Thursday, June 20, 2013

Talkin' Baseball

Those of you who know me well know that it there's one thing I'm more obsessed with than politics and public policy, it's baseball.

I'm such a baseball geek that when I have insomnia, which is often, I try to put myself to sleep by creating All-Time All Star Teams based on the player's last initial.

I got this idea from baseball guru Bill James, who said, without going through the whole process, that he thought the "R" team (three Robinsons, Ruth, Ripken, Rose..) would be hard to beat. But he said their pitching would be a little weak and maybe the Bambino would have to take a turn on the mound. With Ol' Hoss Rasbourne, Nolan Ryan and Robin Roberts at the top of the starting rotation and Marino Rivera in the pen to close out games, I don't see their pitching as all that weak. Their weakest position would be center field.

But the "R" team wouldn't be the best.

The "S" team (Schmidt, Sandberg, Speaker, Sosa, Al Simmons, Ted Simmons..with Spahn and Seaver for a lefty/righty pitching punch) would be awesome.

But the "M" team would be the best. It should be enough to say that the outfield would be Musial/Mays/Mantle, but the infield of Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, Eddie Mathews and Rabbit Maranville (team is so good the shortstop doesn't have to hit) is almost as good. Thurman Munson would be the catcher.

Pitching? The rotation starts off with Christy Mathewson, Greg Maddux and Juan Marichal.
Definitely the best.

Before I wandered into this longish tangent, I'd been intending to talk about this baseball season.

I'm a Red Sox fan in the American League and a Cubs fan in the National League (My Cubs loyalty has been wavering since the Richmond Times-Dispatch decided to treat the Nationals like the area's home team), because I like to be equally frustrated and crazy in both leagues.

The Red Sox have been atop the American League East for weeks now.

I'm not buying it.

That's not just the knee-jerk pessimism of a life-long Red Sox fan. Looking at their roster I just can't see  a playoff team. So I'm expecting the Sox' typical summer swoon. At least it won't be the Yankees who beat us. They've got a better team on the disabled list than they can put on the field. The Orioles look to me to be the class of the AL East.

The real story in baseball this year is on the left coast. Both Los Angeles teams spent money as if they were trying to make the Yankees and Red Sox jealous in an attempt to field all star teams. As of today, the Angels are third in the American League West, 8 games under .500, and the Dodger are dead last in National League West, five games behind the fourth place team.

I'm happy to see the Dodgers floundered since they got about half of their "all star" team from the Red Sox in a late season trade last year.

The Angels are puzzling. This is the second year in a row they've signed the most sought after free agent, Albert Pujols in 2012 and Jeff Hamilton this year, only to field mediocre teams.

Since I'm sort of half rooting for the Nationals now, I have to say they need to get their act in gear soon. They are second in the NL East, but under .500. It will take a lot of wins to get in the NL playoffs this year because two teams in the league, Miami and  Houston, seem capable of losing 110 games apiece. Someone will have to win those games, so it wouldn't be surprising to see two or three teams in the NL pushing 100 wins.


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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bobby we hardly knew ye

"Governor, I know Bob McDonnell. Bob McDonnell was a friend of mine.  You are no Bob McDonnell."

Maybe it's an exaggeration to say that Gov. McDonnell and I were friends back when I covered the legislature full time and he was one of the Republicans' leading lights in the House of Delegates. But we were certainly friendly acquaintances.

He, along with now Sen. Frank Wagner, was one of the few guys on the GOP side in the House then who  you'd want to have a beer with. And we had a couple. We didn't agree about much politically, but we could discuss it reasonably.

We had a good enough relationship that I could jokingly suggest bills or amendments he might want to introduce, usually things no Republican in his right mind would propose.

And we were friendly enough that he came to me and asked for an explanation of the press corps' behavior after Republicans took control of the House.

When Democrats had control the first group of reporters into the House Chamber usually sat on the bench behind the back row of Democrats.. We continued to do that after Republicans took control.

"We're in charge now, why are you guys still sitting over there," McDonnell asked me. "It looks like you're on their side." (I think he intended the pun).

I explained the reasons to him. First, the Democrats leadership, Dick Cranwell and Alan Diamonstein, sat on the back row. The Republican leadership sat in the midst of their caucus, so they weren't any more accessible if you were sitting on the back row on their side.

And there was another reason.

"They come back and tell us jokes," I said. "Cranwell and Diamonstein and Chip Woodrum and Jay DeBoer are funny."

"Hey, we've got some funny guys," McDonnell countered "Jack Reid sits on the back row."

At that point, I only knew former Del. Reid from his behavior on the floor of the House, where he was a jerk and a bully.

"Yeah, but his idea of a joke is an old lady falling on the sidewalk while running for her bus," I told the future governor.

(That same year, Del. Reid and I were dinner companions at the Capitol Correspondents' dinner, and he was in fact funny. And also a Red Sox fan.  It's hard to hate somebody who is a Sox fan.)

The point of this long introduction is that I knew and liked Bob McDonnell when he ran for governor.  I told Democrats he'd be hard to beat. Turned out he was impossible to beat.

Which makes me wonder how he's gone so far wrong now.

Last year he was being touted as a possible Republican vice presidential candidate. This year  he's looking more like a possible cell mate for former Del. Phil Hamilton.

A federal grand jury is investigating McDonnell's links with Star Scientific, a nutrient supplement   maker. McDonnell has received campaign contributions and gifts from the company's founder, including $15,000 to pay for catering at McDonnell's daughter's wedding, a gift that was not initially reported.

There's also a probe of irregularities in the Governor's Mansion kitchen, for which the former chef may face charges. He's reportedly told investigators of  "abuse" by Mrs. McDonnell, who allegedly re-directed food and kitchen equipment to her children.

The Bob McDonnell I knew had a lot better sense than this.

You never want to bring any body's spouse into a political story -- in fact most people who've worked in politics would prefer to keep the spouses out of campaigns too, because they are a pain to deal with.

(I can remember sitting in a meeting where a campaign manager basically tried to fire the candidate's wife from the campaign. Somebody got fired, but it wasn't the wife.)

But Mrs. McDonnell seems to be firmly entrenched in the middle of  this story.

The First Lady's staff apparently pushed to hold a promotional event for Star Scientific at the mansion. At least one of the governor's staff -- Tucker Martin -- recognized the impropriety of that.

The sad thing for Martin, and the rest of McDonnell's staff, is they'll now have to lawyer up to deal with the investigation.

Perhaps the answer to why McDonnell would do things that he had to know weren't politically smart, to say the least, is eternal: Love is blind. And deaf. And ethically challenged.

It would be a shame if Bob McDonnell, the first Virginia governor in nearly 30 years to have a positive impact on the state's perennial transportation crisis, is remembered only for petty scandal.


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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Scandals -- No, not the television show.

Both the state and national political news these days are filled with allegations of "scandal." That's no surprise. Those of us in the media love to cover political scandals because it's easier than talking about issues and the public is more interested.

Some of the "scandals" are more scandalous than others.

Let's start in Washington.

The scandal over the the deaths of four at our embassy in Benghazi, Libya is, and has been from the start, a partisan witch hunt. It's less serious than Clinton's Monicagate scandal that Republican irritated the country by fixating on for a years and half. Questions about if "act of terror" and "terrorism" mean the same thing are reminiscent of Clinton's ruminations on the definition of "is."

Who's responsible for Benghazi? The terrorist who conducted the attack. The furor over this issue is unworthy of Republicans. When 200 Marines that Ronald Reagan had placed in harm's way in Lebanon were killed by a suicide bomber, no one questioned Reagan's motives. Apparently, we don't even  hang together in a crisis anymore.

The "IRS Scandal," in which the IRS office responsible for making sure that organizations registered as tax exempt are really engaged in tax exempt activities used "Tea Party" and terms related to the tea party movement to identify who to audit, appears so far as a blunder rather than a scandal. The IRS workers were trying to streamline their process and they had been getting a lot of new applications from Tea Party sympathetic groups. If anyone there  had any political savvy, they would have added a couple of liberal buzz words, maybe :"choice "and "progressive" to the list. No one was kept from forming a group or expressing their opinions. At this point, it's not even clear that anyone was denied a tax exemption.. Despite the uproar on the right, this isn't the equivalent of the Nixon administration planning to use the IRS to "screw our political enemies."

The other Obama administration scandals are more serious.

The most serious is the administration's wire tapping of Associated Press employees in the quest to hunt down the source of a leak. I don't say this is the most serious because it affects the press, I say it because this is clearly a violation of Constitutional rights and existing law.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that he "wasn't comfortable" approving the search warrant for the investigation. He should have been less comfortable, since it was clearly wrong, and ignoring his instincts ought to cost him a job.

The Obama administration had the chance to learn from the folly of previous administrations, but failed. The damage you do searching for a leaker is almost always greater than the harm of the leak itself.

The Obama administration is also clearly in the wrong on the latest scandal, that Verizon has given the National Security Agency full access to the phone records of all its customers. While this is a scandal, it isn't news. It started during the Busch administration.

Which doesn't let Obama off the hook. A lot of people voted for him because they thought he would be better on civil liberties issues, like collecting data on Americans, like torture, like Gitmo, like the Patriot Act, than Bush was. The fact that he's been the same on all these issues ranks with the failure to lock up the stock jobbers who caused the 2008 economic crash and to make sure it couldn't happen again,  as the biggest failure of the administration and will probably be seen as such by history.

Obama had the chance to be a great president. The Affordable Care Act, if the agents of plutocracy don't manage to steal it back from the people, will be the most important domestic achievement since Social Security. His handling of foreign policy, with one war ended, another winding down and a third amorphous "war on terror" being waged with drone attacks, is about as adept as any recent presidents.

But his failure to roll back the Bush civil liberties excesses or to tame an out-of-control financial system will compel history to find him mediocre at best.

At the time when the country needed a full-blooded populist  and champion of civil liberties, we got a hedger.

In Virginia, the scandals are easier to understand .. they're all about politicians taking money from folks who they help out with influence or legislation or favors.

The real shock is that we're having these kinds of scandals here. Virginia's ethics laws allow politicians to take any size bribe they want, as long as they report it. Apparently that requirement is too much for some.

Gov. Bob McDonnell didn't think he had to report a gift of $15,000 from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams which went to pay the catering bill at his daughter's wedding. McDonnell  said it was a gift to  his daughter and didn't have to be reported.

Look, Bob McDonnell is not a neophyte, he spent more than a decade in the House of Delegates and four years as attorney general. He knew that not reporting the gift was violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the disclosure rules.

And then it turned out  even that story wasn't true. McDonnell signed the contract for catering, not his daughter, the check to pay for it was made payable to his wife, not his daughter.

There are also questions about an event that McDonnell and his wife hosted at the Governor's Mansion for Star Scientific, a tobacco supplement company.

The recent released emails about this event have caused me to believe it springs from a common problem that Republican administrations in Virginia run into -- they end up putting campaign kids into fairly important state offices. They don't have much choice, most adult Republicans aren't looking for a government job -- they don't like government. So you end up with people who known nothing about government in important positions. You  can see this in the emails,when old pro Tucker Martin gets wind of what's going on and questions the propriety, apparently too late. It also seems from the emails that the push for the event was coming from the first lady's staff.

This is serious. So serious that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republicans 2013 candidate for governor, appointed a special prosecutor to look into it and a related scandal about the governor's mansion chef. You know that's the last thing Cuccinelli wanted to do. Because he's got his own Star Scientific problems. For one thing, he failed to report company stock that he owned  at a time when the company was involved with the state in litigation. He also didn't report $18,000 in gifts from the company until the were discovered by the press.

Cuccinelli would be best served if McDonnell's Star Scientific problems went away because, just as they are here, every time McDonnell's issues come up, so will Cunccinelli's.

Under Virginia's ridiculously lax ethics laws, the worst that will happen to either McDonnell or Cuccinelli is a slap-on-the-wrist fine.

Nobody is going to jail, unless federal prosecutors want to get involved.

But Cuccinelli might not be going to the Governor's Mansion either.


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