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March 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]

"To transform a nation"

On C-SPAN today, Roger Simon (of politico.com) called attention to a passage from the February 2007 speech in which Barack Obama announced his presidential candidacy. Obama explained that he was entering the race "Not just to hold an office, but to transform a nation." * [Italics added.] Two years later, we are learning that those were not just poetic, inspirational words, but an earnest declaration of his actual intentions. Based on his proposed FY 2010 budget and the policy priorities he has laid out, it is clear that Obama seeks to:

  • Vastly expand the role of the Federal government in running the economy.
  • Use the tax system to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.
  • Centralize public policy-making in Washington, pushing the 50 states to conform.
  • Make it easier for labor unions to control the workplace without secret-ballot elections.
  • Gain control over the financial sector, so that the Federal government will decide who does and doesn't get access to credit.

It is truly a breathtaking, audacious agenda for change. Yet beyond the question of whether or not these changes are good or necessary is the question of Is this what the American voters wanted? First, let's look at historical precedent. In November 1994, the Republican Party won a majority in both houses of Congress for the first time since the mid-1950s. Under the leadership of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the "Republican Revolution" set out to reform public policy according to the principles of prudence and free markets. Even President Clinton was obliged to acknowledge that "the era of Big Government is over." But did the American people really give a mandate for such sweeping change? A number of public opinion polls back then suggested a negative answer to that question. Many Americans were just fed up with Clinton's initial fecklessness and angry at the prospect of nationalized health care, and few bothered to read Gingrich's "Contract With America." Being largely sympathetic to those conservative reforms, I would have said, "Too bad, they voted for it." Now the proverbial shoe is on the other foot.

President Obama has the will, the power, the means, and the opportunity (once in a lifetime!) to effectuate a radical transformation of American society. He clearly believes he has a mandate, and he seems better prepared to spend his "political capital" than his predecessor was after his reelection in 2004. If Obama is successful, this country may be unrecognizable a decade from now to those of us living today. Indeed, conservatism as a philosophy of governance may become as quaint and irrelevant as Marxism was in the United States for most of the 20th Century. That is not to say that the Conservative Movement -- the political force, as distinguished from the intellectual tradition -- will wither away, however. Indeed, the Right will probably gain in numerical strength as more and more Americans wake up to what the President's idea of "transform" entails. But once we have passed a certain threshold and the younger generation has been convinced that Big Government is the answer, there won't be much that opponents can do to stop the juggernaut of statism.

To prevent that from happening, the Republican Party needs to put on its collective "thinking cap" right away, ditch the simplistic slogans and cliches, compromise on the relatively harmless aspects of the Obama agenda (to show that they are not just "the party of NOPE"), and formulate a clear, sophisticated long-term policy alternative, i.e, one that goes beyond tax cuts.

* SOURCE: Obama for America, Change We Can Believe In (2008), p. 201

Here's some historical irony: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the epitome of rock-solid, common-sense moderate conservatism, chose as the title of his autobiography of his years in the White House, Mandate for Change.


March 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Bowden resigns from Nationals

Until a month ago, this news would have been unthinkable, but after the recruiting scandal that came to light, it wasn't much of a surprise in the end. At a somber team meeting on Sunday morning, Jim Bowden announced that he was resigning as general manager of the Washington Nationals. He said he didn't want to be "a distraction" as the 2009 season approaches, claiming to be innocent of recruitment irregularities. Bowden's assistant Jose Rijo was fired last week, as well, but that may not be the end of it, as Bowden and others are still under investigation. No replacement for Bowden has been named as yet. See MLB.com.

This is a heavy blow for the Nationals, just when they were making progress toward assembling a winning team. Losing the guy who was at the center of all personnel decisions throws everything into turmoil and uncertainty. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell: "Bowden was a good servant with brutal marching orders, but he was also a man who many in baseball assumed had an expiration date stamped on his back." Bowden served a very useful purpose when the team was on a shoe-string budget, but his quirky behavior made many people suspicious of his motives. Somebody had to take responsibility for the team's miserable performance last year, and Bowden was at the top of the list.

Back in April 2005 when the Nationals were still in their (relocated) infancy, I praised Jim Bowden as a "hero" for acquiring talented players such as Vinny Castilla and Esteban Loaiza. Now I'm bummed.

More ballpark news

Mike Zurawski informs me of even more bad news for the Florida Marlins: Two activists have filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, seeking to void the preliminary Baseball Stadium Agreement passed last year because the meetings were not open to the public. See miamiherald.com, via ballparkdigest.com. Even worse, Miami city commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who was regarded as the crucial "swing vote" needed for final approval, is now demanding $500,000,000 in development money for her part of Miami as the price for her vote. She missed the last vote on Feb. 13 because she was on maternity leave. See fieldofschemes.com.

Also from Mike: some helicopter photos of the New Yankee Stadium's Monument Park can be seen at wcbs880.com.

Steven Poppe has learned that the Hiroshima Carp are building a new stadium to replace their ballpark that dates from the late 1950s. It is expected to open this season. See the Japan Times.


March 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Remembering Paul Harvey

The grandfather of modern news-talk radio has signed off the airwaves for the final time. The legendary radio commentator Paul Harvey passed away at the age of 90, ending a career in broadcasting that goes back over a half century. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1918, and during his high school years he hung around KVOO radio station, launching his spectacular career through sheer gumption. His reputation slowly grew during the 1960s as he made Chicago his home, and his influence gradually spread from the Midwest across the country. His career was capped in 2005 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. See ABC Radio Networks.

And now ... the rest of the story: I vividly remember Paul Harvey's daily TV news briefs when I was growing up in South Dakota. Harvey's flat Midwestern accent, with just a hint of a drawl, was familiar and comfortable to the people I grew up with, and his Main Street sensibility resonated deeply. He was critical of President Richard Nixon's adversaries during the Watergate scandal, but he finally realized that Nixon was a blemish on the nation's honor and had to go. Harvey's afternoon radio bit -- "The Rest of the Story" -- was always full of fascinating and thought-provoking historical vignettes that ended with a good moral of the story -- sometimes conservative, sometimes just plain virtuous.

Relentless optimism and devotion to informing the public were what characterized Harvey's radio and TV career. He has been warmly praised by contemporary radio pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, but they just never learned the deeply sincere quality of personal grace that Harvey exuded. You might disagree with Paul Harvey, and you might think his faith in American Main Street values was deluded or outmoded, but hardly anyone actually disliked him. Many millions of Americans will remember him very fondly for several decades to come.

Goo-oo-ood day!

Limbaugh vs. Steele

The comment by Rahm Emanuel that Rush Limbaugh has become the de facto leader of the Republican Party has provoked a tiff between El Rushbo and the actual GOP leader. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that Limbaugh is an "entertainer" who often makes ugly remarks, a mild criticism that sounds about right to me. I think Rush still has an important role to play in advancing the conservative cause, but because the Conservative Movement of late is so intolerant of any deviation from right-wing orthodoxy, Steele's words rubbed many Republicans the wrong way. See politico.com.

Too bad. I hope this doesn't mean that Steele's days at RNC are numbered. He is exactly the kind of forward-looking -- i.e., not dogmatic -- conservative leader that the GOP needs so desperately.

How low, Dow Jones?

In the context of the Obama administration's plans to "transform" our nation, the news that the Dow Jones dropped another 300 points today -- to less than 7,000, for the first time since 1997 -- casts a pall over the future of capitalism -- or does it? Don't forget that some observers may be deliberately talking the market down in hopes of cashing in on some bargains. On the other hand, the risk to investors posed by President Obama's proposed large-scale redistribution of wealth may drive the market down much further.


Cabinet nominee updates

President Obama has named two more replacement cabinet nominees, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services (instead of Tom Daschle), and former Washington Gov. Gary Locke as Secretary of Commerce (instead of Bill Richardson and then Judd Gregg). Sebelius is well regarded as competent, but her association with pro-choice leaders has angered anti-abortion groups. She will have less authority over health care nationalization reform than Daschle would have had, as someone else will serve as head of the White House Office of Health Reform. See the Washington Post.

Accordingly, I have updated the tables of basic information on the Cabinet, Congress, and the Virginia government, all of which appear in the right column of the Politics blog page.


March 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

"Snow birds" adapt to weather

March certainly came in like a lion this year, with five or so inches of snow overnight here in Staunton, and temperatures falling into the single-digits this evening. We have had plenty of Goldfinches and Juncos all winter here, while the number of White-throated sparrows is less than in past years. Today, we had all three of those species out back, along with others desperately scratching the snow to find food underneath. What exactly are "snow birds"? Canadian singer Anne Murray became famous with her song "Snow Bird," which usually refers to Snow buntings up in Canada. In the Lower 48 states, the term most often refers to Juncos.

I was also surprised to see a Grackle in one of the bushes out back today, the first I have seen in Staunton all winter. I have occasional seen flocks of them in the countryside, and Brenda Tekin reported a large flock near Stuarts Draft.

Goldfinch, snow

Dark-eyed Junco, eating sunflower seeds in the snow. Roll mouse over this image to see a Goldfinch (in its winter plumage, of course) at the thistle feeder, and click on it to see the latter's close relative, the Pine Siskin, at the same place about two weeks ago.

Passenger Pigeon

The American Passenger Pigeon became extinct near the end of the 19th Century, a tragic story that is recounted at wildbirds.org. Amazingly, that species used to be so abundant that huge swarms of them would darken the skies in the Eastern United States at certain times of year.


March 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Democrat to challenge Landes

For the first time since he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1995, Del. Steve Landes will face a challenge from a Democratic candidate this fall. (There have been some independent candidates who ran against him.) Dr. Greg Marrow, an optometrist from Rockingham County, announced that he will run for the 25th District seat. According to the News Leader, Marrow considers himself to be a conservative Democrat, and wants to bring "green jobs" to the Shenandoah Valley. Del. Landes was quoted as saying he welcomes the competition, and I agree that it is a healthy thing for political discourse. The 25th District is safely Republican, so I'm not too worried, but I'm not complacent, either. The article mentions that Del. Ben Cline (24th District) will be facing a Democratic challenger, and the Democrats are trying to recruit someone to run against Del. Chris Saxman (20th District) as well.

Rush the Entertainer

On Saturday I wrote that "I was hoping Rush would say something about the need for the conservative movement to engage in critical thinking and dialogue, and to resist the tendency to excoriate anyone who strays from the True Path." After thinking about it some more, I decided that was just not a very serious prospect. Rush is intelligent, as are most of his listeners, but he is primarily a cheerleader for the conservative cause, or even an entertainer, as Michael Steele said and as Rush freely admits. Intellectual discourse is not his bag. That being said, Rush could at least help heal the Republican Party rift, if he really wanted to.


March 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Manny Ramirez + Dodgers = (heart)heart

"Reunited, and it feels so good..." The prolonged soap-opera flirtation between Manny Ramirez and the L.A. Dodgers finally had a happy ending yesterday morning, as he signed a two-year contract worth $45 million. It's not much of a raise compared to what he had been earning, and this is yet another example of the hardships suffered by Americans as a result of the economic recession. (?) The final negotiations took place at the home of team owner Frank McCourt, in Malibu, attended by super-agent Scott Boras and manager Joe Torre. See L.A. Times (hat tip to Bruce Orser) and MLB.com. Manny will appear in a news conference at 12:30 ET this afternoon.

Ye Olde Mailbag

Once again, I've been remiss in my e-mail correspondence. Michael Fronda made a comparison between the new and old Yankee Stadiums based on some aerial photos taken in January when they were snow-covered. I'm still trying to nail down the details on the new version before it officially opens for business next month (!!!), and a lot of fans are really excited about it.

Brian Sullivan asks: "How far is new Yankee stadium below street level as opposed to old yankee stadium? How far is CitiField below street level as opposed to Shea Stadium?" Good questions. I estimate the field at Yankee Stadium was about eight feet below ground level until 1973, and about 15 feet below from 1976 on, but otherwise, I'm not sure. He also wondered "How is it that New Yankee Stadium does not have to follow the official rules of baseball regarding its construction?" Simple answer: historical precedent in The Bronx.

Mike Winner asks: "I have a seat from Comiskey and I would really like to know where my seat was located at the old Comiskey Stadium. It has the number 327 on the back and it is a fold up green seat. If you can help, it would be greatly appreciated. I have an old diagram, but it doesn't get very detailed."

Does anybody out there have a clue about any of these queries? Please let me know, or post a blog comment.


March 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Bob McDonnell visits Staunton

(Actually, it was in Verona, but that's close enough.) The Republican candidate for governor (and attorney general until he resigned last week), Bob McDonnell, spoke to a group of 60 or so supporters at a meeting this afternoon at the Augusta County Government Center. It was a rousing pep talk, hitting all the main points with just the right emphasis and balance. Some of the party activists may have felt uncomfortable when McDonnell said that mobilizing the party "Base" was not enough to win elections: "Where we failed to connect was with the independent voters."

Of course, some Republicans are appalled at the very idea of appealing to independents, falsely equating it with "compromising on principles," or some such claptrap. Fortunately, Bob McDonnell is smart enough to learn the right lesson from the recent string of Republican defeats, and he is focusing his campaign on tackling real-world problems faced by Virginians. He is carefully downplaying the ideological factor, which is a delicate maneuver given the precarious state of the Republican Party today, but I think he is just the right person to pull it off. He is calm and level-headed, exuding the qualities of responsibile leadership, and he is very sincere. Someone asked McDonnell about a Washington Post article which noted that "McDonnell stayed silent on almost every bedrock conservative issue -- abortion, guns, the sanctity of marriage, school choice -- the very issues that served as the foundation for his 20-year political career." Did this mean he was "forsaking" social conservatism? Absolutely not! He strongly reaffirmed his conservative credentials -- both social and economic -- and argued that there is no inherent contradiction between being conservative and attracting non-partisan voters.

To reach out to potential supporters outside the Republican "Base," McDonnell is emphasizing transportation, education, and attracting private investment in manufacturing, among other things. He also lamented the failures of the Republicans in Washington to live up to economic conservative standards during the past eight years, causing many voters to defect from the GOP. Finally, McDonnell highlighted the need to campaign with a positive message: "Smile!" smile Ironically, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, Dickie Cranwell, said that McDonnell "is from the extreme wing of the Republican Party." Ha!

In sum, this is a candidacy that can bring more people into the Republican column and WIN for a change! Lord knows, the country is in bad enough shape that we need some fresh, honest voices on the conservative side.

McDonnell was in Staunton last September for a community clean-up project in which I pitched in, part of a crime fighting initiative.

Tax evasion, again?

After the recent revelation that Tim Geithner, Tom Daschle, and even Sarah Palin failed to pay their full share of taxes, you'd think this theme was just about exhausted. Wrong! Yet another Obama cabinet-level official owes back taxes, about $10,000 altogether. The new Special Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, has to make amends with the IRS. See FOX News.

Stocks tank again

The Dow Jones fell another 281 points today, to less than 6,600 points, losing 4% of the component stocks' aggregate value in just one session. This was prompted by news that General Motors may be forced to declare bankruptcy, and perhaps to a lesser extent by President Obama's strong push for nationalized health care. See CNN.com.

Fannie Mae debacle

As our economy slides into a deeper and deeper recession, it's worth remembering how we got here. Somehow, the Democratic leaders in Congress seem to have forgotten about their role in demanding that the qualifications for getting mortgage loans should be lowered so that poor people could buy their own homes. This was the risky policy shift that led to the collapse of the U.S. financial system last year, bringing the capitalist system to its knees. For background, read the New York Times article from 1999 entitled "Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending." The e-mail message I received from Rich Raab was verified by snopes.com.


March 6, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Are Frederick's days numbered?

Apparently so. In yet another setback for the recently-ascendant "grassroots" faction of the Virginia Republican Party, chairman Jeff Frederick has been told to either resign or face removal by a three-fourths majority vote by the State Central Committee on April 4. The embattled young (33) chairman vows to fight to retain his position. Among the party leaders who have spoken out against Frederick is Michael Wade, chairman of the 3rd Congressional District Republican Committee. Second District Chairman Gary Byler is among those who remain loyal to Frederick; see the Washington Times*.

This situation may cause collateral damage to the party: Bob McDonnell, the GOP candidate for governor, has implied that he favors a change in leadership, eliciting outrage from certain members of "The Base." They won't go down without a fight, either.

Frederick withstood a challenge to his leadership status at the Republican "Advance" last December, and when Walter Curt resigned as RPV Treasurer in January, calling the state party "dysfunctional," it was quite a slap at Frederick. The grumblings of dissent escalated into a roar last month, when Frederick committed a cybernetic indiscretion about a possible defection to the GOP by one of two state senators -- either Ralph Northam or John Miller -- tipping off Democratic leaders in time so that those two stayed put. J.R. Hoeft drew attention to that gaffe last month, and on Wednesday he elaborated, alluding to comments by Frederick regarding Charles Darwin. I was unaware of that.

So who would take Frederick's place as RPV chair? Waldo suggests two familiar names: Paul Harris and Tom Davis. Either would be competent and well-tempered for the position, but both men have serious liabilities, however. Waldo thinks he'll win his $100 bet with Shaun Kenney, that Frederick would seek reelection to his seat in the House of Delegates in spite of his earlier pledges to the contrary (see July 10; scroll down). As of last month, Frederick was throwing his support to his wife Amy; see voteamy.com.

I've been skeptical of Frederick all along, but was willing to give him a chance, and frankly I don't see the need for such haste in replacing him. I'm not sure that the Twitter gaffe alone would warrant his ouster, so I assume that there must be a number of other problems behind the scenes. For example, because of poor fundraising, RPV may have to lay off some staff members. In due course, the grownups in the party will reassert themselves, and the lengthy process of rebuilding a solid party foundation can begin.

* Hat tip to Richard Viguerie.


March 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

AT&T Park update

AT&T Park The AT&T Park diagrams have been updated, with a more accurate profile, lights, and exterior details. The upper deck is about ten feet deeper than I previously estimated, and the bleachers are about 20 feet deeper. Finally, the grandstand near the left field corner bends more sharply than I had thought. That leaves one more California ballpark to go: The Stick!

The mail bag

Marlene Vogelsang, who is the chair of the local SABR chapter in the Bay Area, is in search of information about energy use/consumption at ballparks ... lights, cooking, ultra-bright scoreboard monitors, etc. With all the emphasis on saving money during the economic slump, I'm sure someone is looking into that. If anyone is aware of such research, please let us know.

A fan named Mike asked me about updating the Side-by-side stadium comparison page, to include the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, and I've been meaning to do that for a few months. Done!

Finally, a fan "yet to be named" asks a very good question: "Why were additional football seats never put in the vacant field area of Three Rivers Stadium that was left when converting from baseball?" Does anyone from Pittsburgh or elsewhere know?


March 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Obama's rhetorical dilemma

How is a president who campaigned on a theme of sky-high hopes supposed to govern when the country's economic prospects are bleaker than they have been since the Great Depression? Today's Washington Post detailed what an awkward and painful situation it is for the President, as the unemployment rate has risen to 8.1 percent. The measures to track down and eliminate wasteful government spending are a nice gesture, but woefully inadequate to resolve the budget crisis in any meaningful way. It reminds me of President Jimmy Carter's earnest but doomed administrative reform initiatives during his first year in office. What Obama really needs to do to lift economic hopes is take some concrete action that shows he respects private investors as something other than targets for wealth redistribution.

In times like these, sometimes a little gallows humor is what's called for, to show the suffering masses that he really does understand how desperate they are. In that sense, Obama could borrow a phrase from FDR and adapt it to the times:

The only thing we have to hope for ... is hope itself!

Jeff Frederick update

At Bearing Drift, Jim Hoeft posted his first video blog on the subject of Jeff Frederick being pressured into resigning. (See Friday.) It's a fair analysis, but I didn't agree with some of the lessons he drew for the Republican Party as a whole, so I commented:

I don't think the problem is with the GOP "message" and whether our leaders stick to "core principles" (itself a bone of contention these days), but rather, the lack of elementary political competence. Too many of our candidates have a campaign style aimed at the GOP "Base," often offending less-partisan voters in the process. Because of the excessive emphasis on ideology and principles, meanwhile, the very ideas of building a winning coalition or tackling real-world problems are viewed with suspicion these days. Frederick exemplifies both of those pathologies, and the party's current approach to elections and legislating is just plain dumb.

March 10, 2009 [LINK / comment]

World Baseball Classic 2009

The second World Baseball Classic opened last week, and in Pool A (playing in Tokyo), Japan and (South) Korea are advancing to the next round, whereas the two slots from Pool B (playing in Mexico City) are still up for grabs. In Pool C (playing in Toronto), the United States and Venezuela are guaranteed berths in the next round, and will play tomorrow night to decide which team is higher seeded. I happened to be watching the game on Saturday when Adam Dunn hit a home run that just cleared the fence in left-center field; he made it look easy. (I can't wait to watch him play in Washington this year!)

In Pool D (playing in San Juan, Puerto Rico), the home team already earned a berth, while the Netherlands just beat the Dominican Republic 2-1 to qualify. After ten scoreless innings, the Dominicans scored a run on an error in the top of the 11th, and the Dutchmen (!??) scored the winning run in the bottom of the inning on an error by first baseman Willy Aybar. See MLB.com. What a heartbreaker; the guys in Santo Domingo must be crying in their cerveza tonight...

The first WBC was held three years ago, to mixed reviews in the United States. The Major League bosses fear that their star players may get injured before the regular season even begins. On ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" show this morning, Jayson Stark complained about how the WBC is messing up spring training, robbing fans in Florida (and Arizona) of the opportunity to see their heroes play in practice games. He noted in particular that none of the Red Sox position players yesterday had ever spent a full year with the team. In his mind, charging regular ticket prices to see a bunch of second-stringers play is a form of "consumer fraud."

Tokyo Dome quick fix

Tokyo Dome The World Baseball Classic has been a good occasion for doing some quick touchups to the diagrams for the stadiums in which it is being played. Accordingly, the Tokyo Dome page is now updated with a few minor corrections to that diagram. Stay tuned for more WBC venue updates...

A-Rod gets hip surgery

Not long after admitting that he used steroids several years ago, Alex Rodriguez learned that he needed surgery to repair the labrum in his right hip. Yesterday he went under the scalpel, successfully, but the time required for rehabilitation means that he will be out for the next six to nine weeks. He'll probably miss about a month or so from the regular season. He will need further surgery to correct a second type of joint impingement after this season; that procedure will require a few months of rehabilitation, which is why they postponed it. A-Rod will be replaced at third base by Cody Ransom, most likely. See MLB.com.

No surgery for me

Meanwhile, today was my last day of physical therapy, after two full months, and I'm happy to report that of my arm function is nearly back to normal. (The original injury was last July 3, when I threw out the first pitch at a local game.) Sometimes my shoulder is sore, and it remains a little stiff, but at least I'm able to use my right hand to control the mouse once again! Like A-Rod, I have a slightly torn labrum, though in the right shoulder, and I'm told that I'll be able to live with it without ($$$) surgery. Golf yes, playing softball maybe. In any case, you can look forward to more frequent diagram revisions in the weeks and months to come...


March 11, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Venezuela beats Team U.S.A.

Two days after losing to the United States by nine runs, the Venezuelan national team beat the "gringos" and claimed victory in the Pool C grouping today in Toronto. The score of today's game was 5-3, but the result doesn't matter that much, because both teams are advancing to the next round, in Miami, beginning on March 14. See MLB.com.


March 11, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Chavez confronts rice industry

The falling price of crude oil on world markets has put the regime of Hugo Chavez under heavy pressure. His very "legitimacy" (in the crude, Marxist sense of the word) depends above all on delivering necessities to poor people, cheaply and reliably. The oil windfall has made possible all sorts of subsidies, and the longer such market distortions last, the more people get used to them, and the harder it is for a populist government to make the necessary adjustments when cash reserves run low. At the same time, the various government decrees which oblige nominally private enterprises to meet production quotas become harder and harder to enforce as people begin hoarding scarce goods and a black market emerges.

That seems to be the situation in Venezuela today, and Hugo Chavez must be getting pretty desperate, because he has picked a fight with Venezuela's rice-milling industry, which includes multinational corporations such as Cargill. Last week the President-for-Life sent troops in to occupy rice mills after the companies resisted his decrees. See BBC. This doesn't signify a major crisis for his regime, but it is a clear sign of trouble that he, being as headstrong and vain as any dictator, will almost certainly ignore. It's just a matter of time before his system crumbles, but that might be another five, ten, or even twenty years.

Chavez will certainly use his national team's victory over the United States in the first round of the World Baseball Classic to rally the nationalistic spirit of his supporters. It may even take some of the pressure off, temporarily. See today's baseball blog post.


March 11, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Israelis "bork" Charles Freeman

"Who is Charles Freeman?" you ask. Until yesterday, he was President Obama's choice to become chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He had been recommended by the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, but his reputation for forthright speaking out on controversial issues clashed with the low-key, discrete style of the Intelligence Community. That, plus his lobbying activities for businesses associated with Saudi Arabia and China, proved to be fatal liabilities. What sank his appointment for good was some rather intense lobbying by the Israeli lobby in Washington, which will not countenance any attempt by American officials to be even-handed in the dispute with the Palestinians. See the Washington Post.

This story has been virtually ignored by the Mainstream Media, and I only found out about it from reading Andrew Sullivan's blog. He has been positively obsessed with this case for the past few days, and is clearly sympathetic to Freeman. I don't know enough to weigh in, but I do know that the effective veto power wielded by the Israeli lobby over certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy is contrary to our national interest, and potentially dangerous.

Dumping on the GOP

More sharp criticism of the Republicans: Frank Schaeffer wrote "Open Letter to the Republican Traitors (From a Former Republican)" for the Huffington Post, accusing the GOP of being "dedicated to sabotaging the American future." Just because they're trying to save what's left of the free market system?? There is probably some validity to what he is arguing, because the many in the GOP did behave very badly during the Bush administration, but calling Republicans in general "traitors" is going way over the top. Blindly acquiescing to the Obama agenda, as Schaeffer expects congressional Republicans to do, is not the responsible thing to do. I know there are many like me who consider themselves part of the loyal opposition. Those like Schaeffer who have switched parties can be among the most strident and least reasonable people. Hat tip to Richmond Democrat (except that he messed up the link, forcing me to search).

Labor union power grab

I'm glad to see Virginia's two leading Republican statewide candidates (Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling) make a high-profile denunciation of the "Employee Free Choice Act" -- a.k.a., "Card Check." It would allow individual workers to "vote" on unionization by signing a card, rather than with a secret ballot, thereby facilitating coercive tactics by union activists. It is, as they say, a grave threat to personal liberty, and to free enterprise. See Bearing Drift.


March 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Estadio Hiram Bithorn

Hiram Bithorn Stadium El diagrama del Estadio Hiram Bithorn, sitio del Clásico Mundial de Beisbol 2009, ha sido actualizado. (That last word is Spanish for "updated.") Previously I only had the pre-2004 version, when the dimensions were significantly shorter. To bring it up to Major League standards for the two years that the Montreal Expos played there, they moved the outfield fences back by about 10-20 feet.

In this year's World Baseball Classic, Mexico and Cuba have already qualified for the next round, in Pool 1. The two teams are playing in Hiram Bithorn Stadium right now to determine which one will be seeded higher; Cuba is ahead, 7-4, in the fifth inning. I don't care much for the playoff format in the WBC, as the sixth game is often not necessary, and in the case of Pool A, Japan should have been declared the winner after Game 5, because it had a 2-0 record, compared to Korea's 2-1 record. But because they had to play Game 6, Korea ended up on top, with a 3-1 record, ahead of Japan's 2-1 record. The full bracket/scoreboard is at MLB.com.

So who was Hiram Bithorn? He became the first Major League player from Puerto Rico, pitching for the Chicago Cubs in 1942, 1943 (his best year), and 1946, with three years of service in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. In 1947 he played for the Chicago White Sox, but was taken out after only two innings because of a sore arm, and that turned out to be the end of his MLB career. He later played in the Mexican winter league, and at the end of 1951 he was shot by a Mexican policeman in disputed circumstances. It was a brief, tragic career, but he inspired many other greats from Puerto Rico such as Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Bernie Williams, and Carlos Delgado. For a more complete biography, see Sports Illustrated from 2003, when the Expos started playing on the semi-tropical island.

COMMENT by: Ryan Brister, of Rochester, NY on Mar 13, 2009 14:52 PM
Cuba and Mexico were actually playing in Mexico City, at Foro Sol, which is located inside a racetrack. Hiram Bithorn played host to Pool D (PR, DR, Panama and the Netherlands).

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Mar 18, 2009 20:12 PM
D'oh!!


March 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Oakland? Fremont? San Jose?

The situation in the Bay Area regarding a possible new stadium for the Athletics is getting stranger and even more confusing, if that's possible. A few days ago, the mayor of Oakland, Ron Dellums,* wrote a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig expressing hope that the A's would stay in Oakland, vaguely alluding to President Obama's economic stimulus plans, but without making any commitment to helping build a new stadium. The owner of the franchise, Lew Wolff, criticized this communication as insincere grandstanding. That may well be, but it's as though Wolff is burning his bridges to the city of Oakland, which is a foolish negotiating stance, especially since negotiations with Fremont recently stalled. Then it was learned that San Jose, which is the A's third Bay Area option, will hold a preliminary vote on a new stadium at the city council meeting on April 7. In response, however, Wolff discouraged San Jose mayor Chuck Reed from lobbying Major League Baseball to transfer the territorial rights to his city from the Giants to the A's. Why? What's he afraid of? See MLB.com.

As talks with Fremont fizzled last month, the co-owner of the franchise, Keith Wolff, glumly lamented that "The process is just endless." Indeed it is!

* Until a few years ago, Dellums was a member of the House of Representatives, known for being on the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Mariners get Chad Cordero

The Seattle Mariners just signed right-hand pitcher Chad Cordero, who is still undergoing rehabilitation on his pitching arm, to a Minor League contract. As MLB.com reports, "If Cordero can return to his peak form, the Mariners will have pulled off a steal of a signing." The recent departure of Jim Bowden from the Washington Nationals front office (see Mar. 2) raised hopes that Cordero might return to Washington because he had offended Cordero last year, but such was not the case.


March 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Tax revolt in Augusta County!

For the past several weeks, there has been increased popular agitation about the increase in real estate property assessments in Augusta County. On Wednesday evening I showed up at the Augusta County Government Center, in hopes of seeing the Board of Supervisors meeting on this issue, but the crowd was too big to let everybody inside, so I eventually gave up and went home.* Seeing the famous tax revolt up close and personal was quite enjoyable, nonetheless. Just as I expected, there was a character dressed up as Patrick Henry (or Thomas Jefferson, perhaps), wearing a white wig and breeches.

When you see all those middle-class folks standing up for a cause they believe to be just, it does put a lump in your throat. It was exactly these kind of modest, independent, hard-working rural "yeomen" that Mr. Jefferson believed were the ideal foundation for American democracy. They are the people who make this country great, and they deserve to be heard, and to be treated fairly. That's my emotional reaction.

Augusta County Govt Center tax revolt

March 11, 7:15 P.M.: Augusta County residents "petitioning the government for the redress of grievances," one of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Give me tax relief or give me death!

My logical reaction to this expression of public sentiment is a little different. The rank and file citizens I saw were all well-behaved and respectful, but the same is not true of the people who have been leading them. Instead of focusing on the law and on the facts, airing their grievances in a constructive way, they focused on personalities and feelings. Rather than addressing the issue in a calm, rational way, they whipped up passions. Ironically, it's the same approach to politics that launched the careers of "community organizers" like Barack Obama.

My sense is that the protest leaders are ignoring some fundamental facts about this issue. For one thing, the Board of Supervisors is legally obliged to accept the property value assessments, precisely because this is a technical issue that should not be subjected to the passions of politics. The Board of Supervisors does have the power to adjust the rate of taxation that is applied to the assessed values, but they cannot alter those values per se. This is a crucial distinction. As the News Leader editorial on Tuesday said, "the county Board of Supervisors has been advised by County Attorney Patrick Morgan that the board cannot roll back the 2009 assessments." The state attorney general's office has issued a similar legal opinion. In short, the protesters are demanding that their elected representatives violate their oath to uphold the law.

At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday night, the motion made by Supervisor Tracy Pyles that would have committed the board to throw out the reassessments in defiance of state law was rejected by a vote of 5-2. Jeremy Shifflett was the only supervisor to side with Pyles; he explained that he went with his "gut feeling." A local farmer who ran for the Board of Supervisors in 2007, Michael Shull, lamented that the property tax hikes would make it impossible to keep small farms in the family. They make a good point, but I am deeply troubled by the notion that subverting the rule of law is the only solution. In that regard, I was proud that South River Supervisor David Beyeler flatly refused to buckle under pressure to go back on his solemn vow as a public official. See News Leader and the News Virginian.

* Before I left I picked up some literature at the table near the entrance, including a reprint of the Congressional Record from 1948, entitled "Communism in Action." Also was a page with a quote from a book entitled Will Russia Invade America?

Tax evasion? What-ever!

A familiar theme in the early months of the Obama administration has been the failure of several top appointees to pay their full share of taxes, and the same thing has popped up in this case. There was some controversy about the release of information concerning an unpaid tax liability owed to the county by Francis Chester -- the guy who is leading the "Augusta Citizens Against Unfair Assessments" -- amounting to about $2,500. Chris Graham of Augusta Free Press was suspicious about the timing of this news, which reminded him of "Scooter Libby and Karl Rove outing Valerie Plame." That's a bit of a stretch. I don't know about the legalities of tax record privacy, but that was useful information for people to know. Then on Wednesday this week the News Virginian reported that Mr. Chester owes the IRS over $100,000 in back taxes. His explanation is plausible, but it does undercut his position just a tad. Having such a guy serve as the leader of a movement to resist taxes is like having Cheech Marin lead the movement to liberalize marijuana laws.

Property owners of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your claims.

Somehow the local newspapers seem to be missing a crucial aspect of this drama: the man who is leading the tax revolt, Francis Chester, was the plaintiff's lawyer when the former Chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee, Kurt Michael, took the dispute over the mass meeting to the Circuit Court last May. Likewise, the newspapers don't seem to be picking up on the fact that the publicity behind this anti-tax movement is being run those very same "grassroots" activists who tried and failed to unseat state senator Emmett Hanger in 2007. Once again, they are trying hard to "energize the base" while disparaging rational dialogue, notwithstanding the fact that this strategy has been failing for the Republicans for the last few years. Will they ever learn?

More SWAC follies

Because of repeated loud disruptions to meetings caused by the "usual suspects" here in SWAC-land, the Augusta County Republican Committee was given notice that it cannot hold its meetings in the the Augusta County Government Center any more, unless it pays for security guards. What's more, I am told by multiple reliable sources, the two SWAC ringleaders have been reprimanded and/or censured by higher-level party officials. Well, it's not like we didn't try to warn them over and over of the trouble that was brewing...

In a further twist on the party alignments in local politics, "SWAC Girl" wonders why the local Democrats are not voicing support for Supervisor (and fellow party member) Tracy Pyles, who has served as the point man on the board for the tax revolt. Will she lead her faction of Republicans to the Democratic side, or will she persuade Pyles to join the Republicans and try to shut out the four incumbent Republican board members? The possibilities are endless.

Another gaffe by Steele

RNC Chairman Michael Steele was interviewed for GQ magazine, and said that abortion is an "individual choice," while insisting he is pro-life. His views are probably very close to my own on that touchy subject (and on the subject of Rush Limbaugh), but he should know better than to make such a blunt comment at a delicate moment such as this. See politico.com. At this rate, Steele may not last much longer than RPV Chairman Jeff Frederick.

Obama resists earmarks

... next year, that is! He admits that the pork-loaded $410 billion "omnibus" appropriations bill is not perfect, but it's the best Congress can do for now, he says. Well, so much for his earnest intentions on reforming the budget. Just wait till next year! See Washington Post.


March 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Foro Sol: oddity in Mexico City

I mentioned on Feb. 7 that I have already made diagrams for all of the stadiums that will host WBC games this year, except for the one in Mexico City. Well, guess what? As of today, there is a new diagram (and page) for Foro Sol Foro Sol, which has been home of the Mexican Diablos Rojos (Red Devils) since 2000.

Foro Sol is certainly a weird place to play baseball, because of the odd configuration of the grandstand. There is a big gap in it near third base, and I used to think that the left field grandstand moved to fill that gap when baseball was not played there, but that is apparently not the case. Ironically, the Red Devils used to play in a very nice baseball stadium: Parque Deportivo Seguro Social. (That means "Social Security Sports Park.") The older ballpark opened in 1955, with a seating capacity of 30,000. It was located straight south of downtown Mexico City, and unbeknownst to me, it was demolished in 2003. (D'oh!!! camera) As I was researching the history of Foro Sol and its predecessor, I came across some wonderful photos of Mexico City's older baseball stadium at flickr.com.

WBC Round Two

The four teams that made it to Pool 2 play later today at Dolphin Stadium in Miami: Netherlands vs. Venezuela, and United States vs. Puerto Rico. Tomorrow the Pool 1 games begin at PETCO Park in San Diego: Japan vs. Cuba, and Mexico vs. Korea.

COMMENT by: Chris Knight, of Kansas City, KS on Mar 14, 2009 17:25 PM
The deal about the gap as I saw noted in the page is for the Road Course of Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez which is a multi purpose Race Facility mainly used as a Road Course. (The Facility has the oval you mentioned and is sometimes used for 1/4 mile drag races) There is a Dogleg section of the track that uses the stadium and was used by The Old Champ Car World Series Until 2005. Their 2006 and 2007 Races there didn't use that section of track. A Layout of the CCWS Diagram is here at http://www.libreacceso.org/mov-turismo-autodromo.html and the Google maps of the location shows the track going through it: http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=19.405137,-99.095417&z=17&t=h&hl=en Simply put this is a much different take of a Multi-Purpose Stadium.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Mar 18, 2009 20:10 PM
Chris, thanks for that great tip. I knew about the racetrack that encircles Foro Sol, but couldn't figure out what that wide dirt track that goes from third base to center field was. I thought maybe it had something to do with one of the concerts. I wonder if the auto racing events overlap with baseball season? Multi-purpose indeed!

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Mar 18, 2009 20:45 PM
Dave Sweeney found a video of that 2005 race going right through Foro Sol, but only with a few glimpses of the stadium itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4XI-JA8SxA


March 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Mexican Army counterattacks

In a desperate attempt to regain control of its northern border region from the drug lords, the Mexican government sent about 2,000 more Army troops into the border city of Juarez this past week. (It is located right across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.) 3,000 additional troops will arrive there by Sunday, bringing the total number of security forces in that city to 8,500 soldiers and 2,300 federal agents. (See AP / washingtonpost.com.) It's a virtual war, against a well-funded and well-armed militia force, but so far it's not getting nearly enough attention in the United States.

Fortunately, President Obama is starting to pay more attention to the escalating drug war than he was last month, offering to transfer five U.S. helicopters to Mexico right away. Having to deal with the economic situation has left him without enough time to focus on the crisis along the Rio Grande. As a further gesture of support for Mexico's war on narcotrafficking, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Mexico later this month.

Meanwhile, the drug lords are matching the government's numerical escalation of the war with an escalation of barbarity. A few days ago, five severed human heads were found in separate styrofoam coolers in the state of Jalisco, north of Guadalajara. The inscribed messages left no doubt that it was a gesture of intimidation toward anyone who is thinking about informing the police of the mafia whereabouts. See CNN.com. Part of the difficulty faced by the Mexican government is the rising rate of desertions; soldiers aren't paid very much, and their morale is low. According to CNN.com,

But during the past six years, some 150,000 soldiers have deserted, with their departures disproportionately affecting forces stationed in Guerrero, Sinaloa, Michoacan and Chihuahua.

This further escalation of the armed struggle along the U.S.-Mexican border is posing a security threat to the United States. One consequences is that the issue of gun control has been raised in a new context; some people claim that a large portion of the semiautomatic rifles used by the narcotics gangs come from the United States, while others dispute that. In Washington, meanwhile, the National Guard as a last resort to counter the threat of drug violence in Mexico spilling over the border. The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, asked President Obama to send 1,000 National Guard troops to patrol the Mexico border, and at a House of Representatives hearing, Roger Rufe of the Department of Homeland Security sketched preliminary plans for such a deployment. See BBC.

The last time Mexico presented such a threat to U.S. security was during the Mexican Revolution, from 1910 to 1920. Will a present-day General Pershing have to lead an expedition into the desert mountains of Mexico to hunt down the bad guys? Probably not, but we have to remember that the present government of Mexico is on very friendly terms with us, and we can't afford to let the opportunity slip away. In 2012, a leftist president might very well be elected president in Mexico, and cooperation on narcotics and security matters would almost certainly be sharply curtailed.

As recently as five years ago, the primary threat to Mexico's internal security was in the southern states of Oaxaca (see Oct. 2006) and Chiapas (in 2003), where leftist guerrilla forces were operating. That threat seems to have subsided for the time being, but Mexico remains very vulnerable to internal subversion. A big part of the problem is the political stalemate that has lingered ever since the disputed presidential election of July 2006. When Felipe Calderon was sworn in as president in December 2006, the left-wing party led by losing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador tried to prevent the inaugural ceremonies from taking place. Disunity in the government has crippled the ability of the security forces to carry out their duties.

What Americans need to understand is that increased material support for Mexico's war against drugs from the United States can only go so far. The political factions in Mexico will either set aside their differences and pull together against the common enemy of subversion, or they will let their country sink further into chaos. We can encourage Mexicans to develop stiffer spines, but whether they actually do so is ultimately out of our hands.

But there is something we can do that would deeply impress Mexicans: Get serious about our own national drug addiction problem. As long as we pin the blame on foreign suppliers while making excuses for our country's high consumption of illegal drugs, it will be hard to get Mexicans or those in other countries to take us seriously. Indeed, a Mexican cabinet official made that very point in a speech this week. Contrary to what many people think, the answer lies not so much in "cracking down" on drug users with police and Federal agents, but rather in mustering the moral strength to ostracize actors and musical entertainers who glamorize drug use. As long as smoking joints and popping pills is considered to be cool, the market for drugs will inevitably perpetuate a virtual civil war in Mexico and other countries in Latin America that produce narcotics.


March 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Frum - Rush: with love?

In the current Newsweek magazine, conservative writer David Frum mounts a broad critique of radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, that self-described "lovable fuzz-ball" who delights in tweaking liberal Democrats. Frum points out that the problem Limbaugh exemplifies is not just that the Republican Party and the conservative movement are bereft of compelling ideas these days, it is that they are stylistically obnoxious, going out of their way to alienate more and more Americans. President Obama may be utterly wrong on every major issue, leading the country on the road to perdition, but at least he comes across as sincere, calm, and reasonable. In contrast, the newly-crowned de facto leader of the Republican Party

is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, [and] dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence -- exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. [Italics added.]

Ouch! Frum then offers an insight that has troubling implications: When the GOP falters, Rush prospers -- and vice versa. This means that Limbaugh actually has a financial incentive in Republican setbacks. Moreover, Frum writes, "Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s." When he said he wants President Obama to fail, without clarifying that he wanted Obama's program to fail, Rush "drew maximum attention to himself, offered maximum benefit to the administration and did maximum harm to the party he claims to support."

But no Republican of importance can challenge Rush without being taken to task. Mild criticism from RNC Chairman Michael Steele was followed by humble apology, and likewise from South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who implied that anyone who (like Rush) wants President Obama to fail is an "idiot" * As the new voice of the GOP, Rush even challenged President Barack Obama to a debate -- in his studio and on his terms, of course. His tongue-in-cheek style just isn't as cute as it used to be, though.

When a political party and movement is on the ropes such as is the case with the Republicans and conservatives right now, nothing is more important than having wise, courageous leadership. I still have a nostalgic soft spot in my heart for Rush, but these days he makes me cringe at least as often as he makes me smile. Unless he can manage enough introspection to recognize his own personal faults, and the faults embodied by so many zealous and intemperate conservative Republicans these days, I'm afraid that the GOP coalition will become even narrower, at a time when it desperately needs to be enlarged. If so, this country will keep sliding by default toward a socialist Gomorrah, without an effective force to mitigate or reverse this trend.

* See, for example, Huffington Post.

Conservative "zombies"?

A similar line of critique, though from the Left, was made by Thomas Frank in the Wall Street Journal. He attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, and observed an unseemly attitude of "capitalist self-pity" even from such sensible conservatives as Mitt Romney. Frank drew a parallel between the "zombie" financial institutions burdened by toxic assets and the transformation of conservatism into a "movement of the living dead." It's a funny metaphor, imagining right-wing partisans who stagger forward spouting discredited slogans with no other purpose than to obstruct efforts to save the economy. (Frank was the author of What's the Matter With Kansas, which I reviewed in October 2004.) Hat tip to Matthew Poteat.

Many self-described conservatives no doubt fit Frank's description, and I would argue that it is a manifestation of the widespread "cognitive dissonance" in the Republican Party today: The very same people who castigate others for alleged deviation from "conservative principles" are by and large the most loyal supporters of former President George W. Bush, whose credentials as a conservative are exceedingly weak. The "zombie" description certainly does not apply, however, to the genuine intellectual conservatives who comment on politics: George Will, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, David Frum, and many others. In time, more and more rank-and-file members of the Republican Party will wake up to the phoniness that pervades the Party of Lincoln today, and start paying heed to the thoughtful critiques.

On a similar note, two weeks ago, the Washington Post detailed the "cleansing" that the conservative movement is undergoing right now, as various leaders in Congress shape the terms of the internal debate. Former Sen. Newt Gingrich, former Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia are among the leading voices in this difficult and agonizing process. There are others, such as Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes, and while I think they may have important insights to offer, I hope they don't take a leading role in articulating a new, post-Bush conservative agenda.

Bolling visits Staunton

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling visited Staunton this morning, at the "Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro" (SAW, formerly "SWAC") Republican breakfast, and Steve Kijak was there to get some photos. Lt. Gov. Bolling is a fine, worthy public servant, and he deserves reelection. My students were very impressed by his mastery of parliamentary procedure in presiding over the Virginia Senate during our field trip last month, expeditiously reading the bill titles, allowing brief statements from senators, and conducting the final votes in a highly efficient manner.


March 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Leftists win in El Salvador

El Salvador flag Yet another Latin American country has taken a sharp turn toward the left. Mauricio Funes of El Salvador's former Marxist rebel party (the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN) has won the country's presidential election by a very thin margin, 51%-49%. He defeated Rodrigo Avila, a former chief of the National Police and head of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). Funes is a former television news anchor, and this was his first campaign for public office. During the campaign, Funes compared himself to Barack Obama, calling for "change" and national unity. He denied charges that his government would become a pawn of Venezuela, or that he would be controlled by FMLN bosses, and he pledged to pursue good relations with the United States. Funes also tried hard to allay fears among the propertied classes. The Washington Post quoted him as saying,

Nothing traumatizing is going to happen here. ... There will be no confiscation, we will not reverse any privatizations. We will not jeopardize private property. There is no reason at this moment for fear.

For his part, the losing candidate Avila pledged to carry out a "vigilant and constructive opposition." Any time political power changes hands in a country that has a recent memory of civil war, people are bound to get nervous. So far, it seems that Funes is serious about not doing anything to risk going back to the days of widespread political violence.

Since Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in 1999, ten more Latin American countries have elected leftist candidates to be president. In some cases they are moderates, such as Alan Garcia of Peru, and in some cases they are radicals such as Rafael Correa of Ecuador. (See the Latin America Presidents page, newly updated.) The next election in Latin America will be in Panama, this coming May.

Lula meets Pres. Obama

The president of Brazil, "Lula" da Silva, paid a visit to Washington on Saturday, and met Pres. Obama for the first time. They talked about trade and energy issues as they both get ready for the G-20 summit on April 2 in London, and the Summit of the Americas, to be held in mid-April in Trinidad and Tobago. The two national leaders are virtual soul-mates, blending a strong devotion to leftist ideology on behalf of poor people, while carrying out their duties in a pragmatic, cautious way. Brazil's economy remains solid, in spite of the financial turmoil, but that could be an effect of the recent discovery of large oil deposits off Brazil's Atlantic coast. The future looks bright for them. For some reason, da Silva's visit received scant coverage in the mainstream media. See whitehouse.gov.

Biden to Latin America

Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Chile and Costa Rica from March 27-30 in preparation for the Summit of the Americas. See whitehouse.gov.


March 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Mounting pressure on Frederick

All five Virginia Republican congressmen have written RPV Chairman Jeff Frederick, asking him to resign: Rep. Randy Forbes (4th District), Frank Wolf (10th District), Robert Wittman (1st District), Bob Goodlatte (6th District), and Eric Cantor (5th District). So they are finally catching on to what lies behind the catastrophe that has befallen the Grand Old Party. Frederick is obviously doomed as party leader at this point, but neither he nor his supporters are giving up. As reported in the Richmond Times Dispatch, he is positioning himself as champion of the little guy, battling the stodgy old titans of the Establishment:

All the status quo, all the top-down opposed me.

...
Clearly it is the sentiment of the grass-roots membership of the party to move in another direction.

"Clearly?" Well, not exactly. Those folks who actually pay attention to Virginia politics know all too well about the pattern of disruption and interference brought about by the "SWAC" leadership in recent years, culminating in the Augusta County Republican "Meeting of Mass Destruction" last May. Let's take a trip down memory lane and see how the "grassroots" operate, up close and personal:

To sum it up, the candidate who won the election for party chairman by a wide margin (141-103) was later deemed to have lost by higher party committees, who cited procedural irregularities but ignored a fact-finding report and refused to let Dr. Roller speak. In other words, it was top-down power that kept an incumbent party chairman in his position, contrary to the will of the people -- the exact opposite of what "grassroots politics" is supposed to be. Here are some very pertinent quotes from narrative captions near the end of that video:

Here's my question:
Why do the self-proclaimed "grassroots activists" rely on connections with political insiders to get their way?

Hm-m?
There's something very "fishy" going on in the Republican Party!

Is ignoring popular sentiment the road to victory -- or will it lead to further defeats??

I believe we learned the answer to that question in November. ¡Hasta luego, Jeff! (He's the lone Hispanic-American in the Virginia General Assembly.)

The 2nd District race

Democrats in Virginia picked up three House of Representatives seats in November, including the 2nd Congressional District (Eastern Shore), where incumbent Thelma Drake lost to Glenn Nye. I am told by Carl Tate that a guy named Chuck Smith declared his candidacy for the 2010 race. Can the GOP retake that seat? Yes, we can! smile

Fannie Mae history lesson

In the midst of this awful economic recession, many Americans remain clueless about the origins of it. Indeed, many people have no idea about the role played by congressional Democrats in perpetuating the risky mortgage lending practices that have brought the capitalist system to its knees. Watch them stall and make excuses, while Republicans vainly try to prevent the crisis from erupting, at youtube.com; hat tip to Steve Kijak.


March 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

U.S.A. 9th-inning rally at WBC

Just when things looked the bleakest, the "home team" came through in [the] clutch and put three runs on the board in the bottom of the ninth inning, thereby earning a trip to the final round of the World Baseball Classic. Attendance at Dolphin Stadium was pretty meager, about 13,000, but they were plenty loud when David Wright hit a two-run single, turning a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 victory over Puerto Rico. In the top of the ninth, Puerto Rico had added a run, taking a 5-3 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Shane Victorino and Brian Roberts led off with singles, and walks by Jimmy Rollins and Kevin Youkilis loaded the bases and then narrowed the gap to one run. It was about as dramatic a finish as you could have asked for, and the former Virginia baseball star made himself a hero at the bat:

Wright on!

I was following the action "live" on MLB GameDay. The pricing options for MLB TV are out of my range, for now at least.

Venezuela and the United States will play Wednesday night to determine seeding positions for the final series at Dodger Stadium later this week. In Pool 1, Mexico has been eliminated, but Japan, Korea, and Cuba are still alive.


UPDATE: The Washington Post has a complete wrap-up of last night's game. It may seem a little odd for we Americans as "Goliath" to be celebrating a victory over the the small "David" of Puerto Rico. With the large number of injuries suffered by the U.S. team, however, the odds were more even than one might have thought. Dustin Pedroia, Chipper Jones, Ryan Braun, and Matt Lindstrom were all taken out; see MLB.com. When the possibility was raised that the U.S. team would lose both its first-string and second-string catchers, manager Davey Johnson said he would rather forfeit the whole WBC rather than move somebody like Kevin Youkilis to that position. Indeed, putting a star player's health at risk would be dangerous for Johnson.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Mar 19, 2009 00:54 AM
Wright on? No no no. I believe the phrase you are searching for is WRIGHTEOUS. :P


March 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Obama's budgetary tricks

I had previously taken note that President Obama has reformed certain aspects of budgetary accounting (see Feb. 27, next to last paragraph), such as including the full estimated cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other respects, however, he is taking a big step backward toward greater obfuscation and less transparency. As explained by WaPo columnist Charles Krauthammer (also at Real Clear Politics; hat tip to Stacey Morris), Obama claims as "savings" money that would never have been spent in the first place, such as by making the "baseline" assumption that the "surge" in Iraq would have continued for ten more years. What??? But the worst part is how he uses the crisis to push an agenda that he had already formulated before the crisis erupted, and then goes ahead and pretends that those measures will solve the crisis:

And yet with our financial house on fire, Obama makes clear both in his speech and his budget that the essence of his presidency will be the transformation of health care, education and energy. Four months after winning the election, six weeks after his swearing-in, Obama has yet to unveil a plan to deal with the banking crisis.

...
Clever politics, but intellectually dishonest to the core.

In Obama's defense, most of the 8,570 "pork barrel" earmarks Krauthammer mentions were already in the budgetary "pipeline" before Inauguration Day, and there's only so much he could have done about that. Still, it's sad to see Obama cave in to the Democratic Congressional leadership so early in his term. For someone who is so "audacious" in his agenda, he seems very timid when push comes to shove.

Is Obama thin-skinned?

From whitehouse.gov, Feb. 17:

After meeting with the Chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees, the President gave a reminder of the new priorities in his budget, and responded to knee-jerk critics. [Italics added.]

That's not the kind of neutral-toned language I'm used to seeing on the presidential Web site. I hope this doesn't portend a more belligerent attitude in the future.

On the other hand...

I hate to say it, but Tom Tomorrow's comic strip mocking the outrage at Obama's program expressed by certain congressional Republicans has a lot of validity to it. Too bad so few of them stood up against President Bush's fiscal profligacy.

A few good Democrats

It often seems that the Democrats are united behind President Obama's highly dubious agenda of "change," but every once in a while a few of the relative moderates stand up and say "enough's enough!" In this case, eight Democratic senators resisted the attempt to railroad through a bill aimed at "cap and trade" bill to fight greenhouse gas emissions, even though the scientific basis for it is still shaky:

  • Robert Byrd, W.Va.
  • Blanche Lincoln, Ark.
  • Mary Landrieu, La.
  • Carl Levin, Mich.
  • Evan Bayh, Ind.
  • Ben Nelson, Neb.
  • Bob Casey Jr., Pa.
  • Mark Pryor, Ark.

SOURCE: macon.com; public-spirited hat tip to Megan.

And a good Republican

Waldo takes note (in his typical ironic sense, of course) that a Republican in Northern Virginia has won an election by appealing to sensible moderate voters. Heresy! smile


March 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

McCormick's Mill early spring

I stopped at McCormick's Mill on a nice day last week, and saw several Tree swallows for the first time this spring, plus a few other birds of note. At other places that day I also saw some Towhees and a White-breasted nuthatch. Highlights:

  • Tree swallows -- 4
  • Bluebirds -- 3
  • Sharp-shinned hawk
  • Yellow-rumped warblers -- 6
  • Song sparrows -- 15
  • Purple finches -- 8
  • Canada geese -- 6
  • Ring-necked ducks -- 4
  • Phoebe
  • Meadowlark
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Black vultures -- 6
  • Grackles -- 20+

Robins are now back in full force, another sign of imminent spring, while Pine siskins are still showing up at our feeder most days. I heard a bump on the window about ten days ago, went outside, and found a dead Pine siskin lying on the ground. What a pity.


March 19, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Local support for Jeff Frederick

The Augusta County Republican Committee (ACRC), or what is left of it, anyway, passed a resolution last night to express support for embattled RPV Chairman Jeff Frederick. Chris Green hails the resolution, saying "this is all about the Grass Roots having a say on the matter!" He also worries about "rumours [sic] of deals being cut with State Central Members." (Is he British?) Meanwhile, as Steve Kijak notes,

It appears that many members at the "Grassroots" level are being left out of the matter and that it will be left to the State Central members to decide what is "Right" for the Republican Party as they see fit(?)...

To put it more bluntly, this is a circular situation in which the people expressing support for Frederick were selected by the pro-Frederick leadership themselves. It's like a musical performer choosing his own audience. The grassroots faction uses party machinery to control local activities in a "top-down" fashion, while pretending to represent the genuine, freely-expressed will of the general public. They know who the "real" grassroots are, or they think they know, and they won't put up with anyone questioning their (underhanded) methods or their (unattainable) goals. As the result of procedural tricks pulled by the local chieftains last summer, sanctified by higher party authorities -- in a highly prejudicial manner -- many long-time members were excluded, which is why the current composition of the ACRC does not reflect majority sentiment from Augusta County Republicans. The self-proclaimed "grassroots" are good at getting people riled up, but not so good at retaining dedicated party workers, raising funds, or -- most importantly -- winning elections.

Waldo's feelings on this matter are well known, and I think the recent cartoon (#10 of 14 this month) in the News Leader by Jim McCloskey likewise captures the Democrats' take on the situation just about perfectly. The donkey prays, "Oh, please, God ... Let the G.O.P. keep Jeff Frederick ... Please!!!" smile

This evening the ACRC held its mass meeting to choose state convention delegates. I happened to see one of the members at the Staunton library this afternoon, but he told me that not much of interest was likely to happen there, so I decided not to go observe it. The one saving grace in Augusta County right now is that there are a fair number of honest, well-intentioned leaders and members who are trying to resist heavy pressure from "the usual suspects." Things are bound to get better, eventually.

Fed injects $1.2 trillion cash

I couldn't believe my ears when I heard it on the radio this morning, but it's the lead headline of today's Washington Post, so it must be true. (Right?) The Federal Reserve is in the process of injecting $1.2 trillion into the money supply. This will be accomplished by massive buying of U.S. Treasury Bills and Notes, flooding the financial markets with liquidity, but putting the Fed in an exposed, highly leveraged situation. Apparently, the U.S. economic outlook remains very shaky, and the credit markets need a major cushion to start lending again.

Two quick observations:

1) No one in the government, at least no high-level officials, will admit that this move will cause the rate of inflation to accelerate.

2) Almost everyone in government and the private sector who follows economic trends knows that it will, sooner or later. Buy gold!


March 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nationals' pitching staff

The Washington Nationals reluctantly decided to release Shawn Hill, who was once regarded as one of their most promising pitchers, but kept having physical ailments. In his stead, they signed Joe Beimel to a one-year contract that's worth $2 million. Beimel is a veteran with an up-and-down career, playing for the Dodgers last year. He will serve as the (eighth-inning) "setup man," which used to be Jesus Colome's job. I'm sorry, but every time Colome came to the mound I got nervous, and usually my fears were well-founded. I hope he has better luck elsewhere. Joel Hanrahan is the designated closer. See See MLB.com. The Nationals are planning to use John Lannan as their starting pitcher for their first game, on April 6, in Miami.

World Baseball Classic

In the World Baseball Classic, Korea plays Venezuela this evening, and the United States plays Japan tomorrow night, in Dodger Stadium.

Heart surgery for Boone

First baseman Aaron Boone of the Houston Astros announced he will have open heart surgery to replace an aortic valve. It's a condition he's had for a long time, and taking care of the problem may mean the end of his career. Boone has played for the Reds, the Yankees, the Indians, the Marlins, and (last year) the Nationals. See USA Today. His career-defining moment was hitting the 11-inning game-winning home run against the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS, which was the last time the Yankees made it to the World Series.

Ballpark news

Here are the latest news updates from Mike Zurawski: The grass at the "old" Yankee Stadium is in the process of being removed. You can get a helicopter view at wcbs880.com. Gee, I wonder why? Maybe because they're going to sell it to nostalgia-obsessed fans! See the New York Times. I assume they will put new sod in the outfield prior to making the movie at old Yankee Stadium this summer. Maybe they will even raise the field level, restore the outfield walls to the Classic Era layout, and add a fake roof with the old-style arched frieze. Man, I'd pay $50 to get to see Yankee Stadium the way it used to be...

The City of Miami has approved the new Marlins stadium, and the Miami-Dade County Board will vote on it this Monday. Council member Michelle Spence-Jones, who had been regarded as the "swing vote" (see Feb. 14), lived up to hear billing, tipping the balance in baseball's favor. (Whether she received $500,000 in return for her vote is not yet clear.) See ballparkdigest.com.


March 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Emmanuel Night Out: smash hit!

Emmanuel Episcopal Church had a special "Emmanuel Night Out" fund-raising event as part of the "Raise the Roof" campaign on Saturday evening, and it was a big success. At least 70 people jammed into Memorial Hall to hear some of our congregation's finest (and mostly unheralded) musical talent. Allan Hadfield began and ended the program with his fine bagpipe playing, and our organist Sarah Grove-Humphries performed with the women's vocal ensemble which she leads, Lyrisa. A number of children and adults, myself included, performed a wide variety of songs. The main purpose of this event was to gather enough money to pay for the replacement of the church's roof, an urgently-needed (and costly) project. The work is now nearly complete. As the night came to a close, it was announced that we had just surpassed the fund-raising goal, a major achievement. Many thanks to Randy Hamblett for coordinating this wonderful event.

Andrew Clem Band

LEFT TO RIGHT: Randy Hamblett, Matthew Poteat, Andrew Clem, David McCaskey, and Woody, playing a classic Ozark Mountain Daredevils song from the 1970s:

If you wanna get to Heaven, you got to raise a little Hell! smile

Photo by Jacqueline.


March 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Highland County Maple Festival

If it's March, it must be time for the annual Highland County Maple Festival, and once again Jacqueline and I made the trip out there, buying maple donuts, maple syrup, maple candy, etc. Most of the time we spent in Monterrey, the county seat, but we also stopped in McDowell on the way back. Unlike 2007 and 2008 (coinciding with Palm Sunday, this time the weather was mild, with no snow.

Monterrey, valley

A view of Monterrey and the surrounding valley, from the east, as we were approaching in the morning.


March 24, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Miami stadium gets approved

At long last, there is joy in Miami-ville! After years of back-and-forth negotiations and many bleak moments when it seemed that all hope had gone, funding for a new Marlins baseball stadium won approval from the Miami-Dade County commissioners yesterday. (The Miami city council had given its OK last week.) MLB President Bob DuPuy attended the meeting; he has been the league's point man for persuading reluctant local governments to pass funding measures for new baseball stadiums. Groundbreaking at the site where the Orange Bowl used to stand is expected to begin in June. The retractable-roof stadium will have a capacity of 37,000 seats, and including the parking facilities, the project is expected to cost $625 million altogether. Once they move in to their new home, the Florida Marlins will officially become the Miami Marlins, which is what they should have been called all along. See MLB.com, which observed:

The Marlins will seek hosting the finals of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. And the organization is confident it will be awarded an MLB All-Star Game within a few years after the doors in the new park are open.

Maybe they shouldn't count their chickens before they're hatched, however. As cities such as San Diego and Washington have found, political opponents can create all sorts of roadblocks and delays even after "final" approval has been granted. At yesterday's meeting in Miami, several protesters were arrested for causing disruption. Some wore shirts that read: "No bailout for the Marlins." See the photo gallery. (It's not a "bailout," it's a stimulus package! smile) As for Norman Braman, it is safe to say that all he accomplished with his lawsuit was delaying the opening of the new stadium by one year.

What does this mean for the Marlins? As the Miami Herald notes, rain delays will be a thing of the past. Also:

The Marlins have always traded away their higher-salaried players in the past, much to the chagrin of fans.

But with the added revenue the club is expected to take in from a new stadium, that low-budget philosophy is expected to change. Payroll, the lowest in the majors four years running, should increase.

Whether they can match their unusual degree of success they achieved in the 1997 and 2003 World Series remains to be seen. In any case, this leaves just two franchises that are still trying to get new stadiums built: the Athletics and the Rays.

Japan retains WBC title

Now that was one heckuva good ball game last night, between two worthy and well-matched teams. Japan finally emerged triumphant, 5-3, successfully defending the world championship it had first won three years ago. How appropriate that their biggest star in the U.S., Ichiro Suzuki, was the hero, batting in the winning run(s) in the top of the tenth inning. Daisuke Matsuzaka was named the WBC MVP. The would-be hero for Korea was Bum Ho Lee, who drove in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs, no less. The fans in Seoul were ecstatic, but in the end, it didn't matter. Yu Darvish (what an un-Japanese name; do they call him "Whirling Darvish"?) blew the save in the ninth inning, but returned in the tenth and got credited for the win. Congratulations to Japan for their team's superb level of play and competitive spirit. See MLB.com. Commissioner Bud Selig hailed the dramatic conclusion, saying the future WBCs will be even better. Wisely, he decided not to abruptly halt the game when it went into extra innings. smile

I noticed that most of the Korean players are either named "Kim," "Park," or "Lee." You can't even tell the players with a scorecard! I tried my best to stay up and watch the whole thing, but when Korea tied the game 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, sending it into extra innings, I called it quits, and just missed Ichiro's heroics. D'oh!!!

The mail bag

Sean Holland tells me that the reconfiguration of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, such that the cars pass right through Foro Sol rather than go around it as originally designed, was a result of the split of Indy car racing several years ago. He found a detailed track map showing that at autoracing1.com.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Mar 25, 2009 14:35 PM
Yu Darvish has an un-Japanese name because he's Japanese-Iranian. I'm assuming it's a Japanese first name and an Arabic last name. Also, he's a huge prospect to hit the MLB in a big way when he becomes a free agent.


March 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Whither the U.S. dollar?

The crisis in the U.S. financial system is beginning to yield very troubling side effects around the world. Last Thursday, Reuters reported that Russia and China are collaborating in a proposal to terminate the dollar's status as the de facto global reserve currency, replacing it with the International Monetary Fund's Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). It was just a rumor spread by a "senior Russian government source," however.

On Monday, the situation became clearer, as the head of China's central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, formally called for the dollar to be replaced as the world's dominant currency. The question is, what are the Chinese up to? Are they simply worried about the declining value of their portfolio, which includes $1.4 trillion in U.S. Treasuries? Or are they determined to assert dominance in the global economy, in effect "cashing in" on the two decades of steady growth as the world's leading industrial exporter? The triggering event was the recent decision by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to inflate the U.S. money supply by over one trillion dollars. The days when we can make such decisions for the exclusive benefit of Americans has already passed us by. See the Washington Post.

Many free-market advocates say that currency exchange rates don't matter nearly as much as most people think, and there is a reason for that. They tend to forget the strategic dimension of foreign exchange markets, and in particular the "rental" income that hegemonic powers can extract from the rest of the world when their own currency is used by the rest as a reserve asset. That's why we could get away with profligate fiscal policy for the past eight years without suffering the consequences, whereas smaller and poorer countries must adhere strictly to balanced budgets to prevent a currency crisis. Gradually, we will become more and more like the rest of the world, playing by the same rules as the others do -- except we won't be writing the rules any more. China will.

Obama's media blitz

While the global financial system is at the mercy of geopolitical forces hostile to U.S. interests, President Obama has hit the road to sell his economic recovery plan to the American People. While in Los Angeles, he took the time to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the first president ever to appear on a TV talk/variety show. It may be in keeping with our celebrity-obsessed zeitgeist, but for just about anyone over 40, it showed dreadfully bad judgment.

Google has a rare explicit promotional link, inviting folks to submit their questions about the economy to President Obama, at whitehouse.gov.

For his part, Rush Limbaugh has been mocking the President's heavy reliance on the teleprompter, after a possible gaffe when the Prime Minister of Ireland was visiting the White House last week. Obama and some reporters say he was just kidding, but for some reason there is no video to corroborate their version of events. This issue has been percolating for several weeks, unbeknownst to me; see politico.com, which noted that "President Barack Obama doesn't go anywhere without his TelePrompter." And, just for fun, check out the new Barack Obama's Teleprompter blog. smile

Frederick battle heats up

In the Old Dominion, meanwhile, supporters of RPV Chairman Jeff Frederick are calling on their "grassroots" to stage a rally when the State Central Committee meets on April 4. As Jim Hoeft, says, "This next week is sure to get interesting."


March 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]

"Jackpot" at McCormick's Mill

I made an impromptu visit to McCormick's Mill yesterday, and was soon rewarded with some amazing sightings, including three first-of-season (FOS) birds and a LIFE BIRD for me: Rusty Blackbird -- several of them, in fact, both males and females. There is a slight chance that they could have been Brewer's Blackbirds, however. Either way, it's my third life bird of the year, and my life bird list now totals 383 species.

Here is a list of yesterday's highlights, followed by species notes:

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (M)
  • Gadwall
  • Tree Swallow
  • Yellow-rumped Warblers *
  • Eastern Towhee (M)
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow (FOS)
  • Louisiana Waterthrush ** (FOS)
  • Rusty Blackbirds *** (LIFE BIRD)
  • Wilson's Snipe (FOS)
  • Bald Eagles **** (2 imm.)
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Eastern Bluebird (M)

* One of the "Yellow-rumped" Warblers actually had a white rump, not yellow! That's called "leucistic," the lack of feather pigmentation.

** The Louisiana Waterthrush was very yellow underneath, suggestive of Northern Waterthrush, but they don't migrate this early, so that's unlikely. Previously, the earliest-ever sighting of a Louisiana Waterthrush in the Augusta County area was March 30, 1979, so this sets a new record. The earliest Northern Waterthrush was Apr. 27, 1981. I am told by Jo King that this was the first-ever record of a Louisiana Waterthrush at McCormick's Mill!

*** The Rusty Blackbirds were foraging in the mud flats, near the Wildon's snipe. The males' bluish iridiscent heads were suggestive of a Brewer's Blackbird, a Western species that is very rare in this area.

**** The young Bald Eagles were practicing courtships ritual in air, clutching each others' claws, etc. Kind of like a "sock hop," I guess. smile

Other recent sightings

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway southeast of Buena Vista last Thursday (March 19), I saw my first Pine warblers of the season, about six I would say. A Pileated woodpecker was at the same location, flying away and making a big racket. Earlier in the day, I saw a group of Wild turkeys near the Peaks of Otter. I had seen another group of Wild turkeys just west of the town of Buchanan a few weeks before that. On both occasions, all of them were hens, no "toms."

While walking along Bell's Lane on Monday evening, we saw several Cedar waxwings. Out back, finally, the Pine siskins are still visiting our feeders on a daily basis.

I have updated the Annual arrival page.

Falling bird populations

The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology recently issued its periodic "State of the Birds" report, noting that certain heretofore common species such as the Western Meadowlark are in danger of serious population loss. Why? Like most bird species, it has specific habitat requirements, and the open grasslands that it needs are being plowed under or used for livestock grazing. See CNN.com.


March 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Rogers Centre (Skydome) update

After long hours of headscratching and mouse-clicking, the Rogers Centre Rogers Centre diagrams have been revised considerably. I had previously thought that the home of the Toronto Blue Jays is oval, but after poring over many photographs, I have concluded that it is actually circular. In contrast, the front edge of the grandstand is oval shaped, or actually a rounded rectangle. I also revised the diagram profile, as usual, but I only put the lights on one of the diagrams because they are directly above the upper deck seating area, and it looks rather messy. I may change my mind on that later. At the suggestion of Matt Ereth, I included an American football version in addition to the Canadian football version. The Buffalo Bills play there on occasion, and a college bowl was played there this past winter. That completes the set of all seven stadiums that were used in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

New Superdome page

While I was at it, I added a new page for the Superdome, the diagram for which I first released on Feb. 24. This should make Brian Hughes happy! The text on that "under construction" page is only sketchy, however. It does, however, include an intriguing photographic montage that I created from individual photos that were kindly submitted to me by Joe Johnston.

The mail bag

Greg Spira has been tracking down the correct, authoritative backstop distances for many current baseball stadiums, and I was pleased to learn that most of them correspond closely to my estimates. (Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals does not have complete set of data in that regard, so I sometimes have to "eyeball" it.) Many thanks for sharing that information, Greg!

Bruce Orser got some chuckles out of this thread about funny baseball player names on baseball-fever.com. Some of those embarrassingly unfortunate names remind me of the Johnny Cash song "A Boy Named Sue."


March 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Clinton blames U.S. drug abuse

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has broken new ground in hemispheric relations, frankly acknowledging that violence in Mexico is to a large extent the result of the drug abuse in the United States. Mrs. Clinton was visiting Mexico City, holding extensive talks about the drug war along the border with President Felipe Calderon and Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa. The U.S. government recently increased assistance to Mexico, and is in the process of deploying hundreds of federal agents to the border. To smooth things over in preparation for President Obama's first visit to Mexico (on April 16), Clinton praised President Calderon for his "courage." Good. See Washington Post.

There is certainly much truth in Mrs. Clinton's main point (about drug-abusing Americans), but her comments that past U.S. anti-narcotics policies have exacerbated the violence in Latin America is highly questionable. It may well be that U.S. policies have been ineffective, but calling them counterproductive is wrong, both factually and morally. As the Post article noted, Clinton's claim that U.S. drug interdiction efforts have been unsuccessful is contradicted by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials. Furthermore, such words can be confusing to Mexicans who are sticking their necks out to help track down the bad guys. If we don't have confidence in what we are doing, how are Mexicans supposed to do so? It also takes the pressure off the Mexican government to reform its own police and military forces, which are riddled with corruption. There is only so much we can do to encourage the Mexican government to clean up its own act, but attending to our own problems with corruption (Blagojevich, et al.) would be a good start.

While in Mexico City, Mrs. Clinton also discussed the dispute over the access to American highways, which was part of the NAFTA agreement of 1994 that we never implemented. It's a big shame, and the Democrats in Congress are bowing to union pressure (Teamsters, mainly) in making sure that Mexican trucks stay off our roads. Protectionism at its worst.

Based on the situation in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, I have updated the maps on the Current situation page. Since last year, Argentina and Brazil have stabilized, while Peru and Mexico (especially the latter) have become more turbulent.

Costa Rica - Cuba

President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica announced that his government would extend diplomatic recognition to Cuba, for the first time since relations were severed in 1961. This doesn't necessarily signify a shift in Costa Rican foreign policy, however, it is more likely a gesture to encourage the new government of Raul Castro to continue political liberalization. Arias previously served as President of Costa Rica from 1984 to 1989, and he won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the "Contadora" peace initiative. See CNN.com. Costa Rica's international influence is greater than might be indicated by its small size. In October 2007 it became one of the last in Latin America to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan, bowing to economic realities. Doing so was a precondition set by the government in Beijing for any country that seeks diplomatic ties with China.


March 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Is the era of free markets over?

Well, so it would appear. Thirteen years and two months after President Bill Clinton declared in his State of the Union speech that "The era of big government is over," Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has confirmed not only that big government is back, but that this country's very identity as a (relative) free-market haven is coming to an end. As reported in the Washington Post:

The Obama administration's plan, described by several sources, would extend federal regulation for the first time to all trading in financial derivatives and to companies including large hedge funds and major insurers such as American International Group. The administration also will seek to impose uniform standards on all large financial firms, including banks, an unprecedented step that would place significant limits on the scope and risk of their activities.

...

In essence, the plan is a rebuke of raw capitalism and a reassertion that regulation is critical to the healthy function of financial markets and the steady flow of money to borrowers.

There is no question that some regulatory reform and reinvigoration is necessary to clean up the financial mess; this is not a question of pure laissez-faire economics vs. statism. But the enormous scope of the proposed changes implies that government experts are better suited than market mechanisms for the purpose of keeping the economy in balance. Coupled with the huge increase in federal government spending for just about every program anyone could imagine, it clearly represents a fundamental ideological shift in Washington, turning back the clock to the days before the Reagan administration.

In Europe, meanwhile, there is growing antipathy to U.S. policies under Obama, who has been pressuring Europeans to follow his lead in major "pump-priming" spending, à la Keynes. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who is currently serving as president of the EU, called Obama's economic stimulus package and bank bailouts "a road to hell." He noted that the "buy America" provisions of the stimulus package will lead to more "protectionist" trade policies. See Washington Post.

For what it's worth, if the objective is to mitigate the free-wheeling, "irrationally exuberant" ways of Wall Street, I think it would be much better to place a small tax on securities transactions. That would discourage the frenetic high-volume, thin-margin strategy employed by the notorious "day traders," and would be better than subjecting the industry to more government oversight and paperwork. The failure of federal regulators to prevent last year's collapse was a failure of leadership, both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, not a failure of the institutions themselves. Bureaucrats who tried to alert their superiors to misdoings were either ignored or told to shut up, and adding new layers of bureaucracy is not going to change the culture of corruption in Washington and Wall Street that brought about our current woes. You can't fix human problems with procedural contrivances.

On the broader question of what President Obama's real intentions are with respect to the U.S. economy, he could raise investor confidence by making it clear that he will refrain from imposing confiscatory rates of taxation to pay for his sweeping agenda of "change." Uncertainty about future government policies is one of the main reasons why investors are maintaining a high degree of liquidity right now. Everybody on Wall Street is in "wait and see" mode.


March 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Facebook: resistance is futile

Back in December, I made a mocking reference to the Twitter Web phenomenon as resembling The Borg, that menacing collective cyborg society from Star Trek: The Next Generation. To me, the idea that we should be spending most of our waking hours in constant contact with our friends, relatives, and acquaintances and keep up with all of their musings and whimsies is just plain weird. Well, I'm just a curmudgeonly semi-recluse, so what would I know about the benefits of cyber-networking?

As of last week, I have officially joined the bandwagon, and thereby have been "assimilated" into the collective consciousness known as Facebook. It's like the Mr. Rogers show: "Will you be my neighbor?"

Facebook

Very slowly I am finding my way around the Facebook interface, and it's hard getting used to all the bells and whistles. Being security-conscious, I'm reluctant to join in the various Facebook applications, though I did do the rock music survey, choosing the Rolling Stones as the best rock band. (The Eagles weren't even listed!) Some updated content is displayed in more than one place, apparently, but I can't figure out the logic behind all that. For my purposes, one benefit is that my blog postings show up there automatically, since I figured out how to integrate my RSS feed into Facebook. I look forward to getting to know more people, and keeping up with folks who have drifted away over time. I know one thing for sure: I'm getting tired of seeing the thumbnail image of my grimly serious face repeated so many times. You'd think I didn't know how to have fun! frown

As one conseqence of being "assimilated" into Facebook, I will have to rewrite at least part of my Introductory Web page, which currently states:

Do I have a FaceBook or MySpace account?

Absolutely NOT!

So who or what made me change my stubborn mind? Stacey Morris, that's who! smile


March 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Spring training winds down

It's hard to believe, but the 2009 regular season is right around the corner, and Opening Day is just one week from tomorrow. The 2009 spring training hasn't yielded any big surprises that I'm aware of, and the drama about Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers was mostly a sideshow. The main question is whether the big-spending teams in New York will finally get their money's worth (in terms of payroll) this year, as they each inaugurate their new stadiums. C.C. Sabathia has lived up to the Yankees' high expectation during the preseason, while the Mets are pinning their hopes on former Twins pitcher Johan Santana. Two former Nationals, Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, both have a secure place in the Mets' lineup, which is still subject to some adjustments. (I still think the Mets got the better deal when they traded away Lastings Milledge in late 2007.) The Mets are hoping that young left fielder Daniel Murphy will bat as well as he did last August and September, when he began his major league career. See MLB.com.

Prospects for the Washington Nationals have been lifted by the arrival of Adam Dunn, and that may be why the other former Cincinnati Red, Austin Kearns, is batting better so far this year. I hope he keeps it up. The Nats' pitching staff is young but very promising, and Jordan Zimmermann was almost unhittable in his first few starts, but he will play in the minor leagues for at least a while. A respectable season (meaning at or above .500) is entirely possible for the Nats this year.

R.I.P. Johnny Blanchard

I learned from Bruce Orser that former New York Yankee Johnny Blanchard has passed away. He began playing for the Yankees in 1955, and even though he remained a bench player for most of his career, he earned a reputation as a clutch performer: "In five World Series [1960-1964], he batted .345 (10-for-29) with six runs, four doubles, two home runs and five RBI." See MLB.com, which includes fond remembrances from Yogi Berra, Moose Skowron, and other team mates. On most other teams, Blanchard probably would have been a first-stringer.


March 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

When deregulation went too far

The decade of the 1990s was marked by several major reforms in economic policy that balanced the U.S. budget, freed businesses from unnecessary regulatory controls, and gave incentives for welfare recipients to work for a living. These measures made possible a remarkable economic boom that finally came to an abrupt end on September 11, 2001. Some of those policy changes of the 1990s were gravely mistaken, however, and the 1999 repeal of the main provisions in the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 ranks at the top of that list. This legislative milestone created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), guaranteeing bank deposits up to a specified limit, but in exchange, banks were required to divest themselves from investment brokerage services. The widespread practice of mixing commercial and investment banking activities created obvious conflicts of interest, and fraud was one of the main reasons for the financial bubble that burst in October 1929.

A major league hat tip goes out to Waldo Jaquith for digging up a New York Times article from November 1999, when the financial deregulation bill was passed. This passage in particular caught my attention:

Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said. "This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy."

The decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 provoked dire warnings from a handful of dissenters that the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation's financial system.

Among treasury secretaries, Summers was one of the most intellectually gifted and conscious of the ramifications for the "new economy." In this case, however, he showed bad judgment. (Now that he is a top White House adviser, I hope he has learned his lesson.) I was very dubious about the repeal of Glass-Steagal at the time, and I wish more people had spoken out against it. Famous last words: "What could go wrong?" Well, for one thing, the massive consolidation of the banking industry into giant holding companies with shaky foundations that were invisible to the public eye. CitiGroup is the classic example of why commercial bank lending operations and investment services should be kept totally isolated from each other.

What is the moral of this story? That basing public policy on a dogmatic application of ideological principles is likely to backfire in the end. In this case, the over-zealous pursuit by Republican leaders of deregulation in the financial markets has set the stage for a sharp reversal in policy direction, undermining the foundations of our free enterprise system. It is fitting and proper to criticize Democrats such as Chris Dodd and Barney Frank for their role in pushing lending institutions into making risky loans, but that is only part of the story behind the current crisis. The Republicans who sponsored that legislation -- former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, as well as Representatives Jim Leach (Iowa) and Thomas Bliley (Virginia) -- deserve harsh criticism as well. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and the other brave souls who dissented at the time should get a round of applause. Only one Republican in the Senate voted "no": Richard Shelby of Alabama.

Memorial for Lincoln

As the Cherry Blossom Festival gets underway in Washington, it's hard to imagine that the lands occupied today by the Mall and the parks around the Tidal Basin were once putrid, marshy wastelands. The land reclamation project that made Our Nation's Capital the lovely place it is today came about because of wise, visionary leaders such as President Theodore Roosevelt who overcame the objections of short-sighted penny-pinchers. For example, Illinois Congressman Joe Cannon tried for years to block construction of the Lincoln Memorial, and he almost succeeded. His words to Elihu Root in 1902:

So long as I live, I'll never let a memorial to Abraham Lincoln be erected in that goddamned swamp.

Cannon managed to delay the project until after Roosevelt left the White House, but President Taft pushed for the Potomac River site, and Congress finally approved the funding bill as Taft's term was about to expire in 1913.

SOURCE: Washington Post magazine, Feb. 3, 2008

Speaking of "Honest Abe" Lincoln, this year marks the bicentennial of his birth in 1809, and a set of four commemorative stamps in his honor was recently issued by the U.S. Postal Service:
Lincoln stamps


March 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]

McDonnell launches campaign

Bob McDonnell formally began his campaign for governor on Saturday in the Annandale part of Fairfax County, where he lived as a child. It was the first stop on a multi-city blitz. He chose as his campaign theme "New Jobs, More Opportunities," and he characterized the ambitious agenda he laid out as having "big, hairy audacious goals." He also warned that Virginia's status as a Right to Work state is under attack from Big Labor, criticizing the "Employee Free Choice Act" (a.k.a. "Card Check") bill that was introduced by the Democrats in Congress. See bobmcdonnell.com* and the News Leader.

You can listen to a podcast interview with McDonnell at Bearing Drift. McDonnell evidently is new-media-savvy.

Given his reserved personality and formal style, hitting the campaign trail and getting into the political fray will require McDonnell to make some adjustments in his approach. He seems to have just the right balance of friendliness and dignity -- charisma and executive "gravitas." Some Republicans are mad that McDonnell suggested that RPV Chairman Jeff Frederick step aside, but McDonnell has rock-solid credentials as a conservative. What's more, he is eminently electable, and it would be foolish for anyone in the party to snipe at his very promising campaign.

Jim Hoeft thinks that McDonnell may be trying to cut a deal with Frederick, hoping to avoid a party split. (Too late for that!) One possible replacement for the RPV Chairman is Sandy Liddy Bourne, daughter of G. Gordon Liddy. Some pro-life activists object to her because she supports a woman's right to choose abortion in certain limited cases, which is close to my position on the matter.

bloggers for mcdonnell

* SPELL CHECK: "Phillipinnes" should be "Philippines."

Fine British oratory

If the Republicans had a spokesperson half as eloquent as this Tory MP rebuking Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Barack Obama would not get very far with his big-spending leftist agenda. Watch youtube.com; hat tip to Megan.


March 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nats decide on pitching staff

Spring training has provided some surprises for the Washington Nationals. Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann earned slots as starting pitchers, while Collin Balester has been demoted to the minors. Zimmermann won't join the active squad until the middle of the month, however, because the Nats' schedule for the first two weeks allows them to get by with a four-man rotation. See MLB.com. Here is how the rotation looks right now:

  1. John Lannan
  2. Scott Olsen
  3. Daniel Cabrera
  4. Shairon Martis
  5. Jordan Zimmermann

Another surprise is that Dmitri Young is healthy, and just might make the team after all. Wily Mo Peña was placed on waivers, meanwhile. See MLB.com. If the Nationals can find a way to use him, Nick Johnson, and Adam Dunn, they might have a hell of a good slugging lineup this year. It depends on whether Ryan Zimmerman, Lastings Milledge, and Austin Kearns live up to their expectations.

Historical milestone

Would anyone care to guess what momentous (baseball) event took place in Our Nation's Capital one Year Ago Today? Opening Night* at Nationals Park!!!


March 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Oh, that immigration problem

Given the bleak state of the economy, with rising joblessness, it is telling that hardly anyone is talking about illegal immigration any more. Does that mean it's no longer a problem? Have all the Mexicans and Salvadoreños gone home? Not quite. I've heard anecdotal reports of voluntary repatriation that reflects the dwindling demand for labor, but that's only part of the story. As the Washington Post reports, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered a slowdown in the pace of immigration raids, signalling a return to the lax law enforcement policy of the early Bush years (2001-2006). Supposedly, this is part of a switch in emphasis toward the businesses as opposed to the workers themselves. That's fine with me. It was pretty clear all along that one of the main reasons for Bush's reluctance to deal with the problem was pressure from business lobbyists.

Interestingly, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) is pushing to stop enforcement against employers that hire illegal workers. His ethnic feelings are a prime motivation, of course, but it's also interesting that a Democrat would work on behalf of business interests, at a time when Americans are in desperate search of decent, well-paying jobs. See americanworker.org; I saw a TV ad promoting that group a couple days ago.

Historical milestone

By randomly checking the Year Ago Today blog page, I realized that yesterday was the anniversary of the tense (but ultimately peaceful) Staunton Republican mass meeting. Finally: the "decent interval" has passed!


March 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Ducks on Bells Lane

I made a brief visit to Bells Lane late this lovely afternoon, just in case the Long-tailed ducks were still lingering there (no), but I did observe two species that you don't see every day: American Wigeons and Blue-winged Teals. I'm glad I went. I also saw a couple small whitish ducks on the distant pond in the upland section, and they might have been Buffleheads.

  • American Wigeons
  • Blue-winged Teals
  • Ruddy Ducks
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Kestrels
  • American Coots
  • Killdeers
  • Tree Swallows
  • Eastern Meadowlark

As for the yard birds, Goldfinches are turning yellow, and some have almost completed their spring plumage molt. Pine siskins are still showing up regularly, and I saw a male Cowbird as well.


March 31, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Calderon cites U.S. corruption

In a television interview with BBC, the president of Mexico acknowledged that there is corruption in his government, but he said that the problem exists on both sides of the border:

It is impossible to pass tonnes of cocaine to the United States without the complicity of some American authorities.

Well, he's probably right, though it's hard to imagine that U.S. officials are as corrupt as those in Mexico -- except in Chicago, perhaps. smile For purposes of securing bilateral cooperation in tackling the narco-traffic problem, nevertheless, it's better not to worry too much about which side is more corrupt, or less corrupt.

President Calderon also claimed success in reducing the level of violence in Ciudad Juarez (across the river from El Paso, Texas), since 7,000 additional Mexican soldiers were sent there over the past month. Diplomatic relations with Mexico are said to have improved since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Mexico City last week, admitting that U.S. drug abuse is a fundamental part of the problem.


March 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Obama "rescues" GM, Chrysler

Day after day, the news from Washington keeps getting more bizarre, and yet the American people seem to be accepting President Obama's agenda of "change," blissfully unaware that we are on a "highway to hell." The President held a press conference to announce his plan to "rescue" General Motors and Chrysler, preceded by the resignation of GM's CEO Richard Wagoner. Some sources say Obama essentially "fired" him, using the threat of withholding bailout money, while others characterize the decision in less coercive ways. It seems that Obama is sending a message that any corporation that does not bend to his will will pay a heavy price. In contrast to the relatively soft approach to the big banks, he is putting extreme pressure on the auto makers, declaring that bankruptcy laws may be used to facilitate corporate restructuring. See the Washington Post. There seems to be little doubt that the President's own ideas about what kind of cars should be made in Detroit will count for more than market demand.

Obama's tough stance is putting the heads of corporations in other industries that their heads may be next on the chopping block, if they don't bow to the President's will. This caused the stock market to drop sharply once again, after a rare interval of growth last week. If the Washington Post-ABC News polls are correct, nearly two-thirds of the American people still support Obama's performance and/or his agenda. Most people don't hold him responsible for the economic hardships, blaming corporate executives instead. Seldom has capitalism been held in such low esteem in this country.

In class today, I challenged my students to find the part of the U.S. Constitution where it grants the president the power to dismiss private sector business executives. No one could, of course. Most Americans are either so cynical about politics or so gullible that they just don't care whether the President's actions are constitutional or not. I suppose if an Obama supporter were pressed on the matter and asked to justify what Obama did in this case, they would probably say it is an "inherent" power that stems from the fact that we are presently in a national emergency. It is safe to say that President Obama's audacious power grab is exactly what the framers of the constitution were trying to prevent -- the excessive concentration of power in the hands of a single ... tyrant. There. I said it.


March 31, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Vireo, Cormorant, Blackbird

I had three interesting sightings at three different locations today, just in time to make it by the end of the month.

At the Peaks of Otter late this morning, I heard a strangely familiar song in the trees, and within a few minutes spotted my first Blue-headed Vireo of the season. Only one day later than my earliest-ever sighting of that species! (March 30, 2000)

In the town of Buchanan, I spotted a Double-crested Cormorant flying east over the James River. The orange beak patch was prominent, even 100+ feet up. It circled a few times to gain altitude, and then headed north over a ridge, crossing right in front of the crescent moon. Wow! Many Tree Swallows were zooming around, accompanied by a few Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Finally, McCormick's Mill was much quieter than my visit there last week, but I did get a very good look at one of the Rusty Blackbirds (a male), carefully observing the beak shape and listening to the song to confirm that it was not a Brewer's Blackbird. Tree Swallows and Yellow-rumped warblers were also conspicuous.


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