Sunday, May 31, 2009

The land irony forgot

Now they're importing toxins.

From the edge of town, one can see huge berms at the landfill where General Electric plans to bury the dried sludge that is tainted with 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. They flowed into the upper Hudson from two G. E. factories for three decades before they were banned, in 1977. In high doses, the chemicals have been shown to cause cancer in animals and are considered a probable carcinogen in people.

The landfill lies five miles away in Texas, right across the state line, and belongs to Harold C. Simmons, a Dallas billionaire who was a large campaign contributor to former President George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry. (He also helped finance the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race and the advertisements linking President Obama to William Ayers in 2008.)

Not only has Mr. Simmons’s company, Waste Control Specialists, landed a lucrative contract to take the Hudson River sludge to Texas, but this spring it won a permit from the state to store low-level radioactive waste as well.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

The thehatah

Madame Cura and I are off to the Big City to see this tonight, spend the night, and wander about tomorrow...rekindling the spark or sparking the kindle or something. Come back soon.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Your body is an ATM

Everyone's bloggin' about Atul Gawande's typically fascinating article in The New Yorker, examining why Medicare costs are so much higher in some areas than others. It's worth reading the whole thing, but this passage cuts right to it.

This is a disturbing and perhaps surprising diagnosis. Americans like to believe that, with most things, more is better. But research suggests that where medicine is concerned it may actually be worse. For example, Rochester, Minnesota, where the Mayo Clinic dominates the scene, has fantastically high levels of technological capability and quality, but its Medicare spending is in the lowest fifteen per cent of the country—$6,688 per enrollee in 2006, which is eight thousand dollars less than the figure for McAllen. Two economists working at Dartmouth, Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra, found that the more money Medicare spent per person in a given state the lower that state’s quality ranking tended to be. In fact, the four states with the highest levels of spending—Louisiana, Texas, California, and Florida—were near the bottom of the national rankings on the quality of patient care.

In a 2003 study, another Dartmouth team, led by the internist Elliott Fisher, examined the treatment received by a million elderly Americans diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, a hip fracture, or a heart attack. They found that patients in higher-spending regions received sixty per cent more care than elsewhere. They got more frequent tests and procedures, more visits with specialists, and more frequent admission to hospitals. Yet they did no better than other patients, whether this was measured in terms of survival, their ability to function, or satisfaction with the care they received. If anything, they seemed to do worse.

That’s because nothing in medicine is without risks. Complications can arise from hospital stays, medications, procedures, and tests, and when these things are of marginal value the harm can be greater than the benefits. In recent years, we doctors have markedly increased the number of operations we do, for instance. In 2006, doctors performed at least sixty million surgical procedures, one for every five Americans. No other country does anything like as many operations on its citizens. Are we better off for it? No one knows for sure, but it seems highly unlikely. After all, some hundred thousand people die each year from complications of surgery—far more than die in car crashes.

To make matters worse, Fisher found that patients in high-cost areas were actually less likely to receive low-cost preventive services, such as flu and pneumonia vaccines, faced longer waits at doctor and emergency-room visits, and were less likely to have a primary-care physician. They got more of the stuff that cost more, but not more of what they needed.

In an odd way, this news is reassuring. Universal coverage won’t be feasible unless we can control costs. Policymakers have worried that doing so would require rationing, which the public would never go along with. So the idea that there’s plenty of fat in the system is proving deeply attractive. “Nearly thirty per cent of Medicare’s costs could be saved without negatively affecting health outcomes if spending in high- and medium-cost areas could be reduced to the level in low-cost areas,” Peter Orszag, the President’s budget director, has stated.

Most Americans would be delighted to have the quality of care found in places like Rochester, Minnesota, or Seattle, Washington, or Durham, North Carolina—all of which have world-class hospitals and costs that fall below the national average. If we brought the cost curve in the expensive places down to their level, Medicare’s problems (indeed, almost all the federal government’s budget problems for the next fifty years) would be solved. The difficulty is how to go about it. Physicians in places like McAllen behave differently from others. The $2.4-trillion question is why. Unless we figure it out, health reform will fail.

There's another problem. Efforts to determine which treatments, tests, prescription drugs, etc. are effective and which ones are not, and thus not cost effective are exactly the efforts the wingnuts and their shills are using to try to kill health care reform. "Granny didn't get that back surgery because the guvment said 'No!'" Even though that is patently false on the face of it, they further ignore the notion that there could be evidence the back surgery wasn't necessary or wouldn't help and might, actually, lead to infection and death.

UPDATE: I meant to link to this when I originally posted.


The Sotomayor hearings

Turn the dials on the Wayback Machine to 1997:

Then-Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.) engaged Sotomayor over a case in which an inmate had sued prison officials who had removed him from his food service job because he was openly gay, a move that, as Ashcroft put it, would "prevent disciplinary problems that could arise from having open homosexuals prepare food."

Ashcroft moved to a broader question: "Do you believe that there is a constitutional right to homosexual conduct by prisoners?" Sotomayor answered: "No, sir, there is not. . . . The only constitutional right that homosexuals have is the same constitutional right every citizen of the United States has, which is not to have government action taken against them arbitrarily and capriciously."

Ashcroft pressed on. "Are there any rights that are not protected by the Constitution that . . . you would like to see protected?"

"I have not thought about that in a while, sir. No," Sotomayor said.

Ashcroft was dissatisfied. "My time is not up," he said.

But Sotomayor held firm. "I think I answered," she said.

Man, Ashcroft had weird obsessions. Prison food? Really?

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Dividing the nation

The Republican Study Committee explains that it "stands with" Wall Street investment firms and hedge funds.

The question arises once again: Are they even trying?


Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Ok, enough for now on the crazy train reactions to a typically reasonable Obama decision...let's talk baseball! Specifically, how "minor league options" work. Stuff I didn't know.


Experience does matter

The idea that Sonia Sotomayor's experiences should not have an influence on her decision making is simply bone headed. Note, George Will still hasn't gotten over Robert "Slouching towards Gemorrah" Bork.

Conversely, the notion that she will not materially change the make-up of the court, replacing one mildly liberal traditional northeast conservative with a slightly more liberal, is also wrong, according to Linda Greenhouse.

After Justice Thurgood Marshall retired in 1991, Justice O’Connor published a tribute describing him as the embodiment of “moral truth” and recounting the experience of listening to his stories during the decade that they served together, stories that “would, by and by, perhaps change the way I see the world.”

That was a striking statement from a justice who was on the opposite side from Thurgood Marshall in nearly every civil rights case and whose jurisprudence appeared unmarked by his influence. But it turned out to be Justice O’Connor who wrote the majority opinion in 2003 that upheld affirmative action in admission to the University of Michigan Law School. The way she saw the world in the interval had clearly changed, whatever the cause.


Forcing Sotomayor down their throats

Good times.

Walking this careful line between pleasing the base and not offending Hispanics will be Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who became the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee when Arlen Specter switched parties last month. Sessions himself was once a Reagan nominee to the federal bench who was rejected by this same committee — at the time controlled by Republicans — after reports surfaced that he had called the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People "un-American" and had once told a colleague that they "forced civil rights down the throats of people."
Somewhere, Lyndon Johnson is smiling. It took more than forty years, but the majority status he gave to Republicans over civil rights -- basically ceding the South to the GOP -- has come back to be the GOP's millstone.


Taking it to the streets

So the choice of a Latina for the Supreme Court will "fire up the base" in ways that the election of a black Muslim socialist friend of Bill Ayers could not? How, exactly, does that work?



What's really important

Her name.

Assimilated Pronunciation [Mark Krikorian]

So, are we supposed to use the Spanish pronunciation, so-toe-my-OR, or the natural English pronunciation, SO-tuh-my-er, like Niedermeyer? The president pronounced it both ways, first in Spanish, then after several uses, lapsing into English. Though in the best "Pockiston" tradition, he also rolled his r's in Puerto Rico.

By the way, can anyone point me to the video of the 1990 Saturday Night Live skit with Jimmy Smits where the news staff were doing ridiculously exaggerated pronunciations of "Neek-o-rah-gwa" and the like? I can't find it online or on DVD.

He wasn't done.

It Sticks in My Craw [Mark Krikorian]

Most e-mailers were with me on the post on the pronunciation of Judge Sotomayor's name (and a couple griped about the whole Latina/Latino thing — English dropped gender in nouns, what, 1,000 years ago?). But a couple said we should just pronounce it the way the bearer of the name prefers, including one who pronounces her name "freed" even though it's spelled "fried," like fried rice. (I think Cathy Seipp of blessed memory did the reverse — "sipe" instead of "seep.") Deferring to people's own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits. Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English (which is why the president stopped doing it after the first time at his press conference), unlike my correspondent's simple preference for a monophthong over a diphthong, and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn't be giving in to.

Yes, there should be limits to permitting people to have names that are "unnatural in English."

What's especially amusing is that he goes on to write that somehow Sotomayor's name hindered the Princeton and Yale grad's ability to assimilate. Or something.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Funny, I don't recall any questions about what effect John Roberts' "personal race, gender, or political preferences" would have on his decision-making.


"An intense disliker," aka, A racist prick

I laughed when I read this last week.

"He became ground zero among the neo-cons, but he's vastly smarter than most of them," said Time's Joe Klein, an admirer and critic who praised Krauthammer's "writing skills and polemical skills" as "so far above almost anybody writing columns today."


"Charles is not a hater, but he can be an intense disliker," he said.

Because I could practically predict reading this today.

UPDATE: Charles Krauthammer is already snarling on Fox News, warning viewers of the possible danger that -- as he put it -- Sotomayor's "concern for certain ethnicities override justice." He said that although her confirmation is certain, conservatives should oppose her nomination on principle and highlight that the type of justice Sotomayor allegedly represents -- justice that is unfair to white people in favor of "certain ethnicities" -- is deeply pernicious. That is a such a baseless and ugly attack on her, but almost certainly what will be a focus of the right-wing strategy.

Unfair to white people. Now there is some kind of "polemical skills."

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Straw dogs

I meant to write this over the weekend, but was distracted by the weather.



Glenn Greenwald appreciates the choice along lines that I was thinking about myself.

There are many vital issues that Sotomayor should be asked about, obviously including her views on executive power limits, which -- as Charlie Savage noted this weekend -- are largely unknown. One's view of her selection should be shaped by things that are as yet unknown. But judging strictly from what is known, Obama deserves substantial credit for this choice. There were choices available to him that would have been safer among the Respectable Intellectual Center (Diane Wood) and among the Right (Elena Kagan). At his best, Obama ignores and is even willing to act contrary to the standard establishment Washington voices and mentality that have corrupted our political culture for so long. His choice of Sotomayor is a prime example of his doing exactly that, and for that reason alone, ought to be commended.
Now, let the dishonesty begin!


Gingrich/Cheney 2012

It is with some disappointment that I am reminded how spectacularly wrong Bill "the Bloody" Kristol has been about everything he's written on over the past several years.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Shocking the Taliban to their core

I have meant to take note of this for days, but today seems appropriate.

Last night there arrived this update: Secretary of Defense Gates, speaking at a dinner at the Intrepid Museum in New York City, observed: "Sometimes the public recognition isn't always expected -- or necessarily welcomed. Specialist Zachary Boyd recently was enjoying a well-deserved sleep when his post in eastern Afghanistan came under enemy attack. He immediately grabbed his rifle and rushed into a defensive position clad in his helmet, body armor, and pink boxer shorts that said 'I Love New York.'

"Unfortunately -- or fortunately, depending on your perspective -- an AP photographer was there for a candid shot, a photo which ran shortly thereafter on the front page of the New York Times. Boyd later told his parents that: 'I may not have a job anymore after the President has seen me out of uniform.'

"Well, let me tell you, the next time I visit Afghanistan I want to meet Specialist Boyd and shake his hand. Any soldier who goes into battle against the Taliban in pink boxers and flip-flops has a special kind of courage. And I can only wonder about the impact on the Taliban. Just imagine seeing that -- a guy in pink boxers and flip-flops has you in his crosshairs -- what an incredible innovation in psychological warfare. I can assure you that Specialist Boyd's job is very safe indeed."


Blue Monday, Sister Rosetta Tharpe edition

Sunday, May 24, 2009

But what was his pitch count?

When men were men.

Meanwhile, halfway across America, Haddix, the Kitten, was mowing them down, playing by the same rules they had played by for all the 20th century — 60 feet 6 inches from home, three strikes and you’re out — while I was part of an operation that, similarly, was unchanged over that course of time.

The ticker continued clacking: nine innings, no base runners; 10 innings; 11 innings; 12 innings! No one in the history of baseball had ever had such a performance, and I was there, tethered to the game through Western Union ticker tape.

The Pirates were retired in the top of the 13th by Lew Burdette — who, like Haddix, had started the game and was still pitching.

Felix Mantilla, who was to record a lifetime batting average of .261, led off the bottom of the Braves’ 13th. He hit a grounder to Don Hoak at third. Hoak appeared to take his time gripping the ball, got it right, but his throw to first baseman Rocky Nelson — who regularly fielded better than .990 — was on a bounce. Nelson could not dig it out. Hoak was given an error. The perfect game was over, but not the no-hitter.

With Mantilla at first, the Braves’ great home run hitter Eddie Mathews was up. He did something he was to do only two more times that season — hit a sacrifice bunt. It was successful, and Mantilla moved to second. Now Haddix was facing Hank Aaron, who was leading the major leagues in batting. Of course, Aaron was intentionally walked.

Then big Joe Adcock was up. He was a home run hitter who once had smacked four in a game against my Dodgers at Ebbets Field. This time, he stroked a low liner that went over the head of right fielder Roman Mejias, toward the fence about 330 feet from home. From Aaron’s vantage point, it did not seem to clear the fence. Aaron took off for second, saw Mantilla racing home, and Aaron thought that was the ballgame. So he touched second, then cut across the infield for the dugout. He believed the ball had landed inside the stadium and that the game was over. But the ball had cleared the fence.

Adcock continued running, though, and rounded the bases. He touched home and the plate umpire Vinnie Smith declared the game over.

But not so fast. There was some confusion. The Braves thought it was a 3-0 game, but Adcock had passed Aaron on the bases. That made Adcock out. That night, the National League president, Warren Giles, ruled that the game was actually a 1-0 affair, that Adcock’s hit was a double. And for Haddix, officially it was never ruled a no-hitter, nor a perfect game, even though it went beyond nine innings.


A long tradition

George Will's role as a disingenuous purveyor of wingnuttia into the mainstream has a long tradition. TNR's role in that goes way back, too.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gender studies

Imagine if Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic nomination last year.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Trouble every day

For Dick Cheney.

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On speed

Republicans threatened to demand that the entire 900-page energy bill be read in the committee. Waxman called their bluff. Hilarity ensued.


He'll wrap us in his big, gun toting arms

He'll scare the asteroid away.

It would be interesting to see the results of a more finely calibrated poll, one that compares how well-respected, competent, and effective the subject is perceived to be relative to similarly situated individuals. As a friend succinctly puts it, "When that big asteroid finally heads toward Earth, who's the person you'd most want to be in charge?" I suspect Cheney would score at or near the top.

via Matt.

Conservatives need for a father figure is nothing new, but the adulation and longing for Dick Cheney is taking it to a whole 'nother level.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

What a long, strange trip it's been

Obama: Reverent constitutionalist or benevolent despot?

I really don't have anything to add to Adam Serwer's analysis of President Obama's speech. I do think the speech was a strong condemnation of the last administration's "ad hoc approach" and, specifically the use of torture, which, he was clear, is neither morally right or efficacious. Clearly, you won't hear from Obama that "the Constitution is not a suicide pact." He is saying that he reveres the documents on which this country was founded and does not find our traditions "quaint" in the face of modern terrorism. He takes the rule of law seriously.

But he's also saying, "Look, I've been left with a mess and we are facing real threats. Trust me to find a way to solve this. We're consumed with solving this, in fact" But he doesn't say how he'll do that. And there's the rub.

As Serwer concludes, Obama may be more dangerous than George W. Bush because we trust the former. But, for now, I'll go with the thoughtful constitutional scholar rather than the fear mongerers.

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The wrath of the DFHs

Oh nos. David Broder is complimenting Obama...for defying the hysterical left who elected him, of course.

Some adaptation is necessary for almost every president because few experiences can really prepare them for the challenges Obama described to Meacham. George W. Bush went through it after Sept. 11, 2001, subordinating his domestic agenda to focus on the terrorist threat -- and never changing.

But the step is harder for today's Democratic presidents than for their predecessors -- or their Republican contemporaries.

Ever since Vietnam, the prevailing ideology of grass-roots Democratic activists has been hostile to American military actions and skeptical of the military itself. Iowa, where the Democratic nomination process begins, is famously tilted toward a pacifist view of war. Throughout the primaries, the pressures push forward candidates who do not challenge that mind-set.

That was certainly the case last year, when Obama's best-credentialed challengers -- Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd -- all stumbled over their votes to authorize Bush's use of force in Iraq.

The second reason Democrats struggle more with becoming commander in chief is that they have more things than do Republicans that they want to accomplish here at home. Time and money are always in short supply. The bigger the domestic agenda, the more resistance to being "diverted" into military adventures. Obama, like all his Democratic predecessors, has set big goals. Afghanistan has to look like a distraction to him.

And a third reason is that today's Democrats really are isolated from the military. Harry Truman had been an artillery captain; John Kennedy and Carter, Navy officers. But Bill Clinton did everything possible to avoid the draft, and Obama, motivated as he was to public service, never gave a thought to volunteering for the military.

Where, oh where, to begin?

Let's start with George W. Bush diverting attention from domestic "priorities" after 9-11. George W. Bush had two domestic priorities at the start of 2001: tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and passage of no child left behind, both of which he accomplished. I challenge anyone to name me another priority for his first term, anything left undone. His second term, of course, made privatizing social security a priority, which went almost as well as the guarding of the Iraqi National Museum. Looters were poised for privatization, just as looters were waiting for the US military to divert their attention to the Oil Ministry. The only thing being diverted after 9-11 for his administration was a priority for capturing al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Instead, attention was diverted to connecting al Qaeda to Iraq.

Second, the fact that Democrat candidates had trouble explaining away their votes for authorizing military action in Iraq had nothing -- nothing -- to do with "hostility towards the military." As I recall, we lefties were quite supportive of military action in Kosova and, notably, Afghanistan; that support may not have been unanimous, but it was real. No, the difficulties Biden, Clinton, Dodd and (though unnamed since this isn't about haircuts or infidelity) Edwards had explaining their Iraq votes were the result of how stupid it was to invade Iraq and the subsequent clusterfuck that was the Bush administration's actions there.

I'm guessing that when Broder writes the incomprehensible phrase, that Iowa "is famously tilted towards a pacificist view of war" (WTF is a "pacifist view of war"?), he is referring to 1968, when the anti-war candidate Gene McCarthy "famously" upset President Johnson in New Hampshire. In 1972, anti-war candidate McGovern lost to Muskie in Iowa.

And, finally, the last paragraph cited above is really indefensible. Bill Clinton did everything possible to avoid the draft. Sure. His efforts pale in comparison to Dick "I had other priorities" Cheney. George W. Bush's exploites during the Vietnam War are, of course, legendary. Those two war heroes defeated Al Gore and John Kerry, both of whom served -- the latter with distinction -- in Vietnam. Perhaps, Broder might consider, Obama's community service in Chicago was more valuable than whatever service he may have provided the good people of Grenada.

UPDATE: Roy, as usual, is the ideal antidote for such bullshit.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Duel in the sun?

Time's Michael Scherer is making sense.

If Ali had the Nation of Islam to back him up, Cheney has the Nation Of Rebublicans, such as it remains--a cavalcade of aspiring tough guys, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, the talk radio gabbers. In recent weeks, following Cheney's lead, they have settled on national security as their best card left to play against Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and the bunch. (This, in itself, is an amazing admission, given Obama's dramatic expansion of domestic government.) And so they are hammering hard, trying to disrupt the cool of mister cool, President O, who I can now posit as Frazier, the workhorse, his head down, focused on the fight.

Such is the set up that is expected of me, a Washington correspondent, at a moment like this. For there is a showdown scheduled tomorrow--Obama and Cheney both giving separate speeches on national security. All the narrative elements are there to get America to pay attention, a top-billed clash, a battle, a contest of generations, of ideologies, of facts. This is the story line you will likely hear for the next 36 hours on cable and on the web, minus, of course, my strained boxing metaphor, which is imperfect, in part, because history has left far more Ali defenders than Cheney is likely to enjoy.

But instead, I pause. What is this all about anyway? How to distinguish the hype from what is happening? What battle is really being fought?

Exactly. Cautioiusly, pragmatically, Obama has shown little inclination to vastly change the policies of his predecessor when it comes to battling terrorism. And why should he, with members of his own part talking like blithering idiots.

Meanwhile, MoDo, characteristically, chose today to "move past" her little plagiarism episode from Sunday's column, and instead chose to write an old staple: Obama is a doe-eyed fawn intimidated by big ol' Cheney and Rumsfeld [no link, take my word for it, or find her yerself].

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What's the matter with California?

"Sable Saphist"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I'm not sure airline miles are perks

Barbara Kiviat unravels the American Bankers Assoc. press release story in the Times this morning about credit card companies threats to impose new fees and (gasp) immediate interest on purchases by their best free-loading customers.

In short: Bullshit. There is a reason that about twenty years ago card issuers went into a marketing war over "no annual fee." There is a reason they continue to send new cards to people who pay their bill in full each month, even as months grow shorter and shorter.

Their customers have options. Buying shit with credit cards is a convenience, not a necessity.


No apologies necessary

Is this one of those things Michael Steele says the GOP will no longer apologize for?

WASHINGTON – The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a complaint over the $150,000-plus designer wardrobe the Republican Party bought to outfit vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the good-government group that filed the complaint, argued that candidates aren't supposed to use donor money for personal expenses such as clothes. The FEC ruled Tuesday that the ban doesn't apply to party money, however.

The Alaska governor was Sen. John McCain's pick for vice president. The purchases from such high-end stores as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus drew criticism for Palin, the self-described hockey mom.

The Republican National Committee told the commission that party money rather than candidate campaign money was used for the purchases.

"We have no information to the contrary," the FEC wrote in its decision.

Good for them!

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Screw Phillips

I sure miss Fire Joe Morgan, but this will do nicely in a pinch.

My point is not to knock those guys. They’re great players. They do some things better than Beltran. And there are other things they don’t do as well. If you want to have a fair fight and compare what they do, how they play the game, fine. But saying stuff like this drives me mad:

“I think at times, while he puts up some numbers, his game is inconsistent. There are times where, in pressure situations, he hasn’t gotten the job done.”

See? Here we go. Even though Beltran puts up “some numbers” his game is “inconsistent.”

Some numbers = tangible.

Inconsistent = intangible.

Carlos Beltran is actually quite consistent. He’s a great centerfielder year after year. That takes consistency. He is the best percentage base stealer in baseball history. That takes consistency. He has, as mentioned, scored 100 runs, driven in 100 RBIs eight times. That takes consistency. He has only once in the last seven years hit fewer than 25 homers, driven in fewer than 100 runs, put up an OPS+ of less than 126. If anything, Beltran is TOO consistent, and that consistency has left knuckleheads demanding that he be greater than great … you know, by improving his intangibles.*

*Or is it increasing his intangibles? Monetizing his intangibles? Tangiblizing his intangibles?

One more Phillips gem:

While he has that great talent, there are times when he doesn’t play the game and make plays.

Yep, those players who don’t play the game or make plays, those are the worst kinds of players in the world. You want a player who plays the game, makes plays, a player who makes game plays, the plays gamers play to make, a player who makes plays for plays that playmakers make.

I caught some of the hilarity in the booth Sunday night. I'm pretty sure Steve Phillips is there to make Joe Morgan look prepared.

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Don't tell, don't investigate?

It's not clear what, ultimately, the administration's intentions are here, and I know that Obama doesn't want DADT "on the front burner," but this seems like a no-brainer.

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has decided to accept an appeals-court ruling that could undermine the military's ban on service members found to be gay.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco last year ruled that the government must justify the expulsion of a decorated officer solely because she is a lesbian. The court rejected government arguments that the law banning gays in the military should have a blanket application, and that officials shouldn't be required to argue the merits in her individual case.

The administration let pass a May 3 deadline to appeal to the Supreme Court. That means the case will be returned to the district court, and administration officials said they will continue to defend the law there.

The move "takes the issue off the front burner," as a trial and subsequent appeals could take years before the question returns to the Supreme Court, said an official familiar with the matter.

The decision comes as President Barack Obama attempts a balancing act on gay rights. He was elected with strong support from the gay community and promised action on a number of issues. But mindful of the complex politics, the White House has moved slowly.

Maj. Witt, the plaintiff, did not "tell" anyone in the armed forces that she was a lesbian. The military investigated the oft-decorated officer to determine if she was a homosexual.

Obama wants Congress to take the lead and repeal the law. I get that. But given the growing acceptance of teh gay, lately, I doubt the majority of sentient Americans are now prepared to accept discharging capable officers when we are in the midst of two bloody wars. This is a relic of a culture war that is no longer operational.


Left on the table

Feeling as if you've been rolled?

Americans were promised a reward for rescuing the nation’s banks. In return for all those bailouts, the banks essentially granted stock options to the government —a potential jackpot for taxpayers once the crisis blew over.

But now banks, eager to get Washington out of their hair, are pushing to undo those investments as quickly — and cheaply — as possible. If the Obama administration acquiesces, billions of taxpayer dollars could be left on the table.

At issue are so-called warrants that the government received from the banks last autumn, when the financial world was teetering. Like options, warrants give their owners the right to buy stock at a set price over a certain period of time, in this case, 10 years.

Now, with many banks itching to return their bailout money, the warrants are raising some thorny questions. What are these investments worth? Should the government drive a hard bargain, or let the banks off easy? Should it maximize profit for taxpayers, or minimize pain for banks?

Many banks want to buy back the warrants and wriggle free of the government. Big banks like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have formally notified regulators that they want to return their bailout money, according to people briefed on the situation. But as long as the government holds the warrants, it still has some leverage over the industry.

For taxpayers, a lot of money is at stake. The government has an option to buy stock in 579 banks. By some estimates, the warrants on JPMorgan alone are currently worth more than $1.1 billion. They could be worth much more if JPMorgan’s share price rose.

So far, one publicly traded bank, Old National Bancorp in Indiana, has repaid the government in full by returning its bailout money and repurchasing its warrants. (Two small privately held banks have done the same.)

How Old National pulled this off, and the seemingly favorable terms it secured, shows how aggressively banks big and small are pushing, even after they repay money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Old National paid $1.2 million for its warrants. Analysts estimate the investments might have been worth as much as $6.9 million.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Kindler, gentler Krugman?

Do ya think that dinner at the White House convinced Professor Krugman to soften his demands for policy perfection?

If we’re going to get real action on climate change any time soon, it will be via some version of legislation proposed by Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward Markey. Their bill would limit greenhouse gases by requiring polluters to receive or buy emission permits, with the number of available permits — the “cap” in “cap and trade” — gradually falling over time.

It goes without saying that the usual suspects on the right have denounced Waxman-Markey: global warming isn’t real, emission limits will destroy the economy, yada yada. But the bill also faces opposition from some environmentalists, who are balking at the compromises the sponsors made to gain political support.

So is Waxman-Markey — whose language was released last week — good enough?

Well, Al Gore has praised the bill, and plans to organize a grass-roots campaign on its behalf. A number of environmental organizations, ranging from the League of Conservation Voters to the Environmental Defense Fund, have also come out in strong support.

But Greenpeace has declared that it “cannot support this bill in its current state.” And some influential environmental figures — most notably James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first drew the public’s attention to global warming — oppose the whole idea of cap and trade, arguing for a carbon tax instead.

I’m with Mr. Gore. The legislation now on the table isn’t the bill we’d ideally want, but it’s the bill we can get — and it’s vastly better than no bill at all.


Joe Mauer is pretty good

The Yankees/Twins games this weekend have all been white-knuckle affairs, with two of them going into extra innings, and all three have so far (they play a fourth tonight) ended with walk-off Yankee victories.

Lots of exciting baseball, but this Joe Mauer play was just effing brilliant. The replay doesn't show it very well, but here's the sittchiashun: One out in the ninth in a tie ball game. The ball is hit up the middle and is blocked (by the pitcher's shin, I think) and bounces back towards the catcher, Joe Mauer. Mauer grabs the ball in front of the plate (while the pitcher is still wondering where the ball is) and begins towards first base to throw out the batter. Instead, though, he pump fakes the throw. Speedy Brett Gardner (who legged out an inside the parker and a triple Friday night) sees what he thinks will be a routine play at first and heads for home. The race is on.

I'm fairly certain Mauer knew that if he throws to first, the game is over as Gardner will score. So he dekes Gardner, who falls for it. I can't think of another catcher with that much presence of mind, athletic skill, and wingspan who coulda made that play.

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Eviler than Hillary

It is quite a spectacle to watch the House GOP lurching towards a "truth commission" on Bush's torture policies in their zeal to paint Nancy Pelosi as "complicit" in those policies. The logic, if you can call it that, is pretty simple for the geniuses: while Pelosi has about as much name recognition in American homes as does the Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning in the Balkenende government, the name "Pelosi" seems to drive the GOP's base into shrill, unholy fury.


Humbly heckled

You don't find exchanges like this one in most "official transcripts."

I also want to congratulate the Class of 2009 for all your accomplishments. And since this is Notre Dame --

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Abortion is murder! Stop killing children!


THE PRESIDENT: That's all right. And since --

AUDIENCE: We are ND! We are ND!

AUDIENCE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

THE PRESIDENT: We're fine, everybody. We're following Brennan's adage that we don't do things easily. (Laughter.) We're not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes. (Applause.)

Ross Douthat wrote recently that liberals want to "win" the culture wars. Well, he's an idiot. Our insidious scheme is quite differnet: it is to make the culture wars irrelevant. And, yes we can.


Blue Monday, Buddy Guy edition

Hair care

Quote of the day:

“I’ll take it anytime,” Damon said. “One thing that I did figure out is whipped cream actually makes a real good hair product.”


The funny papers

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"A Mexican standoff"

What's behind the conservative campaign to paint Speaker Pelosi with the torture regime. As Matt points out, though, Pelosi is standing firm and demanding the commission herself, so I don't think the Mutually Assured Destruction argument is going to work.


Friday, May 15, 2009

A workers' paradise

"Bend Down Sisters, Bend down"

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The swimmer

Burma/Myanmar is a strange place. But this is truly bizarre.

A few nights ago, a fifty-three-year-old American named John William Yettaw—a Mormon father of seven and a diabetic, from Falcon, Missouri—showed up at the Lady’s house. He had swum the mile-plus from the other end of Inya Lake, with plastic bottles as buoys, breached the supposedly tight security, and arrived at her residence hungry and exhausted. Suu Kyi tried to send him away, because his presence was a violation of her house arrest, but apparently she took pity on him after he begged to be allowed to stay until he was strong enough to swim away again. Her visitor left the next day, or the day after, depending on whether the government’s or the opposition’s version of this strange encounter is correct. He was picked up by the police in the middle of Inya Lake. And now Suu Kyi has been locked away in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison. The authorities have announced that they will try her for all kinds of security violations. Her current six-year house arrest, which was due to end later this month, will probably be renewed. And John William Yettaw will have given the nasty Burmese authorities exactly the pretext they needed to keep Suu Kyi cut off from the world as they prepare for next year’s sham elections.


The Supreme Court or The Hall of Fame?

Well, I'm sold.

WASHINGTON — Federal judges are rarely famous or widely celebrated. Yet during a brief period in 1995, Judge Sonia Sotomayor became revered, at least in those cities with major league baseball teams.

She ended a long baseball strike that year, briskly ruling against the owners in favor of the players.

The owners were trying to subvert the labor system, she said, and the strike had “placed the entire concept of collective bargaining on trial.”

After play resumed, The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that by saving the season, Judge Sotomayor joined forever the ranks of Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams. The Chicago Sun-Times said she “delivered a wicked fastball” to baseball owners and emerged as one of the most inspiring figures in the history of the sport.

And it would be sweet revenge.

She had been nominated to the district court in 1992 by the first President Bush, but actually chosen for the seat by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, who had an arrangement with his Republican counterpart, Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, to share district court judge selections in New York.

In 1997, Republican senators held up her nomination by President Bill Clinton to the appeals court for more than a year, because they believed that as a Hispanic appellate judge she would be a formidable candidate for the Supreme Court.

Of course, being pro-labor is probably a non-starter in these corporatist days.


The "theme engine?"

Really? Are 21st century newspapers put together by automatons? Explains a lot.


Slide show

Here's hoping you did too.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Corleone presidency

Senator Pat Geary: I want your answer and the money by noon tomorrow. And one more thing. Don't you contact me again, ever. From now on, you deal with Turnbull.
Michael Corleone: Senator? You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally.

Kind of summarizes the "negotiations" between the administration and Chrysler's whining creditors.

Far from representing evidence that the Administration has set out sub rosa upon a course of stealthy expropriation, creeping socialism, or outright fascism, the final outcome in the Chrysler case simply represents the triumph of bare knuckled negotiation from a position of overwhelming strength, within the settled confines of existing law and practice. The government simply did what any hedge fund driven by fiduciary duty and self interest would have done if it held the reins: it dictated the terms it wanted to see, and it told the creditors to pound sand if they didn't like it. The creditors, on the other hand, seemed to sally forth onto the field of battle without fully considering who was supplying their reinforcements (the Treasury), where they were fighting (in the forum of public opinion, as well as the arena of commerce), and the outside chance that their primary opponent might be smarter than a bag of hammers (and therefore realize and exploit its advantages). In return, they got schooled, but good.

I see little reason to give credence to those alarmists who see the Chrysler case setting a dangerous precedent. With the admittedly substantial exception of General Motors—whose existing creditors should be busy stocking up on Vaseline, ball gags, and Motrin—I cannot fathom why the government would want to get more broadly involved in corporate restructurings. The process causes massive amounts of brain damage, absolutely nobody likes the result—with the possible exception of the lunatic fringe on the left—and it sets up the Administration for all sorts of political pain in the future. There is absolutely no upside and tons of downside, which is a situation so anathema to politicians that most of them spend their entire careers dodging difficult decisions that would land them in such soup. Obama cannot be happy about it, unless he is an idiot or a nut. I will hazard an educated guess that he is neither.


I continue to find the whinging and apocalyptic fear-mongering from certain quarters of the finance and business community about the government's present involvement in economic affairs despicable. For chrissakes, people, what did you expect? The bloody economy has gone off the rails, the global financial system is in tatters, and millions of citizens are seething on the unemployment line. (2010 election motto: I'm unemployed, and I vote.) The market failed. Deregulation didn't help. And the only economic actor with the will and the financial wherewithal to borrow heavily enough from the future—our future, natch—to fix this shitstorm is the government. Did you really think you were going to get government help without a government (read political) agenda? What are you smoking?

It doesn't take a masters degree in political economy to realize that when you go up against the government in a financial negotiation where it holds all the cards—including some of yours—you are going to get your head handed to you on a platter. Deal with it. Buck up, and move on. Find a less lopsided game to play in.

Because I can guarantee you the government and 95% of the people who elected it to power don't give a rat's ass that you're going to lose money on your Chrysler bonds.

I will soon be adding The Epicurean Dealmaker to the blogroll. I mean, who remembers Motrin?


Lindsay Graham's stress positions

According to Dahlia Lithwick, Sen. Huckleberry's enhanced interrogation techniques were no more effective then the private contractors Rumsfeld's Pentagon hired.

The highlight of the hearing was supposed to be former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who was going to testify to the fact that abusive interrogation was "slow, ineffective and unreliable" and that Bush administration claims about critical information that was elicited through torture were "half truths," since most of the information they cite was gleaned by other methods. Soufan testifies from behind a panel for security reasons, and photographers are purged from the room, which is all very Get Smart, but Graham won't give the man a chance to speak. Time and again, Soufan—the only man present who has ever conducted an interrogation—begs to speak. But Graham keeps hollering at him about how dare he purport to speak for all interrogators everywhere. (Erm. He didn't.)

Ethics expert David Luban testifies that the Office of Legal Counsel memos were an "ethical train wreck" that "read as if they were reverse engineered to reach a predetermined outcome." Luban's main point is that if your 4-year-old Googled "water board," they would discover a 26-year-old appellate opinion repeatedly referring to the technique as "torture." But somehow this "single most relevant case in American law" was never even mentioned in the torture memos. Graham's masterful cross examination of Luban ranges from accusing the man of never having met Jay Bybee or John Yoo, accusing him of calling another panelist—Addicott—unethical since he also believes water-boarding is not torture, and accusing him of misleading the panel for failing to cite a case. The net effect of this performance is to establish conclusively that shouting at, browbeating, and humiliating someone is unlikely to produce any useful intelligence. Such subtlety would be lost on Sen. Graham.


"A tincture of lawlessness"

George Will once again plays fast and loose truth.

After eight years of an administration he supported riding roughshod over the rule of law, he is now accusing the Obama administration of -- gasp -- corruption. Why? Because the Obama administration went toe to toe with the hedge fund Chrysler creditors that played chicken with the government and lost.

Anyway, the Obama administration, judging by its cavalier disregard of contracts between Chrysler and some of the lenders it sought money from, thinks contracts are written on water. The administration proposes that Chrysler's secured creditors get 28 cents per dollar on the $7 billion owed to them but that the United Auto Workers union get 43 cents per dollar on its $11 billion in claims -- and 55 percent of the company. This, even though the secured creditors' contracts supposedly guaranteed them better standing than the union.

Among Chrysler's lenders, some servile banks that are now dependent on the administration for capital infusions tugged their forelocks and agreed. Some hedge funds among Chrysler's lenders that are not dependent were vilified by the president because they dared to resist his demand that they violate their fiduciary duties to their investors, who include individuals and institutional pension funds.

The Economist says the administration has "ridden roughshod over [creditors'] legitimate claims over the [automobile companies'] assets. . . . Bankruptcies involve dividing a shrunken pie. But not all claims are equal: some lenders provide cheaper funds to firms in return for a more secure claim over the assets should things go wrong. They rank above other stakeholders, including shareholders and employees. This principle is now being trashed." Tom Lauria, a lawyer representing hedge fund people trashed by the president as the cause of Chrysler's bankruptcy, asked that his clients' names not be published for fear of violence threatened in e-mails to them.

The judge overseeing the bankruptcy of Chrysler on Tuesday took a significant step toward allowing the sale of most of the automaker to Fiat, approving the bidding procedures advocated by the company and backed by the Obama administration.

The decision by the federal bankruptcy judge, Arthur J. Gonzalez, is a setback for a group of Chrysler creditors who have argued that liquidation of the company or some other transaction could yield greater value. These lenders, primarily investment firms, have said that the plan for the Fiat transaction ran afoul of bankruptcy law and would chill efforts by others to produce competing, potentially higher bids.

But Judge Gonzalez disagreed, saying, “The court concludes that the bidding procedures are appropriate and necessary.”

The judge’s decision was a victory for Chrysler and the government, which together argued that a speedy sale was the only way to protect tens of thousands of jobs and help along the American economy.

“It’s a very big first step,” said Howard Seife, the head of the bankruptcy practice at the law firm Chadbourne & Parke. “It’s clear that the company is moving down the road to a Fiat sale.”

The judge’s decision was the second blow dealt to the holdout lenders during a marathon hearing on Tuesday that began mid-afternoon and ended at 11 p.m.

Judge Gonzalez earlier ordered the disclosure of identities of the Chrysler creditors, who had said making them public could lead to retaliation. A lawyer representing them claimed that the creditors had been harassed, and some had even received death threats.

Judge Gonzalez, said that their lawyers had not presented enough evidence of risk and gave the creditors until Wednesday morning to reveal their identities. The primary evidence cited by their lawyers was a set of anonymous comments on The Washington Post Web site.

Funny, that last bit. Must be time for another blogger ethics panel.

Anyway, Will, like so many of his fellow conservative shills for unethical financiers, sees favoritism for unions when in fact, in the midst of a recession, the administration, rightly, has a favoritism for jobs.

More fun facts on the legality of this here.


They write letters

A national guard officer has a few choice words for Charles Krauthammer.

Via Steve Benen.


You're not the boss of me, nyah, nyah

An ad seen over at TAPPED:

Anti-Obama T-shirts
Annoy a liberal with our obnoxious anti-Obama stickers and t-shirts
The "loyal opposition" now defines political discourse as, "I'm with stupid."


Too high a dudgeon

I'm with Josh on this: if releasing the abu Ghraib photos will put our troops in danger, then that seems further proof that torturing prisoners isn't a very effective tool. And I'm glad to hear that Sen. Huckleberry has at last admitted that we used methods adopted from the Spanish Inquisition.

But I think that calling David Ignatius "a monster" because he approves of the president's decision to withhold the photos on the advice of the military -- even if I think that advice is bullshit -- is taking the OUTRAGE a bit far.

I would, though, call Ignatius' "Sister Soulja" analogy pretty fucking stupid.

This has been another episode of This Day in American Torture Policy.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Maybe they forgot? Or maybe we just don't want to remember.

Okay, first of all, I can understand the impulse to not want to shake the hornets' nest again by showing more photos of U.S. troops torturing, humiliating, and killing Iraqis in their custody. After all, Karl Rove's nuanced thinking on the subject notwithstanding, those images on Al Jazeera should revitalize al Qaeda's moribund recruitment efforts. But to think that U.S. troops will be more "endangered" by their release appears on the surface to be another example of a president hoodwinked by "military commanders expressed concern." Don't ask don't tell didn't improve morale nor make our military any more effective. And Iraqis don't have collective amnesia. They are reminded, pretty much every day, of the humiliation our destruction of their country has wrought.

I think the real reason is a tad more complicated. Releasing more abu Ghraib photos will only serve as a reminder that the psychopaths in the Pentagon and the White House repeatedly told us that the night crew at the prison were only a bunch of "bad apples." In turn, they will remind us that no investigation was really conducted at the time to see if those "bad apples" were, in fact, following orders. And following those orders to their source is an investigation that Obama seems desperate to avoid having to undertake.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan sees an additional motivation.


Get outta my luxury box, you punks

Suggestion to the New York Yankees organization: you may want to consider a spokesman other than Lonn Trost in the future.

Seriously, though, he can bluster all he wants, but he's responsible for the "magnificent" new stadium that

  1. has a concrete moat around its best seats...seats that are, most of the time, empty
  2. makes it too easy for fans sitting directly behind the wall in right field to obstruct play
  3. appears to be a launching pad to right field

And, by the way, Lonn, no one begrudges young kids trying to get an autograph during teams' batting practices.


Not just "coddling" terrorists, now we're "recruiting" them

Wow. Just. Wow.

On the other hand, perhaps we should take Karl Rove's insights into the mindset of terrorists more seriously. Few men, other than Dick Cheney, have been as aligned with al Qaeda's goals of damaging America's reputation and self-esteem than Turd Blossom.

I do think it is good for the American people to see these two on TV as much as possible if only as a constant reminder that we put in office the most morally and intellectually bankrupt administration in my lifetime. Suck on that, America.

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Come to the dark side, Luke

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The best and the brightest

Mark Schmitt writes that the GW Bush administration left us with problems that elude political solutions, but he cautions that relying too much on "experts," and too little on political consensus will end badly.

On June 11, 1962, John F. Kennedy delivered the commencement address at Yale. After some Harvard-Yale jocularity, he put forward the most memorable definition of that triumphal moment in what historians now call the era of liberal consensus: "What is at stake in our economic decisions today is not some grand warfare of rival ideologies ... but the practical management of a modern economy." Economic problems of the 1960s, Kennedy said, are "subtle challenges for which technical answers, not political answers, must be provided."

According to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., the speech was the work of a supergroup of Camelot intellectuals that included himself, John Kenneth Galbraith, Theodore Sorenson, and McGeorge Bundy. Its calmly persuasive, sensible pragmatism would sound familiar coming from our current president, and Kennedy's argument that concern about federal budget deficits was based on "myths" (marking his turn toward Keynesianism) would be at home in this magazine today.

And yet, one can recount the history of the subsequent decades largely as a chronicle of the political error of that speech. It was short-sighted in dismissing a "grand warfare of ideologies" at the very moment the Goldwater movement was being born, which would set the stage for a battle not between Marxism and capitalism but between a new ideology of unrestricted capitalism and the managed economy that seemed so commonsensical in Kennedy's time.

By taking public questions out of the domain of "political answers," and leaving them to experts, as technical questions, Kennedy gave birth to two backlashes. From the left, in reaction to the failure of the great brains--notably Bundy's--in Vietnam, the New Left turned to the dream of participatory democracy, which in six years led to the unraveling of the liberal consensus on the streets of Chicago. On the right, a new conservatism found its voice in a kind of disingenuous anti-intellectualism and contempt for experts, exemplified by William F. Buckley's comment, "I'd rather be governed by the first 200 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty."

Schmitt concludes that Obama is right to rely on experts, even when it is confounding to have to rely on some of the very same people, i.e., bankers, who got us into the mess to begin with, but that Obama cannot then simply say, "trust us." That said, I don't think such a finely tuned politician as Obama would be so tone deaf as to say that. That's why he is ubiquitous; there at every turn to explain what his administration is doing and why (and it's why, I suspect, the hook came out early when Geithner was showing up on the stage earlier this year). I think Obama has drunk deeply from the lessons of the Kennedy administration.

On a related note, see McKiernan, David, for illustration of Obama recognizing that when you're neck deep in The Big Muddy, don't say "push on."

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Thanks for the warning, Dick

It must be time for another blogger ethics panel because as I was trying to form a response to Richard Cohen's latest cry for help, Dougj beat me to it.

It’s a perfect example of the Slate/TNR/WaPo tendency towards “what if genocide is good for housing prices” contrarianism. You know the drill: (a) we live in a dangerous world filled with “messy” choices and (b) it’s important to challenge complacent “consensus” by thinking “outside the box.” It’s why Bill Saletan has to “soak his head” in white supremacist propaganda and compare those who reject racial supremacism to those who reject evolution. It’s why Pinochet should be lauded as a hero, not condemned as a mass murderer. It’s why the public needs to hear Amity Shlaes’s distorted New Deal revisionism over and over again.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Al Gore is still fat, apparently

The Times engages in some fact-esque reporting:

Mr. Cheney has been a particularly fierce critic of the Obama administration and a defiant defender against critics of the Bush administration, including President Obama. While his remarks have been striking, they are not unusually outspoken by comparison, for example, to former Vice President Al Gore’s condemnations of the Bush administration when it held office.
That is, to a degree, true. But the nuanced reality is more difficult. Gore didn't begin condemning the Bush administration until the latter began "marketing" the war against Iraq. In a series of fierce speeches (as opposed to appearances on Fox News), Gore condemned the rationale for the war and -- correctly -- discounted the evidence that Iraq posed a threat to the United States.

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Dick Cheney's quote of the week

Maybe I'll start a new weekly feature!

“Well, if I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I’d go with Rush Limbaugh, I think,” Mr. Cheney said in an interview on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”
"I'll be here for three more nights...try the veal!" he did not go on to say.


Where's the outrage?

Blue Monday, Skip James edition


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Go America Go

The photo accompanying Matt's post has had me scratching my head ever since I saw it in the paper this morning: are they demanding the old favorite, "Yankee go home?" Or are they rooting for Team USA?

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Whither the mullahs?

I know that this is about as insightful a comment as...well...anything Cokie Roberts has to say each Monday on NPR, but what the hell: This is great news.

TEHRAN (Reuters) – U.S.-born journalist Roxana Saberi is to be freed soon after an Iranian appeals court cut her eight-year jail sentence for spying to a suspended two-year term.

A judiciary source said Saberi, whose jailing on April 18 on charges of spying for the United States became a new source of tension between Tehran and Washington, had already been released and would be allowed to leave Iran.

But her father Reza said she had not yet walked free after more than three months in detention, saying he was waiting in front of Evin prison in northern Tehran.

"She will be freed today, hopefully. The papers are ready ... it is just a matter of time, a couple of hours," he told Reuters by telephone. "We are very happy."

This seems to be in response to the Obama administration's outreach and upcoming Iranian election, and what makes it remarkable is that there doesn't seem to have been any public attempt by hardliners to screw the deal.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

If only there were an Hispanic Ward Connerly

Leaving aside the idea that Ward Connerly has been a tremendous asset for the GOP's effort's to convince African Americans to vote against their own interests generally, what gets me is the nakedness of the motivation: reaching out to minorities isn't really about attracting minorities (after all, we're not so stupid as to think they'd believe us), it's about attracting less racist crazy white people to join our racist crazy party."

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Skilled reporting

Reading the sports page is one of those great joys in life. So, if longtime readers thought I went a bit over the top the other day in attacking Selena Roberts, you must understand that when her columns, or even her reporting appeared in the paper, it made me want to recycle the section immediately.

Well, her former colleague, Murray Chass, has no time for her, either.

The use of anonymous sources has come under increasing criticism from readers of all types of publications. Having used them frequently in my decades as a reporter and columnist, I am aware of the problems they pose. Reporters have to establish their credibility with their use of unidentified sources for readers to accept them.

Roberts and I were once colleagues at The New York Times, and I can’t say she established that credibility. She also didn’t strike me as being a top-flight reporter. As a result, I don’t feel I can trust her book full of anonymous sources. Even if every single A-Rod transgression she reports is accurate, it’s too easy for her to write one former teammate said this and another player said that.

Had she written these same reports for the Times, very little would have made it into the paper. I’m not familiar with Sports Illustrated’s standards, but I hope they’re higher than the Roberts book offers. Actually, if you remove the quotes and other information that Roberts attributes to anonymous sources in the 246-page book, it might be left with 46 pages.

In a recent column about Mike Piazza’s possible use of steroids, I quoted a passage from a book about Roger Clemens by Jeff Pearlman. What I quoted was a comment from Reggie Jefferson, a former major leaguer, that Piazza used steroids “and everybody knows it.” What I didn’t quote were comments from others who were not identified.

Using that rule of thumb, I could quote nothing about Rodriguez’s alleged use of steroids from the Roberts book. She alleges that Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs in high school and after he joined the Yankees in 2004, but she does not support her accusations with comments from people she identifies.

I initially had no intention of reading the book, but I already knew from news reports what Roberts was alleging, and I decided to see what her sourcing was. It was as bad as I expected it to be.

I should also disclose that after Roberts became a columnist for the Times I found her baseball columns to be shallow and superficial, and she demonstrates her lack of baseball knowledge in the book.

Writing about Rodriguez’s $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, which he signed in December 2000, Roberts writes that the contract “compelled owners to adopt a luxury tax that would help small-market teams compete in the otherwise lopsided free-agent market.”

One problem with that statement. The owners already had their luxury tax and had had it for four years. They negotiated it with the union in the bargaining that followed the 1994-95 strike, and the agreement took effect Jan. 1, 1997.

As for Manny in his latest manifestation of "being Manny," well, one of his former colleagues said it best.

The veteran third baseman Mike Lowell was more candid, saying he could not understand, in this era of increased scrutiny, how a player could “come close to taking anything that could remotely result in a positive test.”

“In the past if guys did it, they had the crutch that they weren’t testing,” Lowell said. “Maybe there’s some stupid society that maybe I wasn’t invited to.”

And I realize the "steroids have ruined the game" (drugged) horse is out of the barn, but keep in mind when you, like so many players and so many of the scolds and reporters that cover them, are certain that the Incredible Hulk is better equipped to hit a small baseball coming at an equally small bat surface at 90+ miles an hour (with movement!) than was the Babe or Joltin' Joe, keep in mind that baseball players are not so smart about science and tend to believe a lotta shit.


Pelican Bay is not an island

Davenoon at LGM has a good reminder to those who fear "releasing jihadists" to maximum and super-max prisons stateside, that Guantanamo Bay wasn't selected by the Bush/Cheney junta because it is famously impossible for anyone to make the 90 mile crossing from Cuba to Florida except with the help of miraculous dophins.

But all that really needs to be pointed out is that Guantanamo Bay was selected because people who mattered in the Bush administration did not want to place captives anywhere that would subject their policies to another country's laws (or another country's willingness to care if human rights obligations were minded). Alternately, the Bush administration did not want to negotiate a SOFA with, say, Guam or American Samoa, because these were US territories were US laws would apply. Indeed, if keeping "terrorists" out of the US had been the sole priority, a site like Wake Island would arguably have served just as well -- it's unpopulated, geographically remote, and under the control of the US Air Force. But detainees on Wake Island would likely have received the very legal protections that would have made Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales cry, and so the Bush administration elected to use Guantanamo. As it turned out, the Supreme Court was unwilling to allow the administration to do as it pleased; with Rasul, Hamdan, and Boumediene, the policy of arbitrary detention was undermined to the point that Guantanamo could no longer serve the lawless purposes for which it was created.


Joe DiMaggio is not a dunker

You would think you could find footage of Dom DiMaggio playing Center and 1/2 of Left during his years playing alongside Ted Williams in Boston, but sadly, I failed. This will have to do.

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Blues Magoos

Where we learned "enhanced interrogation"

One can only wonder what Harold E. Fischer Jr., a Korean War ace whose engine stalled over North Korea, thought of current events.

Col. Harold E. Fischer Jr., an American fighter pilot who was routinely tortured in a Chinese prison during and after the Korean War, becoming — along with three other American airmen held at the same prison — a symbol and victim of cold war tension, died in Las Vegas on April 30. He was 83 and lived in Las Vegas.

The cause was complications of back surgery, his son Kurt said.

From April 1953 through May 1955, Colonel Fischer — then an Air Force captain — was held at a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria. For most of that time, he was kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door through which a bowl of food could be pushed. Much of the time he was handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air.


Captain Fischer was an ace. By April 7, 1953, the day his Sabre Jet crashed north of the Yalu River, he had already shot down 10 MIGs. That day, he downed his 11th. Then his engine stalled, emitting smoke. He ejected.

On the ground, after unbuckling his parachute, the captain realized that he was north of the Yalu, “the boundary over which no Air Force pilot was allowed to cross,” he told Life magazine in a first-person account soon after his release.

Peasants surrounded him; then Chinese soldiers pulled up in a jeep. Ten days later, he was taken to the prison near Mukden. Days after a cease-fire was declared on July 27, 1953, guards told Captain Fischer that the Korean War was over. His hopes that he and the others would soon be released faded as weeks and months passed.

Nine months into his captivity, Captain Fischer managed to escape by digging a hole through the wall of his cell. He was re-captured at a railroad station. Relentless interrogation, led by a guard named Chong, began.

“He wanted me to admit that I had been ordered to cross the Manchurian border,” Captain Fischer told Life magazine. “I was grilled day and night, over and over, week in and week out, and in the end, to get Chong and his gang off my back, I confessed to both charges. The charges, of course, were ridiculous. I never participated in germ warfare and neither did anyone else. I was never ordered to cross the Yalu. We had strict Air Force orders not to cross the border.”

“I will regret what I did in that cell the rest of my life,” the captain continued. “But let me say this: it was not really me — not Harold E. Fischer Jr. — who signed that paper. It was a mentality reduced to putty.”

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

The House of Rep's meritocracy

Deep thought: Why does this congresswoman get no vote in Congress on behalf of her constituents, while this one gets one?

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Wet blanket

Ha ha ha. That Dick Cheney is such a card. Imagine criticizing an attempt to determine if authorizing the torture known as water boarding is, ya know, illegal, by saying it would put "a wet blanket over the government's willingness to be bold." You can't get more comedy gold than that.

Unless, of course, you take it further and say that investigating torture is "abhorrent," but authorizing it isn't.

These guys are amazing.

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Don't cash in that "peace dividend" all at once

After supporting the Bush/Cheney approach of destroying our military in order to save it...or is funny to hear conservatives talk about Obama weakening our defenses as our "enemies" strengthen theirs. From the Corner's representative of The Godfater, David Freddoso:

Sen. John Cornyn (R, Tex.) spoke at the American Enterprise institute this morning about the administration's plan to "cash in the peace dividend," which he said is a big mistake now, at a time when we're still stuck in two wars and facing new threats.

[I]t looks like we are about to make the same mistake we made in the 1970’s and 1990’s. We are about to cash in a so-called “peace dividend” by growing domestic spending and weakening our defenses. History has shown that cashing in a “peace dividend” does not make America safer – or the world a more peaceful place. Cashing in a peace dividend only hollows out our military forces – as our country did in the years before 9/11.

Cornyn said that as China, North Korea and an increasingly belligerent Russia build up their militaries, the Obama administration is slowing down military spending in favor of domestic budget priorities.

"Other great powers are increasing their military capabilities," he said, "even as the Obama administration seems intent on reducing ours...The Administration seems to be forcing the Pentagon to make some needlessly tough choices – even as they justify trillions of dollars for domestic spending in the name of economic stimulus."

So much to unpack, particularly that last line about "in the name of economic stimulus." But whatever, later Freddoso admits that Obama (actually his Defense Secty, a Bush holdover) is increasing spending (he claims four percent, I believe in actuality it's six), but notes that it is a lower increase than for domestic spending. Let's look at our spending and consider what would happen when a six percent increase "weakens" it.

World Wide Military Expenditures

CountryMilitary expenditures - dollar figure Budget Period
World$1100 billion 2004 est. [see Note 4]
Rest-of-World [all but USA]$500 billion 2004 est. [see Note 4]
United States $623 billion FY08 budget [see Note 6]
China $65.0 billion 2004 [see Note 1]
Russia $50.0 billion [see Note 5]
France $45.0 billion 2005
United Kingdom $42.8 billion 2005 est.
Japan $41.75 billion 2007
Germany $35.1 billion 2003
Italy $28.2 billion 2003
South Korea $21.1 billion 2003 est.
India $19.0 billion 2005 est.
Saudi Arabia $18.0 billion 2005 est.
Australia $16.9 billion 2006
Turkey $12.2 billion 2003
Brazil $9.9 billion 2005 est.
Spain $9.9 billion 2003
Canada $9.8 billion 2003
Israel $9.4 billion FY06 [see Note 7]
Netherlands $9.4 billion 2004
Taiwan $7.9 billion 2005 est.
Mexico $6.1 billion 2005 est.
Greece $5.9 billion 2004
Singapore $5.6 billion 2005
Sweden $5.5 billion 2005 est.
North Korea $5.0 billion FY02
Iran $4.3 billion 2003 est.
Pakistan $4.3 billion 2005 est.
Belgium $4.0 billion 2003
Norway $4.0 billion 2003

Be afraid. Be very afraid.


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