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Enhanced border security that crosses the line

Post-9-11, most Americans appreciate the need for stepped-up security along our nation’s borders, north and south alike – provided people’s rights aren’t trampled routinely and with impunity in the process.

Huge sums are being spent on enhancing security, with more to come along the border with Canada, including more drones, electronic surveillance and manned checkpoints in places that once were “guarded” only by plastic highway cones.

This is all detailed in an excellent piece of journalism by Todd Miller at Mother Jones: US Quietly Ramps Up Security Along the Canadian Border.

Evenhandedly, Miller describes things you’ll probably deem necessary and worthwhile security measures, as we do. But you’ll also learn about some disturbing routine practices that cross the thin line that separates due caution and blatant harassment.

The abuse is insidious because if you’ve got red hair, blue eyes and your name is Tim O’Brien, Ben Willis or Guy Sturdevant, your chances of being subjected to it are probably on par with being struck by lightning. But if your first name is Mohammed, one of your parents hailed from the Middle East and you’ve got that sort of Mideast-type look about you, you’re a cinch to be treated as guilty until proven innocent of . . . apparently, being a suspicious type of person.

If you’re a suspicious-type person, all you have to do to wind up in the harassment trap is travel to Canada and go through a U.S. Border Patrol/Customs Service checkpoint on the way back.

How much stepped-up security is too much? Where is that line between due caution and the trampling of a citizen’s rights? What constitutes reasonable cause for suspicion?

If those questions matter to you, take the few minutes required to read Miller’s piece, but be prepared to be disturbed by what you’ll learn.

And if you do that, please swing back by here and share your thoughts in a comment.

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10 comments

Social Security repair wizards insist that we
implement the problem to solve the problem

“There was a case for paying down debt before the baby boomers began to retire, making it easier to pay full (Social Security) benefits later. But George W. Bush squandered the Clinton surplus on tax cuts and wars, and that window has closed. At this point, ‘reform’ proposals are all about things like raising the retirement age or changing the inflation adjustment, moves that would gradually reduce benefits relative to current law. What problem is this supposed to solve?

“Well, it’s probable (although not certain) that, within two or three decades, the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted, leaving the system unable to pay the full benefits specified by current law. So the plan is to avoid cuts in future benefits by committing right now to . . . cuts in future benefits. Huh?”

—Paul Krugman,, economist, author and Nobel Laureate,
in a New York Times column, The Dwindling Deficit,
Jan. 17, 2013.

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Speaking common sense to power: Interestingly, this telling point was made as a side note to Krugman’s larger message. That message is that while we have a deficit problem — as opposed to the universally flogged and erroneous term “crisis” — there is no good reason to tackle the whole thing now. The fiscal situation of the 2030′s can probably be better handled by the public officials of the 2020′s.

Krugman winds up this excellent column with a bit of wisdom that should be embroidered in bold olde script, framed and placed on President Obama’s Oval Office desk.

“But neither the current deficit nor projected future spending deserve to be anywhere near the top of our political agenda. It’s time to focus on other stuff — like the still-depressed state of the economy and the still-terrible problem of long-term unemployment.”

Amen.

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7 comments

Our holiday wishes for you

Christmas treeMay this holiday season bring you closer to family, friends and our Creator’s love. May the thought behind gifts you give and receive really be of the greatest importance.

May you, even for a moment, see Christmas delight in a child’s eyes and recall anew the delight you experienced as a child.

May any traveling you do be swift and safe — likewise for those traveling to see you.

May the new year bring you and yours a geneorus measure of the good things in life, and many a happy moment.

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12 comments

Better gun control will make little difference
if actual mental health care needs aren’t met

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AR-15 rifleWe can’t go on this way in America, with people meeting their congresswoman in a parking lot, attending a Sikh temple, seeing a movie in a theater, shopping at a mall, or young people in a college or elementary school classroom being gunned down by homicidal maniacs.

We Americans send our best, brightest and bravest to dangerous places around the world to keep us safe, spending hundreds of billions a year on national security — more than all other advanced industrial nations combined. We spend billions more on law enforcement at all levels of government.

What good is all that risk, sacrifice and expense if we — innocent men, women and even children — are so clearly vulnerable to individuals in our society who are so mentally ill or emotionally damaged they can become mass murderers at any time?

Now, in the aftermath of a horrific massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, there is serious talk among congressional Democrats of banning semiautomatic weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle Adam Lanza, 20, used to murder his mother at her home, then 20 children and six adults at the school. President Obama has spoken twice in three days of seeking tighter gun control and addressing mental health problems.

Both measures are long overdue and absolutely necessary — especially meeting mental health care needs. For the fact is, no amount of gun control will prevent these tragedies if people like Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza aren’t identified as needing help, and given the help they need, before they go completely haywire and start killing.

Sure, guns are these killers’ weapons of choice. But someone with Lanza’s reported intelligence can easily commit mass murder with a few bottles, rags, some gasoline and matches.

This inescapable conclusion about meeting mental health care needs isn’t something public officials want to deal with. That’s especially so now, given the state of our economy and current obsession with debt reduction. We’ve cheapskated mental health care needs for a long time. Short-term, lick-and-a-promise outpatient mental health care is hard to come by and afford for most Americans. Longterm, definitive outpatient care is beyond the reach of most. That goes double where full-time and perhaps longterm hospitalization is required.

Providing necessary mental health services to all in need of it is an expensive undertaking. But even if officials were suddenly prepared to fund adequate care and taxpayers were willing to pay the tab, it would take years to make this happen.

A study of national needs vs. resources, if done, will show we don’t begin to have enough mental health care professionals, clinics and hospitals.

As a result, America’s jails and prisons are obliged to take up the slack. A huge percentage of the incarcerated are where they are due to substance abuse and crimes committed under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. But behind that fact lies a rarely discussed reality: many of them become drug users and alcoholics because of serious unaddressed or inadequately treated mental and emotional problems.

America entered World War II with a woefully inadequate military. In four short years America had the strongest, best-trained and equipped military the world had ever seen. And our enemies, Germany and Japan, lay vanquished and in ruins. That happened because of total commitment to meeting a mortal threat.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy called for an all-out effort to put a man on the moon. Again, our full commitment made that happen, in 1969.

Now, we need an all-out commitment to make America safe from an enemy within. Yes, we need more and better control of guns. But most of all we need to identify those with serious mental and emotional illnesses and deficits, and see to it they get the care they need, whatever it takes. For some, that will mean expensive longterm care as outpatients or in hospitals.

If we refuse to make this commitment and pay its cost we will have ourselves to blame as the number and severity of mass killings grows. There is no quick, cheap, easy way out.

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35 comments

Iconic conservative and former congressman
calls Norquist no-tax pledge irrational, childish

“You know, Republicans may complain about the federal debt, but they’re as responsible as the Democrats for the debt being as large as it is. And once you have already done that, then you have an obligation to pay it down.

“You know, so the idea that what you’re going to do is say– you know, ‘We’re not going to raise taxes, we’re not going to close loopholes, we’re not going to do anything’ — that means that we’re not going to pay off what we’ve already created. I mean, that’s childish. That’s childish.

“. . . It’s not conservatism, not rational, not adult. It’s a 12-year-old’s kind of thinking.”

Mickey Edwards, Republican former Oklahoma U.S. representative,
Heritage Foundation founding trustee and longtime movement conservative,
commenting on Grover Norquist’s no-tax-increase pledge
during a Dec. 7 interview with Bill Moyers,
as reported at Think Progress.

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Edwards’ statement provides further proof that truth, like gold, is where you find it.

It should also serve as a reminder that there once was a time when even strongly ideological movement conservatives had some sense of responsibility where governing was concerned.

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10 comments

Cornered by realities they can’t accept
Republicans are back to hostage-taking

No GOPHouse Speaker John Boehner and most Republicans in Congress know very well that cutting taxes won’t create jobs. Businesses won’t hire people to stand around waiting to take care of customers who aren’t showing up to spend their money, even if the businesses have some more money because of tax cuts.

Businesses hire more people when those new hires are needed to take care of customers and make the businesses more money, period.

Boehner and the rest of the Republicans are solely interested in politics, not in governing responsibly. What’s more, they’re in the position of being forced to acknowledge their cherished trickle-down cover story is nothing but a political meme. They really don’t want to do that.

Tax revenues from rate increases on those who can well afford to pay more would enable increased government stimulus spending without running up the deficit. Increased demand thus created would lead to more hiring and more government revenues with which to reduce the deficit — without cutting essential programs along the way.

That formula for restoring economic growth and prosperity is eminently doable. It would yield a payoff for all Americans, the wealthiest included, greatly outweighing any short-run discomfort and risk involved.

Oh wait; that was a bit of an overstatement. That formula would benefit all Americans except Republican politicians and doctrinaire radical conservatives. It’s not hard to understand why.

The relatively simple, well-established formula for economic turnaround we described would really whipsaw Republicans politically. Its success would show their trickle-down meme for the con job it’s always been while verifying that we can’t budget-cut our way to prosperity. Quite the opposite, in fact.

This is Republicans’ dilemma. It’s the sole reason they won’t take Obama’s initial deal.

What’s required of Republicans means a worst-nightmare scenario for them. Because they’re thoroughly selfish and irresponsible, solely concerned with their own political fortunes, and because they have just enough power left to stand in the way, they’re holding the whole country hostage.

Again.

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Note: This post is a modified version of the comment we left yesterday to a good post at the TAO Speaks blog.

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5 comments

Walmart raising cost of its ‘always low prices’
by sticking taxpayers with health care bills

screwWalmart, the nation’s largest retailer, is at it again, transferring the cost of necessities for its always low-wage workers onto taxpayers.

A Huffington Post report says Walmart plans to start cutting the hours of some unspecified number of its 1.2 million U.S. employees to less than 30 per week, starting in January.

Walmart isn’t going to reduce work hours of people struggling to get by on already low incomes just to give them more time with their families. This move is all about shifting the health care cost of those workers to taxpayers — a backdoor form of corporate welfare.

An Obamacare provision excuses employers from providing health care benefits to workers regularly on the job less than 30 hours a week. At the same time, the American Affordable Care Act is making more Medicaid money available to states, in a good-faith effort to ensure more low-income and no-income Americans have access to health care.

By reducing work hours of its employees, Walmart clearly intends to shift their health care costs to Medicaid, a program intended for the poorest Americans, including those unable to work at all.

This isn’t a new maneuver for Walmart. A 2011 New York Times story details how the retail giant instituted cuts in eligibility while limiting coverage and drastically raising premiums prices and deductibles.

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Citing rising costs, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, told its employees this week that all future part-time employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for any of the company’s health insurance plans.

In addition, any new employees who average 24 hours to 33 hours a week will no longer be able to include a spouse as part of their health care plan, although children can still be covered.

This is a big shift from just a few years ago when Wal-Mart expanded coverage for employees and their families after facing criticism because so many of its 1.4 million workers could not afford or did not qualify for coverage — rendering many of them eligible for Medicaid.

. . .In Wal-Mart’s 2012 health offerings, premiums will increase for some plans by more than 40 percent, although many of their workers pay relatively low premiums in comparison to more generous plans offered by other employers. But many Wal-Mart employees complain that their low premiums are accompanied by high deductibles that sometimes exceed 20 percent of their annual pay.

. . . Barbara Collins, a sales associate at the Wal-Mart in Placerville, Calif., said that the premiums for the H.M.O. plan for herself and her 5-year-old son would rise to $18 every two weeks from $10. Her big concern, she said, was that her deductible would jump to $5,000 a year, from $1,000 — a daunting amount considering she earns $19,000 a year. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to afford it if I go to a doctor or to physical therapy,” she said.

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The story notes Walmart also cut by half the $1,000 it had been putting into employee health care savings accounts, alternative plans that help some employees with costs not covered by inurance. The company had encouraged use of the health savings program, which is cheaper for it than health insurance.

Last July, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., tweeted that the Walton family has more wealth — $102.7 billion in 2010 — than the bottom 40 percent of American families. Politifact checked that out and judged the statement to be true. Here’s what that looks like per the six Walton heirs to make the Forbes 400 list (all amounts in billions):

Christy Walton, $25.3; Jim Walton, $23.7; Alice Walton, $23.3; S. Robson Walton, $23.1; Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion; and Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion.

From Wikipedia’s Walmart entry: “For the fiscal year ending January 31, 2011, Wal-Mart reported a net income of $15.4 billion on $422 billion of revenue with a 24.7% gross profit margin.”

Walmart CEO Michael Duke’s 2011 total compensation was $18.7 million, according to Marketwatch.

Our bottom-line impression: Walmart can well afford to provide high-quality, affordable health insurance to all its employees, without cutting the payroll or workers’ hours. And after doing that, the Walton clan would still have more wealth than needed to live in splendor for 100 lifetimes each. The company’s CEO and executives would be in no danger of impoverishment either.

There’s only one way to describe Walmart’s treatment of workers and shifting of costs to taxpayers: raw greed.

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10 comments

Two Republicans who could’ve won
the White House in this election year

James Baker III

James Baker III served as White House chief of staff for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, among many other high government posts.

W ith the exception of Jon Huntsman, this year’s field of Republican presidential contenders was the worst we’ve ever seen – so bad that in the first few weeks it became known as the traveling clowns show.

Could failed political hacks Newt “Ethical Void” Gingrich and Rick “Holier Than Thou” Santorum, vulture capitalist Mitt “Gut and Run” Romney, and ditzy Michelle “Tea Party Girl” Bachmann really be the best candidates today’s Republicans would support?

The answer is yes, and today’s Republicans got the candidates and election-day setback they richly (ahem) deserved. But it never had to be that way.

Had Republicans not gone so far ’round the bend that they ended up with bottom-of-barrel wingnuts and a chameleon, they might have drafted two men who very well could have won the White House handily this year. Additionally, those candidates would probably have been strong enough to sweep to victory many down-ballot candidates for Congress and state offices.

Back in March we spent some time trying to figure out who, if anyone, Republicans could turn to for the strongest chance to unseat President Obama. None of their currently active politicians with national name recognition fit the bill, which is a remarkable indictment of how out of the mainstream the GOP has become.

What we came up with are two eminently qualified, experienced, articulate and very likable men: James Baker III and Robert Gates.

If those names sound familiar, they should. Baker is perhaps best known as Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff from 1980-1985. But in his long career he served in many capacities. Baker is a graduate of Princeton Law and former Marine officer. He served as an undersecretary of commerce, Treasury secretary and secretary of state. He was George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff. Baker also fulfilled several diplomatic assignments.

Baker only ran for public office once, trying to become Texas attorney general, and he lost. He ran Gerald Ford’s unsuccessful campaign against Jimmy Carter, but also was chairman of Reagan’s spectacularly successful 1985 re-election campaign.

Baker at the head of the GOP ticket would’ve engendered the loyal support of many Republicans and independents who look on the Reagan years as the good old days. His easygoing, Southern drawl, quick wit and engaging sense of humor could’ve charmed millions too young to remember those days.

The two downsides of a Baker 2012 candidacy are his age, 82, and the fact he takes governing and public policy seriously, meaning he’d be willing to work with Democrats to get things done. He would have needed all his persuasive skills and charm to keep his party’s dominant hard-right extremists in line.

We saw Baker on C-SPAN last year, and he was still sharp and on top of things. We think most voters would’ve overlooked his age the same way they overlooked Reagan’s. As for keeping the GOP’s tea party whackjobs, religious zealots and bigots in line, we suspect if anyone could do that, Baker could.

Robert Gates

Robert Gates

Gates was President George W. Bush’s one and only excellent Cabinet appointee. He replaced gregarious neocon crackpot Don Rumsfeld, and the difference was like night and day. Quietly, methodically and skillfully, Gates ran the Defense Department as well as anyone could in an especially challenging period. Gates’ work at Defense was so excellent that President Obama asked him to stay on, which Gates did.

Given Baker and Gates’ track record and personal characteristics, we’re sure that if they had been the GOP’s standard bearers, there would’ve been no birther nonsense outside of a few right-wing radio squawk shows. Donald Trump would’ve been told to sit down and shut up. There would’ve been no dog-whistle racist messages for the living anachronisms in the Republican fold.

No, we wouldn’t have preferred Baker to win the White House. He’s a counselor to the Carlyle Group who would’ve carried water for the financial and energy industries, and other big-money interests. Baker would undoubtedly have stood by the GOP’s trickle-down economic policy. Worse, his Supreme Court appointments would surely have tipped the court far right for the next two or three decades.

We mention the possibility only to remind that there are still a few sensible, basically decent and highly accomplished people in Republican ranks. They are people who could attract independent voters, but who are as out of place in today’s GOP as guppies in a piranha tank.

We do, however, wish Baker and a few others of similar good sense and quality would assert themselves in an effort to lead their party back from the fringe.

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10 comments

Rep. Joe ‘misogynist’ Walsh, goodbye and good riddance

While Republican pols, pundits, strategists, propagandists, apologists and failed candidates blame everyone and everything but themselves for their Nov. 12 6 election debacle, we will offer two of many reasons: ignorance and misogyny.

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Rep. Joe Walsh

Voters of Illinois’ 8th Congressional District gave Rep. Joe Walsh the boot Nov. 6. / DCCC

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That, from self-styled medical expert, board-certified deadbeat dad and soon to be ex-Rep. Joe Walsh, tea party Republican of Illinois. He should have to explain the impossibility of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth to John Weaver of Milo, Iowa.

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Wife’s death leaves husband with 3 kids
KCCI Des Moines, Nov. 12, 2012

MILO, Iowa — A mother dies while giving birth, leaving behind her husband with a newborn and two other young children.
Almost a decade ago, John Weaver took a trip to Honduras that would forever change his life.

“(Reina) was his translator. They just kind of fell for each other, and it’s fate,” said Weaver’s niece, Rhonda Pearson.

“There are some married couples that are married, and they’re OK. Then, there are others that just can’t make it without the other,” said Weaver’s mother, Sandra Weaver.

On Oct. 14, as the family welcomed their third child, complications during childbirth changed everything, and Weaver’s family has had to say goodbye to the woman they considered the backbone of the family.

“He’s lost without his other half. He’s lost without his best friend,” Pearson said.

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Then there’s this sad current-news item from Laguna Niguel, Calif.

(more…)

16 comments

GOP leaders trot out same ‘our way or no way’
as Obama White House signals new toughness



Victory hug, election night 2012

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President Obama’s decisive re-election victory Tuesday — 303 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206, plus a definite popular-vote majority — clearly indicates a mandate to continue grappling with the country’s problems on his terms.

A clear mandate to most, perhaps, but not to congressional Republicans, even though in aggregate their House and Senate candidates won fewer votes than Democrats and lost several seats.

That disconnect about what the election outcome means seems likely to pit Republicans’ same ol’, same ol’ against a president now more intent on producing results than peace and light in Washington, D.C.

No sooner had the dust cleared — no doubt with a legion of chagrined millionaire and billionaire GOP sugar daddies kicking themselves in the background — than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, started making noises about their requirements for a budget and deficit-reduction deal.

Far from changing their tune following defeat of their no-cooperation strategy to make Obama a one-term president, Beavis and Butthead’s Republican analogs chimed in with an old refrain. From McConnell’s version:

McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the President’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control. Now it’s time for the President to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a closely-divided Senate, step up to the plate on the challenges of the moment, and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office.

To the extent he wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him half way. That begins by proposing a way for both parties to work together in avoiding the ‘fiscal cliff’ without harming a weak and fragile economy, and when that is behind us work with us to reform the tax code and our broken entitlement system.

Translation: First, to get us to deal with him at all, Obama must drop his silly idea of raising taxes on the rich (us and our benefactors) and settle for closing a few (purposely unspecified) loopholes (of our choosing). Second, to get us to actually vote for this compromise, Obama must let us have our way with entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps and extended jobless benefits (bye-bye social safety net).

In other words, Republican congressional leaders expect Obama to adopt the unacceptable, nonsensical plan their failed presidential candidate ran on.

Really!

These same Republican leaders got by with their “our way or no way” approach the first two and a half years of Obama’s presidency, thanks to his strong desire to bridge the partisan divide. However, the more accommodating Obama was, the more recalcitrant McConnell and Boehner became. But after Republicans held raising the debt ceiling hostage in the summer of 2011, causing the first credit rating downgrade in U.S. history, Obama had enough.

So now, with re-election political capital in hand, things are different. If this AP story is an accurate indication, Obama has traded in his olive branches for a small carrot and a sharp stick.

Obama adviser David Axelrod warned Republican leaders to take lessons from Tuesday’s vote. The president won after pledging to raise taxes on American households earning more than $250,000 a year “and was re-elected in a significant way,” Axelrod told MSNBC Thursday morning.

“Hopefully people will read those results and read them as a vote for cooperation and will come to the table,” Axelrod said. “And obviously everyone’s going to have to come with an open mind to these discussions. But if the attitude is that nothing happened on Tuesday, that would be unfortunate.”

He noted that conservative Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock in Indiana dismissed the value of compromise and instead said Democrats should join the GOP. “And I note that he’s not on his way to the United States Senate,” Axelrod said. Mourdock lost to Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly.

You may recall that after winning his party’s nomination last spring, Mourdock said he didn’t get into politics to compromise, that his idea of the way to get somewhere is for Democrats to come around to his way of thinking — as candid an expression of Republican politicians’ attitude over the past 35 years as we’ve ever heard.

President Obama has a large constituency of people who believe he’s doing a good job in adverse economic and political circumstances. They stood by him during trying days in his first term. They accepted, with varying degrees of discomfort, some of his decisions that were out of step with what he led them to believe in 2008. They came through for him in the 2012 election.

Through it all, Obama suffered declines in supporter enthusiasm only when he appeared too willing to give in to Republican belligerence.

The stakes going forward are monumental. Appeasement only encourages Republican bullying and yet more-outrageous demands.

Obama isn’t one to face down opponents or take it to the people to pressure Republicans into doing the right thing. His preference has always been polite, serious discussion leading to reasonable compromise.

As admirable as Obama’s instincts and preferences are, he should remember he didn’t win election and re-election by talking softly and waving a white flag.

Getting a fair, balanced budget and deficit-reduction deal that won’t throw economic recovery into reverse, lay waste to programs millions of nonwealthy Americans depend on and leave the president looking like a patsy means he must win an even tougher fight.

If Obama is fired up and ready to go all out, we’re confident he can, and will, prevail again. And again, the people will be with him.

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11 comments