Why Romney is gaining ground with Latinos in Florida

Editor’s note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette. Read this article in Spanish/Lea este artículo en español

(CNN) — Say what you will about Florida. In a presidential election year, the Sunshine State is never boring.

Once again, the state is a toss-up. It could just as easily go for President Obama as it could for Mitt Romney. So, like Virginia, Ohio and Wisconsin, its significance is supersized.

And then there is this: Amid an avalanche of polls showing that Latinos decisively support Obama over Romney, even in “red” states such as Arizona and Texas, Latino Floridians are helping to keep the presidential election pretty competitive.

The Romney campaign has, since Labor Day, unleashed a barrage of Spanish-language radio and television ads criticizing Obama.

What the Romney campaign is up to is actually much shrewder than just advertising in Spanish. And it has unveiled the strategy in Florida.

While Obama is leading Romney with Latinos by as many as 50 points nationwide, those numbers are in some ways beside the point. They represent the big picture of the Latino vote.

Yet, at the end of the day, it is largely irrelevant how well Obama does with Latinos in solidly red states such as Arizona and Texas; those states will go for Romney. And it’s just as meaningless how much headway Romney makes with Latinos in California or New York; those states are sure to support Obama.

What we should focus on is how Obama and Romney compare in the toss-up states, specifically the three with large Latino populations: Nevada, Colorado and, yes, Florida. Latinos make up 26.5% of the population in Nevada, 20.7% in Colorado and 22.5% in Florida.

Polls show that, among Latino voters, Obama holds wide leads in Nevada and Colorado. But Florida is a different story.

A poll by the Miami Herald and Florida International University (PDF) shows Obama leading Romney among Latinos by only 7 points, 51% to 44%. But a recent Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald poll showed Romney ahead of Obama by two points: 46% to 44%. And the recent polls showed Romney gaining support compared with older ones.

Why one Florida Latino voter is undecided

One could look at these figures and attribute them to the fact that the Latino population in Florida is predominantly made up of Cuban-Americans, who tend to be conservative and vote Republican.

But these days, that explanation only gets you so far. There is a generation gap; younger Cuban-Americans have demonstrated more of a willingness than their parents’ generation to vote Democratic. There is also more to the Latino population in Florida than just Cuban-Americans; today, sizable numbers of Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Brazilians and other varieties of Latinos make the political picture more complicated.

Which brings us to the shrewd part. Romney’s aides suggest that the gap between the candidates in Florida is closing because of a recent series of ads accusing Obama of something that Latino voters won’t tolerate in a president: weakness.

Columnists and bloggers are having fun with it, insisting that, by arguing the president is ineffective, the Romney campaign is daring the Obama campaign to see who is the “mas macho.”

Specifically, the Romney/Ryan team insists, Obama is weak because he failed to keep his 2008 campaign promise to make immigration reform a top priority. He pledged to fix a broken system, and he couldn’t get it done.

It’s fair line of attack. But a Republican like Romney shouldn’t be leveling it.

Romney’s criticism of Obama is more than merited: The only thing worse than a broken promise are broken families, and Obama has divided hundreds of thousands of families by deporting one or both parents and leaving their U.S.-born children to the tender mercies of the foster care system. In all, this administration has enthusiastically deported more than 1.5 million people, a record number of removals in one four-year term.

And this: When Obama did act, the best he could do was to announce in June a new policy at the Department of Homeland Security in which young undocumented with no criminal records could apply for deferred action and be granted a two-year work visa that can be revoked at any time. Of the estimated 1.4 million undocumented students eligible for relief, about 180,000 have applied, and about 4,500 have been given such a visa.

But here’s what’s wrong with Romney’s criticism of Obama: If you’re a Republican, you have to have a lot of nerve to try to make political hay out of the president’s failure to fix the immigration system, given that the GOP has played a major role in keeping it broken over the years by offering bumper sticker solutions to complex problems, pandering to racists and nativists, and failing to deal honestly with the fact that illegal immigrants do jobs that Americans won’t do.

Let’s hope that Latinos in Florida — and for that matter, across the country — see through ad campaigns like the one the Romney-Ryan campaign is running and start holding both parties accountable for problems that somehow never get fixed.

Dems’ national security advantage at risk

Editor’s note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” and of the new book “Governing America.”

(CNN) — President Barack Obama must do well in the debate Monday or he risks losing the national security advantage that Democrats have struggled so hard to regain.

Obama was able to ward off Mitt Romney’s attacks about Libya in the second debate, when Romney tripped up on one word, “terror,” which contradicted the public record. But tonight, the Republican will have 90 minutes to take on the president’s national security program in more systematic fashion. With last week’s capture of a terrorist who was planning to bomb the New York Federal Reserve and a brutal bombing of civilians in Syria, national security issues are heating up.

Democrats stand a lot to lose.

For several decades, the public trusted Republicans on the issue of national security. Since Vietnam, Republicans hammered away at Democrats as being weak on defense and unwilling to do what was necessary to protect the nation. In 2004, President George W. Bush eviscerated his opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, with this argument. Though Kerry began the Democratic Convention by highlighting his credentials as a Vietnam veteran, the Republicans developed an entire campaign around the question of whether Democrats could be trusted to prosecute the war on terrorism.

For all of Obama’s struggles with the economy, Democrats have made huge strides in the past six years.

The reversal of partisan fortunes began toward the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, when the White House was struggling to avoid total chaos in Iraq, a war that was highly unpopular. Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 elections, partially in response to Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq and his handling of it. In the 2008 presidential election, Obama made Bush’s war a centerpiece of his campaign. He promised to bring the war to an end and to reverse those components of the war on terrorism that had violated civil liberties.

The strategy was successful.

As president, Obama continued to neutralize many of his critics. He left intact most of Bush’s counterterrorism program, in some cases intensifying operations such as drone airstrikes against al Qaeda, and he made it difficult for conservatives to say that he was not doing enough. After Osama bin Laden was killed by special operations forces, even Republicans had to praise the courageous operation. Obama accelerated the war in Afghanistan and brought the controversial war in Iraq to a close.

While many on the left have been frustrated that Obama retained so much of the status quo, politically the president positioned himself as the person who was tougher on defense.

During the Democratic Convention, he railed against Romney for having failed to salute the troops in his acceptance speech and for a series of embarrassing gaffes that took place when Romney traveled overseas this summer. In September, Pew found that 53% of those surveyed trusted Obama to make wise decisions on foreign policy, compared with 38% for Romney.

But in recent weeks, the advantage seems to be eroding.

The outbreak of violence in the Middle East and the White House’s contradictory statements about a deadly al Qaeda attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, have opened up space for Republicans to go after the administration on this front. Vice President Joe Biden’s statements during his debate against Paul Ryan that neither he nor the president knew about security threats, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking responsibility, certainly did not help.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told Fox News, “I think it’s very laudable that she should throw herself under the bus. But first of all, responsibility for American security doesn’t lie with the secretary of state. It lies with the president of the United States. It’s either willful deception or a degree of incompetence and failure to understand fundamental facts on the ground. … Either one of those is obviously totally unacceptable.”

Obama has tried to push back against all of this criticism, including his statement in the second debate that he himself has ultimate responsibility, but the Republicans’ singular attacks have continued nonetheless.

Administration officials must be careful if they think there is no risk.

Aside from 2008, there are many years in which parties lost their advantage on national security. In 1952, Democrats still thought of themselves as the party that had won World War II and set up America’s Cold War strategy against the Soviet Union. Republicans hit back when Adlai Stevenson faced off against Dwight Eisenhower, a World War II military hero. Republicans attacked Democrats for being weak on fighting communism, for a military stalemate in Korea and for having allowed China to fall to communism in 1949. Eisenhower won the presidency, and Republicans took control of Congress.

Just a few years later, Republicans saw their advantage slip away. Though Eisenhower was an immensely popular president and one who, as Evan Thomas shows in his masterful new book “Ike’s Bluff,” demonstrated immense skills at diplomacy, John F. Kennedy ran as more of a hawk than Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, did in 1960.

He built on arguments that Democrats had made in the 1950s, that Republicans were so focused on balancing the budget they were not spending enough on defense to win the presidency.

“Our security,” he said, “has declined more rapidly than over any comparable period in our history — in terms of defensive strength and retaliatory power, in terms of our alliances, in terms of our scientific effort and reputation.”

Republicans struggled again in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush watched as his advantage, which had apparently been cemented with the successful Operation Desert Storm in 1990-1991 that resulted in the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, slip away.

While Bush did not devote enough attention to the economy, it was also Saddam Hussein’s continued military attacks on his opponents in U.N. cease-fire zones that seemed to demonstrate Bush’s victory had been incomplete.

“It’s like any other bully,” presidential candidate Bill Clinton said then, “you send ’em mixed messages, they’ll take advantage of you every time.”

The politics of national security is tricky, and uncontrollable events can easily push politics in a different direction. Obama will have to answer some of the tough questions that have emerged, and this time Romney is going to be prepared to handle them more effectively and to show that his overall agenda still offers the U.S. the best path forward.

Monday’s debate can have a big impact, not just on the outcome in November, but on how the public thinks about whom they should trust when it comes to national security.

Australian soldier killed on Afghan mission

A 24-year-old Australian special forces soldier has been killed by an improvised explosive device during a mission to target insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

Chief of Defence General David Hurley told a Canberra press conference that the soldier, from the Special Operations Task Group, died late last night, Australian time.

He said the mission, being carried out with Afghan personnel, was still underway.

“The task group was conducting a disruption operation against an insurgent network that directly influences insurgent activity in Uruzgan,” General Hurley said.

“The soldier was clearing a compound when an IED detonated, killing him instantly.

“No other Australian or Afghanistan personnel were killed or wounded in the incident.

“The special operations mission remains ongoing so I cannot provide specific details about the location or the mission itself without risking the safety of this young man’s comrades.”

General Hurley said the mission was being carried out in “bordering areas” of Uruzgan province, where Australian troops last week took over responsibility from US forces.

The soldier’s next of kin have been informed but have asked that personal details are not released.

General Hurley said the dead soldier was “highly qualified … with operational experience.”

“On behalf of the Army and the Defence community, I offer my deepest sympathy to the soldier’s family and his friends,” he said.

“Our thoughts are also with his mates who remain in the field.”

The death brings the number of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2002 to 39. Seven have been killed so far this year.

Another Australian died while serving with the British Army.

Etihad Stadium to launch smartphone app for spectators to buy food and drinks without leaving their seat

Football food phone app

SPORTS fans may never have to leave their seats to buy a beer or pie again.

In a win for spectators not willing to miss a second of the action, Etihad Stadium will tonight launch an in-seat food and beverage service that allows fans to order from the aisles and keep their eyes on the ball.

Taking Melbourne’s sporting experience to a new level, spectators will use an online smartphone app to buy food and drinks in what is thought to be a world-first stadium service.

Fans that download the free QkR app to their iPhone or Android phone will be able to scroll through the food and beverage menu, scan or type in a unique code on their seat and place their order online to be paid by credit card and delivered by a waiter.

The pampering service will be tried among 1000 fans at tonight’s A-league soccer match between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United and could be introduced all over the stadium if successful.

Etihad Stadium spokesman Bill Lane said the technology could soon be extended to 8500 seats.

“Fans can now drive into the carpark, take a lift to their level, sit under a roof if it’s raining and now have food and drinks delivered to their seat,” he said.

“If it’s a raging success we’ll have to see how many waiters are available around the stadium.”

MasterCard developed QkR and piloted the technology at two Sydney cinemas in January, with the only added cost to food and drinks a credit card surcharge.

MasterCard spokesman Matt Barr said the technology could be used at any sports stadium including the MCG and was only bound by the number of seats set up to support the scheme.

“Once the stadiums see what an experience this could be, I think they will be excited about the cool experience that anyone in that stadium would have getting a beer or a pie while they are still at their seat,” he said.

The closest sports fans have come to the “Gold Class” treatment is in the stadium’s exclusive Medallion Club.

Meet the Pilgramers who say they have created a religous movement based on social media

IF social media is the new religion, then hallowed be thy meme.

Plenty of us are now spending long periods on Facebook, Twitter and other networking websites as it becomes (for better or worse, in sickness and in health) the go-to method of sharing a yarn, looking at photos, or catching up with the news.

But can social media ever be a religious experience? Do your ten commandments begin: thou shalt not log off Twitter?

Well, a new movement called the Pilgramers certainly think that’s the way to go.

Never heard of them? Walk into the light, my brother.

In short, Pilgramers travel the world taking photos, making friends, and latterly, holding regular ‘instameets’ to chat photography and on occasions, fall in love.

Social media users who actually get out and meet real new friends? Well, yes.

It all started, inevitably, with two young, slightly geeky kids in America.

Jody Johnston and Ryan Carl, undergraduates at Virginia’s Liberty University, made a short meme video in February gently mocking users of the photography app, Instagram.

The movie poked fun at Instagramers’ apparent love of ‘wacky’ camera angles and obsession with ‘likes’ and followers.

It went viral and their success set Johnston and Carl to thinking: why not head off on a road trip to make some more short movies?

With no real idea where they were going, Johnston and Carl, along with two other pals – Thomas Fisher and Tim Landis – crammed into a battered white Toyota Corolla and set off across America.

It was their own pilgrimage.

They visited every state between their homes in Virginia (by coincidence, location of the original 1607 Pilgrim Fathers’ settlement) and the western seaboard, shooting video and pictures.

But the rationale for the northern summer-long road trip quickly changed.

As they met more and more Instagram users, they quickly realised that well … actually they were quite cool people.

It led to ‘Pilgramers’ being born – a community of people passionate about Instagram photography – but equally passionate about meeting new mates and sharing ideas.

The phenomenon grew to the extent that instameets began being staged, with the first one outside America to be held on Queensland’s Hamilton Island in November.

“An instameet is simple: someone will spread the word and then people will meet at an agreed location, shake hands, get to know each other and then before you know it, they’re walking around a city, climbing into abandoned buildings … taking photographs,” Johnston said.

The founding Pilgramer fathers organised the first instameets, but now people are organising the congregations across America.

To the Pilgramers, instameets are a new religion – a chance to come together and worship beautiful imagery.

Certainly they’ve developed a cult online following.

And on occasions the meets have even led to romance.

“It’s probably one of the coolest things … seeing strangers come up and meet one another,” Johnston added.

“I know people who have gone on dates and rather than spending loads and loads of money they go out and take photos with one another.”

The Hamilton Island instameet is being held from November 23 and organisers hope it will give Queensland’s tourism industry a timely boost, with pictures of the island expected to be posted to a global audience.

New study about surging Australian birth intervention rates sparks controversy

FIONA Baker asks why ”natural” births are on the decline in Australia.

Life after a caesarian section

World first uterine transplants from mother to daughter

A pregnant woman in Australia today has a 32 per cent chance of having a caesarean section. In 1998, an Australian woman going into labour would have had only a 19 per cent chance of a caesarean, while the World Health Organization recommends an overall caesarean rate of 10 to 15 per cent.

Anecdotally, the reasons for the surge in interventions such as caesareans include the rising age of first-time mums, which can increase risk, and the medical industry’s fear of potential litigation as the result of medical mishaps.
But new research from the University of Western Sydney (UWS) suggests the number of women using private obstetricians and the private hospital system contributes considerably to the figures, and the best way an Australian woman can reduce the chance of having an obstetric intervention – such as a caesarean, induction, episiotomy or epidural – is to give birth in a public hospital.

The UWS study looked at more than 650,000 births and found that low-risk, healthy young women giving birth to their first child in a private hospital in NSW were more likely to have obstetric interventions: 27 per cent had a caesarean, compared to 18 per cent in a public hospital; 31 per cent had an induction compared to 23 per cent; 53 per cent opted for an epidural, compared to 32 per cent.

“When only 15 out of 100 low-risk, healthy young women have a normal vaginal birth without intervention for their first baby in a private hospital, then questions need to be asked,” says associate professor of nursing and midwifery Hannah Dahlen, a vocal campaigner for increased “normalisation of birth”.

The rate of intervention in public hospitals – only about 35 in 100 low-risk women aged 20 to 34 have a normal vaginal birth – also isn’t ideal, Dahlen says.

“The results have stunned us,” she says. “Today there is no conceivable explanation for such high rates of birthing intervention in the private sector.”

Study is misleading

But the statistics don’t tell the whole story, warns Dr Rupert Sherwood, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

He says whether in private or public hospitals, no intervention would be unnecessary.

“This [UWS] paper appears to be an open criticism of those women who make the choice to access a model of care that provides them with one-on-one continuity of care with a specialist medical practitioner,” says Dr Sherwood, who has worked extensively across both the public and private hospital systems.

“The contention that women [choosing private care] are uninformed and are having obstetric procedures performed without knowledge of the implications seems naïve,” he says. “In this era of internet and social media, women have never been better informed.

“In particular, the private hospital birthing patient [of whom there are more than 85,000 a year] is more likely than most to have researched her options prior to making choices about care.”

Dr Sherwood also questions why epidurals are included as an obstetric intervention, saying it’s a woman’s right to choose pain relief.

Not too posh to push

As for the often trotted-out “too posh to push” factor, this seems to be minimal at best, even in the US where caesarean rates have also risen sharply.

In fact the “Listening to Mothers” survey in the US put paid to this notion with only one woman out of the 1600 surveyed requesting a caesarean section for a first birth for no apparent medical reason.

Dahlen believes Australia’s birth model has been over-medicalised. “We need to stop blaming women for how they end up giving birth,” she says.

“They are, rightly so, putting their faith in their health provider and in a vast majority of cases are simply following that health provider’s medical advice.”

She says that obstetricians are highly skilled specialists who should be called in for high-risk births and emergencies.

“This is what they’re trained to do and they do it well,” she says. “However, I like to use this analogy: you wouldn’t hire a paediatric neurosurgeon to babysit your child just in case they had an accident and hit their head.

“This is because they are not the best person to do the babysitting and the chances of a neurosurgical emergency happening are minimal.

“Likewise, most women will not need major surgical intervention, so their birth can be best managed by the best person for the job, a midwife, unless a specialist is needed.”

More topics at Body and Soul

39 reasons to bring troops home from Afghanistan now

As far as the Australian public is concerned there are now 39 very good reasons for bringing the troops home from Afghanistan without delay.

The death of a special-forces soldier overnight takes the national death toll to 39 and there have been 242 wounded as well, many severely.

As the final official draw down date of 2014 approaches each new death will resonate even more with a public now almost 70 per cent opposed to the Afghanistan mission.

Despite the government’s best efforts to soften the blow of the casualties by covering up inquiry reports and seeking to limit information about the fallen soldiers, the growing list of dead is testing the public’s resolve.

The Gillard Government insists that it is on track to meet its 2014 withdrawal timeline, but given that 2012 still has more than two months to run, the government will be under growing pressure to explain why the troops – all of the troops – cannot be home by the end of next year.
Surely 14 months is long enough to hand over to the Afghans who are, for all intents and purposes, responsible for securing Oruzgan Province.

Fallen soldiers

Most mentoring diggers will be back in the main base at Tarin Kowt by December and they will only support the Afghans with mobile patrols originating at Camp Holland.

Special forces will continue to do the type of search and destroy missions against bomb makers that resulted in the latest death, but for the bulk of the force it will be a matter of sitting in TK, going to the gym, drinking Green Beans coffee and wondering what the hell they are doing there?

A six-month deployment at the base at TK is cruel and unusual punishment for anyone let alone young soldiers desperate to get out and patrol.

There is no doubt that the timetable for withdrawal is flexible and the government will be asking the military brass to draw up plans for an earlier homecoming for the mentoring forces and their force multipliers.

For the special-forces task group however the transition is not so clear. The government has already committed to keeping the elite force there well beyond the 2014 end game (if requested by the Afghan Government), but they will have to provide damn good reasons for Australians to accept the risks to our most highly trained soldiers.

As the mentoring force pulls back to the main base the only Australians exposed to danger will be special forces troops from the SAS, Commandos and Incident Response Regiment.

Regardless of the need to support the Afghan army with the very special skills that SF troops offer in the ugly fight to keep the insurgency at bay, the government would do well to take heed of the ground swell of community concern about these elite men staying on as the bulk of coalition forces head home.

As the US draw down gains momentum they will be left increasingly exposed without the levels of fire and air support that they have enjoyed since day one.

The death of any soldier is tragic, but casualties among our over worked special-forces troops in the aftermath of the overall withdrawal will be even more disastrous as 75, 80 and then 90 per cent of the population asks, Why?

Walkom: McGuinty resigns: Dalton McGuinty takes democracy lessons from Harper

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper shut down Parliament for just six weeks in 2010, he was called a dictator.

“What’s Stephen Harper trying to hide?” the opposition Liberals asked in a televised ad. “What’s his real agenda?”

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton called Harper’s decision to prorogue — his second in two years — “the kind of thing you hear of in dictatorships.”

In downtown Toronto, about 3,000 people demonstrated in the streets.

But when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Monday that he was suspending the Ontario legislature indefinitely — and probably for at least six months — the political classes responded with a collective yawn.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Progressive Conservative chieftain Tim Hudak said they’d both prefer the legislature to stay in session.

But both were remarkably blasé. Hudak said he’d use his paid time off to promote Tory policies. Horwath said she found prorogation “quite concerning” and hoped McGuinty would reconsider.

Nary a mention of jackboots at all.

Yet there’s not much difference between the Harper and McGuinty situations.

Both have used prorogation to avoid the perils of minority government. In late 2008, Harper shut down parliament for almost eight weeks to avoid being turfed from office by a Liberal-NDP coalition.

At the time he bet, correctly, that the coalition would quickly shatter.

A year later, the prime minister prorogued parliament again — this time to forestall embarrassing questions being raised by a Commons committee looking into the abuse of Afghan prisoners.

The official explanation then was that the Conservatives needed time to “recalibrate” and focus on the economy.

Which is pretty much the excuse that McGuinty trotted out on Monday evening. He said he wants a “cooling-off period” so he can focus on public-sector wage cuts.

Like Harper’s Conservatives in 2008 and 2009, McGuinty’s Liberals today are taking a bashing in the legislature — for the way they handled the controversial ambulance service ORANG, for the hundreds of millions of dollars they wasted in relocating two electricity generating plants, for their labour relations with public-sector workers.

Like Harper before 2011, McGuinty does not command a majority of seats in the legislature and must make common cause with one or more opposition parties to get anything done.

And like Harper’s Conservatives in those days, the McGuinty Liberals complain bitterly about having to do so.

They were miffed when they had to compromise with the NDP to get their 2012 budget passed.

They seem outraged that the two opposition parties want Energy Minister Chris Bentley to follow the age-old practice of taking responsibility for mistakes made by his department.

Specifically, the Tories want Bentley to resign because he or his department misled MPPs about business that legislators are supposed to oversee. It is a perfectly reasonable opposition demand, grounded in parliamentary precedent.

Yet the Liberal government considers it an affront — proof that the legislative atmosphere is irredeemably poisoned.

The only solution, says McGuinty, is to shut down the assembly so that his ministers can go about the business of governing — without having to worry about pesky things like democracy.

Harper would understand this. But at least when he prorogued Parliament he set time limits — six weeks in one instance, eight in the other.

McGuinty is just shutting everything down indefinitely. He says he’ll leave it to whoever replaces him as Liberal leader to recall the legislature.

That may be in six months, which is estimated to be the minimum amount of time it will take the Liberals to choose a successor.

Or, if the new Liberal premier, too, wants to avoid legislative scrutiny it may not be until after the next general election.

Welcome to democracy in Ontario. For McGuinty, who by all accounts is a decent human being, it’s a sad way to bow out.

Cohn: McGuinty resigns: Chris Bentley could be first casualty of Liberal renewal race

Who will lead the Liberals back into the wilderness, whence they came nearly a decade before?

That’s the challenge facing the leadership aspirants who want to be premier — for a day, a week, a month, maybe two — until the minority Liberal government faces defeat in the legislature. And likely loses a general election.

Undaunted, the would-be successors to Dalton McGuinty tap danced their way into a special cabinet meeting Tuesday, preening before the assembled cameras while playing coy about their ambitions. Filing out, the ministers were rather more subdued.

Inside the cabinet room, the premier laid down the law — insisting they resign as ministers of the Crown before seeking the brass ring. No more car and driver, no corner office or sycophantic staff.

Shedding the perquisites of power (and extra pay) is never easy. But for at least one minister, leaving cabinet behind could prove liberating, even redemptive — if he’s not too late.

Chris Bentley has been energy minister for barely a year. He came in with clean hands but will leave with his fingerprints on a file that has sullied the Liberal government and mucked up the legislature.

Now he is the first casualty of the coming leadership race, paying a heavy personal price for the costly cancellation of two gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga. The controversy, which has been blowing out of control for months, culminated Monday with McGuinty proclaiming his retirement and proroguing the legislature.

If the idea was to give Bentley more breathing room, it has only left him sputtering. A veteran cabinet minister and long-distance runner, he had been training longest and hardest to succeed McGuinty.

The story of his rise, fall and possible recovery will be the narrative arc of this leadership campaign.

A former law professor, Bentley faced the risk of a damaging contempt finding by his fellow lawmakers for withholding ministry documents. He should have resigned by now — proffering penance, rebuilding his reputation and rehabilitating his career.

The government’s bungled, highly politicized unplugging of power plants weren’t his decisions. Yet he willingly took on the task of cleaning up McGuinty’s mess and botched the job.

A long-time attorney general, Bentley is legalistic to the point of being evasive — he’ll reflexively duck a tough question by claiming it’s before the courts. A politician who so righteously lives by the rules dies by the rules — especially if he plays fast and loose with legislative traditions.

Bentley has committed the cardinal sins of sloppiness and dissembling in the public eye.

Late last month, pressured by opposition MPPs and prodded by the Speaker, Bentley grudgingly released 36,000 documents detailing the government’s desperate attempts to paper over and pay off its legal liabilities. Turns out the documents didn’t tell the full story.

Last Friday, Bentley dumped another 20,000 documents, accompanied by letters from senior public servants offering their excuses and explanations. Much of the fault may lie with bureaucrats who cast the net too narrowly, but at least they owned up to their misjudgment within three days — while Bentley waited nearly three weeks to advise MPPs.

All along he led a Liberal counterattack — shouting down and shooting down opposition questions, misleading the legislature long after he knew better. Bentley hid behind the bureaucracy by delegating the search, then dodging responsibility for the results.

Where was the due diligence from the former attorney general?

Bentley inherited a mess not of his own making, but made it worse on his watch. He should have quit of his own volition and waited things out.

Now, if he wants to lead the Liberals to renewal, he will be compelled by the new campaign rules to step down. Belatedly he will be free of his ministerial obligations, but perhaps too late to unburden himself of the accumulated mess.

As McGuinty moves on, Bentley remains weighed down by baggage. Unlike the premier, he didn’t know how to duck — or when to bow out.

Loblaw cuts 700 Toronto head office jobs

The decision by Loblaw Companies Limited to chop 700 jobs from the payroll in administration and at head office in Brampton on Tuesday was met with mixed reviews from analysts and investors.

After the announcement, shares rose 84 cents and closed at $34.72.

Loblaw has been upgrading its supply chain technology and infrastructure and while the job cuts may reflect greater efficiencies, Perry Caicco, managing director, CIBC World Markets, warned investors against applying the savings directly to the company’s bottom line.

“Notwithstanding that these job cuts probably reflect a demand from the parent company to generate some return on the outsized capital spending on

systems, it is highly unlikely that these actions will directly boost earnings,” wrote Caicco in a note to investors on Tuesday.

“The recent history of the company suggests that some of these job cuts will

be replaced by equally expensive outsourcing, and that the company will

struggle to re-assign eliminated roles in a productive fashion. In other words,

we believe the risk of poor head office execution and service to stores will be high for at least 12 months.”

Caicco said some portion of the cuts will likely reduce expenses, a necessity in light of the surge in growth in the grocery sector in Canada.

Walmart is in the midst of adding 4.6-million square feet of retail space to operations in Canada by the end of January 2013. More than half of the projects will involve supercentres providing a full range of groceries. Target will be selling groceries in stores opening in Canada next spring.

The family-owned Longo’s is also expanding in carefully selected prime locations in the GTA.

Loblaw Companies Limited is Canada’s largest food retailer, with more than 1,000 corporate and franchised stores, including Loblaws, Zehrs, T&T, Fortinos, Provigo, No Frills and the Real Canadian Superstore. The company employs about 138,000 full- and part-time workers.

In the past 12 months, Loblaws has opened 14 new stores across Canada, creating 2,000 new jobs.

The investment in infrastructure at Loblaw – trimming 250 separate systems down to something manageable – began in 2009.

“It’s a huge job, particularly when you’ve got to keep the old systems running to keep doing business. It’s like changing the engine on a car while the engine is still running,” said retail analyst Ed Strapagiel.

“This year, 2012, is when most of their system conversion takes place. There will likely be teething pains, so add a few months to work the bugs out. I think most professional stock analysts understand this. I think they think Loblaw is doing the right thing, but they would prefer to see it go faster.”

Kenric Tyghe, an analyst with Raymond James Securities told Bloomberg news he viewed the move positively.

“With their new systems capabilities, certain HR requirements are now redundant and hence the job cuts,” he said.

Vicente Trius, president, Loblaw Companies Ltd., broke the news to employees this morning, according to Loblaw spokesperson Julija Hunter.

The changes will take effect starting Tuesday and should be complete within three weeks. The company expects to take a one-time estimated $60 million charge in the fourth quarter as a result.

“We feel really confident in our direction,” Hunter said, adding that the job reductions will make the company more competitive, eliminate duplications and allow the firm to focus more on the customer experience.

“We’re managing costs where it makes sense.”

The transition will not be fully in place until the end of 2014.

Loblaw is a subsidiary of George Weston Ltd., which is sitting on $3.6-billion in cash. A spokesman for George Weston Ltd. said in September that the cash will be used in part to refresh its North American bakeries and Canadian Loblaw stores.

It’s also looking to make acquisitions.

Loblaw saw its profit drop 22 per cent in the first quarter of 2012. Second quarter net earnings per common share were 57 cents, down almost 19 per cent compared to the same period in 2011.