January 3, 2006 [LINK]
DuPuy plays hardball vs. D.C.
In an op-ed column in today's Washington Post, MLB president Bob DuPuy explains "Why the Stadium Deal Isn't Done." Far from being an appeal to reason and compromise, in hopes of persuading one or two fence-sitting council members, it was a brass-knuckled derision of Washington area fans and the city's government. He took pains to argue that MLB had other good choices in the relocation decision last year (yeah, right), an obvious hint that relocation is still an option (well, anything's possible). He certainly has a point that the cost overruns are a reflection of the absence of accountability in the D.C. government, which exposes the hideous scam that modern stadium construction has become under the terms set by MLB: By insisting on public ownership and management of new ballparks, MLB has made cost overruns and inefficiency almost inevitable! Any business person ought to know better than having the government take charge of such a big, complex project. Why not try private enterpise? Just a thought. Of course, such concepts are foreign to privileged monopolies who are used to getting their demands met by pliable city and state governments. It is likewise true that the D.C. Council is not living up to the terms set in the agreement reached one year ago, but DuPuy is being absurdly naive on the political realities of Washington.
Indeed, the negative political atmosphere is the result of MLB's own past decisions on relocating the former Montreal Expos. In the July 15, 2003 Washington Post, DuPuy was quoted as saying the MLB decision would come "when the moons and the sun and the stars and the dollars are aligned correctly. We'll get there." Well, two can play that stalling game. Maybe that's how long he'll have to wait until the D.C. Council passes a satisfactory stadium financing bill! The sad truth is, Mr. DuPuy, Selig, and the rest of the bigwigs at MLB took the risk of waiting too long before committing to relocation, and now they -- and all baseball fans -- are paying the price.
Top 20 questions
MLB.com poses the "Top 20 questions for 2006," including the second-base quandary for the Washington Nationals (Jose Vidro or Alfonso Soriano). It omits, however, the even bigger question of whether a new stadium bill will be approved, and if not whether MLB will excercise the theoretical prerogative to pull the franchise out of Washington in spiteful retribution.
January 3, 2006 [LINK]
Abramoff cops blea bargain
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion, and will cooperate with Federal prosecutors by testifying against others. He and partner Michael Scanlon arranged a kickback scheme by which the clients of their public relations firm were defrauded. Abramoff admitted that money did not go to certain charities as had been intended, but rather paid for overseas junkets and other perks. Abramoff is known for his close ties to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist (head of Americans for Tax Reform), and Ralph Reed (former Christian Coalition leader). See CNN.com.
Since such plea bargains almost always involve the pursuit of "higher-up" individuals, this implies that members of Congress or the Bush administration are being targeted. Saturday's Washington Post had a background article by R. Jeffrey Smith, detailing the complex financial Web between various congressmen and Russian oil businessmen, Indian tribes, and other special interests, with Abramoff serving as the intermediary. The name of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay figures prominently in this scheme. Hang on, folks, this promises to be a bumpy, hair-raising ride!
Happy Newt Year?
While many folks in the Republican Party have been making excuses for Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, and Karl Rove, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich remains focused on radical reform, in the Party of Lincoln, as well as in the nation as a whole. I don't necessarily agree with all of his positions, but he is virtually alone in the Republican Party these days in seeing the Big Picture, and thinking in strategic policy terms, rather than in tactical terms of how to win the next election. He was interviewed on C-SPAN 2 this morning, will be addressing the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting next week. See www.newt.org.
Phony civil libertarians
(UPDATE) Dinocrat makes a good point in response to those who are in an uproar over the surveillance of international communication: "the next time your friends start in with the Ben Franklin quote and their airy-fairy theoretical concerns about the loss of liberty, light a cigarette and see what happens." (via Phil Faranda)
January 4, 2006 [LINK]
MLB moves toward arbitration
As expected, Major League Baseball followed through with their threat to hold the D.C. government accountable for failing to pass a stadium financing package by the end of the year. This begins a 15-day "countdown" period for the parties to mediate the dispute on their own, after which the matter goes to binding arbitration. In that event, it might take six months or more before a final settlement is reached. D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp and D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission chairman Mark Tuohey both said they think the dispute can be resolved before it gets to that point, however. An outspoken stadium critic on the D.C. Council, Adrian Fenty, said it's just a matter of MLB ponying up more cash, but he did not say how much. Accountants in City Hall are no doubt concocting brilliant schemes to get over the financial hurdle; such proposals include selling land near the proposed stadium to developers at a premium, and having the upgrades to the Navy Yard Metrorail station be paid by the WMATA's general fund. See Washington Post. MLB President Bob DuPuy's op-ed piece yesterday left little doubt that the MLB owners have dug in their heels, refusing to concede anything more, and a fair-minded person must admit that they do have strong arguments on their side. See MLB.com. After all, a deal's a deal. I wouldn't want to be in the position of having to negotiate with the D.C. government, either.
Because of the legal fees involved, I assume this action means that MLB's compromise offer of $20 million toward stadium construction, plus a letter of credit in case of major adverse contingencies, is off the table for now. If they are smart, they will eventually make a bottom-line offer to increase that sum to $30 or $40 million, offset by suitable token concessions by D.C. Ironically, this action will cause further delays in the process of getting the new stadium built, which was supposed to be done in time for the 2008 season. My previous estimate of of three-year expected lifespan for RFK Stadium therefore stands, but it may be even longer than that... I doubt that it raises the likelihood of the Nationals being relocated above the ten percent I have estimated; given the amount of money both sides would stand to lose in such an apocalyptic scenario, even that may be too high.
Lest my recent criticisms of MLB be construed as support for the D.C. Council's dilly-dallying, let me say that it is time for certain attention-grabbing Council members to stop their vain gestures of defiance and cut a reasonable deal. Even though he wore a Nationals hat to a recent meeting, the aging Marion Barry, who takes pride in being known as a friend of hoodlums in spite of being robbed this week, simply cannot be counted on. In contrast, one of the younger, up-and-coming members (Adrian Fenty? Kwame Brown?) could gain a lot of career-boosting prestige by acting like a responsible statesman in this moment of crisis. See the table of D.C. council member votes.
Prolonging RFK's lifetime
The Beltway Boys adds another voice to the "keep RFK" movement, urging that the outfield seating sections (upper deck only) be removed, so that the stadium would be open, much like what they did at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati during its final two years. I added this comment:
I suggested ripping out the upper deck outfield seats at RFK to an architect who was bidding on the renovation project in late 2004. (I don't know if his firm won.) He replied that such a major change was way beyond what was being considered for the short term, but I agree it's an option that should not be dismissed. A view toward the Anacostia River might just have a breathtaking effect, especially if they go ahead with long-term plans to make that area into a nature/recreation area. I also suggested to Tom Boswell in an Wash. Post online chat that RFK be given a few extra years of baseball life, and he seemed to agree with that. You never know...
In keeping with the season (Rose Bowl kickoff time!), and as part of my never-ending endeavor to enhance the functionality of this Web site, making repeat visits here worth your while, the Football use page now includes a scrolling menu that allows you to instantly compare the 27 or so stadiums for which I have completed football version diagrams. It is located near the bottom of that page. In addition, the main table now indicates the years when the Super Bowl and various college bowl games were played in the respective stadiums. Speaking of football, I must say that this past weekend was certainly a good one for football fans in Virginia and the Washington area. The Redskins beat the Eagles, thereby making it to the playoffs for the first time in six years, while the U.Va. Cavaliers and the Virginia Tech Hokies won their respective bowl games. All three games were exciting and entertaining. And as for football stadiums in the Old Dominion, I saw the Rolling Stones in concert at Scott Stadium in October, and drove past Lane Stadium in Blacksburg last week.
Some photos of construction at the New Busch Stadium can be seen at thebirdwatch.com and some of Wrigley Field can be seen at bleedcubbieblue.com. (via David Pinto)
January 4, 2006 [LINK]
Venezuela pledges aid to Bolivia
Even before President-elect Evo Morales has been inaugurated, he has reached an agreement with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez by which Venezuela will transfer cash and petroleum fuel for the benefit of poor Bolivians. Morales' first stop on his world tour was Cuba, and Chavez called the three leftist leaders "an axis of good." See CNN.com. Morales is now in Spain, visiting Prime Minister Zapatero, a Socialist who sympathizes with Morales' radical reform agenda. See BBC.
Zapatistas adopt peaceful means
Zapatista rebel leader Marcos, who had been a fugitive from the law for years, is now particpating in open politics. He received a warm welcome during a "campaign stop" in Palenque, near one of Mexico's finest Mayan ruins. See Miami Herald (collaboration with El Universal, in English). Although this is a clear step toward more peaceful style of politics, it also represents the underlying tide of left-wing populist politics that is affecting several countries in South America. It remains to be seen whether the leftist leaders are fully committed to abiding by democratic, constitutional norms. Meanwhile, drug-related violence continues in Nuevo Laredo and other towns along the Rio Grande.
Peru seeks Fujimori's extradition
The request by the Peruvian government that Chile hand over former President Alberto Fujimori to stand trial in Peru, was widely anticipated, really just a formality. See CNN.com. It will be interesting to see if Chile's outgoing leftist government of Ricardo Lagos takes this opportunity to build relations with Peru, which have deteriorated in recent months. He and his likely successor, Michelle Bachelet, have no love lost for Fujimori, a right-wing authoritarian who is often compared to Pinochet.
Brazil prison riot
About 200 visitors to a prison in the Brazilian state of Rondonia, located on the edge of the Amazon jungle, were freed after spending five days as hostages of inmates last week. The riot was to back up the prisoners' demands that their leader, Ednildo Paula Souza, be returned to the Urso Branco (White Bear) penitentiary, which is reputedly among the most violent of Brazil's prisons. He had escaped from that prison two weeks earlier, was caught, and then transfered to a different prison. See CNN.com.
Haiti still turbulent
Two officials of the Organization of American States who had been kidnapped in Haiti were freed, along with the wife of one of them. For the third or fourth time, the elections there have been postponed because the security situation is still so poor that it is impossible to distribute ballots to all polling places on time. No word on when the new election day will be. See BBC.
January 4, 2006 [LINK]
Former News Leader publisher sets record straight
An op-ed piece in today's Staunton News Leader by Evarts W. Opie, Jr., former publisher of the local newspaper, laments the "gratuitous personal attack" on then-commissioner of revenue Ray Ergenbright that appeared in an editorial on December 16. He lays out the facts about the difficult transition to the new tax revenue software system and concludes, "Instead of throwing brickbats at the outgoing commissioner we should be thanking him for 11 years of good and faithful service."
It was gratifying to read such a strong condemnation of the unfair campaign against Ergenbright (and former Treasurer Elnora Hazlett) by a person who used to run the newspaper, before it was bought out by the Gannett Corporation several years ago. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the phrase "better late than never" does not apply. In my mind, the fact that the voters of Staunton were deprived of the full story behind the property tax software controversy when they went into the polling booths on November 8 was an outright travesty. As I noted on October 20, I remain mystified by the motivations behind the editorial bias that seems to have affected the News Leader's coverage of local news. Small town intrigues...
Marion Barry robbed
Former mayor Marion Barry was robbed at gunpoint in his own kitchen by two youths who had been helping him to bring groceries inside yesterday. This quote from the roguish Barry is a perfect illustration of the prevailing mindset in Washington, making lame excuses for criminal behavior.
There is a sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend. ... I don't advocate what they do. I advocate conditions to change what they do. I was a little hurt that this betrayal did happen. [SOURCE: Washington Post; apologies for the prior omission]
Barry also used the opportunity to call for stricter gun control laws, notwithstanding the fact that the District already has one of the toughest (and largely futile) anti-gun laws in the country. This incident, and Barry's reaction to it, further undermines the city's image just as the confrontation over stadium financing between the city government and Major League Baseball has escalated, a time when prestige matters the most.
January 5, 2006 [LINK]
Dirty money give-backs
In the wake of the guilty pleas by Jack Abramoff, President Bush will donate to charity $6,000 in campaign funds that were directly given to him by Abramoff. The lobbyist raised a total of $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, however, and the Public Citizen group called Bush's action insufficient. Although Republicans are clearly in the most trouble over the Abramoff affair, some Democrats such as Dick Durbin and Harry Reid may be implicated in it as well. See Washington Post. Since this scandal has been brewing since at least last summer, it would have looked better if this gesture had been made several months ago.
In Virginia, Rep. Eric Cantor, a 42-year young Republican from Richmond who has risen quickly to the post of Chief Deputy Majority Whip, declared that he will give away $10,000 of Abramoff's money. Cantor, along with Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay, and Roy Blunt -- the four leaders of the majority caucus in the House -- signed a letter that urged Secretary of Interior Gale Norton on June 10, 2003 to turn down a request for off-reservation gambling establishments by certain Indian tribes, apparently at the behest of Jack Abramoff. The other primary target of the corruption inquiry is Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. See Judicial Watch.
UPDATE: The Associated Press has a long list of politicians who have given back campaign donations from Jack Abramoff or his associates in recent months. First place "honors" go to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), who donated about $150,000. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) donated $2,000 of campaign funds that came from Abramoff, about the average amount that most senators and representatives received.
Swann for Governor
On the bright side for the GOP, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Lynn Swann announced he is running for Governor of Pennsylvania this year as a Republican. See AP.com.
January 6, 2006 [LINK]
Arbtitration process begins
Major League Baseball formally asked the American Arbitration Association to resolve the stadium funding dispute with the District of Columbia. Mayor Williams says that constructive discussions are going forward, and since the general framework of the agreement has already been agreed to, there is really no need for arbitration. (Now there's an eternal optimist!) The D.C. Council is beginning to contemplate how much an adverse ruling by a three-person panel might cost the District, if it goest that far. See Washington Post.
Nats news bits
Some of the major Washington-area radio stations will change frequency in the near future, most notably news-talk WTOP, which will go from AM 1500 to FM 105.1. The Washington Post will launch its own radio station on AM 1500 in March, and they just signed a contract to broadcast all Washington Nationals games this year.
Utility infielder Jamey Carroll has signed a one-year contract with the Nats, thereby avoiding arbitration. He was reliable, adding much-needed depth to the team in the 2005 season.
Has anyone ever heard of an early 20th Century ballpark called "Tiger Oval"? If so please let me know via e-mail. I occasionally receive queries from folks who have in their possession some piece of baseball memorabilia, such as an old stadium seat or souvenir. I have seen catalogs of sports memorabilia published by Topps, among others, but I don't know much about that field. If anyone who visit this Web site does have such knowledge, please let me know so that I can forward such inquiries to the right people. Thank you!
NOTE: Because of an oversight on my part, the politics blog post dated January 6, 2006 was not uploaded to the Web server when I originally wrote it back then. I posted it for the first time on June 6, 2008.
January 6, 2006 [LINK]
Even worse carnage in Iraq
Over 180 people have been killed by suicide bombs in central Iraq in the past few days, a sudden and terrible escalation of violence. In Muqdadiyah, near the border with Iran, at least 42 mourners at a funeral were killed. In Ramadi, at least 80 Sunni Muslims at a police recruitment center were killed by two suicide bombers in rapid succession. In Karbala, 54 Shiite Muslims were killed outside the Imam Hussein mosque. To some extent, this represents outrage felt by Sunni Arabs at having lost the December 15 elections; many of them persist in the delusion fostered by Saddam Hussein that they are really the majority in Iraq. By all appearances, the desperate attempt to derail the ongoing transition by triggering a civil war is backfiring, as the Sunnis realize that they would certainly lose in such a bloodbath. More and more Sunnis are turning against the Al Qaeda-affiliated Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which may mean the end of the insurgents' dreams of terrorizing U.S. forces out of Iraq. Today's Washington Post and strategypage.com both describe the collapse in political support for the terrorists among all factions in Iraq. What it really signifies is the breakdown in the tacit alliance between the religiously-motivated Al Qaeda faction and the ethnic Sunni-based faction composed of Baath regime remanents. This "silver lining" around the dark cloud of horrific mass death has truly decisive implications for achieving a meaningful victory over the Islamofascist menace: If they can't win in Iraq, they can't win anywhere. One insurgent leader bragged that President Bush's plan to reduce U.S. force levels is proof that their side is winning, but what else would you expect the losers to say? At any rate, one should refrain from jumping to conclusions about the motives behind such attacks. Terrorism is inherently murky, and often irrational. Paying close attention to the rhetoric of terrorists is a fool's errand.
Blankley on national unity
The situation is not quite so auspicious on the home front, however. Tony Blankley, former speechwriter for Newt Gingrich, worries about the absence of national unity in Real Clear Politics. He points out that Islamofascists draw courage from partisan divisiveness in the United States, and draws a link between the weak commitment to the national good and the "me first" attitude that is behind recent corruption scandals and pork barrel excesses committed by the Republican-led Congress. It is a provocative and rather compelling point to consider. Interestingly, he lays some of the blame on President Bush, which I think is appropriate, though Paul Mirengoff at Power Line Blog thinks otherwise.
The human toll
Fifty nine American soldiers lost their lives in Iraq last month, bringing the total number of U.S. combat fatalities there to 2,163. Over the past twelve months, 833 American service men and women were killed in action, compared to 848 in 2004. May all Americans come to understand and appreciate the cause for which our braves soldiers sacrificed their lives.
January 6, 2006 [LINK]
"Blue goose" on Bell's Lane
I took a drive out to Bell's Lane yesterday afternoon, and saw a dozen or so American coots and a few Ruddy ducks on the big pond, but nothing else in that particular area. On one of the hill slopes along the upland stretch of that road further north, however, I saw several hundred Canada geese. I also noticed one peculiar white-headed goose with a black neck, thin black line reaching to the crown, dark gray back, and white streaks in the hind quarters. After consulting my field guides, I am almost certain that it was a Snow goose with "dark phase" plumage, a.k.a. "Blue goose," which was formerly considered a separate species. (Just as with the inaptly-named Great "blue" heron, there is hardly any bluish hue.) Snow geese are rare in this area; the "normal" ones are white. After checking my records, I realized that I had never seen a Snow goose before, so that makes the first life bird for me in the new year!
UPDATE: I returned late this afternoon, but the geese were much further from the road, and I didn't see the "Blue goose." I did see two Red-tailed hawks, however, one of which was startled by the approach of my car and dropped his prey (a Gray squirrel) as it flew away.
February 7, 2006 [LINK]
D.C. Council prepares to vote
As of 4:00 this afternoon, still no word on a vote by the D.C. Council. Today's Washington Post has much more on the last-minute negotiations aimed at securing a majority "yes" vote on the stadium finance bill. The fact that everyone involved wants to portray this issue in all-or-nothing terms, rather than take my suggestion or proceeding incrementally and building as much of the new stadium as can be done with the budgeted funds, suggests that all this is mostly for the sake of posturing. Too much money is at stake for the whole thing to collapse. According to WTOP Radio (now at 103.5 FM, rather than 1500 AM), however:
[I]f the District cannot pass the lease, WTOP has learned that Virginia is open to talks with Major League Baseball about pursuing the Nationals in Northern Virginia.
Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Tony Williams is furious with the council for using a consultant with ties to the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.
Now, wouldn't that be something? I give that scenario a one percent chance, optimistically. The Baseball in D.C. page has been reformatted and updated with recent news items.
UPDATE: As of 5:00 PM, WTOP reports that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has expressed willingness to push for a new baseball stadium in Northern Virginia, in case the D.C. situation disintegrates. This eagerness stands in contrast to the prudent, arms-length attitude of his predecessor, Mark Warner. As a Virginian, I always preferred a new ballpark in Arlington (NOT Texas!) as the ideal outcome, and I remain deeply skeptical about the Dulles alternative stadium site. I also think it's a little unseemly for neighboring jurisdictions to be playing against one another in a delicate situation such as this. The D.C. Council is scheduled to vote up or down on the matter this evening. UP! UP! UP!
D.C. Council votes NO!
FURTHER UPDATE: As of 9:00 PM, WTOP reports that the D.C. Council voted 8 to 5 against Mrs. Cropp's proposed emergency stadium finance bill, which may just deal a fatal blow to the future of baseball in Washington. Or maybe not. Some council members seem to think that Major League Baseball will recognize that they have no better alernative than to make even bigger concessions and keep the Nationals in Washington. Perhaps, but that is taking an enormous risk. I would expect Bud Selig to issue an immediate statement condemning the D.C. Council vote, beginning steps to relocate the Nationals elsewhere (possibly even this season*), and I would have to support him. How in the world can anyone make a long-term commercial agreement with a government that reneges so capriciously on its existing solemn commitments? I have criticized MLB's heavy-handed tactics many times in the past, and there is no doubt that both sides share some of the blame for this disgraceful turn of events, but from what I can tell, the action by the D.C. Council this evening seems completely unjustifiable. It reeks of short-sighted, self-destructive, crowd-pleasing spite. I've been prepared for a lot of bluffing and brinksmanship by both sides, but this outcome is astonishing even to me. It will be interesting to hear what the "no"-voting council members have to say...
I have raised the probability of the Nats being relocated from 10 percent to 20 percent; there is an additional 10 percent probability of relocation from D.C. to Northern Virginia.
Twins escape lease obligation
A Hennepin County judge has ruled that the Minnesota Twins have no legal obligation under the 1998 use agreement (which expired in 2003) to stay in the Metrodome after the 2006 season is over. According to ESPN, this "could increase pressure on lawmakers to approve financing for a new ballpark." Given the increasingly hostile political climate to subsidizing fatcats via stadium financing bills, however, the Twins may have less leverage in this matter than they think. Where else are they going to go? Besides, they have a long, established franchise history in their home city (metropolitan area), unlike the "at-risk" franchises in Florida. (link via David Pinto)
February 7, 2006 [LINK]
Muslims on (belated) rampage
What can possibly explain the fact that the sudden outburst of violent riots by Muslims around the world is taking place several months after the offending cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper? An orchestrated campaign by Islamofascists in Syria, that's what. The Baathist dictatorship of Bashar Assad in Damascus is under increasing pressure to reform itself, and decided to contrive the outrage among Muslims to reassert its domestic authority. This "rent-a-mob" tactic is also aimed at rekindling ethnic tension in Lebanon as a way to regain a foothold for Syria, from whence they were forced to retreat almost a year ago. For a "rogue regime" that has long been a sponsor of terrorism, such practices are just par for the course. The violence has spread to various European countries, Indonesia, and now to Afghanistan. See Washington Post. Latent anti-American sentiment is being blamed, which shows how absurd and delusional much of the Muslim world is today; the United States had nothing to do with those cartoons! This latest incident demonstrates, once again, the futility of trying to appease Islamic extremism and the various nationalistic movements that fall under its umbrella. Victor Davis Hanson (via Instapundit) asks whether the escalating offensive by Muslim fanatics may elicit a "European Awakening Against Islamic Fascism." Each in their own way, the governments of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Denmark are showing increasing backbone in response to Islamic bullying, almost making the Bush administration look tame by comparison.
UPDATE: As usual, Belmont Club has much more in-depth coverage of this latest flare-up in the "clash of civilizations," including the destruction of the Danish Embassy in Damascus by government mobs, and makes an excellent suggestion: Show solidarity with Denmark! Pay a visit to the Danish Embassy in Washington, which issued a press release on this incident yesterday:
Minister for Foreign Affairs Per Stig Møller vehemently condemns the attack and he states: "Syria has failed its obligations, and it is utterly unacceptable that the Embassy was not protected by the Syrians. I reserve the right to take all steps vis-à-vis the Syrian Government."
In the old days, what happened in Damascus would be a cause for war.
McCain rebukes Obama
Sen. Barack Obama, the young Illinois moderate who is widely considered to be the Democrats' "Great Multicultural Hope" for some future presidential race, has run afoul of Sen. John McCain. Obama had made a personal pledge to cooperate with McCain in a bipartisan push for lobbying reform legislation, and then backed out at the behest of his party leaders, leaving McCain in the lurch. In response, McCain wrote an unusually blunt and sarcastic letter (link via Chad Dotson) expressing regret that Obama reneged on his commitment. Whenever a moderate like McCain gets riled up, you know there must be a very good reason for it. Whenever some fresh new face like Obama's arrives on the national stage, I usually reserve judgment while everyone else fawns in premature adulation. I think my initial hesitation about Obama's leadership credentials has been borne out by events.
Obama has responded, professing to have no idea at what prompted McCain's rebuke. He says that he thought the "Honest Leadership Act" introduced by Minority Leader Harry Reid "should be the basis for a bipartisan solution." Yeah, right. (link via Instapundit)
January 7, 2006 [LINK]
Catbird is still here
I took a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad for the first time this year this afternoon, in hopes of spotting the Gray catbird (see PHOTO taken Dec. 6) that has been stubbornly lingering in these northerly latitudes. I saw several Eastern towhees, White-throated sparrows, Blue jays, House finches, and Goldfinches, plus a Downy woodpecker. After a half hour or so, I gave up turned back. Just in time, I heard the familiar "mew" call, leaving no doubt that the catbird was still there. I caught a brief glimpse of it in the bushes, and then went home satisfied. Will it stay here for the entire winter??
January 8, 2006 [LINK] *
Soldiers of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas, have begun arriving in Kuwait, where they are getting desert combat training in preparation for deployment to Iraq. See the 4th ID Web site. It will replace the 3rd Infantry Division, which is completing a one-year rotation in the zone around Baghdad. Some may recall that the 4th ID was sent to Turkey in March 2003, as part of a plan to invade Iraq from the north, which probably would have won the war more quickly, and possibly have prevented the escape of Saddam Hussein and other top Baathist leaders. After going back and forth, Turkey finally decided it didn't want to be part of the war, so the 4th ID was rerouted through the Persian Gulf, and did not arrive until after Iraq was liberated. When it returns to the U.S.A. at the end of the year, it will take up residence at its new/old home base in Fort Carson, Colorado, where it had been based from 1970 to 1995.
One year ago, the 4th Infantry Division became "modularized," meaning that it now has four (rather than three) combat brigades, each of which can operate independently if needed. To accomplish this transformation, divisional "assets" (i.e., specialized logistical, engineering, and medical units, among others) are apportioned to the separate brigades. This is part of the Army's long-term restructuring program which is aimed at greater flexibility in fighting low-intensity irregular wars, such as Iraq. Brigades (usually 4,000 - 5,000 troops) will gradually replace divisions (usually 14,000 - 20,000 troops) as the organizational level at which combat deployments are typically carried out. See DoD.gov.
[* Date and link corrected.]
January 8, 2006 [LINK]
ABC field trip on Bell's Lane
This afternoon I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip led by Allen Larner on Bell's Lane. Somehow he arranged to have three Short-eared owls * and two Northern harriers (one adult male, one female or immature) show up right on cue for the 12-person "audience." One of the owls briefly chased a harrier, which was entertaining. Too bad they didn't come closer. Allen pointed out to us a distant flock of Horned larks *, which I would not have recognized otherwise. Across the field several hundred Canada geese were grazing, as well as two adult Snow geese (white, of course) and one juvenile (which is pale gray, discernible on the left in the adjacent photo). I also spotted the "dark phase" or "Blue-morph" Snow goose which I had seen on Thursday, but it was too far to get a decent photo. I didn't stay for the last part of the trip, but I did catch a glimpse of a Red-tailed hawk perched in a tree on the way home.
(* = first of the season for me)
January 10, 2006 [LINK]
Fenway Park update
The Fenway Park page, sponsored by Sean Holland, has been revised with new diagrams that conform to the new standard. Among the minor corrections: the angles of the grandstands have been adjusted slightly, and right field bleachers are about 20 feet deeper than I had previously estimated. Because of all the quirky angles and adjustments that were made over the years, that was a major hurdle. Diagram revisions for the rest of the "Classic Era" ballparks should go more smoothly.
Marlins look for new home
The Florida Marlins are making serious approaches to other cities to see if any are willing to pay for a new stadium, since Miami and the state of Florida are reluctant to contribute as much as is needed. Marlins President David Samson and other staff from the Marlins' front office visited San Antonio a month ago, and are now visiting Portland, meeting with Mayor Tom Potter and various baseball proponents. Portland officials have dusted off the proposal that used to try to lure the Montreal Expos to their fair city in 2004. As reported by oregonlive.com) (link via David Pinto),
Outlined in those [presentation] materials is a finance plan that has a much greater gap than the Marlins face in Florida but one that proponents hope will serve as a starting point for serious negotiations down the road, with the Marlins, the Oakland Athletics or some other franchise.
In 2003, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill that would secure as much as $150 million in income taxes from baseball teams to go to stadium construction. PGE Park, home of the Triple A Portland Beavers, has 38 suites and a seating capacity of 19,566 that could be increased to around 25,000.
Although six sites for a permanent stadium technically are under consideration, two are clear front-runners: the Central Post Office in the Pearl District and the Blanchard Property near the Rose Quarter.
Cooperstown calls Sutter
Former relief pitcher Bruce Sutter was the only player elected as the Hall of Fame this year, just barely receiving enough votes from the baseball writers. He is the first pitcher ever so honored never to have started a game in his career. It has not yet been decided whether he will wear a Cardinals, Cubs, or Braves uniform when he is inducted next summer. He ranks number 19 on the all-time list of most saves, but ten of those pitchers went ahead of him in the last seven years. See MLB.com. Some people might question his selection, since he was exclusively a relief pitcher. This reminds me of the situation with Edgar Martinez, who was a designated hitter for almost his entire career, and therefore, in the minds of traditionalists, not a "complete" ball player. Well, baseball keeps changing, like it or not, and increased specialization is part of that.
New stadium drawings blog
Take a look at stadiumdrawings.blogspot.com, by Terry Schulz. He has made some superb renderings of proposed renovations to various stadiums, such as the Rose Bowl, and some original designs for the Washington Nationals and other teams. Well done!
January 11, 2006 [LINK]
Shower with George
"Curious George" flew into our bathroom and perched on the shower curtain rod this morning. To my surprise, he stayed there while I showered!
January 11, 2006 [LINK]
Fujimori candidacy is rejected
The national elections board in Peru rejected the bid by Alberto Fujimori to run for president this year. Martha Chavez, one of Fujimori's closest political allies during the 1990s, is leading the effort on behalf of [the controversial former president, who was recently arrested in Chile, and who had lived in exile in Japan since he resigned in October 2000.] See Washington Post. In the unlikely event that Fujimori is allowed to run, it might take votes away from front-runner Lourdes [Flores Nano of the conservative Popular Christian Party], which would increase the likelihood that the populist Ollanta Humala might win. He is a populist former Army officer of Indian descent who led a mutiny last year, and whose brother led a coup attempt a few years ago.
U.S.-Mexico border tensions
Violence in Mexico is spilling across the border, as U.S. border patrol agents based in Brownsville, Texas came under fire twice in the past week. The lower Rio Grande valley happens to be premier bird-watching territory, where many tropical species abound. Could this rash of narcoterrorism escalate to the point where the U.S. government is forced to consider unilateral action, as when General Pershing led an expedition against Pancho Villa in 1916? No responsible policy maker in Washington would even dare acknowledge such a possibility, which is admittedly low, but the security situation is likely to deteriorate until the two countries engage in a frank dialogue aimed at addressing problems of mutual interest. See CNN.com.
No elections in Haiti
Still no word on when the elections will be held. Yesterday a general strike was held to protest violence perpetrated by warlords and their gangs who are jockeying for position. A Brazilian officer in command of peacekeeping forces recently committed suicide, which does not bode well for pacification. See cnn.com.
Situation map update
The Latin America Current overview page has been updated.
January 11, 2006 [LINK]
Alito hearings get under way
The enormous tension and hype surrounding the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings made the actual event quite anti-climactic, almost farcical. Democrats made their predictable pompous speeches about the importance of judicial precedent (stare decisis) and the invidual right to privacy; to his credit, Alito acknowledged that such a right exists. Unlike her colleagues, Sen. Diane Feinstein actually asked questions, and listened. For their part, the Republicans mostly lobbed easy questions and made gestures of fawning admiration. I was disappointed in Sen. Lindsey Graham, known as an independent-minded conservative, for his lame "wouldn't you agree?" lectures about the rights of prisoners of war, or the lack thereof. What is the point of making everyone wait through that? Almost everyone has made their position known, and few if any senators' votes will be swayed, whatever Alito says to the Judiciary Committee.
Alito may not be as perfectly poised as John Roberts, but I was impressed by him nonetheless. He did slightly better than Roberts in terms of answering questions directly. Regarding the opinion he wrote in 1985 -- that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion" -- I didn't like his excuse that that "was as a line attorney in the Department of Justice in the Reagan administration." (see the Washington Post) He did say he would appraoch any case that came before him with an "open mind," which is all anyone can ask. Unless someone can find evidence that he has gone back on his word on important matters in the past, there is no reason to doubt him. He handled the grilling well, and demonstrated that he has the mind and temperment to serve as a judge on the highest court.
All indications are that the Democrats were prepared for an all-out attack. On NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, Tim Russert really put Sen. Chuck Schumer on the spot. Since the Republican minority went along with the nominations of avowed liberals Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer when they were nominated by Bill Clinton early in his term, and since the standing committee of the American Bar Association rated Alito "'Well Qualified' by unanimous vote" (with one recusal; that is the highest possible rating), why not let the majority have its way with Alito? Schumer responded with a forced grin, and he must have been in agony. He knew he was in the wrong, but he had to stick to the party line. The Republicans have been upbraided for all sorts of bad things lately, but this was one of those times that reminds me why I'm glad I'm no longer sympathetic to the Democrats.
So, will the Democrats really invoke the "extraordinary circumstances" criterion to justify a filibuster on Alito? Frankly, I find that hard to believe, but it cannot be ruled out entirely. Anyone who truly believes that Alito is "extreme" or "outside the mainstream," as Senators Durbin and Schumer keep saying, is just plain nuts.
The Supreme Court table has been updated.
Note on Roe v. Wade
It's too bad more Democrats can't make the distinction between having an opinion on the issue of abortion, versus having an opinion on the constitutional propriety of the Roe v. Wade decision. Stretching the implied constitutional right to privacy into the right to a medical procedure to which many people vehemently object shows scant regard for the actual words of the Constitution. If interpretations can be made so loosely by one court, then they could be made just as loosely by a different court in the future, in a way that might not be nearly as favorable. As classical liberals (as opposed to modern liberals) know, the Constitution protects us all from the abuse of power by government officials, and Roe v. Wade was a classic abuse of power. What goes around comes around.
Virginia Cost Cutting blog
Delegate Chris Saxman, who represents the 20th District in the House of Delegates, has begun a new blog to keep constituents informed about ongoing progress in his efforts to trim fat in the state budget and to put the brakes on those who want to spend the burgeoning (and unnecessary) surplus before taxpayers in the Old Dominion figure out what is going on. See Virginia Cost Cutting.
January 12, 2006 [LINK]
Cropp offers stadium compromise
D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp, who has been playing a back seat role in recent months, has put forward a stadium finance compromise offer that she says would gain majority support. It involves adhering to the original total cost cap of $535 million (plus $54 million in bond financing fees), stipulating that MLB sell the Nationals franchise to a local investor, and allotting a certain number of tickets to disadvantaged youth. Council members Vincent Gray and Kwame Brown would consider supporting the deal if those terms are included. The District is also trying to get the Federal government pay for upgrading the Navy Yard Metro station. See Washington Post. Perhaps that could be arranged in exchange for giving naming rights to Congress, as I have urged in the past.
All in all, it sounds like a pretty reasonable deal to me, as long as the council members stop their dickering and actually deliver a final financing package. MLB should not expect much if anything more. Governments by their very nature are not oriented toward the bottom line, and the only way to put a brake on cost overruns is for self-interested private interests to assume the risk. It's the American Way.
UPDATE: Neil deMause at fieldofschemes.com thinks that the stadium deal may be dead, and that MLB may start talking about contracting the Nationals and Marlins. Whoa! He cites a Washington Times report that Council member Jack Evans is very pessimistic about persuading enough of his colleagues to pass the necessary financing bill. Well, Jack's been known to be moody in the past, but you know how hard-core fans can be...
Barry's drug problem
Just as this matter reaches a delicate climax, yet another drug incident has undermined Washington's reputation. D.C. Council member Marion Barry tested positive for cocaine after tax evasion charges were filed against him two months ago. He is in bad health condition anyway, and it may be hard for him to attend all the council meetings this year. See Washington Post. It's quite a shame.
Sammy Sosa to D.C.?
I avoid trafficking in rumors, but this one is just too good. Sammy Sosa, who performed miserably last season with the Baltimore Orioles, in spite of being paid $18 million, is discussing a possible contract with the Washington Nationals. See Washington Post. Apparently no other team wants him, and the Nats desperately need a slugger, so it may be worth a shot. Oops! Freudian slip...
Reactions to Sutter
David Pinto is among those who is irate over the elevation of Bruce Sutter rather than Goose Gossage to the Hall of Fame. See baseballmusings.com. Bruce Orser, intrepid stadium researcher, opines that there should be special sections in the Hall of Fame for specialized players such as closers, designated hitters, great fielders whose bats weren't that great, and those who had shortened careers.
January 12, 2006 [LINK]
Venezuelan arms purchases
Hugo Chavez criticized the U.S. government for, he says, blocking a sale of EMBRAER military aircraft made in Brazil. He elaborated:
It's the same with the F-16s; they deny us maintenance to improve them, delay the spare parts. But we are not worried. We've sent a commission to Moscow, and if we have to replace the F-16 fleet with a fleet of new MiGs, then we will. SOURCE: CNN.com
That's the same song and dance Peru went through in the 1970s, when a leftist military government ruled there. The generals bought hundreds of Soviet T-55 tanks, armored troop carriers, and dozens of Su-22 supersonic attack jets, among other goodies. Result: Increased regional tensions with Chile and Ecuador, depleted regular armed forces that might have fought the then-nascent Shining Path terrorist group, and billions of dollars of increased foreign debt that Peru could not afford, and which were ultimately defaulted.
Morales plans oil & gas takeover
While in South Africa, having completed his tour of European capitals, President-elect Evo Morales declared that his government will buy out foreign shares of Bolivia's petroleum and natural gas reserves. Pipelines and refineries would remain in foreign hands, however. See Washington Post. We should expect more such mixed messages as the new leader tries to balance living up to his campaign pledges against the realities of world markets.
Nationalizing the oil industry is the same song and dance Peru went through in the [late 1960s], when a leftist military government [began ruling] there. The attempt to minimize economic (trade) dependency on the outside world backfired, as the financing required to make the purchase saddled Peru with billions of dollars of increased foreign debt that Peru could not afford, and which were ultimately defaulted. (Sound familiar?)
Is it any wonder I call Latin America "The Land of Eternal Eternity"? It often seems that nothing much really changes.
January 12, 2006 [LINK]
Alito withstands Dems' "torture"
The Alito hearings are about to conclude, and the nominee has acquitted himself exceedingly well, leaving little doubt that he will be confirmed. The Democrats' attempts to wear him down psychologically with smears and innuendos backfired when his wife left the room in tears yesterday. The suggestion by Sen. Kennedy and other Democrats that Alito's past membership in the "Concerned Alumni of Princeton" was indicative of hostility to minority rights was not borne out by any other evidence. This time Sen. Lindsey Graham played a very useful role in coming to Alito's defense when he really needed such verbal support. Rush Limbaugh noted that the treatment inflicted upon Alito was tantamount to "torture," which is a bit of a stretch, but it may well fit the absurdly loose definitions of torture that have been applied by many leftists in recent months at least. Actually, Jacqueline drew that clever comparison the day before, on Tuesday. ¡Megadittos, mi amor! Does this prove that torture cannot be counted on to coax information out of people being interrogated? This is ironic, to say the least.
I wouldn't entirely discount worries about Alito's membership in that Princeton group, given what has been written by some people who have knowledge about that group, but his explanation about the ROTC expulsion from Princeton seems convincing. In any case, we shouldn't hold a person's past organizational affiliations (think Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV) or youthful indiscretions (think Bill Clinton) against him or her many years later. Most of us do grow up and acquire more mature, responsible attitudes. There is no question that Alito is such a person of superb character and mature judgment.
Sen. Chuck Schumer was practically fuming that Alito stuck to his guns by answering questions about hypothetical future cases by explaining the process by which he would reach a decision, reserving judgment about what decision he would probably reach. That is exactly what good, impartial judges are supposed to do! Schumer's demand that Alito state in advance how he would vote on abortion cases -- i.e., the outcome -- shows that he is not the least bit interested in Alito's judicial capacity and integrity, but merely wants him to make a pledge on a woman's "freedom to choose" as a prerequisite for ascending to the Supreme Court.
The Democrats' inability to lay a glove on Alito means they will have to rethink their strategy as a minority party, and the need to impose self-discipline on themselves to avoid grandstanding. The party's most notorious loud-mouths are now getting their comeuppance, and most of them will hopefully remain relatively muted for a few weeks. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a stalwart moderate liberal, laments the Democrats' wrong-headed approach, zeroing in on Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), the loudest of the loud-mouths:
[Biden's] manic-obsessive running of the mouth has become the functional equivalent of womanizing or some other character weakness that disqualifies a man for the presidency. It is his version of corruption, of alcoholism, of a fierce temper or vile views -- all the sorts of things that have crippled candidates in the past.
It's the same glory-craving affliction that has plagued many good men and women in public service, including Sen. John McCain.
Finally, let us pay respects to Sen. Arlen Specter, who is recovering from cancer treatments and has a full head of hair once again, for standing up against the bullying of Ted Kennedy yesterday. Some Republicans have misgivings about the moderates on their side of the aisle, but Specter showed that his desire to maintain civility in the halls of Congress does not mean that he will put up with arrogance and disruptive behavior by members of the opposition party, especially not when it is part of a smear campaign reminiscent of the Joe McCarthy era. "Have they no sense of decency?"
Liberal speaks out
UPDATE: From Power Line Blog comes this first-hand perspective from Susan Sullivan, a "card carrying member of the ACLU" who worked as a law clerk with Alito in 1990-1991. She wrote an op-ed piece defending the judge:
As a liberal, what scares me is not the prospect of having Sam Alito on the Supreme Court; what scares me is the way my fellow Liberal Democrats are behaving in response to the nomination. I'm appalled and embarrassed by the fear mongering, the personal attacks and what I see as an irresponsible and misleading distortion of his real judicial record as well as his character. Now the threat of a filibuster lurks and Senator Kennedy's tirade about documents being concealed, seems like little more than a pretext to justify a filibuster.
January 12, 2006 [LINK]
Bell's Lane P.M.
I stopped at Bell's Lane on the way home late this afternoon (sunny and mild!), and saw two or three of the Short-eared owls that showed up for Allen Larner's ABC field trip last Sunday. The adult male Northern harrier was patrolling the fields, and a Sharp-shinned hawk and a Great blue heron were also present. The flock of Canada geese was much smaller than before, probably no more than 200, and no Snow geese appeared. Several white-crowned sparrows were in the bushes along the road, and I heard some Meadowlarks as well.
January 13, 2006 [LINK]
Hail to the Redskins AND Nationals!
Many people rightly give credit to Coach Joe Gibbs for the fact that the Washington Redskins are in the NFL playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. What about the possibility that competition with the new Washington Nationals team for the loyalty of D.C.-area sports fans might have been just the kick in the rear that the Redskins needed? Such competition was believed by many people (including me) to have spurred the Orioles to take first place in the AL East early last season.
The Redskins will be playing against the Seahawks (a non-existent bird species) tomorrow in Seattle, where it has been raining for 40 days and 40 nights, more or less. I had thought that Qwest Field had a retractable roof, like next-door Safeco Field, but I recently learned that that huge roof with the arch suspension is actually fixed. It covers 70 percent of the seats, so most of the fans will stay relatively dry even if the rain does continue. It's sort of like Texas Stadium, home of the Cowboys. Otherwise, most stadiums designed for football have little if any roof. Toronto's old Exhibition Stadium would be one big exception. People occasionally ask me if I intend to cover football stadiums in the same way I cover baseball stadiums. I seriously doubt it, but I would be glad to collaborate with someone who wants to take on such a project. There is already one such site: Stadiums of NFL, but from what I can tell, it's not updated very often.
D.C. baseball timeline
The chronology section of the Baseball in D.C. page has been updated for the first time in several months. There is still a gap from July to early October.
UPDATE: That page also includes the likelihood of voting "yes" on the stadium funding bill for each of the 13 council members. Of course, that would depend on the precise terms, so my "guesstimates" don't mean very much.
Movie: The Slugger's Wife
TBS recently broadcast the 1985 movie The Slugger's Wife, which I had not seen before. It starred Michael O'Keefe and Rebecca De Mornay, better known for her roles in Risky Business (1983) and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992). Frankly, she was not terribly impressive in the role of a pop singer from the South. I noticed from the credits on the Internet Movie Database Web page that oddball singer Loudon Wainwright III ["Dead Skunk"]* made an apprearance, but I didn't notice him. Quite a few of the game scenes were filmed in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and both that page and the Civic Religion page have been updated accordingly.
* CORRECTION: I had originally put "Werewolves of London," but was just told by David Peck that the singer-songwriter who created that classic from the '70s was the (late) Warren Zevon, who also wrote "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," often cited by Prof. Herman Schwartz at U.Va. (I checked the Apple Music Store just to make sure.) Thanks, Dave!
January 13, 2006 [LINK]
Incessant flirting by Princess
Driven by raging hormones, perhaps, Princess just can't stop flirting at the window, flapping her wings and chirping loudly. George jealously stands vigil around her, just in case. Today a Mockingbird in the bush aroused Princess's attention. Interspecies romance? Hey, she's not too picky. Goldfinches (which are related to canaries) have been scarce here recently, perhaps frightened away by hawk attacks.
"Curious George" flew into our bathroom earlier this week, and I snapped a photo of him perched on the shower curtain rod; click on this image to see. He stopped singing in December, but his libido seems not to have diminished.
January 13, 2006 [LINK]
Rising tensions with Canada?
While most Americans' security fears are directed toward the southern border, our northern frontier cannot be ignored either. Sadly, public opinion in Canada is turning against the Good Ol' U.S.A., to the extent that cooperation on security matters may be hindered. Prime Minister Paul Martin, who is fighting for his political life amidst a massive corruption scandal, recently warned that his fair country might become susceptible to "right-wing extremism" like the United States. [See CNN.com.] Say it isn't so! Coincidentally or not, the Washington Post recently published an amusing feature story in the Style section by Peter Carlson, "Raiding the Icebox," which described the contingency plans for a U.S. invasion of Canada, since 1930. Surprisingly, Canada had developed plans for an attack against the United States nine years previously!
Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian professor of political science who currently teaches at Harvard, has gotten into trouble in his home country by defending, with some reservations, U.S. policy in Iraq. Daniel Drezner discusses this case.
You may notice that I don't spend much time bewailing the idiocy of various nitwits who say obnoxious, absurd things just to attract public attention. To be perfectly clear, the following individuals are considered "beyond the pale" of rational discussion and will henceforth be ignored on this blog:
January 16, 2006 [LINK]
Michelle Bachelet wins in Chile
As expected, Socialist Michelle Bachelet won the second-round presidential election in Chile, and will become the second woman ever elected to that post in Latin America whose
husband did not precede her [accession to office had nothing to do with marital ties. Violeta Chamorro was elected president of Nicaragua in 1990 largely as a gesture of support for her martyred husband Pedro. (See correction note on Jan. 18.)] (The first was Mireyra Moscoso, president of Panama from 1999 to 2004.) As soon it became clear that Bachelet had received about 53 percent of the vote, conservative Sebastian Piñera conceded defeat. He picked up most of the votes that had gone to conservative Joaquin Lavin, in the first round, but he would have needed almost all of them to gain an absolute majority. She has served as minister of health and minister of defense under the Lagos government, and seems well qualified. See BBC This historic event sparked euphoric street celebrations in Santiago.
The conservatives in Chile seem to have accepted yet another defeat, some more gracefully than others. Piñera congratulated Bachelet for her triumph, and pledged that his party coalition will adopt a stance of "firm and constructive opposition" toward the new government. One of the conservative parties, the Independent Democratic Union, blamed Piñera's defeat in part on the "abuse of power" and "disinformation campaign" waged by the incumbent government of Ricardo Lagos. See El Mercurio Online (Spanish). Why do the right-leaning parties keep losing in a country that has been such a showcase for capitalist success? To a large extent, it's the legacy of General Pinochet, who has never expressed remorse for the murders, torture, and disappearances that his government carried out. Most Chileans are probably deeply torn over the meaning of the Pinochet Era. They recognize that his policies set the stage for a remarkable era of prosperity, at least by Latin American standards, and yet the sensibilities of the large, well-educated middle class are deeply hostile to the authoritarian values he imposed. It's much like Spain, where the legacy of Franco taints anyone who openly espouses conservative values and principles. It is better to keep such thoughts to one's self. That is why in practice, Socialists in Spain and Chile tend to govern very pragmatically, knowing that they must not kill the market-economics "goose" that laid the "golden egg" of prosperity.
What about the future? Since Chile has had Socialist or left-leaning presidents for the last sixteen years, ever since the Pinochet dictatorship ended, I don't foresee any major policy changes after Bachelet takes office. There will almost certainly be sharp tensions surrounding cultural issues, however. Having an agnostic like her serve as president will no doubt deeply offend many Catholics in Chile, and her professed "belief in the state" will no doubt cause high anxiety for many free-market liberals -- the "Chicago boys" and [folks like] them; see Dec. 10 post.
Here's a linguistic conundrum: should Bachelet be called Señorita or Señora? She is an unmarried mother, a situation that the Spanish language does not accommodate.
UPDATE: In her first detailed comments about her future policy plans since her election victory, Ms. Bachelet declared that her cabinet will consist of an equal number of men and women, as the first step toward creating a "more equitable society." Hopefully Chile will avoid the pitfall of affirmative action quotas that have paradoxically slowed progress toward social equity in this country, and which remain a source of social distrust. She also expressed a desire to improve relations with Peru and Bolivia, and voiced conditional support for the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is rather remarkable for a socialist. See BBC.
January 16, 2006 [LINK]
"RINOs" in Richmond save Potts
The Virginia General Assembly convened one week ago, and one of the first questions was what to do about Sen. Russ Potts, who has long identified himself as a Republican, but who ran as an independent candidate for governor last year. He didn't draw enough votes to have made a difference in the outcome, but it was a clear gesture of repudiation to the state party organization nonetheless. Earlier in the week, GOP conservatives tried to remove Potts as chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, on the grounds that he did not truly belong to a political party as required by Senate rules, but they were unable to muster a majority to do so. Just to make sure they could not do so again, "the Senate approved, 35-4, a new rule declaring that only the chamber could decide -- by a minimum of two-thirds, or 27 votes -- whether a member, indeed, has quit his or her political party." While they were at it, they eliminated one of the staff positions in the office of Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, a clear slap in the face to the man who has just taken office. See Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Commonwealth Conservative" blogger Chad Dotson identifies the three Republican senators who voted with the Democrats to keep Potts in his current chairmanship: Fred Quayle, John Chichester, Charles Hawkins.
To me, this is all too bizarre to comprehend. I am on record (see posts from Dec. 14, Dec. 9, and May 21, 2005) as viewing with strong distaste the epithet "RINO" (Republicans In Name Only), seeing that as unduly exclusionary of moderates within the party. Of course, I tend toward the moderate side in some areas, especially environmental and social issues, and I remain firmly committed to maintaining constructive dialogue not only within the Republican party but between the Republican and Democrat parties. I believe in building a strong majority that can govern effectively and carry out much-needed reforms of our statist, entitlement-plagued society. That being said, I must voice outrage at the Republican moderates in the Virginia Senate for undermining party cohesiveness. It is one thing to take a dissenting position on grounds of principle, but if people who go the next step and actively work against the party without being punished for it, then the party will be begin to crumble. After all, what in blazes is the point of being a party member if there is no discipline or sense of common purpose?
The rain on Kaine
The inauguration of Tim Kaine as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia took place in Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia until 1780, because the Capitol building in Richmond is undergoing extensive repairs. The event was marred by steady, chilly rain, ruining the chance to showcase the historical charms of Colonial Williamsburg (), which has been hurt by a recent decline in tourism. Kaine maintained his upbeat, optimistic tone, making the ritualistic appeal to bipartisanship. Republicans could be forgiven for resisting such outreach, having been outmaneuvered and burned by Governor Warner on the tax hike two years ago, but what the heck: Let's give bipartisanship another try!
Warner's parting shot
One of former Governor Mark Warner's last official acts was to grant voting rights to 3,414 convicted felons. This was several times more than any other recent governor, of either party. See Washington Times (via Steve Kijak.) It reminds one of former President Clinton's pardon of mega-swindler Marc Rich in the final days of his term.
January 17, 2006 [LINK]
Kling on dialogue with liberals
In Tech Central Station (via Instapundit), Arnold Kling has begun a series of essays aimed at reaching out to liberals, most of whom are prone to put down conservatives without seriously considering the merits of the argument. He brings up a problem known as "confirmation bias," the common human tendency to pay more attention to things that reinforce our ingrained beliefs, and vice versa. He discusses the recent passage by the Maryland legislature (overriding the veto of Gov. Bob Ehrlich) of a law requiring Wal-Mart to pay higher health benefits to its workers. The law did not specify Wal-Mart by name, but its criteria were obviously aimed at that company and no one else. Kling applies cool logic to show why this measure will almost certainly backfire, reducing take-home pay and/or job opportunities for low-skill people. That outcome seems not to matter to folks who derive pleasure from sticking it to the evil big corporations, however. Is there any way to get through to people who base policy preferences on crude emotion?
Ultimately, I think, Kling's patient, earnest approach will yield better results than the strident, tit-for-tat rhetoric of those such as Ann Coulter, author of How to Talk to a Liberal (see amazon.com).
Ray Nagin flirts with kookhood
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is veering dangerously close to the "unmentionable wacko" category I established last week. He took the occasion of Martin Luther King's birthday to say that last year's hurricanes showed that "God is mad at America." Then he promised to keep New Orleans a "chocolate" city. How would people react if a white mayor in a similar situation pledged to keep whites a majority in his city? Obviously, we as a people are far from living up to King's dream of a society that is blind with respect to skin color. See Yahoo news (via Phil Faranda).
January 18, 2006 [LINK]
Jose Guillen plugs Sammy Sosa
Jose Guillen, who earned a reputation as a high-spirited malcontent when he played for the Angels, had some nice words for the troubled former superstar Sammy Sosa, who may try out for the Nationals this spring. Some think that this endorsement will smooth the way for an awkward transition. See MLB.com. I have to say, Guillen and the Nats have been a match made in heaven, and you never know whether Sammy could rekindle his career on a team in which the personal chemistry was just right. Oops, there I go again. It was not intentional, I swear!
Unfortunately, Alfonso Soriano is demanding $2 million more than the $10 million the Nationals were offering, which was already a $2.5 million raise over what he was getting in Texas last year. See MLB.com. What will it take to make the former Yankee happy in Washington? I don't recall him being such a difficult personality. On a more positive note, Brian Schneider signed a four-year contract with the Nationals, for $16 million. That is great news, for he is a reliable, solid, likeable team player.
Twins' stadium prospects fade
In Minnesota, Gov. Pawlenty failed to persuade representatives from the Twins and Hennepin County to come to terms on paying for a new stadium in Minneapolis. He wants to have an acceptable stadium financing bill ready when the legislative session opens on March 1, but it may not happen. The emergency luncheon meeting was in response to a legal motion filed by the Twins that their existing lease at the Metrodome be nullified after the 2006 season is over. Taxpayers would foot just under half the bill of the proposed $478 million ballpark. See startribune.com, and commentary at that newspaper by Andy Brehm: "Replace the Dome or lose Twins." Relocation as early as 2007 is not entirely out of the question.
Negotiations continue in D.C.
The former Mayor of Detroit, Dennis Archer, was chosen to serve as mediator between Major League Baseball and the D.C. government. He is known as a friend of Mayor Tony Williams. If he can't get the two sides to come together within the next 15 days, it will go to a formal arbitration hearing. Mayor Williams plans to submit a revised stadium financing bill to the D.C. Council by the end of the month, and it may be voted upon in early February. See Washington Post. [Mark] Tuohey voiced optimism about reaching a stadium deal, and defended his negotiating abilities versus Jerry Reinsdorf. Many critics think he got taken to the cleaners by those hardball-playing suits of MLB. See Washington Post.
Since most of these negotiating threats and bluffs are purely for effect, it's hard to know what to make of it all. Nevertheless, I've jiggled my estimates of the expected lifetime of the older stadiums and franchise relocation likelihood on the Stadium prospects table. For both the Twins and the Marlins, the likelihood of leaving has increased five percent. I was thinking that my suggested new name for the Marlins in case they move -- the Portland "Salmon" -- just doesn't sound competitive enough; how about the "Whales" or even the "Killer Whales"? Just think, in the extremely unlikely case that MLB pulls the Nationals out of D.C., perhaps the Twins can return to the ancestral home of the franchise, and resume their original identity as the Senators!
Roofs on soccer stadiums
In response to my Jan. 13 post, Adam Myers pointed out that most football (you know, "soccer") stadiums in Europe have large roofs, unlike football stadiums in the U.S. He referred me to an excellent source on that: Football Temples of the World; it's in German, French, and English. From it, I learned that the new soccer stadium on the east edge of Lima, Peru -- "Monumental de la "U" (as in University), which was built in 2000 -- has a bigger capacity than I had thought: 80,000, half again as big as the old Estadio Nacional downtown. It features multiple skybox levels in back of a single rectangular grandstand, with dramatic views of barren mountains in back. It hardly ever rains in Lima, so roofs are beside the point; indeed, many houses are only partially roofed.
January 18, 2006 [LINK]
The emigration issue in Mexico
CNN.com has a good background article on how the issue of emigration (as opposed to immigration on this side of the border) is playing out in Mexico's presidential campaign. The election will be [on July 2]. The three major candidates differ sharply about how to address the problem, but they all agree that any move by the United States to restrict immigration would be an intolerable outrage. Hardly anyone in Mexico dares to suggest that the scarcity of jobs in Mexico might be rooted in the the country's terribly wasteful state-dominated economy. Just as our political discourse is constrained by "political correctness," there are certain touchy subjects that simply cannot be debated openly in Mexico. Those who hoped that NAFTA would spur a wave of liberalization in the domestic market have been sorely disappointed, as the incestuous ties between big business and big government continue pretty much as they have always been. Fox, Fox, Fox... Anyway, the three main candidates are:
- Roberto Madrazo, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
- Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Democratic Revolution Party (PRD)
- Felipe Calderon, National Action Party (PAN)
This will be a busy year in Latin American politics. Besides Mexico, Haiti, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, and Brazil are scheduled to hold presidential elections.
Las Presidentas in Latin America
Robert Book brought to my attention the fact that the first woman to be elected president in Latin America without her husband having served in that office first was Violeta Chamorro, who was elected in Nicaragua in 1990. True, but Chamorro would never have won had she not been married to a man who had been a major opposition leader under the Somoza dictatorship; her husband Pedro was murdered in 1978. Mrs. Chamorro's case is perhaps a middle category between the truly "self-made women" presidents Moscoso of Panama and Bachelet of Chile, on one hand, and the "pretender" Isabel Perón, who suceeded her husband Juan as president upon his death in 1974. In addition, Lydia Gueiler briefly served as president of Bolivia on an interim basis in 1979, and Rosalia Arteaga briefly claimed to be president of Ecuador during the chaos of February 1997. See the Latin American Presidents page, which has new table rows for 2006. I've also corrected and clarified the Jan. 16 blog post. Thank you, Mr. Book.
More photos from Costa Rica
There are two new photo gallery pages from our vacation last year: Costa Rica, Part III (), which features
various rural scenes and exotic wildlife, most of which are "freeze frame" images extracted from video clips, and Costa Rica & Nicaragua, 2005 (), which contains no new photos, but simply makes it easier to navigate from one page in that group to another.
UPDATE: I had meant to explain why I am adding new photos so many months after the fact; it's because I felt that the existing still image photos did not convey a good enough sense of what the countryside in Costa Rica looks like. I continue to work on my video project, which will end up as a DVD or two for public (classroom) viewing, and a separate version for "family" audiences. Also, I added this montage after I made the original post.
2nd UPDATE: This montage was subsequently modified on Jan. 24.
3rd UPDATE: I forgot to note that the rural scenes photos from which the adjacent montage was taken are now at: Costa Rica, Part IV. ()
January 18, 2006 [LINK]
Catbird is still here
I took a quick walk along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad for the first time since January 7 this morning, and soon saw the Gray catbird that has been lingering here in these cold climes, while the rest of its species has migrated south. Talk about a "rugged individualist"! I also saw several Bluebirds, House finches, Goldfinches, Blue jays, Chickadees, White-throated sparrows, and a Towhee. One of the Blue jays was imitating the scream of a Red-shouldered hawk, as they often do. For such a chilly and blustery day (a mixture of snow and sleet fell for a few minutes), the birds were surprisingly active and plentiful. Oddly, however, no woodpeckers or nuthatches were to be seen. There were 20 or so Goldfinches in our yard, the most we've seen in several days.
January 19, 2006 [LINK]
Rice redeploys diplomats
Speaking at Georgetown University, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a major transfer of American diplomatic resources away from Europe, and toward the Middle East and other strategic parts of the Third World. This was a long-overdue move that will help the United States cope more effectively with the wide variety of challenges we face in this rapidly-evolving world. What was particularly interesting was the way Ms. Rice tied this move to a broader intellectual framework for guiding policy, i.e., "transformational diplomacy":
The greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them. ... The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power. (SOURCE: Washington Post)
In a nutshell, this brief quote distills the essence of what distinguishes "neoclassical" realists, with whom I identify, from the traditional "state-centric" realists, such as Ken Waltz. I saw him on a panel at the APSA meeting in Washington in early September, and everyone agreed that the war in Iraq was a disaster. To me, the lack of serious debate over this issue indicated a profound intellectual blind spot, a sign of stagnation within the discipline. It so happens that my dissertation explicitly dealt with the ambiguous structure of the international system to which Rice alluded: "anarchic" (corresponding to traditional sovereignty) vs. "hierarchic" (which allows for varying degrees of state consolidation within the system, as is the case in today's world). Perhaps the time is ripe for those of us with an unconventional take on international relations...
Merkel visits Washington
It is interesting that this historic de-emphasis of Europe in American diplomacy comes so soon after Angela Merkel, who was just sworn in as the first woman chancellor of Germany, visited the White House. Her conservative government is a welcome breath of fresh air after the chilly relations that were brought about by her predecessor, the Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder. Lacking a majority, however, she must tread lightly in foreign affairs, so her desire to restore traditional warm German-American relations is constrained by domestic politics. This may be why she made a major point about urging the United States to close down the Guantanamo prison for terrorists. Bush demurred, with good reason, but I really think he should have taken the opportunity to reward Ms. Merkel's outstretched hand of friendship with a concrete gesture of reciprocity. For a transcript of the joint press conference, see whitehouse.gov.
January 19, 2006 [LINK]
Views on Iran's nuclear ambitions
The recent defiant words and actions by the government of Iran on its plans to resume nuclear development are a chilling reminder that the civilized world remains in dire peril, notwithstanding the progress underway in Iraq. This is one of the rare occasions where the vain phrase "international community" actually has some concrete meaning. After some foot-dragging, Russia and China realized that a global crisis sparked by Iran would not serve their interests, and agreed to take this matter up at the U.N. Security Council. Barring some diplomatic miracle, however, collective security action cannot be counted on. That leads us to the uncomfortable question of, What should the United States do about it?
In the Daily Telegraph, John Keegan applies cold, hard Machiavellian logic, reminding us of the useful role that Saddam Hussein played in contaning Iranian expansion in the 1980s. That, of course, is why George Bush The Elder refrained from toppling the Baath regime after liberating Kuwait in 1991. It was called the strategy of "balancing," as described by former NSC official Raymond Tanter in his book Rogue Regimes: playing Iran and Iraq off against each other, tilting toward one or the other, as circumstances warranted. Because such a cynical posture rubbed American sensibilities the wrong way, however, at times during the 1980s and 1990s, the United States tried "dual containment" of both Iraq and Iran. Trying to do so for a prolonged period of time was beyond our resource capabilities, however. Keegan goes on to explain why economic sanctions would be futile, and possibly counterproductive, in this situation:
Sanctions would interfere with the Western lifestyle of Iran's educated young people. The ayatollahs, however, have little interest in supporting that lifestyle, indeed, rather the opposite, while Iran's educated youth have given heavy proofs that their national pride weighs heavier than their access to Western luxuries.
That is why, Keegan concludes, that military action must be considered as an option, if all else fails. Israel is not in a position to do to Iran what it did to Iraq in 1981, which is probably just as well. (I always like to remind those who claim that Iraq was a U.S. "ally" during the 1980s how the destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor was widely, if tacitly, cheered by Washington.) Those who cringe at the thought of a new front opening in the war against Islamo-fascism must understand one essential fact: Much of the terrorist insurgency in Iraq is being orchestrated and funded by the mullahs in Iran. Like it or not, we are already at war with Iran.
That unpleasant fact does not automatically mean that our people or government are prepared to carry such a war forward, however. Wretchard at Belmont Club puts it well:
The ayatollah's fundamental defense lies in the well-founded belief that the United States has expended too much political capital in deposing Saddam to undertake another regime change operation in Teheran.
One could justifiably fault the Bush administration for failing to prepare the American people for the long, arduous road ahead in this conflict. The rhetoric of "Mission Accomplished" turns out to have been grossly overoptimistic.
Austin Bay weighs in on what various experts have written on this subject. Timothy Garton Ash, a leading scholar of the transition from communism in Eastern Europe, is utterly "fixated" on following the correct "process" in confronting Iran, ignoring the need for political courage and risk-taking by leaders in the West. Daniel Pipes observed the serene glee of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after bragging about how Iran would pursue its own destiny when speaking to the United Nations recently. He and other Iranian leaders are in a state of delusion that Allah has bequeathed upon them destiny for remaking world order, restoring the Caliphate via nuclear weaponry. Yikes.
Daniel Drezner respond to some of the sillier arguments made about the Iran situation by the leading leftist bloggers: Josh Marshall and Kos. (Weary from their incessant, mindless bile, I've almost stopped visiting those sites in recent months.) Moderate liberal Kevin Drum makes more sense. If the situation is as dire as John Keegan and others think it is, the time for derisive mockery of U.S. government policy will quickly end. People will start to realize that this is war. More than that, it may well become a global war.
Not all of the foolishness is on the left, however. In her analysis of what Iran is up to, Carol Devine-Molin at gopusa.com veers toward the "hysterical" view of terrorists, that they are despicable vermin that must be exterminated. This is the opposite of the "sentimental" stereotype, whereby terrorists are regarded as misguided reformers, as described by Conor Cruise O'Brien in his book Passion and Cunning: Essays on Nationalism, Terrorism, and Revolution. Both of these extreme views fail to consider the political nature of the violent tactics the terrorists use. Ms. Devine-Molin goes on to deride the "worthless apparatchiks and terrorist sympathizers at the UN," and the "European socialists." Personally, I would not waste one second defending the U.N. bureaucrats or European diplomats, but one does not accomplish things in international relations by gratuitously insulting potential allies -- even the unreliable ones. They do have their use, from time to time, and more importantly, they usually act according to their own interests, which sometimes coincide with ours. It's true! Ms. Devine-Molin is on firmer ground, however, when describing Iran's thuggish President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is a menace.
My take, FWIW:
Many people would like to ignore Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for saying he wants to "wipe Israel from the map," but the ayatollahs who control him from behind the scenes give every indication of being deadly serious about using their power for precisely that objective. All this must be seen in the context of the theocratic regime's ongoing effort to turn back the domestic tide of liberal democratic reform by the technique of "defiant foreign policy," one of the main themes in my dissertation. Most academics and policy experts regard the pathologies of the contemporary Middle East as sui generis, but I remain convinced that there is a fundamental structural imbalance in the way the current global political economy operates (hint: World Bank-IMF), which practically impels Third World governments toward "irrational," extreme provocations that undermine international security whenever economic setbacks undermine their political support at home. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is the best example of this tendency, but he is hardly alone. There are no quick solutions to dealing with regimes that pursue defiant foreign policies. The point of my research is to detect patterns across countries, and across time within individual countries, and to scrutinize international institutions that may prevent the "natural" workings of the market and the balance of power from working properly, giving rise to policy pathologies such as "diversionary war."
Meanwhile, back in Iraq
Suicide bombers continue to pound away, even as hostilities between religious extremists and the Sunni ethnic group have escalated into outright violence in some sectors in Iraq. Even though there are only scant crude petroleum deposits in the regions of Iraq where they dominate, the Sunnis have the advantage of possessing the vital refineries at the heart of the pipeline network. The biggest refinery is in the Sunni town of Bayji, north of Baghdad, and the U.S. 101st Airborne Division is currently trying to clear insurgents out of that dangerous town. See Washington Post. The war often does look like a case of the proverbial bump in the carpet popping up somewhere else whenever you push it down in one place, which lends credence to those who argue we simply don't have enough ground forces to pacify Iraq.
Perhaps more worrisome is the growing reliance on private security guards, which will presumably increase as the United States, Britain, and Italy gradually withdraw combat forces over the next year. On Nov. 17 I drew attention to the use of former military personnel from Latin America, including Peru. I learned about that from Latin news sources, but I have not seen in mentioned in the mainstream media. The PBS Frontline program recently addressed this problem of "quasi-mercenaries," which are often untrained and unaccountable, undermining the legitimacy of the new democratic government in Baghdad. The use of such guards is not necessarily fatal, as businesses in many countries such as Peru and Colombia learned to cope in this way with low-level terrorist campaigns in the 1980s, but pro-war folks do need to face up to this weak spot in the Iraq security situation.
One of the "pure realists" who opposed the liberation of Iraq as being contrary to the U.S. goal of maintaining a stable balance of power in the Persian Gulf, was Brent Scowcroft. He wrote a Washington Post op-ed piece ("Focusing on 'Success' In Iraq") that takes a step back from the harsh criticism of the war he has expressed, turning his attention to achieving the best possible outcome. Well, that's at least a sign of some progress toward consensus on the domestic front.
Cutback in National Guard
The Army announced that the number of National Guard combat brigades will be cut from 28 to 34 over the next few years, to facilitate a shift in emphasis from fighting wars to handling abrupt emergencies such as hurricanes. Plans to expand the size of the regular Army are going ahead, but the goal has been cut from 43 brigades to 42. Because the National Guard enjoys strong political support in many states, however, implementing this plan may be difficult. See Washington Post.
The war on the home front
Congressman Bob Goodlatte had a meeting last night with constitutents in Stuarts Draft, about ten miles from Staunton. A dozen or so people from the Augusta Coalition for Peace and Justice showed up to protest the war in Iraq, but Goodlatte held his ground:
To withdraw troops in a rapid fashion would be unconscionable. It would endanger U.S. citizens; it would endanger Iraqi citizens. (SOURCE: Staunton News Leader.)
It's always good to hear a politician take a strong, principled stand on a controversial issue, rather than hemming and hawing for the sake of a few extra votes. Rhonda Winfield, mother of Cpl. Jason Redifer, who was killed in Iraq one year ago, spoke out in favor of finishing the mission, while expressing hope for national unity and mutual understanding between pro-war and anti-war factions. She is a true national treasure.
UPDATE: Steve Kijak attended the Goodlatte meeting, and provides some in-depth coverage of what went on with the protesters. (via Chad Dotson) I might have gone myself, but did not become aware of the meeting until it was already underway.
January 20, 2006 [LINK]
Half a decade with George
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the (second) Bush administration, as well as the fifth anniversary of the day we bought our male canary George. (Coincidence? Not!) He and Princess remain active and in excellent health, but there is no way of knowing how many more years they will be with us.
I was lucky to get this photo of George taking a bath under good light conditions on Wednesday. He bathes less often than Princess, and usually does so nervously and hastily. Click on this image to see "the better half" bathing herself, just over two years ago.
January 20, 2006 [LINK]
Iran: invasion or containment?
As suggested yesterday, military options to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out. But land war?? It sounds like imperial overstretch run amuck, but that's what Thomas Holsinger suggests at Winds of Change. He refers to a war plan outlined in the December 2004 Atlantic Monthly (not exactly "recent," contrary to what he wrote) that foresaw an invasion force of three U.S. divisions aiming to topple the Islamic regime and destroy Iran's nuclear facilities. They would not wait around to police the aftermath, however. Indeed, Iran's population is nearly three times that of Iraq, far beyond our capacity to manage. Even my gung-ho buddy Chris Green grants the possibility that such an operation may be going "a country too far." Holsinger believes that Iran must have acquired some additional capability very recently to warrant President Ahmadinejad's escalation of rhetorical defiance. Sales of nuclear components or fully assembled bombs from North Korea? His estimate that Iran will have deployable nuclear weapons by the end of the year may be unduly alarmist, but the thrust of his argument that there is a fast-closing "window of vulnerability," after which Iran will have a deterrent capacity, is certainly correct. He is also right to say that the danger is not that Iran would necessarily use its bombs, but that it would keep them as a reserve deterrent against the United States while it escalates its campaign of fomenting international terrorism. In that case, "The invasion of Iraq will have been a complete waste of effort, and our dead in Iraq will have died in vain."
In today's Washington Post, David Ignatius discusses options for "Containing Tehran." In one sense, the analogy of containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War is appropriate: In neither case was direct military confrontation desirable, but backing down was not a workable option either. Hence, the prudent middle option of containment: applying steady political-economic pressure to resist the Soviet Union's geopolitical advances, giving free societies time to develop and waiting for the enemy's totalitarian system to rot, while making preparations for all-out war if worse came to worse. There is a huge, obvious difference between the situation in 1950 and today, however: time is not on our side. Iran would benefit by dragging things out, which puts the pressure on our side to act right away. But toward what end? I seriously doubt that "bend[ing] Iranian radicalism back toward an acceptable norm," as Ignatius puts it, is a realistic goal, but I would agree with him that the Bush administration should "look ... before they leap."
Since we don't have any good options, the key is to pick the least bad option. The point is to avoid rash actions. As long as we keep in mind the nature of Iran's theocratic government -- in which the president's power is limited, while top mullahs on the "Revolutionary Council" reign supreme in the background -- we can avoid panicking over the belligerent rhetoric of Ahmadinejad, which may be just for show. As with Iraq, the U.S. goal must be regime change, and the Bush administration must make crystal clear the connection between the fascist aspirations of the "rogue" theocracy in Tehran and their promotion of terrorism and pursuit of a nuclear arsenal. The first step should be to encourage pacifist, reform-minded forces in Iran, who were on the rise until a year or two ago. They are our best hope for avoiding the nightmare scenario. Given the shaky political situation in this country, it would also be useful to get all of our legalistic cards in order by issuing formal demands to the government of Iran, with carbon copies to the U.N. Security Council. If Iran fails to meet those demands, the President should ask Congress for a formal declaration of war; such a gesture alone would have a greater effect than sending 100,000 more troops to the Persian Gulf. Don't muck it up with ambiguous resolutions as we did during the showdown with Saddam Hussein in late 2002.
Bin Laden's "truce"
Apart from the appeasement-minded minority, hardly anyone in this country takes Osama bin Laden's offer of a truce at face value. The real question is what to make of his threat to attack us again. I don't dismiss the possibility that Al Qaeda may have infilitrated another terrorist attack cell into the United States, but I think his message is more likely a sign that he is desperate to rebuild his fading prestige within the Muslim world. Donald Sensing interprets that message by referring to the de-limbed defeated knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail: "All right then, we'll call it a draw!" The fact that the tape recording from Ayman Zawahiri released today was not recent suggests he may have been killed or wounded in last week's missile attack on the Pakistan border after all. Either that, or he is hiding in some rat hole.
January 21, 2006 [LINK]
Cuba to play in WBC
Under pressure from the White House (the First Fan in particular), the Treasury Department has granted the necessary license to the Cuban national baseball team, exempting them from the normal prohibitions on commercial activity with the communist regime in Havana. The team's players will still have to obtain visas, however, but that is just a formality. The Cuban exile community is outraged that their protests were ignored. If Cuba had been excluded, however, some feared that the World Baseball Classic might have collapsed, which would have made the United States look spiteful. See Washington Post. It is interesting to note that, given the resurgence of radical leftist politics in Latin America over the past few years, most recently the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Fidel Castro is enjoying the highest prestige he has in many years. Mixing politics and baseball is just like mixing politics and religion...
D.C. stadium design is simplified
In an attempt to save enough on construction costs to get the D.C. Council to approve the final stadium financing bill, the future home of the Washington Nationals will be a bit plainer than had been originally planned. The biggest change is that there will be fewer large panes of glass on the exterior, which was supposed to be a key design feature. The biggest booster on the Council, Jack Evans, said there's no need for costly "Taj Mahal." He would have preferred a more traditional, brick-faced "retro" design, anyway. The other major economizing proposal is to give full responsibility for adhering to the cost cap to the construction company via a "guaranteed maximum price"; the Clark Company of Bethesda has already been selected. Presumably they would get some kind of incentive for finishing the project under cost. See Washington Post. Well, it's about time some common-sense solutions are getting offered. Just build the thing. It seems very strange, however, that they still haven't released artists renderings to the public. Isn't that what you call buying a "pig in the poke"? I reiterate my suggestion I made in a letter to Mrs. Cropp just over a year ago: Build as much of the stadium as you can until the money runs out, and get around to finishing the bleacher areas or other external parts of the stadium when more money becomes available in the succeeding years. You know, like they used to do in the old days.
Sale of Reds is approved
Major league Baseball quickly approved the sale of the Cincinnati Reds franchise from Carl Lindner to Robert Castellini, who will have a 70 percent stake in the enterprise. I thought it was interesting what Commissioner Bud Selig said:
Everybody raves about [Castellini]. He's very personable. He's a Cincinnati man. It's local ownership. I think this is great. In fact, this was an easy one. It was quick and true. (Emphasis added; SOURCE: MLB.com)
It's good that Mr. Selig puts a priority on local ownership. Let's hope he sticks to that criterion when the Nationals are sold. If the stadium deal goes ahead as expected next month, the team may finally have a real owner by Opening Day!
Dolphins Stadium update
The Dolphins Stadium page has been updated with a new diagram that conforms to the new standard, as well as revised text, taking into account the Marlins' problems in getting funding for a new stadium. The existing "sideways" diagrams have been tweaked slightly, as well. Of particular note is the newly revised estimate of the (straightaway) center field distance: only 394 feet, give or take a couple. That puts it at the second shortest among current major league ballparks, after Fenway Park. I still think that 434 sign overstates the distance to the far corner by at least 15 feet.
Speaking of such inconsistencies, I was asked about the discrepancy between left center field dimension in the diagram (378) and the data table (389) on the PNC Park page. This happened because the distance marker was moved at the beginning of last season, to make room for an advertising sign. I have added an explanatory footnote. To clarify the new practice I adopted last month, from now on, the diagrams will display the distance markers that are actually posted on the outfield fences in the real stadiums, whether or not they are accurately placed. The data in the tables will show the actual distances to straightaway center field and the "true" power alleys, following a line mid-way between the bases. In coming weeks, I plan to create a new table summarizing all the cases of such discrepancies in outfield dimensions .
Baseball and politics may not mix, but baseball and sex sure do! I saw Bull Durham for the first time in a few years this week, and noticed that the final scene where Tim Robbins was being interviewed was filmed in Arlington Stadium. Most recently, he played the deranged survivalist in War of the Worlds.
January 22, 2006 [LINK]
Bipartisan war on corruption!?
If there is one thing that all American people can agree on, it's that corruption is BAD -- especially when the other party is implicated in it! Today on ABC's This Week, Sen. John Kerry declared flat out that corruption is a Republican problem, rejecting the suggestion that Democrats might be connected in any significant way to the Jack Abramoff Web of scandals. A fair-minded person would say that corruption is a problem that has a disproportional effect on whichever party currently holds a majority. You don't bribe someone unless he or she has the power to give you want you want. Sen. Harry Reid apologized on Thursday after his office put out a news release in which he said, "The idea of Republicans reforming themselves is like asking John Gotti to clean up organized crime." See Washington Post. Well, at least he didn't make any comparisons to Hitler or Pol Pot.
To put the alleged misdeeds of the Bush administration and Republican congressmen in perspective, it would be only fair to review some of the past naughty deeds committed by the Democrats. Earlier this month, Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2000 senatorial campaign received a fine of $35,000 for failing to report over $700,000 in fund-raising expenses. This was part of an agreement under which the Federal Election Commission declared that Mrs. Clinton did not violate any campaign finance laws. This will allow her supporters to claim that it was just an "innocent oversight." Perhaps. (See Washington Post.)
The ten-year inquiry into former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros for tax evasion and was finally closed without any indictments, and the prosecutor blamed former Clinton officials for successfully stonewalling. Independent counsel David M. Barrett "a coverup at high levels of our government," citing FBI and IRS employees who complained that their findings were being ignored by higher officials. Cisneros was indicated on 18 counts, but pleaded guilty to a single count, for which President Clinton pardoned him, along with Marc Rich and dozens of other swindlers. Barrett was criticized by various people for wasting taxpayer money in pursuit of a grand conspiracy which he never could prove. (See Washington Post.) In a court of law, we are all presumed innocent until proven guilty, but we also know that crooks do get away with it some times.
Meanwhile, reform-minded Republicans are quietly lining up votes for new leaders and new ethics rules for the post-DeLay era. A third contender for the House Majority Leader position has emerged: Rep. John Shadegg, of Arizona; he first drew my attention on July 30. In opinionjournal.com, he calls on Republicans to recapture "The Spirit of 1994." Well, they'd better get a move on if they hope to retain a solid majority after next fall's elections.
Tax hike for transportation?
Not content to have enacted one of the biggest tax hikes in Virginia history two years ago, creating a huge and wasteful surplus in the state treasury, "moderates" in the General Assembly are taking a cue from new Governor Tim Kaine, proposing a sweeping set of tax increase related to transportation. I'm on record as supporting tax increases on energy (especially petroleum fuel) to encourage conservation by consumers and businesses, as well as for environmental and revenue reasons, but the proposed package goes way overboard. I was encouraged that Virginia Centrist cried out against this unwarranted grab by the politicians in Richmond. I felt compelled to join in and make a point in a comment:
Why doesn't anyone make a distinction between different kinds of taxes, i.e., income vs. excise? Excess truck traffic is in part a result of the huge implicit state subsidy to highways from the general fund. This problem would remedy itself if there were a constitutional amendment barring any spending on highways from revenues other than those raised by taxes on fuel or vehicles. People who drive should bear the full cost of highway construction and maintenance.
January 23, 2006 [LINK]
Elections in Canada
Unbeknownst to most Americans, Canadians are voting for a new parliament today. Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party, which has held a strong majority for the last eleven years, is behind by at least ten percent in some polls. Fearing for his political life, he has become ever more strident in his dire warnings of a "extreme right-wing" takeover in Ottawa. Golly. Martin is a former finance minister who had a nasty run-in with fellow Liberal Jean Chretien, who stepped aside in Martin's favor in late .
Martin has not won a national election since becoming party leader, and his behavior may reflect lack of experience. It would appear that the Tories will fall short of a majority, however, according to the latest polls in the The Toronto Globe and Mail. which would mean that paprty leader Stephen Harper would have to form a coalition government, probably joining with the Bloc Quebecois. That would be a very difficult arrangement, and there is a real risk that the Tories would fare no better than they did in Joe Clark's short-lived government (1979-1980).
As in the United States, previously-marginalized conservative voices are coming to the forefront through the miracle of the blogosphere. For example, see Red Ensign Standard, who observes of the paranoid reaction to this new phenomenon by the left-Liberal establishment North of the Border: "Free speech, it would seem, is not a Liberal value." (via Instapundit).
The wildly exaggerated notion spread by Martin that the U.S.A. is a hotbed of religious fascism was expressed by Margaret Atwood in her novel A Handmaid's Tale, which was made into a movie starring Robert Duvall. I wondered what she thought about this election, and found an interview with her at jam.canoe.ca. She won't come right out and say she opposes the Conservatives, but she doesn't leave much doubt. In her mind, the biggest issues faced by Canada are avian flu and global warming.
UPDATE: The Conservatives have won a plurality of seats, as expected, but they fell well short of a majority. The new Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, will be hard pressed to get much accomplished, given the bitter, die-hard opposition of the outgoing Liberals. Are they getting political advice from Paul Begala or Dick Durbin, by any chance? Since most of the polls indicated the Liberals were likely to lose, it makes you wonder what the point of those frantic last-minute anti-American ads was. To poison the political atmosphere to prevent the Tories from governing effectively? I am very disappointed in P.M. Paul Martin, who seemed to be focused on reform when he became the national leader [just over two years] ago.
Election in Portugal
Former Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva, a conservative, was just elected President of Portugal. That post is less powerful than prime minister, however, so he will have only limited input on economic policy in the Socialist-led government. See CNN.com. I did some research on Portugal in graduate school at U.Va., and it is a fascinating country that has had a much bigger impact on the world than its small size might suggest: colonies in Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Macau, Goa, and Eastern Timor, among others. Giving up its old imperial pretensions in the mid-1970s was very traumatic to many Portuguese people, but they were fortunate to have pragmatic politicians who eased the way into the modern era, joining the European Union in the 1980s. Interestingly, the United States played a large role in encouraging a transition toward a liberal democracy during the late 1970s, under U.S. Ambassador Frank Carlucci. Much like Spain, the Socialist Party has generally played a relatively responsible role in policy-making.
Democracy in Africa
Most of the political news from Africa over the last year has been discouraging, with U.N. peacekeepers being killed in Congo, and hostages being taken by separatists in southern Nigeria. Meanwhile, the Islamofascist dictatorship in Sudan continues its campaign of genocide against the (mostly Christian) people in Darfur, and as President Mugabe cracks down on opponents in Zimbabwe, which is becoming a dictatorship. There are two bright spots, however: Liberia, which has been torn by civil war for most of the last two decades, managed to hold free and open elections in November. The reform-oriented Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won in the second round, thus becoming the first woman ever to be elected president in Africa. She was just inaugurated last week; see BBC.com. In Tanzania, the old authoritarian regime of Julius Nyerere seems to be withering away under the new government of President Jakaya Kikwete, who took office in December.
January 24, 2006 [LINK]
Evo Morales is inaugurated
The inauguration of Evo Morales was a joyous occasion for the millions of indigenous people in Bolivia. He put a high emphasis on remaining independent from the United States. See Washington Post. Surprisingly, however, Evo Morales voiced positive words about free trade with the U.S. See CNN.com. Lacking experience in actually running a government, he is bound to say contradictory things for the foreseeable future.
For a country that is so far off the radar screen of most American people and businesses, it always seemed strange to me that many Bolivians are so sensitive to perceived North American dominance. Let us hope that Morales does not disappoint his followers by promising too much or by indulging in too much demagoguery. There remains the broader issue of exactly what role capitalist "neoliberal" economic policies have had in Bolivia's economic successes and failures. The angst-filled recent writings of Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who advised Bolivia and helped defeat the hyperinflationary catastrophe of the mid-1980s, make me wonder...
UPDATE: Bolivian-born blogger Miguel Centellas found the inaugural address to be "rambling," and noted that Morales had to read from a script the portion that was in the indigenous (Aymara) language. His awkward delivery might raise questions about the authenticity of his Indian cultural roots. Miguel, who hasn't been posting much lately because he is about to tackle his dissertation (obviously a higher priority; I can relate to that!) is willing to give Morales a chance, nonetheless, which is a good attitude.
Costa Rica photos
I found three more video freeze frames that are worthy of inclusion on the Costa Rica part III page: a shade-grown coffee field (good for birds!), a sugar cane field (not!), and this close-up of an Iguana.
UPDATE: Realizing that that page was getting overloaded, I separated the wildlife photos (Costa Rica part III) and the scenic photos Costa Rica part IV. I also redid the thumbnail montages for those pages, and the one for Costa Rica part II. Hopefully, that will be that.
January 24, 2006 [LINK]
Fallout from Canada's election
It was rather exciting watching the live coverage of Canada's election last night on C-SPAN. To their credit, no preliminary vote tallies were released until polling stations in all parts of the country had closed. It was the first time I had heard Stephen Harper make a speech, and he did fairly well, though he seems not to have as strong a command of French as Paul Martin. Some Liberal politicians made graceful gestures to the victors, which will hopefully restore a much-needed comity. Canadians have a well-deserved reputation for politeness and civility, and I for one hope they resist any temptation to emulate the coarse style of contemporary politics in the U.S.A.
Canada is riven by distrust not only between French and English speakers, but between the urban east and the rural west. The schism between eastern and western conservatives was ended in 2003, thanks in part to the leadership of Stephen Harper, who has roots in both parts of the country. He was born and raised in Toronto, but presently lives in Calgary, where he teaches economics. See the Canada Conservative Party. For their part, the Left in Canada has long been divided between the mainstream Liberals and the radical-pacifist alternative embodied in the New Democratic Party, which often holds the balance in the parliamentary system. Comparing the number of seats won with the overall percent of votes cast (see table below) illustrates how parties with a sharp regional focus have an advantage in winner-take-all legislative election systems with single-member districts. The Bloc Quebecois has nearly twice as many seats as the New Democratic Party, even though it had a much smaller share of the national vote.
|2004 - seats
|2004 - votes
|2006 - seats
|2006 - votes
SOURCE: Toronto Globe and Mail
I took this photo of the Parliament Building in Ottawa during my cross-continent journey in 1987.
Foreign leaders page
Prompted by the election in Canada, I have put together yet another background information page: Foreign leaders. It covers the major industrialized countries other than the United States, plus Russia, China, and India. Part of my never-ending quest to assemble vital information about the world into a convenient, easy-to-access format, it is similar to the chronology of Latin American presidents.
January 24, 2006 [LINK]
Canada's military: in decline?
Austin Bay remembers training with the Canadian Army during the "REFORGER" exercises in West Germany during the 1980s, and laments that its training level and equipment have been allowed to decline in recent years. He believes this has diminished Canada's international influence. Even though Paul Martin's Liberal government was sharply critical of the Bush administration, about one thousand Canadian troops remain deployed in Afghanistan. One Canadian civilian was killed and three soldiers were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Kandahar last week. Among the various contingents stationed at trouble spots around the world are 190 Canadian troops in the Golan Heights, keeping peace between Israel and Syria. See Canada's Department of National Defense.
January 25, 2006 [LINK]
While our attention was directed toward the north over the past few days, there was a serious breach of our southern border. It sounds like the kind of farcical stunt from a Pink Panther movie, but the incident on the Rio Grande seems to be dead serious. Last Friday, deputies from the Hudspeth County Sheriff's Department confronted a group of Mexicans whose dump truck had gotten stuck while trying to ford the river, and seized nearly a ton of marijuana. Before they could finish unloading the bales, however, the truck crew returned with a squad wearing uniforms of the Mexican Army. They forced the deputies to retreat and proceeded to retrieve the truck and the rest of its cargo. See El Paso Times, via freerepublic.com
Another incursion happened on Monday, and there is a photo of the bad guys unloading an SUV at washingtonpost.com. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff downplayed the reports, saying the incidents were just isolated mistakes. The Mexican government claimed that the intruders were drug smugglers, not real Army troops. Probably so, but I wish I were more confident. According to a report cited by Michelle Malkin, however, Mexican military patrols have been crossing the border hundreds of times years, escorting emigrants or drug shipments, but no one wants to raise a fuss over it. American border patrol officers say they are extremely reluctant to do anything that would create an international incident, hoping things will just die down on their own. The absence of reporting on these events by the mainstream media is disturbing, to say the least.
This is the sort of delicate situation that requires alert, effective response without panicking. Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner and J. D. Hayworth will no doubt get a lot of political mileage from this latest example of failed immigration policy. Will they refrain from inciting xenophobia, or helping recruit for the "Minutemen"? The failure by the Bush administration to face up to the crumbling of our southern frontier risks widespread defections by conservative activists, and it may even provide an opening in national security policy for the Democrats to exploit. Wouldn't that be ironic? Perhaps all this should not be too surprising. As I learned from Abelardo Rodriguez at the 2005 APSA annual meeting (scroll to end) last September, there is a wall map in Mexico's Colegio Nacional de Defensa (like West Point) that shows the pre-1848 U.S.-Mexico border. Yikes. Can you say "irredentism"? Can you say it in Spanish??
In a case of very bad timing, the Mexican government announced on Tuesday that it will distribute maps to prospective illegal emigrants showing highways, rescue beacons and water tanks in Arizona. See CNN.com. From Mexico's perspective, this is a human rights issue, and nothing more. Protecting one's own sovereignty is a "one-way street," it would seem. I hope American diplomats are up to the task of making it clear that the attitude of impunity among many Mexicans cannot be tolerated any longer.
January 26, 2006 [LINK]
Are we on the road to ruin?
Opinion columns by two stalwart conservatives in today's Washington Post explain in a nutshell why the Republicans in Congress have strayed so far from their roots, thereby putting their majority status in jeopardy. George Will relates his conversation with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, at home in Texas, in which DeLay stands by his leadership record and defends "pork barrel" politics as the only way to get things done in Washington. Sheesh... Is that what activists having been sacrificing for?? I was a little surprised that Will's contempt for his thick-skulled guest was so thinly veiled. Perhaps that is a good sign of a genuine shakeup on the Right.
Robert Samuelson ridicules the conventional approach to health care policy, with a delicious combination of amusing wit and cold, hard logic. Talk about "fixing" the health care system is complete balderdash, as I have noted often in the past. Americans are oblivious to the fundamental economic reality of scarcity, and therefore believe that it is somehow possible to make health care available to all Americans, with a range of choices for patients, at a reasonable cost. Not! Any two of those goals can be compatible with each other, but not all three. Sooner or later, people will have to make a choice. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is getting folks to face up to the distorting effects of exempting their employer health care benefits from income taxes, which drains $126 billion+ from the U.S. Treasury every year and shifts the cost onto those unlucky enough not to enjoy such benefits. Just try suggesting a reform of that to some vote-conscious legislator. To me, the worst part is that most health care "experts" blithely assume that public policy must follow the dictates of popular preference, even if it flatly contradicts the basic laws of supply and demand. As Samuelson writes, "We're living in a fantasy world." If you ask me, it is all a monstrous crime, and when the system starts to crumble people will scream bloody murder.
Is it not obvious that the Bush administration has been turning a blind eye to this mounting crisis? The Medicare prescription benefit, the crown jewel of the bogus "compassionate conservatism," is becoming a complete boondoggle, and it may backfire badly for the Republicans. Is it too late to get back on track of market-oriented social policy? The conformist attitude that denies anything can be done to change things reminds me of the 1970s and 1980s, when the budget deficit exploded and the entitlements morass deepened. Back then the unimaginative policy stagnation in Washington was called "Demosclerosis," the term coined by Jonathan Rausch. Two men with true leadership qualities -- Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich -- took on the status quo, defied the odds and, for a while at least, accomplished a great deal. Are such conservative leaders waiting in the wings today?
January 27, 2006 [LINK]
"World Social Forum" opens
The 2006 "World Social Forum" has just commenced in Caracas, Venezuela. Hugo Chavez has allocated many millions of dollars (thanks in part to you, if you buy gasoline from CITGO) to support the protests against U.S. capitalist "imperialism." Cindy Sheehan, whose 15 minutes of fame already expired back home, declared that President Bush "is really waging a war of terrorism against the world." See CNN.com. That's not very nice; Cindy has just qualified for my List of Unmentionable Wackos! I learned from the folks at indymedia, however, that there are actually three separate "World Social Forums" this year, the other two being in Bamako, Mali and Karachi, Pakistan. This/these event/events is/are an alternative to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Ironically, I share the lefty folks' belief that "Another World is Possible," but my imagined utopia is one of freedom from the soul-crushing bonds of statism.
"New" photos from Peru
Following up on my recent work in assembling photographic images from video clips taken during our trip to Costa Rica last year (see Jan. 24), I have done likewise with video clips from our trip to Peru, which was two years ago! As a result of my labors, there are two brand new pages:
Cuzco and countryside Part II and
Lima & Ventanilla Part II,
with a total of 19 images. As with the video freeze frames from Costa Rica, there are many dramatic scenes of the varied countryside -- ranging from lush and green to completely barren -- as well as some interesting photos of everyday life in Peru. To keep all that under some semblance of order, I created a new central page (Peru, 2004) to access any of the five photo gallery pages from our 2004 Peru vacation. It includes those two new thumbnail montages, plus a new one for the reorganized Peru wild birds page.
Photos from Mexico
But that's not all! While I was at it, I also reorganized the photo gallery pages from our trip to Mexico three years ago. That was before we had a digital camera, and I was inconsistent in the way I scanned all the photo prints. There are no new photos, but I have edited quite a number of them to enhance clarity. I have likewise put them in a more logical order among the three photo gallery pages, all of which can be accessed from the new Mexico, 2003 page.
January 27, 2006 [LINK]
Palestine and "democratic peace"
The sweeping victory by the terrorist organization Hamas in the parliamentary elections in Palestine has caused great angst in Washington. What went wrong?? The axiomatic notion that democracies are more peaceful is one of the few broad points of agreement between Washington policy circles and academia. Even the Bush administration and its neoconservative policy advisers parrot this line, hardly ever bothering to distinguish between liberal democracies like ours, and illiberal democracies such as Venezuela. In the latter case, there are few if any constitutional constraints on government power, so whoever wins the election can run roughshod over his opponents. The process of insitutionalizing liberal constitutional norms takes decades or even centuries. U.Va.'s Prof. John Owen (author of Liberal War, Liberal Peace) is one of those who does make a clear distinction in this regard, emphasizing that liberal regimes tend not to fight one another, even though they may be quite prone to attacking illiberal regimes. That is different than saying they themselves are inherently more peaceful; it would be more accurate to say that liberal communities of nations (Western Europe, North America) are more peaceful.
Today's lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal wisely points out that the Hamas victory "may even have the long-run benefit of educating Palestinians about the terrible cost of their political choices." It also reminds us of the real reason for the collapse of the peace process: "Ever since its return to the Palestinian territories in the mid-1990s following the Oslo 'peace' accords, Fatah has fed Palestinians on a diet of extremist, anti-Semitic propaganda." In other words, the Palestine Liberation Organization and its political wing Fatah were the embodiment of Islamofascism par excellence. (And to think Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize.) Given the choice between corrupt, cynical, inconsistent terrorists versus grimly determined terrorists, it's not hard to understand the result.
Before we start bewailing the failure of embryonic democratization to bring instantaneous peace, let us remember why democracies are generally associated with successful development, over the long run: First, they institutionalize uncertainty, which implies (among other things) that the incentives for businessmen to bribe government officials are greatly reduced, because you can't be sure if Bureaucrat X will still be in office next year. Second, they create a built-in steering mechanism that allows for periodic shifts in policy in response to changed circumstances, encouraging innovative practices, while punishing elected leaders who consistently fail to deliver on their promises. (Indeed, the Latin root word gubernare means "to steer," as in a ship.) Dictatorships tend to rot over time because differences of opinion are systematically repressed. For the Palestinians, the experience of having their nascent country be "steered" by fanatical mass murderers will be a rude awakening that will teach them a dear lesson. As the WSJ suggested, it may be just the jolt they need to get a genuine liberal-minded reform party started.
January 28, 2006 [LINK]
Inauguration Day in Honduras
Manuel Zelaya was inaugurated as president of Honduras yesterday. It was a hotly contested, very close election, but it was hard to find major differences over policy between the two candidates. Zelaya pledged to help small business, and reaffirmed his support for the Central American Free trade Agreement. Many question whether he will maintain former president Ricardo Maduro's tough stance against criminal gangs. See CNN.com.
Cabinet in Bolivia
Early signs are that Evo Morales is pushing his country toward the far left, based on who he has named to his cabinet. He has abruptly dismissed all 28 of Bolivia's generals, and the ones getting promotions know where their loyalties lie. Cuban security agents are reportedly working in the presidential detail, as well, much like Venezuela. Not a good sign.
Two more photos!
I came across two more photos from Peru today, one of which -- shown in this new montage -- provides a much better view of Machu Picchu than the previous ones. (Click on it to see the full-size image.) I put it and the one of fog-shrouded Urubamba Valley on the Peru, 2004 - Cuzco Part I page, because it was scanned from prints (rather than taken from a video clip) and therefore belongs with the rest of the higher resolution photos on that page.
January 28, 2006 [LINK]
L'autonomia per a Catalunya? *
Catalonia, the northeastern region of Spain centered upon Barcelona, may gain additional autonomous prerogatives under a bill submitted to the Spanish Cortés (parliament) by Prime Minister Zapatero, a Socialist. In consideration for its distinct language and cultural traditions, Catalonia has enjoyed some degree of autonomy since 1980. Its drive for full independence during the 1930s was one of the main causes of the Spanish Civil War, and the lingering franquista sentiment within the armed forces casts a pall over Spain's otherwise thriving democracy. That is why a general who objected to the bill as contrary to the constitutional unity of Spain was fired. A government spokesman denied that Zapatero was pandering to fringe parties in order to keep his coalition together. See Washington Post.
Catalonia ("Cataluña," en español) is transparent to most Americans, but many famous Spaniards were born or raised in Catalonia, including artists Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, and cellist Pablo Casals. Spain is rather like the United Kingdom in being an amalgam of regions with distinct traditions, each of which was joined to the larger country under unique circumstances, and with special understandings. For that reason, the suggestion that those countries adopt a federal system like the United States is not really appropriate, because the smaller units are not really co-equal, as are states in the U.S.A.
In principle, legislation aimed simply at facilitating the expression of multicultural diversity (!) should not be too dangerous. What worries me is that the proposed law may provide justification for latent grudges among the various parts of Spain, over who gets more and who gets less in return for the tax revenues they pay, for instance. As one example of this, I recently learned about the silly boycott of Catalonian products by people in other parts of Spain who resent special favors for Catalonia from our friends Montserrat and Josep. *(They kindly gave us the Angles-Català dictionary that allowed me to write the title above. Moltes gràcies!) This is a situation in which the conservative reluctance to upset the apple cart for fear of unleashing chaos is well taken. The comparison with the Quebec independence movement is certainly apt, but Spain has sharper internal divisions than Canada, and a history of political violence. Granting additional autonomous rights to Catalonia will certainly lead the Basque people to demand more autonomy for their region. (Recall that former Prime Minister Aznar initially reacted to the March 2004 Madrid bombings by blaming Basque terrorists.) To many observers, it is an irony that the modern world of global economic interdependence is fostering increased demands for political separateness. Or, it could be a case of one thing leading to the other. Prime Minister Zapatero's unduly harsh words toward the United States and his warm gestures toward the quasi-authoritarian regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela raise serious questions about his fitness to lead Spain. As he moves ahead with the Catalonian autonomy issue, I hope he proceeds with extreme caution, so as not to ignite a second civil war in Spain.
Smooth sailing for Alito
Thankfully, most Senate Democrats have realized that there is simply no objective basis for opposing the nomination of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court, so his accession is all but assured. (In anticipation of that, the question mark next to his name on the Supreme Court page has been removed.) Fears about what what the idea of a "unitary executive" implies seem overblown, from what I can tell. It's simple logic that the president, as chief executive, should be in charge of the executive branch, as long as he respects the statutory independence of agencies such as the CIA or BLS. The junior senator from Massachusetts, Mr. Kerry, indulged in a bit of paranoia by warning that Alito would grant permission to armed government agents barging into people's homes. In response, Donald Sensing reminds us about an ugly incident involving a tiny lad named Elian Gonzalez. Been there, done that...
January 30, 2006 [LINK]
Compromise stadium deal
Sensing that the political winds in Our Nation's Capital have shifted in an adverse direction, Major League Baseball has offered a compromise on the D.C. stadium financing terms, thanks in part to the mediation efforts of Dennis Archer. On Friday Mayor Tony Williams submitted a revised lease to the D.C. Council, which is scheduled to vote on the matter on February 7. He made several firm pledges from MLB in an accompanying letter, such as funding for a youth baseball program and additional free tickets for underprivileged youth. The biggest change in the lease itself is that the Nationals would have to pay $2.65 million rent for use of RFK Stadium in 2008 if the new stadium is not finished by then. This takes a lot of pressure off the D.C. government, and represents a realistic appraisal of the construction timeline. The lease does not meet all of the conditions demanded by the holdouts on the D.C. Council, but it is probably "close enough for government work." Increased confidence is reaching a deal is indicated by the fact that the D.C. government has resumed legal proceedings to evict the current occupants from the proposed new stadium site on South Capitol Street. See Washington Post.
Have you noticed the days are getting longer and the birds are starting to sing? A quick glance at the Opening Day countdown at the upper left of the Baseball page reveals that we only have a little over two months to wait. In Friday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell muses about the imminence of spring training and Opening Day. He sees the soap opera over the return of Theo Epstein in Boston and the stadium controversy in Washington as circuses to keep us fans entertained while we wait for baseball to resume.
K.C. and the sunshine
I had heard something about the recent renewed push in Kansas City to get funding for a new movable roof that could cover either Kauffman Stadium or Arrowhead Stadium, in case of inclement weather. Mike Zurawski sent me a link to a story about it, including an artist's depiction:
kansascity.com Frankly, I remain dubious about the need for such an extravagant add-on, which might seriously degrade the ambience of that fine ballpark. They say that an enclosure for Arrowhead Stadium would help lure the Super Bowl to Kansas City, but I think the Super Bowl was made to be played in the warmer southern latitudes. Detroit??? Mike also sent this link with a photo of construction on the new left field wall at Citizens Bank Park: delawareonline.com.
Busy with photos
My lack of baseball blogging over the past week (and slow response to e-mail inquiries) is due to my intense preoccupation with revamping my Photo gallery. (Some of you may notice that I modified the stadium montage slightly.) One of the newly added photos is of a stadium construction project in Peru. I'll bet they could save some money on the new stadium in D.C. by cutting corners on construction standards and regulations! What hardhat? What OSHA? What minimum wage? (Just kidding.)
Fear not, however, work is well under way on several of the stadiums on the "to-do" list. I have determined that the existing Shibe Park diagram understates the exterior dimensions by at least 20 or 30 feet. Also, the main grandstand in Yankee Stadium extends 10-20 feet further toward the outfield than is indicated by the present diagram.
January 30, 2006 [LINK]
Journalists on the front line
The severe head injury suffered by ABC co-anchorman Bob Woodruff in Iraq yesterday was a major shock, but we were probably due for such a shock. By all accounts, he is held in high esteem by his colleagues, and is a great guy all around. This latest roadside bomb attack also reminds us how important the information aspect is in this war. I was surprised to learn that more journalists have died in the war in Iraq than in the entire Vietnam war, even though battlefield deaths have been far lower. The two journalists who died during the initial liberation phase, NBC's David Bloom and The Atlantic Monthly's Michael Kelly were both superb at what they did. Even when journalists report the ugly side of war (such as Abu Ghraib), it still serves the purpose of keeping the American public better informed and therefore in a better position to render an opinion. There are very few "blind patriots" in this war; we went into this conflict with our "eyes wide open."
Prompted by this jarring piece of news, journalistic blogger Joe Gandelman (via Instapundit) writes about the high pressure in his profession to get to THE STORY, often at high risk. Network anchormen have been ridiculed for being pompous and aloof at least as far back as the movie Broadcast News [1987; see imdb.com] (one of my favorites, starring William Hurt, Holly Hunter, and Albert Brooks), which is why ABC executives wanted Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas to be "roving correspondents."... In one of those terrible, fateful coincidences, Howard Kurtz had a feature story on Woodruff and Vargas in yesterday's Washington Post, and their new on-the-scene style of news anchoring.
January 30, 2006 [LINK]
Spring preview; Catbird again
It was a beautiful, sunny, mild morning, so I went for a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. The forsythia bushes are already sprouting some yellow flowers, and songs of Chickadees, Song sparrows, and White-rumped sparrows filled the air, more hopeful signs of spring. I was glad to spot that noncomformist "rugged individual" Gray catbird foraging in the tree vines once again; I may have seen a second one, but couldn't be sure. Other birds seen:
- Downy woodpecker (F)
- Purple finches (M, F)
- Golden-crowned kinglet
- Yellow-rumped warbler
- Cedar waxwings (5+)
- Cooper's hawk (imm.)
- E. towhee (JM)
In Montgomery Hall Park two weekends ago, I saw a reclusive Hermit thrush, plus a Golden-crowned kinglet, Downy woodpecker, Hairy woodpeckers, and White-breasted nuthatches.
January 31, 2006 [LINK]
Will on Bush's "cynicism"
Much like his rhetorically gifted predecessor, George W. Bush is learning that basing U.S. foreign policy on high, noble ideas is a risky proposition. As compromises and accommodations to reality are made, charges of hypocrisy are almost inevitable. Last week's elections in Palestine indeed call into question the Neocons' vision that democratization in the Middle East would bear quick fruit in terms of peace and stability. Well, maybe not right away. There is a desperate need for Condoleeza Rice to speak up at Cabinet meetings and make a stronger pitch for paying greater heed to the realist approach to international relations. As the President prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, George Will predicts in today's Washington Post that Bush will conveniently gloss over the setback represented by the Hamas victory. He cites Edmund Burke's warning about the moral ambiguity of liberty, which allows people to choose good or evil, and wryly notes that Bush's previous disavowal of imposing "our" form of democracy on other countries has provided an opportunity for malign illiberal forms of democracy to arise. How will Bush handle the disconnect between past rhetoric and present reality in places like Palestine and Haiti? Will wishful thinking descend into cynicism, as Will says? The erudite pundit's pent-up exasperation with the waywardness of the Bush administration exploded in the Harriet Miers episode, but he has not yet to stooped to the kind of insult he once leveled at Bush the Elder, whose voice, Will once said, had the "tinny arf of a lap dog."
As for tonight's big speech, I predict that Bush will give "equal time" to sober reflection and high inspiration, in line with the recent shift in White House communications strategy. Bush is often criticized for living in a "bubble," blissfully unaware of criticism or public sentiment, but that does not apply to his advisers. Bush has established a clear pattern of foiling the low expectations of pundits and rousing the audience with clear, resonant speeches just in the nick of time. He may pull it off once again, but that high-wire act can't go on forever.
Millennium Challenge Corp.
Almost every modern U.S. administration creates some new official or quasi-official insititution to put its own stamp on international "do-goodism," from the Peace Corps to the National Endowment for Democracy. Under the Bush administration, the new Millennium Challenge Corporation has taken a leading role in formulating U.S. overseas development policy. Today's Washington Post provides some background on the MCC and its new leader, John Danilovich. Two of the biggest recipients of MCC assistance packages are Nicaragua and Honduras, which suffered greatly during the civil wars of the 1980s. In general, I support the idea that U.S. foreign aid should be conditioned on the worthiness of recipients, but there is always a risk of political favoritism whenever such discretion is emphasized. It also illustrates, once again, the inherent dilemma of involvement in other countries' affairs: We risk either being seen as meddlesome, or else turning a blind eye to bad behavior.
UPDATE: Alito is in
The Senate approved the nomination of Samuel Alito today by a vote of 58 to 42. I heard Sen. Chuck Schumer on the radio today bitterly ruing the accession of the conservative judge, voicing the resentment of Democrats who think they are still the majority party. He said that the response to Bush's State of the Union address tonight will be the sound of "one hand clapping." That's free publicity for Donald Sensing!
January 31, 2006 [LINK]
Second (& third) thoughts on Iran
In his State of the Union speech tonight (more on that tomorrow), President Bush rightly stated that the world cannot tolerate the acquisition of nuclear arms by Iran. Indeed, if the most "roguish" regime of all gets its hands on nukes, then who is to stop any other country from following suit? The Nonproliferation Treaty, which is already riddled with tacit "asterisks," would lie in complete tatters. As in the confrontation with Iraq in 2002-2003, however, the United States is left without any truly good options in the showdown with Iran right now. In Monday's Washington Post, Jackson Diehl discusses the "ugly question" of what to do about Iran. Since the government in Tehran has made it plain since last summer that it has no reason whatsoever to make a deal, the U.S. government has hardly any leverage against them. Deciding how to proceed now therefore depends on our ultimate intent: to contain Iran, or to attack it. I am skeptical of the utility of the former course (see Jan. 20), but there may be some purpose to be served if Iran's acquisition of a nuclear arsenal can be delayed long enough for political reform movement to get restarted in Iran. Otherwise, I frankly don't see the point. Even many of the liberal opponents of the theocrats in Tehran favor the nuclear weapons program, unfortunately. National pride runs deep in the homeland of ancient Persia, and President Bush was wise to pay respect to the people of Iran in his speech tonight. Diehl seems to lean toward following through with the military threat, if need be, and he complains that the Bush administration does not seem to be acting in a consistent way in this showdown. Diehl correctly observes that Iranian leaders believe that we need relations with them more than they need us, which is why sanctions are unlikely to have any real effect. (Of course, economic measures hardly ever achieve their stated objectives; they merely serve to "send a message" and make the people of the sanctioning country feel better.)
It is interesting that Ivo Daalder and Philip Gordon expressed similar trepidation about the unpleasant choices we face in the January 22 Washington Post Outlook section. Not surprisingly, since they are part of the Brookings Institution crowd, they come down on the side of sanctions rather than a military strike on Iran. Like all good liberal internationalists, they believe that rallying the world community is the highest priority. I would not deny that would be a desirable intermediate goal in this situation, especially if Iran does succeed in crossing the nuclear threshhold, in which case world peace would be in grave danger. From an analytical standpoint, however, their piece is marred by exaggerating the role of international agreements and regimes in constraining the nuclear ambitions of ambitious middle-size countries such as Sweden, South Korea, Brazil, or the Ukraine. In each case, I would argue the decision to shun nukes had much more to do with the regional security situation (i.e., the local balance of power), and the enormous economic costs that would be entailed by proceeding. From a realist perspective, international rules play a secondary role in determining foreign policy behavior; power is what it's all about.
The real underlying problem in this showdown is that democracies are simply not well-suited for waging a war of wills, especially democracies with deep internal divisions such as ours is at present. In my mind, debating our best course of action toward a rogue regime such as Iran is unlikely to yield a satisfactory solution. It is far more important for leaders of both parties to reach a consensus on how to proceed, because without a minimal degree of national unity, the threat of U.S. military action will carry little weight as seen from Tehran. Our two countries have been at loggerheads for most of a generation, and the theocrats have become adept at taking advantage of our internal divisions. You can be sure they were paying rapt attention to the sharply divided U.S. Congress as President Bush spoke tonight. Whatever we do, it is important to remember what both articles emphasized: That the government of Iran believes it has the initiative, and this will not change until the United States takes some very serious action. That is why what President Bush had to say about energy independence in his speech this evening was so important. Were the American people listening? Are they truly prepared for yet another U.S.-led war in the Middle East, and the possibility of further sacrifices and energy price hikes?