Thursday, November 30, 2006

George Will's Pot Calls Jim Webb's Kettle Black

What could be more hilarious than George Will, of all people, bemoaning leaders who "are insufferably full of themselves."

No, Will wasn't referring to himself.

Instead, he was attacking Senator-elect Jim Webb for snubbing President Bush at a reception for new members of Congress.

First off, we've always said here that Webb is no conventional politician. And we'd be disappointed if his election to the Senate somehow transformed him into one.

So we're not surprised that, as reported in the Washington Post earlier this week, Webb did his darndest to avoid mugging with Bush at the new member reception. According to the Post, Webb stayed away from the receiving line to shake Bush's hand and decided not to have his picture taken with W.

Despite trying to avoid the President, Bush managed nonetheless to find Webb. Bush asked "how's your boy," referrring to Webb's son Jimmy, a marine lance corporal fighting in Anbar province in Iraq. Webb responded, "I'd like to get them out of Iraq," obviously referring to all our troops, not just his son.

When the President pressed, "that's not what I asked," Webb said, "that's between me and my boy." (The Post didn't say whether Bush, who's known to have a short fuse in private, was testy in his follow-up.)

Well how's that for honesty in a politician? And it's about time someone stood up to the President, a notorious bully who, quite frankly, needs someone to tell him to stick it where the sun doesn't shine every now and then.

George Will, however, is mortally offended by what he calls Webb's lack of "civility." Webb, however, didn't seek out the President to be nasty to him. He was being civil by minding his own business just so as to avoid any confrontation.

In any event, Will is hardly one to describe anyone else in the world as "insufferable." George Will is the epitome of the pompous, arrogant columnist who thinks he's smarter than anyone else in the room. And this particular column of Will's is about as arrogant as you can get.

For example, in quoting Webb's response to Bush's initial query, Will inserts a gratuitous "[sic]" ("I'd like to get them [sic] out of Iraq"), as if Webb is some illiterate hick. Maybe Will just doesn't get it--Webb wasn't saying he wanted "him"--as in is his son--out of the war; he wants all of "them"--the troops--to come home. Presumably, if Webb really didn't want his son in Iraq, he could've pulled some strings, like our current President (and to be fair, our last one as well).

Will goes on, in his typical petulant "nyah-nyah" style, to criticize Webb's grammar in a recent op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. [To see the op-ed piece, check out the Curmudgeon's November 14 post: ]

It's no surprise that George Will, one of the leading apologists for the self-centered rich in America, was offended by Senator-elect Webb's WSJ piece on economic equality. Why, how dare a mere Senator-elect start "making waves," as Will puts it, so soon after the election.

Well, Mr. Will, Virginia's voters elected Webb to make waves, both on Iraq and the economy. And, in case you hadn't noticed, Webb's campaign motto was "born fighting" (taken from the title of Webb's excellent little history of the Scots-Irish in America). Get used to it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season

Tomorrow is the last day of the "official" Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30 of each year. (What happens to out of "season" hurricanes? Presumably they are cited and fined by FEMA following a lengthy administrative hearing .)

So how did the nation's leading hurricane forecasters do this year? Not very good. Almost as bad as last year. In fact, we wonder why the media bother to give their forecasts such wide play--you could do just about as well by surveying Mrs. Smith's kindergarten class.

In our May 23, 2006 post, entitled "Truth in Hurricane Forecasting," we noted that this season's hurricane forecasts should come with a disclaimer pointing out that the 2005 forecast was so far off that you might not want to put much stock in the same folks' prediction for this year.

We were right. This year, the forecasters erred in the other direction. With blaring headlines, NOAA's team of alleged hurricane experts told us that this year would be an unusually active one, with 13-16 tropical storms, of which 8-10 would become hurricanes, 4-6 of which would be "major" hurricanes (Category 3 or greater). The alleged experts on William Gray's team at Colorado State issued a similar forecast, predicting 17 storms of which 9 would be hurricanes.

Well, they were wrong. AGAIN. Really, they weren't even close. Instead, it was a mild hurricane season with 9 tropical storms, of which 5 became hurricanes, two of which were "major." Ho-hum.

Well, so why'd they get it wrong? The experts say it's mainly because of the "unexpected formation" of the El Nino in the eastern Pacific, and perhaps also an "unusual" amount of sub-Saharan dust over the Atlantic. Well, gee--if we'd known those things were going to happen, we'd hardly need any experts to tell us it would turn out to be a dull tropical year. It's the experts' job to forecast those events.

Here's a different way to put it: the so-called hurricane experts really don't know any more about hurricane forecasting than the rest of us. For all their computer projecting and modelling, all they can really do is make an educated guess. Usually, they try to stay near historic averages, figuring that way they can't be too far off the mark and will often be correct (in an average year). What good is that?

If the hurricane experts had correctly forecast, in May '05, that we'd have a record tropical year, it would've been worth something. Better preparations could've been made. (We're not saying they would've been made--after all, we're talking about the most incompetent administration since Calvin Coolidge.) Likewise, an accurate forecast in May of this year that we'd have a snorer of a season would also have been useful.

Next Spring, when these same experts put out another prediction, we hope the media will include a healthy dose of skepticism in their reports.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More On Compact Fluorescents

We thought we'd post this comment left on today's earlier post about the compelling economies of switching to compact fluorescent bulbs to save energy and money in one's home:

Whisper Wels said...
I read your blog and I couldn't agree more! I feel so strongly about it that it inspired me to start a lighting company that only sells compact fluorescent light bulbs. We are running an Arizona BulbMe Challenge asking Arizona residents to change 100,000 light bulbs by December 31st and then we are donating 4,000 light bulbs to low income Arizona residents. These low income residents make up much of the energy usage in our country yet they cannot afford the more expensive energy efficient bulbs or lighting. You can find us at:

All Good Energy Your Way,

Whisper makes a particularly good point that, despite the compelling economies, poor people simply can't afford the upfront costs of replacing $1 a bulb incandescent bulbs with $6 compact fluorescents. We need to find ways to help poor and lower middle income folks make this transition.

While we're at it, a couple other points:

--Compact fluorescents are not ideal for lights that are frequently flicked on and off, as they need a few minutes to warm up to achieve their efficiency;

--Lights with dimmers on them will not work well with standard CFL bulbs, but their are CFL's designed for such lights. You might need to go on the internet to find them.

Finally, a policy idea that will help speed the transition to CFL's: why not require homebuilders to equip all new construction with CFL's?

An Easy Way To Save Energy (And Money)

Yesterday, we posted on the dis-economy of investing in solar energy for the home, at least for the average urban or suburban homeowner along the east coast. Today, we'll talk about an easy way the average homeowner can make a significant dent in their electricity usage and reduce their monthly utility bill.

(We forgot, yesterday, to tell you the best part about installing a solar photovoltaic system in your home: watching the electric meter go backward! That's right--during periods of peak sunshine and low electric use, such as when the Curmudgeon is at home alone using just the computer and a few lights, the solar array generates more electricity than we are using, feeding the excess back into the power grid for our neighbors to use. When that happens, our meter runs backwards.)

So now, on to the easier way to save electricity and reduce your power bill. Suppose we told you that for an investment of $300-$400 you could reduce your electricity consumption by 10% or more? Sound worth it? Absolutely! And it's true--by making a one-time investment to replace most of the light bulbs in your home with new compact flourescent bulbs (pictured above) you can immediately reduce your carbon footprint on the world and save money on electricity.

Lighting is not the biggest usage of electricity in most homes, but it's not insignificant either, and in an efficient home with oil or gas heating it may account for as much as 15-20 percent of your electricity usage.

Here's the math in our household. This time of year, when it's dark in the mornings as we struggle to get our middle schooler to his busstop on time, we use an average of 20 lights in the bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and sunroom over the course of about 2 hours. If you assume each light is 75 watts, then we're using 3000 watt/hours, or 3 kilowatt/hours of electricity at the beginning of the day.
Then, during a typical weekday, we don't use much lighting--just the four lights in the Curmudgeon's office for a few hours. Let's say that's 4 lights X 5 hours X 75 watts, for another 3000 watt/hours (3 kilowatt hours). Then, there's nighttime, which begins at 5:00 this time of year. We probably use about 20 lights over another 6 hours, for another 9 kilowatt hours.
So, in a typical day in the late fall and winter, we use about 15 kilowatt/hours per day for lighting. In the summer, we probably use half that. To simplify, we'll say we use 15 kilowatts per day for 6 months and 7.5 per day for the other six months, and we'll subtract out 30 days for being away from home. We'll spare you the math, but after rounding, that's about 3800 kilowatt hours per year on lighting. (Ouch!)

Seems like a lot, so we did some quick checking on the web. In a 1993 government survey, an average single family home used about 950 kwh per year on lighting. Since then, houses have gotten a lot bigger, with more lighting. Our home is probably at least twice the size of the average home in 1993. Also, we have many light switches that operate mutliple lights, so we're probably burning more lights than most people (and we like it bright--the ol' eyes aren't what they used to be). Still, 3800 may be a high estimate. Let's cut it down to 3000 kwh.

If the Curmudgeon's household uses 3000 kwh of electricity annually for lighting, that's roughly 17.5 percent of our total annual use (before our solar array came on line). (Since we have gas heat, hot water and stove, lighting will be a higher percent of our total than in homes that use electricity for those purposes; in the government's 1993 survey, lighting averaged 10% of a typical household's electricity.)

So what happens if you start replacing all those incandescent light bulbs with compact flourescent lights (CFL)? Each CFL uses about 75 percent less electricity than a comparable incandescent light (and almost as much less than a halogen light). If the Curmudgeon replaces every light in the house with CFL's, we will reduce our energy consumption as much as 2250 kwh per year!

If you read our post yesterday on the savings from our $20,000 plus solar array, you'll know that' the savings from using CFL's are almost as great as the amount of energy we're generating from the sun!

What does it cost to replace your light bulbs with CFL's? A lot less than putting solar panels on your roof, that's for sure! The compact fluorescent's cost about five times the price of a comparable incandescent bulb. For example, you can get 75 watt equivalent CFL's from a major internet bulb supplier for $6.20 apiece versus $1.20 for a standard bulb. We estimate that it will take 50 CFL's to replace the most commonly used lights in our home, at a total cost of roughly $300-$350.

The payoff for this investment in reduced electricity costs will be, at most, two years, probably a lot less than that. (If we reduce our usage by 2250 kwh per year, our electric bill should go down by about $200.)

But there is another, longer term cost saving as well. Compact fluorescents last much longer than standard incandescent bulbs--8-10 times as long. So, once you've replace all the bulbs in your home you won't have to purchase new bulbs for years. Over the long run, you'll save money even without factoring in the decreased electricity usage.

There's more good news: today's CFL's come in an assortment of shapes and sizes to fit most different types of lighting, including decorative shapes and various sizes of floodlights. You might not find all the shapes and sizes at your local supermarket, but go to Home Depot or Lowes and you'll find the full range. (Or shop on the internet.)

Don't buy just a few CFL's at a time, thinking "boy, are these expensive lightbulbs." Instead, go out and purchase enough to replace most of your regularly used bulbs and think of it as a single investment in your home--like that new grill or the HDTV, except that is will save you money in the long run.

At this point, the economics of CFL's are so compelling that you're practically supporting terrorism and causing global warming if you DON'T make the switch.

So, what are you waiting for?

Its Official: Webb By 9329

Yesterday the Virginia Board of Elections officially certified the results of the race between Jim Webb and George Allen. Webb won with 1,175,606 votes to Allen's 1,166,277, a margin of 9329 votes.

We only note this because it's just what we predicted on election night and the following day as the media speculated about a testy recount leaving control of the Senate up in the air for weeks on end. In the wee hours of election night, we forecast that Webb's slim 1500 vote margin would expand as the remaining precincts reported, and by daylight Webb's lead was around 6000 votes.

We also explained Virginia's process for conducting a canvass of votes and certifying a final total, and predicted that Webb's lead would not only hold up, but probably increase by a bit. Over the next day, as it became clear that Allen was not cutting into Webb's lead--indeed he was gradually falling slightly further behind--Allen wisely conceded, sparing us the expense of a recount that, based on past experience in Virginia, would not have budged more than a handful of votes.

It will be interesting to see how Webb does as a freshman.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Solar Energy: Good Feel, Bad Deal

This week the Curmudgeon will focus on energy issues.

First off: solar power and why, for most homeowners at least, it is not going to be an economical way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

First, the good news: the Curmudgeon has gone solar! As we type this, the sunlight filtering through a thin layer of high clouds is powering our laptop and running the lights in our home office, among other things. Accordingly, this is now a green blog--no carbon was emitted (other than our breathing) in producing it.

Last week, just before the Thanksgiving break, we finished installation of 14 rooftop photovoltaic cells, which are now busily producing electricity in the waning sunlight of the coming winter.

Here's the details: each cell is rated at 190 watts, meaning that at peak efficiency (direct sunlight) it could produce 190 watts of electricity--basically enough to power three 60 watt lightbulbs. Since we have 14 cells, our system is rated at 2660 watts, or 2.660 kilowatts.

Sounds like a lot, but it really isn't. And the economics of the system aren't pretty!

Our system was installed by Don Sandros and his crew from Sand Energy ( ) out in Leesburg, Virginia, one of the few local companies specializing in alternative energy systems. Don's a good fellow--he's not overhyping solar. Indeed, he'd be the first to tell you that a residential solar electric system in the D.C. metropolitan area is not likely to pay off for a long time.

The first problem is that the cost of solar photovoltaic cells has remained stubbornly high due to increased demand, especially from Germany and Japan, which have highly subsidized programs to promote solar energy in homes and businesses. In the U.S., demand is also high in California, which has an agressive 10-year program to install solar power on a million homes. And China is starting to enter the market as well.

While supply is expanding, especially with new manufacturing plants in China, it can barely keep pace with demand, so prices are not falling. The solar panels installed on the Curmudgeon's roof are manufactured in the U.S. by a company called Evergreen, and they ain't cheap: they sell for roughly $1000 apiece. That means you're looking at something on the order of $5.25 per watt of installed power just to get started.

The total cost of our system, including the cells, mounting hardware, an inverter (needed to hook into the local power grid) and labor was approximately $24,000. (If you don't hook into the local grid, you'll need a battery system to store energy from sunny days for use on cloudy ones--the batteries cost more than an inverter. Most homeowners in urban areas opt for the simple approach of hooking into the local grid.)

Our net cost will be about $22,000 after we claim the $2000 federal tax credit for solar energy. Unfortunately, the federal credit maxes out at $2000 whether you intall a few hundred watts, or several thousand watts. And, if you live in Virginia, you don't get squat from the state. If you're lucky, you'll get a local property tax exemption on the new installation, but that's it. (It's pretty much the same in Maryland.)

Yes, you say, but what about those fantastic savings on electricity? Well, we certainly feel good about doing our part to reduce carbon emissions and eliminate a few barrels of imported oil from politically unstable regions of the world. But, truth be told, it's going to take a long time to pay off these solar panels.

The Curmudgeon's household uses approximately 16,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year (which is not bad, considering our friend from Scarsdale, New York, who uses 35,000 kilowatts for her expansive home). (Tomorrow, we'll talk about what we're doing to conserve and decrease our overall consumption.)

Our new solar array will offset about 2700 of those kilowatt hours, meaning a 17% reduction. We get our electricity from Dominion Power, which is really quite cheap compared to what folks pay in other parts of the country. Our electric bill over the past year was about $1800, meaning we'll save about $300 a year IF prices for electricity stay the same.

Of course, electricity prices are likely to increase--indeed, Dominion is due for a big rate increase next year. Still, even if electric rates TRIPLED it would take more than 20 years for us to pay off our investment.

You can see from all this that while it feels good to install solar power in one's home, it's no economic bargain, certainly not in Virginia. Even if the price of installing solar comes down by half and the price of electricity doubles, the payoff to an average homeowner is still going to be well over a decade absent a significant government subsidy.
One way to make it more economic, however, would be to credit homeowners with solar arrays at a price that is closer to the utility's cost of producing peak power, especially in the summer when peak solar output corresponds to peak demand (due to air conditioning). While more complicated, such a system of credits is feasible and should be required as it more closely approximates the savings to the utility and other customers of not having to build more peak generating capacity.
With a Republican controlled state legislature in Virginia, however, we won't be holding our breath for such progressive legislation anytime soon.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about an easy way you can reduce your electricity consumption by almost as much as our solar system for only a few hundred dollars, resulting in immediate savings that will offset the cost in just a year.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all our Curmudgeon readers! We hope you have a wonderful long weekend with family, friends and loved ones, and that you don't spend too much time stuck in traffic, or at an airport, or a train station, or whatever.

We at the Curmudgeon plan to besot ourselves into a stupor that will prevent any postings until the beginning of next week. Gobble, gobble.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Victory for Decency and Common Sense: Fox OJ Special Cancelled

In a victory for decency and common sense, Fox Network has bowed to public outrage over it's planned sweeps week television special with O.J. Simpson on "If I Did It", as well as withdrawing publication of the book published by a Fox affiliate.

Good decision.

Shouldn't have required the outrage.

Golf Course Review: Greenbrier

Periodically, the Curmudgeon reviews public golf courses in the hope that you'll get a chance to play them as well.

Today's review is of the golf at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The Greenbrier is an old-line resort with a history going back to 1778. Centered around a magnificent hotel with more than 800 guest rooms, the Greenbrier today serves primarily as a getaway spot for corporate meetings and conferences, which is what brought the Curmudgeon there. While Mrs. Curmudgeon sat through meeting after meeting at her law firm's annual partner retreat, the Curmudgeon playing the dutiful spouse, got in as much golf as possible (between the cocktail parties).

The Greenbrier has three golf courses: the Greenbrier (natch), the Old White and the Meadows. Sadly, we only had the opportunity to play two of them--the Greenbrier, which we played twice, and the Old White, on which we played 10 holes before cutting it short due to darkness.

We were there in mid-October, a beautiful time of year in the mountains of West Virginia, as the trees were a riot of color. Unfortunately, after a couple of perfect warm days before we left, the weather took a brisk turn, with a bit of rain and a lot of wind. Nothing that was going to keep us off the golf courses, however.
The Greenbrier Course

The Greenbrier course, built in 1924 and redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 1977, hosted both the Ryder Cup, in 1979, and the Solheim Cup (the women's equivalent of the Ryder) in 1994. We doubt the Greenbrier could manage the crowds associated with today's Ryder Cup matches, but at least the Americans won it back in '79.

Although relatively short by modern standards, at 6675 yards, the Greenbrier is an excellent golf challenge for most golfers. (Slope rating of 134 from the 6400 yard blue tees.) Forest-lined fairways and a number of strategically placed water hazards force a golfer to make good tee shots. The course design also makes it play like it's longer than 6700 yards with some forced lay-ups and hard doglegs. The course has an unconventional lay-out, with five par 5's and five par 3's. The par 3's tend to be long, the par 5's short, but hazardous.
It's a pretty course, winding along a valley floor between heavily forested hills. Unfortunately, the resort has been selling off some of its acreage around the golf course for development, so that those hills are beginning to sport a few vacation homes. Fortunately, most of the homes are well away from the course and tastefully done, but one stretch along the back nine features smaller homes crammed together much too close to the fairways.

The course was well-maintained and greens reasonably fast. The folks working there were super-friendly and helpful. We were promptly greeted upon entering the pro shop and efficiently ushered out to the nearby driving range and practice green. The starter was nice and the ladies in the lunch hut were great.

The only problem we had, on the first round, was a frequent one at resorts that host business conferences: getting stuck behind the ubiquitous golf scramble featuring novice players. We were the first group after the Navy Federal Credit Union scramble, which made for some slow play, but on a nice fall day with good playing companions, who cared? (Ok, the jerk behind us, who didn't realize we were stuck behind a scramble, made a pointed remark, across a fairway, about our slow play, only to regret it when his group was forced to join us at the tee on a particularly backed up par 3 a couple holes later where it was obvious we weren't the hold up.)

One last thing we really liked about the Greenbrier course--it has a traditional set-up, where the first hole leaves from the clubhouse and the last green is right in front. Indeed, all three courses radiate from the clubhouse, with a smallish, but adequate practice range wedged in nearby, so that it is easy to come and go. (However, the ninth holes don't end up at the clubhouse--each course winds far away before coming back.)

The Old White Course

We also played 10 holes on the Old White course, a 6800 yard par 70. Not quite as picturesque as the Greenbrier, the Old White meanders along a flatter part of valley surrounded by smaller hills. Still, if you just happened on this course without playing the Greenbrier first, you'd be pretty impressed with its beauty.

We enjoyed the Old White, probably because we were having a career round before darkness closed in (and saved us from the inevitable blow-up at the end).

However, there was one aspect of the Old White that could turn off some golfers. Quite a few of the greens have almost bizarre features in them, such as a standing wave in the middle of the 18th green that must be at least 8 feet high, and a trough in another green that was more like a huge ditch. Putting on these greens was a little like some of the more challenging miniature golf holes at Myrtle Beach, albeit on a macro scale. We're not sure why the course's redesigners (it has been part of an ongoing renovation) felt a need to trick up the greens so much.

The Old White is much more forgiving of wayward drives than the Greenbrier course--most fairways are lined by only a few isolated trees, rather than a forest. (However, we were hitting the ball much straighter on the Old White, so maybe that was just us.) The topography was also more forgiving--fewer awkward sidehill lies in the fairways, as most were pretty flat.

All told, we thought the Old White was a good complement to The Greenbrier course--no reason you wouldn't want to play both.

We're sorry we didn't make it to the Meadows course, a 6800 yard par 71 track that, from its description and slope rating, sounds easier than the other two. Maybe next time.

One final thing: what about the fees? Well, if you're staying at the Greenbrier in the first place, you should be able to afford some stiff fees. They were high, but not out of the range of comparable resorts: during the main season, resort guests pay $185, which includes a cart for 18 holes and unlimited play. We sure wouldn't countenance paying the $350 for a non-resort guest!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Despicable OJ Interview

Here's an easy guide on what to think about Fox's upcoming interview of O.J. Simpson:

A despicable television network, that pretends to be about conservative family values, but which repeatedly airs the trashiest shows on television, is owned by a despicable money-grubbing Australian billionaire.

Among Rupert Murdoch's various enterprises is a despicable publishing house headed by a despicable woman, Judith Regan. She decides to pay $3.5 million for the rights to publish a despicable book by a despicable O.J. entitled "If I Did It" in which he details how he would have killed his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her companion Ronald Goldman "if" he had been the killer.

Despicable Regan also conducted a television interview of despicable O.J. on the same topic, which despicable Fox just happens to plan to air during the last week of television sweeps in November, and just happens to be right before the release of the book.

Oh, and Regan says it's "not about money."

What should a normal human being do? Don't watch the show--let it have the lowest ratings possible. Don't buy the book. Let Fox know you're disgusted.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Please! Someone Run Against Jim Moran In The '08 Democratic Primary

The Curmudgeon is represented in Congress by Representative Jim Moran, a Democrat who has been in Congress since 1991. Moran is in a "safe" Democratic seat--Virginia's 8th Congressional District--consisting of the deep blue wards of Arlington, Alexandria and a portion of Fairfax County.

We're sick of him.

Moran is one of those ethically challenged Democrats who think earmarking is a good thing. A few months ago, Moran told a friendly audience in Arlington that if the Democrats took over Congress, he would use his position on the Appropriations committee to "earmark the shit" out various projects.

With the Dems taking Congress, Moran's first act was to serve as a whip for Rep. Jack Murtha in his race for Democratic Majority Leader, a bid that failed miserably despite Nancy Pelosi's stupid decision to make a big public show of her support for Murtha. (Moran and Murtha are birds of a feather--Murtha is another ethically challenged earmarker.)

According to the Washington Post, Moran was anything but gracious in defeat: "There are a number of members who can't be trusted," he said. (Evidently, this was not a self-confession.) Murtha's foes "will be damaged by this." Even though the vote was by secret ballot, Moran said "oh, we have a pretty good idea" of who voted against Murtha. (Presumably, Moran is focused on members who he thought were going to support Murtha, but didn't.)

We won't recount here Moran's history of sleaziness and borderline ethical problems--if you want to dwell in that, go to a website devoted to getting rid of Moran.

It's sad, really. Arlington and the surrounding region that makes up Virginia's 8th Congressional District is as progressive and highly educated as you can find anywhere in the country. It's not a safe Democratic district simply because of a high minority population--it's a bastion of white liberalism.

So why can't we get a high quality representative in Congress? (Say, a Democratic version of moderate Republican Tom Davis in the adjoining district.)

We wish one of the many Democratic local office holders in the 8th would mount a serious challenge to Moran in the next Democratic primary. Moran is vulnerable: in the most recent election, he polled 7000 fewer votes in the 8th district than Democrat Jim Webb, running for Senate, and that was against an unknown Republican opponent (and a somewhat wacky independent).

Furthermore, we know from talking to Democrats in Arlington that Moran is widely despised. Most of us hold our noses and go ahead and vote for him because we don't have a decent alternative.

The biggest obstacle to fielding an opponent to Moran is that his district covers three separate local jurisdictions--Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax--making it more difficult for a popular local official from one of those to be known in the other two. Still, we think a quality opponent could pull it off.

So c'mon, local pols--someone jump in!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sports Jerk of the Year

True, the year's not quite over yet, but we're confident this one will hold up through the end of 2006.

So, who is the Sports Jerk of the Year (and possibly, simply Jerk of the Year)? Is it Terrell Owens, the outspoken, sleepy Dallas Cowboys wide receiver? No. Is it some other overpaid, overhyped professional sports athlete? No.

Our top Jerk is a man named Dan Hinkle. Unless you read the Washington Post, you've probably never heard of him.

Hinkle is the Commissioner of the South County Youth Association, one of 23 clubs that make up the Fairfax County Youth Football League in Northern Virginia. As reported by the Washington Post about a week ago, Hinkle fired the two coaches of the South County Raptors--the team on which Hinkle's son played--solely because they played his son on offense, instead of defense, in the team's final game of the season.

The coaches evidently violated Hinkle's strict injunction at the beginning of the season. In a preseason email to the coaches, Hinkle modestly stated: "This entire league exists so [my son] can play defense on the best team in his weight class. . . . He is my son, I own the league, and he plays every snap on defense." He also said that his son "goes in and stays in. That includes all practices, scrimmages and games."

In the one game in which Hinkle's son played offense, the Raptors were in a rematch against a team they lost to earlier in the season. The coaches thought they had a better chance of winning if they played Hinkle's son on offense. They were right--the team won and earned the chance to move on to the playoffs. That, of course, is good coaching--do what's best for the team.

Right before the playoffs, however, Hinkle returned from a business trip and learned that his son had--omigod!--played OFFENSE. Horrors. So he summarily fired the coaches, leaving the team with no one to guide them into the playoffs. The rest of the players and parents rebelled and the team forfeited its chance for further glory.

Normally, this wouldn't make the news, but some enterprising soul took the story to the Washington Post, which featured it on the front page (on a Saturday) and has followed up with a couple more stories.

While we needn't say much more to establish Hinkle's credentials as a SuperJerk, there are some questions we still have.

First, according to the Post, Hinkle invested $150,000 of his own money to establish the South County Youth Association so his son could have such favored status. Holy cow! And you thought the big money was just in college and pro football!

Unfortunately, the Post never tells us what occupation Hinkle has that makes him able to drop $150,000 on starting his own youth football league. Is he an obnoxious lawyer? A Northern Virginia tech entrepeneur? A friend of Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay? Director of Public Relations for Peter Angelos, the jerky owner of the Baltimore Orioles? We'd like to know.

Also left hanging is the this: how in the world does it cost $150,000 to set up a youth league with 10-15 teams in it? (The Post says parents also shell out approximately $160 per player for equipment and other costs.) And why would any association dedicated to youth sports even consider organizing it so one guy really "owns" the league and can be his own dictatorial Saddam Hussein? [Note to the Fairfax County Football Association, which plays on publicly funded fields: something is seriously wrong here. Fix it!]

The Curmudgeon coaches in a recreational soccer league with nearly 5000 players and we can put on a whole season for not much more than $150,000! We know it costs money to pay for coaches, but usually parents pay for at least a good chunk of that.

Now, some might say that Hinkle's large investment entitles him to do whatever he pleases, even if it is unpopular. We disagree. When Hinkle established the Youth Association, he entered into a relationship with several hundred kids and their parents that implies some duties of fair dealing and respect. Sure, he should have some leeway, and a little preferential treatment for his kid is only natural, but once he made himself Commissioner his obligations became much broader.

And, we wonder how Hinkle's son feels, poor guy. Thanks a lot dad--make me real popular with the ol' teammates here!

So here's to you Dan Hinkle, Sports Jerk of the Year. Posted by Picasa

Don't Pick Murtha For Majority Leader!

We're a bit tardy to this, as the vote is today, but the Curmudgeon wanted to be fully on record: Democratic House members would be making a huge mistake if they elected John Murtha to the post of House Majority Leader.

While we admire Murtha's forceful early view on the Iraq war, he is the WRONG guy, by far, to be the Dems number 2 in the House. In fact, it's pretty much like putting in a Democratic version of Tom DeLay.

Murtha has long been on the wrong side of ethics issues in Congress, beginning with his involvement in the Abscam scandal, continuing with his opposition to various ethics reform bills, and ending with his notorious endorsement of rampant earmarking as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.

One of the reasons Dems swept the recent election was voter revulsion at Republican corruption. Putting Murtha in the #2 post will surely give Republicans something to shoot back at.

And while we're at it: No way should Democrat Alcee Hastings be appointed chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Hastings has the distinction of being the only federal judge this century to be removed from office by impeachment. And the stuff he was impeached for--bribery, jury tampering--is serious business.

C'mon Democrats--let's at least try to distinguish ourselves.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Senator Webb Op-Ed Piece in WSJ on Economic Equality

For those wondering what type of Senator Jim Webb will be, and where he is on economic issues, here's an op-ed piece from the man himself in the Wall Street Journal. It shows Webb's commitment to economic equality and his populist leanings. We would be the first to point out, however, that apart from a promise to raise the minimum wage, it is empty on specific policies to accomplish Webb's objectives.

Here is a link to the article, which is also reproduced below:

Class Struggle American workers have a chance to be heard.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

Incestuous corporate boards regularly approve compensation packages for chief executives and others that are out of logic's range. As this newspaper has reported, the average CEO of a sizeable corporation makes more than $10 million a year, while the minimum wage for workers amounts to about $10,000 a year, and has not been raised in nearly a decade. When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much.

In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Many earned pension programs have collapsed in the wake of corporate "reorganization." And workers' ability to negotiate their futures has been eviscerated by the twin threats of modern corporate America: If they complain too loudly, their jobs might either be outsourced overseas or given to illegal immigrants.

This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate. Some shrug off large-scale economic and social dislocations as the inevitable byproducts of the "rough road of capitalism." Others claim that it's the fault of the worker or the public education system, that the average American is simply not up to the international challenge, that our education system fails us, or that our workers have become spoiled by old notions of corporate paternalism.

Still others have gone so far as to argue that these divisions are the natural results of a competitive society. Furthermore, an unspoken insinuation seems to be inundating our national debate: Certain immigrant groups have the "right genetics" and thus are natural entrants to the "overclass," while others, as well as those who come from stock that has been here for 200 years and have not made it to the top, simply don't possess the necessary attributes.

Most Americans reject such notions. But the true challenge is for everyone to understand that the current economic divisions in society are harmful to our future. It should be the first order of business for the new Congress to begin addressing these divisions, and to work to bring true fairness back to economic life. Workers already understand this, as they see stagnant wages and disappearing jobs.

America's elites need to understand this reality in terms of their own self-interest. A recent survey in the Economist warned that globalization was affecting the U.S. differently than other "First World" nations, and that white-collar jobs were in as much danger as the blue-collar positions which have thus far been ravaged by outsourcing and illegal immigration. That survey then warned that "unless a solution is found to sluggish real wages and rising inequality, there is a serious risk of a protectionist backlash" in America that would take us away from what they view to be the "biggest economic stimulus in world history."

More troubling is this: If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest. Up to now, most American workers have simply been worried about their job prospects. Once they understand that there are (and were) clear alternatives to the policies that have dislocated careers and altered futures, they will demand more accountability from the leaders who have failed to protect their interests. The "Wal-Marting" of cheap consumer products brought in from places like China, and the easy money from low-interest home mortgage refinancing, have softened the blows in recent years. But the balance point is tipping in both cases, away from the consumer and away from our national interest.

The politics of the Karl Rove era were designed to distract and divide the very people who would ordinarily be rebelling against the deterioration of their way of life. Working Americans have been repeatedly seduced at the polls by emotional issues such as the predictable mantra of "God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag" while their way of life shifted ineluctably beneath their feet. But this election cycle showed an electorate that intends to hold government leaders accountable for allowing every American a fair opportunity to succeed.

With this new Congress, and heading into an important presidential election in 2008, American workers have a chance to be heard in ways that have eluded them for more than a decade. Nothing is more important for the health of our society than to grant them the validity of their concerns. And our government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Senator Webb's Great Committee Assignments

We like the sound of that--Senator Webb (ok, technically it's still Senator-elect Webb).

Webb has gotten the perfect set of Senate committee assignments from majority leader Harry Reid (these are still tentative assignments, but they are likely to hold up). They are:

Armed Services (he will be on the committee with Virginia's senior senator, John Warner; we predict that Webb and Warner will get along well, notwithstanding Warner's campaigning for Allen)

Foreign Relations

Veterans Affairs

Joint Economic Committee

These assignment fit Senator Webb's interests to a T. As a marine combat officer and former Secretary of the Navy, he obviously belongs on Armed Services; he has also written extensively about foreign affairs and has the requisite expertise; he has made improving benefits for veterans a priority (which will help him with the large, but somewhat skeptical, veteran population in Virginia); and he has also made economic equality--especially raising the minimum wage--a priority as well.

These assignments suit Webb, and he suits them. Good work Harry Reid.

Football Curmudgeon: Why Do College Football Poll Voters Vote In A Pack (And Other Questions)

As a general rule, we try to avoid posting on sports issues, mainly because there is an entire blogosphere devoted just to sports, and we're not part of it.
But, in honor of the Redskins finally benching Mark Brunell and bringing on "the kid"--Jason Campbell--we thought we'd ask a couple questions that have been bothering us about football.
Pack Voting By College Poll Members
Our big question is this: why is it that members of the three major college football polls all vote in a pack? Here's what we mean--if you look at the AP, USA Today, and Harris Interactive polls of Division I college football, there are roughly 240 sports writers and coaches who cast votes. Of those, 238 voted for Ohio State as the number one team this week.
That's ridiculous. Right now, both Ohio State and Michigan are undefeated with identical records and nearly identical opponents. Those two teams will play each other this weekend and the winner undoubtedly will be crowned Number 1.
Are you really telling us that 238 out of 240 of the top sports writers and coaches in the country think Ohio State is going to beat Michigan? Or put another way, are you telling us that Ohio State is so much better than anyone else in college football that this tremendous consensus exists?
Baloney. We're confident that a significant number of the poll members--certainly more than one percent--think Michigan will win. So why don't they vote for Michigan?
If these were good polls, there should be a distribution of votes for number one, with at least some voters even voting for one-loss teams that they think are better based on their schedules and how they've played.
But, for some reason, the "experts" we poll throw away their independence and simply vote as a pack. Once Ohio State beat #2 Texas early in the season, everyone decided Ohio State would be number one unless and until they lost. (Since then, Texas has looked like a team that was plainly overranked at the time.)
That's not how it should be. Indeed, Ohio State played a stinker of a game a couple weeks ago (so did Michigan), but it's poll numbers didn't budge.
In contrast, the computer rankings do change each week, depending on how a team played and how everyone else played, which is the way it should be. Furthermore, the computer rankings show much more variety in their picks. Indeed, there are only six computer rankings included in the BCS formula, and they have four different rankings for Ohio State (One computer has the Buckeyes ranked first, one has them at number 2, three at number 3, and one at number 5.)
And while the pack of human votes has Ohio State at number 1, four of the five computer rankings have Michigan as number 1.
We'd like to see the human voters act like humans--show some diversity of views, react to events each week, even be illogical. If all they do is anoint a team number one and then fall into a pack of voting for that team until it loses, then what good are they--heck, a computer could do that for us!
Do Offenses Ever Get Tired?
We hear it all the time during football broadcasts: "Dan, this defense has been on the field for quite awhile--they're tired. The offense has to give them a rest."
We've never heard anyone say that an offense is tired. Why is that? Don't offensive players get tired too? Is there something about defensive players that just makes them more prone to tiring out?
Tomorrow: our football jerk of the year (hint: he's not even a famous football player).

Monday, November 13, 2006

Michael Steele for RNC Chairman? Not So Fast--Resolve Serious Steele/Ehrlich Election Fraud Issues First

There's been a fair amount of talk, at least in the press and the blogosphere, about naming Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele the replacement for outgoing Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.

We can't tell how seriously Republicans are taking this talk, but if they're serious, they'd better slow down.

Michael Steele ran a decent campaign for Senate in Maryland against Democrat Ben Cardin for the open seat left by Paul Sarbanes' retirement. His television ads were fresh--albeit seriously lacking in substance. Steele is a relatively young, attractive guy, and as an African-American could literally put a new face on the Republican Party.

Steele, however, is ensnared in an incipient election scandal that we haven't heard the last of yet. Indeed, a criminal investigation is warranted and it's not likely that victorious Democrats in Maryland are going to let this one go.

Here's what happened: Shortly before the election, the campaigns of both Steele and Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich, Jr. (also a Republican, running for re-election--unsucessfully) together hired six busloads of African-Americans from Philadelphia, many of them homeless, to distribute campaign literature on election day in black wards of Baltimore and Prince Georges County. So far, so good--we have no problem with hiring people to hand out literature on election day (notably, Republicans couldn't get African-American VOLUNTEERS to do this traditional volunteer work).

The problem is with what the paid workers were handing out: glossy brochures with photos of black Democratic leaders on the front, containing headlines reading "Democratic Sample Ballot" and then listing Steele and Ehrlich, with red check marks, along with a list of local Democratic candidates. Nothing in the brochures identified Steele and Ehrlich as Republicans.

There were other similar efforts to mislead black voters in Maryland. The Ehrlich and Steele campaigns mailed glossy brochures to voters in predominantly black Prince Georges County that had pictures of PG County Executive Jack Johnson, his predecessor, Wayne Curry, and former NAACP president/Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume. Above the pictures, the flier read, "Ehrlich-Steele Democrats" and underneath it said "These are OUR choices." Yet neither Johnson, Curry nor Mfume had endorsed Ehrlich, and only Curry had endorsed Steele (which has simply made Curry very unpopular in PG county).

Similarly misleading brochures showed up in Baltimore before the election as well.

This, my friends, is FRAUD. The Curmudgeon believes in giving political campaigns a lot of leeway in what they say and do in a campaign, mainly because the 1st Amendment is paramount here. But, there is a line one cannot cross, and these brochures from Steele and Ehrlich's campaign go far across that line. You simply cannot put out brochures saying--or clearly implying--that someone who had not endorsed you (indeed, has endorsed your opponent)--supports you. Nor can you say you are a Democrat when you're not.

What is particularly troubling here is that these brochures were aimed solely at African-American communities, on the assumption that black voters are somehow particularly gullible. And it's not the first time the Ehrlich/Steele campaign did it. In the 2002 Gubernatorial race, where Ehrlich and Steele ran together, the campaign used a similar tactic with glossy brochures using pictures of black Democratic leaders and falsely implying their support for the GOP duo.

Given this is the second time, Democrats should demand complete accountability of the Steele and Ehrlich campaigns, up to and including Steele and Ehrlich themselves. This was no small, last minute campaign event organized by a lowly campaign worker--it was an expensive, highly organized and orchestrated effort that had to have been approved at or near the top of the campaigns. Indeed, First Lady Kendel Ehrlich greeted the hired workers from Philadelphia early on election day, before they fanned out with their fraudulent brochures.

Today's Washington Post cites an anonymous source associated with Erhlich's campaign as saying that the purpose of the fliers was to "peel away one or two percentage points in jurisdictions where the governor would be running behind." That, of course, might be enough to swing a particularly close election.

Republicans would be unwise to select Steele as RNC chairman with this scandal hanging over his head. Instead of courting black voters, they might simply end up further offending African-Americans if they install as their party's chief a man who tried to trick blacks into voting for him.

Indeed, if Republicans are serious about seeking votes from African-Americans, they should ask for a vigorous and complete investigation of the actions of the Steele/Ehrlich campaigns, as well as push for guidelines making clear that these kind of campaign tactics are not to be tolerated. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Macaca Helped, But Allen's Novel Attack Put Webb Over The Top

We couldn't resist one more post on the election. Many pundits have blamed George Allen's macaca moment for costing him the election and giving the Senate to the Democrats.

While the macaca insult certainly was critical--it allowed challenger Jim Webb to get into the race and raise considerable money at a crucial point in the campaign--it's not what won the election for Webb.

Instead, the race wasn't sealed until just three weeks before election day, when George Allen's campaign made the catastrophic strategic blunder of attacking Webb's novels, for containing sexually explicit scenes. We carefully monitored the polls in the two months before election day, and while Webb had closed to within four points of Allen by early September (thanks largely to macaca), he hadn't been able to close the gap any further.

Indeed, a handy chart of poll averages on plainly shows that Allen enjoyed a small, but stable lead from early September until about October 21. It was then that Allen's genius campaign staff finally managed to get the Drudge Report to post a piece on the sexually explicit scenes in some of Webb's novels, pushing the Allen camp's message that this was further evidence of Webb's purported hostility to women.

The move clearly backfired. Over the next week, Webb's poll numbers went up, while Allen's trailed slightly downward, with Webb passing Allen for the first time in the poll averages on about October 29. The day after Allen's ill-advised attack, Webb's campaign website received more than 170,000 hits in 24 hours. "That," said Jim Webb, "is when I said, 'I think I am going to win.'"

The polls confirm this. Allen didn't really lose much support so much as Webb gained--the effect of team Allen's brilliant strategy evidently was to swing undecided voters to Webb. We think a lot of those were folks pretty disgusted with Allen up to that point, but as yet unwilling to embrace Webb, who they still thought of as an unknown.

Webb soon peaked and then levelled off as John Kerry's gaffe made the headlines. Fortunately, Webb was finally running two very positive ads--one with former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who remains very popular in the state, praising Webb's leadership qualities, and the other with Webb himself finally telling voters who he was. As a result, Webb was able to keep those undecideds who moved toward him after Allen's novel attack.

In the end, Webb's narrow--9000 vote--victory was pretty much what the polls predicted.

So there you have it: macaca made the race competitive, but it wasn't until Allen's campaign lost its cool and attacked Webb's fiction writing that the race was really decided. (We have heard some similar theories that Harold Ford blew it in Tennessee when he made the desperate-looking move of confronting his opponent, Bob Corker, in person at a Corker press conference.)

Ironically, Webb carried Dickenson County, the far southwestern jurisdiction on the Virginia's border with Kentucky where Allen made his infamous macaca and "welcome to the real Virginia" comment to S.R. Sidarth, a dark-skinned Webb campaign worker of Indian-American heritage who, it so happened, is a Virginia native.

In a Washington Post piece today, Sidarth wrote that Allen's actions that day stood out precisely because they were at odds with the hospitality, dignity, respect and kindness he received as he followed the Allen campaign with a video camera as a "tracker." "I cannot recall one event where food was served and I was not invited to join in the meal," he said. As one kind woman said to him "political differences are set aside at the dinner table." That is the Virginia we know, too.

We think political campaigns are a lot like football. Many of the contests are between mismatched opponents, with predictable outcomes. But, in the more competitive races, a few big plays, a dropped ball, a fumble and some bad strategic decisions can mean the difference between victory and defeat. And every now and then, an underdog comes along and, playing a good game, pulls off an upset after the heavily favored team makes some really stupid mistakes.

Allen could still have won the game after fumbling on macaca. But then his coaches called for a risky pass play--attacking Webb's novels--when good strategy called for running out the clock. Webb intercepted and ran it back for a game-winning touchdown. We don't think Allen's father, legendary coach of the Redskins, would have sent his son such a bum play. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 10, 2006

It's A Wrap: Webb Cements Democratic Majority In Senate

We here at the Curmudgeon are looking forward to blogging on something besides politics--especially the Virginia Senate race--in coming days.

For now, however, we're still riding high on Jim Webb's victory--once thought improbable--that put the Dems over the top in the Senate.

The Curmudgeon endorsed Webb early on, during the Democratic primary race, arguing that Webb was just the right candidate to take on George Allen. With quite a bit of help from Allen himself, it turned out we were right.

Working on Webb's Northern Virginia finance committee, we were energized by all the deeply committed volunteers we kept running into, as well as the extraordinarily positive response we got from friends and neighbors as we promoted Jim's campaign and solicited funds to make sure his message could be heard.

About three weeks before the election, we became convinced that Jim had sufficient momentum to carry him across the finish line in first--polls showed real movement and Allen's camp appeared increasingly desperate. It became clear that real enthusiasm existed out there as Webb's campaign rallies grew in energy and spontaneity.

Still, the last few days were agonizing. We're convinced that John Kerry's stupid remarks on the Iraq war stalled the momentum Webb had built up, as well as that of other campaigns. We felt Webb had peaked--the question was whether the peak was high enough.

As the returns came in election night, we moped around at a friend's election party while the rest of the Democrats in the room celebrated victory after victory. As we left the party around 11:00 pm, we felt like we had fallen just short of winning--with nearly 90% of the precincts reporting, Allen was still up by thousands of votes.

Yet, after getting home and carefully studying the Virginia Board of Elections website, we became convinced that some large batches of Webb votes were still outstanding (especially absentee ballots from Fairfax, Arlington and Richmond). Sure enough, the gap closed rapidly and by about midnight Webb had a small lead.

Readers of the Curmudgeon will know that we predicted Webb's lead would widen a bit as the final precincts reported, and that's exactly what happened. We also predicted that Webb's lead would hold up as Virginia began it's canvass of the votes and finalized the vote tally--again, we were correct. Indeed, Webb's lead of 7000 votes as of Wednesday morning gradually climbed to 9000 by late yesterday.

We thank George Allen for conceding when he did. It was the right thing to do, and allows Allen to go out on a high note. We've said some not so nice things about Senator Allen here, but in the end he went out in a Virginia tradition of honor and civility, and we appreciate that.

Yesterday, we took the kids to see Jim Webb's press conference/rally at Arlington's Courthouse Plaza. We stood not 20 feet away from Jim, along with his wife Hong Le, Tim Kaine and Chuck Schumer, surrounded by a happy, festive crowd of supporters--some of the large army of enthusiastic volunteers who won this race.

The kids were restless as we waited for everything to get started, but once it got going, they sensed the historical moment (which, of course, is why we dragged them over to the rally in the first place). Too often in recent years we've been on the opposite side, trying not to be too depressed as our candidate delivered a concession speech. So it was a fantastic feeling to stand there, in triumph, knowing that in such a close race, our work was critical, and realizing just how important the victory was.

To those readers who also helped out: THANKS!

We may have some other post-mortem thoughts, but for now we're going to take a bit of a break and then return to some non-political postings (before we take on the '08 Presidential campaign). Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Virginia Election Returns: Complete Guide To What Happens Next In the Senate Race Between Jim Webb and George Allen (And Why Webb Wins)

As a service to our readers and to those around the country with an obvious interest in the final outcome of the Virginia Senate race, here's a complete guide to where the race stands and what will happen over the next few days and possibly weeks to get to a final vote tally. Our conclusion is that Webb's 7000+ current vote margin will stand and he will be the new Senator from Virginia.

First, where can you find the most up-to-date official information on the election? Go to the Virginia Board of Elections (VBE) website, which is very easy to use and is updated frequently, at:

As of this post, Webb's lead is 7316 votes.

If you looked at the VBE website earlier today, you would've seen that all but three out of 2443 precincts (99.87%) had reported. Now, however, the website says that approximately 95% of precincts (2464 of 2599) have reported. That's a bit misleading: all but three of those "new" missing precincts are simply to report results of "conditional" ballots, of which there are very few--less than 10 for most jurisdictions. The conditional ballots have been dividing evenly between Webb and Allen and so won't budge the numbers when they're all counted.

We have looked at all the missing precincts and believe that no more than 6000 votes (out of 2.4 million total cast) are yet to be posted. Even under the rosiest possible scenario, Allen would not snag more than 60% of those (we think it will be closer to 52%), meaning he could only close the gap by, at most, 1200 votes (we think it will be a lot less).

So, what happens next? Virginia is no Florida. We have effective, efficient and nonpartisan election boards who pride themselves on their professionalism.

Over the next few days, the local boards will conduct a canvass--essentially an audit of the votes they reported to the VBE on election night. The canvass will change a few votes, but they usually are not in one direction. The only exception would be if the election board in a large county made a big mistake--like omitting to report the votes from several machines (all jurisdictions in Virginia used electronic voting machines in this election--we haven't had problems with them in prior elections).

The canvass can change a few votes here and there. Last year, in a very close statewide election for attorney general, the Republican candidate, Bob McConnell led by roughly 1800 votes--out of more than 2 million cast--before the canvass began. In the canvass process, his lead dwindled to about 320 votes. (We don't know if there is anything in the process that tends to favor Democrats--we doubt it.) So it is possible we could see some erosion--or increase--in Webb's margin. We are not aware of any instance in Virginia where the canvass (done in all races) moved a result by more than 7000 votes.

By November 27, the VBE must certify the results of the election. Assuming Allen is still behind by roughly the same margin, he would have 10 days--starting after the certification--to request a recount. Given the current margin--less than a half percent difference between Webb and Allen--the state/local boards would be required to pay for the recount.

A recount in Virginia, however, is really more accurately described as a retabulation, i.e., re-checking again the numbers from the canvass.

Republican lawyers could try to seek a more extensive recount, but they aren't likely to get it--the precedent was established just last year in the statewide recount of the Attorney General's race described above. In that case, the Republican, McConnell, had the slight lead (a few hundred votes) and so the REPUBLICANS successfully resisted a complete recount. They now get to live with that decision.

In the recount a year ago, fewer than 100 votes changed. That's not surprising since the recount is simply a re-canvass of the thorough canvass that already took place.

So what does that mean in the current race? It means Allen's best hope is that some major mistake is found in the initial canvass, and that it somehow favors Allen. It would have to be pretty huge to erase a 7000 vote margin. Bear in mind that mistakes rarely favor one candidate exclusively.

So let's say that 60 percent of the mistakes found in the canvass favor Allen. There would have to be something like 35,000-40,000 mistaken votes in total to close the gap. We think that's next to impossible (barring fraud).

So, for now, we'll sit back and let the process work. If, as we think will be the case, the margin for Webb remains above 5000 votes when the VBE certifies its results, we hope Allen will forego a recount given the miniscule chance of it changing anything. It would be better to save the state that money.

(And before you go and say, "well, Mr. Curmudgeon, that didn't stop Democrats from demanding a recount in the AG race in 2005" please bear in mind that the margin at the beginning of that recount was barely more than 300 votes, AND that we had no experience with a statewide recount. Now, we have that experience and we can be confident that a re-canvass is not going to overcome a 5000 vote margin.)

Let us know if you have any questions about the process--we'd be happy to answer them.

Virginia Election Results: Counting The Conditional Votes

For those carefully following the Virginia Senate race on the Virginia Board of Elections website, you will note that there are suddenly another 156 precincts, many of which haven't yet reported.

Don't worry--the VBE is now tallying "conditional votes" from the various counties, classifying them as separate precincts (similar to the way absentee ballots are classified). The numbers will be small and won't change Webb's margin significantly--may boost it a bit.

There are also some minor changes coming in as county election boards conduct their routine canvasses to correct mistakes made in election night reporting. This process also should not significantly change Webb's current 7000 vote margin.

For more info on why Webb has already won this, see the post BELOW, as well as its updates.

The media should call this one for Webb, just as they called Tester's 2000 vote margin in Montana.

Virginia Election Results: Webb Wins It--Pay No Attention To The Media

The national media are saying that the Virginia Senate race is still "too close to call."

Baloney. Webb has won it. It was close, but he's won. Here's why:

[Note: See periodic updates at the bottom.]

As of 8:40 a.m., the Virginia Board of Elections has posted results for all but six out of 2443 precincts in the state. That includes the absentee ballots from more than 90 percent of the counties and cities in Virginia.

At this point, Webb leads by 6931 votes. The six precincts that haven't reported are almost all absentee ballots from smaller counties (in Virginia, absentee ballots count as a separate precinct). They break down as follows:

Halifax County: Absentee ballots. Leans Allen.
Isle of Wight County: Absentee ballots. Leans Allen.
James City County: Absentee ballots, one regular precinct.
Loudon County: Absentee ballots, even split.
Fairfax City: Absentee ballots. Leans Webb.

We are pretty confident that the total number of outstanding votes from these precincts is less than 10,000, but even if it was double that, Allen would have to win nearly 75% to close the gap, and that simply is not going to happen. Most likely, Webb will still have about a 7000 vote edge when the missing precincts report.

So, what about a recount?

A recount is not going to swing 8000 votes, or anything close to that. There is clear precedent for what will happen now: last year, there was a much closer statewide race for Attorney General, which resulted in a recount. The Republican candidate led by just a few hundred votes after election day, but his lead held up through every stage of the certification, challenge and recount process.

Today, you will see some fluctuation in the numbers on the State Board website (which is at: ). This will occur as counties reconcile their totals from last night and make a few final adjustments. I watched this process occur in the AG race last year and the movement is generally random--Webb will pick up a few here and lose a few there, but things won't change too much.

A recount--if demanded by Allen--won't start until late this month, after the Board of Elections certifies the numbers. Last year, the statewide recount changed fewer than 100 votes. We think George Allen may actually rise above the hue and cry and NOT ask for a recount, since last year's experience shows it likely to be completely futile.

UPDATE 1 (10:00 a.m.):

With only four precincts now outstanding (Isle of Wight, James City County (2), and Fairfax City), Webb leads by 7146 votes. Loudon reported its absentees and added to Webb's margin by about 100 votes.

UPDATE 2: (12:30 p.m.):

Now there are only three precincts left to report and Webb leads by 7312 votes.

The three remaining are (1) the Raynor precinct in Isle of Wight County (probably 400-600 votes total--Allen took 57% in the rest of the county), (2) a group of absentee ballots from James City County (probably less than 1500 votes--Allen polled 53% in the county), and (3) the Roberts B precinct in James City County--this may just be a typo on the VBE website, as the same precinct is listed twice, with results reported once. Even if not a typo, the precinct wouldn't have more than about 1500 votes.

(We suspect James City County is trying to resolve the internal conflict: are we a city? are we a county?)

Bottom line: Webb wins.


In the past half hour (around 4:30 p.m.) the Virginia Election Board amended its website to add another 156 precincts. Don't worry! All they've done is add spaces to tally "conditional votes" from each county and/or city. These numbers will be small and roughly in proportion to vote totals already tallied. Webb's 7000+ margin should hold through this process.

Local boards are also conducting a routine canvass--this is simply double-checking their numbers, making sure, for example, that 365 votes didn't get reported as 356 votes in the rush last night. Again, this process is not likely to move the overall margin absent a really major snafu.

Virginia Election Results: Why Webb Will Win--The Final Precincts

[See updates at bottom--this one's over. CNN is missing the story.]

Here's where it stands in Virginia as of 1:30 a.m., with the Curmudgeon about to go to bed:

(All data is from the Virginia State Board of Elections website)

Webb leads by 1524 votes with only 13 precincts yet to report, out of 2443 total precincts.

The precincts that have not yet reported are almost all absentee ballots, mostly from larger counties/cities that gave Webb pretty wide margins of victory.

Those include absentee ballots in Arlington County, Fairfax County, Fairfax City and Richmond City, all of which went heavily for (56% to 72%) for Webb. In addition, there are absentee ballots from Loudon county, which went narrowly for Webb. There are also two regular precincts yet to report from Richmond City, which Webb carried by a margin of 72%-26%. All of these are large jurisdictions with lots of absentee ballots.

The remaining precincts are absentee ballots and a couple of missing regular precincts from smaller counties that went for Allen: Halifax, Isle of Wight, and James City County.

Even if the absentee ballots tilt a bit more Republican than the election day ballots, we think Webb will run up an additional margin of several thousand votes by the time all the ballots are counted (as much as 10,000--there are thousands of absentee ballots in Fairfax and Arlington).

We hope we're right.

Oh, and as for a recount: we had one last year in the Attorney General race. The margin was less than a 1000 votes and a complete statewide recount resulted in a change of only a handful. If Webb is up by several thousand votes, that should be it.


We didn't go to bed yet, but our analysis is right. As of 2:00 a.m., Webb's lead has increased to 7811 votes after Fairfax and Arlington reported their absentee ballots and Richmond reported two missing precincts.

There are now only 9 precincts left, one of which is Richmond City's absentee ballots. We expect Webb to win by about 10,000 votes!

Update 2:

With 8 precincts left, Webb is up by 7634. The most recent precinct to report was Virginia Beach City, which gave Allen a slight margin on absentee ballots. We expect Webb to pick up a couple thousand votes from Richmond City and Fairfax City absentee ballots, and Allen to pick up a few hundred votes from the smaller counties that are still out.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Where To Find Virginia Election Results

For the most up-to-the-minute Virginia election results, go to the Virginia Board of Elections website at:

Polls close at 7:00 pm, results will start soon thereafter.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Please vote tomorrow (if you haven't already). This is an important election. We have had six years of Republican monopoly in our federal government and it's time to vote on how they've been doing.

If you're satisfied--you think we're "winning" the war in Iraq, or on our way to winning with a sound strategy and good leadership; if you think our country is headed in the right direction on energy, the environment, economic fairness, immigration and foreign affairs; if you think that fighting the war on terror is best done by leaving Osama Bin Laden alone for six years and creating conditions in Iraq that make it easy for Islamic extremists to recruit new fighters; then by all means, you should vote Republican and for George Allen.

If you're not happy with the way things are going--incompetence in government abetted by cronyism and partisanship in appointing key personnel; corruption in a Congress ruled by earmarks and favoritism for special interests with lobbying clout; unquestioning fealty to a President whose war policies have created an unwinnable quagmire in Iraq; environmental policies dictated by oil companies who question global warming; fiscal irresponsibility combined with tax cuts tilted to the richest five percent of our citizens; fear-mongering and baiting with social issues; a Medicare drug program designed by pharmaceutical companies; and much, much more, then vote Democratic.

We especially hope you'll vote for Jim Webb for Senate in Virginia, a true independent, non-politician running as a Democrat. Jim is but one voice, but he will be a voice of reason and independence in what will surely still be a partisan Congress, regardless of how this election turns out.

The Senate race will be close. Today, one new poll, from Survey USA, has Webb up by eight points (52-44)--the biggest lead he's had in any poll. Yet, another poll, from Gallup (for USA today) has Allen up by three points. They can't both be right, and in any event only one poll counts--the one tomorrow. Taking all the polls together, the momentum has been with Jim Webb the last few weeks, but its still anybody's ballgame. (Hey, look at how the Redskins won yesterday!)

So go out and VOTE! Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 03, 2006

Jim Webb and Women: Actions Speak Loudly As Women Run His Campaign

George Allen, who voted against a law that would protect working women by allowing them to take UNPAID leave from their jobs for family emergencies, is spending millions on misleading ads to convince voters that Jim Webb is "demeaning" to women.

Here's the truth: Webb's campaign is practically run by women, who he obviously has trusted with the most important positions of responsibility around him. His campaign manager: Jessica Vandenberg, a competent skilled advisor who has been with Webb from the start and helped him win a tough primary race and make George Allen sweat like never before.

His campaign treasurer: Ingrid Morroy (pictured above), Arlington' County's popular and efficient treasurer and also a supporter from the earliest days of the campaign.

Webb's campaign spokesperson: Kristian Todd Denney. Denney is literally the face of the campaign for countless press inquiries and responses, clearly a position of responsibility. Again, with the campaign from the start.

Finance director? Ashley Flanagan. And the list goes on. These aren't women recruited after Allen started his diversionary attacks--they were selected by Webb for positions of responsibility from the start.

Webb's wife, Hong Le, is also a working mother. A securities lawyer in a major law firm, with a nine-year-old daughter, Hong Le is pregnant, due in December, and still working. Webb has not demanded of his wife that she give up her career--or even take an unpaid leave--to go off and help his campaign.

While George Allen's wife, Susan, may be a popular figure, she is playing the traditional "stand by my man" figurehead role of a political wife, hardly a great role model for women.

So, what about those novels Webb wrote in which he allegedly demeans women? You could just as easily say they demean men. As with any work of fiction, there are good characters and there are bad. These are novels of wartime, and they have some pretty awful male characters. And they are FICTION for gosh sakes.

Allen's campaign, abetted by the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, is also running ads saying Webb called the Tailhook scandal a "witchhunt". We dealt with that particularly misleading low blow a couple weeks ago: what Webb said is that after a "botched investigation" into the "inexcusable harassment of women at a Las Vegas convention of naval aviators," the situation was threatening to turn into a "witchhunt".

Webb's article opposing admission of women to the Naval Academy, written 30 years ago, does contain unfortunate language for which Webb has apologized. When it came time for action,--when Webb served as Navy Secretary--he didn't hesitate to promote women into positions of responsibility.

We wonder what Allen's views were on women back then, when he was running around using the N-word behind the backs of black football players at U.Va.?

Fiction can be fascinating, but shouldn't be confused with fact. Allen's depiction of Webb on women's issues is fiction. Jim Webb's actions speak loudly to the point. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Does Big Halloween Night Presage Heavy Turnout for Election?

Last night we had a huge turnout of trick-or-treaters for Halloween. Could a big turnout of costumed munchkins presage a big turnout of Arlington Democrats in the election next week?

We doubt there's a connection. After all, last night was perfect for trick-or-treating, with evening temperatures in the low-60's.

For awhile there, we thought we might even run out of candy, the ghosts, goblins and washing machines (yes, we saw a youngster dressed as one) came streaming by.

If there were a contest for best trick-or-treating street in America, we would nominate the roughly ten block stretch of Key Blvd. in Arlington's Lyon Village. Lined with well-kept, upscale homes on both sides of the street, Key is mostly flat and has sidewalks on both sides. Lots are small, so the houses are cozily close to each other. As a result, Key Blvd. is a destination spot for trick-or-treaters--many parents drive their tykes over from other parts of the county to make their candy collections.

The residents of Key Blvd. are used to the two hours of nonstop door knocking and bell-ringing between 6:30 and 8:30 on Halloween night. Many find it easier simply to just sit on the porch or the front stoop and hand out candy to the crowd, rather than answering the door.

We took our pint-sized "fat sumo wrestler"--dressed in a plastic suit with a cheap fan to inflate it--on the Key Blvd. walk with his two friends, and they managed to literally fill their bags with candy to the point they were complaining about having to drag them around.

Best of all, we counted 10 Webb signs and only one Allen sign. Here's hoping for a similarly robust turnout in Arlington--which typically votes 65%+ Democratic--next Tuesday.