Archive for March, 2013

U.S. boots on the ground in Syria? Only as a last option


Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and head of the House Intelligence Committee, told the world Sunday that “I think that it is abundantly clear that that red line has been crossed” by Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people, and that small numbers of U.S. forces must be put on the ground in Syria to fend off impending chaos in that country.

“Our Arab League allies talk to us frequently, and they are as frustrated as I have seen them because of the lack of U.S. leadership,” Rogers said on “Face the Nation.” However, the Obama administration says it has no conclusive proof that chemical weapons have been used in the conflict.

That echoes demands made last week by Lindsey Graham and John McCain, both of whom insisted that President Obama intervene militarily in Syria, including using US troops.

“Absolutely, you’ve got to get on the ground,” Graham said. “There is no substitute for securing these weapons, I don’t care what it takes. We need partners in the …

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Some Georgia wisdom to start the week

Flannery O'Connor and one of her trademark peacocks at her farm near Milledgeville.

Flannery O’Connor and one of her trademark peacocks at her farm near Milledgeville.

Today, March 25, is the birthday of the wonderful Flannery O’Connor, the greatest writer in Georgia history if not the best-selling (take a bow of your own, Margaret Mitchell). Miss O’Connor, born in Savannah and for most of her life a resident of Milledgeville, had a talent for telling it straight and blunt, and for distilling complicated thoughts into sentences of startling clarity.

So let’s start the week with some selected O’Connor wisdom:

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

““Conviction without experience makes for harshness.”

“I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.”

“You have to quit confusing a madness with a …

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When old songs were new songs, and dead genres lived

You don’t generally think of the Rolling Stones as a country-music band, but when they want to be, they do a damn fine job of it. “Dead Flowers,” recorded back in the prehistoric era of 1969, is a great example. Listen to the song as if it were the first time that you ever heard it, forgetting that those playing and singing constitute a celebrity rock band from England, and it just oozes country.

What you also hear, however, is a direction not taken for country music. The Stones were tapping into the country genre at a moment in its history when its commercial sound and its authentic sound had not yet divorced because of irreconcilable differences. It could still be vibrant and rough and at times crude, both in its lyrics and its sound, and it was still true to its shared roots in the blues and rock and roll.

Within a decade of this song’s release, country music in its commercial form had been castrated, and all the hat acts in the world can’t reverse the operation.

– Jay …

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Israelis and Obama: ‘He had us at ‘Shalom”

President Obama’s visit to Israel and Palestine has now ended, with the president having made quite an impression.

For example, Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Bayit Yehudi Party, criticized Obama’s continued push for a two-state resolution to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, arguing that ” “a nation does not occupy its own land.” However, as the Jerusalem Post reports, even “Bennett said he recognized that Obama’s words came from concern for and true friendship with Israel.”

Others in Israel were considerably more emphatic and supportive, and in many cases downright enthusiastic about a major speech given by the president Thursday. Here’s Herb Keinen, again in the largely conservative Jerusalem Post:

He had us at the word “Shalom,” did President Barack Obama, on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Or if not at “Shalom,” then 33 words later when he said in Hebrew, “Tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz” (It’s good to be back in Israel). And if not then, …

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Note to Legislature: Nothing’s ‘historic’ until it passes

According to leaders of the Georgia House, the ethics-reform plan that their chamber passed overwhelmingly last month is an achievement of historic proportions. In fact, it “represents without overstatement or understatement the most ambitious change in ethics laws in modern times,” as state Rep. Rich Golick described the plan to a Senate committee this week.

It’s fair to say that Senate leaders were not impressed.

One day after Golick’s presentation, senators proceeded to dump most of the House plan and replace it with their own, very different plan. This was described by one senator as “an historic ethics proposal with the potential to change the culture” of state government.

Setting aside their alleged historic nature, the approaches championed by the two chambers have little in common. The House has passed what it claims to be a total ban on lobbyist expenditures, although as senators like to point out, that “ban” includes significant loopholes. According …

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In Florida, the sheen has worn off Marco Rubio

It’s WAAAAYYYY too early to put much credence in polling for the 2016 presidential race, but I did find a new Quinnipiac poll out of Florida intriguing for another reason.

The headline number out of the poll puts Hillary Clinton well ahead of Florida native sons Jeb Bush (51-40) and Marco Rubio (52-41), which adds to the thought that the presidential race would be Clinton’s to lose, should she choose to run. But again, a lot can change between now and then.

The real number that drew my attention was Rubio’s favorability rating. Just 41 percent of Florida voters told Quinnipiac that they approve of his performance as senator, which would be a deeply troubling number for a politician merely trying to win re-election. For someone eying a run for president or being mentioned as his party’s next great hope, it’s downright startling. I don’t know what Barack Obama’s numbers were in Illinois in 2006, but I bet they were a lot higher than that.

(Public Policy Polling produces similar …

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Ga. Senate race illustrates GOP dysfunction

Georgia’s 2014 Republican Senate primary is still 16 months away, but already it is more eloquent about the problems faced by the GOP than anything contained in the “autopsy” released this week by the Republican National Committee.

The central figure in the story is shaping up to be U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Republican from Georgia’s 10th Congressional District. To put it bluntly, the man is as nutty as a Stuckey’s pecan log. He makes Todd Akin and Richard Mourland, two GOP Senate candidates doomed to defeat in 2012 by their extremism, seem almost moderate by comparison.

So far, Broun is the only announced candidate to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. But two other members of Georgia’s GOP congressional delegation, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, are planning a run as well. A fourth Georgia congressman, Tom Price, is reportedly having second thoughts about the race, perhaps seeing more opportunities in House leadership. Other candidates may enter the race as well.

It is …

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Taking on the Big Banks is a job for BOTH parties

The Dodd-Frank law attempts to outlaw bail-outs of huge banks that would otherwise be considered “too big to fail,” meaning that they are so large that their collapse would threaten not just the U.S. economy but the global financial structure as well.

(The banks in question are JP Morgan Chase, BankAmerica, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley.)

But the fact remains that those six banks are still, in fact, too large to be allowed to fail, and everyone in banking knows it even if they do not admit it. Attorney General Eric Holder has acknowledged that the banks may even be “too big to prosecute,” because again the economic impact of doing so would be enormous:

“I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the …

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What the Dixie Chicks said …

For the record, the Dixie Chicks were banned from country music stations — and from the country music genre in general — because 10 years ago, lead singer Natalie Maines dared to tell an audience in London that “we don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”

That’s all it took, here in the land of the free and home of the brave.

UPDATE: Here’s a comprehensive, well-written piece in Texas Monthly outlining the Chicks’ rise and fall, and where they are now. A taste:

“The short answer to what happened is known in band lore as the Incident. In March 2003, on the brink of the Iraq war, Natalie told a London audience that the Chicks were ashamed that George W. Bush was from Texas. Prior to that moment, they looked like surefire enshrinees to the Country Music Hall of Fame, poised, perhaps, to become the biggest act in the genre’s history. In barely five years, their first three records had sold 28 million copies. …

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Misled into a mistake, a decade later


Note: This incorporates material from a post published earlier on this blog. It is posted here as the electronic version of a column published in today’s dead-tree edition of the AJC.


Ten years ago today, the United States launched an unprovoked invasion of another country, an attack that was justified by claims of dire threats that our leaders knew to be false and exaggerated. More than 4,000 of our sons and daughters were to die as a result of that decision; tens of thousands more live today with physical and psychic wounds that have changed their lives forever.

The last of our soldiers to die in that war was named David Hickman. He was a recently married 23-year-old Army specialist from Greensboro, N.C. He was killed Nov. 14, 2011, by an improvised explosive device, a term that by the end had became all too familiar. The death toll continues even now within Iraq, with an average of a dozen people a day dying from political-related violence. More than 60 …

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