Archive for October, 2011

AFC West Update 10-19-11

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the AFC West. I may be overly optimistic, but I still think the Chiefs have a chance to make a run for the division title. I want to touch on all four teams for a moment.

Carson PalmerBut first, how about the Raiders going out and trading for Carson Palmer? A very interesting move. Palmer is a decent quarterback who probably has a couple years left in him. And news reports are suggesting that Palmer is likely to start against the Chiefs this weekend. Wow.

My take? Quarterbacks, even veteran quarterbacks, seldom excel in their first season with a new team. And that’s when they have an entire off-season and preseason to prepare. In 1993, Joe Montana took the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game, but did so mostly on the back of an outstanding defense. And in 2009, Brett Favre took the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game and posted a quarterback rating of 107.2. A very impressive season late in his career. But do you want to know what’s more common? Last year the Washington Redskins traded for Donovan McNabb who struggled and finished with a quarterback rating of 77.1. The only season he had with a worse rating? His rookie year in 1999 where he posted a rating of 60.1. Carson Palmer isn’t Brett Favre. Heck, he isn’t even Donovan McNabb. He’s a mediocre quarterback who enjoyed his best seasons in 2005 and 2006. The Raiders made a bold move, but probably not a smart move. If they end up winning the division and making a run in the playoffs, then it was a great move. If not, they’ve given up two very high draft picks and have hurt the long-term development of their team.

Now let’s look around the standings in the AFC West.

San Diego Chargers (4-1): The Chargers have beaten Minnesota (1-5), Kansas City (2-3), Miami (0-5) and Denver (1-4). They’ve lost to New England (5-1).

Reasons for optimism: The Chargers have managed to start fast, but that’s been more the result of the teams they’ve played, than how they’ve played. They still have a lot of talent. Ryan Matthews appears to be a legitimate starting running back.

Reasons for pessimism: Antonio Gates has played little this season. Their schedule is going to get much tougher. And Norv Turner is still their coach.

Prediction: Their schedule is going to get much tougher. And they’re going to need to play much better. I have a difficult time finding more than 5 wins on their remaining schedule. I think they end up 9-7, which is right around the record most of Norv Turner’s teams end up.

Oakland Raiders (4-2): The Raiders have beaten Denver (1-4), New York Jets (3-3), Houston (3-3) and Cleveland (2-3). They’ve lost to Buffalo (4-2) and New England (5-1).

Reasons for optimism: Darren McFadden is a stud, and the Raiders are second in the league in rushing. They’ve been the most impressive team in the division so far, and are a legitimate playoff contender.

Reasons for pessimism: The Raiders are ranked #28 in the league in total defense, and are particularly vulnerable against the pass where they’re ranked #30 in the league. Quarterback Jason Campbell was having a decent season before breaking his collarbone last week. It will be a big question as to how Carson Palmer will respond to his new surroundings. I don’t see any reason to think that the team will be better with Palmer than they were with Campbell. And it’s likely that they’ll be worse.

Prediction: The Raiders have a clear shot to win this division, but difficult to see six wins on their remaining schedule. I’m guessing they end up 9-7 as well.

Kansas City Chiefs (2-3): The Chiefs have beaten Minnesota (1-5) and Indianapolis (0-6). And they’ve lost to Buffalo (4-2), Detroit (5-1) and San Diego (4-1).

Reasons for optimism: After two historically bad losses, the Chiefs appear to have righted the ship. And if they can pull off a win in Oakland this weekend, they’re sitting at 3-3, which is exactly where I had them (though I had them beating Buffalo and losing to Oakland to reach 3-3). If Jackie Battle can provide the Chiefs with a consistent ground attack, they’re going to be OK.

Reasons for pessimism: They’re still missing Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki for the season. And they’ve got a tough schedule ahead.

Prediction: Believe it or not, a win this weekend would put the Chiefs in a good position to win the AFC West. They would have their two toughest divisional games behind them with a 1-1 record. That leaves them two games against Denver, and home games against San Diego and Oakland. I think they’ve got 5 or 6 more wins in them this season, which puts them at 7-9 or 8-8. My original prediction of 9-7 looks very difficult.

Denver Broncos (1-4): Denver has beaten Cincinnati (4-2). They’ve lost to Oakland (4-2), Tennessee (3-2), Green Bay (6-0) and San Diego (4-1).

Reasons for optimism: John Fox is in his first year with the team, and he’s a good coach. He just didn’t have a lot to work with. Their schedule does get a bit easier.

Reasons for pessimism: Lots of them, including that they just traded away their best wide receiver. I’m not a Tim Tebow hater, and I have no clue if he’s going to be a good quarterback or not. History has shown us that quarterbacks with bad mechanics seldom have sustained success in the league. But Tebow is an interesting young man and an incredible athlete. He will make it interesting to say the least.

Prediction: Hard to see more than a couple wins left on their schedule. I’m guessing 4-12.

NOTE: You can read my  original predictions for the AFC West here.

Austerity? Not so much.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Greek Debt

In economics, austerity is a policy of deficit-cutting, lower spending, and a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided. Austerity policies are often used by governments to reduce their deficit spending while sometimes coupled with increases in taxes to pay back creditors to reduce debt. “Austerity” was named the word of the year by Merriam-Webster in 2010. — from Wikipedia

Countries across Europe have been facing harsh austerity measures. After years of big government spending, Greece, Portugal and others have found themselves in such an economic crisis, and with so much debt, that they’re having to make huge cuts in spending and reductions in services to get their fiscal houses in order.

In the U.S., we’re facing many of the same problems. Our debt to GDP ratio has reached 100%, a very bad number to reach. Tax revenues are down. The economy is possibly headed towards another recession. We’ve now run three consecutive deficits of more than $1 trillion per year. Austerity has been the talk of Washington and in the press. The Republicans in 2010 ran on a platform of reduced spending, and were swept into office in historic numbers. The left pines to spend more money to “fix” the economy, and whines about the austerity measures imposed by the Republicans.

Here are just a few examples (borrowed from IBD):

A July article in USA Today, for example, claimed that “Already in 2011, softer government spending has sapped growth.”

Jared Bernstein, former chief economic adviser to Vice President Biden, wrote over the summer that “government spending cutbacks have been a large drag on growth in recent quarters and have led to sharp losses in state and local employment.”

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argued in September that “the turn toward austerity (is) a major factor in our growth slowdown.”

So how much spending has been cut to make these people react in such a way? Also from IBD:

In fact, in the first nine months of this year, federal spending was $120 billion higher than in the same period in 2010, the data show. That’s an increase of almost 5%. And deficits during this time were $23.5 billion higher.

If government spending is related to growth, as these and others claim, then the economy presumably should be growing faster, not slower, given the current higher rates of federal outlays.

But what about at the state level?

Meanwhile, the claim that state and local government jobs have been severely cut is, at the very least, open to some debate.

“We know that the biggest problem that we’ve had in terms of unemployment over the last several months has not been in the private sector,” President Obama said at a recent press briefing. “It’s actually been layoffs of teachers and cops and firefighters.”

Monthly data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics do show that from December 2007 — when the recession officially started — until the end of 2010, state and local governments shed 221,000 jobs. And they’ve cut another 234,000 jobs so far this year.

But a separate annual survey from the Census Bureau shows that “full-time-equivalent” state and local employment climbed 200,000 between 2007 and 2010 (the latest year for which these census data are available.) The differences come from the methodologies used.

In any case, even using BLS data, the number of state and local government jobs has fallen just 2.3% since December 2007. That compares with a decline of 5.4% for private-sector jobs.

Austerity in the U.S.? Not so much.

Fast and Furious Denials

Friday, October 7th, 2011

I have typically kept my political writing aimed at the economy and related issues. But today I feel compelled to discuss a story that has been very slow to break. Operation Fast and Furious. I had come to the conclusion long ago that Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama were aware of this program from the start. I had also come to the conclusion that the mainstream media were going to sweep this story under the rug. That’s all beginning to change due to CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson.

If you haven’t followed this story, I don’t blame you. You’ve probably seen the headlines about the death of border patrol agent Brian Terry who had been killed by guns that had been allowed to walk as part of the ATF’s Fast and Furious operation. Let’s start with a little background and  a few terms.

ATF: The ATF is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In 2003 it was transferred under the Homeland Security bill to the Department of Justice. The DoJ is lead by attorney general Eric Holder. (You can read the ATF’s mission here.)

Project Gunrunner: You’ll see comments about this project in the news. This is the ATF’s program dating back to 2005. The program is intended to stem the flow of firearms into Mexico, in an attempt to deprive the Mexican drug cartels of weapons. (Read more on Wikipedia or directly from the ATF.)

Operation Fast and Furious: A sting operation run by the ATF beginning in 2009 as part of Project Gunrunner. The stated purpose of the operation was to permit otherwise-suspected straw purchasers to complete the weapon’s purchase and transit to Mexico, in order to build a bigger case against Mexican criminal organizations suspected of being the ultimate buyer. (Read more on Wikipedia.)

Straw Purchase: A straw purchase is any purchase wherein the purchaser knowingly acquires an item or service for someone who is, for whatever reason, unable to purchase the item or service himself. This term can be applied to any such purchase, but it is most widely used in relation to the sale of firearms, especially in United States federal gun laws.

Gun Walking: Allowing guns to be transferred to suspected arms traffickers. This is the most controversial part of Fast and Furious.

It is the stated position of the DoJ that they do not allow guns to walk, despite testimony from ATF agents to the contrary. Here is testimony from former ATF Special Agent William Newell where he continues to deny that it was policy to allow guns to walk into Mexico:

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Here’s testimony from ATF agent John Dodson who says that it was the policy under Fast and Furious to allow guns to walk:

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And from CBS News:

Surveillance video obtained by CBS News shows suspected drug cartel suppliers carrying boxes of weapons to their cars at a Phoenix gun shop. The long boxes shown in the video being loaded in were AK-47-type assault rifles.

So it turns out ATF not only allowed it – they videotaped it.

More from Sharyl Attkisson and CBS in a moment.

Who Knew What and When?

The investigation from Congress has been lead by Darrell Issa (R), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. You may have seen this exchange where he asks attorney general Eric Holder when he first learned about Fast and Furious, and Holder’s response that he “…probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

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But now that new documents have surfaced revealing that Holder had been continually briefed on Fast and Furious, the administration now says that Holder misunderstood the question. If you watch the video (above), it’s difficult to believe that he misunderstood the question. And in the video below, we see top DoJ officials discussing gun walking. Here’s more from CBS News and the released documents:

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At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had come to the conclusion long ago that Holder and Obama were aware of this program from the start. Though they never mention it by name, they have talked around the edges of this program.

In 2009, the President explains how he has asked Holder to do a “complete review” of current gun enforcement operations during a joint press conference with Mexico’s President Calderon. He even mentions gun tracing, a key element of Fast and Furious, in this video:

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Here is Deputy Attorney General David Ogden in March of 2009, who talks about new efforts from the ATF and gun tracing. This is right around the time that Operation Fast and Furious was launched:

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It’s not proof, but it’s common sense. This was a big and important operation to the ATF, the DoJ and the White House. They all were talking about this “new” operation. They just never mentioned it by name.

Bullying the Media

In an interesting twist this week, Sharyl Attkisson was on the Laura Ingraham Show, and revealed that she had been “yelled” at by DoJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler and that White House associate communications director Eric Schultz “literally screamed at me” over her reporting on Fast and Furious. She was told that she’s not reasonable like other members of the media such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the LA Times. She explains that she was told that she’s “the only one who thinks this is a story, and they think I’m unfair and biased by pursuing it.” This is about ten minutes long, but very interesting:

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Bush Did It Too!

We are also starting to learn that under Bush’s DoJ that a program called Operation Wide Receiver may also have allowed guns to walk into Mexico.

This is a legitimate story despite claims from Team Obama to the contrary. It appears that the Attorney General has lied to Congress. Thousands of guns have been allowed to walk into Mexico. And it will be interesting to see who takes the fall as more information is exposed. It sounds like CBS and Attkisson have even more information to come, provided that CBS doesn’t shut down the investigation first. They wouldn’t want to be seen as unreasonable by the administration, would they? Stay tuned.

UPDATE (9:40 am, 10-7-11): I had meant to include this earlier. In April of 2009, Eric Holder visited Mexico and spoke about operations to limit gun trafficking to Mexico (see full text here):

The topic that has been addressed over the past two days could not be more important – the development of an arms trafficking prosecution and enforcement strategy on both sides of the border.

I would like to thank the Mexican and U.S. experts who have worked so hard on this issue. On our side, Secretary Napolitano and I are committed to putting the resources in place to increase our attack on arms trafficking into Mexico.

Last week, our administration launched a major new effort to break the backs of the cartels. My department is committing 100 new ATF personnel to the Southwest border in the next 100 days to supplement our ongoing Project Gunrunner, DEA is adding 16 new positions on the border, as well as mobile enforcement teams, and the FBI is creating a new intelligence group focusing on kidnapping and extortion. DHS is making similar commitments, as Secretary Napolitano will detail.

Does this sound like an attorney general who would not have been briefed about Operation Fast and Furious, which coincidentally, had just been launched by the ATF? That would be difficult to believe. (Note: I added the bold for emphasis.)