Sunday, December 31, 2006

May it be better than the last

A very happy new year to all of you. See you in 2007.

Worth the cost?

My feelings about Saturday's execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein closely track those of PoliBlog's Steven Taylor: For whatever flaws Hussein's trial may have had, the outcome ultimately was correct. Hussein was a mass-murdering piece of garbage, and if anyone in the world deserved the death penalty, it was him. It would have been nice to see him formally convicted for his killing of tens of thousands of Kurds, but historians will assign him that liability in the end.

Ideally, Hussein's execution would have been a universal moment of liberation for the millions of Iraqis -- Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis alike -- who suffered under his tyrannical rule. Instead, the brutal thug officially was hanged only for the murder of 148 Shiites and not also for his killing and torture of tens of thousands of Kurds and Sunnis. That circumstance unfortunately could leave those victims and their family members wondering just how vindicated they should feel right now.

Hussein got what he deserved, but a cost-benefit analysis of the Iraq war remains. Even by President Bush's admission, Hussein's death probably will do little in the short term to alleviate the rampant sectarian violence and disorder taking hold of too many Iraqis' lives. Further, the sight of witnesses at his execution chanting their support for militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wasn't a comforting long-term omen. Neither were the four lethal bombings in Shiite areas mere hours after the hanging.

The United States has lost 3,000 soldiers in a war that looks likely to stretch well beyond 2007. Public support for the war that distracted from our mission in Afghanistan is at an all-time low. Bush plans to send even more troops to the desert next year. Hussein is gone, but his death hardly ended the bloodshed in a nation mired in civil war.

Was it worth it? That's for each and every American to judge.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

'A Ford, not a Lincoln'

How you feel about former President Gerald Ford, who died Tuesday at 93, likely hinges largely on your opinion of a single act in September 1974, a month after he took office.

Ford's two-year term left him little time to accomplish much in the policy realm, so for good or ill, his pardon of former President Richard Nixon defines his tenure. Nixon's resignation after the Watergate disgrace forever shook many Americans' faith in government, and a sizable number never forgave Ford for erecting a barrier to a full probe of Nixon's misdeeds. But Ford's defenders argue that the pardon was necessary to help the country move on after years of scandal, and that line of thinking has some merit.

Knowing the decision could cost him his electoral future (as it would in 1976), Ford opted effectively to shut down the investigation of Nixon. That choice will be the standard by which most history students will measure Ford at a cursory glance, which will be the deepest look most of them ever take at his administration. (Ford seemed aware of his relative place in history, once telling congressmen, "I am a Ford, not a Lincoln.")

The Ford administration's legacy lives on in other, less-publicized ways, however. For one thing, two of his top aides -- Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld -- were key architects of the Iraq war that shows no signs of ending any time soon, and their years in Ford's White House positioned them for top jobs in a future GOP administration. For another, Ford's sole appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens, has for many years been a deciding vote in dozens of 5-4 decisions that often turn out contrary to the wishes of many of Ford's fellow Republicans. Today's American legal landscape might look quite different indeed had Ford nominated a more reliably conservative judge.

But in a sign of the times, millions of Americans who either weren't alive during his term or were too young to remember it may remember Ford best not as the man who pardoned Nixon or appointed Stevens but as the model for Chevy Chase's klutzy Saturday Night Live caricature. Chase's wildly popular skits made edgy political humor cool for television and laid the groundwork for future madcap send-ups of political leaders, albeit at the cost of giving viewers the unfair impression that Ford, a football star at the University of Michigan, was physically uncoordinated.

On the whole, Ford was a decent man who guided the United States through a period when it badly needed decency from a leader, and for that he deserves our gratitude. May he rest in peace.

Let's not ask about his birthday gifts

Alabama's interim head football coach, Joe Kines, doubles as a reliably folksy quote machine. Some of his recent off-the-cuff classics follow, courtesy of The Birmingham News.

On the team's response to practicing on Christmas for Thursday's Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.: "We have two or three of our youngsters that still believe (in Santa Claus), so we had to deal with that. But the rest of it went pretty good."

On his decision to retire from coaching if he isn't a member of the next Crimson Tide staff: "My next move is going to be to heaven. Moving trucks are not going to be pulling up at my house. I'm not leaving here to go somewhere else. I'm not going to coach at Idaho State Teachers College next year."

On his holiday haul of Christmas presents this year: "Two pair of new underwear, about my usual deal."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

What did you think Rudolph's nose did?

Thanks to an alert from PoliBlog, I now have scientific evidence to back my long-held hypothesis that Santa Claus' late-night gift deliveries implicate the theory of relativity.

My quest for a reindeer that can bend space-time begins now.

Monday, December 25, 2006

And to all a good night

Remember when you could tell someone "Merry Christmas" or "happy holidays" or any of a dozen other December greetings without anyone reading a hint of a political meaning into it?

I still do. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a dozen other December greetings to all of my readers, especially the loyal core of regulars. I'll be back to regular posting after a day or two more of the real-world activities that have kept me away from here for the last week. Stay safe and happy until then.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

He's probably not Shaq, either

As it turns out, former Gov. Don Siegelman is not Nelson Mandela. Nor is he Martin Luther King, Jr. At this point, one has to wonder whether Siegelman is even a persecuted black man at all.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Scratch another one off the list

Fear not, Charles Barkley: The king of all Alabama sports media, Paul Finebaum, has no plans to run for governor any time soon.

Even the base is turning

Add Alabama -- again -- to the list of states where a majority of people believe the Iraq war wasn't worth fighting. The number of Alabamians in that category has increased by five percentage points in just one month. I should emphasize -- again -- that this sentiment comes in a very conservative state where President Bush received 64 percent of the vote in 2004.

The broad, growing national consensus on the Iraq war can suggest only one possible plan to Bush: Stay the course. Just don't call it "stay the course." People don't like the sound of it.

That ship's already sailed

The long-awaited relaunch of the Gees Bend ferry, closed by Wilcox County officials in the 1960s in retaliation for a visit from Martin Luther King, Jr., finally came three months ago after a decade of state and federal promises. Now a burning question confronting today's Wilcox County leaders is whether it's safe to put a school bus on the ferry, thereby cutting the one-way ride for about 50 students in half.

County officials say they may wait until the next school year to decide, mainly to see if the ferry is still around then. If it is, the early indications are otherwise good: The ferry is built to carry up to four buses, and it has hauled buses on field trips to the other side of the Alabama River without a hitch.

Truly, I'm honored

I graciously thank all of you who have believed in me over the years for enabling my astounding designation as Time's Person of the Year. Also, congratulations to all of you for your recognition as Time's Person of the Year. You deserve it more than I do.

It's good when everyone can win.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Such a great loss

Four more years as the Alabama Senate's president pro tem is out of the question for state Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, who will leave the post next month, eight years after his coalition stripped the lieutenant governor of many powers and gave them to Barron.

His probable -- though not certain, as The Huntsville Times noted Friday -- successor is Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, who has the bipartisan support of 19 of the chamber's 35 members. (Twelve are Republicans who want to be in control, and seven are Democrats who either don't much like Barron's leadership style or who also want to end up in the governing majority.) Barron can't be too happy about that outcome, given his recent push to bring stray Democrats back into the party fold by promising to step down as pro tem as long as Preuitt didn't end up in charge.

The Legislature's upper chamber has lost the kind of bold leader who spearheaded a ban on small-town police issuing tickets on interstates after getting pulled over himself and who recently condemned the payday loan industry after years as the owner of payday loan shops. Somehow, though, Alabama will survive.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Funny how that works out

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, was on the panel that decided his party's House committee appointments. That means you shouldn't be stunned that he got the assignment he most desired Tuesday: a seat on the Ways and Means Committee.

Davis will be Alabama's first member of the powerful committee since the last time Democrats controlled the House, unless he has to vacate to reclear the path for U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. -- he of "$90,000 in a freezer" fame -- if Jefferson ultimately is cleared in a corruption investigation.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Toddling toward tax reform

In the abstract, I like Gov. Bob Riley's idea of raising Alabama's annual income tax threshold for a family of four from $12,500 to $15,000. It'd be another positive step toward reforming a broken state tax system that has punished the poor for decades and that set the threshold at an abominably low $4,600 just a year ago.

Before final approval, though, I'd like to know that the state will get enough tax revenue elsewhere to counterbalance the loss of education funds that such a cut would cause. Riley's office says the Education Trust Fund's annual revenues must increase by at least 3 percent before any tax cuts take effect, though I'm unsure whether that amount is enough to cover inflation. I'd welcome guidance from anyone with more knowledge on the subject.

Alabama's tax system ultimately needs a full-fledged overhaul, not just some scattered improvements, to make it stabler and less punitive toward the poor. But as The Tuscaloosa News observes today, Riley at least deserves credit for focusing his tax-cutting efforts on Alabamians at the bottom and middle of the income spectrum. Baby steps are better than no steps at all.

Friday, December 08, 2006

I didn't necessarily want to be right...

But I was. Despite bold proclamations to the contrary earlier today, West Virginia head football coach Rich Rodriguez will stay in Morgantown rather than coming to Alabama thanks to WVU's successful last-ditch efforts to retain him. As I said last week, it's mighty hard to lure a man away from his alma mater when all the pieces are in place there to compete for a national title. At the last minute, his hometown Mountaineers managed to win him back.

Oh, well. Time to see who else wants more than $2 million a year.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Too absurd not to be real

Even a tiny amount of lead can damage children's nervous systems badly and permanently. The danger of lead poisoning continues to lurk in the soil and old paint, among other places, but three decades after the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the removal of lead from our gasoline, the lead concentrations in America's air have fallen by more than 90 percent.

At that rate, we're in danger of birthing future generations that may never know what it's like to breathe lead-tainted air. But fear not; the leader who earlier this year suggested cutbacks on environmental regulations as a key way to lower gas prices is still in charge. Now that we have plenty of spare room in the nation's atmosphere where all the lead used to be, the Bush administration wants to try to eliminate the EPA limitations that have reduced the amount of lead in our lungs for so many years.

There must be a worse idea out there somewhere, right?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why's everybody always picking on him?

The extreme leftist cut-and-runners just won't stop their wild-eyed liberal rants about President Bush's handling of the Iraq war.

They say it was a war of choice that had no exit strategy and distracted from our mission in Afghanistan, where we were wiping out the terrorists who actually plotted the 9/11 attacks. They claim it was a poorly planned venture that sent our soldiers into a fight where it's tough to distinguish friends from foes without giving them the equipment they needed to maximize their safety. Now they're even suggesting that we bring the troops home, or at least pull them out of Iraq, as soon as possible.

Please. What kind of fringe whackjobs believe that sort of stuff? Aside from around 60 percent of the American public, that is.

OK, so maybe Bush's war policies aren't popular. But you can't deny the reality that things are getting better every day in Iraq under his watch. Except for those thousands of American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died already. And the dozens of people who continue to die there daily due to the raging violence of what Bush's former secretary of state, Colin Powell, has begun to call a civil war. And the polls showing that about the only thing on which Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis agree is that they want U.S. forces to leave quickly.

All right, smart aleck, but what about Afghanistan? It's Bush's great shining military success, proof positive that you can stabilize a Texas-sized country with a comparative handful of troops. That's why we probably should ignore the rapid re-emergence of the country's illegal opium trade and the reports that Afghan police are "largely incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work" five years after the Taliban's ouster.

We also shouldn't pay attention to the repeated calls in the Iraq Study Group's report, released today, for more troops to keep the Taliban from regaining their footholds in vast swaths of the mountainous country. After all, that very collection of liberal Bush haters dared to suggest the withdrawal of most U.S. soldiers from Iraq by 2008 and negotiations with Iran and Syria to help ease tensions in the Middle East. Even the decidedly non-liberal Republican members agreed with those ideas, which, um, just proves how outlandish they are.

Look, Bush's closest advisers know the score, and that's all that matters. They know nothing's wrong. That's why former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, architect of the Iraq war strategy, resigned two days after telling Bush that "it is time for a major adjustment" because "what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough." (You can tell he's serious by the way he doesn't blame himself.) And it's certainly why the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, told Congress this week that we aren't winning in Iraq.

All of the information above must lead Bush to one inevitable conclusion: Stay the course. Just don't call it "stay the course" while you do. Because as Bush long has said, he'll stick to his guns even if his wife and dog are the only ones who still agree with him.

And Barney isn't calling a press conference any time soon.