Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Last "John Breaux Democrat" Jumps Ship

After watching well over a century control of both houses of the Louisiana Legislature slips away through party switches and special elections that broke towards the GOP, the Louisiana Democratic Party suffered the ultimate indignity on Thursday with the departure from the party of one its most prominent in-state figures. Former US Senator and one-time de facto state party boss John Breaux made a surprise visit to his former stomping grounds in Crowley to announce that he is now a registered independent. “If I ran in a Democratic primary for Congress today, I doubt I could be nominated,” mused Breaux, who is retired from politics as a candidate though not from the political scene as one of the top lobbyists on the Beltway’s power corridor of K Street. During his time in Congress’ upper chamber was one of the most conservative members of his former party and was known for being able to work both sides of the aisle. When Breaux last sought office in 1998, he received a great deal of support from Republicans, including the Baton Rouge congressman he defeated to win a seat in the US Senate in 1986. Breaux, who resides in Maryland, cited his disenchantment with the Obama Administration’s energy policies and their impact on his native state and the overall tilt of the Democratic Party to far left. “Forget the spotted owl, the real endangered species is the Blue Dog Democrat,” said Breaux. “Increasingly conservative voters have thrown them out of office and replaced them with Republicans while those moderate Democrats who have held on are neutered by the party leadership in Congress.” “I knew that as a pro-life, pro-second amendment, business-friendly US Senator, I had a very limited future in the party. There was a leadership threshold I simply could not cross and that was frustrating to me when considering the money I raised for my colleagues,” lamented Breaux. Breaux’s defection wasn’t total since he did not embrace the Republican Party. “I have a lot of friends in the GOP though I could not bring myself to go that far. I’ve worked hard moving the Democratic Party forward from the Edwin Edwards-era and I still believe the Democratic Party is the party of the working man, though it’s also the party of elements that advocate reckless policies and positions that are bad for Louisiana and America,” said Breaux. Breaux won’t be missed by all Louisiana Democrats. Lynnda Kimball of Democrats for Progress, a liberal grassroots organization that is actively supportive of President Obama’s agenda, did not have kind parting words for Breaux. “He (Breaux) spent more time fighting for Texaco than working families,” said Kimball. “Breaux was (George W.) Bush’s favorite Democrat. That should say it all.” When informed of Breaux’s decision to become a registered independent, Vice-President Joe Biden, who served with the Cajun politician in the US Senate for 18 years offered the following statement: "John has been a friend of mine for many years and I thought he represented the state of Arkansas ably during his time in Washington. I enjoyed working with him on landmark legislation such as the Water Flume Regulation Act and the Whooping Cough Eradication Act. That said, I would like to wish him a Happy April Fool's Day."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Obama's "Feel Good" Rocket Attack

.One really doesn’t need much of an excuse to want to see Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi blown to kingdom come.

Gaddafi’s regime through acts of terrorism is responsible for the murder of American servicemen and civilians. And the man Ronald Reagan dubbed the “mad dog of the Middle East” has reminded the world of his willingness to order the slaughter of his fellow Libyans for the crime of objecting to his four decades plus of iron-fisted rule.

And while working to destabilize Gaddafi’s grip on power is in itself unobjectionable concept, there are questions that need to be answered, specifically how long are we going to fire rockets into Libya and what’s the ultimate purpose?

A no-fly zone and a temporary bombardment via tomahawk missiles won’t be enough to bring Gaddafi down.

Gaddafi still wields control of the Libyan armed forces and while he won’t be able to utilize his air force and send tank columns to immediately suppress the insurrection, all the colonel needs to do is wait the West out.

Give Gaddafi a bunker filled with netflicks and a few months worth of Triscuits and he will emerge from the rubble wrapped in his favorite shower curtain still holding whatever grandiose title he has apportioned to himself after the West has lost interest in Libyan human rights.

Saddam Hussein survived not only a catastrophic military humiliation as his army was quickly driven out of Kuwait but also the domestic uprising that was supposed to have been enabled with a no-fly zone that didn’t work out so well for the rebels.

Those insurgents in Basra who were inspired to revolt against the Hussein tyranny after the Allied Coalition’s pummeling of the Republican Guard were rewarded with sadistic executions once Baghdad reasserted control of the south. That bit of history probably isn’t lost on either Gaddafi or the leading rabble-rousers in Benghazi.

Hussein wasn’t toppled by an indigenous rebellion but through a full-fledged American-led “boots on the ground” invasion.

Short of the US Marines once again landing on the shores of Tripoli, Gaddafi will be able to bide his time and maintain his position of authority.

It appears the Libyan adventure is currently limited to the standard liberal noble goal of merely “doing something”.

Sure some tanks have gone up in smoke and a handful of military structures have been wrecked, but the Libyan rebels are still nowhere closer to effecting regime change.

Right now the military action in Libya is not much more than then-President Bill Clinton’s cruise missile attack on Iraq’s intelligence headquarters in response to a busted Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush during a visit to Kuwait in 1993.

Shock and awe it isn’t; the strikes have been more like an “Aw Shucks” offensive that has shown we care but not enough to do what’s required.

Gaddafi, not trusting his native military to do the dirty work of mowing his own people down, has shrewdly recruited foreign mercenaries who have a vested interest in the survival of the current government, since the checks are sure to stop coming if the dictator is killed or books a one-way flight to Caracas.

The Obama Administration’s all-too public grasping at a Libya Policy has exhibited indecisiveness, with America following in France’s rhetorical and military wake.

Yes France, the very country that refused to allow American jets to fly over their air space while en route to paying Gaddafi a surprise visit in 1986 in the form of a retaliatory strike after Libyan agents bombed a West Berlin discotheque frequented by American military personnel.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy was the first world leader to publicly call for Gaddafi’s ouster and it was a French warplane that struck the first blow against the Libyan military in the current operation.

So what’s the objective and most importantly, who is going to decide what it is?

Will it be regime change via direct action by the western powers or will the US limit its involvement to creating opportunities for the rebels or simply keeping Gaddafi’s forces at bay, at least for the time being.

Shall the US defer to the United Nations on setting the end game or is an agreement between Washington, Paris and London a broad enough consensus?

It’s much more important that we impress with our actions not Gaddafi & Co. but the individuals occupying high military and foreign relations posts in Beijing, Tehran, Pyongyang and Moscow, as the consequences of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Libyan situation will manifest themselves far away from the Sahara.

While Gaddafi is taking his lumps, others are taking notes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NFL 2011: Greed 1 Fans 0

There was a time when my world revolved around baseball.

It was during the late eighties, an era before the internet, 24-hour sports channels with constant sports score crawlers and automatic text messages giving inning by inning play.

In order to learn how my Houston Astros fared in their rainbow-bright uniforms, I would feverishly flip channels during the 10 PM news. When really desperate I would turn on an old shortwave radio to pick up an armed services channel carrying a game and hope that the commentators would pass a score along.

The first thing I would do in the morning when arriving at school was make a bee-line for the library to peruse the USA Today Sports section (which contained more finals than the Times Picayune).

I was pretty damned obsessed but I was cured by Donald Fehr, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association. The union chief called a players’ strike over owners’ plans to implement a badly needed salary cap.

While I do still love the game, the fire that was once a conflagration is now a votive candle for the passion I once had for baseball.

The union “won” and played resumed slightly delayed the following season though the game suffered. 1994 could have been one of the most special seasons in the modern era.

So it goes without saying that I am not exactly sympathetic to player unions.

There is a single exception.

The bull the NFL owners are trying to pull over the players is ludicrous. The owners are demanding a free billion dollars, a rookie pay scale that shifts the savings back to their pockets and not deserving players who signed on the cheap and have played above their compensation level and my least favorite aspect, the 18-game regular season.

What’s disgusting is how the league has dressed the latter up as “something for the fans”. Are they serious?

If the owners wanted to be generous to those who fill the stadiums, buy their merchandise and pay $4 for a fifty-cent bottle of water, they could bring concession prices down. But that’ll happen when Al Davis gets awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (though they’ve given it to less deserving).

Their “favor” would generate additional television revenue off of week three and four preseason contests that go largely ignored. The 18-game season was a gambit intended to win the fans over to the owners’ side, though their self-interest in the matter is so blatant that there hasn’t been a tidal wave of “thank you” notes pouring into team headquarters from fans.

And what are the players asking for? The exact same deal that’s worked out so well for one and all for the past several years. And if things are not going so swell as the NFL claims, then full financial disclosure proving that this billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut is somehow just scrimping by.

I think only the folks at Arthur Andersen could produce books that say that, if you catch my drift.

The owners will probably win the standoff. First, they have more resources at their disposal from either their accrued wealth or from their other business endeavors.

By contrast, I would imagine quite a few players have lived beyond their means in the expectation that they will make more later. Or in the case of the extremely naïve, that they will actually see the full return on their incentive laden contracts.

Secondly, the owners can control the debate better than the players. They also have their own in-house spokesmen and media operation (the NFL Network). As there are only 32 owners, it’s easier for them to get on the same page while there are thousands of players out there who have had trouble reining in their tweets during football contests. To say nothing about their equally loose-lipped agents, who are also feeling the pinch.

Though times will be tight, I think the players can win this war of wills if they have discipline, curtail their personal spending and have everyone saying the same thing and nothing more, reminding the fans that unlike 1987, the players are not on strike but are being locked out by management.

Sports talk radio has simplified this dispute as a fight between billionaires and millionaires; I don’t think that’s fair since not all players see the big money. It’s about trusting but verifying and not surrendering ground just because the owners think this is a capital time to get a larger piece of the pie at the expense of shorter playing careers and defiling impressive statistical achievements by some of the games greats.

I often ask myself why I spend so much money annually to watch something in person when I could watch the same thing from the comfort of my home for free…and in the case of my nosebleed seats, with a better view as well.

There’s something about being there. When I pay my $70 or so per game ticket, I’m not just there witnessing, I’m participating. I’m making noise to disrupt an opposing offense’s huddle or contributing my fair share of racket to make the other team’s defensive line jump early. I go there to not only give energy but to immerse myself in it.

There’s an intangible I get from attending Saints games that can’t be described and it can’t be bottled. It can only be experienced.

As the owners begin sitting on our hard-earned money and obtusely dig in for a protracted hold out, they run the risk of hundreds of thousands of fans starting to ask themselves why they spend money there and not somewhere else. If you’re the NFL owners, that lucidity is no good, since they make billions off of our emotions.

Kill the season and you roll the dice on killing the magic.

Just like the MLB players did in the nineties.

I know baseball isn’t the NFL; but a long standoff might make people half the fans they used to be and it might be possible to measure that in dollars with enough financial data.

Is it wise to haggle over an extra billion on the front end if you end up losing billions on the back end?
We’re about to learn how stupid everyone is, owners, players and fans.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Primary Relevance: Repositioning Louisiana's Presidential Contest

The concept behind the original Super Tuesday was to give southern moderate Democratic candidates a cluster of simultaneous primary victories and large delegate haul as a counter-balance to the disproportionately influential Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Tennessee US Senator Al Gore was supposed to be the beneficiary of a day when 12 southern states voted in 1988.

The concept when initially put into practice had mixed results with Gore winning only five primaries while Jesse Jackson won just as many due to the black vote consolidating heavily behind his candidacy.

However in 1992, with no major black candidate in the race, southern Super Tuesday worked as planned as DLC leader and Arkansas governor Bill Clinton swept the six southern states that held primaries on that day.

By 1996 other states decided to challenge the southern Super Tuesday’s catbird seat. Eleven other states leapfrogged the now six state southern bloc, which was anchored by delegate rich Texas and Florida.

In 2000, southern Super Tuesday wasn’t so super anymore. Thirteen states, including California (the largest) and New York (the second largest), held their contests on the first Tuesday of March, which was when the nomination was decided. All told, 32 states held caucuses or primaries before the southern bloc went to the polls. Southern Super Tuesday had slid from deciding the nomination to ratifying a previously determined decision.

The same was true in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary as well.

Later in 2004, I initiated a push to move Louisiana’s presidential primary to an earlier date motivated by the longstanding irrelevancy of the state’s delegate contest. Though moving Louisiana’s presidential primary to an earlier date was important, so was the “company we kept” since it wouldn’t matter how early our primary was scheduled if we voted on the same day as either Texas or Florida.

Because Louisiana has its state and local elections on a Saturday, we had the flexibility to juxtapose our presidential primary on a non-traditional date.

Though 29 states were ahead of Louisiana’s primary, including the 20 states that held contests a few days before on the date the national parties mandated to be the first contest allowed, the Pelican State only had to compete with Kansas’ caucus on that day. And with both party nominations still up for grabs, Louisiana voters participated in a record Republican turnout and the highest Democratic turnout since the 1992 presidential primary.

Southern Super Tuesday was no more. Texas moved their primary up a week with Mississippi being the last southern state to still hold their primary on the second Tuesday in March.

In an effort to once again reform the manner in which presidential nominees are selected and to avoid the legal games that played out in the Obama v. Clinton procedural drama, both national parties issued new rules for 2012.

Under the new plan, jointly adopted by the DNC and RNC, any state that holds its primary or caucus to select delegates to the national conventions prior to the first Tuesday of March will lose half their delegates.

For Louisiana, that’s not an option since a 50% reduction in delegates would make the contest not worth an investment by most candidates no matter how early its held.

Since serving as a delegate to a national convention is a greatly coveted perquisite by contributors and activists, this policy is intended to bring a degree of order to the current chaos, though in actuality the DNC and RNC have merely reassigned the front-loading to a slightly later date.

In perhaps the most meaningful reform enacted by the national parties, states that hold their contests between the first Tuesday in March and March 31st have to allocate their delegates on a proportional basis. Those states holding their delegate selection on April 1st or later can have a winner take all system.

It should be noted that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada received protected status under the new rules as those states are the only ones free to hold their contests in February without penalty.

Under the new rules, it’s likely that states will pile on the first Tuesday in March and April 1st. And as April 1st falls on a Sunday in 2012, the likely big election day will be Tuesday, April 3rd.

In fact it’s almost certain that both parties’ nominations will be decided by the latter date as large states will try to leverage their delegate strength under a winner take all system.

Unfortunately for Louisiana, which will be losing its second congressional seat in three censuses, neither state party has enough delegates to matter much in a winner take all system. In fact, an April date would result in our primary once again returning to the role of ratifying decisions made by other states.

However, by moving to the first Saturday allowed by the national parties in March, Louisiana would be holding its primary before the nominations have been wrapped up.

Most importantly, candidates will have an interest in campaigning here since the major contenders will be assured of leaving the state with something (unlike the controversial system in 2008 where Mike Huckabee received a plurality of the vote but not a single delegate).

With the Louisiana primary held only a few days after the front-loaded first Tuesday in March primary date, the nomination will still be undecided, thus candidates will have to spend time here and educate themselves about federal issues that affect our state, specifically energy production and coastal erosion.

The difference between having the Louisiana presidential primary on the first Saturday following the first Tuesday in March versus any date in April is whether we want our state to matter enough for presidential candidates to visit and make commitments on the federal issues that affect our state versus reverting to our previous role as an irrelevant amen corner.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

WH 2012: Roemer's Running

I should have laid a few euros down with an Irish betting house that a Louisiana governor was going to seek the presidency in 2012.

Never mind that it’s not the Republican everyone expected to throw his hat in the ring.

Buddy Roemer, who last won an election in 1987- and didn’t receive an actual majority in that victory, announced on Thursday afternoon that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee- essentially declaring his intention to seek the Republican nod for the White House.

Amongst the local politicos, Roemer’s announcement has generated more than a few snickers.

What little national standing Roemer achieved as governor came at the expense of being a political asterisk during the 1991 gubernatorial election, better known as the “race from hell”.

Some have asked how can a man who couldn’t beat out a klansman and a crook for a spot in a gubernatorial runoff win the presidency?

Fair question and one that Roemer is going to have to get used to answering as he strives to establish himself as a credible contender.

Roemer attempted a comeback four years later though finished fourth for governor, which was his last bid for public office.

So why is Roemer running?

Did he get bit by the presidential bug while serving as one of John McCain’s surrogates in 2008?

Or is this Roemer finally getting around to chasing an ambition of what “might have been” in 1996 if the 1991 election had had a happy ending?

Is this the Roemer equivalent of a middle-aged man buying the Harley his mother and later first wife wouldn’t let him have.

Before the unpleasantness of 1991 Roemer, along with neighboring governors Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Ray Mabus of Mississippi, were considered “new south moderates” on the rise though only Clinton remained in office in 1992.

I believe a large part of what’s driving Roemer is simply that the bookish ex-governor has something to say about the state of things in America and wishes to be a part of the discussion.

Should anyone take Roemer seriously?

First, the current GOP likely presidential candidate field is weak. Not as awful as the pool from 2008, but not strong either. Though former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the leading candidate, he doesn’t occupy the catbird seat that Reagan had in 1980, Bush had in 1988 or even Dole had in 1996.

Secondly, Roemer represents that rare breed of politicians who have had success in the private sector. One of the strongest arguments made for Romney by his partisans is the need for a nominee with business experience. Roemer has that minus the RomneyCare baggage.

Third, Roemer is a gifted orator. As a former governor, Roemer will enjoy the same courtesy the media afforded ex-US Senator Mike Gravel during his longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. In other words, he’ll be a part of the conversation via debate invitations where the silver-tongued Roemer will have an opportunity to carve out a niche for himself.

Though those invitations will start to drop off if the Roemer campaign doesn’t pick up.

Roemer will have to make the transition from being an agreeable speaker to a viable candidate in either Iowa or New Hampshire. By the time South Carolina’s primary rolls around it will be too late.

Beyond his shaky record as a candidate, Roemer is going to have to make something happen on a shoestring budget as he limited donations to individual contributions of no more than $100.

By doing so, Roemer is making a play to become the campaign finance reform candidate. The problem is that “c-note” candidates don’t win. Ask Jerry Brown, who tried the same thing in 1992. Furthermore, the voters simply don’t care about the issue.

McCain mightily tried to make the electorate care when he unwisely stood by his pledge to accept matching funds while Barack Obama used to a weak justification to expediently jettison his previous promise to do so.

Of the 59,950,323 votes McCain received, I would wager that not a single one appeared in his column because of Obama’s decision to engage in unlimited fundraising.

And it should be noted that Karl Rove cited McCain’s refusal to financially compete with Obama as a reason why the Republican lost so badly.

Odds are that Roemer’s candidacy will come to little more than tilting in Iowa cornfields.

But the man who suffered the ignominy of losing to Duke and Edwards also handed the most skilled Louisiana politician since Huey Long his lone defeat four years before. En route to that victory, Roemer also vaulted over US Representatives of some standing, future speaker-elect Bob Livingston and Billy Tauzin.

The man who humbled Edwards started that race in last place with 2%. And like the 1987 contest, Roemer isn’t going into 2012 as the favorite.

Just a bit of disclosure here as I kicked in $100 to the Roemer effort via his website, My first choice for president is currently a non-candidate, New Jersey governor Chris Christie- the only person on the radar that I think can defeat Obama, but more on that later.

While I don’t agree with some of the points he made in his announcement, Roemer is a smart guy who is going to make the early debates interesting. Furthermore, I hope he will shift his rhetorical gears to focus on economic matters that need to be discussed before a national audience.

A good presidential candidate should not neglect educating the public while in the pursuit of winning votes.

In the event I cover a Roemer event or interview the former governor, I will do so objectively.