Monday, November 26, 2012

To some Mennonites in Mexico, Russia looks like Promised Land

Two young Mennonite women with traditional long dresses are seen in Cuauhtemoc, a city in Mexico's Chihuahua state. | El Universal/MCT
By Tim Johnson | McClatchy Newspapers

MEXICO CITY — It’s been nearly a century since pacifist Mennonites fled Russia for the plains of western Canada, immigrating later to northern Mexico to turn some of its arid high desert into model productive farms.

The Mennonites, the men in their overalls and straw hats and the women in ankle-length skirts, nurtured their corn, cotton and bean estates and apple orchards in the state of Chihuahua into some of the most bountiful farms in Mexico.

But not all is well in Mexico’s Mennonite communities, and, in a curious turn of the historic wheel, a smattering are now pondering a return to Russia, the country their grandparents and great-grandparents fled amid the upheaval of the Bolshevik revolution.

“There are a lot of people who are interested in going,” said Enrique Voth Penner, one of 11 Mennonites who in August visited fertile Tatarstan, along the Volga River at the edge of the European part of Russia.

In February, in the midst of the harsh Russian winter, the Mennonite delegation will return to Tatarstan to deepen discussions about what land may be available and whether Russian authorities will grant them the freedom to run independent schools, practice their religion and exempt young men from military service.

The Mennonite return to Russia, if it happens, would be more than just a historical oddity. It also is a reflection of the challenges of intensive agriculture in Mexico’s arid north, where farming depends on massive irrigation and arable land is at a premium. Water tables have dropped dramatically from overuse for farming, and disputes between Mennonite and non-Mennonite farmers have turned violent.

“The No. 1 reason to emigrate is to find land for our future generations,” Voth Penner said. “No. 2 is the situation with the water. We aren’t permitted the water we need.”
Officials say some 50,000 Mennonites reside in Mexico, most of them speakers of a Low German dialect who dwell in isolated farming communities that operate their own schools and churches. Pious and humble by religious training, Anabaptist cousins of the Amish, the Mennonites largely stick to their communities, venturing to cities only to sell cheese and grains or to conduct business. Unlike the Amish, many Mennonites use gasoline-powered vehicles and cellular telephones.

Some Mexicans admire the Mennonites’ success and work ethic but the lack of assimilation, despite more than nine decades of living in Mexico, also has fueled resentments.

“They are Mennonites, and only Mexican when it suits their interests,” said Pedro Castro, a historian and expert on Mennonite issues at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City. “They are white, and they are ‘German.’”

Persecuted in their homelands, the Mennonites emigrated from Prussia and Germany to Russia on invitation from Catherine the Great in the 18th century.

With the October Revolution of 1917, which brought the Communist Party to power in Russia, many Mennonites fled to Canada.

“They came because the Bolsheviks were going to expropriate their land,” said Dr. Karl Koth, a historian at the University of Manitoba.

Only a few years later, amid fears that religious guarantees were eroding in Canada, a few thousand Mennonites won a pledge from Mexico’s then-president, Alvaro Obregon, himself a farmer, to respect their way of life. Some 7,000 of them boarded chartered trains to Mexico in the early 1920s.

They largely settled in an arid region west of Chihuahua’s capital clustered around the towns of Namiquipa, Riva Palacio and Cuauhtemoc. Over the decades, their farms flourished, irrigated by wells and the intermittent Rio del Carmen.

In the 1950s and 1960s, some Mennonites moved south, resettling in Mexico’s Campeche region, and also to Belize, Bolivia and Paraguay. In the 1970s, a few hundred resettled in West Texas.

As the decades passed, Mennonite farms in Chihuahua spread into new crops, turning to nuts, sorghum, cotton, wheat and apples, as well as beans and corn. Today, they produce as much as one-third of the yellow corn that’s grown in Mexico.

But water for irrigation remained scarce, and the Mennonites began sinking new wells far deeper than the 100 or 200 feet initially required.
“There are wells that are 600 meters deep now,” said Sergio Cano, a state manager in Chihuahua with the National Water Commission. That’s nearly 2,000 feet.

In the aquifer underlying the city of Cuauhtemoc, farmers pull 300 million cubic meters of water from wells each year, while rain replenishes the water table with only 115 million cubic meters, Cano said, adding that “over-usage is very high.” Both Mennonite and non-Mennonite farms are thought to have obtained licenses for wells through bribes or to have drilled illegal wells.

A severe drought that lasted until earlier this year – the worst in more than 70 years – exacerbated tensions between Mennonite communities and other farmers over water rights, leading to clashes. A non-Mennonite peasant activist and his wife were slain Oct. 22 in Cuauhtemoc, inflaming tensions.

Another unsettling factor is the presence of drug traffickers in Chihuahua, a border state that’s a key corridor for smuggling cocaine northward.

“It is a region penetrated by drug trafficking. Not everyone is innocent, including among the Mennonites,” said Castro, the academic.

Beginning in the late 1990s, drug agents made a handful of arrests of Mennonites taking part in cocaine-smuggling rings to Canada, and young Mennonites began turning up at a rehab facility in Cuauhtemoc or jailed in Ciudad Juarez on smuggling charges.
One group of Mennonites is thought to have forged alliances with La Linea, an enforcement wing of the Juarez Cartel, to protect its interests, Castro said.
While Mennonite family patriarchs don’t express it openly, they seem eager to retreat to areas where such worldly temptations are less readily available.

A Mennonite farmer who went on the trip to Tatarstan, Peter Friesen, said he was impressed with Russians, whom he described as “very orderly and well dressed.”

Asked how many Mennonites might immigrate to Russia, Friesen said: “It could be a lot if they respect our right not to take part in military activities and give us freedoms for schools and all this. People will go.”

Voth Penner offered a similar forecast.

“If we see that it is good there, there will be very many (who emigrate), and not just from one community but also from all over Chihuahua,” he said.

An English-language report Sept. 17 in The Kazan Herald in the Tatarstan capital reported on the possible arrival of Mennonite immigrants, saying the group’s leaders were “very keen and interested” in learning about prospects.

It said the Mennonite delegation met with senior Tatarstan development officials as well as representatives of farm supply industries, slaughterhouses and construction companies.

A tentative date for the first Mennonite migration is early 2014, it added.

Chihuahua state officials worry that some Mennonites might sell their farms and emigrate. But Victor Quintana, a farming expert, minimized the impact.

“The Mennonites have always moved on because their population grows, but there’s no land left,” Quintana said. “This is a demographic pressure outlet for them.”

Voth Penner, who has 11 children, forecast that Chihuahua shouldn’t worry about a departure of some Mennonites.

“We have enough people for 10 times the amount of land we have,” he said. “There will be plenty of people who remain behind.”

Chihuahua, Mexico
Monday Nov 12

I do not not what the writer is saying in the fact that they have not have not assimilated. They all speak Spanish.

I drove with my Mexican wife up to Namiquipa to see more of Mexico about two weeks ago. We live in Chihuahua. We were blown away. All the public roads were free of litter and garbage and groomed. The yards and houses were like something you would read about in a story book. Perfect yards and everything in order. The crops were nothing like I could imagine. Every single row of plants was like someone had painstakingly made them perfect and straight. Perfect furrows for water flow. They were maintaining this land perfect. My wife asked if it was like this in the USA. I told her it was nice but nothing to this degree anywhere I had ever seen.

The people were very polite. I know I could have left my keys in my car and nobody would have bothered it. They were all speaking Spanish. Not assimilating? There was not music blasting and loud speakers coming from cars going down the streets and vending their wares. There were no drunks at 10:00 in the morning walking around. No murders. I can guarantee you no one using drugs. You do not have to watch you back for rampant crime.

I went into the store to buy a couple of pops and everything was in order and the floors were spotless. They were doing inventory. I asked them if they spoke English but they did not, so I spoke to them in Spanish.

If anyone new how to take care of the land and manage the water as best they can, they had it down to a science. The corn crops were amazing and very tall and green.

I asked my wife why the Mexican farmers do not learn from this. Just down the road were the Mexican farms and the crops were stunted and smaller. The irrigation systems were terrible and a lot of water was being wasted. They were very unorganized and disheveled.

With all the shortages of corn and other farm products in Mexico this year the Mennonites were a blessing. They were growing and supplying the foods that Mexico so needed this year. Mexico needs to learn from these people. They have their own schooling and that is good. Because the education in Mexico sucks. I have children in school here in Mexico that are a product of my Mexican wife. I have been to the junta's and seen what is happening first hand. Mexico needs to learn from these people. They are a society without violence in a Country filled with violence and crime.

We passed by the farms in Delicious, Mexico 3 days after going through this marvel Near Namiquipa. They have water oozing to the surface. But the crops were week, dwarfed and nothing like the Mennonites. This is a case that I would think the writer of this story would not want these people to assimilate, but rather used as a mold for the Mexican society to follow and learn from them. I think there is a lot of jealousy.

These are the type of people that would fit right into the USA, without a problem. They would not use the system. They would be self sustaining and there would be no crime from them.

If they loose these people they are loosing some of the good that is happening in Mexico.

If you come to Chihuahua, take the exit just about 40 kilometers North of Chihuahua City. The sign will say Namiquipa. Drive through the beautiful canyon until you reach the flats at the top. You will think you just left Mexico and drove to another country or in this case another planet.

You will be amazed. As my wife said, it is amazing that we the Mexican people cannot do the same here in Mexico.

These people are often kidnapped and extorted because of their success and because there hard work ethics have helped them proper.

I think the writer is jealous, and should write about the good that these people do for Mexico and the things they provide with land that is better managed then in the rest of Mexico.

What do they need to do to assimilate? Become corrupt?
QuerĂ©taro, Mexico 

Tuesday Nov 20

Concerned, as a Mexican I can say that I will be always interested in diversity within my country and learn from other peoples. But what I see in your writing, besides the positive admiration to this people, is hate and contempt for Mexico and Mexicans.
As you say, they maybe will fit well in the US, wouldn't have problems about racism, and German-speaking communities abound in nortern USA.
Why they then didn't leave in masse? Something good they get here, in my beautiful country. And if they don't, or they see there is something better elswhere, they are free to leave.
Mexico will progress with them or without them. Hopefully will be with them. But that's their choosing.

QuerĂ©taro, Mexico 

Tuesday Nov 20

Your description of corruption in Chihuahua I do not object. In fact, I guess the more you approach the US border, the more violent and more corrupt things get.

When you are really far from the border, in Central Mexico, you will be surprised to see a very flourishing communities of Americans, Europeans, Asians (specially Koreans) that find here a pretty good enviroment to settle and live.

The Menonites are not the only ones that give us diversity.

19 bodies found in northern Mexico border state

Published: November 25, 2012
The Associated Press

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO — Nineteen bodies have been discovered in Mexico's northern border state of Chihuahua, officials reported Sunday, including 11 apparently long-dead men found in mass graves and eight others who were tortured and killed in recent days.

The state prosecutor's office for missing people said 11 bodies were found in Ejido Jesus Carranza, near the U.S. border about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Ciudad Juarez. The area of sand dunes is a popular spot for picnickers from Juarez, which is just across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Officials said the male victims were apparently buried two years ago at the height of battles between drug gangs seeking to control routes across the border. Federal statistics showed more than 3,000 people were killed that year in Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.4 million, making it one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Prosecutors also said that officials had found eight bodies tossed along a road near Rosales, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Ojinaga, Texas. The agency said the men apparently were kidnapped on Friday and were discovered on Saturday. It said they had been shot in the head after being tortured. Some had been burned, beaten and had eyes carved out.

Mexican lawmaker sees fertile terrain for marijuana debate

Published: November 23, 2012
By Tim Johnson — McClatchy Newspapers

Mexican lawmaker Fernando Balaunzaran is asking his nation's lower house to consider a proposal to legalize marijuana production, sale and use.
Tim Johnson — MCT

MEXICO CITY — Bills to legalize marijuana have come before Mexico’s Congress in the past, and sunk almost without debate. But lawmaker Fernando Belaunzaran Mendez thinks this time is different.

When the deputy submitted a proposal Nov. 15 to permit the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana in Mexico, he knew that a regional tail wind might give impetus to lawmakers at least to engage in a debate.

A number of Latin American leaders are grumbling quite publicly about the U.S.-led campaign against illicit drugs, and voters in Colorado and Washington state approved initiatives earlier this month to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, opening up a schism at the state and federal levels.

Like other politicians in Latin America who are weary of a seemingly endless drug war, Belaunzaran saw the actions of the two U.S. states as a moment to rebel.
“What Latin America is asking from Obama is nothing less than for him to accept for the region what he’ll have to accept from within his own territory,” the 42-year-old lawmaker said.

Belaunzaran took a hard look at the Washington state initiative and used similar language for his own bill, which would allow individuals and companies to grow and process marijuana as long as others took charge of the selling. Tax proceeds would go strictly for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug users.
In his conservative suit and tie, Belaunzaran might seem an unlikely champion for legalization, cutting a different figure from many in his center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution. A former philosophy student and magazine editor, Belaunzaran began a three-year term in the Chamber of Deputies in September.

Before coming to Congress, he said he’d noticed a gap between U.S. counter-drug policies and the sentiment he picked up from American popular culture.
“Comedy shows with really high ratings in the United States make light of smoking marijuana,” he said. “Nothing is more stupid, in my opinion, than hanging on to this out-of-date paradigm. It is a cultural rout.”

The issue of altering the status quo on illicit substances came to the fore in August, when President Jose Mujica of Uruguay proposed that the government take over producing, distributing and selling marijuana, entrusting a National Cannabis Institute with oversight. Uruguayan lawmakers are debating the proposal.

Outside of Mujica, no sitting president in Latin America calls for legalizing marijuana, although the leaders of Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala say the battle against narcotics is wreaking havoc on societies and must be reconsidered.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who launched an all-out battle on drug cartels upon taking office in 2006, which has inflicted a heavy toll in Mexico, voices deepening frustration over the U.S. inability to slash what he says is the $20 billion that flows from the pockets of U.S. users to criminal gangs in his country each year.

Calderon voiced his annoyance again last weekend at an Ibero-American Summit in Cadiz, Spain, where many of Latin America’s presidents were gathered. He flayed what he called the increasing contradictions between U.S. states and the federal government.

“While in our countries a farmer planting half a hectare (of marijuana) is persecuted and imprisoned, while in our countries thousands of people die … in the United States, industrial quantities will be produced and sold in those states with absolute freedom,” Calderon told a plenary session.
Belaunzaran said that Calderon, of the center-right National Action Party, was once “a fanatical defender of prohibition” but that “there’s been a change in his position.”

Once out of office Dec. 1, Calderon may be more explicit about his changing views, perhaps joining former presidents of his own country, Brazil and Colombia who’ve called for decriminalization, saying the war on drugs has been a failure.

Speaking from his modest two-room congressional office, Belaunzaran said Mexican legislators might not approve his bill but that the mood among legislators was changing even as voters remained leery.

“There’s a consensus that it’s the right time to debate the matter, to put it on the table for discussion,” he said. “Prohibition has been a tragic error.”

“I only see costs and damage, and the drug-trafficking problem today is a lot worse than when it began 100 years ago, or even 40 years ago, when Nixon coined the term ‘war on drugs,’ ” he said.

A vast majority of Mexicans don’t agree with legalization, according to a recent poll. The Parametria poll, conducted in August, found that 79 percent oppose legalization and only 19 percent approve. Four out of 10 Mexicans think violence and corruption would increase were marijuana legalized, it found.

Legislators from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, in its Spanish initials), which will take power in Mexico on Dec. 1, said they weren’t opposed to a debate but didn’t favor legalization.

"It is very interesting what happened in the last elections in the U.S., but certainly the PRI is not in favor of drug legalization, and would never lead a drive to do so,” Manuel Anorve, the deputy chief of the PRI legislative faction, told the newspaper Milenio.

Belaunzaran’s bill, if enacted, would have the Secretariat of Health “regulate production, processing, distribution, sale and use of products derived from cannabis.” Licenses would be needed for each step, from farm to store. Marijuana would be sold only to those older than 18. Marijuana cigarettes would carry a tax of 160 percent.

All tax and licensing revenue would go to the National Program for Prevention and Treatment of Addiction and Rehabilitation of Cannabis Users.

Holiday train display opens in Paradise

Originally Published Nov 25, 2012 15:10

Garden Spot Village Train Club's model train display

Dave Pierce checks the layout of the model train display at the Paradise Township municipal building. (Lynn Commero/Correspondent)

The Pequea Valley Model Railroaders kicked off their annual "Trains in Paradise" holiday toy train display Saturday at the Paradise Township municipal building.

This is the third year that the club has partnered with township officials to transform the meeting room into a Christmas wonderland, complete with at least 11 trains running on three layouts.

"We change as much as we can each year," said Jim Lyle, a member of the railroaders club. "We double the size of one display each year."

Alexander Ball, 4, of Daytona, Md., watches the trains.

The display features the club's "greatly expanded" O layout this year as well as Thomas by Bachmann and a small train play area for children. There are also train items for sale.

A new layout this year is "Ray's Town," a small village dedicated to the memory of Ray Myers, a member of the club who died unexpectedly in March 2011.

The display features ceramic buildings and figurines depicting the Norman Rockwell era. A small lighted Christmas tree is the centerpiece of the layout.

"That was his style," said Dave Pierce, a member of the club.

One of the displays is a 1950s train layout using Lionel and Marx trains. The trains are both vintage and reproductions.

The Pequea Valley Model Railroaders include, from left, Paul Herr of Gap, Glenn Ritter of Honey Brook, Dave Pierce of Landenburg, and Butch Gregg, Jim Lyle and Rich Glass, all of Paradise. (Lynn Commero/Correspondent)
Paul Herr, 77, of Gap, who helps assemble the displays, was there for the opening with his daughter Barbara Ball of Daytona, Md., and four of his grandchildren. Sherry Zhou, an exchange student from China who is staying with the balls, was also along. She took photos with her cell phone of the train layouts.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Zhou, who is a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "This is fantastic."

Four-year-old Alexander Ball was having fun pressing the buttons to make the trains go around the track.

Trains in Paradise will be open to the public Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. through Jan. 13 at the township building, 2 Township Drive, Paradise. Adults are asked to give a $2 donation and children 12 and under are admitted for free.

The display will be open free of charge after the township's annual tree lighting ceremony from 6 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2. There will also be a special weekday opening of the display from 1 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 26.

The Paradise Lions Club will be selling refreshments, and items from the township's tricentennial celebration will be on display for sale.

Map data ©2012 Google - Terms of Use


Robin Roberts tells sister, ‘You gave me life’ following bone marrow treatment

By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 15:59 EST

Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts shared the details of her cancer treatment with her sister, a fellow news anchor who donated marrow of her own to aid in her recovery, telling her, “You gave me life.”

Roberts spoke to her sister, WWL-TV news anchor Sally Ann Roberts, following the completion of 100 days of recovery following bone marrow treatment.

The interview took place following a hospital visit Robin Roberts described as “just a little tune-up, check under the hood, kick the tires a little bit.” She said the process wasn’t a straight line, but something that zigged and zagged. Regardless, she was optimistic.

“There’s complications and things like that, but I feel good,” the former ESPN anchor said. “I feel stronger every day. I’m blessed.”

Sally Ann Roberts donated cells from her marrow to her sister in a transplant procedure in June, after doctors discovered the two were perfect genetic matches. Since then, Robin Roberts, who was diagnosed with a condition known as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) has stayed out of the public eye for the sake of avoiding infection.

Robin Roberts described the procedure as a new beginning.

“It’s like, you gave me life,” she told her sister. “Our dear mother gave me life, you gave me life. And I look at it as a clean slate. How many people can say, at this point in their lives, that they get a do-over?”

Watch the Roberts sister’s interview, posted on YouTube Tuesday by “lesnewsvids,” below.

Powerball lottery jackpot jumps to record $425 million for Wednesday's drawing

People lined up for Powerball tickets Saturday, the fourth largest Powerball in history. NBC's Thanh Troung reports.

By NBC News staff and wire services

DES MOINES, Iowa -- No one won a $325 million Powerball lottery prize on Saturday night, so the jackpot will jump to a record $425 million for the next drawing -- and possibly higher.

The winning numbers were 22-32-37-44-50 with Powerball 34, according to the Powerball lottery's website. There were 10 winners of $1 million and one winner of $2 million.

Iowa Lottery spokeswoman Mary Neubauer said the jackpot for Wednesday's drawing could go even higher than the estimated $425 million because sales pick up in the days before record drawings.

"We'll watch sales to see if an adjustment upwards needs to be made," she said. The cash payout would be be a record $278.3 million.
Saturday's estimated $325 million jackpot was the fourth-largest in the game's history. 

The previous highest Powerball prize was $365 million, won in 2006 by eight ConAgra Foods workers on a single ticket in Lincoln, Neb.

Powerball has not had a jackpot winner for two months.

The Powerball lottery is held in 42 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In March, three winning tickets shared the largest U.S. lottery jackpot, the $656 million Mega Millions drawing.

The prospect of a big payoff had pulled in Black Friday shoppers in many cities.

Chicago resident Clyde Gadlin, 65, emerged from the bustle of holiday shoppers on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, to stop in at a 7-Eleven to buy his daily batch of Lottery tickets, including Powerball.

For him, the game is a chance to dream — a single winner's cash payout would be nearly $213 million before taxes — and he tries not to let the long odds burst his bubble.

The current jackpot is the fourth largest in the game's history, with chances of winning at about one in 175 million. Many dream of winning it big and hope they will be that lucky someone with the golden ticket. NBC's Mark Potter reports.

Lottery officials say they're unsure what effect Thanksgiving and beginning of Christmas shopping season will have on sales, which normally pick up in the days before high-dollar drawings.

Gadlin said that if he won, he would return to his grandfather's farm in Heidelberg, Miss., where he spent part of his childhood.

"I would go down there again and probably do a little bit of farming," he said, recalling the roaming deer and 380 acres of potatoes, corn, watermelons and sugar cane. Gadlin hasn't been there for more than 20 years.

Poll: Americans more interested in 'fiscal cliff' than Benghazi, Israel or Petraeus
By Justin Sink - 11/19/12 06:06 PM ET
Despite dramatic international news dominating the headlines across the globe, Americans are watching the negotiations to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" more closely than any other news story, according to a new poll from Pew Research.

A full third of Americans say they are "very closely" watching updates on the debate over the looming spending cuts and tax increases, outpacing other big news stories. Some 28 percent say they are closely following the investigation into the terrorist attack on American outposts in Benghazi, while 27 percent say they are paying close attention to the brewing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And in what could be a surprise considering the considerable play the story has been getting in tabloids and on cable news, only 22 percent say they are closely following the events surrounding the resignation of former CIA Director David Petraeus, who resigned earlier this month after an FBI investigation revealed he had been having an extramarital affair.

Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to be closely following the fiscal cliff debate, although Republicans are more likely to be attuned to the three international stories. Republicans who say they are following the story "very closely" outpace Democrats on the Petraeus investigation 28 to 21 percent and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 34 to 23 percent.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans are twice as likely to be following the Benghazi investigation, which has received heavy coverage in the conservative press. Some 42 percent of Republicans say they have been following that story closely, versus just 21 percent of Democrats.

Independents, meanwhile, are most likely to be attuned to the fiscal cliff debate (31 percent) and the conflict in the Middle East (28 percent).

Despite few Americans admitting that they have paid close attention to the brewing Petraeus scandal, some three in 10 say that the news is of "great importance to the nation," while a full 62 percent say it is of at least some importance.

That number is higher than the 52 percent of Americans who said former President Clinton's affair with intern Monica Lewinsky was of at least some importance in February of 1998, shortly after the relationship was revealed.

Americans also seemed generally surprised by the Petraeus affair, with that adjective narrowly beating out "disappointed" and "shocked" when respondents were asked for their initial reaction.

Poll: Americans believe Obama will reach across aisle, skeptical of House GOP
By Justin Sink - 11/19/12 04:36 PM ET

A new poll released Monday showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe President Obama will make a sincere effort to reach across the aisle as lawmakers work to avoid the looming "fiscal cliff."

But while 65 percent of Americans think the president is willing to compromise, less than half — 48 percent — say the same about Republicans in Congress, according to the Gallup survey. Meanwhile, some 57 percent of Americans say that Democrats in the legislature will make a sincere effort for compromise.

Democrats are especially inclined to believe their leaders will make a sincere effort to reach across the aisle, with a full 98 percent of those surveyed saying they thought the president would look to strike a compromise. Nearly nine in 10 Democrats also said that members of their party in Congress would look to work in a bipartisan manner, although only 38 percent said the same of Republicans.
Voters who self-identify as Republicans were more skeptical, with just 27 percent saying either Obama or Democrats would work toward bipartisan solutions. But, they say, 64 percent of Republicans in Congress would do so.

Independent respondents more closely mirror the national trend, with 65 percent saying the president would work toward compromise, half saying the same of congressional Democrats and 43 percent saying congressional Republicans would do so.

Respondents were split on who they believed should compromise more in the upcoming negotiations on the looming fiscal cliff of automatic spending cuts and tax increases. Some 68 percent said both sides should compromise equally, while just 14 percent of respondents said the House GOP should compromise the most. An identical 14 percent said the same of Obama and the Senate Democrats.

The polls actually represent an across-the-board improvement from November 2010, just after Republicans retook the House of Representatives. Then, only 64 percent said Obama would sincerely look to reach across the aisle, with 51 percent believing Democrats would do the same. Only 43 percent said the same of Republicans in 2010.

"Americans are less sure about bipartisan impulses in Washington today than they were four years ago, after Obama's victory in the 2008 election," said Gallup's Lydia Saad in a statement. "However, overall, Americans are slightly more confident now that leaders will seek mutually acceptable solutions than they were after the November 2010 elections establishing the divided government that continues today."

Americans are far more disenchanted with their government than they were just after Obama was first elected. Then, eight in 10 respondents said Obama would reach across the aisle, while 62 percent said the same of congressional Republicans — better than congressional Democrats, of whom only 59 percent said they saw as compromising.

Polls: Voters support raising taxes, say jobs more important than debt
By Justin Sink - 11/19/12 12:41 PM ET

A series of polls conducted in recent days could give new ammunition to the Obama administration as it negotiates the "fiscal cliff," with Americans indicating they generally support raising taxes and are focused more on economic stability and job growth than immediately balancing the budget.

According to a poll released Friday by Rasmussen, 57 percent of voters say they agree with the president's proposal to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 per year. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed say they oppose that move.

Meanwhile, a new poll of New Hampshire by Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling showed that nearly half of all voters there — 49 percent — say President Obama's mandate following his reelection is to focus on jobs. That's compared to only 22 percent of voters who say the president's mandate involved reducing the debt.

In the same survey, only 36 percent of respondents said that the president was tasked with striking a compromise with congressional Republicans. Voters were more likely to say that the president's mandate was to stand up for middle-class families, even if that meant a confrontation over the fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts.
"The mandate of 2012 was clear. Tax the rich, use that money to invest in jobs, and do not cut Social Security and Medicare benefits for regular people," said Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green in a statement. "Americans want President Obama to fight for them if the Republicans stand in the way, not settle for a bad compromise."

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Republicans would be open to additional revenue from the wealthiest taxpayers — but only in exchange for entitlement reforms.

"I can say on the part of my members that we fully understand that you can't save the country until you have entitlement programs that fit the demographics of the changing America and the coming years and we're prepared to put revenue on the table, provided we fix the real problem, even though most of my members I think without exception believe we're in the dilemma we're in not because we tax too little but because we spend too much," McConnell said after a meeting at the White House with the president and other top congressional leaders.

The prospect of that fight also has Americans concerned that the country could plunge over the fiscal cliff. More than half — 51 percent — of respondents to a Pew survey released last week say they do not think the two sides will be able to come to an agreement.

West Wing Week: 11/22/12 or "Hello Burma!"

November 21, 2012 | 6:03 | Public Domain

This week, the President made an historic trip to Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia, attended the East Asia Summit, and pardoned the National Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House with the First Family.

The President's Trip to Asia

November 16, 2012 | 2:08 | Public Domain

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes gave us a preview of the President's upcoming trip to Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia, where he will also attend the East Asia Summit and meet with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

President Obama and Prime Minister Shinawatra Deliver Remarks

November 18, 2012 | 6:16 | Public Domain

President Obama and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra speak before an official dinner honoring President Obama's visit to Thailand.

President Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi Deliver Remarks

November 19, 2012 | 5:25 | Public Domain

On the first trip to Burma by an American president, President Obama and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi discuss democratic reform in the country.

President Obama Speaks at the University of Yangon

November 19, 2012 | 29:57 | Public Domain

On the first visit to Burma by an American president, President Obama speaks about the process of democratic reform in the country.

On Board With President Obama - Rangoon, Burma

November 19, 2012 | 1:57 | Public Domain

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes speaks from the American Embassy in Rangoon, Burma, on President Obama's historic travel to that country. You can learn more about this trip and see additional photos at

President Obama's Bilateral Meeting with Premier Wen of China

November 20, 2012 | 8:08 | Public Domain

President Obama and Premier Wen Jiabao of China speak to the press before a bilateral meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

President Obama's Bilateral Meeting with Prime Minister Noda of Japan

November 20, 2012 | 4:08 | Public Domain

President Obama and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan speak to the press before a bilateral meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The ‘fiscal cliff’ explained in charts

There has been a lot of talk about the “fiscal cliff.” But what is it? How will it affect your pocketbook? These charts address these questions and will help you understand why lawmakers want to reach a deal on taxes and spending to prevent us from falling off the cliff.
What is the "fiscal cliff"? The term is wonk-speak for a series of major tax hikes and spending cuts that will go into effect if Congress doesn’t act. The cuts and tax breaks will affect wealthier Americans differently than lower-income Americans.

Chart courtesy of Tax Policy Center

The Tax Policy Center has calculated that the fiscal cliff will raise taxes on 90 percent of Americans, raising the average tax rate 5 percentage points. The tax hike would be largely progressive, with the tax rate increasing more on high-income Americans than lower-income taxpayers. The lowest 20 percent would see their tax rates increase by 3.7 percentage points, while the top 1 percent would see a 7.2 percentage point increase, the center's study explains.

Chart courtesy of Tax Policy Center
As you can see in this chart, the biggest component of the "fiscal cliff" is the George W. Bush tax cuts, followed by the payroll tax cut. The payroll tax break is set to expire in December, and the Bush tax cuts Jan. 1. This means new and higher tax rates would take effect in 2013.

Dylan Matthews for The Washington Post. Data from Congressional Budget Office

The Tax Policy Center also  estimates that it would raise the tax bill for a middle-income family by $755. But what’s arguably more important is what will happen to marginal tax rates, or the rates applied to additional income, as this chart shows.
Dylan Matthews for The Washington Post. Data from Tax Policy Center

The "fiscal cliff" also threatens the economic recovery. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the total effect of these provisions is a 3.9 percent reduction in the growth rate of gross domestic product next year — enough to plunge the country back into recession. What’s more, the mere anticipation of this change will reduce GDP growth by 0.5 percent this year, according to the CBO. However, this change is not evenly distributed between the cliff’s components, as this helpful chart from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget shows.

Chart courtesy of Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

If lawmakers fail to reach a deal to avoid the cliff, then the sequester or series of spending cuts will take place. One federal agency that would be affected is FEMA. The White House estimates that the agency would lose about $878 million, largely from programs that provide direct relief to disaster victims. Here’s a look at how the sequester would hit some of FEMA’s major programs.

Sarah Kliff for The Washington Post

On Nov. 8, the Congressional Budget Office released a report giving its most detailed look at how the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts would affect the economy. Apparently, it would do little harm, numbers show. Letting the high-income Bush tax cuts lapse, for example, generates $42 billion in revenue for 2013 but causes a 0.1 percent drop in GDP, hardly hurting the economic indicator.

Dylan Matthews for The Washington Post.