Saturday, November 28, 2009

Media narrative wrong; Obama China trip a success.

Last week, President Obama returned from his trip to China.

Many media outlets, including not just the usual right wing echo boxes like FAUX News, but even relatively respected outlets like the Guardian were quick to point to the fact that the Chinese had made no open concessions and pronounce the trip a failure. The naysayers basically said that Obama had gone all that way just to take a walk on the Great Wall.

It is true that the Chinese did not come out and say that they were making concessions, because to them the way that things are presented is a big deal and they don't want to look like they are giving in to the United States. But in the week since then they have made two huge moves, on items that were at or near the top of the agenda when President Obama met his Chinese counterparts.

The first occurred two days ago, when China unilaterally announced a plan to cut carbon emissions by as much as 45% from the level that they would be projected to be at in 2020 if no action were taken. Because of robust projected growth in the Chinese economy the overall emissions will still increase, but by far less than they would have.

China in the past has claimed that they are a 'developing' nation and therefore should be exempt from any carbon emissions standards. During the Bush administration the issue of carbon emissions wasn't even on the agenda during these kinds of meetings but the timing of this announcement within a week after Obama left China makes it pretty obvious that he scored a success on the topic of carbon emissions, even though his hosts waited for a couple of days to announce it so it wouldn't look like a concession.

An even more dramatic shift came yesterday, and on an issue where the Bush administration had no success with the Chinese. China went along with tough language targeting Iran's nuclear program. In the past the Chinese, who have no particular quarrel with the Iranians and prefer to do business with them, have resisted any such move. Again, while the timing of the U.N. vote was not dependent on the President's visit to China, the shift in China's position from previous votes makes it pretty plain that the President scored on this issue too.

I know, I know. The media is like a stampeding herd of cattle, and once they get going in one direction it is tough to move them in another direction. Lately their narrative has been about declining Presidential approval ratings, foreign and domestic policy challenges and other negative stories. So an 'unsuccessful' trip to China fit that narrative and that's how it was reported when the President didn't leave, Neville Chamberlain-style, waving a piece of paper with promises from the Chinese leaders.

But the past few days have made it clear that the media judgment was premature at best, and just plain wrong at worst. On at least two big agenda items, the President got real action from the Chinese.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No punting pit bulls in Pittsburgh.

I'm not exactly a supporter of PETA. I eat meat and I have no problem with hunting, circuses or the use of animals in medical research.

However, there are cases where just wanton cruelty demands a response. Michael Vick (who I wrote about at the time) was such an example, and so is this case of a deranged Steelers fan.

Apparently William Woodson of Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, was so outraged that his girlfriend's 13 week old pit bull puppy wouldn't behave during the Steelers game that he kicked the dog to death, reportedly punting it down the street.

If Woodson is such a big Steelers fan, how about he gets to participate in their next practice? Without pads, and maybe dressed in a Cincinnati Bengals uniform.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Legislature cuts hundreds of millions from schools, services, blames Democrats

In approving $144 million cut from K-12 and $150 million from the Department of Economic Services today, apparently House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanaugh (R-Fountain Hills) is unhappy because Democrats haven't 'pitched in.'

There is a good reason for that. Apparently when Kavanaugh, Bob Burns and other Republican leaders in Phoenix suggest that Democrats should 'pitch in,' it means vote for budgets that the Republicans have already written behind closed doors, presumably because they are having so much trouble keeping their own troops in line.

Going along with something somebody tells you they want you to vote for is not 'pitching in.'

Nobody disputes that the state's economic situation is dire, facing a budget deficit that could reach as high as a third of the budget (even after last year's budget cuts.) And while Republicans have controlled the legislature since 1964, which is one reason our 'low tax' state is unable to sustain what we do spend despite being well below the national average in terms of per capita state spending, fixing blame on decades of past failures won't solve today's problems.

Certainly the deficit is so huge that it will require more cuts, and certainly too the situation is so bad that likely a solution is only possible if all sixty members of the house and all thirty members of the Senate work together.

However if the Republican leadership wants a 'bipartisan' budget solution, they have a funny way of showing it in that they are unwilling to actually let Democrats in to help write it before expecting them to vote for it.

True, there was a report that Senator Bob Burns was chasing four specific Democratic members of the Senate to try and buy their votes. But that's hardly negotiating with Democrats. The members of the Democratic caucuses have elected Representative David Lujan as house minority leader and Senator Jorge Garcia as senate minority leader. Any real negotiation with Democrats means meaningful discussions with representative Lujan and senator Garcia and their respective leadership teams.

How bad do things have to get before we get a meaningful discussion down in Phoenix about how the legislature can move forward and solve the problems that the people expect them to solve?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hot Air intentionally deceives

The conservative blog Hot Air claims that a letter mailed by the Congressional Budget Office to a Republican Congressman contradicts Harry Reid's numbers regarding the proposed health care bill that he has been quoting this week.

Only one problem. Reid's numbers (also from the CBO) are about the bill he is proposing that the Senate take up, while the letter is about the House version of the legislation, HR 3962.

Well, if you want to claim that someone's numbers are wrong, go find a different number that is different because it is measuring a different bill, right? Who will notice?


Sometimes there are no winners, only losers. That seems to be the case in Michigan, in which a father became so upset that his fifteen year old son raped a three year old girl that he shot him to death over it.

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. - A 37-year-old father irate over hearing his 15-year-old son had sexual contact with a 3-year-old girl made the teen strip at gunpoint, marched him to a vacant lot and shot him to death despite pleas from the boy and his mother, a relative said.

Michigan authorities filed a first-degree murder charge Wednesday against Jamar Pinkney Sr. in the shooting death Monday of Jamar Pinkney Jr. in the Detroit enclave of Highland Park...

The boy's mother, Lazette Cherry, told the Detroit Free Press that her son told her he had improper sexual contact with the girl.

"I called and told his father. This isn't something you sweep under the rug," she said.

Cherry said the elder Pinkney arrived at the home with a gun, ordered his son to strip and marched him outside despite her protests.

"He got on his knees and begged, No, Daddy, No,' and he pulled the trigger," Cherry said.

I honestly don't know what I'd do if one of my kids turned out to be a child molester. I don't think that child molesters are ever curable (try changing your sexual orientation for a day-- you can't. Neither can they.) Likely as not the son faced a long, tough life behind bars, but it was not up to his father to take it upon himself to end it before that happened.

This is a case in which there are only victims.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

LeBron should also tell the Browns, 'no thank you.'

LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, sort of half joked that he could help the Cleveland Browns as a wide receiver, a position he was heavily recruited for when he went to college. Last year a local commercial showed him wearing a Browns jersey and it's certainly true that being a high-jumping 6'8", James has the skills and physique to be a Randy Moss-type receiver. Moss is a guy who can outjump and outreach anyone for a high pass, effectively giving his quarterback a place to throw to him where there is zero chance of an interception. At 265 pounds, James is no beanpole and he is one of the toughest guys out there on the floor, so he probably could withstand an NFL hit.

The Browns were quick to suggest that they could use James.

However he should say no. Here are some of the reasons:

Reason number 1: He's the greatest basketball player in the world. He has nothing to prove.

Reason number 2: He hasn't played football since high school. He could easily embarrass himself. Remember Michael Jordan struggling to hit .196 in double-A ball. Granted, Jordan's height was anything but an asset in Birmingham, since a 6'6" guy like Jordan has a correspondingly elongated strike zone, making it tougher for him to hit than most baseball players. But the point is that James could end up making a fool out of himself.

Reason number 3: There are no minor leagues in the NFL. Jordan at least got to make his try at a lower level (never getting past double-A or stepping onto the field in a White Sox uniform.) But LeBron, who hasn't played a down since high school would be stepping onto the field with the best in the game. Even guys who played four years of college football at top schools and starred there usually find that the NFL is a whole other world, and a much harder one.

Reason number 4: LeBron risks a serious injury. The NFL is about violent collisions between 250 and 350 pound guys running at full speed. And the ones that are out there know what to expect. Maybe he could take an NFL hit, but could his knees? It would be a stupid way to end a great career.

Reason number 5: The Cavaliers, especially with Shaq around (as much as he stays healthy, anyhow) to help LeBron defend inside, are capable of winning an NBA championship. The Browns are 1-8. They know that sending LeBron out there would put some butts in the seats and get some play on television, but that, and the fact that it would be tough to play much worse than the guys they have out there now, are the only reasons they're interested.

Reason number 6: Two-sport athletes generally don't pan out in at least one of them. We've already mentioned Jordan. Bo Jackson was the most genuinely two-sport athlete, starring both as a football player and as a baseball player, in fact being named to both the all star game in baseball and the pro bowl in football. However he suffered a career-ending hip injury playing football, and while he was able to restart his baseball career after undergoing a hip replacement he was never as good a player as he had been. Deion Sanders is another notable exception, but his stardom in both baseball and football led to conflicts with and between team owners over when he would play which sport. Sanders eventually gave up baseball and finished in the NFL.

Reason number 7: the problems listed above with football/baseball players would be exacerbated in the case of football/basketball. There is more overlap between the seasons and both sports are more physical than baseball (Yes, there are certainly some very physical collisions at home plate and high spikes and chin music and great catches while running into the wall and all the rest of it but overall if you play baseball don't have the constant pounding that you get in the NBA or the NFL. The only baseball players who get anything like the kind of heavy physical wear that basketball and football produce are catchers.)

Reason number 8: LeBron, you're too classy a guy to go pull a stupid stunt like that. Let Kobe do it.

Maersk Alabama attacked again. Armed guards stop the attack.

These guys don't know when to quit, do they?

Somali pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama again earlier today. The attack was repelled by armed security guards stationed aboard the ship.

You may recall that earlier this year the same ship was attacked, which led to a hostage standoff with the U.S. Navy that ultimately ended when Navy SEALS killed three pirates and rescued the captain of the Maersk Alabama, Captain Richard Phillips.

Here is the part of the article that really gets me though:

Vice Adm. Bill Gortney of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said the Maersk Alabama had followed the maritime industry's "best practices" in having a security team on board.

"This is a great example of how merchant mariners can take proactive action to prevent being attacked and why we recommend that ships follow industry best practices if they're in high-risk areas," Gortney said in a statement.

However, Roger Middleton, a piracy expert at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said the international maritime community was still "solidly against" armed guards aboard vessels at sea, but that American ships have taken a different line than the rest of the international community.

"Shipping companies are still pretty much overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of armed guards," Middleton said. "Lots of private security companies employee people who don't have maritime experience. Also, there's the idea that it's the responsibility of states and navies to provide security. I would think it's a step backward if we start privatizing security of the shipping trade."

Simply put, Vice Admiral Gortney is right and Roger Middleton is wrong.

Obviously there is a need for naval protection and the United States and other countries are busy doing everything they can to keep piracy in the area at a minimum (and have been doing a pretty good job of it, as the number of pirate attacks has dropped dramatically over the past few months.)

However, pirates are going to try and attack ships which are not in the close vicinity of naval vessels. Since the northwestern Indian Ocean is a huge area it's safe to assume that if they are patient enough, they can find merchant vessels, yachts or other private vessels which are at least for the time it takes to attack beyond the reach of naval units.

When this happens it makes sense for shipping companies to have hired private security guards to protect their vessels, as apparently Maersk has done. Because when an attack happens, the only ship guaranteed to be in the vicinity is the one which is under attack. I often disagree with my fellow lefty bloggers on gun issues and it is a similar argument. I fully support the police and I believe in maintaining a strong police presence, especially in communities where there is a lot of crime, but if you do need to defend yourself or somebody else (in your home or elsewhere) the only person guaranteed to be around at all times, is yourself. Sometimes the police get there in time, and other times they show up and take pictures later.

We can also take a clue from the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when piracy was rampant. Certainly navies (which at that time especially meant the British navy) did everything they could to stamp out piracy. However, merchantmen at the time ran armed precisely because they knew they were sitting ducks if a pirate vessel showed up out of nowhere and there was no Man-of-War around. It is true that ships now have radios and can call for help as soon as an attack begins, but it still may be many hours before help arrives on the high seas.

As it becomes common knowlege that American-flagged vessels are hiring private security guards (and other nations are slower to do so) my guess is that we will see the pirates simply choose to avoid American-flagged ships and look for the easier targets.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yeah, counselor, That's just what I want to do. Pay a whole lot of money for college, go for two years and flunk!

Many of you are aware by now that blogger Nate Silver discovered apparently phony survey results by the polling company Strategic Vision using statistical analysis. In particular he looked at a survey which was given to high school students in both Oklahoma and Arizona (which had ridiculous results, such as claiming that only a quarter of public high school students knew that George Washington was the first president.) In fact, an Oklahoma state senator named David Cannady replicated the test in that state and showed that the actual results were far, far from what the original data showed.

The results however have been trumpeted both by a conservative think tank in Oklahoma and by our very own Goldwater Institute here in Arizona.

Arizona blogger David Safier has a nice writeup on it here.

In fairness, Matthew Ladner, the lead statistician at the G.I. has said he would own up to it if the numbers turn out to be fake, and in fact it's looking like he's going to be overwhelmed with evidence.

In Safier's write up he links to the public school and private school surveys.

Looking at the entire survey, not just the ten questions on civics adds even more evidence.

For example, when asked about such matters as whether their school treats everyone well, you get a very nice statistical distribution-- however I know from having conducted surveys in issues of opinion like this in the past that a significantly higher number of people (and I'd venture even of schoolkids) are likely to answer the to the extremes (i.e. 'strongly agree' or 'strongly disagree' than the low numbers shown by the survey. Even on questions that should provoke a strong opinion, all the data seems to fit a nice, normal distribution when it should more likely be bimodal. For example, I'd think even the G.I. would question whether 2% of public school students give their teachers an 'F.' I could name more than that percent of my kids' classmates who want to blame the teachers for all their problems. But hey, once again look at the nice normal distribution there-- on a question that should very likely not be normal.

Even more strongly, look at the public school survey question on what the students want to do after high school. Note that vocational school is listed separately from the military. So if you look at just those who plan to attend college, 27% say they expect to attend college but not finish, compared with 39% (30% + 9%) who do plan to finish. This may fit the actual numbers (after all a lot of people do flunk out of college) but I don't think I've yet met a single young person who enters college intending to not graduate! Yeah, that's the ticket-- run up a lot of student loan debt and flunk! And they are claiming that that is the INTENT of 27/66 = 41% of public school students who DO plan to go to college?

Clearly THAT is a fabricated number-- the person who did it looked at the approximate number of kids who actually do flunk out of college (or leave early due to a family emergency or other reason) and extrapolated to that's what they were planning in high school.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

LeBron should retire his idea to retire Jordan's number.

Cleveland star LeBron James, arguably the greatest basketball player of this generation, has proposed that the NBA retire Michael Jordan's #23 in honor of 'the greatest NBA star ever.'

I think that's a terrible idea.

Nobody questions the greatness of Jordan, and most experts agree that he probably was the greatest ever. What made Jordan great-- and this can also be said of James, is that in every game there is a most talented player on the court, and also a player on the court who puts more heart into it and plays harder than anyone else. In Jordan's case, he was both of those in one package.

However, a subjective judgement (and it will always be subjective, for example there is no way to put Jordan on the court against Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson) should not be definitive, and more to the point these kinds of things change over time.

Consider baseball. For decades it was not even questioned that Babe Ruth was the greatest player ever. After the Black Sox scandal nearly destroyed baseball in 1919, Ruth became the game's savior, changing it in such a way that even when I was a kid in the 1970's people would talk about Ruth like some sort of a demigod. When mere mortals dared to challenge a Ruthian record-- Roger Maris in 1961, Hank Aaron during the early 1970's they were booed and denigrated and it was said of them that there was simply no comparison.

Another thirty-five years have gone by since Hammerin' Hank overcame the boos (not to mention the overt racism) and launched home run # 715 off of Al Downing, and it is interesting how perceptions of Ruth have changed.

He is still counted among the game's greatest players, no doubt. And there are still plenty who would point to factors such as his highest ratio of home runs per at-bat or his success as a pitcher before becoming the Sultan of Swat and say he is still the greatest. But the point is that there even is a debate. Many other players-- Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Aaron, Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt, also have their advocates. Even Ty Cobb, who epitomized the game before Ruth, has been rehabilitated and now has his advocates who claim that he was the best pure ballplayer ever.

Or football. Back when Ruth was the greatest baseball player ever, no question, in football it was Jim Brown. Of course in those days running backs were considered more fundamentally football players than quarterbacks. The change in perception since is even more pronounced there-- because of the emergence of the position of quarterback, most people would argue today that the greatest football player ever was a quarterback, likely Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Dan Marino, John Elway or even Brett Favre. If anyone suggested a running back at all, it would probably be Emmitt Smith or Walter Payton, not Brown.

I'm not going to wade into the middle of that argument. My point is that perceptions change. Sometimes people look back into history and begin to better appreciate athletes who may have been considered not the greatest (though still great) when they were playing. After all the old days were always better, or so it often seems. Or, it may be that in the future a better athlete comes along.

And so it is with Jordan. Was he the greatest? Probably. Will he always be the greatest? Probably not. LeBron has the talent and maybe the chance to make people forget about Jordan someday. So does Kobe Bryant. And maybe some kid who is just now being signed up for the local YMCA basketball league. The truth is, we don't know.

There are examples of players whose leagues have uniformly retired their numbers. In baseball, Jackie Robinson's #42 was retired for every team. But Jackie Robinson meant something to baseball above and beyond his ability as a player. Beyond his ability on the court, Jordan--- well, he's a better shoe salesman than Al Bundy.

It is entirely appropriate that the Chicago Bulls, Jordan's team, have retired his number. But for the entire league to retire it, doesn't make the cut.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why Arizona, California budget woes have similar causes

As I'm sure virtually everyone in Arizona has heard by now, a report out this week states flatly that Arizona is in the second worst financial shape after California.

In fact, I wonder if that's even true, for one thing California actually did overcome partisan differences and get a budget together while our Governor and legislature, led by the same party, were still bickering and not getting anything done. In fact they never did agree on a budget this year, with the Governor 'creating' a pseudo-budget by vetoing some of the legislative cuts and forcing a third special session which may or may not begin next week to address some of the unresolved budget issues.

However, for some clues to why things are so bad, it might be useful to compare the two states and see what is common between them that may have led to this situation.

Party control is not one of those factors. California, once the home of Nixon and Reagan Republicanism, has become a reliably Democratic state, and despite having a Republican Governor has had a Democratic legislature for a long time. Arizona on the other hand has had Republicans running the legislature since 1964 (when Barry Goldwater's coattails in his home state swept the GOP to power in a body they have controlled for decades since then.)

There are however three factors that all appear to have sprung from populist impulses.

The first is that Californians, who were anti-tax during the 1970's and 1980's passed the same kind of law as Arizona passed in 1992. It requires a 2/3 vote of both houses of the legislature plus a Governor's signature to raise taxes. This effectively prevents raising taxes even in an emergency like the present since it is virtually certain that you can muster 1/3 of one house or the other to always vote against a tax increase. Let's be honest here-- if the same provision applied to spending cuts, the state would be just as constricted since you could always find 1/3 of at least one house who would vote against any spending cut. What this does is effectively disables the legislature's ability to deal with problems as they emerge and in a disaster like we have now this restriction is crippling. And it is also true that preventing the legislature from raising taxes is in effect saying that you don't trust the voters to vote out any legislator who voted for an unpopular tax.

In Arizona the supermajority provision was complicated during the 1990's when the state cut taxes very deeply so that we now are faced with a situation where we already are one of the lowest tax states in the nation and still can't raise them back again.

The second is the citizen ballot initiative provision that has essentially pre-written large chunks of the state budget in both states. While I fully supported and voted for dedicated spending on programs like children's health care that I did not believe the legislature could be trusted to fund adequately (and I will oppose any effort to repeal this dedicated spending, at the ballot box or elsewhere because I know that Kirk Adams and Bob Burns would use the money to pay for tax cuts, not to reduce spending cuts) it is true that when there is a big budget deficit, the fact that certain budget items by law can't be touched forces the cuts to be deeper everywhere else. Sort of like building a wall around a town to keep out a flood. It may succeed but it will push more water downstream and flood the next town worse.

As one California observer noted, Californians are schizophrenic-- they don't want to pay taxes but they want the Government to provide a lot of stuff. So they have voted that combination, and the same is true of Arizonans. That's not a partisan observation, it's an observation of the way things are.

The third similarity is legislative term limits. Most people don't like professional legislators, but in Sacramento and Phoenix that problem has been solved by another populist measure that creates a whole new set of problems-- term limits. The biggest problem with this is that there are always at least 1/4 of the members with no experience, another 1/4 of the members who are on their way out and therefore have no reason to try and reflect what anyone in their district thinks (1/4 + 1/4 = 1/2) and the other half of the legislature in between these two extremes (i.e. with little experience and not really needing to satisfy their district beyond the next election or two.) Further, there is a lack of institutional memory. Programs that may have been begun at an earlier time (such as investments in biotechnology) may be discontinued, defunded or severely cut when a new group of legislators comes in with a different idea about where things should be headed and has no idea of what the original justification or purpose for the programs was.

Term limits may be nice in theory but in practice it means we force people to retire once they actually learn what is going on and how to get things done within the system.

These three populist ideals-- supermajority to raise taxes, budget-by-ballot-initiative and term limits, while appealing in some degree to people on both the left and the right, have essentially crippled the governments in both Arizona and California to the extent that neither may be able to deal with the tidal wave of red ink now rolling towards them at high speed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gunman shoots his car window first

I don't claim to know much about how to be successful at committing crimes (having chosen a different line of work) but I can give aspiring felons one piece of advice:

If you're going to do a drive-by shooting,

before you fire the gun roll down the car window, dude.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

House health care reform bill passes

Today the house passed an historic health care reform bill.

The roll-call vote is right here.

The debate was fluid during the day. At one point Bart Stupak (D-MI) pushed through an amendment that will ban a public option from paying for abortions. This is clearly an anti-choice amendment (after all private insurance companies routinely cover abortion) but it also had the effect of forcing Stupak and several other anti-choice Democrats to support the bill once the amendment was included and counting the votes at that moment Pelosi pounced and pushed for a vote on the whole bill.

The vote was 220-215 in favor of the bill. However, as Lyndon Johnson once said he liked winning with small margins because then he knew he'd gotten everything out of it that he could. Pelosi got the votes of 219 Democrats, one more than she needed, and an unexpected gift-- one Republican who braved the wrath of John Boehner and voted for the bill (Anh Cao, R-LA, who represents an overwhelmingly Democratic district and got elected at all last year mainly because his opponent was corrupt congressman Willie 'cold cash' Jefferson.) After voting with the party line on the stimulus as Boehner tried to prevent any display at all of bipartisanship, apparently being asked to go against the wishes of his constituents again was too much for Cao.

I'm not thrilled with the Stupak amendment, but strategically it makes sense-- given the closeness of the vote it is entirely possible that the whole vote could have failed without Stupak and his compatriots. And as the debate moves forward to the much tougher Senate phase at least the Stupak amendment cuts off one line of attack for the right.

However, all in all, this is a good day.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Texas shooting brings more scrutiny of muslim community.

I know I'm going to get in trouble from some of my blogger buddies for writing this post, but I'm going to write it anyway because failing to acknowlege a fact in the name of political correctness is stupid.

I also want to preface this with the fact that I know that there are over four million muslims in the United States (including some who are friends of mine) and that almost all of them are peace-loving people who absolutely do not support the use of violence as a means to achieve anything. To characterize all of them based on the actions of one, or even of several, seriously disturbed individuals is unfair and wrong.

However, I have to take issue with the whole 'loner' bit that is being kicked around about Major Nidal Malik Hasan. He is certainly a lone gunman, but there is a disturbing trend here. Just a couple of weeks ago there was a shootout in Detroit between the FBI and a group of radical muslims whose stated goal was to establish an autonomous state governed by sharia law on U.S. territory. We also recently had the case of Najibullah Zazi, accused of plotting to blow up targets in the United States. Before that we had Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, who attacked army recruiters in Arkansas. There is also a parade of young men from Minneapolis and elsewhere who have apparently been moving through a pipeline to Somalia where they end up as members of al-Shabob, an Islamicist rebel group in that country.

And that's just this year. If we continued this post back a few years, there are several other American muslim individuals who have committed senseless acts of violence in the United States or against fellow Americans (John Allen Muhammed, anyone?)

Now, I absolutely do not believe that we should in any way blame the entire muslim community (many of whom have condemned and spoken out against these senseless actions,) nor do I believe that the government needs more federal spy powers-- God knows we've given them enough spy powers already and if they are doing a poor job of using the powers they have now then the answer is not to give them more power to snoop on Americans. As I said before, there are millions of American muslims and these actions have been committed by a handful, who do not appear in most cases to be part of any sort of extremist organization.

However, to deny that these kinds of violent episodes are happening too often to be considered 'random' because it is politically inconvenient to do so, is also wrong headed thinking. Clearly the whole radical Islamicist, jihadi mentality has seduced a number of Americans, either those who were raised as muslims (as Dr. Hasan was) or those who have converted to Islam (as was the case for those involved in the Detroit shootout.)

We must acknowlege it and then look at how we can work with law enforcement officials and community leaders to get a handle on why some American muslims are attracted to extreme Islamicism and then address those causes directly. And to get this kind of a dialogue working we have to be willing to be blunt about what the problem is.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Unemployment vote shows Arizona Republicans in Congress are more conservative than other Republicans

Just in case you hadn't gotten the idea yet that Arizona Republicans are way off on the right end of the political spectrum, even to the extent that they are way beyond the mainstream of conservatives,

Today the house voted 403-12 to extend unemployment benefits for fourteen more weeks (plus six more in states with the highest unemployment.) This is a no-brainer with unemployment poised to break 10%, and the house action follows a 98-0 Senate vote.

Among the conservative members of the house who followed the unanimous vote of the Senate were John Boehner, Michele Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn, Dan Burton, Eric Cantor, Duncan Hunter, Peter King, Mike Pence, Jeanne Schmidt and Joe Wilson.

Not exactly a list of bleeding-heart liberals there.

In fact, the three Republicans in the Arizona delegation-- all three of them-- Jeff Flake, Trent Franks and John Shadegg-- showed that they are way more conservative than even the rest of the house GOP by providing fully one fourth of the 'no' votes.

In Arizona, the most extreme views that are held anywhere else are unfortunately the 'party line' view held by many if not most of our GOP elected officials. Today's vote once again puts the extreme conservatism of Arizona Republicans on display for everyone to see.

Result being spun as exactly the opposite of what it was

Republicans are saying that Tuesday's election results, especially in Virginia, where Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell crushed Democrat Creigh Deeds, are a referendum on the Obama agenda. It is true that McDonnell won by 18 percent in a state that Obama last year won by seven-- a twenty-five point swing. They claim that voters wanted to 'send a message' to Washington on health care. And it is true that Obama campaigned for Deeds in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia only last week.

However, a closer look at the numbers suggests otherwise. To begin with, start with the exit polls of the race.

To begin with, Deeds only lost the Hampton Roads area by 54-45%. This is signficantly better relative to Obama last year (who won it by a similar margin) than he did anywhere else in the state. So if anything, it appears that the Obama appearance may have helped Deeds hold his margin of loss in the region down, because he lost more voters in other parts of the state.

Furthermore, buried down towards the bottom is a question about what the primary issue was that voters were voting on. A quarter answered it was health care. And among those who did, Deeds WON by 51-49%. Keep in mind this is a candidate who was losing big, still narrowly winning among voters who are concered about health care (McDonnell's voters incidentally cited the economy and taxes as their biggest issues.) So if anything, this seems to suggest support for the Obama agenda on health care, certainly not opposition!

There is no question that Creigh Deeds ran a very poor campaign, attempting to focus on Bob McDonnell's 20 year old master's thesis while McDonnell was talking about jobs. However there is another point to be made here: Deeds tried to run as a 'moderate' and separate himself from the Obama agenda even as he was asking for the President's support. Clearly that strategy backfired since he did not win very many votes from conservatives but the electorate that showed up included a majority of voters who had voted for John McCain last year-- in other words a lot of Obama voters decided not to vote rather than vote for a conservative Democrat like Creigh Deeds.

Nevertheless the exit poll results show clearly that if the mainstream media did more than scratch the surface they'd see that if anything the results suggest support for, not opposition to, the Obama health care plan.

Keep in mind too that Bill Owens, who won in NY-23, pledged during the campaign to vote for the health care bill now before the house (and he is being sworn in today, so he will have a chance to do that too.) So that issue was front and center during the New York campaign, and if the district voters really wanted to stop health care reform they could have voted for Doug Hoffman.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Conservatives could still pull the chair out from under Republican opportunity

We've been hearing for weeks about how the sour economy, slow recovery and historical factors (such as that the incumbent President's party nearly always loses seats in the midterm elections) all portend doom for the Democrats.

While I would suggest that I expect things to be better next year than they are today and that these predictions are both premature and likely overstated,

a prerequisite for losing is that you have to have an opponent that can put a team on the field to beat you.

That wouldn't be the Republican party, apparently.

Last year after the election some pundits made the prediction that the GOP would degenerate into an increasingly more and more extreme right-wing minority whose pursuit of ideological purity would cause it to leave the universe of rational discourse at record speed.

Since then we've heard more about how poised the GOP was for success, including by recruiting moderate candidates to run for the Senate like Mark Kirk in Illinois, Charlie Crist in Florida and Mike Castle in Delaware. But the truth is that the underlying rift between conservatives and moderates remains, and it appears that the conservative base is so intent on purifying the party at all costs that they seem ready to turn whatever chance the GOP has of winning next year into a chance to make heads roll-- Republican heads.

This week we saw a prime example of that. Republican Dede Scozzafava, whose voting record overall is slightly to the right of the rest of the New York legislative delegation but who had angered conservatives by backing same-sex marriage and abortion rights and-- horror of horrors-- President Obama's stimulus plan (which given the magnitude of state budget problems I bet she's not the only legislator who actually had to write up a budget who was grateful for the help from the stimulus)-- was running for election to a vacant house district in heavily Republican upstate New York. I say was-- because she withdrew yesterday as out of state conservatives dumped huge amounts of money into the state in support of Doug Hoffman, the candidate of the New York Conservative party. A Sarah Palin endorsement of Hoffman was followed in short order by a number of other far right figures. Glenn Beck even went so far as to say during an interview with Hoffman on his show that Scozzafava is a follower of Karl Marx.

A Marxist? So now according to these wingnuts even a standard conservative Republican is a Marxist. No wonder that Scozzafava endorsed Democrat Bill Owens a day after dropping out (undoubtedly misinterpreted by the far right as proof that they were right about her all along.) I mean, when did a GOP legislator with a solid record of fiscal conservatism suddenly transform into a Marxist? Does the right even know what a 'Marxist' actually is, or is it just a cheap name to throw around?

It gets worse. They've organized their own national campaign, "Remove the RINO's" and are dedicated to running conservative challengers against insufficiently conservative Republicans (a 'RINO' is a 'Republican in name only,' what the far right likes to call Republicans who are are not conservative enough.) They already induced Arlen Specter to switch parties, and intend to defeat all three of the above named GOP Senate recruits (Kirk, Crist and Castle) in primaries next year. Never mind that Kirk and Castle are about the only Republicans who might be able to win the Senate seats in Illinois and Delaware, two solidly Democratic states, or that Crist, a popular Governor could easily keep the Florida Senate seat in GOP hands, according to the paragons of the far right, they must be punished for their sins and they will go down in primaries. The funding behind this effort comes from organizations like the Club for Growth, which has been pushing for doctrinaire conservatives for a long time. What is new is the organization on the internet, talk radio and twitter that has allowed these zealous 'keepers of the faith' to find and network with each other to produce a potent political force.

What they do not understand is that while I'm sure that everyone at their tea bag rally probably agrees with them, their viewpoints are way out of the mainstream and reflect the views of fewer and fewer Americans all the time. If they drum every Republican they can find who ever makes less than a perfectly conservative vote out of the party (and rock-solid conservatives like Richard Lugar and both the Diaz-Balart brothers are on their hit list) they may eventually achieve the 'pure' party they crave-- and when they want to go someplace they can fit everyone onto a bus.

House minority leader John Boehner also bears a little of the responsibility for empowering this monster. By insisting that 100% of the house Republicans vote against high profile Obama-backed initiatives like the stimulus and health care, Boehner has, without winning the vote, sent a message to these wingnuts that no heresy can be tolerated, and therefore one could see this coming-- it is only a short jump to the idea that heretics must be burnt. According to the far right they are doing Boehner (who had endorsed Scozzafava) a favor by protecting him from having a Marxist in his caucus who would have voted for the stimulus. Oh, my.

Imagine Senate Republican campaign chair John Cornyn pulling his hair out on the day of the Florida Senate primary, when his prize recruit, Charlie Crist, is defeated by Marco Rubio, a conservative who at best would be a long shot to hold the seat in a general election, or when Kirk or Castle lose their primaries to little-known conservatives who have little or no chance of winning the general election. Well, don't imagine it for too long, because for Republicans this scenario is coming closer to becoming a reality.

Maybe some of the underlying factors next year are working against Democrats but if Republicans keep shooting each other in the back before the election Democrats could still come out of it looking pretty good anyway.
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