Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Snarlin' Arlen Goes Home

The year was 1992. President George H.W. Bush was making a poor effort in a two-front contest for a second term while Republicans in Congress attempted to salvage what it could from the collapsing national campaign and a president who seemed more interested in supermarket scanner technology than winning re-election.
I was rooting for the GOP in all of the competitive congressional fights with a single exception where I was secretly hoping that a liberal Democrat named Lynn Yankel would successfully unseat a certain Republican incumbent US Senator from Russell, Kansas.
That Republican was Arlen Specter, the less famous (or more infamous) of the two national politicians hailing from that prairie town.
When asked by a reporter on Tuesday afternoon about Specter’s bolt, I replied that I had been expecting it for no less than 16 years. All Specter’s victory over Yankel did was prolong the inevitable and divert millions of Republican campaign dollars away from more deserving congressional candidates.
Specter’s shift back to the party he was registered with at the beginning of his political career underscores Specter’s mantra of practicing the politics of the possible.
It was Specter, then assistant counsel to the Warren Commission, who conjured up the “single bullet theory” that President John Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally were wounded by the same projectile in order to support the contention that only one gunman was involved in the Kennedy assassination.
And it was an opportunistic Specter that sought the Republican nomination for District Attorney in Philadelphia while remaining a registered Democrat.
His switch to the Democratic Party has been spun by Specter’s old policy/new political allies as a sign that the Republican Party is crumbling under the weight of an uncompromising right-wing.
Republican leaders, after ending their self-imposed gag-rule of criticizing Specter, have finally spoken with candor about the calculating nature of his defection. Specter, who was barely renominated in 2004, found himself in hot water with Republican voters (go figure) for his support of President Barack Obama’s economic policies.
Furthermore, polls indicated that Specter would probably lose the GOP nomination to a conservative challenger in 2010 in a state that tends to back the Democratic Party in national general elections.
Despite his welcome by the president and other Capitol Hill Democrats, such traitorous gambits of political expediency don’t always payoff.
In 1999, New York Congressman Michael Forbes jumped from the GOP to the Democrats and received a commitment of political support from President Bill Clinton, whom Forbes had voted to impeach months earlier. Unfortunately for Forbes, Democratic voters were less forgiving and made someone else their nominee in the general election.
I don’t harbor bitterness towards Specter as much as I do at Republican establishment types (most notably former President George W. Bush) who steered millions of dollars of GOP campaign money and the full might of the party apparatus to save Specter from voters that were tired of being made to feel obligated to support “half of a Republican” in the primary because “the powers that be” (i.e. much of the braintrust responsible for the GOP’s current state of affairs) coveted his caucus vote.
For those Republican activists who were condemned for supporting Pat Toomey in 2004, Specter’s defection is your vindication.
We should thank the reconverted Democrat for illuminating for the politically near-sighted GOP beltway elite what Republican proles knew all along: Arlen Specter never had any business being a Republican.
Sad to say, those Republicans who have stood by Specter through the years probably have no regrets for the support they gave him, since in their minds, Specter’s defection was a case of the talk-radio crowd running him off and not the senator running out on those who went to bat for his renomination in the GOP primaries and chairmanship of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.
The party base disliked Specter not just because he didn’t agree with them on many of the GOP’s core principles; rather, Specter always made a point of harboring a disagreeable attitude towards conservatives. Specter’s sin wasn’t that he was a liberal Republican, but rather an imperious liberal Republican.
Perhaps Rush Limbaugh’s Operation: Chaos could return in a limited engagement in 2010 in which conservative Republicans in Pennsylvania could masquerade as Democrats during the US Senate primary for the sole purpose of denying Specter, who has spent the last few decades masquerading as a Republican, the nomination of his old/new party.
Talk about poetic justice.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Saints Avoid Riot, Blow Opportunity in 2009 Draft

For the first time in my three trips to the New Orleans Saints’ official NFL Draft Fests, I noticed that the assembled throngs were not chanting any particular name when it came around time for the Black and Gold’s first round pick.
In 2007, the crowd huddled under the air-conditioned tent a stone-throw away from the team’s practice facility was screaming “OLSEN…OLSEN…OLSEN” (a reference to University of Miami tight end Greg Olsen who was later selected by the Chicago Bears), easily drowning out my solitary hollers for Robert Meachem.
There was a virtual consensus the following year when the Saints traded up to snag USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.
In 2009, the crowd yelled, rather demanded, not a player but a side of the line of scrimmage: DEFENSE!
And the crowd got more than a little antsy when ESPN, which had cameras trained on the player that was selected prior to the NFL commissioner’s stroll to the podium to announce a team selection, showed Ohio State running back Beanie Wells.
For a moment, it appeared Tom Benson was going to have to evacuate the Saints’ headquarters via helicopter and would have to pay a few property insurance damage deductibles. But the cameras moved on to fellow Buckeye Malcolm Jenkins, the cornerback the organization has made no secret of coveting.
Relieved that Wells was passed on though distraught my ideal pick strategy of trading down was pissed on, I slumped down into a rental folding chair and booed, not that anyone in particular noticed by disappointment.
That the team’s biggest weakness in the Sean Payton era was its secondary is hardly a secret. After 2006, they signed undersized cornerback Jason David away from Indianapolis. Well, we all know how that panned out.
In 2008, the Saints used their second round pick to land Louisiana native-Indiana cornerback Tracy Porter. Until he was sidelined with a severe wrist injury, Porter showed much promise and will likely resume his starting position in 2009. On top of Porter, the Saints also signed free-agent cornerback Aaron Glenn, though he went down quick himself.
Veteran cornerback Mike McKenzie’s 2008 season ended in game seven.
So I can understand the team’s anxiety over depth at cornerback.
But football is a contact sport. Things happen that can change your season in a single play. Just ask the Brady-less New England Patriots.
With the selection of Jenkins, the Saints are as loaded at cornerback as they are at wide receiver. After the conclusion of the ritual contract holdout by the team’s number one pick, Jenkins will compete with Porter, free-agent Jabari Greer, Randall Gay and Leigh Torrence. Oh, I almost forgot, Jason David, who I should mention is no longer #42, which is now in the possession of one Darren Sharper, the free-agent safety the team pursued after cutting its ties with Josh Bullocks, who left as a free-agent, and Kevin Kaesviharn, who left on a rail (cut).
Cornerback Usama Young might have a chance to salvage his thus far undistinguished career with the Saints in a move to safety.
The concept behind the Jenkins pick-up was to move him to free safety, where he would join Sharper and fellow FA acquisition Pierson Prilou. As neither Sharper nor Prilou are expected to be long-term solutions due to their age.
However, next season is projected to be a better draft for defensive backs (Jenkins at 14 was the first cornerback taken) and with what should go down as the best free-agency trawl by the team since 2006, particularly concerning the secondary, addressing the Saints’ relatively weak front seven seemed to be bigger priority.
That the team was picking at 14 in a rich linebacker draft further underscores the opportunity cost of going with Jenkins, to say nothing about the potential to have traded down and still left the first round with a star linebacker.
The Saints will in all probability start their first four games without their star, make that star-ting, defensive ends. Not that Will Smith, who was hobbled with a sports hernia, and Charles Grant, who has been hobbled with a severe case of lazy ass, contributed much in 2008. Their Star-Caps related suspensions come at the thinnest time of the Saints’ schedule so they’re temporary departure will at least come at a convenient time.
Aside from Ellis, there are questions at defensive tackle. Aside from the existing cast of characters that neither made the earth shake nor opposing quarterbacks, the team will have back a healthy DeMario Pressley, who was drafted last year and injured prior to the start of regular season, and the unretired Rod Coleman, who is making a comeback to pro-football after an injury in early 2007 took him out the game. Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry was still on the board when the Saints picked and a bit thereafter and would have been a sure thing. Now, the only thing certain is the Saints offensive line will have to work to keep him away from Drew Brees as he tries to break through twice a year when the Saints play the Atlanta Falcons.
Linebacker has been the position that I felt was the most critical to address in the draft. With the exception of middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the Saints’ linebacker corps has been more the “Gnome Patrol” than the “Dome Patrol”. The only pre-draft additions made were the concussion-susceptible Dan Morgan’s decision to unretire (got to love this Frank-Madoff-Obama economy) and San Diego washout Anthony Waters.
Unless Gregg Williams is the MacGyver of defensive coordinators, in which he can transform low-grade linebackers into an effective defensive component, I believe the Black and Gold will be haunted by not going with a linebacker in the first round.
Coach Payton would be wise to make sure our defensive backs build up their endurance as I expect them to be doing a lot of running as opposing quarterbacks bide their time behind Saints-resistant offensive lines.
Hopefully, Jenkins will prove me wrong as he and his teammates are lifting the Lombardi Trophy in 2010.

Overall take on the draft:

Malcolm Jenkins Cornerback , Ohio State: Not to further enrage the folks at PETA for beating a dead horse, I don’t think Jenkins was the optimal choice though he was probably the best defensive back in the draft. At least depth at cornerback won’t be the same problem it was last year.

Chip Vaughn Safety, Wake Forest: Talk about overkill with the secondary. It seems Sean Payton has taken the hints about his overly offensive-minded view of the game and decided to make up for the sins of the past by overcompensating in 2010. Vaughn will join Young, Prilou and Sharper to erase the stains of Bullocks and Kaesviharn. Not a bad pick up, though this would have looked much better had the Saints gone elsewhere in round one.

Stanley Arnoux Inside Linebacker, Wake Forest: Touted as a bargain by his college head coach, Arnoux is supposed to play the weak-side, competing with Scott Shanle (who will soon become the new whipping boy for the fans), Morgan (if he makes it through training camp) and the up and coming Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Of the three defensive players selected, Arnoux might be the one to have the most immediate impact on the club if only due to his competition.

Thomas Morstead Punter, Southern Methodist: I was for the Saints picking a punter, though not this one. University of Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber is someone I’ve had my eye on since I saw the booming punts he made in the Orange Bowl. Unfortunately, his hometown pro-team grabbed him first. The Saints traded up in the same round to get Morstead, who has good leg strength (does this story sound familiar?) but tends to hold the ball a bit too long. Though one of the less appreciated aspects of this sport called FOOTball, punting determines an opposing offense’s field position. Saints might be guilty of having the right thought, just not the right player.

Winners and Losers


Gregg Williams A defensive-minded draft is a sign that Sean Payton is willing to accommodate his prized defensive coordinator and that he might just have learned that one does not win by putting him a ton of points alone.

Pierre Thomas, Lynell Hamilton, Mike Bell: If there was any doubt whether Pierre Thomas would be the team’s featured back, the lack of a drafted running back, contrary to the national sports media’s predictions, is the surest sign Thomas will start. The question is how many times will Payton actually give him the football. Though the specter of an added free-agent looms on the horizon, Bell and Hamilton live another day with an open field going into pre-season. Now to find out which of the two emerges as the big back to get those cursed 3 & 1s.


Jason David: Memories of that exhibition game against the Houston Texans has largely poisoned my view of David as the weak-link every team have not been bashful of exploiting over and over again. David was nor a bad player; rather, he was put in bad plays. The team’s massive investment in free agency and the draft for defensive backs are a sure sign that the scrappy David won’t be wearing his newly acquired #29 jersey for too long.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saints Draft 2009: Can They Have Their King Cake and Eat It Too?

General managers can be defined by whom they select in the first round and how a player contributes to the team. Team front offices can also be haunted by the opportunity costs of what they passed up, which is why many people have the mentality that teams should pick the best player available and not so much attempt to address current needs.
I tend to be of the school of thought that short of being a perennial bottom-dweller, a team should always try to address need based upon your selection position and which first-tier players are still on the board.
For example, if you’re the Detroit Lions, your needs are so great that picking the best player at any position makes sense. Picking the best quarterback alone won’t solve the problems of the NFL’s first single-season 0-16 team.
On the contrary, the New Orleans Saints, which had one of the league’s most prolific passing game since 2006, would not be inclined to pick a quarterback with their first round pick even if the best overall rated player on the board is a QB.
Teams (like the Saints) that were only a few points away in a handful of games from post-season and have a largely intact team returning for the upcoming season should pursue need first.
That the Saints go into the draft with only 4 draft picks (with their first rounder being the only first day selection) need to take need and depth into consideration.
Anyone who watched the Saints play last season are all too aware of their two biggest problems: the inability of the offense to convert on 3rd and 1 and the inability of the defense to stop their opponents on 3rd and 10.
Both were vexing and both needed to be addressed if the team wants to not just go to the Super Bowl (Arizona Cardinals) but to actually win it (Pittsburgh Steelers).
Safety is the consensus weakness position and the Saints front office wisely chose to dispense of the team’s two starting free safeties, not retaining the winner of the “2009 Fred Thomas Scapegoat Award” Josh Bullocks and releasing “runner-up” Kevin Kaesviharn.
The team replaced both safeties in free agency nabbing the coveted Darren Sharper after what for sports talk fans had been an agonizingly long pursuit and Pierson Prioleau. Both veterans are long in the tooth as Sharper has been in the league for 13 seasons and Prioleau has played for 11, so neither are long term solutions which has led to the local sports media cries for the Saints to draft Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and convert him to free-safety.
One, I’m not sold that Jenkins is the answer to the Saints’ defensive woes.
Two, he’s probably not going to be on the board by the time pick number 14 comes around. As the Saints have no selections to spare, a trade up is improbable and the Times Picayune’s sportswriters constant pegging of Jenkins as the team’s first round pick is wishful thinking.
The national sports media have largely speculated that the Saints will choose Jenkins’s fellow Buckeye Beanie Wells to pick up where the canonized by the fans and furloughed by the team Deuce McAllister left off as running back.
Unlike Jenkins, Wells will likely be available when the Saints select though I have a few reservations about picking the halfback.
One, Wells has durability issues, something that should trouble an organization whose star backs have had their contribution to the offense minimized due to serious injuries.
Second, I don’t think Wells is worth a 14th overall selection.
Third, I don’t think running back is the Saints’ most pressing need.
Fourth, and most importantly, the Saints already have the big back needed to pick up the short yards, Lynell Hamilton. The ex-San Diego State player showed his potential in the 2008 pre-season.
Part of the reason why the Saints ranked 28th in rushing yards is Sean Payton’s preference for passing over keeping the ball on the ground. If Reggie Bush stays healthy and Pierre Thomas and Hamilton are given the opportunities to run the ball, the Saints would have greater control of the game clock and giving the defense a rest.
Where the Saints really need to improve is putting pressure on opposing team’s quarterbacks. The team’s overpriced and unproductive defensive ends have not helped keeping the likes of Jeff Garcia look like Michael Vick. The team ranked 22nd in sacks with 28.
The addition of Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator will help produce a much more aggressive defense; the question is does he have the right players to execute his play calls?
The Saints upgraded last season by selecting DT Sedrick Ellis and the team has a bit of depth in the position. Where I think the team is still lacking is linebacker. There’s no question that ILB Jonathan Vilma was a major pick up. However, Scott Shanle seems to be the weak-link. And at the risk of being pelted with rotten vegetables by the Black and Gold faithful, I am not totally sold on the popular Scott Fujita.
As this is a weak draft for safeties (2010 is much more promising), the Saints have a temporary fix for the current season and barring another injury-massacre, the team should be okay at cornerback with the return of last-season’s second-round pick Tracy Porter and free-agent Jabari Greer.
If I were Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, I would seek a trade-down to pick up a second round choice as there’s not much difference in the quality of players that suit the Saints’ needs between 14 and the mid-20s. A first-round swap with New England for their second-round selection (34th overall) would be most advantageous trade possible.
At the 23rd pick, there’s a decent chance USC linebacker Clay Matthews or Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry will be available with the Saints using the newly acquired high second rounder to scoop up Liberty University running back Rashad Jennings as Hamilton’s competition for the big back the Saints need to quit letting the close games, and their playoff hopes, slip away.
If in the event the Saints choose to use their 14th pick or can’t swing the deal with New England, then they should go with USC linebacker Brian Cushing or if Payton insists on an offensive player Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno and hope that unretired linebacker Dan Morgan makes it through training camp and had an impact.

Order of preferred draft options:

1) Trade with a team in the mid-twenties to get a decent second round pick and use the lower first round selection to land a) outside linebacker Clay Matthews or b) defensive tackle Peria Jerry and use the second round choice to draft running back Rashad Jennings.
2) Use 14th overall pick to select outside linebacker Brian Cushing.
3) Use 14th overall pick to select running back Knowshon Moreno.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What I Saw at the Revolt

Motivated by the federal financial give-aways of the past year, tens of thousands of citizens across the country spontaneously converged outside of shopping malls and in front of government buildings to declare their opposition to the bailouts and stimulus package and preemptively rallying against the large tax increases that will follow to finance the massive doling of public dollars.
In suburban New Orleans, on what locals call the “neutral ground” outside of the Lakeside Shopping Centre, thousands of people of all ages, some using walkers while others were pushing strollers, assembled and waved homemade signs expressing their angst about Washington’s war on capitalism.
Now the 3,000 or so that showed up is remarkable as the Crescent City has never been much of a protest town, even during the turbulent sixties as residents save their mass gatherings for Mardi Gras parades, Jazz Fest and church fairs.
Add to that Republicans are hardly protest-oriented folks, though it would be presumptuous to assume that those in attendance were Republican activists. For the most part, they weren’t.
After walking around the throng, I did not see many familiar faces on turf that would be occupied by no more than a few dozen people waving campaign placards on a major election day. And it was apparent that the hastily organized event drew far more people than its coordinators anticipated.
There was no stage and the modest sound-system was drowned out by the generator that supplied its power. With all due respect to the elected officials who attempted to preach to the choir, their speeches did not matter; what was significant was that so many people chose to be on hand on their own volition and not because they were bussed, recruited or paid to attend.
There weren’t right wing extremists; these were grandparents, college students and middle-class families that had the audacity to publicly express their disagreement with the direction America is going down.
Though mocked and disrespected by the media in the coarsest of terms, the networks were obliged to give the legions of non-professional protestors coverage, communicating to those who quietly harbor reservations about the wisdom of America erratically spending itself out of a situation that was caused by fiscal mismanagement that they are not alone and it is okay not to hand Obama & Co. a blank check.
There is a difference between wanting America to fail and wanting Obama to fail in transforming the America into a western European nanny-state.
So where do the TEA Party people go from here?
July 4th is slated to be the next national tax protest day though as it is a holiday when people vacation, a better rally day would be September 17th, Constitution Day. In addition to being a day when people would be in their own town, having a such an event on that day would reemphasize the importance of our nation’s governing document and how far the federal government has grown, sometimes by “extra-constitutional” means, at great expense to the taxpayers.
As for doing something beyond chanting and venting, TEA Party participants should make a point of getting involved by personally communicating to their congressional representatives their opposition to the Obama economic agenda and hold accountable those who shackled generations of unborn Americans with thirteen-figures of debt just in the past twelve months.
Something else they can do is become Republicans…not for the sake of expanding party registration rolls but by keeping…scratch that…MAKING the GOP honest.
Someone in state government who watched the Baton Rouge TEA Party from his office window wondered aloud where were all of these people in November 2008. I replied by asking where was the candidate who shared their feelings on the bailouts?
He wasn’t there so neither were they.
John McCain lost his only chance of winning the presidency by toeing the line with his Democratic opponent on the virtue of pumping billions of dollars in banks and industries that teetered on collapse not because of capitalism but due to government pressure to make bad investments in the former and past decisions by the domestic auto industry to avoid competing with foreign automakers in quality that doomed their future.
As the Democratic Party is beyond salvage, people who want to reduce spending and stop the inevitable taxing to follow must ensure the GOP leadership consists of people who genuinely sympathize with the aims of the TEA Party participants and are not simply latter-day converts of convenience.
Opposing the renomination of Republican US Senators that supported the stimulus package would be a good start to show we mean business.
Contrary to the wisdom of GOP Beltway operatives, the American people need their tax dollars protected more than the party needs a handful of unreliable caucus votes.
Though President Obama will in no way be deterred from implementing his big government program by the rallies, the gatherings should be considered a success.
If a reborn Republican Party emerges from the muck of 2008 and succeeds in bringing change for the better to Washington in 2012, that crusade’s roots could be traced not to any strategy conceived at the Republican National Committee headquarters but to the crowded public squares across the country on April 15, 2009 where the party got a little piece of its soul and some of its lost credibility back. The misguided federal policies that would make Thomas Jefferson weep in sorrow was met with the passionate protests of citizens that would make the author of the Declaration of Independence cry tears of joy.