A lot has happened since I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago. So here is a brief wrap-up of what's been going on.
1. I was disappointed that Congress gave in on letting telecom companies have immunity for breaking the law in the FISA bill and also on Iraq war funding. Giving in on important issues like this in exchange for more pork is NOT a compromise. For a lame-duck President I'm disappointed that Congress is still letting him lead them around by the nose on crucial issues involving Iraq and warrantless surveillance. It's no accident that Congress' approval rating, which was rising for a couple of months into 2007, started tanking to the day that they first knuckled under to the Bush administration on Iraq war funding.
2. I'm encouraged by how quickly the party is coming back together. It's been eighteen days since Hillary suspended her campaign, and it's safe to say that while there is still work that needs to be done, the rate that Clinton supporters have been uniting with the Obama campaign is faster than the rate at which conservatives were rallying to McCain after he in effect decided the issue on Super Tuesday, or even after he clinched the GOP nod a month later.
3. In 1977, Jimmy Carter proposed (and Congress for the most part passed) a plan to make us energy independent by 2000. Unfortunately, virtually all of it (except for the original Alaska pipeline, which was only a small part of the whole) was dismantled during the 1980's. Also last year Congress finally passed increased CAFE standards for the first time since the Carter administration-- and it was a combination of Republicans and oil or auto-state Democrats who had scuttled it for thirty years. Keep in mind that a model-T Ford got 25 mpg, and that was a hundred years ago. If the GOP wants to make energy an issue, then bring it on. And yes, while in California I did have to pay $4.679 a gallon for a tank of gas.
4. I was encouraged by some state polls out the last couple of weeks. A survey USA poll out today shows Obama slightly ahead though statistically tied with John McCain in Indiana. The Hoosier state politically has always been a staunch Republican bastion that the GOP could pretty much count on to avoid getting shut out in the Rust Belt even in years when the rest of the region went to the Democrats. That may not be true this year. And a poll in Alaska the other day showed Obama within four. Alaska has also been a solidly Republican state, but then again-- maybe not this year. Obama has said he intends to send paid staff to all fifty states, which he will have the funds to do and McCain won't be able to counter him everywhere.
5. That leads into this observation-- Yes, Obama's decision to pass on Presidential matching funds was a flip-flop and a crass political decision. So what? He's trying to win, and does anyone honestly believe that if McCain had a way to raise $200-$300 million for the general he wouldn't do the same thing? Obama's learned quickly how to play the game, and having a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 money advantage (McCain will be limited to $84 million) in the fall will allow him to do exactly what Republicans have done in the past to Democrats (when they had the big money advantage.) The real root of the problem is that campaigns are getting more expensive and fewer Americans are dedicating that $3 of their taxes to go to the Presidential campaign. One reform that I would suggest Congress may want to pass sometime would be that when one of two major party candidates opts out of the system then the funds that would have gone to that candidate go to his or her opponent.
6. This observation-- when we went to Disneyland (we were lucky to be able to go this year ourselves, but we had promised the kids and we never break promises to them, plus they themselves worked harder and raised more for going to the Cinderella finals than they needed to this year) it was a lot less crowded than it was the last time we went-- on the same days and the same time of year-- in 2004.) Granted we were only there for two days, but either Disney raised prices too fast or less people can afford to go this year. Likely a bit of both. And oh, yeah-- speaking of Cinderella girls-- congratulations to Erin Nurss. She's always been really nice to our girls every year when we go to the state finals, and she's a class act all the way around. I hope she wins the Miss America pageant.
7. The state legislature, after shutting everyone out (especially members of the Democratic minority) for months has two budgets out-- the house Republican budget that makes deep cuts (and looks great for political grandstanding), and the Senate budget, more or less supported by the Governor, that is more reasonable given the current fiscal pressures facing the state. They will then resolve the differences by negotiating a budget that is likely to be closer to the Senate version. This is the same thing as happens every year. Here is an idea to save the state money-- since we know how this will turn out anyway, why not come out with the budgets in February and have the process wrapped up by March. Just think how much money this would save--especially by not having to pay legislators per diem pay for another three or four months. Well, read that last line again and you'll know why they give us this show every year. Incidentally, I want Obama to win, but if he does I'm well aware that it will hurt us in Arizona because Governor Napolitano would likely get a cabinet post, which would mean that Jan Brewer would move into the Governor's office-- and she'd likely sign the nutty stuff that comes out of the legislature. Plus, a cabinet call for Napolitano would likely deprive us in the Arizona Democratic party of our top candidate for McCain's Senate seat in 2010. Ah, well-- sometimes you are called on to sacrifice for your country and an Obama win would benefit all fifty states.
8. Apparently Senate Banking Committee Chairman and former Presidential candidate Chris Dodd got special treatment on his home loan from Countrywide (though he denies knowing he was getting anything better than anyone else.) He is now sponsoring a bill (actually a bi-partisan bill with Senator Shelby) to help bail out lenders, most notably Countrywide. It's a good thing Dodd isn't the nominee, otherwise this story would be broadcast wall to wall and would be called the biggest banking scandal since Credit Mobilier. In fact, it shows questionable judgement but no wrongdoing and will probably be gone within a week. But the fact that it will shows how much of a higher standard Presidential nominees are held to than also-rans.
9. I admit to being wrong about something. I picked the Lakers in five. What they really need is five. Five guys. Five guys playing defense. They are lucky they play in the western conference because the way they don't play defense I doubt if they would have even beaten Detroit or Cleveland to get to the finals if they were in the east. In fact, I'm wondering whether Tim Donaghy is right-- because the Lakers that showed up in the NBA finals weren't even good enough to have really beaten the Spurs.
10. It's good to be back.