Archive for April, 2012

2012 Tuesday: Events, dear boy, events — and their ability to shape the race

A butterfly sows its oats — er, flaps its wings — in Cartagena, and an incumbent in Washington loses an election?

On it own, the story from Colombia about Secret Service agents hiring prostitutes in Colombia while on an advance trip preparing for President Obama’s recent visit there — a story that has broadened to include perhaps 20 people, including military personnel — is little more than a headache to a president. Quite obviously, he did not direct them to behave in such a way and does not approve of their actions.

But it may be a small example of the external, wholly unpredictable occurrences that cumulatively help to shape an election. As former British Prime Minister Harold McMillan is said to have responded when asked what worried him, it’s “Events, dear boy, events.”

I feel confident in predicting that one Secret Service scandal in Colombia, by itself, will not undermine Obama’s re-election chances. But consider that it comes at the same time as a controversy that does …

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From ‘too big to fail’ to even bigger in just four years

Some cheery news from Bloomberg to start your week: The banks that were “too big to fail” just four years ago are now even bigger than before:

Five banks — JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. — held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to central bankers at the Federal Reserve.

Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy, sparking concern that trouble at a major bank would rock the financial system and force the government to step in as it did in 2007 with the Fed-assisted rescue of Bear Stearns Cos. by JPMorgan and in 2008 with Citigroup and Bank of America after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the largest in U.S. history.

“Market participants believe that nothing has changed, that …

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What Hilary Rosen didn’t — and won’t — apologize for

I was out of the office on a reporting trip yesterday when the comments about Ann Romney by someone named Hilary Rosen morphed into the ludicrously named “mommy wars.” I call the appellation ludicrous for a couple of reasons — in part because it’s condescending, but chiefly because my reporting trip concerned programs to help soldiers returning from combat who are physically wounded or struggling to reconnect with their families. So, I’m less patient than ever with phrases such as “mommy wars” and the “war on women.”

Rosen has apologized for saying Ann Romney “hasn’t worked a day in her life” and said, as a mother, she can appreciate the work involved in being a stay-at-home mom. I have no reason to doubt her sincerity about that particular point — if only because, it seems obvious to me, the work ethic of stay-at-home moms wasn’t her real point. Her real point remains unretracted, and it is also repugnant.

The key part of Rosen’s original point can be found in the lead-up to …

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Activists rate Romney’s appeal to Georgia conservatives

After all the hand-wringing and rancor, the Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Republican primary came to an abrupt, if unofficial, conclusion this week. On paper, 20 state contests and two challengers remain. But Rick Santorum’s suspension Tuesday of his second-place campaign removed the last, best challenge to Mitt Romney. Barring tragedy or scandal, the former Massachusetts governor will be the GOP standard-bearer against Barack Obama come November.

Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul pledge to soldier on toward Tampa and this summer’s GOP convention, but Romney has earned the right to begin running against Obama instead of his fellow Republicans. His biggest bit of unfinished primary business is whether the 60 percent of GOP voters who chose a candidate other than Romney will transfer their loyalty to him without some wooing. If the general election becomes a matter of which party can fire up its base more, can Romney inspire the kind of conservative turnout needed to win?

Georgia, where …

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From what we know, second-degree murder charge for Zimmerman sounds reasonable

I’m not an attorney, but it seems to me we can deduce at least two things from the just-announced charge against George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin:

1. The special prosecutor didn’t buy Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense. Here’s what FindLaw says about Florida’s second-degree murder laws:

To prove second degree murder, a prosecutor must show that the defendant acted according to a “depraved mind” without regard for human life. Florida state laws permit the prosecution of second degree murder when the killing lacked premeditation or planning, but the defendant acted with enmity toward the victim or the two had an ongoing interaction or relationship. Unlike first degree murder, second degree murder does not necessarily require proof of the defendant’s intent to kill.

That doesn’t strike me as the kind of charge that would be filed if the prosecutor believed Zimmerman was being beaten by Martin and feared for his life, as Zimmerman’s supporters have portrayed the …

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Have Mexicans quit coming to the U.S. illegally?

Could a combination of tougher immigration laws, our stagnant economy and improving prospects at home mean illegal immigration to the U.S. from Mexico is at a standstill? That’s what the Christian Science Monitor reports in a fascinating article about Mexicans who came to the U.S. illegally and have now returned home.

The article details some anecdotal examples — including a number of references to Georgia — and some interesting descriptions of the challenges for these returnees. But what really caught my eye was that there are data to back up those personal stories:

At the macroeconomic level, Douglas Massey, founder of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University, has documented what he calls “net zero” migration. The population of undocumented immigrants in the US fell from 12 million to approximately 11 million during the height of the financial crisis (2008-09), he says. And since then, Mexicans without documents aren’t migrating at rates to replace the loss, …

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Santorum exits after a campaign that beat all expectations

Everyone who had Rick Santorum making it until the Tuesday after Easter, not giving up his presidential campaign until he’d contested 26 of the 56 primaries/caucuses and won the second-most delegates in them, take your bow.

Or maybe we should just leave the applause to Santorum himself.

A campaign that started with little money and few believers, on the ashes of a blowout of a failed Senate re-election six years ago, pushed Mitt Romney to the brink in such key states as Michigan and Ohio and defeated Newt Gingrich across much of the Deep South. Santorum won Iowa by a hair — though he wasn’t recognized as the winner for a couple of weeks — then used a trifecta of upsets over Romney to become the last serious challenger to him.

He didn’t always help himself by talking at length about social issues in an election year bound to be dominated by dollars and cents, but that’s who he is — and Santorum’s authenticity is part of what drew more than 3 million GOP primary voters to him. …

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2012 Tuesday: With Buffett Rule, Obama ignores economics and leans on ‘fairness’

A lot of commentary about Barack Obama’s re-election campaign focuses on what’s different from 2008. But there’s one clear way in which it’s exactly the same.

In 2008, when ABC’s Charles Gibson asked Obama during a debate why he favored raising the capital-gains tax rate when the evidence suggests doing so would only reduce government revenues, Obama answered, “Well, Charlie, what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.” (Amazingly, except to those who have noticed Obama’s tendency to try to have things both ways, he went on to talk about the need to spend more money on health care and education — without disputing Gibson’s premise that raising capital-gains tax rates would instead lower revenues.)

Now, in discussing the so-called Buffett Rule, which would require Americans making at least $1 million in a year to pay at least 30 percent of their income in federal taxes, we’re back to the argument of fairness, economic and …

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Another Georgia congressman proposes possible Obamacare replacement

Last week, I looked at U.S. Rep. Tom Price’s bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. His bill includes a section on tort reform authored by Congressman Phil Gingrey, who, like Price, was a physician before entering politics.

Well, Gingrey and Price aren’t the only doctors-turned-congressmen from Georgia. Paul Broun, who represents much of northeast Georgia in Congress, has submitted his own repeal-and-replace bill, the OPTION Act. It caught the attention of Avik Roy, a health-policy blogger for Forbes, who gave it a fairly positive review as “The Tea Party’s Plan for Replacing Obamacare.”

Some of the OPTION (Offering Patients True Individualized Options Now) Act’s provisions are similar to Price’s Empowering Patients First Act. Both provide for repealing the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare; both change the tax treatment of health care to put those buying coverage in the individual market on equal tax footing with people in employer-sponsored plans; and both allow for …

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Who got the most/best lobbyist goodies in the 2012 session

A day after the Masters and just in time for lunch, a link to an AJC report on the Georgia lawmakers who received the most expensive sports tickets (Rep. Rahn Mayo, D-Decatur, who got four tickets to one Hawks game valued at $500) and were the most richly fed by lobbyists (House Ways and Means Chairman Mickey Channell, R-Greensboro, whose lobbyist-funded meal tab came to $4,366 in three months) during the just-completed 2012 legislative session. An accompanying story sums up the spending:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s analysis of lobbyist disclosures for the legislative session just ended finds that lobbyists spent $866,747 — the equivalent of $9,525 per day — on gifts for lawmakers from Jan. 1 through March 31.

This rain of meals, tickets, trips and golf outings fell even as a statewide coalition called the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform pressed lawmakers to limit lobbyists’ gifts to $100 per event.

The coalition’s effort went nowhere. Bills were introduced in both …

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