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January 1, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Saddam at the gallows: video
For those with morbid curiousity about the hanging, there are probably several valid URLs, but this one seems to be among the more original versions of that grainy cell phone video clip: pandachute.com, located via Google Video. I saw it during the New Year's Eve party last night, and while the haste and partisan nature of the execution were a little disturbing, I wouldn't quibble with Iraqis doing things their own way. They have very good reasons for feeling the way they do. It was, at least, much more proper than the Christmas 1989 execution of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. As BBC editor John Simpson opines, however:
Altogether, the execution as we now see it is shown to be an ugly, degrading business, which is more reminiscent of a public hanging in the 18th Century than a considered act of 21st Century official justice.
Well! As for the hanging itself, John Krenson lays out "The moral case for Saddam's execution." He acknowledges the anti-death penalty position of the Catholic Church and others, but argues that the small possibility that Saddam could have one day escaped and resumed brutalizing his opponents justified taking extreme measures for society's own defense. He cited Jules Crittenden who writes, "The world is a better place rid of this filthy murderer," (hear, hear!) and has a roundup of blogospheric reactions. Jeff "Protein Wisdom" says the execution "provides a kind of psychological relief for the many Shia oppressed and brutalized by the thuggish Ba'athist regime." No one should underestimate how important that is. Jeff also echoes my point regarding Saddam's last-minute conversion to conciliatory politics, paraphrasing Samuel Johnson:
Depend on it, Sr, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. (SOURCE: Oxford Dictionary of Quotations 3rd ed., 1980)
January 2, 2007 [LINK / comment]
At the stadium construction site
The grandstand in what will be the right field corner, as seen from the north end of the construction site. Roll mouse over this image to see the grandstand behind home plate, on the southwest side.
After visiting some friends in Northern Virginia on Sunday, Jacqueline and I drove across the Potomac to check out the new stadium construction site. Things are indeed progressing at a rapid clip. Unfortunately, the skies had become overcast by the time we got there late in the afternoon, so these photos aren't that great. On the lot where the future parking garage will be built, we saw the Good and Plenty carry-out / eatery, which has been closed down and boarded up, unfortunately. Retaining some (but not all!) of those old neighborhood gathering places would have greatly enhanced the ballpark's place in the community, like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.
I have created a rudimentary page for the future Washington Nationals Stadium, with a very rough sketch diagram.
Just around the corner...
Opening Day will be on April Fool's Day this year, so who knows what goofy hijinks will take place? Until then, the daily countdown will be displayed on the top right of the baseball blog page.
Fiesta Bowl: Unbelievable!
I don't usually spend much time discussing football, but the victory by Boise State over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl last night was one of the most amazing finishes I've ever seen. The outcome itself was a big upset, but the bizarre way it ended was truly a jaw-opener. I was worn out from the New Year's party, but I'm glad I stayed up past midnight to see the conclusion, in overtime. To top it off, the guy who scored the winning [two-point conversion] on a trick "Statue of Liberty" play, Ian Johnson, proposed to his girlfriend, who is one of the cheerleaders. Talk about a fairy-tale ending! See ESPN. Hats off to Boise State.
By the way, this was the first game I had seen played in the University of Phoenix Stadium, the new space-age, climate-controlled home of the Arizona Cardinals, featuring a retractable grass field. I think that's the first time that a university has obtained stadium naming rights in a competitive bid process. According to azcentral.com, "It is the nation's largest private university, with 250,000 students, most of them working adults."
UPDATE: Ironically, the University of Phoenix does not seem to have an athletic program!
Web site offline
For some obscure technical reason, my Web hosting service was not functioning for a few hours earlier today. My apologies for the inconvenience. Unlike yesterday morning, however, this time it was not my fault!
January 2, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Lula begins second term
Brazilian President Luis Inacio da Silva was inaugurated for a second time yesterday, as the security situation in his country continues to deteriorate. Last week 19 people died as narcotics-trade gangs set fire to buses and launched attacks on several police stations in Rio de Janeiro. In response, the new governor of that state, Sergio Cabral, said he would welcome Brazilian army troops to put down the gang uprising. Da Silva declared "This barbarity that happened in Rio de Janeiro can't be treated like common crime. It's terrorism and must be dealt with by the strong hand of the Brazilian state." See CNN.com. Sao Paulo suffered a similar wave of gang warfare last May. The spread of such violence across the country is very disturbing, suggesting it is part of an orchestrated campaign. It's ironic that the leftist populist Da Silva has been put in the position of having to crack down to restore order. He renewed his vows to spend more federal money to lift people out of poverty, but it may not be enough. Or, it may be that da Silva's promises have raised unrealistic hopes for immediate socio-economic improvement, creating bitter disappointment. Although successful in economic terms overall, income distribution in Brazil is highly skewed, and class envy is high.
January 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]
A new year of canary romance
Princess gave up on the lone egg she had laid last month, and by Christmas she had already resumed her "flirtatious" ways, flapping her wings in the window and chirping in the nest. Even after all these years (almost six!), such behavior still puts George into an amorous mood, manifested by aggressiveness, affection, and some singing. They happened to be together in this tuft of "grass" this evening, and the lamp light made for a good photo op. That stuff grew from the stray bird seeds that end up in the flower pot.
January 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Mexican army heads to Tijuana
The Mexican government is sending 3,300 soldiers and federal police to fight narcotraffic gangs in Tijuana, where some of the most vicious gang violence has taken place in recent years. President Felipe Calderon, who was inaugurated just one month ago, had previously sent 7,000 troops to deal with gangs in the western state of Michoacan, his home. See CNN.com. The border near San Diego is already very tense because of the clampdown on illegal immigration by the United States; thousands of would-be Mexican emigrants are trapped and desperate. This deployment of forces happens to coincide with a similar situation taking place in Brazil. The challenge will be to avoid exposing the troops to the temptation of bribes offered by narcotraffickers, which is the apparent reason for repeated cases of uniformed Mexican security personnel assisting with the smuggling of humans and drugs across the border.
January 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Was Gerald Ford a "RINO"?
The funeral services for President Gerald R. Ford in Washington National Cathedral and in Grand Rapids, Michigan today raise the touchy question of what has become of the Grand Old Party. In today's Washington Post, Dan Balz and David Broder wrote, "the Republican Party that spawned Ford and his brand of Midwestern conservatism barely exists today." Indeed, the way many Republican activists talk these days, someone like Ford would be castigated as a "Republican In Name Only." Balz and Broder cite praise for Ford from former Rep. Vin Weber, a moderate and very intelligent Minnesotan who got burned by the Religious Right in the 1990s. It will be interesting to see whether the occasion of President Ford's passing away leads to the kind of "soul-searching among Republicans" that Balz and Broder wish for.
In today's News Leader, Mike Radoiu expressed similar thoughts, asking "Who'll be the new Gerald R. Ford?" Mr. Radoiu grew up in Michigan and thus had a special appreciation for President Ford's old-fashioned virtues:
I also saw in him that self-effacing and common sense style so familiar to me while growing up in the Midwest. This was a world that valued practicality over partisanship, cooperation over rancor and that always preferred to build bridges rather to burn them down. In his world, negotiation trumped gunslinging machismo and consensus building ruled the day. ... The irony is that Mr. Ford's party, having taken a sharp rightward and radical turn in the past two decades, would have pilloried him today as too moderate, too accommodating and simply not conservative enough.
It saddens me to acknowledge that quite a few Republicans today fit that description. I would like to think that it is possible to be strongly in favor of conservative policies without becoming part of the hard-edged nastiness à la Tom DeLay and Karl Rove, but such a distinction may be too subtle for most people. If so, and if the zeitgeist in America really has turned decisively toward the center of the political spectrum, the prospects for honest conservative reform may have slammed shut for the foreseeable future.
January 4, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Power struggle in Venezuela?
The rising gang violence that has emanated from prisons in Central America, Brazil, and Mexico over the past year or two may be spreading to Venezuela. In the western state of Lara, a total of 22 prisoners were killed in gang fights since Monday, and in response Hugo Chavez fired his Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon. There are hints of a power struggle behind the scenes, however, because Chavez also dismissed Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, who has played a prominent role in defending Chavez in the diplomatic arena. "Rangel will be replaced by Jorge Rodriguez, a Chavez ally who served as a director of the country's electoral commission during a heated 2004 recall referendum against the president." See CNN.com. The United States government has complained that Venezuela is lax in fighting drug trafficking, so this incident serves as a test of whether or not Chavez is serious about enforcing the law.
January 4, 2007 [LINK / comment]
110th Congress: open for business
More likely, it is open against business, but that remains to be seen. Senators Reid and McConnell met this morning in preparation for the opening session of the 110th Congress and announced their desire to work together in a constructive, bipartisan fashion. Kumbayah! Well, that's easier said than done. After all, it was Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin who compared U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo to totalitarian regimes [in June 2005]. That wasn't very nice, or truthful. Indeed, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday that "Democrats are planning to largely sideline Republicans from the first burst of lawmaking." After the Democrats' initial "100-hour" flurry of reform bills and resolutions, much will depend on whether the Republicans are disciplined enough to behave like the responsible minority party they once were. If so, the Democrats will be under heavy pressure to show to the public that they were serious about getting things done for a change. The Democratic base is ardently opposed to any backtracking, however: Activists on the Left are pushing hard to withdraw from Iraq as quickly as possible, and even begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush; see the Post. One of those activists is on my list of unmentionable wackos.
In a surprising gesture of cooperative spirit, President Bush declared he will submit a plan to balance the budget within five years. He also wants Congress to make the process of "earmarking" appropriations bills more transparent, to prevent sneaky things like Sen. Ted Stevens' infamous "bridge to nowhere." See Washington Post. Well, it's about time! Actually, such rules changes were proposed over a year ago. I suppose it's easier to call for spending cuts and restraint in pork barrel projects when your party is no longer in charge of the budget... Likewise, Bush's readiness to acquiesce is a major hike in the minimum wage is understandable politically, but from a conservative policy standpoint, it is terribly depressing.
Interestingly, wonk-blogger Josh Marshall has been too busy complaining about the execution of Saddam Hussein to devote much writing to the Democrats' first day back in legislative power. As the Republicans learned over the past decade, the responsibilities of actually making policy decisions can wear a guy out. For some folks, it's easier just to throw mud and whine about red herrings.
Will Democrats get hold of themselves and refrain from the temptation to exact maximum short-term revenge against the Republicans for the sake of their long-term interests? All those squabbles associated with Rep. Pelosi's choice of committee and caucus leaders make one skeptical. I have nothing against women in positions of power, mind you! I'm guessing it will be a few months before she really gets the hang of leadership, giving and taking as dictated by political expedience. In the meantime, the table of congressional leaders, which appears on the Politics blog page, has been updated. We should remember that South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson remains hospitalized after suffering a brain hemorrhage last month, and no one expects him to return any time soon.
Making up, too late
Rep. Virgil Goode shook hands and made up with new Rep. Keith Ellison, who used the Koran for the ceremonial oath-taking. Humble reconciliation is a good and Christian (!) thing to do. Meanwhile, however, Goode's office in Charlottesville was spray-painted with the word "BIGOT"; see TPM Cafe. The town where Thomas Jefferson used to live really doesn't belong in Rep. Goode's Fifth District, which consists mostly of rural counties in south-central Virginia. Blame that on the 1992 redistricting by the Virginia Democrats who took away then-Rep. George Allen's constituency; and the rest is history...
The Nixon Library
I've seen an old colleague (well, he was way above me) from the U.Va. Miller Center on C-SPAN a few times recently. Timothy Naftali, a Cold War historian who wrote Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism and several other works, was named Director of the Richard Nixon Library & Museum last April. A month or so ago he appeared with former Secretary of State Al Haig in a discussion of Richard Nixon's foreign policy legacy. I must say, Gen. Haig is still on the ball after all these years, and he's not afraid of expressing criticism of the neocons around Bush who have left Iraq in such a mess. (He was kind enough to respond to my queries about the Falklands crisis while I was doing my dissertation research.) Prof. Naftali is truly both "a scholar and a gentleman," a combination that is hard to maintain these days. He grew up in Montreal and was an Expos fan from the days that they played in Jarry Park.
January 4, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Tobruk and Churchill, 1942
Influenced by romanticized movie portrayals of World War II, we often forget that there was a lot of political bickering going on at the time, and even some cases of disloyalty. It is useful to compare the current situation in Washington with the political spat in Great Britain after Rommel's Afrika Korps overran the port city of Tobruk in June 1942. This came on the heels of the fall of Singapore and Hong Kong to Japanese invaders, when all seemed lost. In Great Britain, many politicians used the Tobruk debacle to submit a motion to censure Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose popularity was never very high. As Churchill wrote of this episode in his Memoirs of the Second World War,
The debate was opened by Sir John Wardlaw-Milne in an able speech in which he posed the main issue. This motion was "not an attack upon officers in the field. It is a definite attack upon the central direction here in London..."
Where have we heard a phrase like that before? "We support the troops, but not the war." Hmmm... No doubt, Sir Wardlaw-Milne garnered broad popular acclaim at the time for his political grandstanding, but alas, his name has been forgotten in the dustbin of history. Another MP angrily denounced what he saw as Churchill's failure to take responsibility for strategic mistakes, going so far as to compare the loyalty bestowed upon Churchill to the Nazis' insistence that "The Fuehrer is always right." (Can you imagine?) Yet another MP cited the sarcastic quip "that if Rommel had been in the British Army he would have been a sergeant." Clearly, there was a strong current of defeatism, but Churchill stood his ground and eloquently rebutted all of the charges in Parliament. Ultimately, the House of Commons realized that their nation's survival depended upon national unity and voted overwhelmingly against the motion of censure, 475 to 25.
So, is the lesson for us that such political backbiting on the home front is not necessarily fatal for a country engaged in mortal combat with a dangerous foe, or that crassly opportunistic politicians generally wise up and act in defense of the national interest when the moment of truth comes? I'll leave that for you to decide...
Death toll: over 3,000
It has been reported that the number of U.S. fatalities in Iraq climbed above the 3,000 mark in the past week, and some commentators have made the irrelevant comparison to the number killed in the 9/11 attacks. Thus far, the Pentagon has released the names of 2,955 armed service personnel who gave their lives in Iraq. The difference is due to the fallen soldiers whose names have not yet been released because the next of kin have not yet been located, as explained at globalsecurity.org. Maintaining communications between military personnel and their families is not as easy as you might think, and that happens to be one of the many vital but little-known functions of the American Red Cross.
January 5, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Randy Johnson returns to AZ?
The Yankees have reached a tentative deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, trading Randy Johnson in return for four players. The Yankees would, it is reported, absorb $2 million of the $16 million Johnson is owed for the 2007 season. In return for waiving his no-trade clause, Johnson would get a contract extension through 2008, when he will turn 45. That would give him a good chance to reach the 300-career win threshhold; he currently has 280 wins. See MLB.com. It's probably for the best on both sides. Sometimes things just don't work out.
Mientkiewicz to Bronx
Doug Mientkiewicz, who played first base for the Mets last year, and for the Red Sox before that, is in the process of being traded "across town" to the Yankees. Assuming he passes the physical exam, etc., it would allow Jason Giambi to become a full-time designated hitter. See MLB.com. Now, will the Mets bring back Mike Piazza to play first base?
The mail bag
The owners of the land where the Twins' future stadium will be built are holding out for more money, which may necessitate formal condemnation proceedings in court, in which case the delays would raise the total cost by a large amount. $90 million has been allocated for land acquisition and related expenses. See startribune.com (via Mike Zurawski)
Bruce Orser found a page full of Yankee Stadium construction photos, at yankeephotos.com, as well as photos of Fenway Park thru the years at redsoxnation.net.
Nick Johnson heals
UPDATE: Washington Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson is slowly healing from a broken leg he suffered last September, but he will probably miss at least the first month of the regular season this year. See Washington Post. Get well soon, Nick!
January 5, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Widespread corruption in Chile
Contrary to public perceptions, news reports over the past year or two suggest that Chile is plagued by as much corruption as are other Latin America countries. The Miami Herald has compiled a list of some of the most egregious cases of bribery and embezzlement. Late dictator Augusto Pinochet kept secret accounts worth at least $28 million in foreign banks, and several officials belonging to the Socialist Party (of which President Michelle Bachelet is a member) have been convicted of bribery or are under investigation for various kinds of financial wrongdoing. The article rightly points out that much of the problem stems from the fact that the same center-left coalition has controlled the government for the last 16 years. (Hat tip to Randy Paul.) The question is whether the revelations of government crookedness will undermine Chile's reputation as a safe place to invest money. Gaining its reputation as a haven for foreign capital did not come easy, and it would be a shame for a country that has achieved so much to squander it all away.
More tensions on Mexican border
UPDATE: The U.S. Border Patrol reported that a team of National Guardsmen manning a border post in Arizona was forced to retreat after being fired upon and assaulted by a group from Mexico, according to azcentral.com (via Instapundit). If this is accurate, it would dispel the widespread belief that the border is sufficiently secure without a fence, or without heavy reinforcements. Further west, Mexican army troops ordered the local police in Tijuana to disarm, as they try to retake control of the city from drug traffickers. Police forces have been accused of helping the smuggling operations. See BBC.
January 5, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Virginia blogosphere flap
Meanwhile, back in the Old Dominion... I haven't been paying much attention to the Virginia blogosphere lately, which is why it was not until yesterday that I learned of an odd controversy with a local twist. It seems that Charlottesville blogger Waldo Jaquith *, who maintains a list of Virginia political blogs, drew some heat for de-listing a right-wing graphical blog called General Grievous' Dog because of what he deemed to be inappropriate content. Frankly, I can't blame him. Each of us have our own standards of what constitutes good taste; to each his own. In response, a guy I know who does the Spank That Donkey blog (out of respect, I'll omit his name on this occasion) asked Waldo to remove his link in protest, and the polemical sparks really started flying. In response, conservative bloggers Shaun Kenney and Chad Dotson (who had "closed up shop" after the election) took time to make blog posts in support of Waldo, on principle. Kenney wrote, "Waldo Jaquith's prime metaconcern has always been with the tone of the blogosphere." Finally, Slantblog cited Daily Progress columnist Bob Gibson with regard to the recent Virgil Goode controversy and this silly tempest, asking if there is "something strange in Staunton's water supply?" Ho, ho, ho. Slantblog goes on:
It seems the Boycott Waldo movement was mostly centered in the Staunton area. I don't know how many different people it really involved, but I'm left to wonder why Republicans in that part of Virginia seem so different than others?
Methinks he doth generalize too much. Or perhaps it is just a case of selective attention. After all, the City of Staunton (where I live) is a separate political entity from Augusta County, as was made painfully clear by what recently happened to the old swacgop.org Web site. What a shame... Is it any wonder I have such a hard time taking Virginia politics seriously? Anyone who reads this blog knows that I emphatically share the concern of Waldo and Shaun about the increasingly coarse tone of political discourse these days. Those who know me personally can attest that I have taken more than my share of criticism from political colleagues for refusing to put up with nastiness and polarization. Maybe this even temperament stems from my Midwestern roots, like Gerald Ford. One lesson I have been drawing from post-election developments such as this incident is that there isn't nearly as much difference in terms of anger and bitter resentment between Right and Left as there used to be. Another lesson is that the blogosphere is becoming more and more crowded with pushy rank amateur newcomers, to the detriment of all. I have often marveled at how obsessed some bloggers are with drawing attention to themselves, as if blogging were an exercise in pure vanity. I prefer dignified modesty, thank you. In any case, I've updated my blogroll and look forward to following a broader range of commentary on Virginia politics, as time permits.
* I remember hearing Waldo on WINA radio in Charlottesville several times during the 1990s when he was a precocious teenage globe trotter of sorts. As in, "Where's Waldo?"
On a related note, there is a lot of chair-switching going on among big-time Republican bloggers (including Virginia's Jon Henke), according to Daniel Glover; via Instapundit).
"Blue Dogs" mark their turf
After the second day back in power, the Democrats seem to be reasonably well organized. For me, it's a good sign that the conservative "Blue Dog Coalition" is exerting a lot of influence, resisting the demands of the Democrat left wing. In a press conference today, co-chairs Mike Ross (AR) and Allen Boyd (FL) outlined their budget deficit reduction plans, and made it clear that they support the effort of our armed forces in Iraq. Rep. Stephanie Herseth (SD!) serves as the caucus Whip, and is a very impressive rising star in the Democratic Party. Other key members include Jane Harman (CA), who is still peeved at Speaker Nancy Pelosi for passing her over for the post of intelligence committee chair. One of the newest members is former Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler (NC). Oddly, however, there is not a single member from Virginia! In terms of national politics, nonetheless, the center is where the action is these days. I hope enough Republican leaders remember their "traditional value" of fiscal responsibility before the political tides shift decisively in the Democrats' favor.
January 6, 2007 [LINK / comment]
New raptors in Highland County
Encouraged by forecasts of clear, balmy weather for today, I joined the friendly folks of the Augusta Bird Club for a field trip to Highland County this morning, led by John Spahr. I was rewarded for my efforts with two life birds, bringing my total up to 366! On the West Virginia line near the town of Blue Grass we saw three juvenile Golden eagles swooping around a mountain slope a half mile away. I was surprised to learn that the juveniles have prominent white patches under each wing and in their tails. A few miles to the west, we saw an adult of that same species. Because of strong, brisk winds (contrary to the forecasts!), it was hard to hold our binoculars steady, so it was hard to keep the eagles in sight. South of the hamlet of Hightown (near the very source of the South Branch of the Potomac River!), later on, we saw a dark phase Rough-legged hawk. Then we had a nice hot lunch in the picturesque town of Monterey, and some of us headed home from there. Time well spent, in good company! The relative absence of sparrows and other small songbirds was a bit surprising. Today's highlights:
- Bald eagles -- 3+
- Red-tailed hawks
- Golden eagles -- 3 juv., 1 adult (LIFE BIRD!)
- Rough-legged hawk (LIFE BIRD!)
- Goldfinches (some turning yellow)
- Black-capped chickadees
I have seen Bald eagles more and more frequently in recent years, so it was not surprising that they will soon be taken off the list of endangered species. What an inspiring comeback for our National Symbol! See Washington Post.
Another bit of good bird conservation news from across the Atlantic: the stork population has rebounded, thanks to efforts by Germany and other countries to reclaim river bottomlands, where storks nest. I was surprised to learn that storks breed in Spain and most of Central and Eastern Europe, whereas in the United States they are seldom found outside of Florida or southern Georgia. See the Post.
January 7, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Prison bloodbath in El Salvador
The wave of gang-related prison violence continues to sweep across Latin America, as at least 21 prisoners died this weekend in Apanteos jail, near the city of Santa Ana in northwestern El Salvador. The uprising began on Friday, and it took hundreds of police and soldiers before the government regained control of the facility. See BBC. It can hardly be coincidental that so many Latin American countries are being challenged by narco-traffic gangs simultaneously, and it may become a threat to U.S. national security interests unless effective measures to subdue the gang activities are taken soon.
January 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Conservation and Bell's Lane
In the Sunday News Leader, columnist Bruce Dorries wrote in praise of a movement by area residents who are opposed to paving over and developing the picturesque rural landscape of Bell's Lane. Mr. Dorries draws an apt comparison between slow-paced, dignified Staunton, and booming Harrisonburg to the north, where development spurred by the growth of agribusiness and James Madison University has resulted in ugly sprawl. We don't want to be like that! He interviewed several of us at the Augusta Bird Club meeting in December, when a petition calling for preservation of that scenic area was circulated. Aside from its purely aesthetic qualities, Bell's Lane boasts a unique combination of habitats -- wetlands, ponds, and rolling pastures -- attracting a wide variety of migratory birds. It was there that I saw ten different bird species for the first time, most notably the Short-eared owl. Apparently, the city of Staunton wants to build a shortcut bypass right through the middle of that precious area, which would ruin it. "McMansion"-style subdivisions are another distinct possibility. I called attention to that issue last July, and I hope enough residents of this area wake up and demand that their leaders take the necessary measures (tax breaks or whatever) to conserve the area's natural beauty before it's too late.
January 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Herb Harman: back from Iraq!
Here is some great news: I happened to catch an interview late this afternoon on WHSV TV-3 with Staff Sgt. Herb Harman, who just completed a year-long tour of duty in Iraq. He is an Army reservist who volunteered to serve in Iraq, and was assigned to a military police unit, helping train Iraqi government security forces. Herb is a resident of Augusta County and has been active with the local Republican Party; see last March 8. The strain of serving in a dangerous area (Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle) clearly shows on his face, and he said he learned a lot while he was there, but he still voiced support for carrying on the mission of helping to stabilize Iraq. For the large majority of Americans who are wimpy civilians (myself included), the sacrifices he endured to serve his country cannot even be imagined. "Hero" would be putting it mildly. But for now, the most important is returning to his family.
UPDATE: A video clip of the report on the return of 654th Military Police Company, and the "One on One" interview with Sgt. Harman conducted by anchorman Bob Corso, is now available at the WHSV TV-3 Web site.
Is our military exhausted?
Victor Davis Hanson questions the assumption (which I have expressed) that our military forces are at the brink of exhaustion. He recently paid a visit to Iraq, and found that our troops are being kept as well supplied and as comfortable as possible in a hostile environment such as that. Applying his perspective as a military historian, he recalls the enormous casualties at the Battle of the Bulge, Okinawa, and Korea, and concludes, "To say that the American military is ruined after fighting in Iraq is preposterous by both present and past standards of combat losses." He also downplays the fears of a strategic setback and hand-wringing over previous battlefield mistakes, which happen in every war. It's a good dose of sobriety at a crucial moment as President Bush ponders the surge option.
Are wars winding down?
Strategy Page surveyed the global military situation, and found that "Fighting has died down considerably, or disappeared completely, in places like Nepal, Chechnya, Congo, Indonesia and Burundi." (Hat tip to Barcepundit.)
January 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Ripken, Gwynn to Cooperstown
It's hard to imagine two players who were more deserving to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, in terms of their accomplishments on the ballfield, and their modest, classy sportsmanship. "Iron Man" Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, eight-time NL batting champion, are among the rare breed of superstars who defy Leo Durocher's dictum that "nice guys finish last." Both men were elected on their first opportunity and received among the highest-ever percentages of votes; see MLB.com. Goose Gossage didn't make the cut, but he edged closer to the 75% threshhold, and may finally make it next year. Mark McGwire was way down the list, but he's got plenty of chances yet to come. Like most people, I have mixed feelings about McGwire. I suppose we'll never come up with a satisfactory way to resolve the Dope Dilemma: to forgive and reward those who 'fess up, or to punish anyone suspected of artificial body enhancements, which would only keep the problem hidden under the rug.
Today's Washington Post had a good background piece on Ripken, noting that his "431 home runs and 3,184 hits were more a testament to hard work, durability and longenvity than to sheer talent or jaw-dropping power." (In that sense, ironically, he's a lot like Pete Rose.) Ripken will rank number one among all Hall of Famers in terms of total games played (3,001), consecutive games (2,632), fielding percentage for shortstops (.979), and appearances on All Star teams (19). His lifetime batting average was well below Gwynn's, however: .276 vs. .338. Both Ripken and Gwynn spent their entire careers with one team, near their home towns. It's like they were twin brothers or something...
January 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Chavez marches toward socialism
On the eve of his third inaugural ceremonies, Hugo Chavez declared that Venezuela would nationalize the electrical and telecommunications utilities, some of which are owned by U.S. companies. This was presented as part of his campaign to transform into a socialist state. "We are in an existential moment of Venezuelan life. We're heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it." Basically, he is striving to reverse all of the privatizations that took place in the 1990s, when the government was struggling to regain solvency. As soon as he is inaugurated again, Chavez plans to travel to Nicaragua and discuss plans with new president Daniel Ortega. Venezuela will provide resource "loans" to pay for a variety of infrastructure, health, education, agricultural, and housing projects. CNN.com
After OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza took exception to the license of Radio Caracas Television not being renewed (because it favors the opposition), Chavez called him "stupid." In response, OAS foreign ministers rallied to Insulza's support, led by Chile. As a result of these latest verbal outbursts, the stock market in Caracas dropped by nearly 19%. See El Universal. Chavez probably isn't too worried about the capital markets, figuring that he can do anything he wants with all that oil money coming in. Somehow, he is managing to sustain the momentum of radical anti-imperialist, keeping people agitated by heated words and ever-more precipitous policy changes.
Meanwhile, in the U.S.A., Joe Kennedy has been appearing on television ads for CITGO, drawing attention to the fuel oil assistance program. Too bad it's been such a mild winter so far...
January 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Changing of the Pentagon brass
As President Bush prepares to deliver another major policy address on Iraq, it is worth taking a look at the reshuffling of the military command structure in the past week, and what may have led up to it. In a press conference last June, he replied to a question on the possible withdrawal of two U.S. brigades by saying, "But in terms of our troop presence there, that decision will be made by General [George] Casey, as well as the sovereign government of Iraq, based upon conditions on the ground."
Last week, however, we learned that Gen. Casey is stepping down as commander of the multinational forces in Iraq. Is that because he resisted the "surge" in troop strength? He will be replaced by Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who has experience leading the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. Meanwhile, Navy Adm. William J. Fallon will replace Gen. John P. Abizaid as head the U.S. Central Command, which overseas all U.S. forces in the Middle East. Abizaid had likewise expressed caution about the utility of additional U.S. troops in Iraq. The Washington Post reports that "deep divisions remain between the White House on one side and the Joint Chiefs and congressional leaders on the other about whether a surge of up to 20,000 troops will turn around the deteriorating situation..."
I share the skepticism that a marginal (15%) increase in troop strength will have much impact on the "battlefield," but it all depends upon how the extra troops are used. If Bush really is serious about inflicting a decisive defeat against the Sunni militias and their al Qaeda allies, he will have to lift restrictions on the use of firepower. He will also have to confront Iran, one way or another. I heard on C-SPAN that the U.S. Navy is sending additional ships into the Persian Gulf, including minesweepers. Are we preparing to impose a naval blockade on Iran, or perhaps even seize the Kharg Island oil terminal? That would certainly put pressure on President Ahmadinejad to back down on his nuclear bluster, but it might also unleash a regional war with potentially catastrophic consequences.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Sen. Ted Kennedy is threatening to submit a resolution that would bar funding for any increased troop levels. Is he nostalgic for the early 1970s? Even though the planned troop surge seems to be very unpopular, hardly anyone favors the drastic measure of a funding cutoff. This situation illustrates, once again, the bizarre circumstances in which the executive and legsilative functions related to war have been reversed in modern U.S. history. Whereas the legislative branch is constitutionally empowered with the discretion to go to war or not, in recent decades Congress has passed the buck to the president. On the other hand, tactical decisions about deployments and such are coming under increasing scrutiny by the Congress, even though the president is the commander in chief. I believe this messy, confusing situation would not have come to pass if Congress had passed a declaration of war against Iraq in 2003, rather than leaving it up to President Bush.
U.S. bombs terrorists in Somalia
American AC-130 gunships have launched air strikes against a secret al Qaeda base in Somalia, thanks to intelligence tips from Ethiopia. It is impossible to say, however, whether they killed the leader who was complicit in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam in 1998. Special Forces units are also involved. See BBC. While this is certainly good news in the fight against terrorism, this raises the awkward question of whether the United States encouraged Ethiopia to take control of Somalia last month. There would be ample justification for such a move, but it would still put at risk our diplomatic relations with other countries in that region. Proceeding in a unilateral fashion undercuts any multilateral effort to save the people of Darfur against the marauding militias in Sudan.
January 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]
River cleanup near the ballpark
Folks who have lived in the Washington metropolitan area know that the Anacostia River has a reputation as a filthy place in a dangerous part of the city. Decades of unregulated industrial waste poisoned fish and the birds that feed on them. Because of antiquated sewer lines, moreover, the stench often becomes unbearable after heavy rain storms. It's too bad, because it was once a prime habitat for birds and other wildlife, and I even saw a Great egret there, very close to the RFK Stadium parking lot in June 2004. The National Arboretum, Kenilworth Gardens, and Anacostia Park are just a few of the outdoor attractions along the city's "other" river. Tuesday's Washington Post reviewed the status of the Anacostia River and plans for its restoration. The new stadium being built for the Washington Nationals is a key part of the long-term development plans along the river. An official in charge of the project put it very well: "The whole purpose here is to think of the river as a great centerpiece of the city and not a dividing line."
Exactly. If the stadium does not serve to rebuild the fractured sense of community in Our Nation's Capital, all those millions of public dollars will have been wasted. It reminds one of the situation in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, when the steel industry was crumbling, and far-sighted planners pushed for a massive cleanup effort that turned the area around Three Rivers Stadium into a veritable tourist mecca, attracting yuppies by the thousands. In Washington, by the same token, the Nationals' future stadium could do wonders for the Anacostia River by drawing attention to it, making its cleanup a higher priority. When I was at the construction site a couple weeks ago I noticed across the street that there is pedestrian access to the shore and boat piers, which will presumably be spiffed up considerably once the construction is finished. Eventually, I expect that there will be boat taxi service to baseball games from Alexandria and Georgetown.
That article also mentioned the plans for building a new soccer stadium for D.C. United on the other side of the river at Poplar Point. That franchise has just been purchased, and the new owners are said to be more interested in stadium-related development projects than in soccer per se. Hmmm...
January 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Kaine's State of the State speech
Gov. Tim Kaine gave his first State of the State this evening, live from Jamestown, marking the beginning of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first colony in Virginia in 1607. It was almost one year ago that he was inaugurated in nearby Williamsburg. In tonight's speech he tried hard to maintain a positive attitude, and he mostly succeeded. I was pleased that he acknowledged that there is a link between the transportation problem and local land use policies. The Republicans apparently convinced him on that count, at least. Unfortunately, he kept talking in terms of meeting "needs," claiming that solving the problem means finding sufficient revenues. No, Governor Kaine. It is a matter of reforming structural incentives so that localities no longer can count on getting bailed out by the government in Richmond for the traffic consequences of the sprawling development for which they themselves are responsible. No more blank checks!
For much of the rest of his speech Kaine cited a laundry list of liberal do-gooder projects, such as his beloved pre-school care proposal. His statement that the "success of our children" is a "bipartisan value" we can all agree on was, to be perfectly blunt, pure malarkey. Early childhood development is not a matter of "success" and "failure" like high school and college are. It is, rather, a matter of building social skills and imbuing youngsters with a sense of identity and self-worth. It is a task best handled at the household and neighborhood level. Are we going to subject toddlers to the same kind of regimented standardized-test criteria that older children are already forced to endure? Then there was expanded medical insurance, and of course he glossed over the fact that such entitlements do not apply to illegal immigrant workers. (In contrast, Gov. Schwarzenegger just came out with a proposal to make such benefits apply to everyone, regardless of legal status!) Immigration is one of our biggest problems, but Gov. Kaine barely touched on it, which is a gross dereliction of duty. Finally, I could not believe he actually implied that a person earning the minimum wage ought to be able to afford to purchase a home. The only place where that is possible is in Utopia -- which means "nowhere."
All in all, Kaine's speech gave little or no indication that he is familiar with the conservative critique of social engineering, or even aware of the fact that most Virginians -- and their legislators in Richmond -- subscribe to conservative principles. It would seem that his big grin is emblematic of a truly deluded view of reality. I do have to give the Governor credit, however, for emphasizing the need to provide incentives to preserve our precious heritage of natural beauty and rural tranquility. Family farms should get sufficient tax consideration so they do not have to sell off their land to make room for more subdivisions full of McMansions. On that, I think, a large majority of liberals and conservatives can at least agree.
January 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Bush ups the ante, belatedly
Most of us didn't have very high hopes for President Bush's speech on Iraq tonight, so at least he didn't disappoint us. He says he will send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, mostly to Baghdad, explaining that this time it will yield victory because we will have enough troops to keep patrolling hostile neighborhoods after they have been pacified. Thus far, the campaign against the terrorist-insurgents has been like a game of Whack-a-mole, where the bad guys keep popping up in a different location every time. There will be only about one extra U.S. soldier for every 500 residents of Baghdad, however. Will anyone notice the difference? I would expect at least some military progress in the next few months, but what about after that? This "surge" is by its very nature temporary, and the enemy can easily outlast us.
On the PBS post-speech analysis, Generals William Odom and Bernard Trainor both expressed dismay at the lack of any meaningful strategic readjustment. They noted that Bush did make a reference to Iran as the main source of the insurgency, but he didn't offer any way to counter that threat. Nor did he make much of an effort to specify who the enemy is. We are left to conclude that Bush is hoping against hope, putting the rest of his chips on the table to back up his original decision to stake his presidency on the outcome of the war in Iraq. Since we are committing what little is left of the U.S. reserve forces to Iraq, we had better hope like hell that North Korea or China don't challenge us with a precipitous military action. We wouldn't be able to do much about it, short of a nuclear retaliation.
On a political level, the President's strategy is puzzling. He knows that he lacks support in Congress and in the American public for escalating the conflict, so why is he going out on a limb? If the whole point of the war is to demonstrate America's resolve to take the battle to the enemy heartland, why would he risk national unity in this way? If things go awry, domestic divisions might become almost as bad as during the Vietnam War, even though casualties are much lower. As for as relations with the Iraqi government, telling Prime Minister Maliki at this late date that our military commitment is not unlimited is almost beside the point. That should have been made explicit at least a year or two ago. For the record, I support a continued military effort in Iraq, but I doubt that sending more troops at this time will encourage the Iraqi government to pick up the slack.
Dissent in the ranks?
Speaking of the Vietnam War, in The Nation, Marc Cooper depicts what he sees as a burgeoning movement of dissident soldiers opposed to the war in Iraq. Lt. Cmdr. Mark Dearden is leading an "Appeal for Redress," a petition for prompt withdrawal from Iraq that will be submitted to Congress later this month. There is also a Web site with a similar theme that was established by Sgt. Ronn Cantu: soldiervoices.net. There is one big difference between Iraq and Vietnam, of course: this time around, there is no draft!
January 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
ESPN ranks the best ballparks
It would be hard for me to argue with Tim Kurkjian, whose brief article appeared in ESPN The Magazine. Of his favorite park, he writes: "Squeezed into the Fenway section of Boston, it's old, cramped and irritable, but there's no better place, no more intimate setting, for a baseball game." As for the other top five current baseball stadiums, his list matches mine, but in
slightly different [reverse!] order. My rankings (excluding defunct ballparks) are in parentheses; see my Stadium rankings page, which is need of updating.
- Fenway Park (1st -- 8.0)
- Oriole Park at Camden Yards (5th -- 7.4)
- PNC Park (4th -- 7.6)
- Wrigley Field (T 2nd -- 7.8)
- AT&T Park (T 2nd -- 7.8)
Bonds faces more dope charges
This time Barry Bonds is accused of using amphetamines, not steroids. He denied reports that he got the pills from fellow Giant Mark Sweeney, but strangely enough he did not deny testing positive in a drug test last season. He apologized If the charges are corroborated, it could result in revision or nullification of his new contract with the Giants. See ESPN. What next?
Nationals let Robinson go
The Washington Nationals have decided not to offer Frank Robinson a paying job in the front office, and he let it be known -- in a dignified way, of course -- that he is less than pleased about it. See Washington Post. To me, the Nats' front office seems extremely short-sighted, not retaining the services of a guy who has so much goodwill and symbolized the rebirth of baseball in Washington. I hope they reconsider their decision.
January 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Ortega is inaugurated again
Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader who turned Nicaragua into a Marxist-Leninist state in the 1980s, has been inaugurated president. Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales were among the attendees. Ortega had campaigned as a moderate leftist, along the lines of Brazil's "Lula," but his inaugural speech was filled with defiant words aimed at rallying his leftist supporters, as he pledged common cause with Chavez. Ortega "has said he will respect private business and support CAFTA," and so far there is no panic among investors. See CNN.com.
Managua's La Prensa (in Spanish) had a detailed analysis of Ortega's inaugural address. He called for a "new road" for Nicaragua, saying the "neoliberal model" had failed to meet the needs of the country's poor people. He claimed that illiteracy has risen from 12% when he left office in 1990, to 35% now. He vowed to join the "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas" created by Hugo Chavez. He did at least recognize that the DR-CAFTA free trade pact had paved the way for a major increase in Nicaraguan exports, and he tried to ally fears of the business sector. Finally, he made an implicit plea to would-be land squatters to refrain from invading land parcels, saying that institutional mechanisms should be created to redistribute land more evenly.
So what is Ortega really up to? Like Peru's Alan Garcia, I'm sure he is older and wiser, having learned some hard lessons from the 1980s, so he is probably not as radical as he used to be. Like all politicians, he must appeal to his "base" first and foremost, and he knows that he can gain attention and negotiating leverage by raising rhetorical hell every once in a while. Some people say that's all Hugo Chavez is really doing, but I think the ego-inflated Chavez is deadly serious about his agenda.
January 12, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Violence spreads in Bolivia
At least two people died in Cochabamba after supporters of President Evo Morales (mostly peasants) launched fierce protests to demand the resignation of Governor Gov. Manfred Reyes Villa. Gov. Reyes is a former mayor of the city and was a right-wing candidate for president under the "New Republican Force" in 2005. This represents an escalation in the mortal showdown between Morales and the poltical establishment in Bolivia, which currently wields power primarily at the provincial level. See CNN.com. The separatist movements that began in Santa Cruz last year spread to other provinces last month, and Morales has decided to unleash his mobs to fight back and attain complete contro of the country. At issue is widespread resistance to the proposed constitutional revision, which Morales justifies in terms of giving power back to the Indian people, but which would remove almost all restraints on power wielded by the central government in La Paz. In other words, it is the same thing Hugo Chavez is trying to do in Venezuela. According to bolivia.com (in Spanish), the roadblocks put up by the demonstrators have been removed. This situation resembles what has been happening in Oaxaca, Mexico for the past eight months, as leftist demonstrators try to force the incumbent governor to resign.
Latin America country archives
I have upgraded the functionality of the Latin America 2006 archives page by creating separate annual archive pages for each country. [This new archive retrieval system] picks blog posts based on the occurrence of the name near the top of each blog post, so it will omit posts in which the country was mentioned toward the latter part of the blog post. [In fact, for some smaller countries, there may be zero posts for the entire year!] Still, it's a good way to quickly find out the most important things that happened in each country on a year-by-year basis. Country archive pages for 2005 will be coming soon.
January 12, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Hitchens on Ellison's Koran
Rep. Keith Ellison had a clever way to punctuate his high-toned response to the Virgil Goode flap last month: He took the ceremonial oath on a copy of the version of the Koran that Thomas Jefferson edited. (Most Virginians know that Jefferson published his own version of the New Testament, deleting supernatural events and other things he didn't like.) Boy, did Keith Ellison show Virgil Goode!
Or did he? Christopher Hitchens has an apt retort to the pious pleas by new Rep. Keith Ellison for more tolerance in America:
In the first place, concern over Ellison's political and religious background has little to do with his formal adherence to Islam. In his student days and subsequently, he was a supporter of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, a racist and crackpot cult organization that is in schism with the Muslim faith...
Now Rep. Goode doesn't look so bad, in relative terms. (Hat tip to Michael Oliver). Suffice it to say that Mr. Jefferson would not have looked kindly upon such a sect espousing intolerant, absolutist views. Hitchens also notes the irony that Jefferson was the first president to go to war with the Islamic world, launching punitive attacks on the Barbary states in North Africa -- as in "the shores of Tripoli." Jefferson may have been galvanized into action by hearing how Tripoli's envoy to London used the Koran to justify going to war against "infidel" nations, and taking slaves from them.
Hillary losing ground
According to the Washington Times, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's popularity has fallen in several key states. (Hat tip to Patrick Carne.) She has distinguished herself from the rest of her party by voicing clear support for fighting terrorists in the Middle East, so perhaps Bush's "surge" strategy may be dragging her down in the polls, ironically.
January 12, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Reactions to Bush's surge speech
Since President Bush decided to cast aside the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and plunge boldly ahead toward an uncertain victory, he has been criticized across the board. But most people aren't really surprised by his defiant stance, so the response has had the air of resigned fatalism. The partisan pundits of the Right such as Rush Limbaugh are becoming more shrill in their denunciations of war critics, as the polarizing effect of the escalation sharpens. Even they seem to have forgotten the fundamental political requirement of meaningful victory over the Islamo-fascists: that public opinion in this country be mobilized in support of the military effort. Failing that, there is not much point to launching another offensive.
In today's Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski, cites "five flaws" in the President's plan. He criticizes Bush for "demagogic oversimplification" (which I think is a bit harsh) and calls the 21,500-troop surge "a political gimmick of limited tactical significance and no strategic benefit." He also calls attention to the irony of subjecting a "sovereign" government to U.S.-determined benchmarks, and concludes by bemoaning that the United States is becoming a colonial power in a post-colonial era.
Just before Bush's speech, Donald Sensing wrote: "I am, for the first time, deeply pessimistic about the future of this country." He blames the lack of leadership in both parties for the failure to respond creatively to this historical crisis point:
We can still prevail in Iraq, but that would require our president to speak straight to us about what it will take and a Congress that turn its eyes away from "the children" (meaning more big spending programs and federal control of our daily lives) and toward building the military numerically and deciding that once again, partisanship stops at the ocean's edge. But that won't happen, see above.
When one of the most reliable and sensible observers of military affairs writes words like that, you know we are in trouble.
January 13, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Isabel Peron is arrested in Spain
The former Argentine President Isabel Peron was placed under arrest for three hours in Madrid, as part of the Argentine government's investigation into human rights abuses of that era. She may be extradited back to her home country, after 26 years in exile. She succeeded her husband Juan Peron after he died in 1974, but failed to cope with rising political violence and inflation, so the generals decided to depose her in March 1976. It is possible that she bears some responsibility for the infamous "Dirty War," because she signed a decree that authorized a brutal crackdown on leftist dissidents. This gave rise to the formation of the "Argentina Anticommunist Alliance," an instrument of state terror. See CNN.com. Anything Isabel did paled in comparison to the horrors that transpired after she was thrown out of office, however. Isabel was never admired as much as her husband or his first wife Evita, so there are probably not many people willing to go out of their way to defend her.
January 13, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Fred Thompson for president?
That's what Stephen Bainbridge wants, and it sure makes sense to me. (via Instapundit) Thompson had a cautiously upbeat take on President Bush's "surge" speech, which he thought demonstrated a "new attitude." See National Review. (It didn't strike me as very new.) Well, partisan loyalty is a virtue -- at least for those who are running for office. I don't make much of the fact that Thompson is an accomplished actor (in movies and on NBC's Law and Order), but I do think he is the kind of no-nonsense mainstream conservative who could appeal to a wide range of voters. I ranked Newt Gingrich at the top of my list of prospective GOP candidates last month, and Thompson would be a strong second at this point.
January 15, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Bobby Murcer is gravely ill
Former Yankee Bobby Murcer disclosed that he has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor after undergoing tests last month. He was selected for the All Star game five times, and has been a broadcast announcer for the Yankees since retiring. He played a total of 13 seasons with the Yankees from 1965 to 1983. He finished his career with 252 home runs and a .277 batting average. He also played for the Giants and the Cubs. See New York Times. It is especially noteworthy that he replaced fellow Oklahoman Mickey Mantle in center field.
Ballpark controversy in Miami
The Florida Marlins are still pushing hard for a new stadium in downtown Miami, but the state legislature would still have to approve money for it, and that is a very uncertain prospect. The officially designated "blighted neighborhood" would have to be expanded to encompass the plot of land where the stadium would be built so that it would qualify for tax breaks via the Community Redevelopment Agency. Miami Mayor Manny Diaz is touting the economic development benefits, but folks who were hoping that such funds would be used for new low-income housing are very angry, needless to say. See Miami Herald, via Neil deMause, who says this news casts doubt on the whole project; see baseballprospectus.com. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski. Why do stadium projects have to rely upon some obscure tax law gimmick?
Bowl game in Canada?
Matt Bahm informs me that Rogers Centre in Toronto played host to the inaugural International Bowl on January 6, the first time an NCAA football game has been played in Canada. Is this another side-effect of global warming?
UPDATE: Details on the Cincinnati Bearcats' 27-24 victory over the Western Michigan Broncos can be found at: TSN.ca.
January 15, 2007 [LINK / comment]
The roots of multiculturalism
Many people are perplexed at how it came to be than so many Europeans, and even Americans, so deeply loathe their own culture that they are willing to surrender to hostile immigrants, many of whom are Islamic. (You don't have to agree with everything Pat Buchanan says to recognize that such trends are real.) Aren't the artistic and cultural heritage of Western Civilization worth defending? [At Baron Bodissey's Gates of Vienna blog, "Fjordman"] reviews the early 20th Century history of cultural Marxist "critical theory" expounded by the Frankfurt school, as well as the social theorists Antonio Gramsci (Italian), and Georg Lukacs (Hungarian), who are conventionally regarded as the source of this self-hatred. In some universities, those names are as sacrosanct as Saint Thomas Aquinas or Cardinal John Henry Newman are in the Catholic Church. Many leftists concluded that the only way to overthrow capitalism was to subvert its moral underpinnings. [Fjordman] argues convincingly, however, that multiculturalism really goes much further back, and has its origins in the writings of such Enlightenment figures as Montaigne, Voltaire, and Edward Gibbon. As he writes:
In some ways, what is going on now surpasses the downfall of the Roman Empire. It has never happened before in human history that an ethnic group voluntarily finances other ethnic groups to advance their culture on their territory to the detriment of their own people. Native Europeans are paying people who openly declare to be our enemies to eradicate our civilization and are told to celebrate this as tolerance.
I wouldn't go quite that far. Indeed, tolerance and respect for minority rights* are part and parcel of what defines our Anglo-American socio-political heritage. But no value can be taken to an extreme without impinging upon other values, and there has to be a reasonable balance struck. As the book by Richard Posner reminds us, the Lockean liberal principles that underlie our political system should not be regarded as a "suicide pact."
* an appropriate theme to recall on Martin Luther King's birthday.
UPDATE: I had intended to mention that one of the first political theorists to propound the notion that subversive, anti-Western attitudes emanated from the Enlightenment was Eric Voegelin, who wrote The New Science of Politics (1952). In his mind, Marxist revolutionary thought and action had their origins in people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
January 15, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Mountain-top hawks & ravens
On Saturday I ventured into new territory in the western part of Augusta County. First I did a little bit of hiking on the eastern slope of Elliott Knob, and then did the quick boardwalk loop at Augusta Springs, but not much was happening at either place. Then I headed south and climbed along a gravel road to the top of Little North Mountain, passing through Troxel Gap. It was higher than I expected and provided some great views. At the very top near some communications relay towers I came across a very loud group of Ravens that were feeding on a carcass, as well as a Red-tailed hawk. The drive home was very interesting, as I passed through the towns of McKinley and Middlebrook, and saw many picturesque farms. (Later that day, the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Indianapolis Colts, which was fine with me.) Here are the highlights:
- Downy woodpecker
- Golden-crowned kinglet
- Sharp-shinned hawk
- Red-tailed hawk
Speaking of hawks, I saw a Sharp-shinned hawk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, and it's probably the same one that has been menacing birds in our back yard for the past couple days.
Parrots in Brooklyn!?
Yes, it's true. I have read reports about this amazing case of avian adaptability, and learned (via The Neighborhood of God *) that there is a Web site dedicated to them: brooklynparrots.com.
* UPDATE: I was curious about the origin of that blog's name, and (after Googling) I found the poem "Friend In The Desolate Time" by Erik Johan Stagnelius at poemhunter.com. It concludes:
Therefore, rejoice, oh friend, and sing in the darkness of sorrow:
Night is the mother of day, Chaos the neighbor of God.
January 16, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Correa inaugurated in Ecuador
Rafael Correa took the oath of office as president of Ecuador. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega were all present for the ceremonies. That makes three inaugurations in Latin America this month alone: it certainly has been a busy travel month for Latin American presidents! Also attending was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ecuador is a minor oil producer and used to be a member of OPEC, so Iran may be trying to extend its influence in the Third World. The young (age 43) populist leader, who has a Ph.D. in Economics, calls for a "citizens' revolution," saying he wants to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution, as has been done in Venezuela and Bolivia. He blames the traditional parties, but they problem is not that they are too strong, as he says, but that they are too weak and fragmented. The established parties do enjoy the prerogative to name judicial candidates, which seems odd by North American standards. He has attacked the Congress as a "sewer of corruption," which is a dangerous tactic given that the last three presidents of Ecuador have been removed from power by Congress. He also wants to create districts for congressmen, who are currently elected on a nationwide basis. CNN.com and the BBC.
Actually, some of Correa's criticisms may not be far off the mark, but without a strong political organization behind him, it is hard to see how he can get much done. On one hand, he does offer hope for a fresh start for his crisis-weary people. But there remains the big question of whether he will emulate pragmatism à la Brazil's da Silva, or opt for radicalism, à la Venezuela's Chavez. Like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the left-wing populist is straddling a precarious line between the two approaches. In terms of foreign policy, it will be very interesting to see whether Correa condemns the United States as Chavez has done. He says he will not renew the lease on a U.S. air base used for drug traffic monitoring, but he might be persuaded if the offere were sweet enough. Another question is whether he will seek friendly relations with Peru, with which a long border dispute was finally resolved a few years ago. The Ecuador page has been updated, as has the Current situation page.
January 17, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Nationals rebuild roster, slowly
As the deadline approached, the Washington Nationals made offers to the five players who are eligible for arbitration: right-hand pitchers Chad Cordero and John Patterson, outfielders Alex Escobar and Austin Kearns, and infielder Felipe Lopez. (He is expected to shift to second base this year, now that shortstop Cristian Guzman is healed.) Based on the spread between what they are offering and what the players are asking, it seems that Cordero is their top priority, which is appropriate. See MLB.com. Cordero only made $525,000 last year, and will get at least six times that this year. I'm more worried, however, that the Nats might lose Patterson, who is asking more than twice what they are offering. As things presently stand, he is the only solid pitcher in the Nats' rotation, and the pitching staff desperately needs an "anchor." Michael O'Connor and Shawn Hill, two pitchers who showed moments of brillance as rookies last year, also signed contracts, which is great news. They will probably start on a semi-regular basis. The value-conscious Nats front office also signed outfielder Chris Snelling, and pitchers Jerome Williams and Brandon Claussen -- all relative unknowns. (Has Jim Bowden read Moneyball, emulating the Oakland A's?) Long-term prospects are bright, but in the short-term the Nationals are looking more like a minor league team than even the Expos did! Two thousand seven will be a trying time for Nats fans...
Hall of Fame pitcher and former Braves announcer Don Sutton has signed up to do the color commentary for the Nationals on MASN this year. He overcame cancer a couple years ago, and is a classy, admirable guy for the job.
Stadium politicking: Fremont
Oakland Athletics co-owner Lew Wolff promoted his plan for a new ballpark at a meeting of the Fremont City Council. Some fans from Oakland who don't want the team to move showed up to protest. See yahoo.com. Wolff's notion of emulating the neighborhood ambience of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field seems ridiculous to me, especially since they have been touting "Cisco Field" as a high-tech wonder. Hat tip to Bruce Orser.
Stadium politicking: Miami
There is even more buzzing and haggling over the stadium proposal in Miami, and MLB executive Bob DuPuy is getting involved, as ESPN reports. DuPuy said,
Everyone is working very hard to get this realized. The hope is that we can get all the planets and sun and moon aligned and get this to fruition.
Given that he used virtually those same exact words in 2002 (or perhaps 2003, I'll check), referring to the expected relocation of the Expos to Washington -- an excuse for stalling, basically -- one might conclude that a new stadium deal for Miami is two years away. (What is that thing he has with astrology?) Hat tip to Mke Zurawski.
January 17, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Sen. Barack Hussein Obama -- a.k.a., "Barry," as his college friends called him -- has set up an exploratory committee for a presidential campaign in 2008, and from the way the press talks, you'd think he was a shoe-in. All of a sudden, Hillary has lost her status as most likely Democratic nominee. Only three years ago, Obama was in the Illinois state legislature; ironically, he portrays his lack of experience in national politics as an asset. When elected to the U.S. Senate just over two years ago, he promised to serve his entire six-year term. Oh well, nobody's perfect... For more on this superstar's background, see the Washington Post. Aside from vague upbeat platitudes, it's hard to pin him down on policy issues. My main concern is that his fondness for old-style Big Government solutions would drag us back to the 1970s. It would also be a big shame if the first-ever African-American president had no family roots in the African-American experience of slavery and discrimination.
Previous blog posts on Obama: Feb. 7 (2nd item) and Dec. 5 last year, and July 28, 2004 (2nd item; his speech at the Democratic convention).
Someone should write a book on famous "media darlings" in history: Mikhail Gorbachev, John McCain, ...
January 17, 2007 [LINK / comment]
U.S. steps up pressure on Iran
In his speech last week, President Bush mentioned that an extra U.S. aircraft carrier and several batteries of Patriot missiles are being deployed to the Persian Gulf. Also, last week U.S. forces raided Iran's consulate in Irbil, in the Kurdish part of Iraq, and five Iranian officials were arrested on charges of supplying the Shiite insurgents. The gravest scenario, however, is a possible nuclear strike by Israel against Iran's nuclear processing plants. It would be like their spectacular knock-out blow against Iraq's nuclear facilities in 1981, except that it would probably launch World War III if the United States is complicit in it. See BBC. Taken together, those are clear indications of preparation for imminent combat, so Bush is clearly rattling his saber. I doubt, however, that even one in three Americans is aware of that very serious possibility.
So does this mean that Bush has declared "secret war" on Syria and Iran? Steve Clemons at The Washington Note seems to think so. He believes that the U.S. raid in Irbil "may have been designed to try and prompt a military response from Iran -- to generate a casus belli for further American action." (via Instapundit)
I have often argued that Iran must be confronted at some point, if Iraq is to have any chance at stability, quite aside from the nuclear proliferation threat. Prior to overt military action, however, if would be better to lay the diplomatic groundwork, showing that all peaceful alternatives had been exhausted. That is what the Iraq Study Group proposed, and even though the chances for meaningful dialogue are nil, sometimes you still have to make an effort for appearance's sake. The bottom line is that Iran's President Ahmadinejad poses an unacceptable threat to world peace, and it may not be possible to stop him short of war.
Bogus anti-war activism
So much for my effort to look at both sides of key issues. It turns out that the "Appeal for Redress" anti-war movement (which I mentioned in passing last week; scroll down) is to a large extent a concoction of a public relations firm hired by the same old left-wing crowd that we've known all along. (S.A.N.E., etc.) Also, the guy who did their Web site has had a long record of involvement in anti-war demonstrations before he joined the U.S. Navy! He was even active in organizing Louis Farrakhan's "Million Man March." See Mudville Gazette, which refers to this effort to create "fake grassroots" support as "AstroTurfing."
January 18, 2007 [LINK / comment]
"Enabling Act" in Venezuela
In 1934 the German Parliament passed the Enabling Act granting Adolph Hitler virtually unlimited power to rule by decree, supposedly for a four-year emergency period. There was a depression at the time, and many people thought it was the best way to take swift, effective action. Those who disagreed were bullied and beaten into submission, or else murdered. The same thing is now happening in Venezuela, where the voices of dissent are being systematically squelched. (See Jan. 9.) Today the National Assembly voted in favor of a measure that would grant Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months. The vote was unanimous, but that doesn't mean much because the opposition boycotted the last legislative elections in 2005. Chavez says the unlimited decree power is necessary for him to carry out his "21st Century socialist revolution." After a second vote is taken next week, the measure will go into effect, and the legislators will have effectively voted themselves out of a job. See the BBC
This happens as Chavez is in Rio de Janeiro for a MERCOSUR summit meeting. Will the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, and other countries in the region express displeasure at what Chavez is doing to his country? It is indeed a moment of truth for democracy in Latin America.
January 18, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Is Newt Gingrich a "RINO"?
Of course not! He does, however, exhibit a quality that is very rare in the Party of Lincoln these days: forthright, courageous candor. According to GOPUSA.com,
Gingrich blames flawed strategy for the Republicans' loss of both houses of Congress in the November election.
"A base-motivation party inherently, in the long run, drives away the non-base," Gingrich says.
He said he believes the party can build a durable governing majority but first must abandon the strategy of Karl Rove.
If anyone lacking his impeccable conservative credentials had said such words, they would have been driven out of the party. That is simply a reflection of the pathologically thick-headed way of thinking that prevails in the Republican Party at present. (See Nov. 16.) Perhaps Newt's bold words will rouse some docile (or misguided) party loyalists from their dazed stupor before it is too late.
January 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Goodbye Art Buchwald
I was probably the only teenager in my home town who read Art Buchwald's column. Most of the important aspects of the Watergate scandal I learned from him. After I moved to Washington, I kept up with the dizzying social intrigues behind the Reagan Revolution thanks to Art Buchwald. He had a goofy grin that concealed the severe hardships of growing up in a broken family. He was a World War II veteran, part of the Greatest Generation. He wrote in short, simple sentences in the guise of innocence that cloaked sophisticated wit. Some people initially took his deadpan satiric columns at face value, and were left utterly befuddled. Art Buchwald lived a charmed life, sharing his wit and spreading his sly wisdom about the way Washington really works. Nothing against P.J. O'Rourke or Dave Barry, but [very few humor] writers of today's cynical world match his depth of human pathos. Yesterday Art Buchwald died peacefully after spending almost a year in a hospice, and of course the Washington Post has all the details about his wonderful life of humor. I'll miss him very much.
January 20, 2007 [LINK / comment]
U.S. gasohol = expensive tortillas
Here is another reason to be skeptical of using ethanol made from corn to stretch our finite gasoline supplies: Rising demand for corn in the United States has caused tortilla prices to rise so much in Mexico that poor people are having a hard time making ends meet. In response, the government of Felipe Lopez signed an agreement with businesses aimed at putting a lid on the price of tortillas. He puts some of the blame on "price gouging" by wholesalers in Mexico, however, which is an unusual position for a conservative to take. See CNN.com. If only U.S. energy policy were based more on free market principles instead of arbitrary tax breaks and other gimmicks, there would be less pressure on the government of Mexico to respond to the resulting distortions by offsetting measures.
Chavez aids coca growers in Peru
This is not surprising: Hugo Chavez has been providing financial aid to Peruvian coca growers, no doubt with subversive political intentions. This was made public by Congresswoman Elsa Malpartida, one of the leaders of the coca growers movement who are gathering at a convention in the north central city of Tingo Maria attended by Defense Minister Allan Wagner. See La Republica (in Spanish).
January 21, 2007 [LINK / comment]
George at six years, and counting
Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the day we bought George (yes, as in Inauguration Day), so we consider it like a birthday. He has started singing again over the past week or two, but not very loudly or frequently. He has also started to molt, which is typically when birds are at a low energy level and therefore less inclined to sing or engage in other mating displays. For her part, Princess continues to flirt in the window, but not as vigorously as before. Nevertheless, they are both quite healthy and content, to our immense delight.
Here George is playing with the cotton thread that Princess uses to build her nest.
January 22, 2007 [LINK / comment]
The mail bag (getting full)
Mike Zurawski is doing a great job in keeping me up to date with the latest stadium news and commentary. First, Tim Marchand at the New York Sun reports that the 2008 All Star Game will probably be played in Yankee Stadium, in its final year of existence, and bids "Good Riddance to the House Ruth Didn't Build." I would be the last to deny that the 1974-1975 renovations pretty much ruined everything that was special about the original Yankee Stadium, but at least the basic structure was retained. Marchand is way off base, however, when he claims that removal of the supporting columns forced the upper decks to be recessed. Wrong! It may seem that way because additional rows were added in front of the lower deck, and in back of the upper deck, but the front edge of the second and third decks are in the same position as they originally were.
Second, the St. Louis Cardinals are spending $3 million on improvements to Busch Stadium (III) this year, mostly for additional escalators, seating at field level beyond the dugouts, and restrooms. In addition, the Baseball Writers' Association of America asked Major League Baseball not to award the 2009 All-Star Game to the Cardinals unless improvements to the press box are made. See St. Louis Business Journal. Well, excu-use me!
A's owner Lew Wolff says he wants to purchase 25 additional acres near the planned stadium site in Fremont, an apparent gesture to show he is serious about the project. Apparently he came across as too pushy in the recent city council meeting, and he is now trying to backtrack. See insidebayarea.com.
Finally, if Miami officials really are on the verge of a downtown baseball stadium deal, a lot of key people are still in the dark about it. The director of the Community Redevelopment Agency says that Mayor Manny Diaz has not discussed the matter with him. Very strange; see miamitodaynews.com.
Lopez signs with Nats
Felipe Lopez signed a one-year contract worth $3.9 million the Nationals, thereby avoiding arbitration. He will switch from shortstop to second base this year. Chad Cordero, John Patterson, Austin Kearns, and Alex Escobar are still in arbitration. See MLB.com.
DuPuy & astrology
Last week I noted that MLB executive Bob DuPuy used a peculiar phrase in reference to the ongoing stadium negotiations in Miami, and I found when he first used it. According to the July 24, 2003 issue of the Washington Times:
Bob DuPuy, MLB President, said last week the Expos will be moved when "the moon, the stars, the sun and the dollars are all aligned."
I recently raised the anti-spam filter in my e-mail account, so some folks may have had their messages bounced. If so, I'm sorry. I fell behind with e-mail again during the holidays, and am gradually getting caught up. A meaningful subject line will be more likely to grab my attention.
January 22, 2007 [LINK / comment]
GOP compromise in Richmond
Will wonders never cease!? After many months of stalemate, it looks like the Republicans on either side of the Virginia General Assembly have decided to split the difference with each other over the contentious issue of transportation funding. Republicans in the House of Delegates favor a minimalist approach, loathing to subsidize congested urban areas of the state, which would only encourage more people to move there, causing more congestion, ad infinitum... Republicans in the Senate were more sensitive to deficiencies in the state's highway system, and hence were more inclined to pay for new roads and bridges. In a rational world, they would have been able to work out a compromise years ago, but instead they acted like their counterparts on the other side of the state Capitol building belonged to the other party. At long last, they have woken up to the disastrous course they have been on for the past few years and faced up to the possibility of losing power in next fall's state elections. Well, better late than never. As the Washington Post reports, "But another goal remained front and center: to save the Virginia Republican Party." All of a sudden, Gov. Kaine and the Democrats have been put on the defensive, forced to come up with a clear alternative that doesn't bust the budget. Kudos to our economy-minded legislators in Richmond.
Hillary "is in"
As everyone on Earth has been expecting for at least the past six years, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton declared she is running for president. See www.hillaryclinton.com. Even if she weren't a closet socialist, and even if she didn't have that attitude of smug superiority, she would still have a huge problem in connecting on a gut level with the average voter. What's more, her excruciatingly annoying nasal drone resonates like fingernails on a chalkboard. Can't she afford a voice coach? Unless the Republicans at the national level get their act together, however, she just might win in 2008, so conservatives had better prepare themselves for the worst case scenario.
January 23, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Mexico extradites narcos
The Mexican government took a bold step in its recent offensive against the narcotics mafia on Saturday, extraditing four drug traffickers to the United States. The most important of them was Osiel Cardenas Gullen, boss of the Gulf cartel. The police and government agencies are so rife with corruption that it is often difficult to say whether they are serious about dealing with the problem. Until Mexico's Supreme Court reversed itself in November 2005, extradition of suspects facing possible life sentences or the death penalty was prohibited. At about the same time, President Calderon deployed 7,000 troops to Acapulco, which has faced terrible violence from drug traffickers over the past year, undermining the tourist industry. See Washington Post
It is gratifying that Calderon is facing up to the threat to public safety. The narcos in Mexico have tormented many towns and cities with unspeakable barbarity in recent years, including beheadings of police officers and informants. The threat to civilized life is almost on the same level as terrorism. A cooperative gesture such as this must be reciprocated in some meaningful way, and that probably means concessions on immigration policy. If so, I just hope that it is part of a broader reform initiative that leads toward greater bilateral economic cooperation, not just a short-term payback.
January 23, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Mandated intellectual diversity?
Del. Steve Landes sponsored a bill that would "Require that each public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth annually report to the Council the steps the institution is taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas." The Legislative Information System has the full text, which includes specific guidelines on hiring, tenure, and promotion policies, and the creation of an "ombudsman on intellectual diversity." I'm sorry to say it, but this is a misguided effort, in my humble view. As I wrote on Dec. 27, 2005, "Like affirmative action programs, demands by conservatives for equal treatment on campus are likely to backfire." For one thing, imposing such standards would be contrary to the ideal of a free arena of intellectual interchange, and might have a chilling effect on professors. Another problem is that it would further expand the bureaucratization of universities, which has already reached extreme proportions. Finally, giving special protection to conservative scholars would undermine one of their central criticisms of the entitlement-riddled status quo in this country. That would be extremely ironic.
President Bush just began his State of the Union Address with an appropriate tribute to Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
January 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]
The State of the Union, 2007
President Bush came across as sincere and committed to his goals in his State of the Union address last night, but there wasn't much surprise in terms of what he said. This speech was in an even more somber in tone than the one last year, and it seemed shorter and more to the point than most such addresses. He made fittingly gracious gestures to Speaker Pelosi, and he acknowledged the new political realities in Washington, but then went on to make policy proposals as if nothing had changed. Given the election results and recent poll numbers, his call on Democrats in Congress to show the world that America stands united against our enemies seemed rather incongruous. What could he or his speechwriters have been thinking?* The appeal to bipartisan cooperation would have carried a lot more weight when the Republicans were still in the majority. The full text is available at whitehouse.gov.
Surging ahead in Iraq
Iraq was the main topic on the agenda, but Bush said little that might convince skeptics of his plan to send 20,000 more troops there. His warning that failure in Iraq would have "grievous and far-reaching" consequences fell on deaf ears. He must know how weak his domestic support is, so if he really believes that failure to win in Iraq would be so awful, then why in the world is he putting so much at stake? It's the same question I posed two weeks ago. A prudent regard for safeguarding the national interest would make a higher priority of minimizing potential losses, but that is not Bush's style. There is a major disconnect here.
Bush rightly put the Iraq conflict in the broader context of Middle Eastern political trends, as the Bush Doctrine of promoting democratic reform has been thwarted and even reversed over the past year. Bush put the blame squarely on Hezbollah, which has been very busy sabotaging the moderate government in Lebanon, aided by the mullahs in Iran. What is unclear is what we are going to do about this vicious challenge to peace and freedom. In Monday's Washington Post, Jackson Diehl called attention to the abandonment of this central foreign policy goal, as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice tours the Middle East: "Rice has made no real attempt to explain the somersault in her policy, which comes across as a feckless attempt to simplify the increasingly chaotic and dangerous situation across the region." Back in May 2005 there was room for plenty of optimism, but not now. Nevertheless, the struggle against Islamic extremists goes on, and will continue for years and years to come, no matter who occupies the White House.
Bush is seeking a tax hike? On the rich?? Well, he did propose a tax break for those who purchase their own medical insurance, offsetting the loss in revenue by a new tax on high-priced health-care plans that workers receive from their employers. See Washington Post. Hallelujah! On this single matter, Bush rescued the last two years of his term in office by taking a big step forward on a critical issue. I'm not sure about the specifics, but the overall goal of eliminating implicit government subsidies for health insurance is a big step in the right direction. Last month (second item), John Graham wrote a good critique of how health insurance entitlements cause medical costs to soar through the roof. This happens because government policy keeps individuals in the dark about how much their health insurance really costs. Ironically, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and other Democrats reflexively opposed this creative suggestion by Bush -- standing up for Americans in the upper tax brackets! How ironic is that?
Giving Bush credit
It's easy to ridicule Bush, and I don't mean to let him off the hook for some serious errors in military strategy and public policy. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize some of his biggest achievements, such as fighting AIDS and other diseases in Africa and other tropical regions. Likewise, his administration has moved forward on international economic issues, signing trade agreements with several Latin American countries even though their governments are left of center. Then there is the matter of leadership style. In the Washington Post, Dan Balz looked at Bush's remarkable ability to keep bouncing back from adversity. Call it stubbornness, or call it resolve; it's better than indecisive pandering. Even Bush's opponents should acknowledge that it takes a lot of guts to stand up in a room full of hostile faces, knowing that national and world opinion are stacked strongly against you, and still deliver a confident speech, sticking to his guns. How many of us could do that? "Poise" is defined as grace under pressure.
* Jules Crittenden wrote an alternative, extremely blunt speech that Bush should have given: "The State of the Union Is a Disaster." The point being that Bush would probably get more done by frankly admitting failures and setbacks, laying on the line what a dangerous world we live in, and showing a willingness to make hard bargains with Congress to get important things done. (via Instapundit)
Webb snarls back
Virginia's new senator James "Born Fighting" Webb gave the Democrats' response, which was a mixture of reasonable suggestions and caustic sarcasm about Bush's "reckless" decision to liberate Iraq. One can certainly question how the occupation was handled without such below-the-belt smears. Well, it's not like we didn't know that's what he was like before the election...
January 25, 2007 [LINK / comment]
More Fenway Park renovations
The Red Sox are investing more money into improving Fenway Park this year. The main change is the addition of a new concourse deck behind the grandstand on the third base side, which will have a women's rest room for the first time. They are also adding an inside batting practice area for the visiting team on that side, replacing the one under the bleachers, which will leave room for a new restaurant beyond center field. The capacity for this year will be 38,808, more or less. See MLB.com. It is gratifying to see that the owners are putting enough money into Fenway Park to keep it in prime condition for the indefinite future. In five years, it will celebrate its 100th birthday; will Willard Scott take notice?
Nats owners buck the trend
The Washington Post had an interview with Nationals owner Ted Lerner, who explained his refusal to go along with the insane bidding frenzy for free agent players. The Nats will have one of the lowest payrolls this year, and finishing last in the NL East is almost a given; they will be lucky just to finish the season within striking distance of the fourth-place team. As a fan I grumble at his decision to let some of the best Nats players go, especially Livan Hernandez and Alfonso Soriano, but I have to admit that logic is on Lerner's side. Rich people generally get that way by shunning the herd mentality of other investors, and he probably knows what he is doing. Chances are, his team will become solid, consistent winners two or three years down the road. Let's just hope Washington fans are patient enough. The Nationals just signed outfielder Alex Escobar to a one-year contract, which leaves just three key arbitration-eligible players to go: John Patterson, Chad Cordero, and Austin Kearns. Spring training is drawing very close...
The mail bag
Matt Kuchna wrote to say that Cleveland (Municipal) Stadium was not really oversized at the time it was built, given that the city was growing by leaps and bounds back then. How times change, indeed. He also mentioned it always filled to capacity for Browns football games, and often for city high school championship football games as well.
January 25, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Latin America ideology maps
As a fruit of my ongoing research, there is now a complete set of annual "government orientation" (as in ideology) maps on the Latin America Current Situation page, covering every year since 2000. Note that they refer to the president, not congress, so cases of divided government are not represented. In most of Latin America, the executive branch is much stronger than the legislative branch, so that is appropriate. It is remarkable that virtually the entire region has undergone a "reversal of polarity" since 2000. Four countries have remained quite steadfast, however: Mexico and Paraguay (both moderate right), Chile (moderate left), and Venezuela (far left). Ironically, there was also a reversal north of the border, but in the opposite direction!
Roll your mouse over this map to compare the ideological orientation of current governments with the orientations as of the year 2000.
A few discrepancies between these maps and information on the Latin America presidents (chronology) page have been resolved; that page has also been updated for 2007.
Uruguay vs. Argentina
The World Court has ruled in favor of Argentina in the dispute with Uruguay over the construction of a pulp mill along the Uruguay River which separates them. Environmental activists (including some NIMBYs, no doubt) have been putting up roadblocks near the town of Gualeguaychu to protest the pulp mill complex, which is owned by a Finnish company. The vote was 14 to 1, as the judges ruled that the economic harm caused by the roadblocks was not of a grievous nature. See CNN.com. The controversy first attracted world attention back in November 2005 (scroll down). The fact that the neighboring countries are at odds in spite of very similar cultural heritage and government orientation (left of center) illustrates that international conflict is more often rooted in clashes of national interest, rather than a clash of values.
Deadlock in Bolivia
Monday's Washington Post analyzed the political struggle in Bolivia, as President Evo Morales faces growing opposition to his proposed constitutional revision. The 255 members of the constituent assembly have been meeting for the last six months, but thus far they have not even resolved basic procedural issues. In the streets of Santa Cruz, Cochambamba, and other cities, meanwhile, demonstrations by radical supporters of Morales, and those who resist his agenda, have frequently turned violent. As in the case of Venezuela, high energy prices have provided a windfall for a government whose power is derived largely from its ability to deliver goods to poor people. This redistributionist agenda has sharply polarized the country, which has teetered on the brink of civil war in recent years.
Morales denied Tuesday that his government has any ties with the Basque separatist group ETA, but he did admit to meeting with some of their leaders. CNN.com
January 25, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Welcome to Virginia?
An editorial in today's News Leader made a good point about the shoddy condition of most of the rest stops along our Interstate highways. Some of the ones along I-81 are under repair right now, forcing motorists to use the porta-potties. I know of at least one or two locations of former rest stops that have been totally abandoned, even though there are no other such stops for nearly an hour in either direction. That is not the way to make visitors to the Old Dominion feel welcome. It would seem that the big tourist promotion campaign of the 1970s and 1980s -- "Virginia is for lovers" -- has been forgotten, which is very ironic given that this is the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. The state government should have made preparations for a major influx of tourists, but instead the General Assembly got itself bogged down in squabbling over the budget.
That reminds me of another point I keep making: Most of the rest stops become totally inundated at night by truckers who illegally park along the shoulders in order to catch some sleep. The state could raise a lot of money for highway and rest stop improvements if the state police were to fine those truckers.
January 26, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Military crash in Ecuador
The first woman ever to serve as Defense Minister of Ecuador, Guadalupe Larriva, was killed when two helicopters collided during a ceremonial aviation show. Her daughter and several military officers were among the victims. Larriva had served as leader of the Socialist Party of Ecuador, one of several small leftist parties in the fragmented party system of Ecuador. Recently inaugurated President Correa ordered an investigation into what caused the French-designed Gazelle helicopters to collide. See CNN.com. From that article I learned that the name of the new vice president is Lenin Moreno! I wonder if his parents were leftists?
January 27, 2007 [LINK / comment]
More perspectives on the surge
"Hanoi Jane" Fonda and the usual crowd of America-hating defeatists gathered in an anti-war rally on the Mall in Washington today. According to the Washington Post, "The crowd, while exuberant, seemed significantly smaller than the half-million people organizers said were present and may not have matched similar protests in September 2005 and January 2003." Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. John Murtha, and other anti-war members of Congress toured Iraq and Pakistan. What kind of message is that sending to the world? The U.S. Senate [Foreign Relations Committee approved] a resolution harshly critical of Bush's decision to increase in troop levels in Iraq, and Sen. John Hagel was the only Republican to vote "yes." The alternative resolution offered by Sen. John Warner introduced an alternative resolution expressing opposition to the "surge," but in milder terms. I tend to agree with Warner that the surge is a mistake, but there is no point in passing a resolution against it unless there is some concrete action behind it, such as a funding cut. Otherwise, it's an empty gesture. In wartime, deference is granted to the commander in chief in all but the most extreme circumstances.
So how should otherwise hawkish skeptics of the surge (like me) react? In Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer -- a hawk's hawk -- suggests "A Plausible Plan B." It is designed to put pressure on the Iraqi government by making a credible threat of a fall-back option in case they don't cooperate. We wouldn't be pulling out entirely, but we would reduce our commitment to maintain security in the streets of Baghdad if the political factions in Iraq don't begin to accommodate each other. Since the ball is largely in the court of Prime Minister Maliki's government now, that is about the best we can hope for.
After recent pessimistic comments, Donald Sensing has a more upbeat take now that Gen. David Petraeus is about to take over command in Iraq, revamping the previous hesitant strategy. Sensing writes, "In counterinsurgency, as with any other kind of fight, the main thing is killing the insurgents, for which civil assistance to Iraqis must play the supporting, not primary role."
In response to a chiding complaint from Andrew Sullivan that he was not stating his opinions on the Surge and Iraq war strategy more generally, Glenn Reynolds said he is less concerned about troop numbers than what actions they will undertake. That's a pretty reasonable statement, but not particularly bold.
Speaking of the new actions to be taken by our forces in Iraq, some people were cheered by the announcement that they will begin to aggressively pursue Iranian agents suspected of aiding insurgents in Iraq. At Belmont Club, however, the previous policy was derided as a "catch and release" program that was based on the futile desire "to send a conciliatory signal to Iran." Why does that approach sound so familiar? Oh yeah, because that has been the Bush administration policy regarding illegal crossings of the Mexican border.
Daniel Drezner issues a stern mea culpa about his early support for the war, almost reminding me of the Shiites who flagellate themselves in religious processions. Well, I too feel bad that my trust in the Bush administration turned out to be misplaced, but I am certainly not ready to concede that all is lost. In checking my own archives, I was surprised not to find any clear explanation of my reasons for supporting the war. Partly that is because I did not really begin blogging on a consistent basis until the latter months of 2004. The first time I expressed concern that things might be heading in the wrong direction was in April 2004.
China militarizes space
It would be a good idea to view the difficult strategic choices in Iraq in the context of the global situation, especially now that China has tested an anti-satellite missile. This marks a major escalation of the military space technology race, and puts the global U.S. strategic posture at serious risk. Our forces are so dependent on instantaneous communications and real-time intelligence that the mere threat of a disruption in our spy satellite network would force a complete revision of contingency war planning. See Washington Post.
S.D. soldier blogger
While browsing through my brother Dan's superb vermilliontanagers.com Web site, I came across the myspace blog of a U.S. Army medic serving in Iraq: Sgt. Kirstin "BT" Hugo. Her kind of fighting spirit should remind us that our brave, highly-trained troops in Iraq will keep up the pressure on the bad guys through thick and thin. In a long war like this one, that's what counts the most.
January 29, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Protest roadblock in Bolivia
A citizens group in the town of Camiri in south-east Bolivia has blockaded the road between Santa Cruz and Paraguay, protesting that President Morales decrees regarding the natural gas have not gone far enough. The blockade is part of a general strike in the town, and is of of indefinite duration. The protesters want the state oil firm Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales de Bolivia to be "refounded," meaning that all hydrocarban properties would be fully nationalized. On Friday, Juan Carlos Ortiz, the head of YPFB, resigned because of a smear campaign being waged against him, part of a dispute over policy. See BBC and El Diario (in Spanish, no permalink). To me, this seems like a staged event designed by supporters of Morales to make him seem like a reasonable centrist leader holding the country together.
Bolivian-born Miguel Centellas, who has been too busy to blog lately (!), posted a detailed analysis of the situation in Bolivia. [It seems that Morales has alienated an even bigger share of the population by granting recognition to an Aymara Indian paramilitary group called the "Ponchos Rojos." Dumb, dumb, dumb. It's as if he were inviting the political establishment to launch a coup against him.]
January 29, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Happy Milton Friedman Day
This evening PBS rebroadcast a documentary on the life and ideas of Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, who did so much to reverse the slide toward left-liberal statist economic policies as the founder of the "Chicago School" of economics. His monetarist theories had a powerful influence on Paul Volcker, who deserves much of the credit for stopping inflation while serving as Federal Reserve chairman from 1979 to 1987. (He was succeeded by Alan Greenspan.) The program showed that Friedman was not only brilliant thinker and eloquent speaker, but also a warm and caring human being who was interested in other people -- quite the opposite of the "heartless" caricature to which economic conservatives are usually subjected. Actually, Friedman considered himself a classical liberal, as in libertarian, an intellectual tradition that he did much to resurrect. (Try explaining that to a typical "movement conservative" of the present day...) The PBS program was shown on the occasion of "Milton Friedman Day," for which a Web site was created. Link via Cafe Hayek*, [where Robert Russell assails the often-slanderous Paul Krugman for accusing Friedman of intellectual dishonesty, via Michael Oliver. Actually, Krugman praises Friedman as a great man, but argued that his role as a free-market policy advocate gradually came to undermine his role as an academic. It's a fair point.]
* (as in Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian free market economic philosopher) Coming soon: a review of Friedman's classic book Capitalism and Freedom, in the context of the recent decline of free market economics in the Western world.
January 29, 2007 [LINK / comment]
War and home front sacrifice
One of the qualms expressed by many of us who supported the liberation of Iraq is that President Bush has been too reluctant to ask the American people to sacrifice for the war effort. (For example, see Aug. 7, 2006 and Jan. 28, 2005.) It suggests that this country may not have the necessary willpower to win the long struggle against Islamic extremism. In his January 16 interview on the PBS News Hour, President Bush once again let slip the opportunity, when was asked by Jim Lehrer why he hasn't called upon the American people to make sacrifices for the war effort:
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.
Now, here in Washington when I say, "What do you mean by that?," they say, "Well, why don't you raise their taxes; that'll cause there to be a sacrifice." I strongly oppose that. If that's the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I'm not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy. And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life's moving on, that they're able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table. And you know, I am interested and open-minded to the suggestion, but this is going to be -
Good grief. I hate to admit it, but leftist Ruben Bolling's latest Tom the Dancing Bug comic aptly mocks Bush's complacent attitude on the need to sacrifice. Do images of carnage upset you? Change the channel! Feel guilty about not serving in the military? Let poor folks volunteer! Worried about paying for the war? Borrow the money from the Chi-Coms! Cut back on driving to conserve gas? Hell, no! In all seriousness, I sure hope Bush really is "open-minded" about suggestions. He will have to make a serious attitude adjustment one of these days, and so will the country.
January 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Nats tour future stadium
For me, there's no better way to start the day than to look at the front page of the Washington Post and see a photo of the progress being made at the the stadium construction site. Ryan Zimmerman, Nook Logan, and Mike O'Connor took a tour of the site on Thursday, wrapping up an eight-day goodwill "caravan" of the D.C. metropolitan area and points south. A day or two earlier, Zimmerman and his teammates paid a visit to Virginia Beach, his home town. Regarding the team's daunting prospects in the post-Alfonso Soriano era, Zimmerman brushed aside the gloom-and-doomers and insisted, "But we can win without him." See Washington Post. Good luck! (Seriously.)
Sosa: back to minors
Sammy Sosa signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers, hoping for a chance to lift his lifetime home run total from 588 to the symbolic 600 mark. The deal includes complicated incentive provisions; well, a job's a job. He could have played for the Nationals last year, you may recall. Sammy says he feels "born again," and at age 38 there's no reason why he couldn't play a few more years, as long as he keeps his body clean. See MLB.com. "Pharmaceutically adjusted," I'd say his current total is more like 470. He became noticeably bulkier after the famous 1998 season, at which point his lifetime total was 273.
The mail bag
There is a news aggregator of sorts that chronicles milestones in the construction of the New Yankee Stadium at PlanNYC.org. The latest news is that New York City's share of the cost of the new Yankee Stadium "has increased to $209 million from $160 million, and to $172 million from $92 million for the new Mets Stadium." Surprise, surprise! (Hat tip to Bruce Orser.)
The Minnesota Twins are enjoying a big increase in season ticket sales, because of fan enthusiasm over the team's winning record in recent years, and because corporations want to lock in priority when prime seats for the Twins' future stadium go on sale, presumably in 2010. See twincities.bizjournals.com. (Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.)
In the off season, most baseball fans have other things on their minds, but I noticed that a couple guys took the time to register for this Web site and add their impressions of old ballparks: Lou Norbeck for Griffith Stadium, and Drew Fullam for Shibe Park. Thanks, guys!
January 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Mobs occupy Ecuador Congress
A large number of supporters of new President Rafael Correa pushed their way into the chambers of Ecuador's Congress today, showing that they won't put up with any foot-dragging by the political establishment. Correa wants to convene a people's assembly to rewrite the constitution, just as Chavez did in Venezuela, and Morales is trying to do in Bolivia. When the crowds of protesters became violent, the police decided it was better to evacuate the legislators than risk bloodshed. Correa later said he "regretted" those actions by his supporters. Oddly, his party did not run any candidate in the elections last year. See BBC. It is hard to imagine that a highly educated leader such as Correa would be willing to subject his country to chaos just to get his agenda passed, but that seems to be what is happening. Whether the escalation is at his behest, or whether other subversive forces (based in Caracas?) are behind the tumult, it is clear that Ecuador is headed toward a showdown very soon. My original impression that Correa would sober up and tone down the inflammatory rhetoric after assuming office was apparently mistaken.
January 31, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Yankee Stadium to host All Stars
As had been rumored, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig announced that the 2008 All Star Game will be played in Yankee Stadium, in its final year of existence. Mayor Bloomberg expects the big event to attract more than 175,000 visitors to New York, which is three times the capacity of Yankee Stadium. (Is that much standing room available?) The Bronx Basilica was also the site of All Star Games in 1939, 1960, and 1977, so it will match Cleveland Stadium for the record of hosting the most All Star Games. The new version of Busch Stadium will host the event in 2009, and the venues after that are yet to be decided. PETCO Park, Citizens Bank Park, Citi Field (the Mets' future home), Chase Field, and the Nationals' future home* are the leading candidates. See MLB.com.
Well, at least the second most famous sporting palace in human history (after the one in Rome) will go out with the honors that are its due. I know, many traditionalists refuse to consider the rebuilt post-1976 version of Yankee Stadium as authentic, but it's still the same place that Babe, Lou, Joe, and Mickey used to play. Knowing that it is widely considered "sacred ground," the Yankees plan to maintain the existing field as a memorial park, not paving it over to make a parking lot.
* That article mistakenly states "The new ballpark in Washington, D.C. ... is slated to also open in 2009..." Last I heard, it's still on track to open fourteen months from now. The article rightly calls attention to all of the silly circus-like side shows to the All Star Game that have been created over the past couple decades, making it more of a Hollywood spectacle than an athletic competition. In that respect, it reminds me of the Super Bowl!
Oakland fans resist relocation
The good people of Oakland are not taking the proposed relocation to Fremont lying down; an "Oakland Athletics Fan Coalition" has mobilized to keep the A's where they have been for the past 39 years. Their oaklandfans.com Web site provide arguments to show that Oakland can continue to support the team, blaming the recent owners for a lack of commitment, and they present the pros and cons of various stadium site alternatives: one in "uptown" Oakland, one on the waterfront, one next to the existing Coliseum, and the one in Fremont. Other proposed sites have already been rejected. (Hat tip to Bruce Orser.)
January 31, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Chavez becomes dictator pro tem
Two weeks after a preliminary vote, the National Assembly voted to definitively confer upon President Hugo Chavez almost unlimited powers to rule by decree for the next 18 months. The rationale is that such power is necessary to complete the transition to a "socialist" society, even though Chavez's party has had a virtual monopoly on legislative power ever since the opposition boycotted the 2005 elections. This surrender of power by the legislative branch exemplifies the common attitude in Latin America, on both the left and right, that the only way to get things done is for a strong leader to take charge. As a result of this grab for power and what it portends, thousands of middle and upper class Venezuelans are already fleeing to Spain, the United States, and other safe havens. Not to worry, though: "Officials say he has no intention of turning Venezuela into a communist state, arguing that freedom of speech and religion will all be safe." (Then why are they refusing to renew licenses to broadcasters who oppose Chavez?) Nationalization of oil properties owned by Exxon, BP, and Chevron is expected in coming months, and that will start a real firestorm as American stockholders get hit in the pocketbook. The new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, warned that Chavez's "behaviour is threatening to democracies in the region." That's putting it mildly. See BBC. I was a bit surprised to learn that they are actually calling the measure an "enabling law," harking back to Hitlerian Germany in 1933, as I noted on Jan. 18.
Randy Paul believes that Brazil's need for Bolivian natural gas will constrain Lula's objection to Chavez's assault on democracy in the region. He also blames the victims for the disgraceful turn of events in Venezuela: "The opposition to Chavez bears a fair share of the responsibility for the state of affairs. The opposition's boycott of the congressional elections in 2005 greased the skids for Chavez's consolidation of power." That is in part true as a factual statement, but represents a terrible moral judgement, in essence excusing evil.
Back in the Land of Liberty, meanwhile, Joe Kennedy keeps plugging the CITGO reduced-price heating oil program courtesy of "our friends in Venezuela." Columnist Froma Harrop (as published in today's News Virginian) opines that Kennedy "is to be praised" for promoting this scheme of Chavez, a transparent attempt to subvert our society. Now there's a contrarian pundit! She poo-poos the idea that Chavez poses a real threat to regional security, portraying him as nothing more than a buffoonish clown. Well, I too have noted that aspect of his bizarre personality, comparing him to Mussolini, but the instability he is already unleashing in nearby countries -- Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and possibly Mexico -- leave no doubt that he already is a serious threat. Ms. Harrop suggests that Chavez will lose power as soon as oil prices head back down. She does not know what she is talking about.
January 31, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Surge sharpens divisions in GOP
As Senators Hagel and Warner, and other Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to express dissent toward the Bush administration on Iraq war policy and other issues, the Washington Post reports that a rupture is taking place within party ranks. "Every man for himself!" It is terribly sad to see a president lose the respect of his own party, and at this point I don't know what could be done to repair the damage. For whatever reason, Bush seems deaf to concerns voiced by elder statesmen within his party, and seems unaware of the consequences of ignoring them. Again, I say this as someone who strongly disagrees with Bush in several respects but who believes nevertheless that he at least deserves respect for the office he holds. Republican ultra-loyalist Hugh Hewitt interviewed GOP House deputy whip Eric Cantor, and came away with a glum assessment for the prospects for party discipline in Congress. I think Sen. Warner's call for "benchmarks" to assess military-political progress in Iraq is off base, which is uncharacteristic for him.
Monthly links this year:
Culture & Travel
Science & Technology