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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

One Week To Go...

Are you sick of hearing about the impending Iowa caucuses?

Me neither. One week from today, voters in the Hawkeye State will kick off the 2012 election cycle with their mystifying mêlée of...whatever. Anyway, before parsing the polls out of Iowa, I'd like to discuss an interesting development in the race for the 2012 Republican nomination.

It seems that neither Texas Gov. Rick Perry nor former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who until recently the undisputed frontrunner in the GOP primary campaign) have been able to collect and submit the 10,000 signatures necessary to appear on the ballot in Virginia. For Perry, this is not that big a deal; he wasn't going to be the nominee anyway (thank God), and it will be pretty pathetic if he hasn't dropped out of the race by the time Va. holds its primary. But for Gingrich, not being on the ballot in Old Dominion is a pretty big embarrassment, not least because it's his home state.

Yes, the former Speaker spent twenty years representing an Atlanta-area district in Georgia, but he currently resides in the state that has already delivered us more presidents than any other (eight, to be exact). I recently made the acquaintance of one Bryan Eppstein, a legend in Texas politics. Bryan's reputation as a political shark is such that politicians here have been known to retain him, even if they have no need for his services; they just don't want him working for an opponent's campaign. He told me that Al Gore did not lose the 2000 presidential election because he lost Florida; he lost the election because he failed to carry his home state of Tennessee.

I can remember watching the returns roll in on Election Night 2000, and while the race was still up in the air, I remarked that Bush had won Tennessee. (For the record, Bill Clinton carried Tennessee twice.) I wasn't as politically astute back then as I am now, but I found it strange that the election was so close when one candidate couldn't even carry his home state.

Gingrich's failure to make it onto the Virginia primary ballot is all the more galling when you consider that he's been leading the polls there. In a protracted race for the nomination, every delegate counts, and if Newt and Mitt are still duking it out come February, then effectively conceding a state with more delegates than New Hampshire and Iowa combined before any votes are cast will go down as one of the greatest campaign blunders of all time.

The Gingrich campaign didn't do their candidate any favors with their apparent sour-grapes attitude yesterday. Campaign director Michael Krull:

Only a failed system excludes four out of the six major candidates seeking access to the ballot. Voters deserve the right to vote for any top contender, especially leading candidates.

I agree; voters should have the right to vote for any top contender, which is why Virginia, like all states, has certain requirements that candidates must meet in order for their names to appear on the ballot. Newt Gingrich failed to satisfy all the necessary requirements, so I don't think excluding him from the Virginia primary ballots evinces a "failed" system.

Back to Iowa: Gingrich's decline in the polls has not been matched by an equal surge in one candidate's numbers; instead, it appears that his loss is Mitt Romney's, Ron Paul's, Rick Santorum's and Michele Bachmann's gain. Every poll out of the state in the last two weeks has shown either romney or Paul leading; this has pundits buzzing about the prospect of the 76-year-old Congressman and cantankerous old coot winning (or even finishing a close 2nd in) the Iowa cacuses. Such a result would be in affront to the political narrative that the Iowa GOP caucuses are dominated by social conservatives. (Hence, the impressive performances of Mike Huckabee in '08, George W. Bush in 2000 and Pat Robertson in '88.) One interesting quirk in the run-up to the caucuses this year is the failure of any one candidate to lock in the evangelical vote; Michele Bachmann was the early favorite to win this group, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, and now it appears evangelical Christians are torn between Bachmann, Santorum, Perry and Gingrich. The latter two have had their moments as King of the Hill, and I highly doubt that either of them are coming back. Ditto Bachmann, but swap "Queen for a Day" for "King of the Hill." Santorum, however, has never topped the polls in any state and may just be the next candidate to surge. He's arguably devoted more time and energy to Iowa than anyone else, and his fervent appeal to church-going folk in middle America while running his campaign on a shoestring budget conjures up memories of Huckabee four years ago. (For the record, it was in December of 2007 that the former Arkansas governor surpassed Mitt Romney in the polls in Iowa, where Romney had held a steady lead for months.) My predictions: Ron Paul will soar no higher; he has reached his peak in Iowa, though his current poll position (22.7% in the RCP average) is probably pretty close to what he'll actually pull next week in the caucuses. Santorum will outperform Bachmann among evangelicals and finish well ahead of her in the final tallies. Romney looks good to win; he'll definitely be first or second. Perry and Gingrich will underwhelm but stay in the race, and Baylor will crush UW in the Alamo Bowl.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Freedom Fighter and the Farce

This past Sunday, we learned of the deaths of two world leaders. Former Czech president Václav Havel died in Vlčice at age 75, and Korean Central Television reported that Kim Jong-il had died of a massive heart attack Saturday morning.

It seems fitting to do a compare-and-contrast piece on the lives and legacies of these two men; one a Communist dictator, the other a dissident who rebelled against Communism and spent many years in jail. While one made human rights a focal point of his career and even chaired the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, the other presided over a government that Human Rights Watch called "among the world's most repressive". The similarities between the two leaders extend far beyond their status as heads of state, however. Both emerged as major players on the world political stage in the late 20th Century, and both led storied personal lives, the details of which we may never be sure of. Perhaps most noteworthy is that both men were born into powerful families.

Havel was born in Prague in 1936. His father, Václav Maria Havel, was a wealthy entrepreneur who owned various high-dollar real estate properties throughout Bohemia. Havel's mother, Božena Vavrečková, was the daughter of an ambassador and well-known journalist. The Havel family was closely connected with the Czech cultural and political scene, and it was Bozena herself who encouraged young Václav to convene his first literary circle. Kim Jong-il, meanwhile, was born Yuri Irsenovich Kim, according to Soviet records, in the small Russian village of Vyatskoye in 1941. His father, Kim Il-sung, commanded the 1st Battalion of the Soviet 88th Brigade, made up of Chinese and Korean exiles.

1948 proved a pivotal year in the lives of both men and their families (as well as millions of other people). In February, the Soviet-backed Communist Party of Czechoslovakia took over the Czechoslovakian government. Havel's family holdings were seized by the authorities. Then, on May 1, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was officially founded. Kim Il-sung was installed as prime minister September 9th.

While Kim purportedly composed six operas in two years and enjoyed staging elaborate musicals, Havel actually wrote more than 20 plays, including The Garden Party (1960), The Memorandum (1965) and The Increased Difficulty of Concentration (1968), all of which were performed at the famous Theatre on the Balustrades ("Divadlo Na zábradlí") in Prague. "The cultural tradition prevalent in his family focussed Havel's attention on humanistic values of Czech culture which were suppressed in the fifties," according to the former president's official biography on the Prague Castle web site. He also wrote countless essays and worked as a magazine editor.

Following the Soviet invasion and crackdown in 1968, the government banned Havel's plays and sent him to work at a brewery. Not even the rank fumes of totalitarian swill could stifle his prosaic propensity, however. He was the principal author of Charta 77, a kind of dissident manifesto that gave rise to an anti-Communist movement among a section of Czechoslovak citizens.

While Havel was repeatedly being jailed and released by the Communist government, Kim Il-sung was grooming his son as the heir apparent to his all-powerful position. In the 1970s, Kim Jong-Il moved quickly through the ranks of the Korean Workers Party (Communist) hierarchy, eventually becoming a member of the Central Committee, the Military Commission, and the politburo. He assumed the title "Dear Leader" (친애하는 지도자) and was made a member of the Seventh Supreme People's Assembly (whatever that was) in February 1982.

If there was a singular event that marked the death knell of Communism as a major statist force/threat, then it was probably the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Eight days later, riot police suppressed a peaceful student demonstration in Prague. A series of popular, largely nonviolent demonstrations followed, and by November 20th the number of peaceful protesters assembled in Prague had swelled from 200,000 the previous day to an estimated half-million. A two-hour, nationwide general strike was successfully held one week later. The following day, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced that it would relinquish power and dismantle the single-party state.

At the center of this so-called Velvet Revolution was Václav Havel, who along with other members of the Charter 77 dissident movement founded Civic Forum (not to be confused with the online symposium for Honda Civic owners/drivers). After Pres. Gustáv Husák resigned on December 10, Havel was elected president.

According to at least one Havel biographer, it was at this pivotal time that Havel's Machiavellian side emerged. Alexander Dubček, the one-time leader of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia whose attempted liberalization was crushed in 1968, looked to be the likely choice to take over as president during this transitional period, but Havel deftly ushered him aside and was reelected in 1990, when what was then Czechoslovakia held its first free elections. Dubček had to settle for being Speaker of the Federal Assembly. Compare this to Kim's early days on the KWP Central Committee; he reportedly wrested the post of party organization secretary from his uncle in September 1973 and used his position as head of the Organisation & Guidance Department to purge the KWP of those not sufficiently loyal to his father. He became Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army in 1991.

Havel lost the presidency in 1992, shortly before his country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The following January, he was elected the first President of the Czech Republic. That same year, Kim Jong-il assumed the role of Chairman of the National Defence Commission in North Korea. After his father's death in 1994, Kim succeeded him as supreme leader of the God-forsaken Communist state. In 1997, he officially took over as both Chairman of the Military Commission and General Secretary of the WPK.

As president of the Czech Republic, Havel led his country into the OECD and NATO and laid the groundwork for its 2004 accession to the European Union. He left office in 2003, the same year that North Korea began participating in six-party talks sponsored by China that went absolutely nowhere. At the very least, Kim Jong-il can tout his country's acquisition of "the bomb" as an achievement during his tenure.

The contrast is striking: one man led a government that propogated fantastic tales of its leader's musical talent, athletic prowess and influence in the fashion world, the other actually lived an incredible life, accomplishing feats that lesser men could not have.

Havel and Kim were both powerful men during their lifetimes, and now they are no more. But, while one leaves behind a legacy of leadership marked by courage in the face of oppression by a brutal Communist regime and shepherding his country through a peaceful transition from a Soviet-dominated police state to a democratic republic, the other will be remembered as an evil dictator, a nepotist clown who presided over the mass starvation of his own people and whose actions led to the further ostracization of his already isolated state. While Havel rebelled against the intimidating power of the Soviet Union that had supported Czechoslovakia's Communist government for over 40 years, Kim Jong-il spent his time as supreme leader trying to model his state after the former U.S.S.R. in a futile attempt to attain that unattainable goal, a socialist paradise. North Korea was only a paradise for the Kim family. Havel, meanwhile, is experiencing true paradise right now, in the eternal kingdom of the Almighty.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: A Man of Himself

When I heard that Christopher Hitchens, the short, pudgy, British athiest, had died, I immediately wondered, What happened to his soul?

The self-described “anti-theist” wallowed in obscurity for much of his career but gained international renown for his 2007 best-seller God is Not Great. I'll refrain from making specific comments on the book because I have not read it and probably never will, but I want to call attention to something Hitchens said while promoting his magnum opus back then.

After the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, Hitchens appeared on CNN. When Anderson Cooper asked him if he thought Falwell had gone to heaven (qualifying it by acknowledging that he didn't know whether his guest believed in an afterlife), Hitchens responded, "No, and I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go to."

There's so much wrong with that statement that I don't quite know where to begin. Hitchens went on to make numerous incedniary remarks about Falwell throughout the interview, calling him "evil", "a little toad" and an "ugly little charlatan", among other things, but that first remark really stood out to me and other Christians who saw/heard it. It encapsulated Hitchens's view of Judeo-Christian beliefs in general and specific religious leaders. Granted, Hitchens had a special disdain for Falwell and those like him, the so-called "televangelists" who appeared to serve mammon over God, but his contempt for organized religion and people of faith went far beyond feelings that many of us share about the more reprehensible among us who, in addition to using Christianity as a profit-making tool, poison society with irrational, bigoted messages of intolerance.

Hitchens believed it was possible to lead a moral, ethical life without God (who he always referred to as "god"). He discounted the myriad ways in which people's faith had motivated them to do good, even great, things for mankind. To his credit, he was an equal-opportunity offender, writing frankly about the atrocities perpetrated by radical Islamists in the name of "Allah", which many so-called journalists who shared his beliefs (or lack thereof) refused to do. He also didn't shy away from intellectual discussions or fervent arguments with those who challenged him. I can recall watching him spar with the likes of Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham on FOX News. This is not to say he couldn't be condescending; he was so confident in what he believed that, even when he was facing off against someone he respected, he exuded arrogance and hauteur. His ovoid visage, sallow skin and English accent made him almost like a caricature of the stereotypical obnoxious, left-wing faux-intellectual, but I return to my original question: what became of his spirit after his body expired? Is he burning in Hell? For that matter, I wonder, since he so adamantly believed there was no God, no heaven or Hell, no afterlife, whence did he think his soul came from? I suppose I might find the answer to that last question in some of his writings, but being a full-time law student, I haven't much time to read for pleasure. (Then again, I have no guarantee that reading Hitch's polemic prose would be pleasurable.)

Friday, December 16, 2011


As you may have heard, our military engagement in Iraq officially ended yesterday. The last U.S. convoy will leave Iraq tomorrow, making good on the status-of-forces agreement signed by President Bush and approved by the Iraqi Parliament more than three years ago, in which the U.S. agreed to withdraw all our military forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011. Doubts persist, however, about the Iraqis' ability to defend themselves against foreign aggression and internal threats. Many Iraqis have expressed concerns that sectarian strife will return and throw their fragile democracy into chaos. Here at home, some have called our withdrawal "precipitous," and military leaders worry that it is a bit premature for the still-maturing Iraqi security forces, who face continuing struggles to develop the logistics, air operations, surveillance and intelligence-sharing capabilities they will need in what has long been a difficult region. Top U.S. military commanders had recommended leaving a residual force of about 15,000 troops to train and support Iraq's fledgling forces, but the Obama administration was unable to reach a deal with Iraqi political leaders whereby our troops would be granted legal immunity, a practical necessity (and, in my humble opinion, a relatively small price to exact from an Iraqi government that really owes its existence to us).

Still, despite these legitimate reservations about the premature evacuation and concerns about what lies ahead, it's difficult to say our troops are not coming home as victors, and it's worth reflecting on those days when the outlook for Iraq and the War on Terror in general was much more bleak.

Nearly five years ago, Pres. George W. Bush went on national television to announce a critical shift in strategy in a war that had become increasingly costly, unpopular and difficult to prosecute. In selling the country on the counter-insurgency strategy (a.k.a. the “Surge”), then-President Bush didn’t mince words about the sobering reality of what the months and years ahead would bring:

“The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent,” he said. “Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue -- and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.”

While averring his unequivocal belief that "our new strategy will bring us closer to success," the President made clear that victory in Iraq “will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.”

No kidding. What began with “shock and awe” ended rather unceremoniously, marked by the lowering of Old Glory at Baghdad Airport. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially called our military mission to an end, saying that, while “the cost was high, in blood and treasure for the United States and also for the Iraqi people ... those lives have not been lost in vain. They gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.”

They did, and we must not forget that. But we must also not forget that this in not the end of a war; the War on Terror continues; it is just now being fought on one less front.

Before I conclude, I want to return to that night in January 2007, when the war-weary commander-in-chief of a war-weary military addressed a war-weary nation to announce an escalation of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Most Democrats predictably voiced their opposition to this ultimately successful change in strategy, even those who had called for deployment of more troops to stabilize Iraq. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, a lawyer who had spent much of his professional life as a member of Congress but never served in the military, delivered his party's official response to the president's speech. I can remember watching both speeches, and it was obvious that Durbin had not changed/altered his prepared remarks after hearing what President Bush actually said. The Illinois Democrat predictibaly asserted that "the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction."

He said that it was "time for the Iraqis to stand and defend their own nation," adding:

The government of Iraq must now prove that it will make the hard political decisions which will bring an end to this bloody civil war, disband the militias and death squads, create an environment of safety and opportunity for every Iraqi, and begin to restore the basics of electricity and water and health care that define the quality of life.

No word from Durbin or other Democrats on how they intended to facilitate the Iraqis in doing this, nor did the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate explain why it was not our duty to help the Iraqi government out.

That same night, Durbin's fellow U.S. Sen. from Illinois said:

I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.

So confident was Barack Obama in his position that he sponsored a bill that would have prevented the deployment of any more troops to Iraq and initiated a "phased redeployment" beginning on May 1, 2007, with a goal of total redeployment of combat forces by March 31, 2008. The bill died in committee.

In the months that followed, as it became increasingly clear that the surge was having the desired effect, many on the Left stubbornly insisted that it was not working. Realizing that they were losing credibility on this issue, Democrats trotted out more respectable figures to recite their talking points. In September, after President Bush delivered another address to the country, this time speaking on the progress that had been made in Iraq and the work left to be done, Sen. John Reed (D-RI), a Vietnam veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, followed him with a response that was long on politics and short on substance. He actually had the gall to declare that "too often, the President’s Iraq policies have worsened America’s security," without providing anything--anything at all--to support such a ridiculous claim. (Then-Senator Obama also offerred up his keen foreign policy insight, but his remarks from that night have curiously been scrubbed from his web site.) As I read over the transcript of Reed's speech today, one line stood out to me: "An endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option." Such a statement could have easily been dismissed as absurd at the time by pointing out our permanent military presence in Germany and South Korea, where no serious person would argue our troops are in constant danger, but it seems even more inane now that we've withdrawn all our forces from Iraq, just a little more than four years later.

Despite the Democrats' efforts to make foreign policy heavyweights like Reed the unofficial spokesmen for their opposition to victory in Iraq, they couldn't stop some of their more loquacious gadflies from voicing their considered opinions on the subject. In a November 11 appearance on Meet the Press, Obama, now in full campaign mode, said very clearly, “not only have we not seen improvements, but we're actually worsening, potentially, a situation there.”

What I did find amusing was the visible split that developed between Democrats who began to grudgingly acknowledge the success of the Surge and those who continued to stick to their guns. In a debate at St. Anselm College on January 5, 2008, Obama claimed that he “had no doubt ... that given how wonderfully our troops perform, if we place 30,000 more troops in there, then we would see an improvement in the security situation and we would see a reduction in the violence.” Apparently, he even said as much "at the time when [he] opposed the surge."

I wouldn't have taken such pains to revisit George W. Bush's immense political courage in calling for the Surge and defending it against relentless criticism and attacks that bordered on treason if it weren't for the atrocious behavior of so many on the Left who insist on showering the current president with praise and exaltation while giving no credit where credit is due, viz., Obama's predecessor.

To his credit, President Obama has not overtly claimed credit for bringing Operation Enduring Freedom to a peaceful conclusion, nor should he. However, his surrogates in the media have not been so discrete. In an interview with Mike Huckabee set to air as part of the former Arkansas governor's FOX News show this weekend, Democratic apparatchik Jehmu Greene told the former presidential candidate, "As--you know--he said that he was going to end the War, and as a president, he has. ... I have a question for you, Governor. Given that he has, like, lived up to every single promise he made with Iraq, is he not the greatest commander-in-chief in modern history of presidents, not just the 21st Century, but the 20th Century?" (The audience rightly booed her, and Huckabee politely reminded her that Obama "inherited a War that had turned because of a surge that he opposed.")

Perhaps Ms. Greene was just being provocative, but I doubt the same could be said of Vice President Bident when he told CNN’s Larry King last year that Iraq "could be one of the great achievements of this administration." I suppose that getting elected and taking office after someone else has done the heavy lifting and taken all the political flak necessary to bring about a victory in Iraq is an "achievement" per se, but I doubt that's what Biden was referring to. (I might also be willing to cut the VP a little slack had he not said in 2007, “This whole notion that the surge is working is fantasy.")

The unwarranted adulation of Obama/slights to Bush is not limited to Iraq. After Navy SEAL Team Six iced Osama bin Laden in Pakistan without losing any of their own, President Obama had the decency to call his predecessor before going on national TV to announce what was a historic moment. George W. Bush, in turn, graciously refrained from rushing to claim credit or even speaking publicly on the demise of the Earth's most loathsome creature, save for acknowledging what a great thing it was for America and the World to be rid of him. Unfortunately, the Left did not follow suit. I could list examples of anti-Bush Obamapologists dissing the former commander-in-chief while exalting their messiah for smiting bin Laden, but the media was so replete with such behavior seven months ago that I don't frankly see the need to. Conjure up your own memories to supplement this commentary: I'll acknowledge that President Obama had a decision to make when he received actionable intelligence as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. He had options, and the course of action he chose was the best one. I don't even object to people giving him some credit for finding and killing Osama bin Laden. What I take umbrage at is giving him more credit than former President Bush. Remember, all the intelligence that enabled the CIA to ascertain the location of Osama bin Laden was collected during the Bush administration. The Obama administration and the U.S. Navy used the tools provided by the Bush administration to carry out this ultimately successful mission. Is that so hard to admit?

For some people, it is, but I digress. The "War in Iraq" (a term I never liked, as I didn't see our operations in Iraq as a separate war) is over. We won. Those brave men and women who were fortunate enough to make it home alive are not only heroes; they are victors. Millions of people--not just here and in Iraq, but across the globe--are better off because of them and their fellow soldiers who our allies sent over to fight alongside them. As we revel in this tremendous victory, the forgotten cries of defeatism from the not-too-distant past echo in the distance:

"Victory is no longer an option in Iraq, if it ever was."

--Editorial in the New York Times, March 29, 2007

"I believe ... that this war is lost, and that the surge is not accomplishing anything, as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday."

--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, April 19, 2007

"The reality is [that] despite heroic efforts by U.S. troops, the Bush surge is not working."

--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), September 7, 2007

“We are sending our troops where they’re not wanted, with no end in sight, into the middle of a civil war, into the middle of the mother of all mistakes.”

--Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), September 11, 2007

"Tonight, ... the President failed to provide either a plan to successfully end the war or a convincing rationale to continue it."

--Sen. John "Jack" Reed (D-RI), September 12, 2007

"We are going in the wrong direction in Iraq."

--Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), February 7, 2008

Are they the least bit happy now? Will they ever be?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Not Your Typical Saturday

This was an emotionally draining day.

This afternoon we laid my grandmother to rest. She went to be with Jesus last Sunday, and I traveled to Arlington yesterday for the visitation and funeral. My mother wanted me to speak at the service. A series of her friends and relatives spoke; I opened and closed. It was my first formal eulogy. I was very pleased with the turnout; that little chapel was packed. It was also the first time I was a pallbearer. After the service, we held a reception at this nice place in southwest Arlington called the Ventana Grille. Nearly all of the relatives who came to the funeral showed up, which really meant a lot, especially since some of them had to drive all the way back to Houston that evening. I myself had to drive back to Waco, where I learned that Robert Griffin III had won the Heisman Trophy. Now that was exciting. No Baylor footballer had ever won the Heisman before. Naturally, I and the rest of the Baylor Nation were very excited.

There's a tie-in here: my maternal grandfather and his brother attended Baylor back in the '40s. I didn't learn this until I had started college, but I think that my grandparents came down here while I was an undergrad. I was glad to have the chance to walk around the campus with my grandfather, especially since after he succumbed to Alzheimer's disease and died in 2008. His deterioration and death were a terrible blow to my Grammy, who was already dealing with serious health problems of her own. They had been married for over 55 years. She was never the same after Papa died. That was three and a half years ago. Now they are together again.

It's always appropriate to grieve after the loss of a loved one, but in the case of both my maternal grandparents, the worst tragedy was watching them decline and not being able to do anything about it. While I mourn the loss of my Grammy, we are all happy that she has been reborn and will spend eternity with her sweetheart in the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gingrich Gains in Polls, While Romney Gains Endorsements

I spent three days working on this post before discovering Care2 (a web site I had never heard of before) reporter had scooped me. Think that would cause me to scrap an entire blog post? Not hardly. See, Marty's piece focused on newspaper endorsements, but I've noticed that Romney has been racking up a significant number of endorsements from several high-profile figures in the GOP. No, not Dan Quayle, but that's a good one to have too.

Let's start with the site of the first-in-the-nation primary, New Hampshire. While Newt may have the backing of the state's leading newspaper, Romney has the state's newest political star in his corner. Last month he trotted out the endorsement of Kelly Ayotte, the freshman U.S. Senator and former state attorney general who gained national renown in conservative circles after successfully defending her state's restrictions on abortion before the U.S. Supreme Court five years ago. At 43, Ayotte has plenty of time to make a lasting name for herself in Congress, and her support may provide Romney with a liason to TEA Partiers who have so far been cool to him.

In another early primary state, Florida, Romney can now boast the support of three prominent Latino Republican lawmakers: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (the first Cuban-American elected to Congress), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Mario's brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. All three hail from Havana and should prove invaluable to Romney as he courts Florida voters. The candidate also has the backing of former Florida Senator, RNC Chairman and H.U.D. Secretary Mel Martinez, who chairs his campaign’s National Advisory Council. Of course, the state's most popular pols–U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush–have yet to make their choices known this cycle.

Even if endorsements don't sway many votes, they're still immensely helpful for two other purposes: organization and fundraising. Few will dispute that both of these are areas in which Romney has the advantage over the latest frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

Speaking of which, there's no denying Newt's surge in the polls. Two months ago, he was at 9.2% in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, fourth behind Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain. Now he's at 31%, higher than any of his primary rivals at their peak (except Rick Perry, who spiked at 31.8% in the RCP average the second week of September). He also currently leads by double digits in Iowa, South Carolina, Florida and a host of other primary states. Will his leads hold up? I'm willing to take bets, but doing so would violate my parole. Good night, everybody!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Case for RG3

The five finalists for the 2011 Heisman Trophy were announced Monday. Not surprisingly, Baylor’s junior QB Robert Griffin III was among those selected.

It would certainly be a coup for my alma mater, whose football team has slowly gained national renown in recent years, after nearly a decade of ridicule, scorn and derision from other schools who questioned why we were still in the Big 12. Under the leadership of Coach Art Briles, the Bears have risen from a 3-9 team that lost every conference game in 2007 (the year before Briles took over) to a 9-3 team that is now headed to its second consecutive bowl game. (Yes, it's the Alamo Bowl, but still.) After Baylor's 48-24 rout of Texas on Saturday night, the characteristically humble and down-to-earth star of our football team told ESPN's Samantha Steele, “I could be wrong, but I think Baylor won its first Heisman tonight.”

Griffin was right: He could be wrong. I'll leave it to more learned sprots analysts to speculate on each finalist's odds of winning the trophy. Right now I just want to offer an argument why Griffin is the best choice of the five.

I'll start with the only other QB in the running. No doubt Andrew Luck is an impressive player. Anyone who's seen him in action should acknowledge that. I'm not going to try and compare the finesse displayed by him and RG3 on the field this season; you would need to see them perform to get the full picture. So let's compare their stats. Luck has passed for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns while completing 70% of his attempts this season.

Pretty good stuff. RG3, however, finished the regular season with 3,998 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and a 72.4% completion rate. He was intercepted six times to Luck's nine, and, while Luck ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency, Griffin leads the nation in passing efficiency. He has also rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns. By almost every measure, Griffin has outperformed Luck on the field this year.

As to the two running backs still in contention, Trent Richardson of Alabama and Montee Ball of Wisconsin, I won't endeavor to declare one of them superior to the other; I'll only say that neither deserves the Heisman as much as RG3. Statistically, Ball has a more impressive record than Richardson this year: He leads the nation in rushing yards (1,759) and touchdowns (32 Rushing, 6 Receiving). Unfortunately, I'm out of time and have other things to do. Let's just say the Honey Badger is amazing, and it would be interesting for a cb to win a trophy that usually goes to offensive stars, but it's just not his time yet. I'll probably update this post later in the week.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seven Polls Mitt Romney Ought to Trumpet

As Mitt Romney tries to fend off a surging Newt Gingrich, he may want to step up his electability pitch to Republican primary voters, and there are plenty of poll numbers out in recent weeks that can help him do that.
Earlier this month, there was much ballyhoo about a McClatchy/Marist survey that showed Obama beating Romney in a head-to-head match-up, 48 to 44 percent. The same poll gave the president just a two-point edge on Gingrich, whom he led 47%-45%. This appears to be an outlier, however: that same day, a FOX News poll was released that showed the president losing to Romney, 42 to 44 percent, while beating Gingrich, 46 to 41 percent. Pew Research, meanwhile, came out with its latest numbers showing Obama routing Gingrich, 54 to 42 percent, but just barely edging Romney, 49%-47%.
Want more? Okay, Quinnipiac University has the Mormon & the moron statistically tied, with the latter holding a 45%-44% lead. The same survey had Gingrich trailing Obama by 9. A CNN/Opinion Research poll finds Romney trouncing the prez, 51% to 47%, while Gingrich loses to him by an even wider margin (53% to 45%).
These are all national polls, of course, and as we all know, it’s the electoral vote that counts. But the polling in individual states makes Romney look even better. Take New Hampshire, for example. Polls have consistently shown Romney beating Obama in the Granite State, but what’s really jarring is how poorly Newt is performing there. One survey has him trailing Obama by 12 percentage points. In Romney's native Michigan, the former Massachusetts governor tops Obama 46%-41%, while Gingrich trails him by the same margin, 45%-40%, according to a Detroit Free Press poll conducted by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA. Rasmussen finds Romney ahead of Obama in Florida, 46%-42%, while Gingrich loses to him, 45 to 43 percent. Perhaps the numbers most worth taking a look at come from Public Policy Polling. (Yes, that’s James Carville’s outfit, but get a load of this.) PPP has Obama and Romney dead even in Pennsylvania, a state Republicans haven’t won in a presidential election since 1988. Each takes 45% of the vote, but in a head-to-head matchup with Gingrich, Obama bests him, 49 to 43 percent. Even more alarming are the results from Arizona, where Romney holds a healthy 7-point lead over the president, but where Gingrich is tied with him at 45%. This is big, folks; only one GOP presidential candidate in the last 60 years has lost Arizona, and while it would be easy to dismiss this poll as a fluke, all of these results taken together should give us all pause.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Did a Blow to the Head Knock RG3 Out...of Contention for the Heisman Trophy?

My fellow Baylor Bears and I were privy to another exciting game this weekend (actually three, but I'm talking football here). Our 66-42 rout of Texas Tech was significant for many reasons. For one, it capped the Red Raiders' first losing season since 1992, and we knocked them out of Bowl contention. Probably the most exciting play of the game came late in the third quarter, when Joe Williams, our stocky, 5'10" sophomore cornerback, picked off Tech QB Seth Doege and ran the ball back 90 yards for Baylor’s seventh touchdown of the game.
What the Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Shootout (which apparently is what this game was called) will probably most be remembered for is Robert Griffin III's head injury and subsequent absence from the second half. As Stephen Hawkins of the AP put it:

Griffin had scrambled from one side of the field to the other and slid inside the 5 with a first down when defensive back Cornelius Douglas came in hard with an elbow that knocked Griffin’s head back to the turf. The quarterback remained flat on his back for a couple of moments before coming out of the game for a play. He then returned for his second touchdown run to make it 31-21.
What's missing from Hawkins's summary but probably obvious to anyone familiar with the rules of the game is that Douglas's blow was a late (and ergo illegal) hit. Had this occurred in the NFL, he would've been fined and probably ejected from the game. Instead, his team was penalized, and he was allowed to play the rest of the game.
In fairness, it's not clear whether Douglas intended to hit RG3. Often times, these guys already have their bodies or body parts in motion when the clock stops. The bigger story may be the stellar performance of backup Baylor QB Nick Florence, who was 9 of 12 for 151 yards, including a pair of long touchdowns. Here on the Baylor campus, however, there's much chatter about how this might effect Griffin's Heisman chances.
Last week, after his record-shatterring performance in Baylor's unprecedented defeat of OU, RG3 was the talk of the town. Y! Sports' Eddie George and Pat Forde both listed him as their No. 1 pick to win the Heisman Trophy. I even joined in the media hype. Now, people are wondering if he'll even play in our season finale vs. Texas. He insists he will, but I'm getting tired and would like to wrap up this post. Good night.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Republicans Should Call the President's Bluff

Recently, the president has reprised his half-hearted call for Congress to extend the payroll tax cut enacted as part of the fiscal compromise passed last December. You may recall that the president had billed this temporary reduction in the FICA tax (to 4.2% from 6.2%) as a "payroll tax holiday" from the moment he signed it into law. There is no record of anyone who authored/sponsored the legislation in Congress intended this to be a permanent tax cut. This makes the president's call for Congress to extend the lower rate, lest they allow a tax increase to happen, disingenuous at best.

Congressional Republicans should not take the bait and engage President Obama in a serious debate, something the president has demonstrated no interest in having. Rather, they ought to pass a bill extending the payroll tax holiday for one year and also reducing spending by some significant amount (I'm talking hundreds of billions of dollars below the baseline.) during the same time period. That way, if the Democrat-controlled Senate balks and votes down the package, the GOP can legitimately blame the Democrats for the eventual reversion of the FICA tax rate to its pre-2011 level come January. If the Dems try to play games and pass legislation extending the current rate but with no spending cuts, then the House should simply take that bill, add a bunch of spending cuts to it, pass the amended bill, and then it would go to a Conference committee, by which time Congress will have already adjourned for its Christmas/New Year's recess. Obama will once again come off as a weak and feckless leader, something Republican candidates hoping to take him on next year should be sure to capitalize on just in time for primary season.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Not a Good Day to be an Oklahoman

If you follow NCAA Football, then you should be aware that yesterday was full of upsets. Oklahoma's two largest universities were on the losing end of two of them. Oklahoma State, ranked 2nd in the nation, was handed its first loss of the season by unranked Iowa State. More importantly, No. 5 Oklahoma rolled into Waco prepared to take on my beloved No. 22 Baylor Bears. Baylor had played OU 20 times prior to last night and lost every time. I can recall one particularly memorable game that went into double overtime back in 2005. I was a freshman at the time; the game was played in Norman, and it wasn't even supposed to be close. Now we have beaten the Sooners. Our mercurial WR Terrence Williams caught a touchdown pass from RG3 (Robert Griffin III, for those of you unfamiliar with the next Heisman Trophy winner) with eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. As if that weren't awesome enough, WR Trey Franks (a Texas native) fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff. His Baylor counterpart, WR Clay Fuller, recovered the fumble to avoid another OT showdown agaisnt the Sooners. Could there be a more exciting finish to game that got off to such a slow, error-riddled start?

As to the other upset in the Big 12 this weekend, I didn't watch the OSU-ISU game, but there is something I want to share that ties in with it. My paternal grandmother (who appeared in one of my first YouTube videos ever) went to OSU back when it was Oklahoma A & M. She's a big Cowboys fan. She called me repeatedly last night. (Unbeknownst to her, I was at a social event known as "Law Prom" and couldn't be disturbed.) When she finally got ahold of me this morning, she was still excited. She didn't even care about her alma mater's bruising loss. Perhaps there's some lesson in there for disheartened sooners/Cowboys fans. I'm not sure what it is, but maybe other OSU alums can take some solace in their teams 10-1 record and look forward to their upcoming showdown with the team we just sent crying back to Norman.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

GOP's 2012 Motley Crew Dwarfs Dems' '08 Lineup

It's no secret that a lot of prospective Republican primary voters were initially cool to the field of candidates seeking the party's 2012 presidential nod. This was evident not only in the large chunk of "undecided" voters in poll after poll but also the constant turnover at the top of the field. Now, more and more voters appear to be settling on a candidate, if only tentatively. My personal favorite, Jon Huntsman, Jr., won't win the nomination, but that won't stop me from trying to wrangle a date with one of his daughters. (For the record, Huntsman was my first choice before he even entered the fray.) If I had to make a prediction, then obviously Mitt Romney is the heavy favorite to win the nomination; Newt Gingrich probably has the second-best chance. What I never really understood, though, is why so many people kept saying the GOP had a weak field of candidates. I'm not sure what that assessment was based on.

In 2008, the Republicans had an embarrassment of riches when it came to our choice of candidates; there was "America's Mayor," Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, who rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics and accomplished more than any Democrat ever had in the way of health care reform, and the eventual nominee, John McCain, who in addition to being a solid conservative with an incomparable record of legislative achievement, is truly one of our greatest living heroes. The Democrats, on the other hand, had an embarrassment, but that didn't stop their incredibly flawed nominee from winning the presidency. (Obama's victory was even more impressive when you consider that he wasn't even the strongest contender in a weak field.) The 2008 Democratic primary campaign was notable in many regards, not least for producing perhaps the most monolithic top tier of primary contenders in either party in recent memory. Think of it: three U.S. Senators, all of them lawyers, none with any real leadership experience, and two of whom had never held public office prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate. This is not to say that Senators or lawyers do not make good commanders-in-chief--J.F.K. and Richard Nixon were both better-than-average presidents--but America could do a lot better than the three tools who led the Democratic field in '08, so you can understand my reaction to Jonathan Capehart's latest column, in which he described the current GOP campaign as "a mystifying mosh pit of unsatisfying characters." That actually wasn't so objectionable, but then he went on to declare, "Four years ago, Democrats ... had an impressive field of candidates to choose from." He added, "The Republican race for the nomination is the exact opposite." I knew I had to call him out on that.

Before I tear Capehart apart (for the second time this month), I should mention that I actually agree with a lot of what he wrote about the Republican race for the nomination this time around. Witness:

Terrible debate performances aided in knocking Perry from the top spot. But his attempts to reclaim the magic of August, when he entered the race, have been shameful. He dabbled in birtherism and then disavowed it. His dance with insanity stomped all the announcement of his flat-tax announcement, which was meant to relaunch him and his campaign. Hints from Perry’s campaign that the Texas governor might skip future debates were lame. Then Perry unintentionally did his best Charlie
Sheen imitation
at an event in New Hampshire on Friday.
And yet he sits atop a stockpile of campaign cash that he is already deploying in the form of television ads in Iowa.
If Republicans follow their tradition of giving the nomination to the fella who was rejected the last time around, then Romney's a shoo-in. Unfortunately for him, he has to watch the GOP electorate romance everyone but him — Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio . . . did I leave anyone out? — before his entreaties are accepted.
The open flirtation with anyone but Romney must be galling to the successful former Massachusetts governor. And yet he keeps giving primary voters reasons to distrust him.

That's where Capehart stopped being reasonable--and I stopped agreeing with him. He contuines:

Romney has been all over the map on abortion, gay rights and health care. But he has now added flip-flopping stances on climate change and Ohio’s law restricting collective bargaining to the roster.

First off, Romney never flip-flopped on the aforementioned Ohio law (as I prove here). Second,s hi supposed "flip-flop" on "climate change" apparently consisted solely of a recent statement the candidate made in a speech at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, viz., "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet." (Romney had previously expressed an unequivocal belief "that climate change is occurring and "that human activity is a contributing factor.") Personally, I don't consider that a flip-flop. If you believe something but aren't sure of it, then you don't "know" anything. Also, Romney said "we" in the Pittsburgh speech, whereas his earlier comments clearly expressed his personal view. These may seem like semantics, but if this is what the trolls on the Left are going to characterize as "flip-flopping", then they can't fairly accuse me of nit-picking.

As for Romney's alleged stance-shifting on other issues, I also disagree that he's "been all over the map". He changed his mind on the abortion issue. Lots of people do (including yours truly). There's no getting around that, but it shouldn't be a politcial negative. (Voters didn't seem to have as big a problem with Ronald Reagan and George Bush's similar conversions on the issue.) As for gay rights, I think it's a matter of opinion as to whether or not Romney's been "all over the map" on that. In the first place, it depends on what you consider "gay rights." In my view, because no one has the right to marry someone of the same sex, being opposed to same-sex marriage is not an anti-gay rights position, and it certainly isn't "anti-gay." Other than his firm opposition to same-sex marriage, I'm not sure what else Mitt Romney's detractors claim evince a flip-flop from his avowed support for gay rights. As for health care, what?!? "Romney has been all over the map on health care."? Really, Jon? Have you not noticed that Romney's single biggest political liability in his quest for the Republican nomination is the health care reform law he crafted, championed and signed into law as governor? Have you really not noticed that, despite repeated entreaties from conservatives, he has consistently refused to disavow it? In fact, he has defended it relentlessly. You're crazy, Jon, or you're just stupid. (Perhaps both.)

If it seems like I got off on a tangent in the previous few paragraphs, then it's because I felt the need to delve into this absurd "flip-flopping" charge that has dogged the on-again/off-again GOP frontrunner because it provides an excellent example of how uttelry nonsensical much of the criticism of the 2012 GOP presidential field has been. The absence of Chris Christie, Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels is palpable, for sure, but we've still got an illustrious cast of characters that towers above the train of fools the Dems had to pick from in '08. I've already sung the praises of Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, so let's take a look at some of the others:

  • In addition to having the most impressive record of any Speaker of the House in the past half-century, Newt Gingrich has that rare (and, in politicans, almost non-existent) quality of brilliance restrained by humility. He is so smart that, unlike many people with a comparable intellect, he knows how to speak so as not to pander to people without also sounding like a pompous ass. (Paul Ryan is the only other modern-day politician I can think of who has demonstrated this highly impressive talent.)

  • When Americans look at and listen to Herman Cain, they see/hear a man truly worthy of making history as our country's first black president. Unlike Obama, who embodies virtually everything people say they hate about politicians, Cain has never held elected office. Unlike Obama, he has run several businesses and served his country in the United States Navy (as a ballistics specialist, no less). True, both Cain and Obama deal in sound bites, and at times both are guilty of inappropriate flippance. Nevertheless, Cain's improbable path to the presidency (if only theoretical) is a far more compelling story than that of a "community organizer" who grew up in a tropical paradise, went to the best schools and seemed to put his law degree to the use of everything but the practice of law.

  • Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are both men of firm convictions. I vehemently disagree with each of them on some things; on others I think each man is 100% right. Both men can bost achievements that the current president cannot. Santorum worked hard as a legislator and managed to get a significant number of bills passed, most notably the Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunity Act (better known as the landmark Welfare Reform Act) of 1996. Paul has attracted a passionate throng of supporters who, in contrast to the legions of Obamaniacs out there, can actually explain what their candidate stands for and believes in.

Since I've previously criticized Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, I won't try to now tout them as first-rate candidates, though I'll reiterate my position that either of them would make a better president than Barack Obama, as would Gary Johnson or Buddy Roemer. Hopefully, though, my point is well-taken that the GOP's options for 2012 are much, much better than the Democrats' choices in 2008.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

GOP's Special Election Momentum Halted in W. Va.

Brad Davis/Associated Press

After sufferring a double defeat in two special elections last month, Democrats were reeling at the prospect of being on the losing end of another huge special election upset. In West Virginia, a state so weird that it holds a special election for governor (1) in October and (2) to fill a seat that will be up for election again next November, even though the lieutenant governor has already succeeded to the office, the Dems were in panic mode once again after watching their candidate's double-digit lead disappear over the past few weeks. So naturally, political hangers-on in both parties were on pins and needles in advance of the first (and only close) gubernatorial race of 2011. As the returns rolled in last night, Democrats could breathe a sigh of relief once it became clear that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) held an insurmountable lead over his Republican opponent, businessman Bill Maloney. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Tomblin had 50% of the vote compared to Maloney's 47%.

Low voter turnout may have helped Tomblin. It appears that less than 400,000 people voted in this election. By comparison, 530,000 West Virginians cast ballots in last year's special election to finish out the term of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D), and over 700,000 went to the polls to vote in the last presidential election. What is clear, though, is that Democrats now have broken the GOP's special election winning streak with a victory in big statewide race. Republicans, meanwhile, should be proud that they made a close race out of something that really shouldn't have been and probably weakened Tomblin for next year's election, when he will likely run for a full term.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Tale of Two Executions

Two men were executed yesterday. (Maybe more people were; this article won't discuss them.) You probably heard about one of them, a man named Troy Anthony Davis. In 1991, Davis was convicted of killing Savannah Police officer Mark MacPhail, who was moonlighting as a security guard at the time. According to the testimony of multiple witnesses, Davis pistol-whipped a homeless man in a Burger King parking lot and then shot MacPhail when he tried to break up the fight. As MacPhail laid bleeding to death in the parking lot, Davis reportedly walked over to him and shot him several more times before fleeing the scene. (One witness even testified that Davis "had a little smile on his face" when he shot MacPhail.) A Chatham County jury convicted Davis of murder, obstruction of a law enforcement officer, two counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was sentenced to death for the murder.

Davis had become a cause célèbre in recent years, and not just on the Left. True, most of Davis's high-profile supporters were well-known liberals opposed to capital punishment, including Rev. Al Sharpton and his cohort Rev. Jesse Jackson, former Pres. Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and some guy named Mike Farrell. Even the Pope personally appealed to the Governor of Georgia for clemency. But several well-known death penalty proponents–most notably former Congressman Bob Barr, former federal judge and FBI Director Bill Sessions, and former Texas Gov. Mark White–also joined the fray. (Sessions and White hold special clout with yours truly because both are Baylor lawyers who also earned their undergraduate degrees from the University.)

Speaking of Texas, I want to talk a bit about the other execution I referenced in the opening line of this column. Remember James Byrd, Jr., that black man who was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to death in Jasper, Texas, back in 1998? Ever wonder what happened to the three men who were arrested, indicted and tried for Byrd's murder? Well, all three were convicted of capital murder. (Byrd's murder took place in the course of a kidnapping, making it a capital offense under the Texas Penal Code.) Two were sentenced to death. One of them, a white supremacist named Lawrence Russell Brewer, was executed by lethal injection last night in Huntsville. Did you hear about that?

I wanted to bring up these two executions for a number of reasons, but mostly because it presented the opportunity to do a small compare-and-contrast piece that touches on a slew of intriguing issues: capital punishment, due process, the writ of habeas corpus and, of course, race. That's right, race. Let me ask you something: if I were to say, about one of the aforementioned cases, “Race is everything in this case,” then which case would you guess I was referring to? The obvious answer would be the grisly killing of James Byrd, which few would argue was racially motivated. Yet a few years ago, Georgia Congressman and former civil rights activist John Lewis uttered those exact words in reference to the Davis case. The editors of the Nation (an actual magazine, I'm told) were even less subtle: "Davis is a black man convicted of killing a white police officer," they declared in a piece that will appear in the next issue, "and in Southern and Northern states alike, this fact alone will trump all others."

Never mind that seven of the twelve jurors who convicted Troy Davis and sentenced him to die were black, or that most of the eyewitnesses who implicated him in the shooting death of Officer MacPhail were black. Nope, it must be racism! Okay, okay, I'm being a tad facetious. No serious, intelligent person believes Davis was executed because of his race. Indeed, race was curiously absent from the arguments made on Davis's behalf by Reverends Sharpton and Jackson, two notorious race hustlers. Their appeal, like those made by most of Davis's high-profile advocates, centered on "serious doubts" about his guilt/innocence.

One line frequently repeated by Davis's supporters was that seven of the nine witnesses against him had recanted. That's misleading, to put it mildly. First of all, as Ann Coulter points out, "the state presented 34 witnesses against Davis -- not nine -- which should give you some idea of how punctilious the media are about their facts in death penalty cases." What's more, I don't know that seven of the witnesses against Davis actually recanted; some have merely rehashed doubts and second thoughts they had already voiced on the stand at Davis's trial 20 years ago. Darrell Collins, for example, signed an affidavit in 2002 saying police pressured him into pointing the finger at Davis. Not only did he make that same assertion on the witness stand, but according to CBS News, the "jury heard Collins back off a statement he'd given to police implicating Davis in the shooting." Another witness, Jeffery Sapp, testified at trial that Davis confessed to him just hours after shooting MacPhail. Years later, Sapp signed an affidavit saying he'd fabricated the entire confession. However, the jury knew that when they rendered their verdict. On direct-examination, Sapp acknowledged he made up part of a prior statement to police when he said Davis told him he shot the officer a second time to make sure he "finished the job." Then, under cross-examination, he admitted that he did not believe Davis when he confessed to shooting the officer. He also testified that his false statements were made for revenge due to a recent feud between him and Mr. Davis.

But wait, it gets better. Ann Coulter reports:

Among the witnesses who did not recant a word of their testimony against Davis were three members of the Air Force, who saw the shooting from their van in the Burger King drive-in lane. The airman who saw events clearly enough to positively identify Davis as the shooter explained on cross-examination, "You don't forget someone that stands over and shoots someone."

There were a couple witnesses who did genuinely recant. During the trial, Dorothy Ferrell had identified Davis as the shooter. At trial, with Davis in the courtroom, she testified that she saw him from across the street and was "real sure, positive sure, that that is him." In December 2000, she signed a handwritten statement saying she was telling police what they wanted to hear because she was on parole for a shoplifting conviction and feared returning to prison. "I don't know which of the guys did the shooting, because I didn't see that part," Ferrell wrote. Larry Young was the man assaulted in the Burger King parking lot. At trial, his testimony was used to establish that his assailant was Mr. Davis and not another man, Sylvester Coles, who Davis's defense had tried to point to as the real shooter. In his recantation affidavit, Young claimed that the police refused to allow him medical treatment and that his testimony was coerced. Like Ms. Ferrell, Mr. Young claims he testified by simply stating what the police wanted him to say.

To understand why these recantations were not enough to get Davis a new trial or at least a stay of execution, you need to know the details of the appeals process in this case. First off, Troy Davis did receive a stay of execution; in fact, he received several. The third was granted by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008. After hearing oral arguments, they rejected Davis's appeal but graciously extended the stay for 30 days to allow Davis the opportunity to file a habeas corpus petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. This is where the case gets really fascinating for legal scholars like me: On August 17, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States did something it had not done in nearly half a century: it sent a prisoner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus back to the federal District Court "for hearing and determination." To understand the significance of this, witness Justice Antonin Scalia's earnest dissent from the Court's opinion:

Today this Court takes the extraordinary step-one not taken in nearly 50 years-of instructing a district court to adjudicate a state prisoner's petition for an original writ of habeas corpus. The Court proceeds down this path even though every judicial and executive body that has examined petitioner's stale claim of innocence has been unpersuaded, and (to make matters worst) even though it would be impossible for the District Court to grant any relief. Far from demonstrating, as this Court's Rule 20.4(a) requires, “exceptional circumstances” that “warrant the exercise of the Court's discretionary powers,” petitioner's claim is a sure loser. Transferring his petition to the District Court is a confusing exercise that can serve no purpose except to delay the State's execution of its lawful criminal judgment. I respectfully dissent.
In re Davis, 130 S. Ct. 1 (2009) (Scalia, J., dissenting). Justice Stevens addressed his brother's arguments in a concurrence:

Justice SCALIA's dissent is wrong in two respects. First, he assumes as a matter of fact that petitioner Davis is guilty of the murder of Officer MacPhail. He does this even though seven of the State's key witnesses have recanted their trial testimony; several individuals have implicated the State's principal witness as the shooter; and “no court,” state or federal, “has ever conducted a hearing to assess the reliability of the score of [postconviction] affidavits that, if reliable, would satisfy the threshold showing for a truly persuasive demonstration of actual innocence,” 565 F.3d 810, 827 (C.A.11 2009) (Barkett, J., dissenting) (internal quotation marks omitted). The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing. Simply put, the case is sufficiently “exceptional” to warrant utilization of this Court's Rule 20.4(a), 28 U.S.C. § 2241(b), and our original habeas jurisdiction.

Id. (STEVENS, J., concurring). Bottom line: the Court overrode usual limits on death-penalty appeals, granted a stay of execution and ordered a federal court in Georgia to weigh Davis’ evidence of innocence. Left-leaning Washington Post writer Charles Lane provides an excellent account on what happened from there:

Chief Judge William T. Moore of the U.S. District Court in Savannah, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, convened the hearing in June 2010 -- whereupon Davis’ case crumbled. Much of his “new” evidence had already been heard by the original trial jury. Some of his witnesses fared badly on cross-examination, while prosecution testimony stood up.

Davis’ lawyers declined to put two of Davis’ purported recanting witnesses on the stand, though they were available – one even waited outside the courtroom. Judge Moore quite logically found these omissions “suspicious.”

Davis’ lawyers did not call the “real” shooter; nor did Davis, with his life on the line, testify. Perhaps this reflected his experience at trial, where he told his story to the jury, and the jury did not believe it.

In August 2010, Moore issued a 174-page ruling, in which he picked apart Davis’ factual claims one by one, concluding, “The vast majority of the evidence at trial remains intact.”

Nearly 30 years ago, then-Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that the "argument ... that capital punishment is cruel and unusual is dwarfed by the cruelty of ten years on death row inflicted upon [a] guilty defendant by lawyers seeking to turn the administration of justice into the sporting contest that Roscoe Pound denounced three-quarters of a century ago." Troy Davis spent 20 years on death row. He was zealously defended by adept counsel, at trial and on appeal. Finally, after a nauseatingly interminable series of appeals, on March 28 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously denied Troy Davis’s last petition for writ of habeas corpus.

Before I close this out, there is one more thing about these executions that I wanted to discuss. Despite the atrocious tragedy visited upon them, Byrd's immediate family actually opposed Brewer's execution. Hundreds of people, including Byrd's widow and three children, held a vigil at a church on Tuesday.

Betty Boatner, one of Byrd's sisters, told reporters they were "praying for his family as well as our family, and for the citizens of Jasper." she said her family had "already made peace with it a long time ago."

Byrd's only son, who was in military training when his father was dragged to death, echoed that sentiment.

"Life in prison would have been fine," Ross Byrd, now 32, told Reuters. "I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn't what we want."

I cannot find the words to adequately express how moved I am by this family's incredible strength. I believe they are sincere, and I hope that the families of other victims of violent crimes are able to reach out to Byrd's relatives and that for help in coping with their loss and the understandable emotional toll it takes. (It almost made me forget about how a bunch of political hacks exploited this heinous crime in an attack ad featuring Byrd's daughter Renee during the 2000 election.)

Not all of Byrd's relatives opposed the execution, however.


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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Adrift in a Sea of Left-Wing Crazy Talk

Today, I made a stupid mistake. I visited It was the first time I had done this in a while, and I'm deeply ashamed of myself. This is not to say I regret it; RealClearPolitics is a great site and an excellent fix for political junkies, newsmongers and dataphiles. (I made that last word up.) Yet, therein lies the biggest problem it poses. If you're like me, then you've visited RCP in the past hoping to find one or two opinion/analysis/editorial pieces on a salient issue and maybe spend 20 to 30 minutes total on the whole endeavor before returning to your work. Sometimes it works out that way, but sometimes you get pulled down a rabbit hole and wind up sifting through site after site, article after article, wasting hours of time that you'll never get back. By the time you're satisfied, all you can do is cut your losses and try to avoid making the same mistake in the future. Such was the case with me on many occasions; I had finally resisted the urge to visit RCP for so long that I thought I could check out the site without falling into the same trap that I had so many times in the past. When I tried to do that earlier today, however, it didn't quite work out that way. One click led to another, and I soon found myself adrift in a sea of left-wing crazy talk.

I decided to write this blog post to call attention to two particularly ridiculous pieces of nonsense by well-respected (in left-wing circles) commentators. The first was a blurb by UC Berkeley professor and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. It was entitled “How to create (lousy) jobs.” (Somehow, before I even read the piece, I knew it was about Rick Perry and Texas.) The sub-head read, “Rick Perry has spurred job growth in Texas by driving out unions and effectively lowering wages.” Now, I’m not sure whether Reich wrote that or the site editors at Salon put it in, but it’s just B.S. What’s more, Reich admits in the first paragraph of his article that “governors have as much influence over job growth in their states as roosters do over sunrises.” So, how exactly can Perry be “driving out unions and effectively lowering wages”? Reich doesn’t say. Instead, he rattles off a series of talking points, making specious assertions without offerring any hard-core data to back them up. Then he gets to the crux of his argument: when "governors try hard enough," he says, "they can create lots of lousy jobs. They can drive out unions, attract low-wage immigrants, and turn a blind eye to businesses that fail to protect worker health and safety."

Reich adds:

Rick Perry seems to have done exactly this. While Texas leads the nation in job growth, a majority of Texas's workforce is paid hourly wages rather than salaries. And the median hourly wage there was $11.20, compared to the national median of $12.50 an hour.

First off, if you're not counting benefits, then $11.20 an hour is pretty good money for someone just starting out, especially if you don't have more than a high-school education. Second, Reich neglects to mention that Texas is one of the youngest states in the U.S. (only Utah has a lower median age), which explains our relatively low median wage. In his eagerness to dump on the Lone Star State, Reich neglected to carefully edit his piece and let a positive fact or two slip. For example, he mentions that Texas "has the lowest percentage of workers without health insurance."

Reich then goes off on a tangent, bashing supply-side economics and conservatives in general. The only other part of his post that I want to call attention to is this paragraph:

Besides, how can lower incomes possibly be an answer to America's economic problem? Lower incomes mean less overall demand for goods and services -- which translates into even fewer jobs and even lower wages.
First of all, that's only true if everyone's incomes are lower, meaning total income, and with it, overall demand, is down. However, until recently, household gross income had been growing steadily in the United States. Second, Reich purports to be concerned about American jobs and wages, but while higher incomes translate into more consumption, they don't necessarily translate into more consumption of domestic goods. As a former Secretary of Labor, Reich should have known this.

The second little gem I wanted to critique here was Jonathan Capehart's latest column for the Washington Post. It was entitled, "Obama’s fight — for respect." After listing a series of what he perceives as House Speaker John Boehner's slights at President Obama, Capehart offers this analysis:

When George W. Bush was president, harsh things were said all the time by congressional Democrats and their leaders. Some even crossed the line. Yet, while there was disdain for the man in the Oval Office, respect for the office itself was never in doubt. I seriously worry that it’s in doubt now among some Republicans. Each petty slight by Boehner is one more chip away at respect for the presidency.

First off, to say that some Democrats "crossed the line" with their attacks on George W. Bush is, I think, a supreme understatement. Secondly, WHAT?!? So the intense, hyperbolic vitriol heaped on the last president (not to mention his family, his party and virtually every member of his administration) never evinced a lack of "respect for the office" of president, but earnest, understandable and (in my opinion) legitamite criticism of the current preisdent's policies and behavior does?

Capehart then showed us just how deep his hero worship of BHO runs. According to him, Obama "is bigger than most of us. So the petty slights that get a lot of us riled up probably don’t register to him. He’s a thinker and plotter with his eyes on the prize down the road, not the daily hysteria taking place on the road to get there."

Assuming Capehart is expressing his true feelings and not just trying to be inflammatory or provocative, I think he's kidding himself. Either that or he's incredibly oblivious to the manner in which this president has conducted himself. Ever since he took office, Obama's proven himself to be immature, vindictive and thin-skinned. I'll spare you all a long list of examples, partly because I think any reasonable, detached observer would draw the same conclusion. I contacted Mr. Capehart to see if he could explain his puzzling statements. If he responds, then I will be sure to update this post accordingly.

The Web is replete on any given day with similar examples of left-wing drivel that I could criticize, which is why I try generally to avoid venturing on to any "gateway" site that could lead to the sort of time-consuming endeavor that ate up much of my afternoon and evening today.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Going Postal

I got a package yesterday. Now, when I say I "got" a package, I don't mean that someone came to my apartment and delivered it to me. I mean that I drove to the Post Office and retrieved it. See, last month I ordered several books online for my courses this fall. I received all but one of them in short order. That one book was finally shipped out on Saturday, August 27, according to the tracking history I pulled up online. it apparently went to a "Fedex Smartpost" in Dallas. From there, it was supposedly shipped to Waco on the morning of August 29th (last Monday). Pretty quick. Trouble is, I didn't know any of this until yesterday when I still hadn't received my package and tried to track it online. (I had previously tried to track it online but couldn't because it had not yet been shipped.) The latest entry on the Tracking History said "Delivery attempted" at 04:05:00 PM on August 29, 2011. There's a couple of problems with that: first, I was home at 4:05 p.m. on Monday afternoon, and I didn't hear anyone knock on my door then. Second, even if they tried to deliver the package to me, why didn't they try to deliver it again or at least contact me to let me know they had my package? Then I noticed that the "ship carrier" was USPS. Suddenly I was not surprised.

A lot of people have plenty of bad things to say about the Post Office, and I don't want to waste my time attacking such an easy target. I never intended to use this blog to vent my frustrations, and I'm not going to start doing that now. What I did find interesting is that the Postal Service has been in the news a lot lately, and it's not good news.

Some members of Congress are way ahead of him. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who chairs the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, is pushing a plan that would create a commission to recommend office closures, allow for five-day delivery and make other changes.

The real problem, as is so often the case with government, is that the Postal Service has made promises it can't afford to keep. Current union contracts prohibit layoffs. How can anybody run an efficient operation when their employees know they can't be fired?