Monday, December 31, 2007

The Pointless NFL Network

The other day, football fans had a real treat: the Patriots, trying for a perfect season, were visiting the New York Giants, who had nothing on the line, but nonetheless played a magnificent game, almost, but not quite, derailing New England, thus leaving the storybook ending intact.

The game originally was scheduled to air only on the NFL's in-house cable network, which reaches only 40% of U.S. households. The NFL tried to use the game to bludgeon cable providers into caving into the NFL's obscene demands for carrying their network, but few budged. So, at the last moment, the NFL relented and allowed the game to be carried on both NBC and CBS (and in the New York local market, on ABC too).

But the game announcers and promotional ads were supplied by the NFL Network, so viewers who hadn't previously had a chance to tune in got a sample of what they were missing.

Which turns out to be: NOTHING.

The NFL Network was conceived by rich men to make them richer. But it's a rip-off, and the cable providers should continue to resist. In a nutshell, here's what the NFL Network has to offer: about 8 football games a year, a few worth seeing. The rest is nothing--re-runs; re-runs of re-runs; commentary; and just plain silliness.

You'd have to be a hard-core football addict--no, you'd have to be a mentally impaired hard-core football addict (or a professional football player)--to find anything on the NFL Network worth watching the rest of the year.

Still, the NFL insists that it's network should be placed on a par with other cable premium channels--and not relegated to a fee-based "sports tier." As part of their argument, the football heads at the NFL say, well there's a channel for women, and a channel for golf, and a channel for cartoons, etc. so why not a channel for football.

First, it's not a football channel. Second, a channel like the Golf Channel has appeal to the millions of people who happen to PLAY golf. There's only about 1000 people who play professional football. Third, these other channels have a reasonably full slate of shows to watch--certainly more than roughly 32 hours of prime TV (that's 8 four-hour football games) per year. Fourth, many of these cable channels carry programming you wouldn't get on the broadcast networks--not so the NFL Network--NBC, CBS, ABC, ESPN, FOX, they ALL carry NFL football.

Instead, the NFL Network wants to compete with the hand that feeds it, and force all of us to pay (indirectly--they want the cost hidden) for something we already get for "free" (if you can suffer through three minutes of beer and car commercials both before and after each kick-off).

And it's not as if the NFL Network is offering commercial free games--now that might be worth something!

Now the NFL Network's "season" is over. Call your cable provider and tell them: you don't want this scam of a cable channel, at least not in the basic or premium cable tier. Clearly, those few who just cannot get enough NFL already are ready, willing and able to PAY for it themselves.

Republican Strategery

The latest Rasmussen national poll shows Republicans thoroughly divided and not very happy: McCain leads with 17%, followed by Huckabee and Romney at 16%, Giuliani at 15%, Thompson at 12% and Paul at 7%. That's tight. And that's a lot of undecided voters--about a third.

That means the candidates will need to use some good strategery if they want to win. So how's that going?

Well, just for laughs, you might want to take a look at this unintentionally funny memo from Brent Seaborn, Rudy G's "Strategy Director," entitled "Rudy's National Campaign is Looking Good."

Talk about rose colored glasses, or drinking the Kool-aid! Right now, Giuliani is poised to come in fourth or fifth in Iowa and as low as sixth in New Hampshire. He won't do well in SC, or in the 'tweener contests--Michigan, Wyoming and Nevada. And his once large lead in Florida has evaporated, along with his smaller, but once steady, lead in national polls.

If that's "looking good" then Frankenstein was indeed a handsome man.

For a more dispassionate view, take a look at Dean Barnett's analysis in the Weakly Standard, "State of the Race." Barnett's got it right, taking both Thompson and Giuliani's political advisors to task, saying that Rudy's political people (that would be Mr. Seaborn, among others) "should have their licenses to politically consult suspended through the 2012 election."

Right now, it looks like it will come down to a mean, dirty fight between McCain and Romney, but with a good chance that neither will have enough delegates to win it outright.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Big Storm Puts Dent In Southeast Drought

The Great Southeastern Drought of 2007 may finally be starting to break up as a series of storms have brought rain to much of the Southeast in the past couple of months.

Here's a map showing yesterday's rainfall, with heavy amounts covering much of the hardest hit areas (which got more rain today).

Big Step Forward For Bloomberg Indie Run

Next week, as Iowa voters go to the caucus, former Oklahoma Senator David Boren--now President of the University of Oklahoma--will host an important meeting of leading Democrats and Republicans interested in forming a bipartisan independent bid for the Presidency.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be there, along with such center of the road political luminaries as Sam Nunn, Chuck Robb, Chuck Hegel, John Danforth and Christine Todd Whitman.

For much more detail, see David Broder's story in today's Washington Post--"Bipartisan Group Eyes Independent Bid." This could be an extremely important meeting, potentially sealing the launch of a major indie run by Bloomberg, which we have predicted for some time will come to pass. As Broder puts it, the list of major political heavyweights from both parties who have agreed to attend the meeting "suggests that the group could muster the financial and political firepower to make the threat of such a candidacy real."

A Bloomberg run could really change the political calculus come November. While we'd have to rate the chances of Bloomberg winning the Presidency as a long shot, he has potentially a better opportunity to win in 2008 than any independent candidate since WWII.

What factors are more likely to make Mayor Mike run, and to give him a greater chance of winning?

1. If the Democrats nominate either Hillary Clinton or John Edwards, the likelihood of a Bloomberg run goes up. Hillary is viewed as a divisive figure with high negatives, while Edwards' "two nations" populist appeal is hardly a theme for unity. Both candidates would be viewed with deep suspicion by independents and opposite party moderates. In contrast, Barack Obama projects bipartisan themes with appeal to independents--his nomination reduces the likelihood of a Bloomberg run.

2. If the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, or Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg is also more likely to run. If the GOP goes with McCain, then Bloomberg may stand down, especially if it's McCain versus Obama.

3. If it's Giuliani or Romney versus Hillary, we think a Bloomberg run is certain--and deserved. Such a race would be extraordinarily bitter and divisive, a big turn-off to most independents, and would leave an opening for Bloomberg large enough to win.

Still, Bloomberg would have to think long and hard about it. Absent winning, his candidacy would likely change the complexion of the race, probably helping the Democrat, but not necessarily so. Furthermore, if he were to get enough electoral votes to prevent either major party candidate from obtaining a majority, he'd throw the race into the House of Representatives, where Democrats currently hold sway--and likely will after this coming election.

Bloomberg may still see value in running, even if he can't win. If he runs on a theme of unity and bipartisanship, he may force both major party candidates to similarly embrace such themes and run more toward the center, which would not be such a bad thing at all. One caveat for Mr. Bloomberg: if he's paying any attention to the current race, he knows the process has the effect of making everyone look small and flawed. Surely the billionaire has some skeletons in his own closet that he might just as soon keep in the dark.

Our bet: Bloomberg will run. BUT if Obama is the Democratic nominee, then we put the odds at less than 50-50.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reckless Maryland Woman Kills Virginia Father and Son

A couple of days ago, a Maryland woman driving her enormous Cadillac Escalade SUV on the shoulder of Route 15 during rush hour traffic at what one witness described as 100 mph hit another car, then swerved into oncoming traffic, smashing into a car driven by Virginian Scott Stegner and his teenage son, killing both of them.

The Maryland woman, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, died too.

So what, you say--it's tragic, but it happens all the time.

It shouldn't. The Maryland driver, age 27, had already managed to amass several drunken-driving and speeding arrests, had been cited for driving on a suspended license, and faced an upcoming trial for "first degree escape."

This is purely anecdotal, but our observation over the years has been that Maryland has some of the worst drivers on the East Coast. You see wildly reckless driving so frequently in Maryland that you wonder if they have any traffic enforcement at all. And, more often than not, when we see someone doing something really stupid in Northern Virginia--like driving 30 mph faster than anyone else or weaving in out like crazy--it's in a car with Maryland tags.

Bad driving exists everywhere--it's certainly not unique to Maryland. But Maryland seems to have developed a culture of really bad driving, combined with poor enforcement efforts, that have contributed to the kind of deadly scenario that occurred on Route 15. That the Maryland woman killed herself while driving like a maniac would be bad enough in and of itself, but for her to take two innocent lives in the process indicts a larger systemic failure.

Friday, December 28, 2007

McCain's Secret Romney Ad

From Slate, here's the Romney/McCain ad duel--Romney's ad is running; McCain's should be.

The Green Curmudgeon

With 2007 coming to a close, we thought it time to review how the Curmudgeon family did in its efforts during the year to reduce our large footprint on the world.

Electric Consumption

We did best in reducing our consumption of electricity. With our solar panels at work for the full year, we generated roughly 2600 kilowatt hours of emission-free renewable solar power, offsetting between 20-25% of our electricity needs.

We also had the first full year of benefit from our other conservation measures, including replacement of most of our light bulbs with compact fluorescents and turning off most of our electronics when not in use. Those measures--which cost a lot less than putting in solar panels--had about the same impact, reducing our consumption by about 2800 kilowatt hours.

All in all, we reduced our electric consumption by a third, from 15,800 kwh in 2006 to 10,400 kwh in 2007. Even more impressive is that since 2004 we have reduced consumption by TWO-THIRDS, from 29,400 kwh to 10,400 kwh. One key: in 2004 we had an electric heater in our greenhouse that used roughly 10,000 kwh by itself, just to keep a little room at about 55 degrees. We replaced the greenhouse with a very well-insulated sunroom, which is pretty much paying for itself in energy savings. (That's our greenhouse effect.)

A word to the wise: if you are using electric heat anywhere in your house, it's probably costing you a bundle. We have some friends in Scarsdale, NY, who had an enormous electric bill, and discovered one of the prime reasons was the electric heating in their garage.

It will be difficult for us to reduce electric consumption much further, absent a new, more efficient air conditioner. One of our a/c units is pretty old, so that upgrade may not be too far off.

Natural Gas Consumption

We've also made some progress in reducing our consumption of natural gas, which we use for hot water, heating, cooking and fireplaces.

In 2004-05 we averaged 2350 Therms of gas use, whereas in 2006-07 we averaged 1960 Therms, a nearly 20% reduction. We've done that without making our home uncomfortable--we keep the thermostat at 71 degrees, lest Mrs. Curmudgeon complain.

The keys, so far: turn down the thermostat when out of town; put in a storm door; turn down the heat in unused zones of the house (like the guest bedroom).

We need to do more, and are thinking of the following: programmable thermostats (to turn down the heat late at night) and replacing our older windows with today's double-paned energy efficient versions. Both of those steps will probably cost a good deal more than the savings they will generate, however (we have four thermostats and lots of old windows). We could also get a more efficient hot water heater, although hot water only accounts for about 150 Therms per year, so there's no big savings to be had there.

The good news is that natural gas is a very efficient energy medium for the uses to which we've put it--heating--so we're doing pretty well even without additional reductions.


Our progress in reducing gasoline consumption has been slow because we haven't replaced any cars in the last three years. We estimate that we have reduced consumption by about 10% by changing our driving habits--more coasting to stop lights, slower acceleration, better highway speeds.

In 2008 we may replace one car, and in 2009 the lease will be up on the Curmudgeon's Acura. We hope to get much more efficient replacements for both, but we can't be too radical--we still have to ferry two boys and all their stuff--and the occasional friends--all over creation. And we're pretty sure that "travel soccer" will result in an increased carbon burden as we travel farther afield to get to the games.

Solid Waste

We made good progress this year in boosting our recycling and reducing our garbage/trash. We are now meticulous about what goes into recycling--not just newspapers and magazines, but mail, school flyers, cereal boxes, other food containers. We also save all those plastic bags that the newspapers come in, along with the ones from stores, and put them into the plastic bag recycling at the grocery store. That has probably resulted in a couple thousand less plastic bags at the landfill from us this year. And we're religious about recycling cardboard, plastic bottles, metal cans--anything that is eligible for recycling.

We've also started doing some composting, but we could do better. So far, we're probably only fattening up our local squirrels, but a resolution for the new year is to come up with a good system to maximize composting.

Still, we put a lot of trash out each week. It'd be nice to reduce it further.


Water is not energy per se, but it is a precious resource and it takes a lot of energy to get it to and from your home, so it's worth looking at how much you're using. We just started looking into this, creating a baseline of water use over the past three years so we can figure out whether we're making any meaningful reductions.

With this summer's drought, we certainly wished we'd had some rain barrels. Typically, a barrel will hold 50 gallons of water, and even a small rain storm will re-fill it. We could easily put out four rain barrels--one on each corner downspout--and with re-fills get several thousand gallons of water over the course of the spring/summer/early fall watering season.


Organic products and other renewable products obtained from sustainable practices also reduce energy needs and conserve the environment. We are gradually adding more organic products to our diet--eating out less would help(!)--and trying to incorporate sustainability into our purchasing decisions. It ain't easy, though.

Our bottom line: we made terrific progress in 2007, but we've probably harvested all the low-hanging fruit. It's doubtful we'll make as much progress in 2008, but our hope is that we will continue to reduce our collective Curmudgeon-household footprint as we go forward.

Romney's Willie Horton/Wayne Dumond

No surprise here: Mitt Romney has his own early-released prisoner turned murderer problem from his days as Massachusetts governor.

It's only fair, since Romney has repeatedly bashed Huckabee as "soft on crime" for the release of Arkansas murderer Wayne Dumond, who later killed again in Missouri.

In this case, as reported by the Boston Globe, the killer is Daniel Tavares. After killing a mother in Massachusetts, Tavares was imprisoned in 1991. Facing many years of jail time, Tavares nonetheless managed to accumulate loads of "good time" days that could reduce his sentence--DESPITE the fact that he was involved in numerous incidents of assault on prison guards and others.

Shortly after his early release this year--based on the good time credits--Tavares travelled across the country and murdered a newlywed couple in Graham, Washington.

How does the Mittster fit in? During Romney's administration, a number of incidents involving Tavares that would have cancelled out some of his "good time" credits were never registered, thus allowing the dangerous felon out of jail a year early.

Is it the same as the Wayne Dumond case for which Huckabee has been criticized? No--it appears the Huckabee personally intervened for Dumond, whereas Romney is just guilty of poor oversight of his minions (undercutting his claim that he would be the master of good government based on his business background).

Still, since Romney's campaign has been unrelenting in its negative advertising against Huckabee, Romney deserves the slam. We continue to say that Romney is the biggest hypocrite in a field of hypocrites.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Unlike Huckabee, McCain Hits Back At Romney

Faced with Huckabee's rise in Iowa, Mitt Romney did what his professionals programmed him to do: go negative on the Huckster.

The Baptist minister's response, so far, has largely been to turn the other cheek and deflect Romney's attacks with humor and grace. While Romney's attacks are having some impact on Big Mike's campaign, they haven't really helped Romney--indeed, they may be opening the door to McCain in Iowa.

Meanwhile, while Romney was trying to drag Huckabee into the mudpit in Iowa, McCain began gaining on the Mittster in New Hampshire, so, once again, Romney went negative.

But McCain is no Baptist minister. Instead, as the Washington Post's Chris Cilizza documents here, McCain has chosen to punch back, and he hits hard. Our favorite: "Welcome to Mitt Romney's bizarro world, in which everyone is guilty of his sins. He didn't support Ronald Reagan. He didn't support President Bush's tax cuts. He raised taxes in Massachusetts by $700 million. He knows John McCain is gaining on him so he does what any small varmint gun totin', civil rights marching, NRA endorsed fantasy candidate would do: he questions someone else's credibility. New Hampshire is on to you, Mitt. Give it a rest. It's Christmas."

Frankly, it's about time someone nailed Romney.

One Week To Showtime In Iowa!

After a brief holiday break to catch up with the Curmudgeonly relatives at a family gathering in Raleigh, we're back, with just one week until the Iowa caucuses.

After a year of watching the crowded fields of candidates run their marathon, it's fun to finally get to the sprint, especially with the runners pacing each other neck and neck. Let's take a moment to review where we are, how we got here, and (of course) some Curmudgeon predictions.


For a year now, it seemed like Hillary was inevitable. That is, unless you took her numbers and compared them to the combined numbers of her opponents.

Now, Hillary doesn't look so inevitable. Obama has finally energized his own supporters and emerged as a credible threat, and we think this race could go down to the wire. We've always liked Obama's fairly patient strategy of biding his time and running a national campaign. A lot of folks thought he'd stumble along the way--the fact that he hasn't is enough, by itself, to get him additional support.

We never liked Edwards' strategy, which was to concentrate all his effort on Iowa, and to focus on poverty as his big issue. Edwards comes across as a phony on poverty, and in any event it is about the biggest loser of an issue for the GENERAL election that one can imagine. Edwards may well pull off an upset in Iowa, coming in second, or even first by a hair. But he won't be able to follow that up in either New Hampshire or South Carolina. And Dems should say "thank goodness" because Edwards would he as hapless as Dukakis in a general election contest.

We were hoping Bill Richardson would be able to follow-up his summertime surge with some additional progress, but he's gone nowhere since then, due, in part, to some very shaky debate performances. We do hope he'll stay on the national scene--he'd be a good veep, or Secretary of State.

Our prediction: Iowa will see Clinton, Obama and Edwards get roughly a third of the vote each in a tight three-way race. Any one of them could "win"--it will depend on their ground games, i.e., getting out the vote. But then New Hampshire will just be Hillary and Barack, again a close race, as will be South Carolina. We aren't ready to predict a winner, although we'd say Hillary may have an edge with money and organization when it comes to Super-Duper Tuesday on February 5.


Our forecasts have been pretty good on the GOP side. A few weeks ago, we reviewed the candidates' strategies for winning. We said Thompson had no strategy and needed one, predicting he'd be the odd man out. That now looks like a safe bet, despite some conservative pundits' predictions that he could somehow pull it out in Iowa.

We also criticized Giuliani's Florida strategy, which appear to be the work of some political amateurs who thought they were the next geniuses. Sorry, Rudy. While Giuliani will stay in it for awhile, and pick up a good number of delegates from Yankee states--if he sticks around--his shot at the nomination is fading fast. Giuliani will blame his troubles on the bad timing of various damaging revelations, but the fact is that his screwy strategy left him way too vulnerable.

Romney, on the other hand, with his phalanx of political professionals, has always had a good strategy, and just might still pull it off. At one point, he was leading in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, a feat which, if sustained, would have won it all. Republicans should be glad Romney has slipped because his nomination would have been dangerous to the party. Romney is the Manchurian candidate--a good-looking man of no personal conviction, professionally managed, who wants nothing more than to win. He is a plastic robo-candidate, who will say whatever is programmed into him. His only chance for winning would be if the Dems decided to self-destruct and nominate Edwards.

Huckabee's also had a good strategy: position himself as the candidate of the evangelicals. By maintaining a good sense of humor and hanging in there while others faded or dropped out, Huckabee has succeeded. He should win Iowa, and he will do well in South Carolina and other southern states, especially as it becomes obvious that Thompson has no shot.

We also noted that McCain's strategy hinged on New Hampshire and said don't count him out. In particular, we predicted that Huckabee's rise in Iowa would redound to McCain's benefit in New Hampshire, as old-school Yankee Republicans, recoiling in horror, would give McCain a second, more serious look. That strategy is working and McCain could win New Hampshire. A solid second there will be enough to put him in the top three as the field winnows down. Indeed, McCain could yet win the nomination, just as Bob Novak predicted today.

Our fearless forecast: Huckabee wins Iowa, followed by Romney, with McCain a distant third. Giuliani could end up in fifth. McCain will then win New Hampshire, narrowly over Romney, with Huckabee in the single digits and Giuliani possibly behind Ron Paul. In between, Romney will get a little publicity by winning Wyoming. And then we'll see. Will the GOP end up with a deadlock? Or will the party coalesce behind someone--we'd have to think it would be McCain, but we wouldn't rule out Romney, or even Huckabee, or maybe even Giuliani.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Energy Independent By 2050?

This week's Scientific American has an interesting proposal to end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and slash our greenhouse emissions by 2050. In "A Solar Grand Plan," a trio of scientists in the energy field put forth a plan to build massive solar installations in the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and route electricity to the rest of the country via a new direct-current transmission backbone.

It's an interesting idea. The authors project that the plan would require about $420 billion in governmental subsidies between now and 2020. That sounds like a lot, but it really isn't--it's less than we'll spend on the Iraq war, and it's less than one year's worth of agricultural subsidies in the U.S. The money could be raised by a modest carbon tax paid over a number of years.

The plan may be pie in the sky. Many energy plans we read about are. What we like about this particular one is that it would practically replace all foreign oil imports over a time frame that is probably reasonable, and it would do so without impacting our food chain--in contrast to the pie in the sky biofuel proposals out there--while also vastly reducing our output of greenhouse gases.

It would be nice to hear some of the folks running for President discuss something like this, but they, of course, are so busy pandering to Iowa farmers and various other existing energy interests that it will never happen.

Mayor Bloomberg: perhaps this is an issue for you to get on board.


Despite the housing meltdown, we weren't too worried about the economy, until we saw this headline in today's Washington Post:

Bush Is Upbeat About Economy's Prospects

Holy cow! Maybe we should liquidate our stock portfolio.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gag Me, Karl

Out of curiosity, we were reading Karl "Raving'" Rove's op-ed piece in today's WSJ on why the presidential nominating contest needs to be reformed. One problem, Rove, says is that the current process increases pressure on candidates "narrowly focus on the concerns of their party's activists in the early states."

Then we gagged--as an example of a candidate bravely bucking that trend, he cited W Bush in 2000 "rallying the armies of compassion to confront hopelessness of spirit and condition"--the compassionate conservatism charade. Despite "criticism" from his opponents, says Rove, Bush "rejected any retreat from the theme."

Uh, right. That is, until he was elected and it turned out that he meant "passionate conservatism," the kind where you put your incompetent conservative cronies in charge of everything.

Maybe the 2008 race isn't so bad after all.

McCain Catches Romney In New Hampshire

Poor Mitt Romney. Just as he was succeeding in bringing Mike Huckabee down a peg in Iowa, at the cost of a massive blitz of negative television ads, along comes John McCain and catches up with the Mittster in New Hampshire.

A new poll in NH has McCain tied with Romney, both at 26%. A new Fox national poll also has McCain statistically tied with Giuliani and Huckabee.

Could it be that New Hampshire Republicans, watching the rest of the field--Mitt and his flip-flops and pandering; Huck and his holier than thou Christian leader schtick; Giuliani and his dubious jugdment on friends and lovers; and plain ol' lazy Fred T.--are starting to remember why they liked McCain in the first place?

The Republicans could do a lot worse than McCain. He regularly beats Hillary in head-to-head poll match-ups because independents view him as, well--independent. And the baggage he carries is that he's occasionally offended the GOP "base" by refusing to pander to them and rejecting some of their sillier notions.

If the Iraq war was still going poorly, it would be a problem for McCain, but if things keep improving, he looks like a genius.

New Hampshire will be close. But if McCain can pull out a win in the Granite State, we'd expect to see a strong surge of support for him elsewhere, as party regulars--understandably queasy at the prospect of a brokered convention--rally around him. They've test driven all the other candidates and now, guess what--Senator McCain doesn't look so bad after all.

Personally, as Democrats wanting to win in November, McCain strikes us as the Republicans' strongest candidate, one we'd rather not face.

Bob and Mike

What did Mike Huckabee ever do to Bob Novak? As shown in this column from today, Novak clearly hates the Huckster (this is Billy Bob's second vicious attack column on Mr. Mike in the past couple weeks).

Is Novak fronting for Romney?

Arlington #1 Place To Educate Your Kid!

Forbes Magazine has rated Arlington, Virginia as the number one place to educate your child. Now, if we could just get the Curmudgeon kids to do their homework!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another Globally Warm Year

NOAA's preliminary annual report on the 2007 year in climate is out, and it's been another warm year. Although the year is not quite done, it's pretty certain that 2007 will go down as the fifth warmest worldwide since records have been kept starting in 1880. (All of the top ten warmest years globally have been in the past decade.)

It was the warmest ever for land temperatures across the globe.

It will also be one of the ten warmest years in the U.S., which is in keeping with trends over the past 10-15 years. The ongoing exceptional drought in the Southeastern U.S. was also worthy of mention. It looks like the La Nina that has been contributing to that drought is beginning to weaken, so we hope that cities like Atlanta and Raleigh will be able to recover in 2008.

Below is NOAA's graphic representation of tempeature anomalies in 2007--as you can see, if was particularly warm in the northern hemispere, especially in northern Europe and Asia.

Round And Round They Go: The GOP Presidential Nomination Race

With two weeks to Iowa, the Republican presidential nomination is wide open.

Nationally, Giuliani's lead in the polls has dwindled to where he's in virtually a dead heat with Huckabee and Romney. With no candidate getting more than 25% in the national polls, and at least four candidates in double digits, it's clear no consensus is emerging among badly fractured Republican voters.

At the same time, it looks like Huckabee's rise nationally has probably peaked out, with some of the shots taken at him having stuck. That said, Huck is not going away--he's finally coalesced the hard core Christian values crowd, which is a significant GOP voting bloc.

In Iowa, it looks like Romney and Huckabee will be neck and neck, distancing the rest of the field. The other candidates would probably be pretty happy if no clear winner emerged from the Iowa process.

In New Hampshire, Romney has long enjoyed a comfortable lead, but McCain is now moving up steadily, and could catch him. The latest Rasmussen poll out of NH has McCain at 27%, just four points behind Romney's 31%. This is consistent with our forecast a few weeks ago that a Huckabee surge in Iowa would sober up Yankee Republicans and get them to rally around McCain as a sober standard bearer.

After Iowa and New Hampshire, we'd expect Romney to do well in Michigan, Huckabee to do well in SC and Giuliani's lead in Florida to continue to slip. Nonetheless, Giuliani will carry a couple big states on Super Duper Tuesday--certainly NY and NJ.

By the end of the day on Feb. 5, we expect that Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani will all have a significant number of delegates, with McCain MAYBE having a few, especially if he makes a strong showing in New Hampshire. The odd man out will be Thompson, but the way forward to a deadlocked convention may be pretty clear by then. (Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley agrees on the risk of a brokered convention--see "None of the Above: GOP Heading To A Brokered Convention.")

Will A Sex Scandal End Edwards' Campaign And Shuffle The Democratic Deck?

With just two weeks to the Iowa caucuses, the National Enquirer is reporting that John Edwards had an affair with one of his staffers, resulting in her pregnancy. The woman reportedly is in hiding, but the Enquirer claims to have statements from the woman's friends and an email trail. (The Enquirer previously reported, on Oct. 22, that Edwards had been involved in an affair, without naming the woman; it's new story names her. She denies that Edwards is the father of her child.)

Although the Enquirer is nothing more than a supermarket tabloid, it doesn't just make up stories, and typically requires fairly vigorous verification of its claims. Certainly, the Enquirer wouldn't want to go to press with a story like this against a very accomplished trial attorney without some plausible evidence.

Now the Edwards campaign faces a nightmare scenario--whether the claim is true or false, it could dominate the headlines for at least the next few days. And if Edwards denies the charge, the race will be on to prove him a liar. If true, then Edwards' campaign is over.

What could this do to the Democratic race? It could re-shuffle the deck, certainly in Iowa. It may help Obama: Edwards' supporters, in the short run at least, are likely to suspect Hillary's campaign--fairly or unfairly--for planting the story. In the long run, however, it may help Hillary. Our gut tells us that in a two-way race with Obama, Hillary is going to win. It may take awhile, but we think her superior organization, and a sense among Democrats nationwide that Obama is a bit of a risk, will propel her to the top.

The nightmare scenario for Clinton's campaign--one that had real potential--was to come in third in Iowa, behind Edwards. The Enquirer's story could make that a whole lot less likely now. The next week will be quite telling.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Huck's Christmas Message Will Trump Romney's Scrooge

Fascinating. A few weeks ago we noted that this will be the first Holiday campaign, with candidates falling all over themselves to get voters' attention in Iowa and New Hampshire in the midst of the busy, festive holiday season.

Now, in Iowa, we see two very different strategies in play. Which will work?

On the one hand, we have the big, heavily financed, professionally run Romney campaign. If you somehow thought Romney was going to bring the least bit of anything new to American politics, think again--he's W Bush incarnate. It's the classic corporate campaign. (Hillary, too.)

And what is the Mittster doing? He's gone completely negative, with harsh campaign ads attacking Huckabee on immigration, crime and taxes. It's standard fare from the hardened professionals who run campaigns these days. Panicked by Huckabee's rise in past Romney in the polls, they go to the typical measure of the desperate: tear the other guy down. (Romney's hardly unique in this regard--we're just saying he sure isn't different.)

[Down in South Carolina, the usual litany of campaign dirty tricks is in full swing on the GOP side, and you can bet that no campaign is doing it more than Romney's, which early on signed up the state's hardest core political trench fighters to do it's bidding.]

Will Romney's negative campaigning work? Perhaps--it will move a few folks off Huckabee, but not toward Romney. Iowans typically don't like negativity, but you can bet they really don't like it during the Holiday season.

Now, what about Huckabee, he of the scrappy, underfinanced, ad hoc campaign? Huckabee came up with the idea of doing a Christmas commercial. Sitting in a living room in front of a fire, wearing a red sweater, the Huckster starts off with "Are you about worn out of all the television commercials you’re seeing? Mostly about politics. I don’t blame you.”

He then goes on to discuss "what really matters" this time of year, which, to him--and a huge chunk of GOP caucus goers in Iowa--is "the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends."

Here's the ad, if you're interested (or go to YouTube here):

Despite it's obviousness as a Holiday season political ad, it's quite brilliant. Why didn't anybody else think of it? Because, of course, hardened political consultants are all grinches at heart, all Scrooges whose only interest in true religion is as a demographic target. It's just not in their playbook.

Personally, we don't really like his ad at all--what about those who aren't Christians? But we're going to bet that it will be a huge hit among the voters that matter in Iowa for a Republican candidate, and that it will make Romney look like a total schmuck for running his bitter, negative advertising.

In about two weeks, we'll know which strategy worked.

Monday, December 17, 2007

And The Nominees Are . . .

Last night, at a holiday dinner party in D.C., the Curmudgeon and friends--pretty much all Democrats--tried to predict who the nominees will be, including running mates. A tall task this year.

It was an interesting exercise amongst a very politically savvy group. On the Democratic side, everyone thought Hillary would eventually be the nominee. The ticket would be either Clinton/Richardson or Clinton/Obama. Our consensus was that a Clinton/Obama ticket would be fabulous, if it could be pulled off. Polls show that Democrats around the country like that scenario, too.

[We did have one intriguing pick: Hillary with Virginia Governor Tim Kaine as her running mate.]

On the Republican side, not surprisingly, everyone was all over the map. A couple of our predictors thought Giuliani would prevail. One said Huckabee would be nice because he'd be easy to beat, at which there was immediate protest from others not to take Huckabee too lightly. There was some agreement that a Giuliani/Huckabee pairing might be just the ticket for the GOP.
Someone thought Romney still had a good chance, and some wondered about a full-circle tilt back to McCain. (Notice that the major newspaper endorsements in Iowa and New Hampshire are going to McCain.)

Kay Bailey Hutchison and Liddy Dole got thrown out as possibilities for a VP pick--to counter Hillary.

Where did the Curmudgeon come out? What the heck, we decided to go for the long bomb! Our prediction: a deadlocked GOP convention turns to someone not running, because all the candidates in the race now will be viewed as "damaged goods" by September, when the convention rolls around. The party's savior: Newt Gingrich. His running mate: Tommy Thompson.

Now that's a long shot, for sure. A simpler prediction: it will be chaos for the GOP and they could well turn to someone not running now. And, their chaotic selection process will spin-off independent third-party candidates.

Ron Paul To Run As Libertarian Independent?

Bet on it!

Ron Paul has once again set a record for online fundraising, hauling in about $6 million in 24 hours on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

This quarter, Dr. Paul has already raised $17 million.

His problem is that he is running in a Republican party that, while it at one time embraced a libertarian agenda, no longer does. (If anything, the GOP is the party that wants to tell the rest of use how to live our lives.)

Polls show that Paul is unlikely to rise above 7-8% in any Republican party nominating process. By the same token, the Paulster has shown a demonstrated ability to raise money and motivate enthusiastic supporters. He might do pretty well among independents.

So we think Paul, who has hedged mightily on whether he would run as an independent, has pretty much already made the decision. If the GOP ends up deadlocked, then all the more reason for him to do so.

So expect to see Ron Paul on your November ballot, probably under the banner of the Libertarian Party.

Will there be others? The longer it takes for the parties to coalesce behind a nominee, and the more bitter the contest, the more likely you will see some others as well, including, we think, the big kahuna--Mayor Bloomberg.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

New Interrogation Methods To Replace Waterboarding

As a public service, the Curmudgeon has compiled a list of new interrogation techniques that could take the place of waterboarding and be just as effective. (Most of these, however, do risk being labelled "torture" by international rights groups.)

1. Spend the morning at DMV trying to get a drivers' license on a special exemption.

2. Spend the afternoon contesting a parking ticket in the D.C. parking adjudication branch. (That's Al Queda mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, above, after just two hours trying to contest a parking ticket received in Adams-Morgan for not turning his wheels to the curb.)

3. Drive to downtown D.C. from Stafford County at 8:00 a.m.

4. Go to the emergency room at D.C. General Hospital on a Friday night for treatment of a relatively minor wound.

5. Return a gift to Macy's.

6. Call Comcast to get a cable problem worked out. (Or Verizon for a phone problem.)

7. Watch all the Redskins' fourth quarters in a continuous loop.

8. Find a parking space at Tysons Galleria on December 24.

9. Try to purchase a roll of toilet paper, milk and some bread the night before a major snowstorm is forecast to strike.

10. Sit through a continuous loop of all the presidential debates held in 2007.

We're pretty sure any combination of two of these will break even the most resolute would be terrorist.

Giuliani: Major Address, or Farewell Address?

Yesterday, Rudy G. showed up in Tampa, Florida to make a "major address" in an effort to stabilize his rapidly foundering candidacy. With national polls showing him in a dead heat with Huckabee and barely ahead of the rest of the pack, and a Rasmussen Florida poll showing his Sunshine State strategy in tatters, Giuliani needed to do something.

But maybe the Tampa speech wasn't it.

According to the Washington Post, about 250 people showed up in a half-empty ballroom. That's hardly a "major" anything--you could get that many on a cold, icy day in Des Moines or Nashua.

Then Rudy's "Tested, Ready, Now" theme fizzled a bit: when former Florida Governor Bob Martinez introduced Giuliani with an enthusiastic "the next President of the United States" nothing happened. After a quick conference, he told the small assembly that instead a campaign video would air first. Still, nothing happened--just a screen with the ironic "tested, ready, now" slogan.

Finally, the video played and then Rudy G. bounded on stage.

Really, not a great day for the G-man.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why Would Dickie Scruggs Risk It All On A Stupid Bribe?

Walter Olsen answers that question in today's Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Unfortunately, it's available online as a "subscriber only" piece, which the Curmudgeon refuses to pay for separately since he already subscribes to the WSJ, so we can't link you to it. (The new owners intimate they will fix this.)

Anyway, Olsen, who's followed the Scruggs case closely (you can find much more at says it may all have arisen out of a strategic mistake: stiffing a fellow lawyer. The case in which Scruggs is alleged to have participated in a bribe of a state judge arose out of a dispute with another law firm about division of about $27 million in fees related to Hurricane Katrina insurance litigation.

So why would Scruggs, who by all estimates is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, get involved in "boneheaded bribery scheme" to use his "friend" John Grisham's words? Because the fee dispute threatened to expose where other skeletons lay in a long career of, at best, on the edge ethical behavior.

We said it earlier: Scruggs didn't get where he is by playing by the same rules as everyone else. We think he'd gotten away with so much, for so long, while wrapping himself santimoniously in the cloak of doing good for the little people, that he figured he wouldn't get caught.

For example, Olsen reports that Scruggs admitted "in an otherwise low-profile asbestos fee dispute that he gave $10 million to a political operative for vaguely described consulting services to influence opinion-makers during the tobacco affair." No doubt the folks being influenced were unaware that the "operative" was on Scruggs' payroll--the same type of practice Scruggs was making an issue of with the tobacco companies.

David Rossmiller, a Portland, Oregon lawyer who's covered Scruggs on his Insurance Coverage Blog, nailed it beautifully, saying that the indictment should prompt Scruggs' admirers (like Grisham) to re-evaluate "how this amazingly successful man got to be so amazingly successful."

Huckabee Blasts Bush Approach In Foreign Affairs

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, with his vast foreign policy experience, has penned a piece (okay, some foreign policy advisor wrote it) for the venerable trade publication Foreign Affairs. (See "America's Priorities In The War On Terror.")

The Huckster may be lacking in foreign policy experience (duh!), but at least he's got somebody good working for him. More importantly, the article once again illustrates why a lot people just instinctively like the man--and hence why he's a credible opponent to whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be.

What's endearing about the Preacher Man is that he's often not afraid to call a spade a spade. While the other GOP candidates dance around the Bush administration's obviously failed foreign policy--a source of great embarassment for many mainstream Republicans around the nation--Huckabee says what we all know: Bush's "arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out."

In typical Huckabee down-to-earth fashion, he likens the U.S. superpower to a "top high school student" who can be loved if modest about his "abilities and achievements" and "generous in helping others."

Huck is critical of Bush's focus on Iraq as counterproductive in dealing with the true terror threat from Afghanistan and Pakistan. "If Al Queda strikes us tomorrow, the attack wil be postmarked 'Pakistan.""

It's a clever strategy if for no other reason than it makes it hard, in a general election, for a Democrat to paint a target of Bush on him and then take aim.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Senate Passes Crummy Energy Bill

This is why we need a few more Democratic senators. Republican senators threatened to filibuster the hugely important energy bill moving through Congress if certain taxes on oil companies weren't removed. The effort to override the filibuster failed by one vote (you need 60).

So, to get the bill passed, the tax provisions were stripped out, denuding the bill. Among the provisions ditched--extension of a very modest tax credit for homeowners who install solar power.

What do we get now? A pretty crummy bill, unless some of the stripped out provisions can be restored in conference (the House bill has the taxes). Yes, we finally get a modest increase in fuel economy standards. We get a slight improvement in appliance efficiency--which would probably occur anyway, with higher fuel and electricity prices. And a huge boost in biofuels--a waste of subsidies on farmers that will only increase food prices without appreciably reducing global warming.

Meanwhile, U.S. representatives at the Bali conference on global warming are holding up any progress on new limits, thereby providing cover for China, India, Brazil and other developing countries to object to limits as well.

How many more days until we get a new President and a new Congress?

Gay, Lying, Convicted Idaho Senator Craig Puts Hold On ATF Nominee For Too Strictly Enforcing The Law

This is what you get from a man who hangs out in airport toilet stalls tapping his feet: disgraced Idaho Senator Larry Craig (along with Idaho's other paleolithic Senator--Michael Crapo, whose name also fits with our toilet humor here) has blocked W's nomination of Michael Sullivan, a tough U.S. Attorney from Boston, to head up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The reason: ATF is getting "too aggressive" with gun enforcement.

Gee Larry, you probably didn't notice from your toilet stall that a distressed kid in Nebraska killed a bunch of holiday shoppers with a high powered rifle last week; or that six kids leaving a school bus in Las Vegas were shot the other day. Or that a maniac shot and killed several church-goers, including a couple teenaged girls, in Colorado last Sunday; or that a kid in Miami killed a star NFL player in his home. Thank goodness you're standing up for the gun dealers.
Maybe in your next career you could be a spokesperson for Mahdi Army practices in Iraq.

Big Trouble In Rudy Land

A new Rasmussen poll is out from Florida--the state Rudy Giuliani has been counting on as his backstop against likely losses in the smaller, early primary states.

It's not good for Rudy's later primary, large state strategy, of which we've been critical. In this new poll, Rudy has slipped to third in the Citrus state, behind Huckabee (27%)and Romney (23%). Rudy slipped from 27% and a big lead in Rasmussen's November poll to just 19% this time around.

We don't see how anyone can really view Rudy as a frontrunner anymore, and we expect the national polls will soon show that's he's not. How can Rudy get anywhere without winning at least one of the early primaries? He needs to figure out where he's going to take his stand.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Right Said Fred?

We didn't watch the silly Des Moines Register Republican debate yesterday afternoon (nor the Democratic one today)--really, how many "debates" do we need? And if we're going to have them, why not when someone will watch, and why not a format that makes sense?

Anyway, it seems all the pundits who DID watch say Fred Thompson "won." (That may be more a reflection on how badly he'd done before--he exceeded everyone's by now low expectations, kind of like "W" in his last debate with Kerry.)

So, with his new exclusive focus on Iowa and his big win in a terrible debate (format-wise) that practically no one watched, will Fred make a surge and peak at just the right time?

No. Team Fred (which must be secretly being advised by all-time loser Bob Shrum) says their strategy is to come in third in Iowa. Thompson supporter Mary Matalin says the Fredster just needs a "solid third" and adviser Rich Galen says "we don't even have to come in second." (For more, see Byron York in National Review.)

Wow, now that's shooting for the stars--third place in Iowa. Talk about setting the bar low.

Let's see. Right now, Fred is polling last--in SIXTH place--in New Hampshire. What if he loses to Duncan Hunter there? And he's plummeted in the most recent ARG national poll to a mere 6%.

Then after New Hampshire there's Michigan and Nevada, where Fred does no better than fourth in the polls. Even in the first Southern primary--SC--he's polling third. It's hard to see how a third place finish in Iowa will propel Thompson anywhere special.

Now, if he somehow managed to pull off SECOND in Iowa, well, then--we might start giving the guy a chance.

We will say this. We remember a cold December night in 2003, at a Kerry fundraiser, where all of us were down in the dumps, basically saying, "this is it, too bad." Things do change--less than two months later, Kerry trumped Dean in Iowa and the rest was history (thanks to Shrum). So we'll give Fred 20-1.

Southeast Drought Getting Worse

The drought in the southeastern U.S. isn't getting any better. Shown at right is the latest map from the U.S. drought monitor.

At this point, only 8.6 percent of the territory of the southeastern states are NOT at some stage of drought, and more than 35% is at the most extreme level of drought--"exceptional."

The storm system moving through the East Coast today and tonight isn't helping much--while Pennsylvania and points north are getting pounded with precipitation (mostly frozen), Washington and points south are getting just a few showers--the basic pattern for the past six months.

The big talk around here is whether we'll get a snowstorm this weekend in D.C., or just rain. A better question might be: will we get anything? Certainly, points south of us would be delighted with rain, and lots of it.

Republican Nomination: 4-Way Statistical Dead Heat NATIONALLY

Here's an interesting NATIONAL poll from American Research Group (ARG) on the Republican presidential nomination, showing it has now become a four-way statistical dead heat. This may be a first in modern presidential politics.

The numbers:

Giuliani 21%
Huckabee 21%
McCain 18%
Romney 16%
(Margin of error: =/-4%

What's happened since the last ARG national poll, just a month ago in November, is that Thompson has melted down (from 18% to 6%) and Giuliani and Romney have lost support, while Huckabee and McCain have gained.

If other national polls show a similar trend, then our GOP deadlock scenario looks awfully plausible.

Hilarious Huckabee Parody Ad

Since we've had a lot to say of late about Mike Huckabee's inexorable rise in the Republican polls, we thought we'd share this YouTube ad parody--like any good parody, there's a very large grain of truth in it.

(If you have any problems with the video, click here to go directly to it on YouTube.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Campaign Round-up: Thompson Goes "All-in" In Iowa; Mitt Launches Attack Ad At Huck; Obama Bounces In SC

As usual in the middle of a week less than one month from the first nominating contest, things are busy out there on the campaign trail.

Here's some of the more interesting items:

Fred Thompson's Last Move?

Fred Thompson has practically closed up shop in New Hampshire (where he stands at a whopping 1% in one recent poll) and announced he's going to spend the rest of the campaign in Iowa. In effect, the Fredster--who's chip pile in Word Series of Poker Politics has been dwindling fast--is going "all in" for Iowa.

The rationale for this move is that Thompson is the second choice of many Huckabee supporters in Iowa, so if Huckabee stumbles--or Romney manages to destroy him (see below) then Thompson will be the beneficiary.

Don't hold your breath. We long ago derided Thompson's campaign for having no strategy, and now it's getting a little late. In Iowa polls right now, the tall Tennessean is basically tied with Giuliani in third place, well behind both Huckabee and Romney. He might be able to squeeze out a third place finish, but we wouldn't be surprised if his supporters instead moved over to Huckabee in the end. Thompson should have listened to us: several weeks ago, we said he should move his entire operation to SC and stake the campaign there.

By putting all his chips on Iowa, it looks like Fred is positioning himself to be the first man out of the race (although he should do no more than "suspend" his campaign--just in case the GOP ends up deadlocked and looks for a "compromise" candidate).

Romney Goes After Huckabee With Negatory TV

Governor Huckabee has it right: in a "desperate" move, the Romney campaign has now launched a full-scale attack ad on the Huckster, going after his position on immigration.

Not only is the move desperate, it won't work. Voters in Iowa already know about Huckabee's position on immigration and they're fine with it--he's moved up in the polls, not down.

Romney is also attacking Huckabee on the tax front. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black--Romney, as Governor of Taxachusetts, also had quite a record of raising taxes. Here's a nice little hatchet job on Romney from the New Hampshire Union Leader--which is supporting McCain--written by former Republican acting governor of Massachusetts, Jane Swift. Not so subtly titled "If Republicans Nominate Flip-Flop Romney, They'll Lose," this Swift-boat piece talks about the $700 million per year in increased corporate taxes and fees that Romney oversaw as governator.

[The online comments to Swift's op-ed are as interesting as the commentary itself--overwhelmingly Romney oriented, they look like something organized by the Mittster's campaign. Something worth an enterprising blogger looking into.]

In any event, genteel Iowans are likely to react negatively to Romney's negativity, and those evangelicals will simply dig in their heels for Huckabee.

Speaking of Huckabee, you can already catch online the New York Times Magazine's forthcoming (this Sunday) lengthy profile of the Huck-man--"The Huckabee Factor." It's an interesting piece, with, of course, the Times looking to damn Huckabee with faint praise and sink him with not-so-charming revelations.

But don't think Huckabee's not a legitimate threat to Democrats in November. True, the Drudge Report yesterday claimed that Democrats were "holding fire" on Huckabee, viewing him as "easy kill" in the general election, but don't be so sure of that. (Indeed, other reports said the Drudge piece actually came from Team Romney, which would be no surprise at all--a lot of signs are pointing to Romney's operation as the slickest and dirtiest of all.) We'd bet the Republicans said the same thing about little known Jimmy Carter in 1976. If you don't think Huckabee's dangerous, just look what he did to Romney is just four weeks (with Romney's mishandling of his rise adding fuel to the fire).

Oprah Helps Obama Bounce In South Carolina

On the Democratic side, Obama continues to rise as Hillary slips. This one will devolve into an intense, two-person race, and it may all hinge on Super Duper Tuesday--February 5. (Although we hope the race will still be contested a week later, on Feb. 12, when Virginians get to vote.)

After appearing with Oprah Winfrey before a huge crowd of 30,000 at Carolina stadium in Columbia this past weekend, Obama has jumped into the lead in a SC poll, leading 28-22.

Look for Mr. Hillary--that's Bill--to make more SC appearances. He's about as popular as Oprah among the state's African-Americans, and while he won't draw a crowd of 30,000, he'll nonetheless get voters' attention in the state.

Sex/Extortion Scheme "Ordinary Conduct" By Lawyers?

This is quite funny from

"This was ordinary conduct that lawyers do"
Posted by Michael Krauss

The Texas Lawyer (via Law. com) reports that solo practitioner Mary Roberts has been convicted of theft. It seems the married Roberts had successive affairs with four men, then assisted her husband Ted in obtaining $155,000 from the men in exchange for the husband's not suing them for the emotional distress caused by their "tortious interference" with his life. Ted has already been sentenced to five years'
imprisonment for his participation in the extortion ring.

Roberts' lawyer, apparently incredulous at the verdict, exclaimed that "this was ordinary conduct that lawyers do"...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Not Forgit's Day

Alas--but no surprise--it was not to be for Phil Forgit, the Democratic congressional candidate in Virginia's 1st District special election.

Here's the results, from the Virginia Board of Elections website:

Forgit: 37.3%
Wittman: 60.7%

All precincts have now reported, so that's it. Thanks for running Phil--and keep at it.

(We also understand that Democratic hopes to pick up a GOP seat in Ohio today didn't pan out either.)

Crack Sentencing Miscarriage Reversed In Huge Victory For Common Sense and Racial Equality

News that the U.S. Sentencing Commission has voted unanimously to allow retroactive application of its decision to put crack cocaine and powdered cocaine on an even par with each other for purposes of computing jail time is a big victory for common sense and racial equality.

To re-cap: a few days ago the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for prison terms for various federal crimes, FINALLY decided--way too late, we might add--to correct a gross miscarriage of justice that has gone on for years. The Commission reversed its prior position that crimes involving sale and use of crack cocaine should be punished far more heavily than similar crimes involving powdered cocaine.

Then, yesterday, the Supreme Court decided--7-2--that federal judges have leeway to ignore or modify the sentencing guidelines in criminal cases. The case involved a federal judge in Virginia who sentenced a black defendant in a crack cocaine case to less than the Sentencing Commission's guidelines.

Finally, today, the Sentencing Commission voted, unanimously--and over the mindless objections of the Bush administration--to allow existing prisoners to apply retroactively for reductions in their sentences if they were convicted of crimes involving crack cocaine.

Hallelujah! These decisions will allow thousands of mostly black men an opportunity to reduce their ridiculously long prison terms.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. There's also pretty good data indicating that although roughly the same proportion of blacks and whites use illegal narcotics, blacks (and other ethnic minorities, including Hispanics) are far more likely to be arrested and prosecuted than whites. Indeed, white drug users (not dealers) are generally quite unlikely to face any significant jail time for their crime even if someone does bother to arrest and prosecute them. (Which may be one reason why illegal narcotic use is rampant--and often barely disguised--in many suburbs.)

We've got a long way to go to achieve eliminate racial disparity in treatment of drug crimes. But at least putting crack and powdered cocaine on an equal footing is a good step forward.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Deadlocked GOP Convention?

Regular readers of the Curmudgeon will recall that many months ago we speculated on the possibility of Republicans going into their national convention with no candidate having the nomination locked up.

Of course, for us political types, that would indeed be juicy. (The 1880 GOP Convention at right--they're about as diverse today as then.)

A fellow pundit has now done us the favor of sketching out some math showing how it could happen. See "Convention Wisdom: A Minneapolis floor fight is not so far-fetched." David Fredoso, of the National Review, proceeds from the assumption that Rudy G. is still the man to beat, and so gives Giuliani the benefit of the doubt in counting up delegates. Still, he notes that there are many delegates that the G-man clearly won't get, and that the rules for allocating delegates even in some states Giuliani is likely to carry will leave him short.

The math is interesting. It probably doesn't do justice to Huckabee, but it's still hard to tell whether the Huckster is a flash in the pan (remember Howard Dean?) or the real deal.

Even the possibility of a deadlocked convention could have an interesting effect on the GOP race. Consider this: even marginal candidates after the first few races may stay in, rather than drop out, figuring that in the event of a deadlock, anything could happen. It also gives a candidate some leverage in negotiations.

Did you ever wonder how Earl Warren came to be Eisenhower's nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? It wasn't because Ike was a big fan of Warren. Rather, Warren, a former governor of California, also ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 1952 and won just enough delegates that he could put Ike over the top, ahead of Taft. (Or vice versa.) So a deal was done--Eisenhower became President and Earl Warren went on the Supreme Court.

So, even if McCain and Thompson don't do particularly well in the primaries, they can pick up some delegates here and there--their home states of Arizona and Tennessee, for example--and maybe be a kingmaker at the convention. Or a compromise nominee.

Of course, you don't even have to have been a candidate in the primaries to be picked in a deadlocked convention, so someone like Newt Gingrich could end up the nominee after all.

All of which is why it would be so much FUN!

Did All The Prez Candidates Die?

We're wondering why the Washington Post is running a series of obituary-like black-and-white photos of the candidates this week at the top of its series "profiling" them.

Given the time and effort they're spending on the series, surely their graphics people could've come up with something a bit more cheerful!

Don't Forgit To Vote!

If you happen to live in Virginia's First Congressional District, don't forget to vote for Phil Forgit in tomorrow's special election.

Forgit, an Iraq war veteran and award-winning teacher, is running as a pragmatic Democrat in the Warner/Kaine/Webb tradition. While national Dems haven't given him much of a chance--spurning the opportunity to put some real money into his campaign--we've seen that strange things can happen in special elections.

Good luck Phil!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Newsweek Poll: Huckabee Up By 22 In Iowa!

Good lord--check out this just released Newsweek poll of Iowa voters, with Huckabee up 22(!) points over Romney (39-17 among likely caucus-goers).

This may be an outlier, but nothing on its face suggests that.

If anything, the results even more strongly favor Huckabee, because his supporters are both more locked in and more likely to attend the caucus.

Maybe there's something weird in the Iowa water.

Feds May Back Away From Control Over Dominion Power Line

The Department of Energy is going to reconsider its rather hasty decision to declare a National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor that includes much of Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region. See "Energy Department To Rethink Its Ruling On Power Lines."

The earlier decision, derived from legislation Congress passed ostensibly to provide for a more stable power supply in the future, would have allowed federal authorities to override Virginia's Public Service Commission in determining the fate of a proposal by Dominion Virginia Electric to build a new high voltage transmission line for several hundred million dollars.

This must be a good thing, as both Governor Kaine and AG McDonnell praised the decision.

The feds should back off. Virginia is certainly capable of determining both the need for the power lines and the best route for them if they are to be built.

We've previously said that the new lines could be rendered unnecessary with a little out of the box thinking. If Dominion were to take the money it plans to invest in high voltage lines and instead use it to subsidize solar panels, it could generate enough widely distributed peak summer electricity to blunt the demand for new transmission lines. (For details, see "A Better Way To Satisfy Demand Without Expensive, Unsightly Transmission Lines.")

By the same token, we doubt Virginia will come up with such an innovative plan, and we don't think Virginians will be too happy with brownouts and rolling blackouts, so the state will have to do something. If it doesn't, the feds will be waiting in the wings.

Can LED's Save The World?

One of the great "green" advances of this Holiday season is the advent of affordable holiday lights made with LED's--light emitting diodes--in place of energy-hogging incandescent bulbs.

As a general rule, LED's use roughly one-tenth the electricity of incandescent bulbs to generate the same amount of light, so they certainly are energy efficient.

Lights made with LED's also are more flexible--they can be made into many different shapes, can be embedded in various materials, and, because they use so much less electricity, can be run for long periods off batteries, remote from an electric outlet.

And, LED's are more durable--they're very difficult to break--come in more and brighter colors, and last longer. In short, they're perfect outdoor lights.

And therein lies the problem. You see, humans love to light up the night. If they can do it various colors, all the better. So, will humans simply replace all their incandescent (and fluorescent--LED's are three times as efficient as fluorescents) bulbs and save the universe by reducing electricity use for lighting by 90%?

Of course not. Instead, they'll simply have more lights. As the cost of LED's continues to decline, expect to see them where you wouldn't have before.

Do you like that nifty floor lighting in the airplane that will guide you to the exit in an emergency? Imagine if every highway, every sidewalk, every driveway, were lined with such lights.

Do you think it's cool when a building is outlined in colored lights? Imagine if LED's are embedded into building materials to create massive masterpieces of illuminated building art.

What about those truck drivers with the lights all over their trailers? Now they can go hog wild. And yes, auto manufacturers are already looking for ways to incorporate the lights throughout the next generation of vehicles.

Then there's the third world, where lighting and the energy to run it is very expensive. But you can imagine remote villages suddenly lit up by LED's.

Another quality of LED's is their brightness--some can easily give off that nice Christmas-tree effect even in daylight. And so they will--instead of turning on the lights at night, why not burn them all day!

No, LED's probably won't save the world from global warming. But they might help us illuminate as tourist attractions the various underwater cities we'll be creating in the next century!

You Call This A Mortgage Bailout?

What's up with W's so-called "mortgage bailout?"

Let's see if we have this straight. Bush has gotten mortgage servicers to agree that if you're NOT BEHIND on your mortgage payments, THEN you can have your interest rate frozen.

Who the heck does that help? According to today's Washington Post, 19.6% of subprime borrowers have past due payments on their loans right now. They're the ones in trouble.

But Bush's plan does nothing for them.

If you're not behind, however--meaning you've made it this far into a crisis that has extended well over a year now, without falling behind--then you may get a nice little windfall.

The plan also does nothing for subprime borrowers who took out loans before 2005. We don't understand that distinction at all.

At bottom, all Bush has negotiated is what the most lenders would agree to anyway in terms of a workout of an at-risk loan. Lenders don't particularly like foreclosures--they're expensive, especially in this market. So, Bush "plan" or not, if you have been making your payments, have some equity and your credit score hasn't deteriorated, you can get your lender to modify the terms of the loan; or you can refinance to a fixed rate.

This particular plan, however, is just more "Bushit."

We predict that when most borrowers find out the bailout doesn't help them, they'll become even more angry at Bush and the Republican party (which is also hearing from the other side--those who think people who made bad decisions shouldn't be bailed out).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Obama Can't Re-Write The Political Book

Can Barack Obama rise above our politically divisive times and unite the country in bipartisan cooperation to solve our major issues?

Can he put an end to years of political bitterness, to the red-blue divide, to petty partisanship?

Don't bet on it. We like Barack Obama. He is fresh. He is thoughtful. He may be different.

But if Obama becomes the Democratic nominee for President, he won't be able to erase the bitter divide in our country. He might, however, convince hopeful independents that he has a chance.

Here's the problem: no matter who the Democrats nominate--even if they resurrect Ronald Reagan himself and run him as their candidate--they won't be able to quiet the vast right wing commentary machine, upon which tens of millions of dollars in media revenue now rest.

Do you really think Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Ann C . . . . . r (we try not to mention her name here), Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Enterprise Institute, Weakly Standard, National Revue and their coterie of hangers-on are going to go meekly into the night just because Barack Obama is the Democratic standard bearer instead of Hillary Clinton? Give us a break!

Do you really think those emails circulating around about Obama being a Muslim sleeper agent will go away?

Do you really think Obama's race won't be an underground issue?

This election will be a close one, once again. The Democratic nominee will handily carry the Northeast, the West Coast and parts of the Midwest; the Republican nominee will have no trouble with the Deep South and the Mountain West. It will boil down to the same handful of battleground states as in the last two elections, and it will be tight.

That's not to say that Obama wouldn't be an attractive candidate. For now, at least, he has lower negatives than Hillary. He probably always will--a certain percentage of Americans will refuse to tell pollsters they view him negatively simply to avoid a perception of their being racists.

But Hillary has a decent point: she does have experience, including fighting against these same bastards for a long time. And knowing how to fight them may yet be a crucial quality in this general election campaign, one that, unfortunately, will last longer than any other in recent history (because both parties are picking their nominees so early).

We'll see. We certainly wouldn't be against combining their strengths into one ticket.

Huckabee, Obama, Continue To Come On Strong

More polls, with more good news for Huckabee and Obama, and bad news for Thompson, Giuliani, Romney and Clinton.

Republicans--More Huckabee!

First, SC, where two new polls have nearly identical numbers, both with Huckabee leading for the first time. Rasmussen has Huckabee at 25%, followed by Romney and Thompson at 18%; Insider Advantage has the Huckster at 23%, followed by Thompson and Giuliani at 17% and Romney at 14%.

It was just a few weeks ago that we marvelled at how Romney had seized the lead in SC--a lead, that had it held up with victories in Iowa and New Hampshire could easily have propelled the Mittster to the nomination. Now Huckabee has the lead, and he'll probably keep it unless he gets derailed by Arkansas parole flap. Thompson is second in both polls, but barely. If he doesn't outright win SC, his campaign is done.

In Iowa, Strategic Vision is the latest poll, and it confirms that Huckabee is on top with four weeks to go. Romney trails close behind, so his big religious speech, combined with fallout to Huckabee from the Arkansas parole controversy, could put him back on top.

In New Hampshire, Romney is maintaining a comfortable lead and Huckabee has moved less than just about anywhere else. We don't see Romney losing the Granite State.

But in Florida, where Giuliani has staked his campaign, Huckabee is coming on strong, rising to second place in the recent Survey USA poll, with 18% to Rudy's 32%. The problem for Giuliani is that if Thompson melts down--we think he could be gone by SC--Huckabee stands to gain further and could do quite well in Florida. We've said all along that Giuliani's strategy is flawed, and we stand by our claim. If Giuliani comes in third, or worse, in the first five contests--Iowa, NH, Michigan, Nevada and SC--as is quite possible, his support in Florida will dwindle too and he could be in big trouble.

One other word on Huckabee. Some pundits are now positing that the Baptist preacher from Arkansas could be, in one's words, the Democrats' "worst nightmare" (that would be from Chris Cilizza in the Washington Post). We're not prepared yet to worry about Huckabee in the general election. Granted, he would do well in the Deep South, where Dems have little chance; and, he'd be eaten alive in the industrial Northeast and on the Left Coast, which remain true blue. How would he do in the battleground states? We think his lack of foreign policy experience, his overt religiosity, his very right-wing social views and some of his whackier proposals, like his crazy "voluntary" flat tax plan (we call it the Alternative Maximum Tax) would do him in.

The Democrats--More Obama

Obama's surge continues unabated, with Hillary's leads in states following Iowa starting to slip. We won't go into all the data--suffice it to say that Hillary has dropped in NH and SC (but not Florida, yet).

The question is what will happen when this becomes a two-candidate race? Will Democrats across the country embrace Obama, or will they be risk-averse and stick with Hillary. Still hard to say. Would it still be possible, after the recent nastiness, to have a Hillary/Obama ticket? Many Democrats would like that one quite a bit.

In a separate post, we will address shortly what many view as the key "difference" between Hillary and Obama--her tendency to polarize versus his claim to be able to bring on an era of new politics.

Lawyer In Scruggs Bribery Case Pleads Guilty, Will Cooperate In Probe

A couple days ago we posted on the Dickie Scruggs bribery case down in Mississippi, wondering if the superlawyer's history of shady tactics hadn't finally caught up with him. See "Have Greed And Egomania Finally Caught Up To Dickie Scruggs?"

Today we learn that Scruggs' co-defendant, lawyer David Balducci, has entered a guilty plea in the case and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors by testifying against Scruggs. See "Lawyer Will Cooperate In Bribe Probe" in today's Washington Post.

For more in-depth, and snarky, coverage of the Scruggs saga, check out Overlawyered and Y'all Politics, both of which nicely picked up on the Curmudgeon's post on the case.