Archive for March, 2010

In a Barnum and Bailey world, CNN hires a circus act

When I saw that Erick Erickson, the conservative blogger, founder of and a Macon resident, had been hired as a commentator by CNN, the lyrics of a famous Nat King Cole song came to mind:

“It’s a Barnum and Bailey world,
Just as phony as it can be….”

Increasingly, public life has become a carnival, a circus, a freak show. Admittedly, it has always had those elements — that’s part of what made it interesting. From the days when speakers gave stump speeches from actual stumps, they knew they had to be entertaining and provocative to hold an audience long enough to get their message across. Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine, among many others, knew how to express themselves in ways that brought attention to their cause and to themselves.

Erick Erickson

But it’s a long way from Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” to Erickson’s description of Supreme Court Justice David Souter as a child molester who engages in sex with goats (although he phrased it much less …

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Did Petraeus briefing set stage for U.S.-Israel spat?

(See Update below).

Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, reports that American anger at Israel’s position on settlements is driven at least in part by military concerns. By Perry’s account — a version that Pentagon and administration sources seem to be confirming rather than challenging — the change dates back to a January briefing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by a team from CENTCOM, or Central Command, the command responsible for a region from the Middle East east to Pakistan and Kazahkstan.

“The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned (Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael) Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli …

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China, U.S. move closer to economic clash

At the moment, attention is focused on the spat between Israel and the United States, but a more long-term dispute with more serious global implications is also heating up. Bristling at a harder line being taken by the Obama administration, leaders in China are ramping up the rhetoric.

The topic, at least for now, is currency manipulation. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama accused China of seeking economic advantage by unfairly undervaluing the renminbi, a charge he repeated last week in less concrete terms. In response, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao criticized what he called a move toward protectionism and even accused the United States of manipulating the dollar.

Earlier today, a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman repeated that warning.

“We hope the United States will overcome the financial crisis and become an advocate of free trade, not an obstructionist,” the spokesman said. “We hope it will think of its own interest, and it shouldn’t ask others to …

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Georgia needs to value its human infrastructure

Note: This is the text of my print column in today’s AJC. It repeats portions of a blog entry originally posted last week.

Fulton County may be forced to lay off 480 teachers, while DeKalb may close a dozen schools. In Cobb and Gwinnett counties, school officials face deficits of at least $100 million in their 2011 budgets, largely because of cuts in state aid.

Yet even staring into that abyss, legislative leaders continue to balk at targeted tax increases that might soften the financial blow to public schools.

Last week, for example, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle repeated his insistence that the state’s budget crisis would be addressed almost exclusively by cutting spending, with tax increases off the table. That includes a proposed increase in the state tax on tobacco products.

“People want to come to Georgia,” Cagle said. “They want to come here because we are a low-tax state. For us to be viable for the future we have to maintain that low-tax status.”

Georgia House …

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Spat between U.S., Israel grows more serious

Fallout continues from last week’s controversy between Israeli and American leaders, inspired by Israel’s announcement that 1,600 new apartments would be built in disputed East Jerusalem. The announcement came on the day Vice President Biden arrived in Jerusalem to note the resumption of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“This was an affront, it was an insult but most importantly it undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region,” Obama advisor David Axelrod said Sunday on “Meet the Press”. “For this announcement to come at that time was very destructive.”

Haaretz, an English-language Israeli newspaper, reports the reaction from Jerusalem:

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country’s diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to project a sense of “business as usual.”

Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls …

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The drawn-out struggle over health care comes to a close

With more plot turns and characters than a whole season of “Lost,” the seemingly never-ending saga of health-care reform might, just might, come to a close this week. But it’s going to be a cliffhanger.

Democrats are sounding confident, while acknowledging that they don’t yet have all the votes they need, while Republicans are threatening all-out political retribution.

From the Washington Post:

Republicans pressed ahead Sunday with a battery of arguments against the Democratic plans, saying that polls show firm public opposition to the legislation and that Senate leaders are using parliamentary gimmicks in an attempt to win final passage. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who has signaled a willingness to work with the administration on immigration and detention issues, said Obama’s “arrogant” push for health-care reform has divided the country and threatens bipartisan cooperation.

“When it comes to health care, he’s been tone-deaf, he’s been arrogant and they’re pushing a …

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“A distant moanin’ of a train seems to play a sad refrain’

This song got stuck in my head earlier this week, for reasons that ought to be obvious. It’s a perfect match of artist with song, with Benton’s aching baritone reflecting the equally aching melancholy of the lyrics. Just beautiful stuff to close out the week.

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When justified anger gets hijacked

It’s been a while since I first heard this song, but I ran across it again last week, while I was looking for a video to post for the Friday afternoon Travelin’ Music segment. I didn’t use it, because the whole idea of Friday afternoons is to find a topic other than politics to discuss. But it’s really a damn fine working man’s protest song, the kind of thing you don’t hear much anymore.

“… in the real world they’re shuttin’ Detroit down,
while the boss man takes his bonus pay and jets on out of town.
DC’s bailin’ out them bankers as the farmers auction ground
Yeah while they’re living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town,
in the real world they’re shutting Detroit down”

In the Fox clip, filmed here in Atlanta at a tea party near the Capitol last April, Sean Hannity proclaims it “an anthem song … I hope you guys in Washington … I hope they hear this song.” (Youtube also has a version that John Rich performed on Glenn Beck’s show.)

It’s odd, though, because the …

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The answer to the recession is to make people more desperate?

Barry Ritholtz at Big Picture, noting suggestions by Sen. Jim Bunning, Sen. Jon Kyl and Tom DeLay that unemployment benefits give people an incentive to be lazy, poses a question:

How do they explain the fact that historically, these recurring epidemics of laziness break out at EXACTLY the same time that the business cycle collapses, while that laziness is miraculously cured at the very moment when jobs become available?

In fact, Rittholz poses the question as a graph:


“… there are still well over five unemployed for every job opening (near the recent record of over six, though there was an improvement in the number of job openings),” Ritholtz concludes. “The un- and under- employment rates speak for themselves. Comments like these should really be beneath any reasonable level of civil discourse. It is pathetic that they’re not.”

For some people, unemployment benefits probably do ease the pressure to get back into the job market aggressively. I agree with that …

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No tax hike for schools, but for a Falcons stadium? Sure thing!

Facing a financial crisis, Fulton County schools may soon have to lay off 480 teachers. The DeKalb County district is planning to close a dozen schools. Schools in Gwinnett County face a loss of at least $62 million in state funds in fiscal 2011, a figure likely to climb as state revenues plummet. That would mean across-the-board pay cuts for all Gwinnett school employees.

Despite that dismal outlook, state legislative leaders continue to balk at targeted tax increases that could soften the financial blow to public schools. In a discussion Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle repeated his insistence that the state’s budget crisis would be handled by cutting spending, not by tax increases. Georgia’s status as a low-tax state must be preserved, he said, because that status is what makes the state attractive to businesses and newcomers.

Leaders of the Georgia House have made similar statements. Yet just a day earlier, the state House quietly voted to extend a 7 percent tax on hotel and …

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