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Culture & Travel, 2009
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February 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]
R.I.P Shea Stadium (1964-2009)
The last remaining steel beams of Shea Stadium, [part of what used to be one of the entry/exit ramps on the southwest side, were pulled] down at or about 11:21 this morning, and all that's left to do is clean up the rubble. Read all about it in the New York Times and watch the video clip at newsday.com. Thanks as always to Mike Zurawski for letting me know.
The guys at baseball-fever.com maintained a constant cyber-vigil until the very end, and some of them want to continue the Shea Stadium Demolition thread, even though Shea Stadium Demolition has come to an end. Sports fans whose cherished memories are tied so intimately with the venues are subject to a special kind of separation anxiety that "normal" people will never understand. I wonder what kind of emotions the impending demise of Yankee Stadium will elicit...
To mark the sad occasion, I have updated the text on the Shea Stadium page. I sure am glad I took the opportunity to see it in person last October before it was gone forever.
T.J. Zmina recently let me know that many Jets football games at Shea Stadium did not include "the full complement of lower-deck seating." In other words, the extra seating sections in what would have been left-center and right-center field were not installed, perhaps for the pre-season or in September games before the Mets' season ended. I got a similar query last summer, from "die hard Mets fan" Nicholas Tzoumas. He asked me "what was done to cover the dugouts" when they shifted the field-level seating around for football games. (Unlike Three Rivers Stadium and Riverfront Stadium, he notes, the dugouts at Shea were below ground.) Does anyone know the answer to either of those questions? Feel free to comment or send me an e-mail.
Bay Area stadium news
More news tidbits from Mike: The Oakland Athletics have pushed back their hoped-for new stadium in Fremont for another two years, or more. Team co-owner Keith Wolff sounds pessimistic: "I have no idea when this thing will be built... The process is just endless." See insidebayarea.com, via . Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders say they want their own new stadium, whereas the cross-bay rival San Francisco 49ers expressed interest in sharing a new stadium, but are open to a variety of options. Weird. See footballstadiumdigest.com.
D.C. United to leave RFK
I was surprised to see the report on Washington's FOX-5 TV last night that the D.C. United soccer team has reached an agreement to build a new stadium somewhere in suburban Maryland. It would almost certainly be in Prince George's County. The deal must be approved by the Maryland legislature, however, so it's not a done deal. See the Major League Soccer Web site. As a consequence of the (short-distance) relocation, the team may have to cange their name from "D.C. United" to "P.G. United." It's sad that RFK Stadium's days may be coming to an end. I'd still like to know why they didn't try to build a new stadium at the same site, or perhaps reduce the size of RFK Stadium.
February 11, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Conferees agree on stimulus bill
To the surprise of almost no one, the Senate passed their version of the "stimulus" bill on Monday, by a vote of 61-37. The three moderate Republicans voted along with the Democratic majority: Sen. Arlen Specter, Sen. Olympia Snow, and Sen. Susan Collins. They are nice people and probably mean well, but in my view are deeply mistaken about the alleged need for this massive boondoggle. President Obama has grossly oversold the efficacy this package, which is a grab-bag of Democratic wishes, and the urgency of the country's economic situation. We do need a stabilization and recovery plan, but the way they are going about it is extremely wasteful, and politically pernicious.
This evening, the members of the House-Senate conference committee resolved most of the differences between their respective stimulus packages, which means it will probably come up for a final vote in both chambers tomorrow. Or maybe not. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi kept contradicting each other this afternoon, so there are a few wrinkles left to be ironed out. See CNN.com. Most objective-minded pundits now agree that any pretense that Obama's stimulus package is "bipartisan" has vanished. Some payback to Obama's supporters is to be expected, but they are trying to get away with way too much.
Investors on Wall Street gave a big thumbs-down to the stimulus package and to the irreplaceable financial whiz kid who is slated to run it: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner performed badly in congressional testimony today. As reported in the Washington Post:
Minutes after the plan was made public, stock markets plummeted. The Dow Jones industrial average ended the day down 4.6 percent. The Standard and Poor's 500-stock index, a broader measure, fell 4.9 percent.
It's a very sad week for American capitalism, and for the broader cause of individual freedom and personal responsibility. What investors need is assurance that they can earn a steady (if small) profit, and it will be hard to do that while the private business sector is coming under the control of Washington. Speaking of which, I agree wholehearted with President Obama's insistence that any bank or corporation that gets federal bailout money should limit executive compensation to no more than $500,000 per year. It's the price you pay for going on "welfare"...
Just vote NO
It's not like Congress would have listened anyway, but you can still weigh in the the stimulus package at Country First PAC. It seems to be a continuation of the McCain 2008 campaign. Hat tip to Stacey Morris.
Politicizing the Census?
President Obama's gesture of bipartisanship in naming Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) to be the Secretary of Commerce was rather suspect to begin with, but now it's looking outright sinister. Obama wants to take responsibility for managing the 2010 census away from the Department of Commerce, which has statutory responsibility for that vital function, and run it out of the White House. Presumably, the ultra-partisan Rahm Emanuel would be calling the shots. If true, such outright politicization of the Census Bureau would do great damage to the tradition of professional integrity in the Civil Service, and would call into question the official census figures. For more, see samizdata.net; hat tip to InstaPundit. Now we'll find out what "community organizing" means when it comes to counting people!
RSS glitch fixed, again
FOR THE RECORD: Today I realized that I had messed up in the blog post from Feb. 4 (seven days ago), which caused a glitch in my RSS feed, so I corrected that, including the original date stamp.
February 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Sen. Gregg won't join cabinet
After news reports that President Obama was planning to take responsibility for the 2010 Census from the Commerce Department, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) announced that he would not accept the nomination to be secretary of that department. He said simply that there were "irresolvable conflicts" over the stimulus package and other policy issues, but I'll bet Gregg felt that Obama had used him. According to CNN.com, "[A] GOP source said Gregg 'didn't want to be a powerless GOP token, and that's where this was headed.'"
Good for him! That means Obama has to start the search and vetting process all over once again, after the prior Commerce nominee Bill Richardson withdrew his name (see Jan. 4) and the prior HHS nominee Tom Daschle did likewise (see Feb. 3). Now why can't they admit that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was a bad choice, and replace him as well?
February 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Chavez wins term-limit vote *
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez apparently triumphed in the referendum on constitutional term-limits held on Sunday, but the margin was not that wide: 54% voted to put an end to term limits, and 46% voted to continue them. This result virtually assures that Chavez will remain in office as "president for life" indefinitely. Otherwise, Chavez would have been obliged to step down in 2013, at the conclusion of his second six-year term. Chavez called it "a clear victory for the people. A clear victory for the revolution." Foreign observers said the referendum was fair, but they may not have been aware of intimidation behind the scenes. See BBC and CNN.com. Just before the election Venezuela expelled a legislator in the European parliament from Spain, Luis Herrero, over reports that he called President Hugo Chavez a "dictator." Well, other strong-willed presidents in Latin America have been called dictators, such as Alberto Fujimori of Peru, and even former President Bush (II) was referred to in that way.
If Chavez uses this referendum victory as a mandate to continue with his "socialist revolution," it will guarantee an even stronger backlash against him. The last Venezuelan presidential election was in December , when Chavez won by a sweeping 62%-38% margin. That was a "clear victory." On the other hand, Chavez lost a similar referendum in December 2007. Even though Chavez has been prevailing in most political showdowns over the past year, the opposition has not given up yet. The harder he pushes to control the country, the more former allies will defect from his "Bolivarian Revolution."
* UPDATE: In Saturday's Washington Post, Edward Schumacher-Matos provides additional reason to take solace in Chavez's apparent political success -- namely, the "economic mismanagement and corruption" that will ultimately doom his regime. From Juan Peron in Argentina to Juan Velasco in Peru, Latin American populist despots have taken advantage of export revenue windfalls by splurging on social programs that could not be sustained for long. Given the bleak prospects for crude oil prices in the current global economic recession, it's just a question of how long long it will take before everything begins to unravel in Venezuela. I agree with the author's suggestion that President Obama "should not engage Chávez in public quarreling and certainly should not work privately against him inside Venezuela" as George W. Bush did. Let Chavez fail on his own so that Uncle Sam doesn't get the blame.
February 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Mexican drug war escalates
The dreadful news from Mexico about narco-gang violence drones on and on, numbing the senses of those few Americans who would be inclined to pay attention in the first place. In spite of enormous efforts by President Felipe Calderon to crack down on the drug lords, there are few if any signs of success. Quite the contrary, cities along the U.S. border such as Ciudad Juarez (across the Rio Grande from El Paso) remain under a virtual state of siege. Of the 6,000 drug-related murders in Mexico last year, more than 1,200 of them happened in Ciudad Juarez. The local governments and police authorities are forced to hunker down in fortified headquarters, faced with constant death threats against their family members, thereby leaving the streets wide open to the mafia. Most journalists have been intimidated into staying away or keeping silent.
The Mexican government has tried to regain the psychological edge in this brutal showdown by convening an emergency meeting of top security officials in Ciudad Juarez on Wednesday. The gesture of defiance against the narcotraffickers is an encouraging sign, at least. For more, see CNN.com. Nevertheless, it will take a lot more resources and action to stop drug trafficking and consumption on the northern side of the border before the situation in Mexico turns around. Unfortunately, the drug and border security issue is a low priority for President Obama, who is focusing on preventing financial collapse and stimulating the U.S. economy.
February 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Developments in Wrigleyville
Even though a world championship still eludes them, the Chicago Cubs have become a huge commerical success. While the rest of the country is shutting down and selling out, they are talking about a new multistory building development on the south (first base) side of Wrigley Field. At present, a large souvenir/sporting goods shop and similar small businesses occupy the plot of land in question. The proposed "mixed-use mega-complex" would include a posh hotel, a health club, etc. Will this spoil the neighborhood atmosphere of Wrigleyville? It will if they cater so much to upper-income people that regular fans get left behind. See nbcchicago.com and addisonparkonclark.com. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
NOTE: Due to human error (mine), this blog post did not appear when it should have, on February 27. Instead, the baseball blog post from one year earlier was posted for a second time. My apologies.
February 26, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Class field trip to Richmond
Yesterday I took my U.S. Government class from Central Virginia Community College on a field trip to the state capital of Richmond, to see the Virginia General Assembly during its final week of the 2009 session. State Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegate Ben Cline were kind enough to talk to the students about how the state legislature operates, and to discuss current policy issues such as funding for education. They also introduced our group while we were in the visitors' galleries of, respectively, the House of Delegates and the Senate. Delegate Cline and his assistant Susanne Bunch were especially helpful in making arrangements for our visit and showing us around, and the students were very grateful for that. In the afternoon, we took a guided tour of the Capitol Building and the surrounding area, learning much about the rich history of the Commonwealth of Virginia from all of the paintings and statues.
The Virginia State Capitol Building, in all its sun-lit glory.
While we were observing the Senate conducting its business, former NFL star Bruce Smith was presented with a resolution congratulating him on being selected as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, located in Canton, Ohio. Smith graduated from high school in Norfolk, then played for the Virginia Tech Hokies, and gained fame as a Defensive End for the Buffalo Bills, where [he] played for 15 years. Smith played his last four years for the Washington Redskins, and retired after the 2003 season. See profootballhof.com.
Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling congratulates former NFL star Bruce Smith in the Virginia Senate.
I may post more photos from that trip later on...
February 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]
El Rushbo fires up CPAC 2009
He's added a few pounds since the last time he appeared in a national telecast, but Rush Limbaugh was just as energetic as ever in his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, CPAC 2009. Since the November 2008 elections, he is considered by many people to be the de factor leader of the Republican Party or the Conservative Movement, and he did little to dispel that notion. At a time when the nation stands on the brink of a fateful, one-way "transformation" into European-style social democracy (or something very close to it), Limbaugh was at once upbeat and yet deadly serious about the threat to freedom. He explained his controversial statement that he hopes President Obama fails, and while I don't share his attitude on this, I understand it to some extent, at least.
Indeed, Republicans currently face an anguishing dilemma between showing loyalty to the Chief Executive during his "honeymoon" period and being faithful to their philosophical principles. It is one of those times when prudence and the national interest clash with ideology -- whether Right or Left. Obama is aware of the GOP dilemma, and is exploiting it to the max with his "audacious" economic recovery program, putting the onus on the minority party for failing to follow his lead. The present economic crisis carries with it clear implications for national security, since we are deeply indebted to the Red Chinese, and at times like this dissent can be seen as equivalent to treason. CPAC is a convocation of high-spirited true believers (the "grass roots"), not a group of policy-making elites. Speeches made to such an assembly must therefore be taken with a grain of salt.
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. The Conservative Movement at present is sadly afflicted with a sociological pathology (the "paranoid style" of pseudoconservatives) that dooms it to minority status for the time being. Rush Limbaugh has unique attributes as a rhetorician, enjoying deep respect and affection across the right side of the political spectrum. If he can't get the "troops" out of their dogmatic rut and begin to welcome new allies into their ranks, nobody can. In that case, the Right would remain too weak to prevent our headlong descent into the hell of socialism and statist conformity.
February 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Obama's fiscal audacity
The projected budget figures from the White House are so enormous as to defy comprehension or even reason, but there must be some method behind the evident fiscal madness. His budget proposals envision a Federal deficit of $1.7
billion [make that trillion!] next fiscal year, and several hundred billion dollars for the indefinite future. He would borrow nearly half of the FY 2010 budget which totals $3.6 trillion, and of course most of that money would come from China. See the Washington Post. (Is it any wonder that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was so meek and deferential toward her Chinese hosts while visiting Beijing last week?) Somehow, Obama also seeks to restore "fiscal responsibility," an astonishing example of rhetorical audacity.
Many Republicans are up in arms about President Obama's spending plans, criticizing him for fiscal irresponsibility -- and rightly so. I share those sentiments quite emphatically, but I am also painfully aware of a fatal weakness on the part of such critics: the fact that the Republican Party in recent years has largely abandoned its historic commitment to fiscal prudence. Under the Bush administration, there was hardly any pretense of spending discipline, while revenues were curtailed by the dogmatic pursuit of tax cuts for every reason and every occasion. Hence my criticism of "Bush's fiscal profligacy" -- see my marathon blog post of Jan. 10.
So what is Obama really up to? After all of the alarmist rhetoric about the dire consequences of failing to pass his emergency measures, one could be forgiven for concluding that he is actually trying to talk down the stock market and spook investors. In other words, he may be deliberately fomenting a crisis of capitalism as a means to effectuate his (evident) desire to transform the American economy into a European-style social democracy. Every time he makes a speech, it seems, the Dow Jones Industrial Average starts sinking again, and it is falling steadily toward the 7,000 mark.
More evidence for Obama's intentions comes from the Washington Post, which reported that the President is asking Congress for $634 billion as a "down payment" toward his goal of universal health care. He hopes to economize by making the health care system more predictable and thus more efficient than at present, while pressuring insurers and health care providers into keeping costs down. If he is serious about this, it would spell the effective end of economic freedom in America -- period. The term "down payment" is a strange (and misleading) label to attach to new entitlement spending, however. It ordinarily means money that is paid up front for a leveraged (debt-financed) purchase of real estate or durable goods. It's another example of Obama confusing "investment" expenditures with current spending that is not expected to yield a net payoff.
Notwithstanding the above harsh criticisms of Obama, his administration is at least fulfilling his pledge of greater accountability and transparency. They are eliminating certain "accounting gimmicks" used by the Bush administration that apparently underestimated national indebtedness over the next decade by about $2.7 trillion. See the New York Times; hat tip to Waldo Jaquith.
Some day in the not-so-distant future, most Republicans will come to bitterly regret going along with the Bush-Rove-Norquist idea that "deficits don't matter." They do.
February 11, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Alex Rodriguez admits dope use
Outside, the birds are starting to sing, and spring training begins next week, so you know what that means: It's time for another baseball doping scandal! Just like every pre-season since 2004, drug abuse by baseball stars is grabbing the headlines. (Do you really think the timing of these news items is just a coincidence?) It was in December 2004 that rumors of steroid use by Barry Bonds were confirmed by journalistic investigators, showing how ineffective the MLB drug testing policy had been. (Jason Giambi also confessed.) Then in March 2005, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro testified on Capitol Hill, reminding one of the showdown between Oliver North and Congress. A year later, in March 2006, Bud Selig finally named former Sen. George Mitchell to head MLB's investigation into dope use. Because of the intensive public scrutiny, baseball players finally got the message, and the whole issue subsided. In December 2007 the Mitchell report was released, naming many names, leading to several criminal investigations.
But we all knew that the other shoe was going to drop eventually, and on Monday it did: Alex Rodriguez admitted that reports that he had used steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers (see last Saturday) were, in fact, true. He said he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003. See ESPN and MLB.com, which has a full roundup. The admission by Rodriguez was candid and sincere, blaming his youthful foolishness and his fierce desire to meet the super-high expectations that people had of him. As he told ESPN's Peter Gammon, "it was such a loosey-goosey era..." (Kind of like the U.S. economy overall!) I'm willing to accept his explanation that he deceived himself when denying on CBS's "60 Minutes" that he had used steroids, in part because he does seem deeply regretful. Anyone who cheats in a major way eventually winds up in a no-win situation, and it doesn't do much good for observers to wag their finger.
The way this story came out was strange, because the drug tests that showed that A-Rod had been cheating were supposed to be anonymous. He didn't blame the players' union for either resisting drug testing or for making sure that the samples were destroyed after the testing was done. As he said, it's probably for the best that the truth came out, and now he doesn't have to carry the burden of living a lie. People go crazy that way. Think about Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and other players who kept on denying guilt long after they had lost all credibility, except among their hard-core fans. They are on a dead-end street. Time will tell whether coming clean pays off for A-Rod. For Yankee fans (like me), he is now "on probation," and as long as nobody comes forward with allegations that he abused drugs after 2003, he can probably redeem himself. As for the 156 home runs that A-Rod hit during those three years, the frequency was almost one-third more than during his other ten seasons, so perhaps statisticians can make a suitable adjustment formula for the record books. If so, his current lifetime total of 553 home runs would be reduced to 514.
Miguel Tejada pleads guilty
Meanwhile, Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada, formerly of the Baltimore Orioles, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to Congress about drug use by other players and now awaits sentencing, set for March 26. His own dope use was not part of the charges, possibly because of a plea bargain, but it's pretty obvious that he was a user. Because Tejada is a citizen of the Dominican Republic, as a convicted felon, he might face problems getting his visa renewed. See MLB.com. Tejada's tearful statement to the press today leave no doubt about the emotional damage that this scourge has done to the sport -- fans and players alike.
Adam Dunn joins Nationals
This is one of the best pieces of baseball news for Washington in a long time: the Nationals have signed first baseman Adam Dunn to a two-year $10 million contract. He will thus join his friend Austin Kearns, another former Cincinnati Red. See MLB.com. This is bad news for the two Nats players who vied for the first base slot last year: Nick Johnson (one of the only two former Expos still with the franchise) and Dmitri Young. The big-bucks deal shows that the Lerner family is indeed committed to fielding a competitive team this year -- not just "rebuilding for the future." Us Nats fans don't ask for much, but please just give us a chance to break the .500 mark! I took a photo of Dunn at bat in Cincinnati in August 2004.
Shea Stadium in ruins
I've seen from various Web sites that demolition of Shea Stadium is moving ahead very quickly, and less than one-fourth of the grandstand is left. That being the case, I have changed the scrolling menu at the top of the baseball blog page, moving Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium to the "Former" stadium list, and putting Citi Field (?) and Yankee Stadium II in the list of "Current" stadiums.
February 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]
PETCO Park update
The diagram for PETCO Park, home of the San Diego Padres, has been updated. It now has a more accurate profile, lights, and additional details such as the building annexes and pedestrian ramps outside the stadium proper. The balconies on the Western Metal Supplies building are now clearly shown as hanging over the field.
PETCO Park will host one of the two second-round series in this year's World Baseball Classic, from Mar. 15 - 21. The finals will be in Dodger Stadium, Mar. 21 - 23. PETCO Park hosted the final series of the inaugural WBC in 2006.
Griffey back to Seattle
Perhaps this is another sign of the recession. Ken Griffey, Jr. has signed a one-year contract with the Mariners. Seattle is where Griffey played before signing with Cincinnati, his "home town." His new contract is only for one year, and only pays $2 million. Better than nothing! The terms also include incentive bonuses. See FOX Sports; hat tip to Bruce Orser.
Nationals in the news
As the position players show up for Spring Training, a small scandal has hit the Washington Nationals. The player formerly known as "Esmailyn Gonzalez" is actually Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo, who has apologized for lying about his name and age to the Nationals. He is actually 23 years old, not 19 as he had claimed. Apparently he thought he would be more likely to land the job if he pretended he were a just a kid with lots of room for improvement. Team President Stan Kasten expressed anger over the deception, but there's more to this case than meets the eye. General Manager Bowden and his assistant Jose Rijo faced investigation over alleged corrupt practices in recruiting players from the Dominican Republic, skimming their signing bonuses. See MLB.com. Rijo has taken a leave of absence from the Nationals...
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was ready for arbitration over his salary, but at the last minute his agent negotiated a one-year, $3.3 million contract. Zimmerman still hopes to sign a multi-year contract with the Nationals later this year and settle down in Washington. MLB.com.
SPELL CHECK: The minor league pitcher from Canada who was recently signed by the Nationals, which I mentioned last Monday, is Jordan Zimmermann, with two N's.
February 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Digital deadline? Never mind!
For well over a year, the American public has been bombarded with TV advertisements warning them to get ready for the transition to digital television by February 17, 2009. Well, some people have just not been paying attention, it seems, and the government ran short of money for the digital converter coupon program. (George Will dubbed that the "No Couch Potato Left Behind Act." ) In any event, Congress has tried to alleviate the confusion by extending the deadline for another four months. The Washington Post reports:
Additional money for the coupon program is included in the stimulus package making its way through Congress. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communication, Technology and the Internet, said yesterday that the funds would not be available for several weeks.
One results of this is that local TV stations will have to keep both analog and digital signals on the air, wasting costly electricity at a time when everyone is talking about saving energy! It's a classic example of an "unfunded mandate." Ironically, the net effect of this deadline extension will be to create even more confusion. And so, I have modified the "countdown clock" on the Science & Technology blog page, and further modifications may become necessary in the future.
February 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Venezuela wins Caribbean Series
A team from Venezuela has won this year's Caribbean Series, for the first time since 2006, and the country's seventh such victory overall. Solid pitiching, consistent playing, and clutch hitting were said to be the decisive factors in their triumph. The Aragua Tigres (Tigers) defeated the Mazatlan Venados (Deer) from Mexico, thus remaining undefeated in the series with five straight wins. The final stage of the 51st Caribbean Series was played in Mexicali, Mexico, within shouting distance of California. Even though the Venezuelans have already clinched the title, they still have to play later today (Saturday) because of the round-robin playoff format. They will face Puerto Rico (1-4), while the second-place Mexican team (3-2) faces the Dominican Republic (1-4). All that is left to be decided is who will finish third place and fourth place, and a tie is still possible. See MLB.com and El Universal (in Spanish).
And speaking of international baseball tournaments, the second Winter Baseball Classic will begin on March 5, less than a month from now. The venues include the Tokyo Dome, Foro Sol (in Mexico City), Rogers Centre, Hiram Bithorn Stadium, PETCO Park, and Dolphin Stadium. I've already made diagrams for all of those stadiums except Foro Sol. Hmmm...
Varitek stays in Boston
It took a lot of haggling and a physical exam to nail down the deal, but catcher Jason Varitek and the Red Sox agreed to terms on a one-year $5 million contract that includes an option for 2010. Last year he batted only .220, and at age 36, his future prospects seem to be narrowing. Nevertheless, he is still popular as one of the core players who led the Red Sox out of the darkness into championship status in 2004. Varitek had declined the team's offer of arbitration on Dec. 7, creating much anxiety in Beantown. See MLB.com.
Nats give Perez a chance
The Washington Nationals have signed left-hand pitcher Odalis Perez to a Minor League contract, giving him an opportunity to compete for the starting rotation in spring training; see MLB.com. It's a bit of a comedown for the guy who threw the first-ever pitch in an official game at Nationals Park on March 30 last year.
Was A-Rod on steroids?
UPDATE: Sports Illustrated reports that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, while he was playing for the Texas Rangers, just before he was traded to the Yankees. He was one of 104 players who had positive drug tests, according to an internal MLB survey done that year. There were no explicit prohibitions against such drugs back then, hoewver, so the effect of this news, if true, will purely in terms of his reputation. Unlike Jason Giambi and Mark McGwire, Rodriguez has flatly denied allegations of past drug use. See Yahoo News; hat tip to Bruce Orser. This comes on the heels of the unflattering remarks about A-Rod in Joe Torre's new book.
February 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]
More ballpark news updates
As spring approaches, Mike Zurawski sends yet another batch of "tasty" ballpark news items:
Hopes for a new Florida Marlins baseball stadium took a hit after a study found that the proposed lease terms would be "the most favorable given to a major-league team this decade." According to the Miami Herald, "the public [would be] footing 70 percent of the construction bill but sharing none of the revenue." (Link via ballparkdigest.com.) That seems odd; you would think the Marlins would be more cognizant of the tight budget situation across the country and not ask for such a big subsidy. Are they really in such a financial bind?
In Fremont, meanwhile, opposition from local residents is mounting to the Oakland Athletics' proposed stadium, raising the possibility that the A's might end up moving to San Jose, which is currently considered part of the Giants' territory. If so, however, they would have to buy or lease city-owned land near downtown, and if there is any implicit subsidy via a transaction price below-market-appraised value, the city would have to hold a referendum to get public approval. See the San Jose Mercury News. Mike comments, "If that happened it has no chance. The A's are screwed. Fold them and the Marlins."
In Queens, New York, they are cleaning up the rubble of what used to be Shea Stadium (almost all gone -- see baseball-fever.com) and putting the finishing touches on Citi Field, including a new Big Apple in center field to celebrate home runs. You can watch a tour of the latter at youtube.com; it was just posted yesterday. The New York Times made a thorough comparison between the two stadiums, noting that the outfield walls will be significantly higher than they were at Shea -- 15 feet high in left field, for example. There is also a cool graphic that shows the locations of all the home runs hit by Mets at home last year, indicating which ones would probably have gone over the fence at Citi Field. I'm glad it has some deep outfield corners, making it more pitcher-friendly than most of the newer ballparks. Too bad the new Yankee Stadium isn't like that...
In Minneapolis, the Twins have released design details for Target Plaza, which will connect their future home, Target Field, to downtown. See wcco.com. Maybe they can film a made-for-TV movie with a retired but still-spunky Mary Tyler Moore throwing a Twins ballcap into the air at the new ballpark...
More news to come soon... Thanks again, Mike!
February 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Happy Friday the 13th!
As a baseball fan, I am not entirely immune from irrational anxieties and even a bit of superstition. Happily, I emerged unscathed from this forboding day, and actually accomplished quite a bit. Aside from a bloody suicide bombing in Iraq, there were no major disasters in the world that I am aware of. (The terrible plane crash near Buffalo yesterday happened about two hours before midnight, while it was still February 12.) Those who are curious about the origins of the silly fear of the number 13 -- "Triskaidekaphobia" -- can read about it at Wikipedia.
That 70s music
Only one question tripped me up, and I really should have gotten it right but was too hasty:
I scored a Far Out
95% on theQuiz by SheGoddess: weight loss management
That quiz reminded me that, even though there were lots of great rock tunes when I was growing up in the 1970s, there was also a lot of bubble gum crap, even before disco music became popular.
February 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]
DTV conversion: half-baked
Even though Congress extended the mandatory deadline for broadcast television stations to convert to all-digital signals from today until June 12, some stations opted to do the conversions today as originally scheduled. Of the three TV major stations in this part of Virginia, two made the transition already, and one (the PBS station) decided to postpone the transition for nearly four months:
This ambiguous interlude will cause much confusion and anxiety, especially among elderly folks and poor people who are susceptible to con artists. And perhaps Congress will extend the deadline again, just in case some hapless TV viewer has not been paying attention to all the announcements.
Just as promised by Comcast, our cable TV service was not affected by the digital conversion. For some reason, however, they continue to provide analog-quality television from the local and regional TV stations, which makes no sense to me. If the stations are broadcasting in digital, why doesn't the cable company do likewise?
February 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Repeal the 17th Amendment?
Now that Sen. Roland Burris is in legal and political jeopardy because of false or incomplete testimony while he was being scrutinized for fitness to serve in the U.S. Senate, the question arises as to what lessons we should draw from this fiasco. Sen. Russ Feingold has proposed to amend the 17th Amendment, which provided for direct popular election of senators, which was originally the prerogative of state legislatures. To prevent governors from abusing their discretion to appoint senators such as former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich did, Feingold would require all states to hold elections to fill senate vacancies soon after they occur; at present, four states have such a provision.
In today's Washington Post, George Will heaps scorn on Feingold for "more vandalism against the Constitution," after the Feingold-McCain Act gutted (Will believes) the First Amendment. Will belittles the naive progressive belief that more democracy is always better, and that federalism is a quaint, bygone custom. Instead, Will says, it would be better to simply repeal the 17th Amendment. Of course, that's not very practical, given the exaggerated faith in democracy in contemporary America. But at least this ought to spur some serious thinking on restoring the proper function of the U.S. Senate as a deliberative body, rather than an assembly that is primarily responsive to the popular will. Ironically, Will's suggestion would probably not be very popular.
February 4, 2009 [LINK / comment]
McDonnell sets resignation *
To no one's surprise, Virginia attorney general Bob McDonnell announced yesterday that he would resign from his office as of February 20, in order to devote full time to raising funds for his gubernatorial campaign. The announcement, in text and video, is at the Bob McDonnell For Governor Web site: www.bobmcdonnell.com. Since it has been known for several months that Bob McDonnell would be the only major Republican candidate for governor this year, the only question was when he would resign -- not whether. Back in December, J. C. Wilmore speculated on the timing of the announcement, given the various factors to be considered.
I had the pleasure to meet Bob McDonnell for the first time when he came to Staunton on a campaign visit in Oct. 2005, and most recently at a neighborhood beautification project here in town last September. He is a well-educated, experienced, and very decent man, and has all the qualities to make a fine governor. Even though some of the opinion polls show very tight races between McDonnell and any of the three contending Democratic candidates for governor (Creigh Deeds, Terry McAuliffe, or Brian Moran), we have every reason to expect that the margin will improve after the Democrats are finished tearing each other apart this spring.
Virginia attorneys general as candidates for governor
Of the eleven elected Virginia attorneys general since the late 1940s, all but one (Button) ran for governor at least once, and of these ten, all but one (Marshall Coleman) resigned before his or her term had ended to avoid having the campaign interfere with the official duties. The resignations have come as early as January, and as late as September. Since the early 1970s, only two of those seven candidates (Baliles and Gilmore) actually won the gubernatorial election.
- James Almond (D) Jan. 1948 - Sept. 1957 -- WON
- Albertis Harrison (D) Jan. 1958 - Apr. 1961 -- WON
- Robert Button (D) Jan. 1962 - 1970 (*)
- Andrew Miller (D) Jan. 1970 - 1977 -- LOST
- Marshall Coleman (R) Jan. 1978 - 1982 (!) -- LOST
- Gerald Baliles (D) Jan. 1982 - June 1985 -- WON
- Mary Sue Terry (D) Jan. 1986 - Jan. 1993 -- LOST
- Jim Gilmore (R) Jan. 1994 - June 1997 -- WON
- Mark Earley (R) Jan. 1998 - June 2001 -- LOST
- Jerry Kilgore (R) Jan. 2002 - Feb. 2005 -- LOST
- Bob McDonnell (R) Jan. 2006 - Feb. 2009
* : Button served two terms as AG but never ran for governor.
! : Coleman remained in office as AG during his campaign for governor, which failed.
This strong historical pattern, in turn, raises the question of whether the current candidates for the position of attorney general have aspirations to higher office: John Brownlee and Ken Cucinelli.
So what about the lieutenant governors? Since that office has relatively few official duties, there has been no need for the men holding that office to resign while they campaign for the number one position. Of the nine lieutenant governors since the early 1970s, four have won the race for governor, and four have lost. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling decided to hold off on a race for governor, letting Bob McDonnell go first. This decision was probably influenced by memories of the sharp battle between John Hager (then lieutenant governor) and Mark Earley (then attorneys general) in the 2001 governor's race. With the GOP weakened after the nomination struggle, Democrat Mark Warner was able to win the election. With any luck (which our side needs), that's what will happen with the Democrats this year.
For historical background, see the Virginia politics page.
[ * Corrected (to ensure proper RSS feed): 11 Mar 2009; originally posted: 04 Feb 2009, 11: 59 PM ]
February 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Tax evasion? What-ever! (II)
Just like what happened to Tim Geithner (the newly-sworn secretary of treasury) back in mid-January, it seems that Tom Daschle has had a little problem remembering to pay his full share of taxes. A one hundred twenty eight thousand dollar problem, to be more precise. Well, when you casually play with billions of dollars of taxpayer money every day, such small amounts may seem insignificant. The L.A. Times reports that a spokesman said it was all the result of "simple mistakes," and that Daschle "had worked in good faith to correct them." The former South Dakota Senator was paid "$1 million a year to advise a private equity fund," even though he is not a financial expert by any stretch of the imagination. (Hat tip to Chris.)
The very fact that an investment fund would pay that much money is itself proof of the deeply corrupt nature of the financial system in this country, which in turn explains much of the current recession we are in. Bailing out the status quo will not restore health to our economy, and I'm afraid that much of the rescue / stimulus funding that Presidents Bush and Obama have been pushing for is going to be squandered. Fortunately, most of the Republicans in Congress are aware of this and are resisting Obama's excessive and dubious stimulus package.
Once again, President Obama's commitment to higher ethical standards in his administration is coming into question. Geithner was said to be indispensable for saving the financial sector [from] ruin, hence the easy pass for him. Geithner went on to name an assistant who has been working as a corporate lobbyist, notwithstanding Obama's pledge not to allow that. (Myron is shocked -- shocked! -- at the brazen hypocrisy of the Obama team. ) For his part, Daschle enjoys good relations with pretty much every Democrat in Washington, and this makes serious scrutiny of him very unlikely. It's an astonishing display of how political heavyweights exploit their insider connections. "Change"? I don't think so.
UPDATE: The New York Times asked a variety of legal and tax experts how serious Daschle's offense was, and their opinions run the gamut from minor "mistake or oversight" to "Fundamentally Corrupt." (Hat tip to Connie.) To his credit, perhaps, Daschle did issue a profuse apology today.
Gregg to head Commerce
President Obama has nominated New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg to be secretary of commerce, and Judd has accepted. Might this have something to do with Obama's desire to have a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate? (Assuming Al Franken is certified as winner in Minnesota, the Dems will be only one vote shy of the magic 60-seat threshold.)
Pelosi, tuna, & Samoa
Back in January, 2007 when Congress raised the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had American Samoa exempted from this provision. Why? Well, Star-Kist tuna is headquartered in San Francisco, which she represents, and cheap labor would assure a competitive advantage to that brand. Well, well, well. It has also been alleged that her husband is a major stockholder in DelMonte, which owned Star-Kist, but this has not been proven. See Snopes; hat tip to Stacey Morris.
February 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]
"Stimulus" bill: devilish details
The House passed the stimulus package conference report without a single Republican vote, and then the Senate approved the measure, 61-38. The final procedural hurdle was the Nelson-Collins amendment, named for the moderate Nebraska Democrat, Ben, and the moderate Maine Republican, Susan. Never was the phrase "the devil's in the details" more appropriate. I have pored through the Washington Post's analysis as well as their superb graphical summary of the bill, I have looked at a spreadsheet of the line-item funding provisions that was posted on the readthestimulus.org Web site, and I have even looked at the administration's new recovery.gov Web site. The latter at least strives for "Accountability and Transparency," a noble ideal. Of course, it's uncertain how well they can live up to that standard when the money is being spread all across the country to hundreds of government entities at the state and local level. Conclusion: No one really knows what's in there. It's one gigantic crap shoot, and even Vice President Joe Biden said that it might only have a 70 percent chance of achieving its goals.
I'm obviously very skeptical of the stimulus package, but now that it's the law of the land, I think we have to go along with it and give it a chance to work. What makes me worried is that Obama and others on the liberal Democratic side occasionally drop hints that this is only the first step. I saw a TV ad thanking Virginia's Democratic senators Webb and Warner for their support of the SCHIP program (see Jan. 28), saying that this is a big step forward, but more is expected. That's exactly what I feared.
One interesting aspect is that some Republican governors say they will reject Federal stimulus money, or at least parts of it. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal objects to increases in unemployment benefits, and I heartily salute him for taking this courageous but unpopular stand. Whenever the government subsidizes something, whether illicit pregnancy or unemployment, the usual net effect is that more of such negative phenomena results. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour made strong statements at the the governor's conference today as well. Although I'm glad that nearly all Republican leaders have joined in voicing their strong objections to this over-reaching measure, I also worry that they aren't working hard enough to offer an alternative. I'm sure that we will soon hear of Republican policy alternatives, and hopefully enough fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats will make common cause on this issue before the American economic system is transformed into something resembling socialism.
Steve Kijak attended a rally against the stimulus package organized by Americans for Prosperity in Richmond on Wednesday.
Tax evasion? You betcha!
Much like Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle , it seems that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has failed to pay her full share of taxes, but in this case it's really a question of how much travel expense reimbursement she and her family are entitled to. She is said to spend as much time in her home town of Wasilla as in the state capital Juneau, and there are a lot of airline miles between them. See Wall Street Journal. To me it seems strange that a governor would not take up full-time residence near where he or she carries out his or her official duties.
February 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Redistricting bill fails again
To my great chagrin, a subcommittee in Virginia's House of Delegates voted against a redistricting bill that had passed the Senate nearly unanimously. It has become an annual ritual, with the lower chamber repeatedly turning down the initiatives. House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith justified the Republican caucus's opposition to this measure by saying "As long as you have human beings doing the job, there will be partisanship involved." See NBC29.com.
Well, it is certainly true that no human being is totally immune from various biases, but that does not mean that proper means to mitigate partisanship can't be devised. The way things stand, legislators redraw district lines to protect their incumbent status, making elections less competitive and therefore less interesting to voters, which in turn results in less citizen involvement in state government, which allows special interests to wield greater power. It's a shame that the Republican-led House wasted yet another opportunity for reforming state government, and if they lose their majority status in the elections this fall, they will come to regret handing that much more power over to the Democrats.
Reforming the redistricting process has long been an issue very near and dear to my heart, and I will have more to say about this in the future. Professor Mark Rush of Washington and Lee University has studied this issue in considerable depth, and has taught an experimental course on the subject.
UPDATE: The AP story in Wednesday's News Leader quoted Del. Shannon Valentine (D-Lynchburg), who said that the current practice of redistricting has caused the divide between parties to become more entrenched, thereby discouraging legislative cooperation. "We have created districts that are so polarized that we don't have to listen to each other and we don't have to work together." (She was a sponsor of the House version of the redistricting bill.) That's another good reason to depoliticize the process, but it is unclear why that pernicious effect would be stronger the House of Delegates more than the state Senate, which is less prone to partisan bickering.
February 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Roundup of ballpark news
Mike Zurawski has sent another batch of news items concerning ballpark renovation, construction, and planning. In Milwaukee, the Brewers are building a new 42-seat elevated seating area in left-center field at Miller Park, to be called the "Harley-Davidson Deck." Fans who are members of the Harley Owners Group can buy tickets at a discount, and will have special access to a new motorcycle parking lot. See Business Journal of Milwaukee. Harley-Davidson is certainly a much more reputable company than others that have reached ballpark deals in the last few years. They not only produce a useful, high-quality product, they make them right here in the U.S. of A.!
In Miami, fears are growing that the economic recession will cause future hotel-tax revenues to fall short of projections, leaving the local governments without the means to pay for a new stadium for the Marlins. The estimated total cost at present is $609 million. The new report on the effect of declining tourist business casts a chill on the upcoming vote on the stadium deal by Miami and Miami-Dade commissioners. See Miami Herald. Nevertheless, Marlins president David Samson says he is "cautiously optimistic" that the commissioners on will approve the deal on Feb. 13. If so, he expects groundbreaking to begin between June 15 and July 15, which would still make it possible to finish construction in time for the 2012 season. See MLB.com.
In the Bay Area, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has begun promoting the idea that the 49ers and Raiders should share a new stadium, rather than replacing their respective existing stadiums on their own. He cited Meadowlands Stadium which is being built next to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. -- a $1.6 billion long-term cohabitation arrangement between the Giants and Jets that is supposed to open in August 2010. As with the case of the Oakland Athletics, the haggling with various local governments is dragging on and on, and with no imminent prospect for an economic recovery, some difficult compromises and severe belt-tightening will be necessary. See sfgate.com.
Thanks as always to Mike for sharing the latest ballpark news with the rest of us.
February 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]
As the American capitalist system struggles to keep its head above water, and left-wing socialism gains ground elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, the leaders in Cuba and Venezuela had much to celebrate as they marked the 50th and tenth anniversaries of their respective revolutions. How things have changed over the past ten years!
Venezuela under Hugo
In Venezuela, which was a bastion of stable, middle-class democracy until the 1990s, the tenth anniversary of Hugo Chavez's first inauguration -- in February 1999 -- was declared a national holiday. (That was almost exactly seven years after Chavez's first coup attempt, in February 1992.) President-for-life Chavez boasted of all the changes that his government have brought about, some of which are no doubt valid. Poor people do have rights and much improved access to health and educational services, as well as better housing. The question is whether the socialist economic system Chavez has created can be sustained over the long term. The ambition of Hugo Chavez knows no limits, and he often invokes the hero of the wars of independence, Simon Bolivar, implicitly striving to unite Spanish South America under his leadership -- hence the official renaming of the country as the "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela." The celebration was attended by the presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Honduras, but not Ecuador or Cuba; see below. See BBC.
All is not well in Venezuela these days, however. The falling world price of crude petroleum has put severe strain on the national budget, which is why they temporarily suspended the CITGO heating oil subsidy program last month. Crime and violence in Venezuela are signs of growing social discontent. A referendum on whether Chavez will be allowed to run for another term as president will be held on February 15.
Cuba under Fidel (& Raul)
It was on New Year's Day 1959 that Fidel Castro and his ragged band of rebels marched into Havana, as the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista abruptly collapsed. Castro had an ambiguous political background, and it took several months before the widespread suspicions that he intended to pursue a communist agenda were confirmed. By the end of 1959, Castro made it clear that his revolution was following the Marxist-Leninist model pioneered in the Soviet Union.
Castro's regime had many ups and downs over the decades, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the collapse of the Soviet Union (1992), Cuba seemed destined to crumble under the weight of a dead ideology. Two things saved communism in Cuba: money from European tourists and subsidies from oil-rich Venezuela, thanks to Hugo Chavez. Without those two factors, it is difficult to imagine that the revolutionary government could have survived for very long in the 21st Century.
There is another, perhaps equally important factor that explains the longevity of Cuban-style communism, however: the mystical force of personality exuded by Fidel Castro himself. The image of a rebel leader standing up against the wicked imperialists resonates deeply throughout Latin America, and Fidel embodied that heroic ideal extremely well. His jaunty attitude, chomping at his cigar, were reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt grinning with a cigarette holder. That, plus his frequent moralistic speeches condemning capitalist extravagance and his apparent simple lifestyle endeared him to many if not most Cuban people. Since Fidel became ill in late July 2006, his brother Raul has taken over as de facto leader, and the transition became official nearly one year ago. Given that the personality aspect is so important to maintaining political order in Cuba, there may be a tumultuous upheaval after Fidel and Raul Castro pass away. That day may not be far off.
The official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, Granma, has a special Web section devoted to commemorating the half century of the Cuban Revolution, coinciding with Fidel Castro's 80th birthday. It includes interviews with dozens of Cuban military commanders, homages from friendly foreign leaders such as Hugo Chavez, and many "fun facts."
Raul Castro in Russia
President Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother, has paid a visit to Russia, which is why he could not attend the celebrations in Venezuela. He met with President Dmitry Medvedev, who recently visited Cuba, as well as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the de facto ruler of Russia. See BBC and Granma. Relations between Cuba and Russia have improved greatly since the Boris Yeltsin was president; the Russian Navy visited Havana in December, bringing back memories of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Russia may be tempted to test President Obama's mettle by making some abrupt strategic move in Latin America, much as Sen. Joe Biden warned about during the fall campaign.
February 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]
"Kanawha," a.k.a. West Virginia
Most people know that West Virginia seceded from Virginia after Virginia seceded from the United States in 1861, but not many people know that this process was complex and drawn-out. In fact, they were considering various names such as "Kanawha," before they finally decided on "West Virginia." Which counties would be in which state was highly uncertain for much of the Civil War, and there were radical proposals to transfer much of Virginia's land to Maryland and Delaware, as a form of reparation. See the fascinating graphic at the Strange Maps blog; hat tip to Waldo.
February 6, 2009 [LINK / comment]
"Porkulus" bill "compromise"
Late this afternoon, the U.S. Senate reached a "bipartisan" agreement on President Obama's "stimulus package," which has been dubbed the "Porkulus bill" by El Rushbo. It's not much of a compromise, however: Instead of the $820 billion that Obama proposed spending after his inauguration (see Jan. 25), it will be "only" $780 billion -- trimming less than five percent from the total amount. See CNN.com. Relatively speaking, that's nothing. Details still have to be worked out, and the House-Senate conference committee may alter the package further.
Much like the compromise on judicial nominations back in May 2005, a small coalition of moderates from both parties was essential for breaking the roadblock to the bill's passage: Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), This time, however, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was not part of the compromise. Ironically, this was one occasion where economic experts and public opinion coincided; skepticism of Obama's proposal was very broad and deep across the country. Somehow, that didn't seem to matter to the U.S. House and Senate, however. Last week, economist Martin Feldstein leveled some criticisms of the merits of the package in the Washington Post last week, saying "We cannot afford an $800 billion mistake."
In today's Washington Post, columnist Charles Krauthammer ridiculed President Obama's claim that failure to take immediate action "will turn crisis into a catastrophe." How ironic for a candidate who ran his campaign on the upbeat rhetoric of hope; perhaps this signifies the "audacity of fear." Krauthammer condemns
the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus -- and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress's own budget office says won't be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish.
So even though Obama may have won a "victory" today, it comes at the cost of exposing his lack of candor in advancing his agenda. His credibility is already wearing thin, only three weeks into his term. Like Krauthammer, I expected Obama would have a head-on collision with reality during his first few months in office, but didn't think the utopian dream to come to such a quick and abrupt end.
SEC and Bernie Madoff
How did the Securities and Exchange Commission fail to detect the massive Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Bernie Madoff? It took a lot of effort to ignore the incessant warnings of whistleblower Harry Markopolos, who told the whole story to the House Financial Services Committee this week. See Yahoo Finance; hat tip to Dan. That guy deserves great praise for persisting in his warnings to a regulatory agency that was evidently asleep at the wheel. Some day, former SEC chief Christopher Shays (former GOP congressman from Connecticut) will be held accountable by the thousands of Americans who lost their life savings to financial crooks.
February 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Bad luck day for the Marlins
Perhaps they shouldn't have scheduled the big vote on the Miami baseball stadium financing plan for Friday the 13th. The Florida Marlins were hoping to get final approval for their ballpark proposal at the Miami City Commission meeting yesterday, but a last-minute objection caused the whole thing to unravel. Commissioner Marc Sarnoff made three demands on the financing terms, such as mandating that the city and county share in any profits if the team ever relocates elsewhere, which nearly killed the project. This illustrates the deep distrust that persists between the franchise and the public officials. Sarnoff is the lone Anglo on the five-member Commission (see miamigov.com), representing the wealthy oceanfront district of Miami. Then, Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez, who supports the new stadium, moved to postpone the vote for another month. One of the city commissioners, Michelle Spence-Jones, is currently on maternity leave. She is thought to be leaning toward approval of the deal. Marlins President David "Samson said there's still time to get the stadium built in time for Opening Day 2012." From the Miami Herald,
The blueprint calls for a $609 million stadium and parking facility in which the lion's share, $454 million, would be funded mostly through tourist taxes. The ball club would spend $155 million -- though $35 million of its share would be a loan from the county.
This is getting even crazier than the tumultuous series of political maneuverings over ballpark financing in Washington from late 2004 to early 2006!
Even though I look askance on major league baseball franchises making their homes in semi-tropical climes -- which ought to be reserved exclusively for spring training -- the fact that the Marlins have already won two World Series has created a historical precedent that must be respected. Contraction of the franchise is still a last-resort option, but I hope that they can come up with a reasonable compromise to build a permanent home for the Marlins. I still think they should get creative and make it a public works project similar to what was done during the New Deal of the 1930s.
February 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Citi Field (?) and the bank bailout
Since it was learned that CitiCorp is in such bad financial shape that it needs a bailout from Uncle Sam (see Nov. 23, third item), some critics question whether it is proper for it to go ahead with the "Citi Field" naming rights deal with the New York Mets. CNN.com reports that two Congressmen -- Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Ted Poe (R-TX) -- wrote a letter to the new Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, arguing:
Citigroup is now dependent on the support of the federal government for its survival as an institution. As such, we do not believe Citigroup ought to spend $400 million to name a stadium at the same time that they accept over $350 billion in taxpayer support and guarantees.
Rep. Kucinich is known as something of an oddball, but it's still hard to disagree with the argument he and Rep. Poe make. On the other hand, barely two months remain until Opening Day, and it would be extremely difficult to come up with a new naming rights contract in the current economic climate, and then to fabricate new stadium nameplates from scratch in such a short time. (At least CitiCorp is not in the same roguish league as the now-defunct Enron and Ameriquest.) Thus, the Mets are in an unfortunate no-win situation -- kind of like the United States of America as a whole is! As one of the wealthiest franchises, the Mets should follow the example of the Yankees and shun any such naming rights deal. Why not call their new ballpark "Mets Stadium"?
UPDATE: I just noticed that this was the lead story in today's Wall Street Journal. It seems that, like the Mets, CitiCorp finds itself in a no-win predicament as well: If they pull out of the naming rights deal at this late stage, it will be seen as caving in the public pressure and might make it harder for them to exercise negotiating leverage in other high-stakes transactions. Those poor guys...
Wrigley Field video
John Meyer let me know about an old home movie that he posted on YouTube about two years ago. The film shows several scenes from the 1929 World Series when they played the Athletics -- losing, of course. It opens with Flag Day ceremonies on June 21, 1930, when the Cubs hoisted their National League pennant. There are great views of the ballpark from several angles, and it's just an amazing "time machine" experience. See youtube.com.
February 19, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Calliope hummingbird is gone
At the Augusta Bird Club meeting last week, I was told that the now-famous Calliope hummingbird was still hanging around its chosen winter haven on the west edge of Lynchburg. Since it was a (relatively) nice day today, I paid a visit to the Morris home in hopes of getting a second look at the "hummer," but learned to my chagrin that it has already packed up and left. It was a big disappointment, but at least I got a good look at it when I was there last month. It's hard to believe that a neotropical migrant like that could have survived all those nights with single-digit temperatures we have had this winter.
On the way home, I stopped at a stream in a pleasant ravine full of green laurel bushes along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Everything was silent except for the rushing water, and I was about to give up on finding any interesting birds when out popped a Winter wren, yet another very late first-of-season bird for [me]. See the newly-updated Annual arrival page.
Back home, I was pleased to see more Pine siskins at our feeder by the window, and was lucky to finally get a superb closeup shot of one. Previously, I had taken photos of that species with our digital video camera, which yields still images that are rather grainy. Here is the high-quality image you get with a serious digital SLR camera, a Nikon D40:
February 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Last Monday's Washington Post had a very interesting story on the new constitutions that have been adopted in Venezuela at the insistence of Hugo Chavez (1999), Ecuador under Rafael Correa (Sept. 2008), and Bolivia under Evo Morales (Feb. 2009). In each case, they are lengthy, detailed scripts that have less to do with defining government powers (as in the U.S. Constitution) than with rebuilding their respective social systems from the ground up. The radical populist agenda that each of those three countries is following is well known by now, but the legalistic origins of their new political charters is not.
The article in the Post demonstrates that for all three countries, legal advisers from Spain played a key role in the process of drafting the documents. A team led by Roberto Viciano Pastor, a professor at the University of Valencia, influenced not only the wording but the ideological underpinnings of the new constitutions. In other words, those countries relied upon foreign "ghost-writers" to draft their own constitutions! There is such a strong resemblance among the documents that one might almost regard it as a case of "plagiarism."
Constitutional law scholars point to several similarities among the constitutions of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, including the emphasis on "re-founding" those nations to correct historical injustices, to solidify the power of the leader and to focus public policy and spending on the social needs of classes traditionally overlooked by the government.
One Spanish newspaper, ABC, described Viciano in a 2007 article as Chavez's "gray matter" and the "principal ideologue" of Venezuela's constitutional amendments. Viciano objected, and the paper later retracted the assertions.
It is clear that the reliance upon an authoritarian leader to carry out these radical transformations has undermined the culture of pluralistic democracy that had been spreading in Latin America from the mid-1980s until the turn of the century, roughly. Instead of resolving disputes in a peaceful manner by impartial courts, the new radical populist leaders are inciting their followers to wreak revenge, taking their grievances to the streets, intimidating their opponents by crude displays of force, and wrapping themselves in the flag whenever some international human rights group calls attention to such despotic practices. It's a monumental tragedy, but we haven't seen the final chapter yet...
To understand why Latin Americans would be so willing to abandon the progress they had made toward establishing constitutional republics [-- i.e., political systems in which government power is limited so that no one faction dominates -- once] and for all, a little history is necessary. Peruvian scholar Javier Alcalde notes that Latin American countries follow the Roman law tradition, in which legal statutes are written in extreme detail to cover every conceivable circumstance in advance. In contrast, the Anglo-American follow the more pragmatic common law tradition, which allows for flexible interpretation as new conditions arise. Constitutions in Latin America are often "expressions of aspirations and political ideals," and rights are spelled out with no regard for the possibility of enforcing them. From the inevitable clash between law and fact in Latin America emerges the common phrase, "Law is obeyed, but not carried out." For example, free public education is guaranteed for everyone, even though few governments in that region could actually afford decent public schools for the poor. There is a widespread belief in the "magic power" of constitutions to change reality. Once the dream is exposed as untenable, disillusion sets it, reinforcing the vicious cycle of cynicism.
Another Latin American scholar, Prof. Keith Rosenn, examined the social and cultural aspect of this issue. Most Latin American constitutional regimes only last for a few decades at the most, and the periodical revamping of the fundamental charter undermines respect for the rule of law. This in turns fosters a culture of "cheating the system," because confidence in the duration and enforceability of the laws is so low. Rosenn argues that the failure of constitutionalism in Latin America stems partly from the absence of a genuine social revolution at the time of independence. Unlike the United States, the existing aristocratic elites held on to absolute power. Another flaw, he noted, was that many constitutional provisions have an "imported flavor," which this current episode in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia illustrates perfectly. The persistence of militarism goes hand in hand with the lack of experience with effective checks on executive power.
SOURCE: The U.S. Constitution and The Constitutions of Latin America, Kenneth W. Thompson, ed., (Lanham, MD: The University Press of America, 1991)
February 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Aloha, sports fans!
To mark the occasion of the NFL's annual exercise in pointlessness, a.k.a., the Pro Bowl, I have revised the Aloha Stadium diagrams.The upper deck is slightly smaller than I estimated before, and the profiles are now more accurate. I decided not to include the exit ramps for the time being, since they don't quite fit in the standard space.
It turns out that this will be the last year the Pro Bowl is played at Aloha Stadium for the foreseeable future. Starting next year, it will be played at the same venue as the Super Bowl (Dolphin Stadium in 2010), during the week of rest (and media hype) immediately before the championship game. See NFL.com. That might boost attendance and TV ratings, and it makes some sense, but it's still sad to see that NFL tropical tradition fall by the wayside. Maybe they could play some kind of annual winter baseball exhibition game there, just before spring training every year. Since most of the players wouldn't be in good shape, it would only be semi-serious, like the Old-Timers Game. Hat tip to Steven Poppe.
February 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Memorial Coliseum update
Continuing with baseball stadiums in California, I have slightly revised the Memorial Coliseum diagrams. (I know, it really doesn't deserve to be called a baseball stadium.) There are several minor adjustments for the sake of accuracy and a few new details such as lights. I decided it wasn't worth it to do a separate diagram for the March 2008 exhibition baseball games that were held there, marking the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' arrival in Los Angeles. The distance to the left field corner for those games was only 192 feet, ridiculously short.
By sheer coincidence, rumors spread two weeks ago that the San Diego Chargers might relocate to Los Angeles if they can't get public money to build a new stadium to replace "QualComm Stadium." See the L.A. Times. The same old song and dance... Part of the equation is the idea that Super Bowl L (i.e. 50, in 2016) should be played in Los Angeles, just as the first one was. If so, it might be at a renovated Rose Bowl or Memorial Coliseum, or at an entirely new football stadium if one materializes, somehow.
Spring training begins
For most of the country, winter weather will be with us for another month or so, but it's almost always warm in Florida and southern Arizona, where major league pitchers are reporting for spring training. See MLB.com. What a pleasant thought...
February 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Prospects for the Nationals, 2009
Saturday's Washington Post reviewed the team's pitching staff, which has experienced rapid turnover in every year since 2005, when the Nats began playing in D.C. From 2005 to 2007, the Nats managed to field decent pitchers, partly offsetting their lack of offensive power, but in 2008 the pitching just collapsed. Attracting a top-notch pitcher should have been a higher priority for the front office than seems to be the case, thus far. Last year's first-string pitcher, Tim Redding, was traded to the Mets during the off-season, and John Lannan will apparently inherit that spot. Others who are likely to join the starting rotation include Jason Bergman, Daniel Cabrera (formerly an Oriole), and Scott Olsen (formerly a Marlin). Otherwise, it's a wide-open free-for-all. Shawn Hill and Matt Chico are returning to the Nationals this year, but their health remains a big question mark, while Odalis Perez has a minor-league contract. Among the relative newbies vying for a spot on the starting rotation are Collin Ballester and Jordan Zimmerman. (He's from Canada, and is not Ryan's brother.) The bullpen includes a few Nat veterans, but not Jon Rauch (now with the D-Backs) or Chad Cordero, who was the team's star closer in 2005 but is still a free agent. (See my Washington Nationals background page, updated for the 2009 preseason.)
The addition of Adam Dunn to the Washington Nationals greatly boosts their prospects for the 2009 season. How many other players have hit 40 or more home runs in five straight seasons? (Don't ask me.) With regard to getting Dunn signed (and the megabucks Mark Teixera bid), WaPo columnist Thomas Boswell compliments the Lerners for making a statement about their commitment to winning, though they still "aren't off the hook." Dunn is mediocre defensively, but has played left field, so perhaps they can keep Nick Johnson on the team. Nick has said he is not prepared to play in a reserve role, and I don't blame him.
FACT CHECK: On Wednesday I wrote that the Nats had signed Dunn to a "two-year $10 million contract." Actually, it was $10 million per year.
More ballpark photos
I have added four "new" photos of U.S. Cellular Field (taken last summer, actually) that were graciously submitted to me by John Minor. It was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies that were perfect for taking pictures, as you can see:
Many thanks, John! More of his photos are still to come...
February 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]
The perfect (snow) storm
I was never a big fan of winter weather, having had plenty of that when I was growing up on the prairies of South Dakota. (!) Nevertheless, there is something to be said for occasional blasts of brisk, wintry weather. In that sense, the snowstorm we had last night was just about perfect: Everything was coated in a blanket of white, with brilliant sunlight in the morning, helping to melt the snow off the streets. It was only about three inches deep, causing minimal disruption (except in the public schools), and we should be able to return to our regular routine by tomorrow.
The view in our back yard, about 9:00 this morning.
Also see: Bell's Lane snow panorama , taken late this afternoon, showing two ponds and the Blue Ridge in the background.
February 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]
World class procreation
Recession or not, we still live in an age of wretched excess, and almost everyone accepts the notion that "more is better." When you combine that idea with the craving for public recognition in global competition and the biblical mandate from God to "go forth and multiply," the end results can get out of hand.
The perfect example of this, of course, is the mother who gave birth to octuplets last week. Even though Nadya Suleman, of Whittier, California, already has six children and is evidently unmarried, she managed to prevail upon some physician to provide her with the necessary embryo implantation that resulted in eight babies being born, all premature. The woman's father says he has the means to take care of the babies, but that remains to be seen. The grandmother, Angela Suleman, expressed dismay over her daughter's obsession with having more and more babies. See CNN.com, which mistakenly reported that the mother and father are married; several other news sources contradict this, such as the Chicago Tribune and momlogic.com. (Party girl Cindy Margolis is a spokesperson!)
This is precisely the sort of thing that makes a mockery of parenthood and subverts social order. Scientific advance seems to engender civilizational regression. Can the hellish nightmare of mass-produced babies raised by soulless government bureaucracies as depicted in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World be that far off?
February 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Late winter bird arrivals
At the Peaks of Otter last week, I saw a Yellow-bellied sapsucker for the first time all winter. It's very strange that I had not seen one , given the remarkable consistency of its fall arrival for the past six years, between October 4 and 6. At Sweet Briar College the next day, I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a flock of Cedar waxwings, both for the first time this winter. Perhaps I'm just not getting outdoors as much as usual...
On the other hand, we have had Pine siskins at our feeder several times for the past few weeks, an unusually high frequency for that erratic winter migrant.
Wild bird poisoning?
From John Spahr of the Augusta Bird Club:
There have been a number of reports from southwest Virginia of multiple Pine Siskins and other finches being found dead in the yard. All have come from homes with bird feeders. The epidemiology suggests possible (not proven) salmonella poisoning. This could be from contaminated and unclean feeders. Feeder hygiene is always prudent for those who feed birds and can prevent a number of transmissible avian diseases.
Also, Scotts has recently recalled some products, specifically suet mixes containing peanuts, due to potential salmonella poisoning. See bizjournals.com.
February 24, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Mardi Gras baseball? Superdome!
While everybody in New Orleans is whooping it up for Mardi Gras, a.k.a. "Carnaval" in Latin America, it's worth asking about the possible use of that venue for late-winter/early-spring exhibition baseball games. "Let the good times roll and play ball!" This year Mardi Gras (also known as "Shrove Tuesday") falls in the early stages of spring training, but since Ash Wednesday and Easter are "movable feasts" (depending on the lunar cycle), in some years it would be more convenient for Major League Baseball teams than in other years. Last September I raised the issue of baseball games in the Superdome, which elicited some intriguing tips, including a YouTube video of the 1987 "Busch Challenge" college series. So that got me to working on a diagram for the Superdome, and it is now sufficiently refined to make public. Ta da-a-a!
The Superdome has a unique solution to the age-old football-vs.-baseball configuration dilemma: they simply retract the entire lower deck along both of the sidelines. That explains why the lower deck in the Superdome is so small compared to most other stadiums. Like the Kingdome in Seattle, it combines a circular perimeter with a more-or-less rectangular interior field shape, though it is actually an "octorad," like in Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego or Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. It is unique in how the symmetry of each deck is slightly different, more oblong in the upper deck.
For the time being, I don't plan on a separate page for the Superdome, since an official major league baseball game has never been played there. Those who are curious can check out superdome.com and stadiumsofnfl.com. I couldn't find any decent 2-D seating charts at the NFL Web site, but there is an interactive 3-D chart of the Superdome at seats3d.com.
You know the drill: Roll your mouse over the diagram to see the football version. Click for a surprise.
UPDATE: There was really never much chance that New Orleans would get a Major League franchise, due to its relatively small population. That's why the baseball configuration is problematic, with very poor sight lines in the upper decks; big league baseball just wasn't regarded as a serious prospect. Surprisingly, however, in the year 1900 New Orleans was the twelfth biggest U.S. city, with 287,104 residents. In the 2000 Census, however, it ranked #31, with 484,674, and of course, after Hurricane Katrina, the population shrank considerably. How long will the Saints remain in the "Big Easy"? The future of professional sports in that marvelous urban center is uncertain...
February 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Tom Daschle bows out
The last thing President Obama needs right now is another ethically-challenged cabinet nominee to divert attention from his agenda, and that is exactly what Tom Daschle is. After a rising tide of outcry that threatened to drag Obama down at the very moment when his "honeymoon" administration should be smooth sailing, the former South Dakota senator announced that he was withdrawing his name from consideration as secretary of health and human services. See CNN.com. The President previously voiced strong confidence in Daschle, and today he expressed sadness at Daschle's poor judgment, which is putting it very mildly. Privately, Obama must be furious at Daschle for creating another ethical uproar.
Why should it matter whether the head of HHS paid all his taxes or not? Well, one of Obama's highest priorities is to reform the health care system in this country, presumably setting up a single-payer system that would be the first big step toward outright socialization of medical care in general. In order to do that, he must allay fears at every step of the way, maximizing the transparency of the process and the integrity of those who carry it out. (The Democrats have clearly learned the lesson from 1993, when Hillary Clinton tried to impose socialized medicine on an unsuspecting public by subterfuge and double-talk.) Any hint that the officials in charge of the "reform" in health care were prone to taking advantage of the system would spark loud protests, so Daschle simply had to go.
Blame for the recession
While Congress debates how to get our economy restarted, it might be a good idea to review how we got to this point, and in particular, who warned that there was trouble ahead (the Bush administration), and who pretended that everything was just fine (Barney Frank and the Democrats). See the FOX News timeline of the mortgage crisis from last year at YouTube; hat tip to Patrick Carne. I'm not excusing Bush's fiscal profligacy (see Jan. 10), which is another big reason for the lousy economy, but the Democrats in Congress deserve more of the blame.
Shutting down CCCA?
To be honest, I didn't even know what the the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents was until the recent controversy over shutting it down erupted. It's adjacent to the old Western State (mental) Hospital on the east edge of Staunton, at the top of a hill, and Governor Kaine proposed closing it for budgetary reasons. "Not In My Back Yard!" It's just like when then-Gov. Mark Warner pushed to have the old Staunton Penitentiary closed in 2002, which caused severe job losses in town. Many people thought that Warner was targeting the traditional Republican stronghold for partisan reasons. In response to Gov. Kaine, Delegate Chris Saxman came up with a proposal to fund the CCCA for another year by deferring the purchase of public school textbooks. (Obviously, that's just a stopgap measure.) Saxman was quoted by the News Leader as saying, "Providing a safety-net for children is one of the core services of government." Coming from a politician who is regarded as strongly conservative, that sounded like a strange statement to me. Then Gov. Kaine -- a liberal Democrat if there ever was one -- suggested that the CCCA be privatized, which really put an ideological twist on things. What is going on here?
Well, Chris Graham suggests that Kaine may be slyly turning the rhetorical tables on Delegate Saxman, maneuvering him into an untenable position that would make a future run at statewide office more difficult. I wouldn't doubt it for a minute, and indeed, it bears out my contention that the Governor is much more of a partisan game-player than most people imagine.
February 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Bolivian constitution takes effect
Well, that didn't take long! Barely two weeks after voters in Bolivia approved a new constitution, President Evo Morales has signed the legal instruments that officially put it into place. It aims for nothing less than a complete reshaping of the political balance of power in the Andean country, favoring the indigenous majority who predominate in the western highland regions. The mostly-European minority which lives in the wealthier lowlands of the east and north wants nothing to do with the new constitution, and civil disobedience is expected. As reported by the BBC, Morales said that there have been further attempts to assassinate him, but declared triumphantly,
Now I want to tell you that they can drag me from the palace. They can kill me. Mission accomplished for the re-founding of the new united Bolivia.
So much for promoting national unity and reconciliation. It seems that Morales is intoxicated by power and remains hell-bent on using government coercive means to defeat those who oppose him, whatever the consequences for the country's greater good.
I found a PDF version of the new Bolivian national charter (in Spanish) at Agencia Boliviana de Informacion. It runs exactly 100 pages altogether, so I can't pretend to have absorbed the whole thing, but my first impression was that the enumeration of rights is so exhaustive, so vague, and so utopian as to be almost meaningless. It is chock full of adjectives that could be interpreted in various ways. If those who drafted the new constitution wanted to create a new political system that would guarantee incessant arguing about the meaning of words, then they have succeeded brilliantly.
Peruvian: legalize drugs!
In Peru, the mayor of the district of Surquillo, which is part of the Lima metropolitan area, has urged that drugs be legalized. See CNN.com.
February 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Seals Stadium update
I have updated the diagram for Seals Stadium, the home of the Giants for their first two years in San Francisco in the late 1950s. There are several minor corrections, the standard detail enhancements, and one significant change: Foul territory is smaller than I had estimated before.
Also, I've finally gotten around to adding three pictures taken by John Minor to the Turner Field page, deleting two (similar) older ones that I had taken. More photos of other stadiums taken by John will be posted soon.
Nobody wants Manny...
Not at the price he's demanding, anyway. Ramirez turned down a one-year, $25 million offer from the Dodgers, and the general manager of the Washington Nationals, Jim Bowden, said his organization is not interested in hiring him, either. The Nats are building a long-term pool of young talent for the future, and even though they really could use some offensive star power to generate ticket sales, it doesn't make economic sense for them to pay one player that much. Another hot prospect is Adam Dunn, who reportedly received an offer from Washington and is thinking it over. See MLB.com.
February 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Corruption scandal rocks Peru
The aftershocks of a scandal involving the state oil company PetroPeru continue to be felt in Peru, four months after the news first broke. The entire cabinet of Peru submitted their resignations in October, after some of the ministers were accused of rigging oil contracts for their own benefit. They were evidently trying to take advantage of the big spike in global petroleum prices last year. Among those implicated was Jorge del Castillo, who was obliged to resign his post as prime minister. (He is a former mayor of Lima, often seen as a rival of President Alan Garcia in the ruling party, APRA.) The president replaced del Castillo with Yehude Simon, a provincial governor who was formerly associated with the left-wing guerrilla group known as the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The fact that Garcia had to solicit someone from outside his own party shows how weakened he and APRA have become in the wake of this scandal.
The corruption came to light because a group of naval officers (active and retired) had done wire-tapping work on the side for a private security firm, and they sold the audio tapes to journalists. As BBC reports, "Local media are speculating that Mr Garcia himself may also have been a victim." Charges against eight of those officers have been filed by the attorney general of Peru, in what may be seen as a case of political retribution.
Garcia has been put on the defensive because protests stemming from the revelations of corruption have begun to increase once again in recent weeks. (For more on the initial wave of protests against APRA and Garcia's government in October, see the Peruvian Times.) Garcia's first government (1985-1990) was badly tainted by various corruption scandals, and until recently it was thought that Garcia had learned his lesson and would not let that happen again.
Also, the Fiscal de la Nación (attorney general of Peru), Gladys Echaiz, was attacked in her automobile by a group of gunmen. She survived with minor injuries. It was initially thought to be a mere robbery attempt, but the coincidence with the ongoing criminal investigations that Sra. Echaiz is conducting make some people think that some kind of mafia underground is using violent means to intimidate justice officials. The Minister of Interior, Remigio Hernani, announced that police have arrested a suspect, Michael Portales, but are still investigating the case. Some members of Congress called for Hernani's resignation, for failing to assure the security of top government officials, but political motivations cannot be ruled out. See El Comercio of Peru.
Taken together, these events cast a shadow over Peru, which has had one of the most successful economies in Latin America over the past few years. A period of political instability as seems to be emerging poses a grave threat of undermining all the progress that has been made.
Temblor rocks Peru
And if all that wasn't enough, on Sunday Peru experienced an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale, but there were no deaths or major damage reported. It was centered about 110 miles southeast of Lima. See FOX News.
February 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]
I want my
M Public TV!
I know times are tough, and everybody who depends on government funding needs to tighten their belts, but does the Virginia General Assembly really need to eliminate state support for public television? Yesterday I received an e-mail alert from the President and General Manager WVPT, David Mullins, who warned:
Public broadcasting in Virginia--both TV and radio--is facing an unprecedented threat thanks to a surprising development in the Virginia General Assembly.
The Senate Finance Committee voted to reduce next year's public broadcasting budget by 10%, which is in line with the Governor's recommendation. We are on record as accepting this reduction because we believe it is fair and consistent with what other organizations will receive.
The House Appropriations Committee took a much more drastic approach. It has voted to ZERO OUT funding for public broadcasting in Virginia, an amount totaling just over $3 million. We had no advance warning that a decision of this nature was looming.
Personally, I have supported WVPT in the past whenever I have had some spare dollars for charitable causes, and I'm a fairly regular viewer. I know that "true conservatives" are not supposed to support government subsidies for broadcasting, especially given the wide range of programs that are available on cable TV these days. George Will often makes that point. Unfortunately, some people can't afford cable, and very few cable channels meet the high cultural standards of public broadcasters. It is a vital institution that provides some much-needed uplifting to our celebrity-obsessed, dumbed-down "MTV" nation. I hope other public-spirited Virginians contact their legislators to stand up in defense of public broadcasting -- "supported by people like you!"
The Augusta Free Press reported on the abrupt budgetary axe wielded by the House of Delegates against public broadcasting in Virginia. (Full disclosure: Chris Graham got me my first gig as a television pundit, on the "Virginia Currents" show which he hosted but was cancelled shortly after my one and only appearance in June 2007.)
February 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Goodlatte's tax reform initiative
Last week, Congressman Bob Goodlatte introduced the "Tax Code Termination Act" (see his Web site), a bold alternative to the big government liberal agenda of the Obama administration. On Thursday evening, I participated in a telephone conference call with the Congressman and several other people to discuss this measure, and its implications. My overall impression is very positive, and I am encouraged by such fresh, imaginative conservative thinking on fiscal policy, even as the Democrats push through their agenda.
In essence, the measure would "repeal the entire tax code, except portions that deal with Social Security and Medicare by December 31, 2012, and calls on Congress to approve a new Federal tax system by July of the same year." There are 65 cosponsors, Republicans as well as Democrats. As Goodlatte explained,
Americans devote a total of 7.4 billion hours each year to comply with our current tax code. It is unfair, discourages savings and investment, and is impossibly complex. What we need is tax simplification.
With three out of five Americans using a paid tax preparer, everyone can agree that the current tax system is broken.
In effect, Goodlatte's bill creates a "countdown clock" that would force Congress to come up with an alternative tax system within six months of the provisions going into effect. That alternative might be either a flat tax with a high deduction/exemption floor, as Malcolm Forbes has advocated, or else the "Fair Tax" on consumption, proposed by Mike Huckabee. (It would be similar to the value added tax in Europe.) As with the confusing situation created by postponement of the deadline for conversion to digital television broadcasting, it is easy to imagine that a last-minute failure to reach a compromise could result in a temporary continuation of the old system, perhaps more than once.
As long as the Democrats have a majority in Congress, of course, chances for the passage of such a measure aren't very high. But the American people need to know that they do have a choice about what kind of tax system they have to deal with. Any number of Democratic-allied special interest groups would immediately objet to such a measure, which would neutralize much of the political leverage that the Democrats in Congress enjoy. Another source of resistance would be the army of accountants and tax lawyers who make a living off the incomprehensibility of the tax laws passed by Congress.
It is worth mentioning that tax reform and simplification -- as opposed to across-the-board tax reductions -- has long been one of the main items on State Senator Emmett Hanger's campaign agenda. See, for example, April 2007.
In the conference call with Congressman Goodlatte, we also talked about President Obama's "stimulus package." I stressed the importance of offering a clear alternative program to what the Democrats are pushing through, so that the Republicans are not seen as obstructionist "naysayers." This radical tax simplification proposal by Congressman Goodlatte serves such a positive purpose, looking toward the future, but the Republicans also need to think in more pragmatic terms about which of their proposals might get passed in the current Congress. The economic situation may not be as dire as President Obama says, but some kind of action is required in the near future. All we can do is hope that enough Democrats believe in the free market system to join with Republicans in passing measures that restore private investor confidence.
Tiger Woods on Obama
Golf superstar Tiger Woods was asked to speak at the inaugural festivities last month, and it was interesting that he didn't even mention the Number One Celebrity: President Barack Obama. Watch it for yourself at youtube.com. Hat tip to Rich Raab.
February 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Mafia brutality in Mexico
The narco-mafia crime wave in Mexico seems to be getting even worse, if that's possible. On Tuesday, the bodies of a Mexican general and two lower-ranking soldiers were found near the resort city of Cancun, and a prosecutor in the state of Quintana Roo called it an "execution" carried out by organized crime. Mexico's future depends on how its Army responds to this bloodthirsty challenge by the thugs. There were 5,400 murders reported in Mexico last year, double the number reported in 2007. Chihuahua and other states along the U.S. border are among the most dangerous areas. See CNN.com.
As spring break approaches, American college kids ought to think twice before heading to Cancun, or perhaps any other part of Mexico, which is on the brink of civil war. Part of the problem is that the entertainment industry in Mexico glorifies violence and often portrays the mafia as modern-day bandits, in the heroic tradition of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. In so doing, they justify barbarism. Before long, the security situation there may become as bad as it has been for the past few decades in Colombia, with guerrilla forces and narcotics gangs working in concert to destroy government authority. Fortunately, the situation in Colombia has been improving over the past two years.
The Venezuelan team has won the Caribbean Series, and Mexico came in second place; see Baseball.