Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Confirm Errol Southers, NOW!

Last week's attack on a Detroit-bound flight that originated in the Netherlands (and was thankfully stopped in progress by quick-reacting passengers) could have, as we have been told ad nauseum, been prevented by better communication between American and Dutch authorities.

A month ago Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's father told the American consulate that his son had taken up with radical Islamists. The Homeland Security Department did what they should have done and placed him on a terrorist watch list, meaning that he would be subjected to additional security measures if he tried to board a plane. Only the TSA didn't communicate with the Dutch authorities, who failed to detect explosive material on Abdulmutallab when he passed through a security inspection in Amsterdam.

Why didn't the TSA do it's job? MAYBE BECAUSE THERE IS NO ONE AT THE HELM? That's right, the position of TSA director is vacant.

There is a nominee, and a counter-terrorism expert at that. The person the Obama administration nominated for the job is Errol Southers, who is eminently qualified to deal with terrorism, as a former special agent with the FBI, the Los Angeles airport assistant chief for security and intelligence, the associate director of the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events and most recently the deputy director of homeland security for the state of California.

Two Senate committees have already approved Southers by a bipartisan vote. This should be a no-brainer.

Enter DeMint, one of the most combatative conservatives in the Senate. He has single-handedly blocked the nomination over the specific issue of preventing TSA workers from exercising their right to vote on whether they want to be represented by a collective bargaining agreement.

So thanks to DeMint, instead of having a highly qualified expert on terrorism running the TSA, someone who certainly would have attended to the detail of letting the Dutch know who they should pay closer attention to during an inspection, we instead have a vacancy in this critical position.

Thankfully, no one lost their life in this attack. But had 279 passengers and crew in the plane, and perhaps hundreds more on the ground died in the attack, it would be fair to ask whether Jim DeMint was at fault.

The Senate should vote to confirm Errol Southers IMMEDIATELY!

Jim Caldwell deserves coach of the year-- for losing a game

It is pretty clear after this week's games that the NFL head coach of the year should be Indianapolis rookie head coach Jim Caldwell.

What? Caldwell after all is not only a first year coach but he took over a program that if you told anyone they'd be 14-1 heading into the final week of the season no one would be surprised. He inherited a team which had been coached by a legend, and a team for which any outcome short of a Super Bowl ring would not be a successful season. And this year we've seen some amazing performances in traditional NFL backwaters like New Orleans and Cincinnati that are certainly deserving of coach of the year honors.

All of that is conceded. But Caldwell deserves it. And the best argument could be made this week. He lost a game. Almost threw it, in fact, pulling out Peyton Manning and other key starters while leading the New York Jets 15-10 at home and going on to lose 26-15.

Caldwell is no fool. He knows that two years ago Bill Belichick took a team into the Super Bowl on the cusp of a perfect season, only to be done in by a combination of the pressure of perfection and maybe reading their own press clippings. Not to take anything away from the New York Giants, who certainly deserved to win that game, but there is no doubt that the Patriots showed that they were not immune from the pressure.

Don Shula and the 1972 Miami Dolphins did something that no one has done since, but the fact is that trying to replicate it only adds to the pressure heading into the playoffs. Caldwell knows that, so when he saw that the Jets were playing well enough to stay in the game, he went ahead and got rid of the pressure by essentially losing on purpose (though he can't say that.) The Colts already have home field for the playoffs sewn up so at least in terms of the Colts (more on this below) the game had zero playoff implication. And Caldwell is well aware that there is at least one team in the AFC playing very good football right now that is very capable of coming into Indianapolis and stealing a win. San Diego proved that a week ago when they withstood the best shot of a Cincinnati Bengals team that was trying to get the number 2 seed in the playoffs and was playing inspired football following the tragic death of receiver Chris Henry. So Caldwell decided he'd rather lose a (to his team) meaningless game against the Jets than risk losing in the playoffs to the Chargers, or in the Super Bowl.

It is certainly true that in doing so he broke one of the unwritten rules of the NFL. Teams playing in games with playoff implications late in the season are expected to put their best professional effort on the field. So for example, a late season game between two teams that are already out of the playoff picture may feature a lot of non-starters that they want to get a look at heading into the offseason and draft day. But for example, with playoff seeding in the NFC on the line, Tampa Bay put their best professional effort on the field against the Saints Sunday and the Chicago Bears put theirs on the field against the Vikings last night, and both came away with victories. The philosophy is simple-- nobody backs into a playoff in the NFL, you have to earn your way in or to where you stand in the pecking order.

And that would be true of the Colts heading into the playoffs too. If they were playing a game that didn't matter fewer people would question Caldwell's move. But this game only didn't matter to them. By unofficially handing the game to the Jets (though the Jets did show by hanging tough in the first half that they were playing hard, to be sure) Caldwell certainly threw a joker into the AFC wildcard race. The Jets join the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos as one of five 8-7 teams in the AFC fighting over the last two playoff spots heading into the final week of the season. Certainly if the Jets grab one of the wild card spots there will be some disappointed fans in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Houston or Denver who will be furious with Caldwell. In fact, if the Bengals, who may have the number three playoff seeding locked in by the time they play the Jets on Sunday night follow Caldwell's lead and keep their A-team off the field it's entirely possible that New York could sneak into the playoffs ahead of one of those teams purely by the luck of playing what should have been two of their toughest games of the year in the last two weeks.

But so what? He's the coach of the Colts, not of the Steelers, Ravens, Texans or Broncos. By breaking the unwritten code, he made a gutsy decision, recognizing that he is in it for his team and with his team. A great coach is supposed to be able to think outside the box, and he did it Sunday. And for that, he does deserve coach of the year honors.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A real Christmas miracle

Some of my regular blog readers have noticed the Code Amber ticker I have at the top of the blog. For some reason it has had the same last three names on it for months but the first alert up (when one is active) is always the newest so I leave it up.

Today there was a local alert. Since I'm out and on a section of rural highway at odd hours (doing a newspaper route in the mornings to make a few extra quarters before breakfast) I always read the Arizona Amber alerts and those from surrounding states. The alert profiled a five year old Phoenix girl, Natalie Flores, who was abducted earlier this afternoon.

Luckily this one had a happy ending. Police were tipped off and spotted the suspect's vehicle and rescued Natalie, who from preliminary reports appears to be unharmed. The suspect is in custody.

This is the kind of ending that reminds us of why the Amber alert system was created and why it is so important. And for Natalie's family it helped produce a real Christmas miracle today.

Republican Senators forced to defend 'back then it was standard practice not to pay for things'

Remember the 2003 medicare prescription drug benefit? The one which cost a trillion dollars and which was not paid for at all, just added to the deficit?

Today there are still 24 Republicans in the Senate who supported it, and some of their explanations for how they can be against the current health care overhaul sound strained, to say the least.

Six years ago, "it was standard practice not to pay for things," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "We were concerned about it, because it certainly added to the deficit, no question." His 2003 vote has been vindicated, Hatch said, because the prescription drug benefit "has done a lot of good."

It has done a dubious amount of good (mainly to pharmaceutical companies' bottom line) but it's hard to suggest that a bill which clearly does much more good, extending coverage to the uninsured, is less worthy of Sen. Hatch's vote than the medicare prescription bill. And given that the CBO has projected that the current bill does in fact pay for itself and doesn't raise the deficit, how is it a defense to say that six years ago it was standard practice not to pay for things??? I mean, (pardon my French), WTF?!!?!?

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said those who see hypocrisy "can legitimately raise that issue." But he defended his positions in 2003 and now, saying the economy is in worse shape and Americans are more anxious.

No doubt, the economy is in worse shape. But that's largely because of the policies espoused by the same administration that brought us the prescription drug bill.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said simply: "Dredging up history is not the way to move forward."

The simple answer: those who have been proven wrong always say that.

At least some conservatives recognize how absurd this whole argument is:

"As far as I am concerned, any Republican who voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything the Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt," said Bruce Bartlett, an official in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He made his comments in a Forbes article titled "Republican Deficit Hypocrisy."

Bartlett said the 2003 Medicare expansion was "a pure giveaway" that cost more than this year's Senate or House health bills will cost. More important, he said, "the drug benefit had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers. One hundred percent of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit."

The pending health care bills in Congress, he noted, are projected to add nothing to the deficit over 10 years.

This bill is responsible in that it does pay for itself and it benefits far more people than the prescription drug bill. So really (though they won't say it) the only reason they are opposing it is purely political. They want to inflict a defeat on the Obama agenda. End of story.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Health Care Reform is not about being popular, it's about doing the right thing

Now that it looks like health care reform is on its way to passing the Senate, the next hurdle down the road, Republicans are claiming that Democrats are ignoring the will of the people, citing polls saying that a majority don't like the Senate bill. NRC chairman Michael Steele even came out today and accused Democrats of 'throwing the finger at the American people.'

This is ridiculous. First, the polls simply ask whether people support the current Senate health care plan. Well, the truth is, I don't like it a bit in that I support a robust public option like the one that is in the house bill. So if you asked me if I support the Senate plan I'd say 'no.' But that's not to say I agree with Republicans who don't want to do anything. Further, as a number of people who were around in 1994 said this week, 'don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.' In 1994 a number of liberals opposed HillaryCare because they felt it didn't go far enough, and in the end we got nothing. So this time around liberals held their noses at some of the more odious aspects of the bill and voted for universal coverage.

And for that matter if you insist on looking at polls, the most recent poll by CNN indicates that support for reform is now gaining again.

This bill does, even if through mechanisms I may not like seek to achieve universal coverage. That has been a big problem for years, as we have a two tier health system, of the insured versus the uninsured. I don't like mandates, much prefering a single payer system up front but at least the mandates are backed by large government subsidies that will make the premiums affordable to people who are uninsured and living on a limited income.

And this is huge. Simply put, universal coverage is something that we've been striving for, for a long, long time. Maybe how we get there isn't perfect but it is undeniably going to be a very good thing. And the United States will no longer stand out as the only industrialized country in the world that fails to make health care coverage available to everyone. Other countries, such as Japan, have systems similar to that which we are now on the verge of passing, in that the insurance itself is offered through private companies even while premiums are heavily subsidized by the government.

Further, as one supporter of the bill pointed out, this is a foundation. It can be added onto in the future if problems are found wanting.

But most importantly, this represents a fundamental change for America, and a change for the better. It ranks with programs such as Social Security as representing the finest in America, the idea that we can provide for all of our citizens. And at this historic moment, if only Democrats will vote for this, then so be it.

Let me play off the 'let not the perfect be the enemy of the good' statement. Let me say also, 'let not the popular be the enemy of the right.' Often doing what is right is not popular. But it is still right, and for that the Senate Democrats (and yes, grudgingly even Joe Lieberman) should be commended for last night's vote.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

John McCain all but admits that he doesn't represent Arizona

I've been listening to the Health Care debate. John McCain was criticizing some deals struck with individual Senators to seal their votes. He zeroed in in particular on a deal Senator Bill Nelson of Florida made to get a preferred deal on medicare for residents of Florida. McCain called it the 'Florida flim-flam' and complained, "my constituents didn't get that deal.'

He's right, medicare recipients in Florida get a better deal. That's because Bill Nelson does what is expected of a Senator and made a deal. Does not Senator McCain think that if he had asked Harry Reid for a similar deal for Arizona to procure his vote, that Reid would have jumped at the offer? Of course he would have.


John McCain has forgotten the state that elected him in order to pursue his own ambition on the national stage. The problem is not what Senator Nelson (or for that matter what the other Senator Nelson, or Senator Landrieu or others) did in making deals that benefit their constituents. That's what members of Congress are supposed to do. The problem is that Senator McCain DIDN'T get anything for Arizona, just like he DOESN'T get anything for Arizona, ever.

I hope that someone saved that speech and plays it back for some of Senator McCain's medicare-eligible constituents.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Arizona GOP meltdown pushing the tide back towards Democrats

Whatever the national environment is, the Arizona GOP is in a meltdown and doing everything they can to help Democrats in the Copper State in 2010.

Exhibit one, of course, is the continual failure of the legislature and Governor to produce a budget. Republicans have controlled the Arizona legislature since 1964, and during most of that time have also run the Governor's office. For most of that time we've had a steady diet of tax cuts, lax regulations on business (and of course right-to-work and the worst workers comp rules in the nation) and well below the national average in per capita state spending. And even when the Governor has been a Democrat Arizona has either had gridlock or compromise. The decades long Republican domination of the legislature has guaranteed that liberalism has never had its day in Arizona, certainly not since Barry Goldwater swept the GOP into control of the legislature when he carried the state against LBJ in 1964. So if conservatism was the panacea, Arizona would be about the most prosperous state in the nation right now. Only it's not, because conservatism doesn't work.

Remember too that Jan Brewer has now been Governor since the day after President Obama was inaugurated and Janet Napolitano was confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security, and it's not surprising that her record of failed leadership (including leaving the state as a special session she had called collapsed into chaos) has caused her standing even in her own party to fall into the cellar. Say what you want to about Janet, but she always managed to work with the Republican legislature to get a budget done. Things got so bad between Brewer and her own party leadership in the legislature this year that it featured bizarre lowlights like the Governor going to court to get the legislature to send her the budget so she could veto it, and the leadership turning off the clocks on the last night of the regular session so they could claim that it had not yet struck midnight until well after the sun was up the next morning.

Remember in June Arizona voters gave the legislature lower marks than even Congress (notoriously unpopular) was drawing. And that was before the end of the regular session. Four special sessions later and the year has been marked by complete failure as the majority party could not get their own members together to put together a budget. Remember that in the Arizona legislature there is no filibuster so the Democrats have been irrelevant (particularly since the GOP leadership has not bothered to actually negotiate with them, with house speaker Kirk Adams just telling them to vote for what he worked out.) The biggest hangup has been GOP members of the legislature who are so ideologically rigid that even after making enormous cuts in schools and services in the face of a huge budget hole, they have refused to refer a proposed temporary sales tax to voters unless it is coupled with permanent tax cuts. In some cases they have refused to refer the sales tax even with the tax cuts (though it is amazing that they tried to cut taxes at all given the present fiscal reality-- largely caused by years of huge GOP-backed tax cuts that kept state budgets on a shoestring even in times of relative plenty.)

More recently we've seen the most popular Republican in the state, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his best buddy, county attorney Andrew Thomas (a.k.a. the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John) openly flouting the law, arresting and filing spurious charges against political opponents, including the majority of the county Board of Supervisors and a judge who had issued some rulings they didn't like and was scheduled the next day to hear the case of Adam Stoddard, one of Sheriff Joe's Henchmen who was shown on national media openly and brazenly taking documents out of a defense attorney's file during a court hearing (if you haven't seen the video by now you should-- it's truly bizarre.) In fact, the charges that Sheriff Joe had chief Supervisor Don Stapley arrested and taken to jail for were so flimsy and contrived that they couldn't even find an attorney in Arizona willing to prosecute it and had to hire someone from outside the state. And after that fell through it appears that Thomas will try and get Stapley himself. And just to protect himself, he's filed a pre-emptive ethics complaint against Attorney General Terry Goddard (the most powerful political opponent he has in the state) to ensure that Goddard will be hamstrung in any attempt to prosecute this obvious and illegal power play by Arpaio and Thomas due to a 'conflict of interest.' Even conservative columnist Robert Robb, who rarely criticizes Republican officeholders, took issue with the way the duo are engineering what is effectively a coup against county government:

What's happening in Maricopa County government isn't a circus. And it's not a joke.

Not anymore. It's now a deadly serious business.

County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio are alleging that there is a massive corrupt conspiracy involving at least four Superior Court judges, the entire Board of Supervisors and senior county management.

If Thomas and Arpaio are wrong about the existence of such a massive conspiracy, they are themselves guilty of an assault on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Maricopa County.

I'm glad I don't live in Phoenix, but if this stands it could endanger everyone in the state (especially with Thomas mulling a run for Attorney General.) Arpaio may get most of the press but Thomas is the more dangerous of the two.

And a lot of people are realizing how dangerous they are, and that the term, 'loose cannon' may not even describe a cannon which is deliberately being aimed directly at the main masts of government.

Of course in addition to that Sheriff Joe is still running saturation patrols which may be popular with the nativist crowd (who will turn out and vote anyway if predictions for next year are right since most of them are also 'tea partiers') but by arresting dozens of American citizens simply because they are Hispanic and forcing them to prove their citizenship before being released he's certainly guaranteed that even if Hispanic turnout next year lags last year's total everyplace else, that probably won't be the case in Arizona because they will have at least one really good reason to come to the polls and vote Democratic.

Now, we learn that Brett Mecum, the Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party, who has in the past been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior towards women, is facing felony charges for misusing information in voter registration files to stalk a woman and show up at a party at her home without being invited or told otherwise where she lived. I've been a precinct committeeman for years and I know exactly what the law is regarding voter files and who can access them and for what purposes, and it is incomprehensible that the executive director of the state Republican Party didn't know what the restrictions were (I mean, even common sense dictates that his personal life isn't an authorized use of the file!) Further she has said that she didn't tell him where she lived precisely because she found Mecum to be creepy and didn't want his advances.

Remember that earlier this year Mecum was clocked driving 109 mph on an urban freeway in metro Phoenix. Yes, folks, this is the executive director of the Arizona GOP.

Maybe the national climate is shifting to favor Republicans (though it may be radically different by next November) but here in Arizona it's hard to imagine voters wanting more of this next year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New study suggests marijuana is the drug of choice among teens

A new study out shows that the old news is now still the new news: marijuana the choice drug among American teenagers.

Back a couple of years ago there was a story out in the Flagstaff Daily Sun about how more kids smoked marijuana than smoked cigarettes. The new study seems to suggest that is part of a national trend, and also that marijuana and prescription drug abuse are the biggest drug issues among today's teens. They have cut down on smoking, drinking and methamphetamine use (not coincidentally the drugs they get the most information about while they are in school.)

I've long supported legalization of marijuana for adults, and one reason is precisely because it would make it harder for kids to obtain (the Circle K clerk checks your ID, or is supposed to, but the drug dealer doesn't care how old you are if you have the money.) The counterargument, that drug dealers might still buy pot to sell to kids, is unlikely to hold water if it is legal for adults because the relative size of the clientele would be small and temporary (only until they became legal) which is one reason why drug dealers in general don't sell booze to kids, for example (though on occasion they do sell them cigarettes, mainly so they can reach more kids and try to get them to buy into harder drugs.)

The fact of the matter is, that drugs which are legal for adults only (i.e. cigarettes) are now being used less by kids. One can argue there are a lot of reasons for this, such as the fact that a kid hardly gets out of the second grade before being told by at least a dozen different people that cigarettes are bad for them but nevertheless it is worth noting that we are having more success at keeping cigarettes out of the hands of youth than marijuana. So maybe it is time to ask whether legalization for adults might help protect our kids.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why should we assume that because someone is a great athlete they are also a great person?

I guess that Barack and Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Oprah Winfrey and a whole lot of Hollywood celebrities owe a lot to Tiger Woods right now. Mainly, that he's hogging the whole front page of the tabloids (and therefore keeping them off the cover.)

After two weeks of almost continuous scandal coverage that began with a minor car crash the day after Thanksgiving and quickly ballooned into allegations that he is a serial womanizer, complete with mother-in-law in and out of the hospital, Woods today announced that he is suspending his professional golf career indefinitely to work on healing his family.

Mind you, I'm not defending Tiger or any of his alleged behavior here. But I think it's fair to ask what a role model is, anyway. We routinely put sports and entertainment figures on a pedestal and forget that they are human beings, subject to human foibles, and if someone seems too good to be human, well caveat emptor.

For example, Babe Ruth was some sort of a baseball God but he was an alcoholic and hardly someone you'd want your son to grow up to be like. I still remember Mickey Mantle (another alcoholic Yankee) giving his fans his last piece of advice, "Don't be like me." There was a time when Pete Rose, the guy who didn't have the talent but through hard work made himself one of the greatest of ballplayers was considered a hero by a lot of people. But don't go visit Rose in the Hall of Fame, because he's been banned for life for gambling on the game and then has years of whining and lying about it. A whole lot of ballplayers will not be going in there because of steroid scandals, and that's just one kind of drug.

On the other hand, you will find O.J. Simpson in the football Hall of Fame. True, he was acquitted, but I doubt if anyone considers O.J. a role model anymore. He was once though. Former Panthers receiver Rae Carruth wasn't as fortunate with the jury as Simpson was. He's in a North Carolina prison serving time for conspiracy to commit murder.

Meanwhile we seem to hear all the time about another suspension for drug abuse, in just about every sport. Olympic Champion Marion Jones even went to the extent of crusading against steroid abuse, even while (as we know now) she was virtually awash in steroids herself.

The old joke about a Hollywood marriage lasting about as long as the movie is in theaters is often true (though not always, there are some that have endured.) Drugs are as rampant in the entertainment industry as they are in sports. My kids, who grew up watching Mary Kate and Ashley movies, were disappointed to hear that Mary Kate had had some issues with drugs. But I explained to them that some people do. She's human, and they realize that she's not the best role model.

Now, I'm not just trashing athletes and entertainers because all of the evils I've just described are found in all walks of life. But that's exactly the point. We seem to think as a society that because someone can hit a golf ball accurately, run well with a football or belt out a song on stage or play a part in a movie that somehow that skill also makes them a better person.

But they are not better people. They are still the same as anyone else. True that there are still people to admire both in sports (i.e. Cal Ripken Jr.), entertainment (i.e. Patrick Stewart) and in may other areas and it's great to admire them. But here too, you can look around your neighborhood and find people you can admire just as much.

Really, the only difference is that if an athlete or an entertainer does something like this, you will read about it. And the bigger they are, the harder they will fall. But to err is still human and that's worth remembering.

When someone does a great thing in an athletic contest or turns in a great performance on stage, appreciate it for what it is. But not for what it is not.

I hope for his sake and for the sake of his family that Tiger gets things in order. Call him a cad if you like, but don't be shocked. Because the world is full of cads.

Former legislator who was removed for violating clean elections law seeking comeback

Apparently in LD-7, David Burnell Smith is running again for the legislature.

If you don't remember, Burnell Smith was the guy who knowingly violated Arizona's clean election law in 2004 just so he could take it to court. Eventually the courts backed the clean elections board and he was removed from office.

Besides making it clear just what he thinks about following a law he might not agree with (awwww....) Burnell Smith was part of the legislature when the seeds of the present fiscal mess were being sown, and as a member of the majority party (Republicans have been the majority party in the Arizona legislature since 1964) he bears part of the responsibility for the fact that our taxes are so low that even with some of the lowest per-capita state spending in the country we still don't have enough money to fund state government.

Hopefully the voters in district 7 will realize that voting a guy who was part of creating the problem back into office isn't the way to fix the problem.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

TCU-Boise bowl matchup shows the cowardice of the BCS

Certainly a lot of college football fans are looking at the major bowl matchups with more than a bit of disbelief, and it's not about the championship matchup, nor about which schools got in ahead of which other schools.

Certainly it is true that after Texas' lackluster, last second win yesterday against Nebraska one could make the case that Texas Christian is a better team and deserves to play Alabama for the national title, but that's debatable.

What is not debatable is that the BCS took a mulligan when they announced their bowl pairings Sunday night.

Their argument has been in the past that top schools from non-BCS conferences aren't competitive with the top schools from the six 'power conferences' that make up the BCS. Only over the past few years, non-BCS 'bowl busters' have made mincemeat out of that argument by going 3-1 vs. BCS competition in the major bowls. Clearly, that qualifies as 'competitive.' This wouldn't be such a big deal except that tens of millions of dollars are involved, money the six BCS conferences want to keep exclusively for themselves (or at least as close to exclusively as they can get away with) and the non-BCS conferences want a share of so they can use it to benefit schools in their conferences (and more importantly students who attend those schools.)

This year is the first year in which two non-BCS schools, Boise State (from the WAC) and TCU (from the Mountain West) both forced their way into the BCS bowl series. Not only were they undefeated but there were no one-loss teams available to sneak in ahead of one of them (as happened last year when Boise State was undefeated but couldn't get a break since Utah was also undefeated and ranked ahead of Boise State in the computer rankings.)

It would be great to see both of them play conference champions from the BCS conferences (or for that matter to play Florida, which was ranked number 1 before losing to Alabama.)

So what did the BCS do? They sent Boise State to the Fiesta Bowl (not that I blame the Fiesta for wanting the Broncos back after they played probably the most exciting and fun game in BCS history against Oklahoma three years ago in the Fiesta.) Then they also sent TCU to the Fiesta Bowl.

That's right, they play each other.

Not only is the game a rematch of last year's Poinsettia Bowl (won by TCU, 17-16) but it suggests that the BCS is afraid of being embarrassed again by one or both of these teams if they were to beat a BCS conference champion (maybe the memory of last year's domination by Utah of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl is still too fresh.) Both Boise and TCU deserve to play a top BCS school from a BCS conference, and that's what the fans would rather see, too!

It's hard to escape at least the passing thought that the movers and shakers in the BCS were afraid that if they let Boise State and TCU both play high level BCS competition, it is possible that could result in two BCS losses and certainly that outcome would ratchet up the pressure to overhaul the system.

Come on, BCS! You still claim we don't need a playoff and yet you continue to defend a system that locks non-BCS schools out of any kind of contention for a national title? Then PROVE YOUR CONFERENCES ARE BETTER!! In the first year when two non-BCS schools force their way into your party, making them play each other isn't the way to convince anyone. Well, maybe it's a way to convince some people that the BCS really is afraid of the Mountain West and the WAC. But that's about all this pairing will convince anyone of.

On a lighter note, I happen to be a fan of the Montana Grizzlies (the only college I've attended that had a football team.) Montana beat Stephen F. Austin yesterday in the first round of the Division I playoffs. Yes, read it again. The Division I PLAYOFFS. Something the BCS is deathly afraid of, because it would force them to decide the whole thing on the field, instead of their pre-stacked computer ratings (hey, the computers even start out with pre-season rankings, though most aren't published. What could possibly go into a 'preseason ranking' besides last year's statistics and/or the bias of the programmers?)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Obama is making a big mistake in Afghanistan

As I've written before (President Obama is making a big mistake in Afghanistan.)

His commitment to send 30,000 more American troops will succeed only in more Americans coming home in coffins.

I will say that in October 2001 when the Afghan was began, I was fully in support of the mission. And I was among those who argued in 2002 (and since then as well) that it was a mistake to not finish the job in Afghanistan and instead be detoured into a costly and time- and resource- consuming war in Iraq.

So why not go back and finish the job now? Well, for starters it's not the same job. Back then it was pretty clear that we were fighting the people who attacked New York City and their patrons. But by now things have become considerably more muddled and it's hard to know who the good guys are, or even if there are any good guys.

Once again we are stuck in the middle of a civil war, this time between a corrupt and despotic government and the previous government which was run by fanatics. This has strong ethnic, regional, religious and tribal overtones as well as blood feuds that go back to the beginning of time.

There are, as General McCrystal himself said, very few members of Al-Qaeda even in Afghanistan right now, so in effect we are fighting the Taliban. Yes, the Taliban are terrible masters, fundamentalists who stone women to death just for speaking to a man and who kill barbers who shave off beards. But the truth is there are many terrible masters in the world, ranging from some of our 'allies' in the arab world to the North Korean regime to Robert Mugabe to the Chinese leaders who the President was just hob-nobbing with a couple of weeks ago. The decision about whether to commit American forces should be made using one metric and one metric alone, which is what is in the best interest of the United States? And I don't see how fighting the Taliban (a local Afghan movement, which thanks to our bumbling intervention over the past several years spilled over the border into Pakistan) solves anything.

Further, there is a definite risk that we could lose. In Iraq it was relatively easy to seal most of the borders when we ran the 'surge' (though I still contend that the best we can claim in Iraq is a pyrrhic victory.) The only mountainous borders Iraq has are with Turkey in the north and parts of the border with Iran to the east. But the Kurds who control northern Iraq and the Shi'ite government of Iran which controls Iran are both hostile to the Sunni Wahabbi sect that Al-Qaeda subscribes to and so won't tolerate Sunni fighters seeking refuge (even from us) on their soil. In contrast, it is well known that the weak Pakistani government has little or no control over areas along the border and the terrain is such that it is virtually impossible to prevent the movement of fighters across the border. Unless we are willing to remain there indefinitely with enough troops to squelch the insurgents it's safe to say they will simply hang out in Pakistan until they outlast us. Remember the Soviet Union tried doing this with half a million troops, five times what we will have, and they also came up short. It's easy to say that the Soviet military was overrated (though doing so just points out the scare tactics we had to live through to justify enormous military budgets in the 1980's) but by the same token it seems that the Mujahedeen who fought them (the direct precursor to the Taliban) were underrated.

What about the argument that if we just let the Taliban take over they will invite AQ back in and we will be back to a pre-September 11 world, waiting for the next horrific terrorist act?

First, I'm not sure how having our army there prevents terrorist attacks from taking place (since AQ can just as easily plan them when they are in Pakistan, as it is believed their senior leadership is.) But beyond that, we have been successful in attacking AQ in Pakistan without a massive commitment of American troops, even in areas where the Pakistani army has little presence. We've done it through the collection of intelligence, predator drone and other kinds of missile strikes, special forces operations and covert operations. I have no problem with these kinds of things (and have advocated for them in the past--- there are after all bad people in the world and if you don't advocate for war then you have to have a workable alternative for dealing with people who simply want to kill you if you don't kill them first.)

Second, if the hangup is AQ, why not see if we can negotiate a deal with the Taliban in which we won't fight them if they don't let AQ back in? Why would they honor the deal? Because we'd pay them to, of course. What? throw money at them? Well, the war is costing us a heck of a lot to fight, and one thing we've learned in the middle east is that allies can be bought. AQ needs the cover of the Taliban (in both Afghanistan and Pakistan) to have a place to operate. Why not just deny them that? Yes, that's a radical idea but as far as I know it hasn't even been tried yet. Let's see what their price is before we massively escalate a war which may in the end be unwinnable.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

In defense of Mike Huckabee (a title I never thought I'd write.)

Occasionally I make a post in which I take a very unpopular position because I believe it is right.

Also occasionally I end up having to defend a conservative Republican because they were right about something.

And both of those are the case in this post.

A lot is being made in the media about the murder of four police officers in Washington State by Maurice Clemmons, an ex-con from Arkansas who was sentenced there to 95 years for a series of violent offenses but who subsequently had his sentence commuted by then-Governor Mike Huckabee (who ran for President in 2008 and may run again in 2012.) It's not the first time that Huckabee has been criticized for a pardon or sentence commutation; during last year's campaign he was criticized for letting a man go who later killed a woman in Missouri.

Certainly the families of the victims have a point that had Huckabee not commuted Clemmons' sentence to time served then the tragic events of this week would never have happened and four parents (and all four of the murdered officers were parents) would have tucked their children into bed last night instead of a grieving spouse having to explain to those children why daddy (or mommy, as one of the murdered officers was a woman) won't be there to tuck them in ever again.

And you can be sure that people working for Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty and any other potential 2012 Republican nominee is filing every story about this for use later (and yes, I'm sure that David Axelrod has been putting together a file on this story too, in case Huckabee gets far enough to be running against Obama in 2012.)

However, Huckabee is correct when he points out that the board which makes recommendations made this recommendation and he acted on it. Further the whole affair highlights a broader issue.

Governors have the right to make pardons and commute sentences. But (Huckabee apparently being an exception) most make very few or none. The reason why is obvious: Even if 999 out of a thousand pardons or commutations go on and live productive, meaningful lives (meaning among other things that we as taxpayers are no longer paying to keep them locked up) it is the one out of a thousand who does something like murder four police officers in cold blood that you will keep hearing about. Nowhere is the old adage "nobody remembers what you've done right but everyone remembers your mistakes" more apropos than in politics. So most Governors simply don't want to take the electoral risk, and often refuse to even go along with the recommendations of a pardons board that in may cases they hand-picked themselves. Many never issue a single pardon or sentence commutation the entire time when they are Governor. True that pardons boards are far from infallible but when the system gets to the point where the final arbiter (a state Governor) because of fear of being attacked in some future election automatically refuses to consider a pardon or commutation request when one comes up, then the system has defeated itself. Why even have a way on the books to get a commutation or pardon if the answer even before reading the application is "NO?"

The truth is, most people who receive a commutation prove the people who gave it to them right (it's not like it's easy to even get a recommendation from the appropriate board in the first place,) and don't go on and re-offend. And at that, there are many who might not even need to be there in the first place: Millions incarcerated. But do they all need to be? I have a friend who is a convicted felon. He's made some mistakes and paid for them but he's not dangerous or evil, and he just wants to live his life (despite all the hurdles that are in the way every time he applies for a job or tries to get anything else done.) That Governor Huckabee had the decency when he was Governor to recognize that there was some hope for those felons who had been cleared by the pardons board (and knowing that he was putting his political career at some risk but taking it anyway) is commendable and should be applauded.

I wrote several years ago about the tough life that people have when they leave prison anyway (the prison that follows prison.) It's almost like we want them to fail. This isn't about revenge or about wanting to save a few dollars on rehab or job placement programs. It's about what we can do to prevent the return to prison by people who could be doing something with their lives besides eating food and sleeping in guarded institutions (very expensive guarded institutions) that the rest of us pay for.

Clearly in the case of Maurice Clemmons, Mike Huckabee turned out to be wrong. But it was no mistake to (in the broader scheme) be willing to take seriously his role as arbiter of these kinds of decisions and make the best decision he could, even knowing that it could hurt his political career someday.

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.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Real toxic assets

As if things aren't bad enough in the housing industry, it now looks like hundreds or even thousands of homeowners will lose their homes to foreclosure because of toxic Chinese drywall.

It's pretty simple, and whether you are making your payments has nothing to do with it.

If you have a mortgage then your mortgage carrier requires you to insure your home. But if your home is found to have toxic drywall, as thousands have, then expect your insurance policy to be revoked and to find that no insurance carrier will insure you. Beyond the actual cost of replacement (meaning tearing out every wall in a home), the drywall emits sulfuric acid fumes that corrode pipes and electrical wiring and cause illness in people who are in the home, so it's a cost that no insurer wants to deal with.

Case closed, your home will be foreclosed on for failure to carry insurance coverage.

Thousands of homeowners nationwide who have bought new houses made with defective building materials are finding their hopes dashed and their lives in limbo. Experts warn that cases like the Ivorys', in which insurers drop policies or send notices of nonrenewal because of tainted Chinese drywall, will become rampant as insurance companies work their way through the hundreds of claims currently in the pipeline.

At least three insurers already have canceled or refused to renew policies after homeowners sought help replacing the bad materials. Because mortgage companies require homeowners to insure their properties, they are then at risk of foreclosure, yet no law prevents the cancellations.

So what can the homeowner do? Not much.

The mortgage company is only acting as a front for what is likely a bank that controls a derivative into which each mortgage is bundled, and anyone who invests in a mortage wants their investment protected. So they require insurance, which is sensible enough.

The insurers have not only been denying the claims for toxic drywall, but they've been dropping coverage. This should not surprise anyone either, because they've been doing the same thing for years with health insurance, rescinding coverage when someone actually gets sick and needs it. Why should anyone be surprised if they look at homeowners policies through the same lens? After all, in most cases homeowners insurance and health insurance are offered through different divisions of the same giant companies.

The Chinese companies which produced the drywall made a defective product. But lots of luck trying to get compensation from them.

There is a class action lawsuit going on against builders, manufacturers and suppliers of the defective drywall. But even if these homeowners join it it is likely that any amount they receive (and in these kinds of suits most of the money goes to the lawyers) might, years or decades from now, cover the cost of the drywall but certainly would not cover the cost of a home foreclosure (in which case it is a given that any down payment or equity in the home is gone, to say nothing of the effect of a foreclosure on their credit rating should they try to get another home.)

What about the inspectors who should have but didn't catch the drywall before it was installed? Well, you can't sue the government, even when they don't do their job very well. As I've written before, in many cases our policy involving imported products (especially imported products from China) seems to be one of 'regulation by recall,' in other words very little is inspected and nothing is done until a defective product actually causes harm at which time the product is recalled.

So who bears the cost of this one? That's right, the little guy (as usual,) the people who bought the home. I know, I know. Some right winger will suggest that it is their fault for buying a defective product without doing adequate research. This is a stupid argument too, I mean when you buy a home do you ask for the name of every manufacturer, supplier and subcontractor that was involved in building it, and then research one by one whether there have been any complaints about that supplier? That kind of argument is about as ridiculous as the people who complain that homebuyers being squeezed out by ARMs, balloon payments or other mortgage 'tricks' are at fault because they didn't read paragraph 4 on page 347 of a 500 page contract written in legalese before signing. According to the letter of the law they may even be right, but morally they are not. We have an obligation to if necessary legislate (yes, that's right it means 'regulate') some way to prevent this kind of tomfoolery from happening.

As someone once said in observing someone else's misery and justifying why they should care, "there but for the grace of God go I."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Governor's races show Democrats are better off being Democrats

Democratic strategist Bob Shrum has a point.

He's not just talking about the upcoming gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, but he's drawing a critically important contrast.

In Virginia, polls showed Democrat Creigh Deeds in a close race with Republican Bob McDonnell during July and early August, while in New Jersey Republican Chris Christie was as much as fifteen points ahead of incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine at about the same time.

Today the situation is reversed. In Virginia it is Deeds who appears headed for a big loss, while Corzine has now drawn even or possibly even slightly ahead depending on which poll you look at.

Keep in mind of course that these two races have historically gone against the party in power in the White House so in both cases the Democrats are running against history and the cyclical nature of politics.

That said, there is a big difference between the races and even allowing for factors like that Deeds is a poor campaigner and in New Jersey an independent appears to be drawing more votes from Christie than from Corzine, Shrum hits the nail on the head when he points out the biggest difference between the races.

Criegh Deeds has tried to run as a 'Republican light,' alternatively saying he supports some Democratic principles but then distancing himself from them, most recently the idea of a public option on health care-- going so far as to say that if there is an 'opt-out' provision and he is Governor he might exercise it on behalf of his state.

As Shrum points out, this is a poor strategy:

Blue Dog Democrats who abandoned Bill Clinton on health care in 1994 were conspicuous among the casualties of that November's congressional elections. Their flight from Clinton alienated Democrats without placating other voters. Just ask Sen. David McCurdy of Oklahoma or Sen. Jim Cooper of Tennessee.

Oops, they're not senators. Both were favorites who lost their respective races after calculated decisions to turn away from Clintoncare. If they had stayed the course, they might not have won; but in 1994, they and others proved that apostasy is not the path to victory. (McCurdy now runs a trade association. Cooper is back in Congress after eight years in the wilderness.)

The truth is, that conservative voters in Virginia are probably going to vote for McDonnell anyway. Even Deeds' erstwhile supporters on the right turned their back on him when he needed them the most. For example, Deeds supports gun rights. This cost him directly, being cited by former Governor Douglas Wilder as the primary reason he could not endorse Deeds even after a personal appeal from President Obama. What about the NRA, which has supported Deeds in the past, most notably in his primary victory over Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran earlier this year? Well, the NRA endorsed McDonnell. Now, I'm a Democrat in support of gun rights myself and I don't fault Deeds for taking this stance if he honestly agrees with me, but any Democrat who relies on the NRA for support is a fool because they are clearly 'fair-weather friends' who will abandon said Democrat when he or she gets into a tough race against a pro-gun Republican. Running this year as a conservative Democrat will not win votes from conservatives who will still vote Republican, but it may keep liberals at home.

Deeds paradoxically asked the same President he has not pledged to support on important issues to come and campaign for him. President Obama did, appearing in Newport News and Hampton Roads in southeastern Virginia. In fact, that may be the only part of Virginia where Deeds will get even close to the percentages he would need to win.

In contrast, Corzine has embraced the Obama agenda, especially on health care and has done everything he could to appeal to liberals in his state. Now, granted New Jersey is a much more liberal state than Virginia (though that was true this summer too when Christie was still way up in the polls.) According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, though Corzine's favorability/unfavorability rating is still negative, he has improved it significantly over the past couple of months. In other words, a Democrat campaigning on Democratic themes has come back from way down. Corzine could still lose, of course, but the comeback is nonetheless significant. Unlike Deeds, he's not shied away from the President and has been very openly grateful for the President campaigning for him.

The bottom line is that a Democrat campaigning as an independent and running away from his party's themes has gone from even in the polls to fifteen points down, while a Democrat campaigning as a Democrat has gone from fifteen points down to even.

That should send a strong message to Democrats in Washington about what works and what does not.
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