Single-Payer or Bust

LAS VEGAS — The new national health care law may represent the largest expansion in the role of government since the Great Society, but for liberal activists, it was just the appetizer.

Here at the annual Netroots Nation conference for self-described progressives, organizers discussed their strategy for pushing toward their ultimate goal of a fully government-run, or single-payer, health care system.

To reach the promised land, they first have to protect the gains they’ve already made.

“People really want to run from the (health care) issue because of what happened with the populists, because of the way people were attacked, and it is the number one attack being used by conservatives on the right against anyone on the left, whether they voted for the bill or not,” explained Melinda Gibson, an organizer for the liberal group Health Care for America NOW!

HCAN was founded in 2008 as a coalition of unions and other groups, pledging to spend $40 million on grassroots organizing and advertising campaigns to push national health care. Despite their best efforts, at last August’s town hall meetings, liberal groups were out-hustled on the ground by a surge of Tea Party protesters who raised hell about the pending legislation.

“We have to make sure we don’t lose August,” Gibson emphasized. “August is crucial. People who experienced August last year will remember that we lost the media narrative for a long time, things were blown up on the ground, our organizers were in a defensive posture, and so it’s very important that we go on the offensive.”

It’s a long road ahead for liberal activists, she said, referencing data from the group Working America, which has been doing voter contact with Americans for the left.

“The health care conversations they’re having are very difficult,” she explained. “People are very defensive and afraid, and it’s taking a long time to break through some of that with various constituencies.”

While she predicted that the health care law would become more popular as Americans begin to receive government checks and enjoy other new benefits, in the meantime, she argued, liberals were planning on changing the “frame” of the conversation.

“The moral of the story at this point is we have to attack back,” she said. “And we have to attack and pivot. The question is not, ‘let’s get into a discussion of the nuances of the bill, or the implementation of it’ on the ground at this point.”

Instead, she put the issue in Bush-like terms: “Either you’re with the American people, or you’re with the insurance companies.”

At one point, Gibson suggested tactics such as following an insurance executive from her “fancy” house to “fancy” lunches to make her hated by Americans.

The new anti-corporate message, she said, could be deployed throughout the battle over implementation of ObamaCare, and “hopefully” lead to another push for the public option “that will get us further and further toward where we want to go.”

Another organizer on the panel, Andrew McGuire, expressed skepticism that any real change could happen at the federal level. As executive director of the California One Plan campaign, he’s part of the drive to bring single-payer health care to the Golden State.

His strategy involves getting Hollywood actors, writers, musicians, and comedians to join the fight along with grassroots and online activists. He predicted that single-payer would become a reality in California within the decade, and that other states would follow.

David Welch, a registered nurse who blogs at the liberal site DailyKos and was representing the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, said that everything he learned from labor negotiations convinced him that it was important for liberals to set their goal as the establishment of a single-payer health care system.

“The best way to achieve a better compromise is not to advocate for a better compromise,” he explained. “The best way to achieve a better compromise is to advocate for the ideal.”

He said that liberals made a mistake by removing single-payer from the past year’s health care debate.

“One of the lessons I saw from the last debate is once the public option became defined as the left alternative, then the public option was doomed,” he said. “And as long as single-payer is defined as the left alternative, it actually creates space for things like the public option and other kinds of improvements.”

In the more immediate term, HCAN’s Gibson echoed the concerns of a Missouri resident in the audience, who warned about the likely passage of an Aug. 3 state ballot measure against the new federal health insurance mandate, which liberals fear will bring renewed attention to public opposition to ObamaCare.

“This is a difficult road to walk, because what polling tells us is that the ballot initiative has a large potential of passing, which is unfortunate,” she said. “So we don’t want to elevate this to a national debate, and have other states say, ‘This is something good, we should go forward with this.’ At the same time, we have to fight this, because this is on our turf, this is our home, our back territory.”

However, she said the likely passage of the measure is all the more reason why liberals needed to keep the focus on insurance companies.

“It’s gonna be bad,” she acknowledged. “That’s why we have to work very hard to build this national narrative to help us insulate ourselves from incidents like what’s going to happen in Missouri that we can’t, at this stage of the game, prevent.”

Liberals Fear Obama “Death Panel” for Social Security

LAS VEGAS — Earlier this week, I wrote about how liberals were increasingly concerned that President Obama’s deficit commission would end up recommending cutting Social Security.

Right now, I’m at a panel at the Netroots Nation conference dedicated to this very topic, called, “Obama’s Social Security ‘Death Panel’ Engaging Activists to Defeat the Drive to Cut Social Programs.”

The moderator of the panel, Nancy Altman, of the group Social Security Works, opened up the discussion with the dire warning that the threat from Obama’s deficit commission is greater than the threat posed to the program in 2005, when President Bush drove to create voluntary personal accounts within the program.

The clear consensus among the panelists was that Social Security did not present a problem to the deficit.

The blogger Digby said the reason why liberals defeated President Bush’s Social Security effort was that they setted on a “mantra” that “There is no crisis.”

Robert Borosage, president of the liberal group Institute for America’s Future, not only argued that Social Security did not present a problem, but argued against worrying about deficits at all at a time when more government spending was needed to “transform” the economy. He said that conservatives effective attacks on the economic stimulus bill forced Obama to try to mollify deficit hawks by talking about long-term deficit reduction.

“This is just ridiculous,” one frustrated audience member lamented. “Why is it that with a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress that we have to worry about this?”

Liberal Health Care Activist Says Left Must Make Insurers Hated By America

LAS VEGAS — Here at a morning panel at the Netroots Nation conference, a representative of the liberal activist group Health Care for America Now (HCAN) said that there was a temptation among Democrats to run away from the health care issue because of right-wing attacks, but liberals had to fight back.

“August is crucial,” HCAN’s Melinda Gibson said. Last August, she explained, liberals lost the media narrative as conservative activists organized at town hall meetings, but next month, the left must “go on offense.”

She conceded that some liberal activists who are doing voter outreach on health care are running into problems because “people are defensive and afraid.”

With that said, she argued that health care’s poll numbers were improving. She joked, “For the first time, health care’s negatives are lower than Obama’s.”

The hardest group to reach continues to be those voters over 65, who are worried the new law will endanger the health care they already had, which is why as more people start receiving government checks as a result of the new law, the opposition to repeal will increase.

But to win the debate, she said, liberals couldn’t get drawn into an argument over all the nuances of the bill, but instead insist that someone is either with the American people, or with the insurance companies.

“We’ll never be able to match the other side on a dollar for dollar basis, because we’re the good guys,” she said. “We don’t lie, cheat, or steal.”

However, she said, if liberals could continue to attack the insurance companies, they could energize the public to demand further changes. She suggested following insurance executives around with cameras to all their fancy lunches so that they would become hated by America.

The ultimate goal of the members of the panel was the elimination of for profit insurance and the creation of a single-payer health care system.

Another panelist, Andrew McGuire of California One Care, was arguing for pushing single-payer at the state level, because he’s skeptical it could happen in Washington. He predicted that California would have single-payer health care in 10 years.

The Natural Gas Man

T. Boone Pickens has spent a lifetime in the oil business. Shortly after graduating from Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University) in 1951, Pickens went to work for Phillips Petroleum and he has been in the energy field ever since. In recent years, Pickens has turned his focus toward investing in and advocating for alternative sources of energy to end America’s dependence on foreign oil. As part of his efforts, he funded a $62 million ad campaign to promote his Pickens Plan to accomplish that goal.

Through the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, Pickens has become one of the largest philanthropists in America. He also is the benefactor of The American Spectator‘s Young Journalism Training Program.

In the May 2008 print edition of TAS, Pickens discussed wind power. This Tuesday, TAS spoke with him over the phone about why he believes in broader adoption of natural gas in the United States.

TASWhen we last spoke, you were talking a lot about wind power, and now you’ve shifted emphasis more toward natural gas. If you could explain the evolution of your thinking on alternative energyâ€_

T. Boone Pickens: Wind is renewable, and natural gas is alternative. But the wind is priced on the margin. And the margin is natural gas for power generation, since they’re both doing the same job. And so the wind is priced off the natural gas. And natural gas has been so cheap, it’s been hard to really finance a wind deal. So I haven’t lost any enthusiasm for that. In fact, we’re getting ready to announce more wind deals within the next two to three months that are very far along. So wind is good, but wind is not going to move an 18-wheeler. Natural gas is so versatile, you can use it for power generation, but you could also use it for transportation fuel. So natural gas is the only thing we have that can reduce foreign oil imports.  

TAS: Now, if I remember correctly, your broader plan talked about using wind for electricity generation to free up more natural gas for transportation fuelâ€_

BP: Actually, what happened to us is we have so much natural gas, more than I thought at that time. 

TASSo you’re saying we have enough natural gas to address the electricity generation needs, and transportation fuel needs?

BP: Yes, but I want to keep using wind too. The overall concept that I have is, let’s get on our own resources. And that means you’re going to use natural gas, wind, solar, ethanol, nuclear. I don’t care what it is, but get on our own resources.

TAS :Some economists would say that economically, it’s not a big deal whose resources we’re on. That oil is a fungible commodity, and the only thing that matters it to decide what is the most economically advantageous energy source for us to use at any given time. So, they’d argue that right now, oil is still the most economically efficient. And they question this whole idea of getting off our dependence on foreign oil. How would you respond to that economic argument?

BP: Well, the first thing is, no question, is in a global market. You go into to buy oil, you don’t know where you’re getting it from or anything. But we import five million barrels a day of oil from OPEC. That’s five million barrels that I think is a security issue for the country. Then, to that person who asked me that question, I’d say, how much do you consider security to be an issue? Well, you’re buying oil, and you don’t know where it’s coming from. Because international oil companies buy oil from any place they can get oil. And so the argument is not unreal. The point is, you need to replace oil from the Mideast, the OPEC oil, and you replace it with the one resource you have in America, which is natural gas. We don’t have any other resource that will replace that oil. Now, you say it’s more expensive. Well, no it’s not, it’s infinitely less expensive. One Mcf of natural gas is $4.50. It’s the equivalent of 7 gallons of diesel. They’ll do the same job. One Mcf at $4.50, or 7 gallons of diesel, and $21. So it’s very easy to say which one is the cheapest. They’ll say, well, let the markets take over. Let the free market dictate what fuel to use. Well, if you think OPEC is a free market, you’re kidding yourself. It’s that OPEC sets the price of oil. And if they told you this year they wanted $70 to $80 oil, what do we have? $70 to $80 oil. They are accommodating in telling you what oil is going to cost. So you can call it a fungible global market, or whatever you want to. It is not a free market for a commodity. So get on your own natural gas, and try to control it one way or another if you want to eliminate oil from the Mideast. With that, if you look at the cost of oil, and you factor in for our military, you’re probably paying $300 or $400 a barrel for oil from that area. So, it’s pretty easy for an economist to just dismiss it by saying, well, just let the free market dictate. But it’s not a free market.

TAS: To translate it into terms for an average person, when you talk about how much it’s going to cost, and how it translates with diesel, doing the rough math (if $4.50 of natural gas is the equivalent of 7 gallons of diesel), does that mean that a gallon of the natural gas equivalent would cost around 60 cents?       

BP: I look at it that it would be $1 to $1.50 a gallon cheaper. So if you’re paying $3 for gasoline, that get it to about $1.50. It would bring it down to $2, or maybe $1.70 or $1.80. These are not hypothetical numbers I’m throwing out there, because you have that here in California. I mean, they use natural gas out here. I mean, the LAMTA is on natural gas, has been for 20 years. And that’s an air quality issue. It was a cleaner fuel is the reason why they used it.

TAS: In trying to convert to natural gas, don’t you run into a chicken and the egg phenomenon? In other words, in order to build more fuel stations, there would have to be a demand fuel, so you’d need vehicles that are equipped to run on natural gas, yet people aren’t likely to want to convert to natural gas to natural gas vehicles unless there are enough fuel stations to service them.

BP: Yeah, see, I’m not talking about your car. I’m not interested in your car. I’m interested in 18-wheelers. Because they use 20,000 gallons a year. So if I could get the 8 million 18-wheelers to natural gas and away from diesel, that’s 2.5 million barrels a day. So that cuts OPEC in half with 8 million vehicles. And there are 250 million vehicles in America. So, the stations will come with the vehicles. That’s a no brainer. If you set it up so the heavy duty is going to go to natural gas, and they’ll put the islands into the truck stops, would be one way to work it. The other way it works, Southern California decided they would go to natural gas because it was cleaner than diesel. And so with trash trucks, they said, if you buy a new one, it has to be natural gas. And the incremental difference was $50,000, so they gave a $50,000 grant for when you bought the natural gas trash truck and now 70 percent of them are on natural gas. And the fueling stations just came with the vehicles.

TAS: What do you think needs to happen at the federal level in order to achieve what you’re arguing for, which is to convert heavy duty trucks to natural gas?

BP: Well, see it’s already in the legislation. In the House, it’s H.R. 1835, the natural gas act. And they give a $65,000 credit when you move from diesel to natural gas. It’s the same thing in Senate bill 1408. But in Senate bill 1408 they’re working on it now, and they’re adding different things to the bill to see if they can get it passed. The natural gas will pass quickly. We have 144 co-sponsors in the House on 1835, and if it goes standalone on the first vote you get 350 votes for it, so no question it will pass.

TASThe thing that makes a lot of conservatives wary about a lot of the alternate energy is the idea that it translates into subsidies. Even if it’s called a “tax credit,” effectively it’s the same as the government subsidizing a certain kind of energy. And a lot of conservatives who don’t want to see the government handing out subsidies and picking winners and losers in the energy market have a lot of skepticism about this, and that’s why they’re reluctant to embrace these sorts of ideas. How would you respond to them?

BP: Well, if that’s the best way out, then you’re going to use foreign oil. So you’ve got to help it get started — and here you’re only talking about $7 billion, would lead to 143,000 18-wheelers  —  and then the incremental (cost) in California with the trash trucks went from $50,000 down to $10,000 once you got up to scale. So if you don’t like that idea, we’ll just use foreign oil.

TASThe question would be, that if, as you’re saying, that the economics make so much sense in terms of how much cheaper it would be to fuel on natural gas than with diesel, then why wouldn’t trucking companies themselves want to convert to natural gas to save the fuel costs?

BP: You’re saying, let the free market work.

TAS: Well, the basic question is that if oil prices get to the point where it’s no longer economically feasible for companies to use oil-based fuel to fuel their vehicles, then wouldn’t the free market naturally convert everything to natural gas over time, if that’s the economically more efficient product?

BP: Well, it’s going to take a long time to do it for one thing, and you need the leadership to take you in the direction that is best. And this is clearly better. You’re dealing with a domestic fuel that’s 30 percent cleaner and cheaper in preference over a foreign oil that is dirtier and more expensive.

TAS: But if it’s so much cheaper, what would be preventing, right now, a trucking company from wanting to convert over time its fleet to vehicles that are able to take natural gas? Why would they need a government tax credit to do it?

BP: Well, because it’s $65,000 difference in the truck. So, until you get up to scale on the natural gas engine, it’s more expensive to buy the natural gas engine. So you’ve got to get some help to get it started. But you’re spending $1 billion a day on foreign oil. So you start turning some of that around, the money’s here. The money is creating jobs, profits are made, taxes are paid, and the economy is helped by it. And right now, you’re just pouring money out of the country.

T. Boone Pickens Sees Progress In BP Leak, Says It’ll Take 30 Days to Kill Well

Earlier today, I spoke with T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire investor who has spent more than a half-century in the oil business. Before we got to our broader discussion (more on that later) I asked him what he thought of the latest developments in the BP oil leak, and thought I’d pass his comments along.

“There’s no question they’re making progress on it,” Pickens said. “And they’ve got a little bit to go. I’m not concerned about that leak there on the bottom. It’s not related. It’s two miles away, and too far. But I would say you’ve probably got another 30 days before you kill the well.”

DISCLOSURE: Pickens is also the benefactor of the American Spectator‘s Young Journalism Training Program.

Obama and Social Security

In my piece for the main site, I write about how Democrats are resurrecting their strategy of scaring seniors about Republicans who want to cut Social Security. A subset of the piece explored how liberal groups are increasingly worried that President Obama’s deficit commission will target the program for cuts. One bit of history that I didn’t get a chance to hash out is that liberal suspicion of Obama on Social Security can be placed at least as far back as 2007, when as a candidate in the Democratic primaries, he said the program was facing a “crisis.” Self-described “progressives” were outraged, and Paul Krugman devoted a column to describing Obama as a “sucker” for buying into the idea that the program was in deep trouble. While Obama would later emerge as a darling of liberals, it wasn’t always the case. Early on, liberals were worried that Obama’s desire to be a post-partisan politician would lead him to concede too much ground to conservatives and the Beltway establishment. Obama’s willingness to acknowledge problems with Social Security was one reason why many liberals initially saw Hillary Clinton and John Edwards as better vehicles to carry the progressive domestic policy torch.

Now, Obama’s deficit commission has liberals concerned. Not only because the pure Keynesians among them are worried that focusing on deficits now will endanger any economic recovery, but also because they’re still suspicious of his aims on Social Security. Personally — as somebody on the opposite side of the debate — I’m not getting myself too excited in anticipation of the commission. Most of the time, these sort of commissions produce a report that gets Washington buzzing for a few days before the talk evaporates. Maybe in this case, the chatter will last for a few weeks. But when it comes to deficits and entitlement reform, Obama has proven himself much more interested in talk and symbolism than in action. My guess is that Obama will embrace a set of liberal policy ideas, with a few proposals designed to look like he’s making concessions to Republicans, even though he isn’t in reality. So I think liberals can rest easy for now.

Democrats Renew Their War on America’s Youth

Facing dangerously low approval ratings for an incumbent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has turned to an age-old tactic in his bid for re-election: scaring senior citizens.

As soon as Sharron Angle emerged as his Republican opponent, Reid made Angle’s professed support for personal retirement accounts a centerpiece of his campaign against her, launching a series of ads blasting her for wanting to “wipe out” Social Security. 

Reid’s gambit to defend his seat in a state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate is part of a broader effort by Democrats to navigate a difficult electoral environment. With a weak economy and a public that has turned against President Obama and his agenda, Reid and his fellow Democratic incumbents are trying to resurrect their glory days, when they were the only ones standing in the way of President Bush’s sinister plot to destroy the popular but fiscally unsound government program.

The strategy was telegraphed in late January, when Obama cited Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future” entitlement reform plan in his talk at the House Republican retreat as a “serious proposal” that he nonetheless opposed. Soon after, the Democratic National Committee pounced on the plan and leading Democrats argued that because Ryan was the ranking GOP member on the Budget Committee, it showed that Republicans wanted to “privatize” Social Security.

The weak-kneed Republican leadership has mostly distanced themselves from Ryan’s ambitious plan, emphasizing that it wasn’t the official Republican budget. And in the midst of campaign season, any GOP candidate who has indicated support for Ryan’s proposal has been subjected to relentless attacks.

In the race for Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional seat, for instance, Democrat Julie Lassa has blasted Republican Sean Duffy for making general statements in support of Ryan’s plan, which calls for voluntary personal accounts for younger workers and other changes to make the Social Security system solvent.

The campaign season debate over Social Security is set against the backdrop of Obama’s fiscal commission. While conservatives are convinced that the body is just a Trojan Horse for a European style value added tax, liberal activists are worried that it’s part of a plan to cut Social Security.

Last Wednesday, the liberal group sent out an email seeking to raise $185,000 to launch a preemptive campaign against any efforts to cut Social Security. The ominous email warned of a “showdown coming to Washington” over Social Security, with conservatives and Blue Dog Democrats on one side, and “progressives” on the other. As of this writing MoveOn had raised $192,489, and had set a new goal of $250,000.

As part of the effort to avert any serious attempts to do something about the looming Social Security crisis, liberals have sought to deny any crisis exists in the first place.

Nancy Altman, co-director of the group Social Security Works, a coalition of unions and other liberal activist organizations, argued that “Deficit hawks plotting to cut Social Security to reduce the deficit are seriously misguided. The truth is that Social Security contributes not a single penny to the deficit. Indeed, it is the poster child for fiscal responsibility.”

“Social Security is not in crisis,” declared AARP President Barry Rand in May, urging the deficit commission to avoid addressing the program.

At last month’s Nevada Democratic Convention, Reid got into the act, too. “One of the myths around here is Social Security is in deep trouble,” Reid said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Social Security is not in deep trouble. If we did nothing with it, it would be OK for the next 40 years. Now we want to make sure it is OK for the next 40 years.”

Those who deny that Social Security is facing a crisis rely on a series of specious arguments. The first is to put the focus on 2037 — the year the Social Security Trustees project the program’s “trust fund” to be exhausted, rather than 2016, when the program is expected to start running annual deficits. But to draw such a distinction is to pretend that all of the money doesn’t ultimately come from the same bank account (or in this case, the collective bank accounts of American taxpayers).

The Social Security program is financed primarily by payroll taxes. When the amount of tax revenue collected exceeds benefits, the surplus is theoretically put in the trust fund. But in reality, the federal government uses that surplus to finance ongoing government operations, and puts a stack of bonds — or IOUs — in the funds instead. So, while it’s true that for about 27 years, there’s theoretically enough money within the system to keep paying beneficiaries, after 2016, that money will have to come from somewhere — at a time when the nation is already suffocating under a mountain of debt.

The 2009 Social Security Trustees report concluded that because redeeming bonds held within the trust fund will need to come from the general treasury, “Pressures on the Federal Budget will thus emerge well before 2037.”

Further along these lines, the Congressional Budget Office, in a report released earlier this month, wrote that the government bonds held within the trust fund, “are an asset to the Social Security system but a liability to the rest of the government. The resources to redeem government securities in the (Old age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance) trust funds and thereby pay for Social Security benefits in some future year must be generated from taxes, other government income, or government borrowing in that year.”

Specifically, the CBO estimates that by 2020, Social Security will be running a deficit of 0.3 percent of GDP. If you were to apply that percentage to 2009’s GDP — the most recent year for which actual data is available — it would represent $42.7 billion. That’s roughly the equivalent of the entire budget of the Department of Homeland Security. And between 2020 and 2040, that deficit is projected to more than quadruple, to 1.3 percent of GDP, or $185 billion if translated into 2009 GDP terms.

Not having a plan to fix the Social Security crisis also makes the bond markets more nervous, which could drive up the government’s borrowing costs in the short term.

The other argument made by those who deny a Social Security crisis is that the real crisis is the one facing Medicare and Medicaid due to rising health care costs. It’s undeniable that the health care spending crisis is worse (and that’s been further exacerbated by the passage of the national health care law). But that says more about the severity of the problems facing Medicare and Medicaid than about the solvency of Social Security.

“There can be some tweaks done,” Reid himself said. “Stop trying to frighten people about Social Security.”

While it is true that Social Security lends itself to a combination of smaller fixes such as raising the retirement age, limiting payouts to wealthier retirees who don’t depend on Social Security for their livelihoods, or pegging the growth in benefits to a lower rate of inflation, anybody who proposes such fixes is typically subjected to the same sort of attacks that Reid has been leveling against Angle. And the longer action is delayed, the more drastic the solution will need to be.

Interestingly, during the campaign, Obama’s proposal for Social Security was to slap those earning more than $250,000 with an additional payroll tax (right now, payroll taxes only affect salary up to $106,800). The problem is, Democrats already dipped into that well when they introduced a similar tax to fund ObamaCare.

Those who seek to preserve the unsustainable status quo in Social Security like to see themselves as defenders of senior citizens. In reality, they’ve declared war against America’s youth. If there’s any hope for putting the nation on a sustainable fiscal path, this will have to be proven a failed political strategy.

The Redistributionist In Chief Strikes Again

President Obama, making the case for extending unemployment befefits without offsetting spending cuts, surrounded himself by several jobless Americans outside the White House today, and lamented that, “the same people who didn’t have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle-class Americans Jim or Leslie or Denise who really need help.”

Though this statement isn’t particularly surprising coming from Obama, it’s always worth emphasizing how backward it is to view tax cuts as “spending” and welfare payments as “relief.” When the government enacts tax breaks, all it’s doing is allowing people to keep more of their own money. To suggest that this constitutes “spending” is to assume that, by nature, government has the right to all earned income. The fact that it’s a perfectly routine talking point for a liberal politician does not make it any less perverse.

Jordan Digs at LeBron

Michael Jordan came out and said what a lot of people were thinking when LeBron James made the decision to join fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami:

“There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,'” Jordan said after finishing tied for 22nd in the American Century Championship golf tournament in Stateline, Nev.

“But that’s … things are different. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”

Say what you want about Jordan (his bitter Hall of Fame speech certainly did not reflect well on him), but one thing you have to give him credit for is that he was always a fierce competitor, and he wanted to beat the best. It remains to be seen whether Miami can get its trifecta of stars to gel in the coming years. But even if LeBron should go on to win several championships, he’ll still never reach the heights that Jordan did.

Video of Jordan below.

With a Possible Senate Election This Fall, Obama’s Approval in WV at 34%

It’s still uncertain whether West Virginia will hold a special election to replace the deceased Sen. Robert Byrd this year or in 2012. Gov. Joe Manchin, who has interest in the seat, has supported holding a special election this November, but a bill clarifying the ambiguous state law and allowing that to happen has stalled in the state legislature. That’s left Manchin with the option of proclaiming an election himself, yet that could lead to legal challenges.

The Democrat Manchin has been touted as the likely frontrunner should their be a special election this year, but one important thing to keep in mind is that President Obama’s approval rating is in the sewer in West Virginia. According to a state-by-state breakdown released by Gallup, Obama’a approval rating is just 34 percent in West Virginia, with 58 percent disapproving. Utah and Wyoming are the only states where he’s less popular. Obama has had a rough time in West Virginia. Hillary Clinton, you may recall, trounced Obama in the Democratic primary there by a 41-point margin. John McCain went on to carry the state in the general election, 56 percent to 43 percent.

Even if Manchin is well liked among West Virginia voters, a credible Republican would have an opening to argue that Manchin would be a vote in support of the Obama agenda. This argument would be made stronger assuming that Carte Goodwin, Manchin’s temporary appointment to fill out Byrd’s term, votes with the Democratic leadership in the coming months.