns 'walk' to cartels?

Terry's tragic death put the public spotlight on Fast and Furious, and allegations surfaced that ATF officials intentionally did not intercept guns bought by straw buyers before they got into the hands of drug cartels -- as a tactic intended to lead to bigger fish by following the guns. Critics have said the alleged practice allowed guns to slip into the hands of the U.S. border agent's killers.

In an interview with Fortune magazine published by CNN Money, agents have denied the existence of such a method.

"Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn," Fortune wrote.

How did Washington politics get involved?

Republicans have used the issue to attack Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama Justice Department, which Holder oversees and which is in charge of the ATF.

Congressional investigators issued a subpoena for documents from Holder relating to Operation Fast and Furious, and President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over the documents.

The Republican-led House of Representatives, along with a handful of Democrats, voted to cite Holder for contempt. The vote along party lines was followed by the House taking the contempt issue to court, where it is expected to linger until well after the presidential election.

The report released Wednesday found that Holder was not informed of the controversial ATF operation until 2011, after Terry's death ratcheted up the political ramifications of the program.

What is the fallout from Fast and Furious?

The report Wednesday found a total of 14 employees of ATF and the Justice Department responsible for management failures in the botched operation. The inspector general referred the 14 for possible disciplinary action, but did not recommend criminal sanctions.

The Justice Department announced the departure of two employees who were faulted in the report:

-- Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division, resigned. The report said he failed to pass along key information about the flawed tactics being used in Fast and Furious.

--Former acting ATF Director Ken Melson, who had already stepped down from that role but was still working for the department in another capacity, has retired, the deparment said.

The acting head of ATF, B. Todd Jones, said in a statement that his agency accepted the report's findings and that ATF would determine what disciplinary action may by handed down.

On the political front, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, a leading critic of the administration on this issue, called on President Barack Obama to "step up and provide accountability" for the program. Holder "has clearly known about these unacceptable failures, yet has failed to take appropriate action for over a year and a half," Issa added.

Holder, meanwhile, said the report found the opposite: that the leadership did not know or authorize the tactics.



Let Them Eat Crab Cake By MAUREEN DOWD

Oh, for the days when we thought Mitt Romney didn’t stand for anything.

As a secret video from a Boca Raton fund-raiser with high rollers in May shows, Romney in private stands for so many bizarre things that it’s hard to tell what’s crazier — his domestic policy or his foreign policy.

Less than 50 days before the election, we learn that Romney may have given up on half of America and on Mideast peace.

In a reply to a fat cat at the $50,000-a-plate dinner, he wrote off 47 percent of the country as deadbeats, freeloaders and “victims” who feel they’re entitled to stuff — stuff like basic sustenance.

“Well, there are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” he said. “All right? There are 47 percent who are with him. Who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

The candidate, who pays so little in taxes relative to his income that he has to hide tax returns and money in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, then added, condescendingly: “These are people who pay no income tax.”

“So my job is not to worry about those people,” he blithely concluded. “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” What kind of presidential candidate shrugs off wooing whole groups — we’re talking many seniors and white-working-class voters in battleground states who are, if he actually knew what he was talking about, his own natural constituencies?

A “stupid and arrogant” one, as Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, put it.

Conservatives knew that Romney was no Reagan, but the tape left many Republicans and Obama strategists gobsmacked. One top Democrat called it “a treasure trove of stupid answers.”

On Fox News Tuesday, Neil Cavuto gently asked Romney if he had “prematurely” presumed that he couldn’t get all of those voters. Mitt’s rambles to the donors, released by Mother Jones magazine and, in a bit of poetic justice, unearthed by Jimmy Carter’s grandson, were a stunning combination of wrong facts, callous sentiments and dumb politics.

He seemed to have bought into the warped canard that some conservatives inside and outside of Congress have pushed: that the president and Nancy Pelosi were nefariously hooking people on unemployment benefits so they’d get addicted and vote Democratic to keep the unemployment bucks flowing like crack.

It’s literally rich: Willard, born on third base and acting self-made, whining to the rich about what a great deal in life the poor have.

We thought Romney was secretly moderate, but it turns out that he’s secretly cruel, a social Darwinist just like his running mate.

You’d assume that it would be hard now for Romney to resume bashing President Obama for demonizing and pandering on class warfare, with lines like he’s been using on the trail: “he and his allies are pushing us all even further apart by dividing us into groups.”

But, even as Mitt was spitefully demonizing and dividing in Boca, he remained cardboard-cutout un-self-aware, musing: “The thing which I find most disappointing about this president is his attack of one America against another America.” This is the absolute height of cluelessness.

At another point in the video, Romney once more showed his foreign policy jejuneness, questioning the workability of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which is U.S. policy endorsed by W.

Mr. Sunshine said he sometimes felt “that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace — and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.”

He continued: “You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize this is going to remain an unsolved problem,” adding, “And we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately somehow, something will happen to resolve it.”

Wow. That’s leadership. He said a former secretary of state had called him to suggest that after the Palestinian elections there might be a prospect for a settlement, but that “I didn’t delve into it.”

After months of doggedly trying to seem more likable, sharing his guilty pleasures like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snooki, Romney came across as a mean geek, a Cranbrook kid at the country club smugly swaddled in class disdain. He thinks being president is his manifest destiny. His father didn’t make it, so he will — no matter what far-out conservative positions he must graft on to in order to do it.

We’re in search of the real Romney. But, disturbingly, so is he.

One thing we have to give Mitt, though: He is, as advertised, a brilliant manager. He’s managed to ensure that President Obama has a much better chance of re-election.


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Romney’s ‘47 percent’ – here’s who’s actually not paying federal taxes and why Seattle Do Romney's 47% live somewhere out there? Who are Romney's ‘47 percent’? By Tony Pugh

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney’s controversial claim that 47 percent of Americans “pay no taxes” and are “dependent upon government” is an overstatement that put his presidential campaign on the defensive Tuesday as it scrambled to explain what he meant.

His comments came to light this week in a secretly recorded video of the Republican nominee speaking at a fundraiser in May. He made the comments while explaining how his campaign would not try to win over staunch supporters of President Barack Obama.

After media outlets began talking about the comments, Romney hurriedly held a press briefing Monday night. He said that his words “were not elegantly stated,” but he refused to back away from them.

“I’m sure I can state it more clearly and in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that, and so I’m sure I’ll point that out as time goes on,” he said.

The claim that nearly half of Americans pay no taxes is based on a 2011 finding from the Tax Policy Center, a joint tax research arm of the centrist Urban Institute and center-left Brookings Institution. The center reported in 2011 that 53.6 percent of an estimated 164 million U.S. households paid some federal income taxes, while the rest – actually 46.4 percent – paid none.

More than 76 million households paid no income taxes last year, according to the Tax Policy Center. But about 60 percent still paid federal payroll taxes that support Medicare and Social Security, said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the tax center. Many also paid federal excise taxes, along with state and local sales, property and income taxes.

“So it’s not that they’re not paying any taxes,” Williams said. “It’s just that they’re not paying federal income taxes.”

The reason, he said, is that more than 38 million, or roughly half of the 76 million households that paid no taxes last year, simply didn’t earn enough to have a tax liability under the current tax code.

In a July 2011 blog post, Williams cited as an example a married couple with two children who earn less than $26,400.

“Their $11,600 standard deduction and four exemptions of $3,700 each reduce their taxable income to zero,” he wrote.

But it isn’t just low-income households that pay no federal income taxes, Williams said. He estimated that 1,400 millionaires didn’t pay federal income taxes in 2009, with many likely taking advantage of foreign tax credits or charitable donations to lower their tax liability.

“These are things that people do to lower their tax rates,” he said.

Apart from the more than 38 million households that paid no taxes because they didn’t earn enough, the other half of the 76 million without federal tax liabilities are mostly low- to moderate-income families that benefited from special tax deductions targeting specific populations.

Nearly two-thirds of these households – 28.3 million – are made up of seniors and low-income families with children.

In fact, nearly 17 million elderly households paid no federal taxes last year because tax laws allow them to exclude municipal bond interest and some Social Security benefits from their taxable income, Williams said.

Another 11.6 million low-income families with children paid no income taxes because they benefited from the child earned income and child care tax credits, which erased their tax liability. The Earned Income Tax Credit is the nation’s largest anti-poverty program and helps pull the incomes of more than 5 million families over the federal poverty line each year.

“It’s a subsidy for people who work,” Williams explained of the tax credit, which has long enjoyed bipartisan support. “You don’t get the EITC if you’re not working. So (recipients are) not leeches. They’re not just sitting around waiting for the government to give them something.”

The tax credit is just one example of Congress using the tax code to provide financial support for families. The tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush, which targeted billions in tax relief for wealthy Americans, also canceled out the tax liability for 7.8 million low- and moderate-income families as well, according to a 2004 study by The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group.

In 2010, Romney himself saved $2 million in income taxes because his capital gains income was taxed at a lower rate, Williams said.

“He pays a 15 percent tax rate on his capital gains income as compared to the 35 percent rate that somebody getting the same dollars of income from a job would pay, so he’s benefiting to the tune of 20 percent” in tax savings, Williams said.

Williams said the remaining 10 million households that pay no federal income taxes take advantage of a variety of tax breaks on public assistance.

These include above-the-line deductions taken before you calculate your adjusted gross income; itemized deductions like mortgage interest payments and charitable contributions; education credits; and capital gains and qualified dividend tax rates, which benefit mainly the wealthy.

Read more here:





Tuesday, September 18, 2012

MAUREEN DOWD: Neocons Slither Back.

Neocons Slither Back By MAUREEN DOWD PAUL RYAN has not sautéed in foreign policy in his years on Capitol Hill. The 42-year-old congressman is no Middle East savant; till now, his idea of a border dispute has more likely involved Wisconsin and Yet Ryan got up at the Values Voter Summit here on Friday and skewered the Obama administration as it struggled to manage the Middle East mess left by clumsily mixed American signals toward the Arab Spring and the disastrous legacy of war-obsessed Republicans.

Ryan bemoaned “the slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration.” American foreign policy, he said, “needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose.”

Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor. The hawkish Romney adviser has been secunded to manage the running mate and graft a Manichaean worldview onto the foreign affairs neophyte.

A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption — it’s all ominously familiar.

You can draw a direct line from the hyperpower manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, which the neocons, abetted by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, used to prod an insecure and uninformed president into invading Iraq — a wildly misguided attempt to intimidate Arabs through the shock of overwhelming force. How’s that going for us?

After 9/11, the neocons captured one Republican president who was naïve about the world. Now, amid contagious Arab rage sparked on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, they have captured another would-be Republican president and vice president, both jejeune about the world.

Senor is emblematic of how much trouble America blundered into in the Middle East — trillions wasted, so many lives and limbs lost — because of how little we fathom the culture and sectarian politics. We’re still stumbling in the dark. We not only don’t know who our allies and enemies are, we don’t know who our allies’ and enemies’ allies and enemies are.

As the spokesman for Paul Bremer during the Iraq occupation, Senor helped perpetrate one of the biggest foreign policy bungles in American history. The clueless desert viceroys summarily disbanded the Iraqi Army, forced de-Baathification, stood frozen in denial as thugs looted ministries and museums, deluded themselves about the growing insurgency, and misled reporters with their Panglossian scenarios of progress.

“Off the record, Paris is burning,” Senor told a group of reporters a year into the war. “On the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq.”

Before he played ventriloquist to Ryan, Senor did the same for Romney, ratcheting up the candidate’s irresponsible bellicosity on the Middle East. Senor was the key adviser on Romney’s disastrous trip to Israel in July, when Mittens infuriated the Palestinians by making a chuckleheaded claim about their culture.

Senor got out over his skis before Romney’s speech in Jerusalem, telling reporters that Mitt would say he respected Israel’s right to make a pre-emptive, unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

While the Muslim world burned on Friday, Mitt was in New York with Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan confessing that he wears “as little as possible” to bed. With no global vision or historical perspective — he didn’t even remember during his Tampa convention to mention our troops or the years of war his party reigned over — Romney is simply kowtowing to the right again.

Paul Wolfowitz, an Iraq war architect, weighed in on Fox News, slimily asserting that President Obama should not be allowed to “slither through” without a clear position on Libya.

Republicans are bananas on this one. They blame Obama for casting Hosni Mubarak overboard and contradict themselves by blaming him for not supporting the Arab Spring. One minute Romney parrots Bibi Netanyahu’s position on Iran, the next Obama’s.

Romney’s cynical braying about Obama appeasement in the midst of the attack on the American diplomatic post in Libya and the murder of the brave ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was shameful. Richard Williamson, a Romney adviser, had the gall to tell The Washington Post, “There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation.”

He’s right — a scarier situation. If President Romney acceded to Netanyahu’s outrageous demand for clear red lines on Iran, this global confrontation would be a tiny foretaste of the conflagration to come.

Cheney, described by Romney as a “person of wisdom and judgment,” is lurking. On Monday, he churlishly tried to deny President Obama credit for putting Osama in the cross hairs, cattily referring to a report that Obama had not gone to all his intelligence briefings.

Well, yes. W. got briefings, like the one that warned him on Aug. 6, 2001: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” That didn’t work so well either, did it?




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Thurston Howell Romney. Mr. PHONY!

Thurston Howell Romney By DAVID Brooks In 1980, about 30 percent of Americans received some form of government benefits. Today, as Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has pointed out, about 49 percent

In 1960, government transfers to individuals totaled $24 billion. By 2010, that total was 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown by more than 700 percent over the last 50 years. This spending surge, Eberstadt notes, has increased faster under Republican administrations than Democratic ones.

There are sensible conclusions to be drawn from these facts. You could say that the entitlement state is growing at an unsustainable rate and will bankrupt the country. You could also say that America is spending way too much on health care for the elderly and way too little on young families and investments in the future.

But these are not the sensible arguments that Mitt Romney made at a fund-raiser earlier this year. Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?

It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.

It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined. The number of people who think government spending promotes social mobility has fallen.

The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor.

Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.

The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There’s no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn’t have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own.

The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.

But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.

People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.

Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I’d put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.

Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Peggy Noonan: "An IDIOT With A Video Camera Has The Terrifying Power To Change The World." YEP, TERRIFYING!

The Age of the Would-Be Princips An idiot with a video camera has the terrifying power to change the world.

No American leader’s public statements were up to the task or equal to the moment this week. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama were appropriately full of high praise and sentiment for the four U.S. diplomats gruesomely murdered in Libya. The four can’t be praised enough: They put themselves in harm’s way for their country.

But both Mrs. Clinton’s and Mr. Obama’s remarks, after the tributes, were marked by the kind of gauzy platitudes that, coming one after another, make a statement seem off point and odd. Both shied away from central issues. Violence is “senseless,” yes, and we believe in religious tolerance, true. But at the center there was a void, and the void was meaning. What does this mean? What do we do? What can be done? What should be done?

You know what American politicians have gotten too good at? Talking about loss. Eulogizing the irreplaceable.

A little grit, please.

Mitt Romney came under fire from many, including me, for speaking too soon and in a way that was immediately critical of the administration.

Guys, timing. Dignity. Restraint. Tragedy. Painful headlines, brutal pictures. Long view. Bigness. Think it through, take some days, and then come forth with a cool, detailed, deeply pertinent critique that will actually help people think about what happened.

Granted, the U.S. Embassy statement from Cairo was embarrassing, a verbal cringe. It was marred by the baby talk that disfigures our public discourse. We are so sorry if you’re hurting, we’re really sad someone’s hurt your feelings. Maybe we should just give in and reduce our formal communiqués to something more easily tweetable, like emoticons: “America on your feelings and your need to assuage them by murdering our ambassador :-(”

And look, all this did have that special sound of the Obama administration, did it not?

However. The statement was written by a person or persons who no doubt feared they’d be under siege and in fact soon were, and over some idiot’s video. You have to give some room to people in circumstances so frightening and bizarre.

Mr. Romney’s appearance Wednesday morning seemed to me a metaphor for what is not yet right about his campaign. The setting—the deep blue curtains, the American flags, the dignified podium, the handsome straight-backed candidate—was perfect, presidential. The Romney campaign cares a lot about the picture, just as the White House does: Everyone in politics is too visual. But the thoughts, content, meaning—these are given secondary attention, when in fact they are everything. Get that right and all else will follow.

Republican candidates for president labor under a disadvantage, and we all know what it is. Mainstream media is stacked toward Democrats and against Republicans, toward liberalism and against conservatism. That means Republicans who win have to break through the prism with the force of their thoughts, their words, their philosophy. This is hard. The picture is part of it. But the rest is the heart of it.

What is needed from Mr. Romney now, or soon, is a serious statement about America’s role and purpose in the world. If such a statement contained an intellectually serious critique of the president’s grand strategy, or lack of it, all the better. As far as I can tell, that strategy largely consists of spurts of emotion and calculation from his closest aides, and is not a strategy but an inbox.

Mr. Romney might also contemplate this, because it will soon be on the American mind: Our embassies under siege in the Mideast gives us a sense of what a war with Iran would look like. It would be bloody. Not neat, not surgical, but bloody.
The world is very hot right now. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to lower the temperature.
As for Mr. Obama, he didn’t help himself with his snotty comment on “60 Minutes” that Mr. Romney has a habit of shooting first and aiming later. He could have been classy and refused to take a shot. But he’s not really classy that way.

Two closing thoughts, on larger context.

Whatever the exact impact of the anti-Muhammad hate film that went viral, we have entered an age of would-be Princips.

Gavrilo Princip of course was the assassin who killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on June 28, 1914. He was 20, largely friendless and small in stature. He pulled the trigger that killed the archduke which led to the ultimatums that brought the war that misshaped the 20th century. From his act sprang nine million dead, Lenin at the Finland Station, the fall of Russia, the rise of communism, World War II, the Cold War . . .

power, whatever the cost to others. It is to need to get your point out there, whaall those things would have happened anyway, one way or another. We’ll never know. All we know is how it did begin, with one young man and a gun.

Now in the age of technology, with everything disseminated everywhere instantly, it isn’t one man with a gun but one man with a camera, or a laptop, or a phone.

To be a Princip is to feeltever the price others pay. A Princip has a high sense of authority—he is in possession of urgent truths—and no sense of responsibility.

The maker of the videotape that contributed to the rioting in Egypt is a would-be Princip, as is the American pastor, Terry Jones, who burned the Quran.
We are going to have to think about antidotes to and answers for the new Principism. Because it’s not going to go away.

This week I quoted Paul Fussell’s masterwork, “The Great War and Modern Memory.” He spoke of what came to be, in Europe, the enduring symbolic meaning of the summer of 1914, the last summer before the war. It was the best in years, sunny and stormless, and later, in the trenches, the great writers of World War I, Sigfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, would remember it as a demarcation point between innocence and horror. This is comparable to the poignantly beautiful Sept. 11, 2001, a day so clear you could see for miles, a day everyone in New York remembers as a demarcation point between one world and another.

Like many historians and writers on that war, but with greater style, Fussell noted how everyone was expecting something different. No one was expecting what happened. In July 1914, the big desk in the British cabinet room had been strewn with maps on which were marked battle lines for the coming war. It was to be in Ulster, where everyone had long known an Irish civil war was about to break out: “Enter Sir Edward Grey, ashen faced, in his hand the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia.”

Those in American politics have long had their desks strewn with economic reports and unemployment data, because everyone knew the election is about one thing, the economy. There were stories, just before 9/11/12, about how foreign policy had disappeared as an issue. And now this will be, to some serious degree, a foreign policy election. History is a trickster, it never loses its power to take us aback. We know this in the abstract. It’s somehow always startling in the particular.


Joseph Gerth: [Mitch] McConnell Moves To Avoid TEA Party Challenge.

Joseph Gerth | McConnell moves to avoid tea party challenge

The news last week that U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has hired the grandson-in-law of tea party patriarch and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, of Texas, to lead his reelection effort is a sign that Kentucky’s senior senator will do anything he can to avoid a tea party challenge.

His naming of Jesse Benton as manager for his 2014 reelection campaign was being hailed by some as a stroke of political genius by some and criticized as craven politics by others.

It may be a little of both but it certainly gives McConnell an advantage heading into the 2013 when Republicans and Democrats would need to start lining up support if they are going to challenge the most powerful Senate Republican in Washington the following year.

McConnell already has a money advantage, having banked more than $6 million to defend his seat, far ahead of the fundraising pace he was on four years ago when he spent more than $21 million fighting off Democrat Bruce Lunsford.

Now, with Benton, he’s got a top-notch grass roots organizer with some serious tea party chops who can possibly help him scare off a serious tea party challenge.

By some in the tea party movement, McConnell is viewed suspiciously.

He based most of his career on bringing taxpayer money back to Kentucky, supported the stimulus package in late 2008 as the economy looked near collapse and backed an untold number of resolutions raising the debt ceiling.

Tea party, he’s not.

But with Benton on his side, that may not matter.

The problem with a tea party challenge, even if McConnell were to survive it, is that a poor showing in an intramural contest could make him look weak in the general election. Ask David Williams, who received less than 50 percent of the vote against two little-known opponents in the 2011 gubernatorial primary and was never able to gain any general election mojo.

Beyond that, a serious primary challenge would drain critical resources from him that he would need if he were fighting off a well-funded Democratic foe. Four years ago, he went more than $2 million in debt in order to win an election that seemed to be going south in the last month.

With Benton, McConnell gets someone who knows the state and whose presence seems to give him the Paul family’s imprimatur.

Benton, the Paul family fixer came to Kentucky in 2010 and helped straighten out the Senate campaign of his uncle, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who made some serious missteps in the days leading up to the GOP primary and in the days after it.

Now, he’s quit Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, a grassroots political organization he helped found and was the group’s senior vice president, to fix whatever might ail McConnell’s reelection.

McConnell is obviously pleased with the hire.

The day the Associated Press story about Benton’s hire hit the newspapers and websites, McConnell’s staff members were doing their best to spread the news around.

His Senate office spokesman was circulating a Politico story about the relationship between McConnell and Paul that focused on his hiring of Benton and the need for him and other establishment Republican’s to get the tea party on board.

“The last thing we want are tea party folks to feel like they’re not welcome in the Republican Party and then they’d have to form a third party that would hurt both of us,” Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee was quoted as saying.

McConnell’s chief of staff was promoting a column Benton wrote for the conservative web publication, The Daily Caller, in which he explained why he was going to work for McConnell. And his Kentucky state director was pushing a Benton story on a downtown sidewalk at lunchtime Friday.

Later that day, McConnell sent out an email introducing Benton to his backers and praising him for his work. McConnell hasn’t been so effusive since he got weepy on the Senate floor when he sent off former chief of staff Kyle Simmons to become a lobbyist.

If Benton can keep him from a tea party challenge, that emotion could be well deserved.

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Why [POTUS] Barack Obama Will Win The Election Easily.

Why Barack Obama Will Win the Election Easily

Having failed rather spectacularly to correctly predict Mitt Romney’s running mate—I said it definitely would not be Paul Ryan less than 24 hours before he was picked -- I should probably avoid political predictions for a while. But as all those who make their livings in the prediction business know, the secret to success is to make so many of them that a few are bound to be right.

That said, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Barack Obama will win the election easily, at least in the all-important Electoral College. I have thought so for some time, but wanted to wait and see if the party conventions changed the political dynamics. They have; they have made me more certain of Obama’s victory.

Pollster Nate Silver has done an excellent job of assembling all of the known political data on where the presidential race stood as of Wednesday. His analysis leads him to project that Obama will beat Romney 51.2 percent to 47.6 percent in the popular vote, and 311 to 227 in the Electoral College where only 270 votes are needed to win. Overall, Silver gives Obama a 76 percent chance of winning the election.

Those who don’t follow the data intensively can be forgiven for not knowing what good shape Obama is in, because it is rarely reported in the mainstream media. There is a simple reason for this: it has a huge vested interest in maintaining the idea that the election is so close it cannot be called and will come down to the last vote cast on Election Day.

That is because the media have huge political operations with many highly-paid commentators who need people reading and tuning in daily to see if their preferred candidate has made any headway. There is also an enormous amount of data being produced daily that requires reporting and analysis—polls, campaign contributions, charges and counter charges, endorsements, gaffes and so on. It is not hard to spin this vast cacophony of material in such a way as to maintain the fiction that the election will be close.

The media, collectively, are in the position of sports announcers calling a game where one team is heavily favored and well ahead. They need to keep people watching so that advertisers will get value for their money. So they use every cliché in the book to tell viewers that “it ain’t over till it’s over” and about all the times the losing team has come from behind to win and so on and so on.

Of course, it goes without saying that once in a while, the losing team does make a comeback and wins unexpectedly. But by the time that happens, all except the winning team’s hardcore fans have changed the channel or left the stadium. However, we all know about those magical come-from-behind victories because the media have an incentive to hype them as a warning to fickle fans that they better stay tuned next time.

The same is going on today with the presidential race. Reporters and commentators are building up Romney’s chances and downplaying Obama’s to keep people interested. This was most evident last week when Republican speakers at their convention were played up and their talking points repeated, as if they were changing the course of the election as they spoke. This week, they are doing the same for the Democrats.

I thought the Republican convention went very poorly. And apparently, I was not the only one. According to Nielsen, television ratings for the Republican convention were down sharply from 2008. And according to Gallup, Romney’s convention “bounce” was the worst for any candidate of either party except for John Kerry in 2004—and we know what happened to him.

We don’t yet know what kind of bounce Obama will get, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it will at least be significantly better than Romney’s. Whereas few Republicans raved about any convention speech other than actor Clint Eastwood’s rambling conversation with an empty chair, Democrats are raving about those by Michele Obama, Bill Clinton and a number of other speakers at their convention.

To be sure, there are still opportunities for Republicans to level the playing field. There will be three debates between Romney and Obama, as well as one between the respective vice presidential nominees. They could make a difference, but history does not show that debates have much impact.

There is also the possibility that the Republicans’ huge money advantage could tilt the race in their favor. However, academic research and anecdotal evidence say that over a certain threshold, additional campaign spending has very little value. For example, in the 2010 governor’s race in California, Republican Meg Whitman outspent Democrat Jerry Brown $177 million to $36 million, yet Brown won very easily, 54 percent to 41 percent.

Too much money in a campaign can be counterproductive to a candidate. Voters become annoyed seeing the same commercials day after day, and resent intrusive phone calls and junk mail from candidates who do too much of it. But it is contrary to human nature for candidates not to spend whatever money is contributed to them. It has no value the day after the election.

In short, while it is not impossible for Romney to win the election, it is Obama’s to lose. As we get closer to the election and this view becomes widespread, it could influence congressional races and tilt the balance in the next Congress. Democrats may be able to free up some money budgeted for Obama to help candidates just needing an extra push to win, while Republicans may pull money from their winnable congressional races in hopes that still more advertising can pull the election out for Romney.

Finally, there is the unknown factor. I won’t even speculate on what that could be. But it goes without saying that Obama could royally screw up in some way or suffer from some foreign policy or other crisis beyond his control. But knowing what is known today, I am comfortable predicting an Obama victory in November.


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