November 1, 2005 [LINK]
Many thanks to Bill "the Thrill" Blake for stepping up to the plate and sponsoring the U.S. Cellular Field and (soon to be updated) Comiskey Park pages. Bill previously contributed several photos which are shown on the former page. All the good cheer in Chicago from the White Sox World Series triumph is having a pleasant contagious effect!
Epstein to leave
It turns out Daniel Drezner was right after all: Theo Epstein did not come to terms with the Red Sox and will no longer serve as General Manager. Apparently the Boston Globe released a premature story saying that the deal was finalized. Epstein will stay in Boston for a brief transition period. As for playing in Boston for the 2006 season, Johnny Damon, David Wells, and Manny Ramirez are very much in doubt. See MLB.com. Red Sox Nation is stunned.
November 1, 2005 [LINK]
Upcoming summit in Argentina
The 2005 "Summit of the Americas" will commence at the resort town of Mar del Plata, Argentina on Thursday. In anticipation of large-scale protests, there will be massive police protection for President Bush. That's a bit ironic, given that Argentina's president Nestor Kirchner rose to power by consciously cultivating nationalistic, anti-gringo sentiment. Several banks tied to U.S. interests have been hit by small bomb attacks in recent months. For a country with as much to be proud of as Argentina, that style of politics is, quite frankly, anachronistic and unworthy.
Last week the wife of the President, Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, won a seat in the Argentine senate, defeating the wife of former President Duhalde. Both are from the Peronista movement, though from opposing factions of the fractious "Justicialista" Party.
Elections in Bolivia?
The Bolivian elections that had been scheduled for December 4 have been postponed because of the continuing dispute over whether to use the most recent census figures in apportioning legislative seats. The highland provinces, including La Paz, would lose strength if the change is made in accord with the constitution. Since that is where leftist leader Evo Morales draws his greatest strength, however, his followers are threatening more strikes and protests if they don't get their way. The country teetered on the brink of civil war earlier this year, and could be headed in that direction once again. Monday's Washington Post had a background story by Monte Reel on Morales's grievances about social exploitation. "He said the squabble over congressional seats was calculated to derail his campaign and stop a wave of anti-globalization spreading through South America." Sadly, there probably millions who believe him. Political instability will lead to capital flight, leading to more poverty, leading to ...
Halloween spooks Chavez
President-for-life Hugo Chavez declared that Halloween is an example of the American "culture of terror." He explained that having kids dress up as witches "is contrary to our ways." See CNN.com. He always manages to stretch some thinly plausible argument -- in this case, the "menace of cultural imperialism" -- into something beyond absurd. I don't discount the sensitivity entirely, however. I was surprised to find that Peruvians were picking up on Halloween customs when I lived there several years ago.
November 2, 2005 [LINK]
Partisan hijinks in the Senate
The Democrats in Congress are mad as heck, and they won't take it anymore! At least that's what they want us to believe. Yesterday's surprise procedural move by the Democrat leaders, forcing the Senate into a closed session, was ostensibly about the war and intelligence, but one detects a definite whiff of political opportunism. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said, "The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq." See Washington Times. It seems more likely, however, that the ploy was prompted by the lack of indictments against Karl Rove or other administration officials, which some Democrats had been hoping for. If an impartial investigation of Iraq intelligence is what Reid really wants, then why has he prejudged the conclusions? I saw the full exchange between Reid and reporters yesterday on C-SPAN, and I was aghast by the way he bitterly scoffed at the suggestion that he might have consulted with the Republican leaders before making this move. Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin smiled impishly at his side.
Was the closed session really necessary? Of course not; the mere threat of forcing a closed session would have elicited quick cooperation from the majority caucus, which would have preferred to avoid the embarrassment. From a purely political standpoint, however, the Democrats' parliamentary maneuver -- the first time in 25 years that a closed Senate session has been forced unilaterally by one party -- was very useful, and that's all that really matters. Does anyone seriously doubt that this stunt was an attempt by the Democrats to regain the psychological momentum they had been savoring? On an emotional level, it may have been retaliation for Bush's surprise nomination of the conservative judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Majority Leader Bill Frist not only was caught off guard by the move, he displayed unseemly anger in saying the Senate had been "hijacked." He took the Democrats' bait and stooped to their level. That's not how winners act. I say, let the Democrats blow off some steam and make silly, inconsistent arguments to their hearts' content. It certainly won't win them many votes from the segment of the electorate that pays attention.
As for the more serious, underlying issue, the Washington Post described the recent investigations overseen by Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), noting that cooperation from Pentagon officials declined in recent months because Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said that crimes may have been committed. (Speaking of the Democrats' standard talking points in this whole matter of Iraq, WMDs, uranium, etc., Max Boot catalogs the many factual distortions -- to put it mildly -- of Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV in the L.A. Times, via Rush Limbaugh.) Some people in the Pentagon probably are dragging their feet, but there is no doubt that the demand for a renewed inquiry is an attempt to rationalize the change of mind by many Democrats on authorizing war against Iraq. Most Democrats in Congress voted in favor of war in the fall of 2002, and now they claim, "We didn't know! We were misled!" Such whining calls into question the congresspersons' responsibility to scrutinize the facts as well as their capacity to exercise autonomous judgment. When Michigan Governor George Romney told reporters that he had had been "brainwashed" by the generals in South Vietnam, his credibility was destroyed, ruining his chances in the 1968 presidential campaign.
I have no problem with a serious, thorough, nonpolitical inquiry into intelligence failures, but we must remember that reasonable people can differ in their interpretation of evidence. In this particular situation, however, the stakes are extraordinarily high, and the survival of our free republic now depends more than ever on gestures of mutual faith by cooler heads in both parties, something akin to the compromise reached by the "Gang of 14." The Republican leadership faces the awkward burden of accommodating the demands (some of which are reasonable) of skeptical Democrats for the sake of national unity, which is vital in wartime. The Democrats, for their part, need to show that they really do want the United States and its allies to prevail in Iraq, where the hopes for a freer, more peaceful Middle East now hang in the balance. Saying "I told you so" simply has no place in serious deliberations over foreign policy. The fundamental turnabout on national security policy by many Democrats can be expressed as follows: Whereas in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, nearly all Americans agreed that it was better to be safe than sorry (i.e., erring on the side of prudence), since the liberation of Iraq, too many Democrats seem to believe that it is better to be sorry than safe.
Saxman vs. Elder debate
Incumbent [20th] District Delegate Chris Saxman (Republican; see Web site) debated challenger Bruce Elder (Democrat, see Web site) on Friday, and it was broadcast last night on WHSV-TV3. As the incumbent in a conservative district, Saxman could have played it safe and avoided the debate entirely, and the fact that he accepted the challenge is very commendable. Chris is not only a very competent, well-educated, energetic, and dedicated legislator, he is a very good speaker who excels at articulating conservative principles. Mr. Elder owns a local antique car business, and wants to be seen as a moderate. His posters are colored purple, suggesting a blend of "red" and "blue" influences. It was the first time I had heard him speak, and he came across as nice and sincere. The issues he has raised are rather vague, however, and he really didn't offer a strong reason for replacing the incumbent. They seemed to agree on one of the hottest local issues, preferring to go slow in widening Interstate 81, concentrating on traffic bottlenecks such as big hills. For more, see the Staunton News Leader, which endorsed Saxman.
It's a small world
Tom Faranda, brother of fellow Yankees fan Phil Faranda, was on the same rugby team as Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, in New York state in the late 1980s, and thinks very highly of him. See Tom's blog post.
November 3, 2005 [LINK]
Bidding war for the Nationals
As the moment of truth approaches, the Washington Post is profiling the most likely top finalists in a series of articles. On Wednesday, Fred Malek's close ties to the Washington elite were scrutinized, along with those of his ambitious younger partner Jeffrey Zients. Malek was the first serious prospective D.C. baseball franchise owner, founding the Washington Baseball Club in 1999, [and in my mind deserves special consideration for all the years of work he did in promoting baseball in D.C.] He has brought on board Colin Powell and other big names into his partnership. Some believe that he has spread bad rumors about some of his rivals. (On an entirely unrelated note, Mr. Malek gave $10,300 to the Kilgore for Governor campaign fund on October 29; see Virginia Public Access Project.) On Thursday they covered Malek's leading rival, Jeffrey Smulyan, of Indianapolis. Smulyan is eagerly seeking to overcome his status as a Washington outsider by parlaying his close ties to other baseball owners such as Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox. Credited as a marketing genius by some, he is blamed by others for a poor showing by the Seattle Mariners in the early 1990s when he owned them.
Downsizing the new stadium?
Because of anticipated cost hikes due to materials price increases, some officials in D.C. believe that the new stadium might have to be reduced in size or scaled back in terms of adornments, even before groundbreaking has begun. D.C. Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp said a "Ford or Buick" would be perfectly suitable, rather than a "Cadillac." Certain stadium features not specified in the agreement with MLB last year may be eliminated or financed by private developers. "Mayoral spokesman Vince Morris played down concerns that the stadium's quality might be compromised." Also, the House Committee on Government Reform, headed by Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.) may submit legislation that would give the District U.S. Government land for free. See Washington Post.
Nats trade Castilla to San Diego
¡Hasta luego, Vinny! The Nationals traded Vinny Castilla today for San Diego pitcher Brian Lawrence, a right-hander who had a 7-15 record this year with a 4.83 ERA. Obviously, this means that rookie Ryan Zimmerman is expected to play on a regular basis at third base. That will be a heavy burden for such a young guy to carry. See MLB.com. It seems a little odd that Jim Bowden was more anxious to let Castilla go than Cristian Guzman. I'll miss Vinny, who added a lot of spark of class to the Nationals in their inaugural season. Even though he slumped at mid-season and ended up with a batting average of .253, it was his batting, and that of Brad Wilkerson, that played a big part in the team's successes in April and May.
I've touched up several of the football version diagrams, shading the grass/turf areas outside the gridiron in a duller green, meaning "out of play." They now fit the standard color scheme. Three current stadiums used by MLB teams (Dolphins Stadium, the Metrodome, and Oakland / "Network Associates" Coliseum) and two past ones (Jack Murphy / "Qualcomm" Stadium and Candlestick / "Monster" Park) are being used by NFL teams at present. Four of those five stadium pages are in need of some revision; since they are all too big to fit the standard format, I will probably handle their diagrams the same way I did Minute Maid Park.
November 3, 2005 [LINK]
2,000+ dead in Iraq
October was the fourth deadliest month for U.S. forces in Iraq, and the total number of American military deaths there now exceeds 2,000. How many more? Inasmuch as this war is primarily being fought in the realm of psychology and will, the answer to that question depends, as much as anything else, on us folks on the home front.
Although the recent wave of bombings will probably recede now that the elections are over, it remains to be seen how soon the Iraqi security forces will be able to shoulder more of the responsibility for policing their own country. The huge truck bomb [ten days ago] outside the motel at Firdaus Square, where Saddam's statue was toppled in April 2003, was a potent symbol of the insurgency's deadly capabilities. Demonstrating careful planning and coordination, one truck bomb blew a hole in the protective concrete barrier along the edge of the safe "Green Zone," and a cement mixer filled with explosives drove through and blew up near a hotel used by journalists. Sixteen people died, and it was fortunate that casualties were not higher. The fact that journalists were the target is a good example of terrorist logic.
Secret prisons for terrorists
The Washington Post reported on Monday that the United States has established secret detention facilities for captured terrorists in certain Eastern European countries. I would guess that means Poland and Romania. Some key excerpts from today's online chat with the author, Dana Priest:
I don't actually think the Plame leak compromised national security, from what I've been able to learn about her position. As for my article, we tried to minimize that by not naming the countries involved and, otherwise, no, I don't believe it compromised national security at all.
[The secret prisons] are not illegal under U.S. law, which allows for the CIA to undertake covert actions abroad. Executive Order 12333. Maybe I can get it posted here.
No one from the CIA and no one who used to be in the CIA proposed that I write the article I did. On the contrary.
Well, that last part is reassuring to those who worry that the CIA may be riven by policy disputes, as some have interpreted the Wilson-Plame case. As for the secret CIA-run prisons, that is not terribly surprising to me. Many human rights activists have complained about the "rendition" of terror suspects to countries such as Egypt and Turkey where torture is routinely practiced, and keeping the bad guys locked up by our guys will at least minimize that potential problem.
Bull Moose on Romney
Bull Moose blog (via Instapundit) made the same comparison as I did yesterday between the Senate Democrats and George Romney's "brainwashing" remark that ended his political career. Just remember, you read it here first! Scrupulously fair-minded, the "Moose" concludes,
During the late 90's the Moose was appalled by the behavior of many of his fellow Republicans who ascribed the worst motives to President Clinton for attacking Saddam and going to war in Kosovo. Clinton drove the Republicans to lose all judgement. Although it involves different different players, the Moose is feeling deja vu all over again.
For the record, I gave Clinton the benefit of the doubt on the decision to bomb Iraq during the impeachment proceedings in late 1998, but I strenuously opposed the 1999 war in Kosovo, which had nothing to do with U.S. interests and lacked any authorization from the United Nations. (Either of those criteria could justify U.S. military action, and in some rare cases such as Desert Storm, both applied.) I stand by my original judgment, and see no evidence that the people of Kosovo are becoming inclined to live at peace as part of Serbia. Perpetual de facto partition, courtesy of the U.S.A. In retrospect, however, I probably did let my antipathy toward Clinton influence the tone of my opinions about that intervention, which I regret.
November 4, 2005 [LINK]
Riot of the Americas
Not surprisingly, the protests at the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Argentina turned violent today: Molotov cocktails, looting, and burning the American flag. At least 64 people were arrested. Among those leading the protests was ex-soccer star Diego Maradona, whose reputation has been sullied since his retirement by scandals over drug use, mafia connections, and divorce. The leftist candidate for president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, was also there. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took time out from his diplomatic duties to join the protesters and inflame anti-American passions. Some protesters carried signs calling President Bush a "fascist" and a "terrorist." Cuba was excluded on the grounds that its president is not democratically elected, but state-sponsored Cuban activists joined a leftist "People's Summit" nearby in Mar Del Plata. See CNN.com
In his speech to the summit, which was characterized by the Buenos Aires Clarin (Spanish) as "unusually tough," Argentine President Kirchner took a high-profile stance against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA): "No integration serves us, other than that which recognizes diversity." He also repeated his past denunciations of the IMF for refusing to refinance Argentina's debt on terms demanded by the Argentine government. More generally, he rejected the open-market policies known as the "Washington Consensus," which became widely accepted in Latin American during the 1990s. As host of the summit, Kirchner decided upon the theme, which is creating jobs for the sake of democracy. To reinforce the gesture of defiance against international capitalism and U.S. interests in particular, Kirchner signed an agreement on selling agricultural equipment with Hugo Chavez, who promised to "bury" FTAA. His message resonates with many unemployed, uneducated people, who have become convinced, quite perversely, that free trade keeps them oppressed: "'We're a people united against free trade, because free trade is a policy of death for our countries,' said Carlos H. Reyes, 54, of Honduras." (from Washington Post) How can you argue with that kind of illogic?
The summit negotiations and speeches were nearly overshadowed by the turbulence in the streets, however. One wonders who will be blamed for this by the 33 heads of state who traveled to Argentina for the event. Indeed, it's beginning to look a lot like the 1960s again in Latin America, which for some people evokes sweet nostalgia and for others bodes ill for democratic rule. The big difference is that there is no connection between the revolutionary forces and the global adversaries of the United States such as there was during the Cold War. At least, there is no apparent connection to the Islamo-fascists. What should be the U.S. policy response if the radicals continue to gain power in that region, especially if they flirt with international terrorist movements? Actually, there's not much that can be done to influence the course of events, in large part because any use of leverage in the current situation would be construed as an attempt at coercion. Nevertheless, the option to give preference on immigration quotas to friendly countries should not be discarded entirely. Doing so would require new legislation.
Peru presidential race
Lourdes Flores Nano, of the conservative Popular Christian Party, is leading the polls with 33.9 percent in the Lima-Callao capital region. Alan Garcia of APRA has 13 percent, and Valentin Paniagua has 11.4%. See La Republica (in Spanish) That seems to be a surprising development, given that discontent elsewhere in Latin America has boosted the political fortunes of leftist-populist parties and leaders. Is Peru out of step with its neighbors, or have the Peruvian people wised up to the old Aprista tricks?
Meanwhile, tensions between Chile and Peru are rising again. Chile's President Lagos insists that Chile will continue to exercise sovereign control over its territorial waters, in spite of Peru's efforts to modify the border. He said he has no plans to meet with President Toledo of Peru at the summit in Mar del Plata.
November 5, 2005 [LINK]
Brown creeper, Golden-crowned kinglets
I saw two more first-of-season birds on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning: a Brown creeper (pictured here, roll your mouse over the image to see this well-camouflaged bird from a different angle) and several Golden-crowned kinglets. It was the first time in the nine years that I have been keeping records that I did not see the latter bird until November. A couple days ago I heard a Blue-headed vireo in that area, but there was no sign of it today. It would have been an unusually late sighting of that neotropical species. Today's highlights:
- Downy woodpecker
- Eastern towhee
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Yellow-bellied sapsuckers
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Cedar waxwings (20+)
- Golden-crowned kinglets (6+, FOS)
- Brown creeper (FOS)
- Ruby-crowned kinglet
- Robins, blue jays, white-throated sparrows
November 7, 2005 [LINK]
Fujimori arrested in Chile!
Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was arrested in Chile, only one day after he arrived on a flight via Mexico from Japan, where he had been living in exile for the past five years. After some initial confusion on the part of Chilean authorities about Peru's request for extradition, a judge issued the necessary arrest warrant. Fujimori issued a statement that he intends to return to Peru to run for president in the election to be held next April, notwithstanding the fact that Peru's Congress passed a measure preventing him from holding public office until 2011. The fact that Fujimori's arrival in Chile coincides with the recent increase in tensions over the ancient territorial disputes makes one wonder who might be seeking to exploit the international tensions. The abysmally unpopular president Alejandro Toledo would be a logical suspect if he were running for reelection, but the initiative for Peru's redefinition of the border seems to have originated from within the legislative branch. See CNN.com. (NOTE: There are two factual inaccuracies in that article: Fujimori did not exactly "flee" Peru in 2000, but rather took refuge in Japan while attending an international conference. Second, he was not granted Japanese citizenship until several months later.)
Though often referred to as a "dictator" in Peru, and by some foreign journalists, Fujimori never ruled with an iron fist, and there was substantial, vocal opposition to his policies throughout the ten years he served as president. He remained very popular until 2000, when evidence of rigged elections and systematic bribery of opponents and journalists destroyed his credibility. Most of those dirty tricks were probably concocted by his "security adviser," Vladimiro Montesinos, but Fujimori was responsible. Though tainted by favoritism, the economic policy reforms he pushed through saved Peru from financial ruin, paving the way for an amazing economic recovery that remains the envy of the rest of Latin America. (That fact is hardly ever reported in the mainstream media.) If Fujimori had not let success go to his head and coerced the constitutional court into approving his second reelection on bogus legal grounds, but instead stepped down from power after his second term was over, he would almost certainly have been regarded as the most successful president in Peruvian history.
Summit ends without agreement
The Fourth Summit of the Americas ended without reaching any major policy agreements. President Bush's pitch for a hemispheric free trade area fell on largely deaf ears. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela issued a statement that concluded, "The conditions do not exist to attain a hemispheric free trade accord that is balanced and fair with access to markets that is free of subsidies and distorting practices." See CNN.com. The first four of those countries belong to MERCOSUR, a trade union that exists in part for strategic balance-of-power reasons. Paraguay was recently visited by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and was believed to be cooperating with U.S. objectives. Mexico's President Fox was put in an awkward position when Hugo Chavez accused him of bending to U.S. pressure; Fox denied he was coerced in any way, which is ironic because he has taken a high-profile stance against major elements of U.S. foreign policy in recent years, precisely to placate nationalist and leftist critics. For his part, Chavez will no doubt trumpet his successful obstructionism back home in Venezuela.
Bush visits Brazil, Panama
On the way back north, Bush stopped in Brasilia, where he urged Brazilians to choose the alternative of hope in a more democratic future, coupled with free trade, and to reject the fear-mongering and finger-pointing of the past. It was a nice gesture, but President Da Silva does not believe in capitalism or free trade, merely making tactical accommodations to market realities for the sake of expediency. Bush wrapped up his South American sojourn with a stop in Panama, which recently elected a left-leaning populist president, Martin Torrijos, but is nonetheless regarded as one of the bright spots in the region. Bush then headed home to Washington, making a brief campaign stop in Richmond, Virginia.
November 7/8, 2005 [LINK]
Down to the wire in Virginia
As the stroke of midnight passes on Election Day 2005, and the polls are set to open in less than six hours, the Virginia governor's race is still too close to call. I will be hugely relieved to be done with this campaign. Much as I support the Republican candidates and most of what they stand for, I am a little disappointed with the unduly harsh tone of their campaign, and some of their policy proposals.
Perhaps the GOP candidates have been straining too hard because of all the media tricks employed by the Democrats to artificially enhance their public image. For example, a couple weeks ago, our household received in the mail a flyer (see adjacent image), which appeared to be from the Republican Party, or perhaps some group connected in some way with the party, such as the campaign of Russ Potts. The fine print at the bottom refers to the Virginia Club for Growth, falsely implying that it was the sponsor of the flyer. That group's President, Phil Rodokanakis, denounced the blatant deceit by Kaine's campaign, but also criticized Kilgore for failing to sign a "taxpayer protection pledge." (Personally, I am dubious of such pledges.) If you squint to read the fine print where the apparent photo caption is located at the top right of that flyer, however, you can read,
"This mailing was authorized and paid for by Kaine for Governor."
A-ha! So what does the Kilgore campaign do in response? Rather than than seizing the moral high ground and drawing such dirty tricks to the public's attention, they stoop to the Democrats' level with a tit-for-tat retaliation, mailing out a faux Democrat flyer with a donkey emblem on it; see dailypress.com. As a result, the Kilgore campaign got fined for $100, the same token wrist-slap as the Kaine campaign received. As Chad Dotson writes at Commonwealth Conservative, "Dumb, dumb, dumb."
Bush in Richmond
On the way back from a wearying, largely unsuccessful trip to South America, President Bush somehow mustered the energy to make a strong, enthusiastic pitch for Jerry Kilgore at the Richmond International Airport this evening. He said Kilgore would make a "great governor," and I was just glad he refrained from using the adjective "heckuva." Kilgore caught flak for declining an opportunity to campaign with Bush last week, but given Bush's low poll numbers, this was one of those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations.
Across town, Tim Kaine held his final campaign rally, joined by former governors Doug Wilder (D) and Linwood Holton (R). Kaine stressed his side's upbeat message, and I have to give him credit for that, at least. Now whether his campaign was honest and forthright about his real positions on the issues is another question. When I see that huge ear-to-ear grin and that arched eyebrow, I am reminded of the Cheshire cat: Is there anything behind that smile (and that eyebrow)?
Virginia is a solidly conservative state, and Kaine is openly liberal (or was so until this year's campaign, at least), so Kilgore should be in a better position than he is. What's wrong? Well, the incumbent governor Mark Warner is very popular statewide, and has campaigned very actively for his protege. Also, Mr. Kaine's past missionary work for the Catholic Church in Honduras earned him respect among religious people, including liberals and conservatives, thus blunting the "values" rhetoric often used by Republicans. I really wish that the Kilgore campaign had "stayed on message" with the "Honest Reform agenda" that he outlined during the spring primary campaign. See the video (which I took and edited) of his appearance in Staunton on March 24, when he laid out a very clear, positive policy platform. For the record, and for whatever pittance it may be worth, here are some of my suggestions for future Republican campaigns:
- Make clear the party's long-term vision, and how its specific policy proposals will advance its higher purposes.
- Emphasize how economic conservativism and social conservatism reinforce each other. (This is necessary because of the latent tensions between those movements.)
- Stress concrete past policy accomplishments, and openly acknowledge earnest legislative efforts that fell short because of opposition from Democrats and moderates.
- Improve communication between party leaders and grass-roots workers; easier said than done.
- Stop wasting million of dollars on repetitive, negative, "dumbed-down" television ads. They may push a few more people into the voting booths, but they alienate many potential supporters. This approach also polarizes the public, making it harder to govern.
- Stop using "liberal" as though it were a dirty word. It's not.
- AND FINALLY, Stop pandering to populist sentiments, especially the vain presumption of permanent mass affluence. Energy, and natural resources in general, are scarce and therefore costly.
I also think both parties would benefit greatly if the Virginia General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment to synchronize the statewide election cycle with the national election cycle. Having to compete for votes year after year after year wears out party volunteers, and gets to be very annoying for the vast majority of Virginians for whom politics is not an all-consuming obsession. (As this Web site makes abundantly clear, it is not so for me. )
The Staunton races
On the local front, the Augusta Free Press ran a story, "A conflict of interest?" which focused on the race for Staunton commissioner of revenue between incumbent Ray Ergenbright and Maggie Ragon, whose business partner Kurt Plowman shirked the responsibility he bore for a massive software snafu in City Hall, leading to the widespread misperception that Ergenbright was to blame. Ray has been slow to respond to attacks against him, but he did receive an endorsement from the Waynesboro News Virginian.
In the Treasurer's race, the Staunton News Leader endorsed Rick Johnson, noting that "The incumbent, Elnora Hazlett, did an adequate job until she became embroiled in political infighting with other offices in City Hall." What she did was resist an uncalled-for reduction of her office's staff and functions, and the newspaper's editorial page ridiculed those in the public who came to her defense.
November 7, 2005 [LINK]
Lake Moomaw field trip
I joined several members of the Augusta Bird Club for a field trip to Lake Moomaw on Sunday. It was the first time I had ever been to that remote mountain recreation area, near the West Virginia border. Led by Allen Larner, our group made a preliminary stop at the reservoir on Back Creek, where Dominion Power has a hydroelectric generating station, about 10 miles to the northeast. The temperature was mild for the most part, but it was quite windy and mostly cloudy. I saw several first-of-season birds, and one life bird: a Red-throated loon, identified by Allen Larner. Most of the birds were too far away for good photographs, however, except for this Cooper's hawk that flew overhead. Sunday's highlights, in rough chronological order (not an exhaustive list):
- Red-tailed hawks *
- Great blue herons (one in tree top!) *
- Bald eagles (2 J, 1 A) *
- Cedar waxwings *
- Goldfinches *
- American coots (FOS)
- Pied-billed grebe (FOS) *
- Ring-necked duck (FOS)
- Greater or lesser (?) scaup (FOS)
- Red-bellied woodpeckers *
- Flickers *
- Downy woodpeckers
- Common loon (FOS)
- Red-throated loon (LIFE BIRD)
- Golden-crowned kinglets
- Ruby-crowned kinglets
- Black-capped chickadees
- Brown creeper
- Cooper's hawk
- Purple finches (M, F)
- Hermit thrush (seen only by me)
* -- seen in more than one location.
November 8, 2005 [LINK]
Bashing Busch (Stadium)
Demolition of Busch Stadium (II), the home of the St. Louis Cardinals' for the last 30 years, began yesterday. Glenda Postin, a Cardinals fan from Illinois, won the demolition lottery and was given the privilege of giving the official signal for the wrecking ball to start "bashing" the old place. $66,210 was raised for charity by the raffle, and a wide variety of
junk memorabilia salvaged from the old Busch Stadium will be sold nearby the site on November 26-27. See MLB.com. Explosive demolitions such as at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium are more fun and dramatic, perhaps, but in this case they needed to be careful not to damage the future incarnation of Busch Stadium, which is under construction next door.
More WBC venues chosen
Angel Stadium of Anaheim and Hiram Bithorn Stadium will host the second round World Baseball Classic next March. Chase Field (formerly "Bank One Ballpark") is among those chosen to host first round games, and the semifinals and finals will be held in PETCO Park in beautiful downtown San Diego, from March 18-20. Further details on where the earlier round games will be held are still pending.
November 8, 2005 [LINK]
Bad news for Virginia Republicans
The implicit caution in my post yesterday seems borne out by the preliminary results this evening: Jerry Kilgore is going down to defeat in one of the most hotly contested governor's races in Virginia history. With over 96 percent of the precincts reporting, he has just a little over 46 percent, to Tim Kaine's 52 percent (all figures rounded). Too close to call? NOT! It's good sign that Russ Potts is only pulling about 2 percent, but since he was expected to take more votes from Kilgore than [from] Kaine, it suggests that Kilgore's overall level of support from within his own party was just not very strong. To my surprise, Leslie Byrne is running very close behind Bill Bolling in the lieutenant governor's race, 51 to 49 percent. The attorney general race is the closest one [of] all, as Bob McDonnell is currently ahead of Creigh Deeds by less than 7,000 votes, only 0.4 percent of the total. Even if the Republicans win both those secondary races, it will be small consolation. In a "red state" like this, they should have done much better in all three races. Something is clearly amiss.
If Kilgore had been a more inspiring candidate, I suppose I would have taken this loss much harder. There is nothing for party workers to feel ashamed about, as they all did their part with determination and enthusiasm. I was particularly impressed by seeing all the Teenage Republican volunteers manning the phone banks at the local GOP headquarters in the last couple weeks. (Whether the incessant telephone calls to "Get Out The Vote!" may have gone overboard and perversely suppressed voter turnout is something to ponder at a later date.) When a candidate is notably less articulate than his (or her) opponent, when the status quo is satisfactory, when the national party leader (in this case, President Bush) is unpopular, and when the party is torn by arguments over who is a "real" member, it takes more than a bit of luck to defeat the party of the incumbent. Last year the Democrats learned that profligate campaign spending and frenetic, razor-sharp rhetoric are not the keys to victory; this year in Virginia, ironically, the Republicans are learning that very same lesson. More thoughts tomorrow...
What worries me most about this defeat is that the issue of illegal immigration, which Kilgore raised late in the campaign, may be shunted aside by future candidates of both parties as too risky. Those who heaped scorn on Kilgore for pandering to racist xenophobia are, in my view, guilty of trying to stifle a debate that urgently needs to take place. If neither party takes up this issue in a frank, consistent way, it would open the door to extremists who appeal to those who find they have no voice among mainstream candidates, in which case we would have another ugly David Duke / Ku Klux Klan problem on our hands. Speaking of which, I pity the French, who have been torn between extreme anti-immigrant leaders such as Jean Le Pen and the mainstream do-nothings on both the Left and Right. The riots around Paris are the price they pay for letting that problem fester unresolved.
Shut out in Staunton
In the Staunton commissioner of revenue race, incumbent Republican Ray Ergenbright lost decisively to challenger Maggie Ragon (who ran as an independent), 57 to 41 percent. The loss is not a huge surprise, but given the large number of letters to the editor in the last week or so, which showed a growing public awareness of the conflict of interest issue involving Ms. Ragon, I would have expected the margin to be smaller. I see a big irony in this sad outcome: Ms. Ragon accused Ray of being (among other things) "a politician" more than once, but if you define "politician" as a power-obsessed phony who is prone to caving in on principle for the sake of a few more votes, that is the last thing in the world Ray is. As Leo Durocher said, "Nice guys finish last." In the race for treasurer, Rick Johnson has apparently defeated incumbent Republican Elnora Hazlett 41 to 40 percent, with a margin of only 41 votes; Dolores Duncan ran third at 19 percent. (Close enough for a recount? Probably not.) I happened to meet both Mr. Johnson and Ms. Duncan at the polls today, and both were very pleasant. The treasurer's race was not nearly as nasty as the commissioner of revenue race, fortunately. I'll hold off on drawing any conclusions about this local Republican setback for a while...
Evolution in Kansas
As has been anticipated for months, the Kansas Board of Education has voted to adopt a new curriculum that raises questions about fundamental aspects of the theory of evolution. It's a big victory for proponents of the pseudo-science of "intelligent design." See CNN.com. As one who has taken pains to uphold open-minded, non-dogmatic, critical thinking about science in general and evolution in particular (see Jan. 14, for example), I see this injection of fundamentalist theology into education as extremely troubling. This case bears further close attention...
November 9, 2005 [LINK]
Movie review: Damn Yankees
I recently saw another classic baseball movie on DVD: Damn Yankees (1958), starring Tab Hunter as the (rejuvenated) wanna-be hero, Ray Walston (who is better known for his roles as My Favorite Martian and as Mr. Hand in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) as Satan, and Gwen Verdon as the red-headed temptress. If you're a fan of those exquisitely choreographed, lavishly costumed musicals filmed in glorious Technicolor from the 1950s (such as Oklahoma!), you'll love this one. Oh, you're not? Well, neither am I, but I still enjoyed it immensely.
The very first scene had me enthralled, with game action taking place -- in living color! -- at funky old Griffith Stadium. It felt like I was in a time machine. The stadium was filled to capacity, a rare event for the Senators in that era, so I imagine they had to arrange a special promotion to fill all those seats during the filming. One detail I noticed was that the fence in left field was closer to the infield than it had been prior to the 1950s (except for World Series and All Star games), and it intersected with the big wall at a point in center field very close to the corner. [See photo, added subsequently.] The close-up action scenes were filmed at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, and there were several awkward transitions from L.A. to D.C. and back again. Road games? Nope. In the climactic scene, the hero escapes through a door in the center field wall (ivy-covered), and somehow zips from there back to the locker room before anyone can find him. Hmmm...
The plot and script were adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name. It's basically a fantasy centered upon a dull, middle-aged fan of the Washington Senators named Joe who is obsessed with beating the Yankees in the pennant race, and sells his soul to the Devil for a chance to become a baseball hero. The poor guy's wife is equally dull and plain looking, but extremely devoted to her husband, who basically ignores her from April through September. They live in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a neighborhood that would be way out of such a family's price range in today's world! After being transformed into a youthful superstar, the hero Joe leads his team to an amazing winning streak but exercises an "escape clause" to go home to his wife, at which point the Devil sends one of his demonettes to seduce and corrupt him, as a way to keep him in line. (Would Peter Angelos or George Steinbrenner ever resort to such a ploy?) From a present-day vantage point, the character of the sassy woman of ill repute played by Gwen Verdon was not sexy at all. Times change, and so do tastes. Two other female characters likewise grate upon on our contemporary social sensibilities. One is the brash woman newspaper reporter who virtually betrays her gender, forsaking married life in order to compete in the world of journalism. The other is the friend of Joe's wife, a big baseball fan played by Jean Stapleton, acting in the very same "dingbat" character as Edith from All In the Family, 14 years later! In the end, it's a choice between baseball and glory, or true love and the comforts of home. (Don't rush me; gimme a minute to think about it... ) Some of the musical numbers stretched out a little too long for my taste, but that's what you need to do to keep the womenfolk interested. Overall, it was a well-produced, fun movie filled with nostalgia. For more details, see the Internet Movie Database. The Civic religion page has been updated based on this movie.
In his never-ending research, Bruce Orser came across an interesting page listing documents pertaining to the construction of the Houston Astrodome at the University of Texas Library.
November 9, 2005 [LINK]
... and the agony of defeat
Yes, it does feel a little like a ski-jumper tumbling head over heels, like they used to show at the beginning of ABC's Wide World of Sports. Unlike the defeat suffered by Democrats last year, however, I seriously doubt that many Republicans will engage in deranged hysteria. Our candidate wasn't up to the task, it's as simple as that. Life goes on. Don't get me wrong, last year's "thrill of victory" was a lot more fun than this year's setback, but it is through defeats that one is able to learn and prepare for the next round of battle.
On the plus side, all four Republicans running for the House of Delegates in this part of the Shenandoah Valley won their races: Congratulations to Chris Saxman, Ben Cline, and Matt Lohr. (Steve Landes was unopposed.) The attorney general race is still too close to call, with three precincts out of 2426 yet to count. Bob McDonnell holds a lead of only 2,000 or so votes over Mr. Deeds, a margin of 0.1 percent. I was a bit disturbed by the way Governor Warner pandered to his party's loose-screw wing last night by demanding, "count every vote!" Please, let's not go through all that nonsense again. Just do the recount and agree to accept the results.
Today's Washington Post editorial called Kaine's victory a "watershed" for southern Democrats, concluding
Mr. Kaine's triumph proves that a strong, smart candidate can win in Virginia regardless of party affiliation and that hot-button attacks and crass wedge-issue politics are not enough to defeat him. By thumping away at Mr. Kaine's stands on the death penalty and illegal immigration, Mr. Kilgore tried to play on voters' fears. He failed, and that offers a lesson that should be heeded beyond the state's borders.
I think Kilgore's error in pushing those issues was in style, not substance. Ironically, his harsh rhetorical tone on the campaign trail backfired in terms of addressing those particular issues. As for national implications, Senator George Allen's prospects as the GOP presidential nominee have taken a big plunge, while those of Governor Mark Warner have soared. For those who hope the Democrats return toward the center of the political spectrum, that is a good thing. More generally, unless someone can convince me otherwise, I think this election demonstrates the mistaken effort by Republican strategists to maximize the turnout among the committed conservatives and party loyalists. That strategy was in part motivated by the nature of Virginia's electoral system, which was designed to discourage turnout in statewide elections. That is one more reason why the Generaly Assembly should pass a constitutional amendment to get rid of the off-year election cycle for statewide offices.
Finally, congratulations are due to Governor-elect Kaine. Although he has skirted tough choices on transportation, as the Post editorial noted, I happen to agree with him on the need to extend Metrorail to Dulles Airport and widen I-66 inside the Washington Beltway -- regardless of what those "NIMBY" folks in Arlington who blocked a baseball stadium may think. I hope Kaine shows as much concern for Virginia's fiscal soundness as Governor Warner has, and that he remembers that the Republicans still have a majority in the legislature.
I saw Mary Mapes on ABC's Good Morning America today, and was stunned by her unapologetic, defiant attitude over last year's bogus CBS Sixty Minutes story on President Bush's service in the Air National Guard, relying on forged documents. She actually said that unless the source materials used to substantiate news stories can be proven false, they should be accepted as valid. Yikes! Go back to Journalism 101, Mary.
November 11, 2005 [LINK]
"No, you go first"
In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell laments the "squeeze" being put on Washington by the honchos at MLB, as Commissioner Selig keeps dragging his heels on the sale of the Washington Nationals. Boswell observes that one billion dollars is being offered by the city government and private investors (adding together the franchise bid price and the cost of the new stadium), for a franchise that wasn't even worth one tenth of that before it moved to Washington! The franchise sale process has apparently stalled because of the reluctance of the D.C. Council to approve revised financial terms for the new stadium, which MLB has insisted on as a precondition for the sale. Many on the D.C. Council have serious doubts about whether the new owners will be committed to the local Washington community, and neither side is willing to make the first move to overcome the impasse. Washington area fans were so thrilled just to get baseball back that they could forgive the fact that their new team had to play their inaugural season with one hand tied behind their back (i.e., no owner), but this situation is getting totally outrageous.
Comiskey Park update
At last, the Comiskey Park page (sponsored by Bill Blake, in memory of William V. Altieri) has been revised with several new diagram versions, including one for football. I took pains to match the profile diagram to the one for U.S. Cellular Field, making it easier to compare the two homes of the World Champion!!? Chicago White Sox on the Side-by-side page. Indeed, the last row of the upper deck in the old ballpark is closer to the field than the first row of the upper deck in the new ballpark. I may add a 1980s version diagram later, pending further research. Doing those diagrams was a much more difficult task than I had envisioned, which is why I've fallen behind in e-mail correspondence once again.
Damn Yankees on stage!
Talk about coincidences! Just two days after I posted a review of the movie Damn Yankees, I learn that a new version of the original Broadway play Damn Yankees will be performed at the Arena Stage in Washington, from December 9 through February 5.
November 11, 2005 [LINK]
Polarizing the Old Dominion
While most people have focused on the aggregate vote totals in Tim Kaine's electoral triumph on Tuesday, "Machiavel" at redstate.org has pulled together voting trends on a county-by-county basis, summarized in a fascinating map of Virginia. He finds that both Kaine and Kilgore performed better than their party's counterparts four years ago. In other words, "red" counties have become "redder," by and large, and "blue" counties have become "bluer." The question of whose fault this trend is ought to spur a lot of reflection and discussion. (via Chad Dotson)
UPDATE: Tony Snow, whom I dearly miss as one of Rush Limbaugh's best substitute hosts, explains the meaning of the Virginia election. "GOP majorities in Virginia's General Assembly have spent like wild since the go-go '90s, and woe be unto any conservative who dares call them on it." Just like the Republican majority in Washington, they are acting like the Democrats used to, which demoralizes party activists and alienates moderates who put a premium on consistent adherence to principle. See townhall.com. (link via Steve Kijak)
November 11, 2005 [LINK]
Bush marks Veterans Day
In the good old days, Veterans Day would be an occasion for expressing national unity, but that ideal is elusive given the current state of affairs. Battered and bruised by a barrage of slings and arrows over the past three months, President Bush came out swinging as he spoke to a group of veterans in a town near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, marking Veterans' Day. He got to the heart of the matter in exceptionally eloquent and determined fashion:
While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.
The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory.
SOURCE: whitehouse.gov (Applauses deleted.)
Well put, Mr. President! (It's about time.)
Shields on antiwar rhetoric
Sometimes I wonder if the harshest critics of Bush and the war effort realize the damage their words do. On the PBS News Hour this evening, Mark Shields casually brushed aside the question of how American troops in Iraq feel about those who say the war is based on lies, saying that troop morale is all about buddies and unit cohesion, not lofty issues of justification. It was a stunning remark, and may provide insight as to how war critics can look themselves in the mirror after spouting such bitter anti-American venom: They apparently refuse to even consider that their words may have repercussions. One might also interpret what Shields said as an indirect put-down of American servicemen and women, implying that they don't know or care much about what we are fighting for.
Jordanians despise Al Qaeda
Whatever message the mass murderers of Al Qaeda were trying to send in the recent vicious suicide bombings in Jordan, deliberately killing the guests at a wedding party and other innocent Jordanian Arabs, it seems to have backfired. In massive protests in Amman, one Jordanian yelled, "Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!" See CNN.com. In the all-important public opinion front in the war on terror, the tide may be turning...
Operation Steel Curtain
Donald Sensing has been following very closely the latest U.S.-Iraqi offensive against terrorists around the town of Husaybah, near the Syrian border. The Iraqi soldiers seem to be performing better all the time. The Rev. Sensing's son is currently stationed in Iraq, and may be involved in these operations.
No words can possibly express the gratitude that we all owe our soldiers who put their lives on the line in the fight against the fascist movement that uses religion as a cynical masquerade for its global ambitions. Let us all resolve to remember the sacrifices of current and past American soldiers throughout the year.
November 12, 2005 [LINK]
Veterans Day Parade in Staunton
Clockwise from top left: Veterans of Foreign Wars; Civil War Reenactors Unit - 5th Virginia Company B; American Legionnaires in a WWII Army truck; Daughters (and Sons) of the American Revolution.
We are eternally grateful.
November 12, 2005 [LINK]
Bell's Lane A.M.
It was a bright and sunny but chilly morning, with frost on the cars. I was a bit surprised not to see any hawks as I drove along Bell's Lane on the way back from breakfast. Highlights:
- 80+ Canada geese
- 5+ Meadowlarks
- 5+ Savannah sparrows
- House finch (JM)
- 3 American coots
- 7 Ruddy ducks
- Cedar waxwing
- Downy woodpecker
November 14, 2005 [LINK]
The future of the GOP
For the next few weeks and months, there will be a steady stream of hand-wringing by Republicans, as they struggle to regain their lost "mojo" (as my friend Dave puts it). Nebraska Senators Chuck Hagel and John McCain are often regarded as "moderates" in the Republican Party, but in some instances they seem to be the most faithful to conservative (i.e., small government) ideology. I heard Sen. Hagel being interviewed on C-SPAN yesterday, and he pointed out that he and McCain were the only Republicans to vote against the procedural motion by which President Bush's dubious Medicare prescription drug benefit bill went forward.
As for the socio-economic dynamics behind the GOP identity crisis, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam analyze the origins of the recent crises suffered by the the Republicans in the current Weekly Standard, and suggest that they have become "The Party of Sam's Club." (via Daniel Drezner)
One difficulty, as a host of delighted Democrats have pointed out, is that a party ideologically committed to a small government may be ill-equipped to run a large one.
But a larger problem is that even the more idealistic aspects of the GOP program--Bush's vision of an "ownership society," the pursuit of a politically risky Social Security privatization plan--have been ill-suited to the present political climate, and to the mood of the American people. It's not just that the American people have shown little appetite of late for dramatically shrinking the scope of the federal government, or taking more economic responsibility into their own hands--it's that there's shrinking support for such goals among reliable Republican voters.
This is the Republican party of today--an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club."
Now there's a frightening thought. Are American values of self-reliance really so weak among the working classes these days? Their line of analysis certainly concords with my worries about the dangerous populist turn taken by some Republican candidates, such as defeated gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore. The former problem -- an amateurish disdain for public administration -- was exposed in the harsh glare of 24/7 news coverage of Hurricane Katrina, and highlights the fundamental contradiction of the Bush-Rove strategy of employing Big Government to reform society according to conservative precepts. Ironically, the very pursuit of such an ambitious "hegemonic project" exposes the government leaders to corruption, as they acquire a taste for the forbidden fruit of Absolute Power. Resisting such a temptation would be difficult even for true saints, and is likely to be overwhelming for average Republicans.
Lest I sound too much like an incessant Rove-basher, however, let me acknowledge that he sounded very impressive in articulating conservative principles and objects while speaking to the Federalist Society last week. (cablecast on C-SPAN)
Party chiefs face off
UPDATE: I had meant to draw attention to the contrast between RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman and DNC Chairman Howard Dean on Meet the Press (see transcript) yesterday. As for the question about what implications last week's elections have for 2006 and 2008, each man's response was predictable and obvious. On the question of justification and conduct of the Iraq war, Mehlman readily accepted forthright criticism, but rejected the way many critics of Bush impugn his veracity and motives. My only complaint is that Mehlman's responses were a bit too well rehearsed. For his part, Dean repeated the same worn-out cliches about alleged "lies," struggling mightily to control his urge to smirk, and pointedly avoided saying what the Democrats would do differently. If one had to choose parties solely on the basis of their respective national leaders, it would be a no-brainer.
November 14, 2005 [LINK]
More of John's bird photos
After some prompting on my part, my brother John sent me another batch of bird photos he has taken recently, including this Nashville Warbler, one of the most inaptly-named members of the warbler family. It was seen at Spirit Mound, South Dakota in October. Others can be seen on the Photo gallery main page.
Highlights of this morning's walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad:
- Gray catbird
- Towhees (M, F, J)
- House finches
- Purple finch (M)
- Downy woodpecker (M)
- Red-bellied woodpecker (F)
I don't recall ever seeing a catbird so late in the season, but I'll have to check my records. I also caught a glimpse of a probable Winter wren, which would be the first of the season. Another surprise was seeing a Black rat snake resting in the middle of a bare bush. For a much better closeup shot of the head by a professional, see www.snakesandfrogs.com. [corrected link]
November 15, 2005 [LINK]
The war on Capitol Hill
Arguments in Washington over the war in Iraq continue unabated, in spite of President Bush's long-overdue scolding of the most extreme war critics on Friday. So why did Bush wait so long to respond forcefully to the barrage of accusations heaped upon him? According to polipundit.com,
If he had simply responded to individual accusations all along, any attempt to point out motives would be seen as personal attacks on his accusers. To instead take on the broader issue, that those backing down from the commitment they made when they voted to authorize the war are doing so as a coordinated political strategy, he exposes Democrats who have chosen political gain over the interest of the country and the troops.
Whether reasonable people in the middle will find that sufficiently convincing remains to be seen. In today's Washington Post, E. J. Dionne heaps scorn upon Bush's "bad faith" and concludes, "By linking the war on terrorism to a partisan war against Democrats, Bush undercut his capacity to lead the nation in this fight." To this, I would respond that "bad faith" is a two-way street: "By making opposition to the war on terrorism the central element of their partisan war against Bush, the Democrats have abdicated their responsibility for sharing in the governance of this nation." For the uncomitted skeptics in the middle, it's a coin toss. To be scrupulously fair, I would grant that Bush exaggerated the extent of intelligence information that was available to Congress prior to its vote in October 2002. Bush also fell short in terms of securing legislative approval for the war: He should have asked Congress for a declaration of war against Iraq, not a mere resolution delegating to him the discretion. Had it been forced to assume such a weighty choice, Congress could never have subsequently shirked the responsibility for making the decision. Neither of those shortcomings can let the (brainwashed?) Democrats in Congress off the hook for voting the way they did, however.
Sen. Harry Reid said today, "It is time to take the training wheels off the Iraqi government" so they can learn to defend their own country. If our military effort there is such a complete failure, as he and his colleagues keep saying, then what makes him think Iraqis are ready to assume that burden? The only conceivable reason to pull out abruptly, as many are demanding, is to ruin any chance for a stable transition to self-government. Is that what they want?
I demand a recount!
According to the latest tally in the attorney general race by the Virginia State Board of Elections, Republican Bob McDonnell holds a lead of less than 400 votes over Democrat Creigh Deeds. The state is obligated to certify a winner by November 30, but the recounts may push that deadline back.
November 15, 2005 [LINK]
France on the front line
There are many explanations for the sudden outburst of rioting in African- and Muslim-populated neighborhoods around Paris and throughout France. If you follow the global-scale perspective of Samuel Huntington, there is no question that the riots are yet another manifestation of the "Clash of Civilizations." As with all such social phenomena, it reflects a confluence of various latent trends, and I see no point to emphasizing one at the expense of others. Jim Hoagland made that point in last Wednesday's Washington Post: Religious grievances probably have little or nothing to do with the violence, so this is not "jihad" -- at least not yet. (French laws that restrict scarves and similar outward expressions of Muslim faith no doubt contribute to the immigrants' sense of exclusion, however.) Hoagland also points out that for years, French police have retreated from the immigrant ghettos out of expediency and fear, letting the residents police themselves. It will take years to restore law and order there, if the attempt to do so is even made. That's the price they pay for putting their heads in the sand, and the same phenomenon is transpiring right here in the United States, though on a lesser scale. As I wrote on August 9, "In France, it's probably too late to resist the Muslim invasion by means of law enforcement, and time is running short in the United Kingdom. Is that the route we want to follow?"
Why do the children of immigrant families burn their own neighborhoods? Pourquoi non? As with the angry black youth in America during the 1960s, arson and vandalism can be loads of fun for marginalized, bored kids, and it helps to get attention as well. Sometimes such acts even entice the government into providing more funds for social programs. (Such remedial measures could never hope to offset the original destruction, however, so no rational mind could contemplate this as a deliberate strategy.)
Neglect by the French government is certainly another big part of the equation, but the prevailing social attitudes rank at least as high: French people feel entitled to the good life, and this attitude rubs off on the new arrivals. President Jacques Chirac lamented yesterday that his county is suffering from malaise, probably not even realizing that Jimmy Carter's use of that word (which is French) in 1979 cemented his image as a dour pessimist and sealed his political fate. It is an apt comparison, however: The French political system is essentially paralyzed by a complacent, pampered electorate that is accustomed to getting high wages, cheap government health care, and long paid vacations, all of which is made possible by cheap labor of immigrants. Well, it was nice while it lasted...
One big difference in urban geography between France and America will probably save Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse from the fate of Detroit, Newark, and Los Angeles: In France, the poor people live in the outskirts, while the rich folks live closer to the center. Not being as dependent on the automobile as the Americans, the French can at least go about their daily lives while riots continue a few miles away without too much disruption. "Out of sight, out of mind." (That's part of the problem, too, however.) Another big difference relative to the U.S.A. is that France is an indigenous, ethnically homogeneous national culture, whereas America is a nation of immigrants with a strong tradition of assimilating immigrants, and incorporating immigrant culture into the "blank slate" mainstream. (Taco Bell: Think outside the bun! ) In sharp contrast, France has long had a strong tradition of exporting its culture to the rest of the world, and now it's on the receiving end of the stick.
How the leaders and average citizens of France respond to this challenge will have a critical effect on how the global clash between the Western and Middle Eastern civilizations unfolds. For our own sake, let's hope they react wisely and bravely, not hysterically. Since they were the ones who gave us the Statue of Liberty, it would be supremely ironic if the United States ends up as the refuge for millions of native French people fleeing from a second great invasion by "Moors," almost fourteen centuries after the first such invasion was turned back at the Battle of Tours.
Years from now, who will remember how this tragedy was unleashed? Two North African boys were fleeing from police on October 27, and were electrocuted while climbing a fence at a utility substation. The fact that the police were blamed for their deaths by the immigrant community shows how deeply they distrust the government. In an unstable social setting, such minor, random acts can trigger a horrifying cascade of violent consequences, one of the most common applications of chaos theory in the social sciences. Just another friendly reminder to the complacent majority in this country who convince themselves that all is well, or nearly so: Watch out!
France and Iraq
According to Jim Dunnigan (on Strategy Page), a French staff officer visited the Pentagon in December, 2002, offering to send a reinforced division of troops to help invade Iraq, on the condition that France be given exclusive control over its zone of occupation. "What exactly were the French up to? No one is sure, but the most plausible theory was that the French wanted to be in Iraq, after Saddam fell, to make sure no embarrassing documents, or witnesses, showed up." In any event, the Department of Defense rejected the idea, and France ended up sharply opposing the subsequent U.S.-led liberation. The proposed territorial partition would have been just like after World War I, when France and Britain carved up the Arab-populated lands formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Such a neoimperialist approach, clashing directly with the United Nations mandate, would have been an ironic twist. History repeats itself.
Recruitment is up
One bit of good military news is that the Defense Department reported that it surpassed its monthly recruitment goal (4,700) in October by 225. For fiscal year 2005 (ending [September] 31), there was a shortfall of 6,700 troops, which delayed the planned increase in force level. Successful recruiting will be essential if the Army is going to carry out its planned expansion of aggregate troop strength by 40,000, adding six additional active-duty combat brigades (from 37 to 43, each with about 3,500 soldiers and officers) over the next two years. This will take the pressure off the National Guard, which currently provides a large fraction of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had initially rejected the argument that pacifying Iraq would require a significant boost in Army manpower. Rumsfeld's huge miscalculation has eroded his credibility, and some believe that his days in the Pentagon are numbered. I just hope his reform initiatives don't stall when he steps down.
What puzzles me is why the Army insists on maintaining divisions of such large size: 18,000 or more is now the norm. They could cover much more territory by thinning each division down to the historical level of 12,000 - 15,000 men. That might entail reducing brigade strength to 3,000 or less, and/or reducing certain support units.
November 15, 2005 [LINK]
I searched for the late-lingering catbird behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, but no dice. Otherwise, pretty much the same birds as before. Highlights:
- Towhees (M, F, J)
- Cedar waxwings (high)
- Bluebirds (high)
- Downy woodpecker (M, F)
- Red-bellied woodpecker (far)
- Golden-crowned kinglet
- White-breasted nuthatch
Also, I saw that Black rat snake in the same bush as it was in yesterday, and got a much better photo of it this time, so I replaced the old one. For good measure, I added two new photo gallery pages: Reptiles [revised link], and Virginia, Fall 2005 (part II), which has recent photos of fall foliage.
November 16, 2005 [LINK]
Anti-steroid policy is bulked up
The new MLB anti-steroid policy is a belated gesture of serious attention to the festering wound in the sport of baseball which is represented by dope. In the Washington Post, Michael Wilbon gives credit to Congress for frightening the players' union into unconditionally surrendering, after years of stonewalling. He also praises Selig, one of the main beneficiaries, as are "the players themselves." He ridiculed Donald Fehr for pretending that the new policy was the outcome of vigorous bargaining:
Fehr slinked out of Washington, humiliated, and is now left to spin.
Given the union's stranglehold on the owners for the past 25 years, its cave-in is stunning news.
If anything, the new penalties are a little too strong: 50 days suspension for the first offense, 100 days for the second offense, and a lifetime suspension (appealable after two years) for the third. The science of chemistry is not perfect, and tests are likely to yield an occasional false positive, so that needs to be taken into account. As I've said before, however, the key to making the policy work lies not so much in draconian sanctions, but rather in constant vigilance by officials on all sides, and an atmosphere of trust. Apparently, there is not strong enough evidence to charge Rafael Palmeiro with lying to Congress.
Haggling over new D.C. stadium
Mayor Williams has taken the time to meet directly with MLB negotiator Jerry Reinsdorf (yes, the owner of the world champion White Sox) to resolve the impasse over the D.C. Council's demand that MLB guarantee rent payments so that the stadium bond will get an investment grade rating. The city also wants $24 million letter of credit to help pay for parking facilities at the new stadium. See Washington Post. This, of course, is what has been holding up the sale of the Nationals franchise. From what I gather from the D.C. area media, Jeffrey Smulyan is the clear favorite. As an out-of-towner who once threatened to relocate the Seattle Mariners unless a new stadium was built for him, he is the perfect example of why D.C. government officials are so leery of committing public funds without an iron-clad guarantee that the Nationals will stay in Washington in return. Their first year was such a huge success that such a prospect seems outlandish, but Washington was burned twice before, and a third "strike" would be intolerable.
Mike Zurawski alerted me to three stadium news items of interest. Expansion of the bleachers at Wrigley Field is proceeding at a quick pace. Capacity will increase by 1,800 seats next season. Some of the juniper bushes in the center field backdrop will be replaced by an exclusive enclosed viewing area with dark shaded windows, and there will be a small section of wire mesh fence in the right field corner through which passers-by can steal of glimpse of the field. See the Cubs Web site.
Second, at Rogers Centre (ex-Skydome), three rows of seats from the back of the lower deck will be removed to make room for a wider concourse. Also, the club seating area in the stadium's second deck will be reduced in size, and 43 luxury boxes will be renovated. See th Blue Jays Web site
In Kansas City, the Chiefs want to build a new roof to enclose Arrowhead Stadium when the weather is bad, which would make it eligible to host the Super Bowl. The plan is to mount the roof on a set of huge girders rolling along tracks, so that it could cover Kauffman Stadium on rainy days. Whoa! To my surprise, such a mega-roof was envisioned as part of the original 1972 design for the "Truman Sports Complex." See kansascity.com (registration required) This seems like a thinly veiled attempt by the Chiefs to con their baseball neighbors into chipping in for a project they don't really need. The Royals should resist paying any more than ten percent of whatever the Chiefs are paying, if that much.
Finally, the Padres are strongly considering moving the fence in right center field at PETCO Park in, which would cut the distance from 411 feet to about 395 feet. See www.signonsandiego.com. That would be a big shame, if you ask me. In this era of band boxes with cozy power alley dimensions, that extra territory in PETCO Park was a welcome change of pace. What about distinctiveness?? Anyway, thanks for keeping us all informed, Mike!
November 17, 2005 [LINK]
Fujimori stays behind bars
A judicial review panel in Chile has approved the detention of Alberto Fujimori, as Peru prepares a legal briefing in support of its request to have Fujimori returned to Peru. There is a 60-day deadline, so he may remain in Chile until January. See CNN.com. As a gesture of protest against Japan's refusal to cooperate with the request to extradite its former president, Peru recalled its ambassador to Japan last week.
The background to Fujimori's bold gamble remain obscure, but the decision to return to Peru apparently was precipitated by a political pact between Cambio 90 and a party called "Si Cumple" (meaning, "yes, he carries out"), whose leader Luis Delgado Aparicio recently visited Fujimori in Japan. Since there have been no statements in English on his Web site since October 4, 2004 (when he denied accusations that he had pocketed charitable donations from Japan), I thought it would be useful to translate the farewell address to Japan he made ten days ago (see his Web site):
MESSAGE FROM ALBERTO FUJIMORI, LEAVING JAPAN
At the end of November 2000, being president of Peru, then in Tokyo, I took the painful decision to resign this office, assuming the immense political cost for doing so. Since then, in truth, a campaign of persecution and defamation without precedent in Peruvian history was launched by my adversaries.
My self-exile is reaching its end. I have become deeply indebted to Japan for its generous hospitality and of its people, which is the people of my ancestors; for the affection of friends who know Peru and the works of my government and that they never wavered in offering me their support to make my stay in this country bearable, and becoming acquainted with the Japanese economy and technology so that it might serve as a model of Peruvian development.
To this fortunate stay, in spite of the cost of being so far distanced from Peru, I owe to all my Japanese friends who never wavered in supporting me; to them my eternal thanks.
And my special message to the Japanese people, to their authorities: I leave Japan on route to Peru, to carry out the pledge of honor acquired from millions of my countrymen, so that the historical truth be expressed. One by one I shall overcome the accusations, and I shall restore my innocence and honor.
Once in Peru I hope to return to work boldly for my fatherland, for its people, so that we Peruvians may have, as a national collectivity, a prominent place in the world.
For reasons that only politics can explain, I have waited five years to begin this effort. I have the fortune of a great Japanese experience, of contact with the extraordinary and unstoppable progress of Japan's science and economy, which I have tried to assimilate for the benefit of Peru.
Thank you, friends, I am going to meet my destiny, alwasy sure of counting on your generous support and understanding that we achieve in all the works in which Japanese cooperation was present.
Thank you, friends, we do not bid farewell, we are only separating for a moment. For the rest, just as in these years of self-exile Peru was always in my heart, and from now on, with the same sentiment, Japan will be as well.
KONO GONEN KAN TAIHEN OSEWANI NARIMASHITE, DOMO ARIGATO GOZAIMASHITA.
November 7, 2005
One gesture of trust and faith in Peru that Fujimori could make to show that he is truly committed to serve his native country once again would be to renounce the Japanese citizenship that was conferred upon him during his exile. Holding dual citizenship raises questions about the strength of his loyalty. I was fortunate to interview or at least meet a few people who had served in the Fujimori government, and I am very curious whether he will be open to interviews from scholars and journalists as he presses ahead with the effort to restore his tarnished name. Is he a big enough man to admit that he made some big mistakes?
Campaign in Chile nears end
With one month to go before the presidential elections in Chile, the candidate of leftist "Concertación" bloc, Michelle Bachelet, has a commanding lead in the latest polls, 44 percent, to 20 percent for Joaquín Lavín, running on the ticket of the Indepdendent Democratic Union. Both are fairly young, in their early fifties. According to her Web site, Bachelet is a multilingual medical doctor who has studied military sciences at the postgraduate level. During the Allende government, she was a student leader of Socialist Youth. She has served as Minister of Health and later Minister of Defense in the government of Ricardo Lagos, who has been president since 2000. The likely runner-up, Lavín, is a "Chicago Boy" (with a Masters Degree in Economics ) and was elected mayor of Santiago in 2000. See his Web site.
Mexico - Venezuela tensions
Mexico and Venezuela have recalled diplomats from each other's country, because of the dispute over an insulting comment by Hugo Chavez toward Mexico's President Fox and his free trade policies during the recent Summit of the Americas. Chavez had stooped to crude macho posturing, which the proud and dignified Fox deeply resented. See CNN.com.
Uruguay - Argentina tensions
People in Argentina are protesting a paper pulp mill project that is under construction in Uruguay. Fearing polluted runoff into the Uruguay River that separates the nations, the Argentines are threatening to shut down the natural pipeline that the new plants will depend on for energy. A Finnish company, Metsa-Botnia, and a Spanish company, Ence, are investing about $1.7 billion into the project. According to the Washington Post, much of the opposition stems from nationalistic resentment of "exploitation" by foreigners.
Haiti elections delayed
The presidential elections in Haiti, scheduled for this month, have been postponed until December 27. The country remains deeply divided and tormented by gangs of rival warlords, and hopes for a clean resolution to the deep socio-political conflicts remain slim.
November 17, 2005 [LINK]
Wobbly knees in Congress
The resolution passed by the Senate yesterday was interpreted by some as a slap in the face to President Bush, but it really didn't mean very much. It simply declared that there will be a "significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty" next year, and it would be hard to argue against that. Even Bush welcomed the measure as he began his trip to Asia, with perhaps equal measures of sincerity and face-saving. Sen. John Warner, normally a stalwart on defense matters but also a bit too fond of conciliating with Democrat adversaries, was among those who expressed frustrations felt by the American people. Hugh Hewitt (via Instapundit) chronicled the pandering comments, noting that Markos crowed that Republicans are "plagiarizing" their issues, proving that the Democrats have taken back the mantle of being "the party of ideas." Ugh.
Today Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) went a step further, announcing he was introducing a bill calling for a prompt withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. For such a drastic measure, he offered a surprisingly weak rationale:
"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. ... It's a flawed policy wrapped in illusion." SOURCE: Washington Post
"Flawed"? Based on "illusion"? Well, the same thing could be said about every war this nation, or any nation, has ever fought! Valley Forge, Bull Run, Little Bighorn, Pearl Harbor, Kasserine Pass, Anzio, the Bulge: one devastating setback after another, and yet somehow we came out ahead. For Pete's sake! War is a chaotic, ugly, frustrating mess, and always has been. Deception is part and parcel of a winning strategy, 99 percent of the time. Ironically, Murtha is correct to say that "the war in Iraq is not going as advertised," inasmuch as the "advertisers" in the mainstream media -- from whence most Americans get their news and form their opinions -- have been portraying the war in an unduly negative light. Only those who lack historical grounding would fall for Murtha's naive, school boy reasoning. He literally choked back tears as he recalled his 27 years of military service, invoking the worn-out "chicken hawk" retort to pro-war folks. He should know better than that. An abrupt U.S. withdrawal now, just as the next round of elections is going forward, would have devastating consequences for the Iraqi people, which is why no responsible leader seriously contemplates it. At least Murtha sounded sincere and concerned about the national interest, in sharp contrast to those such as Democrat Senators Dick Durbin or Harry Reid, who have become virtual cheerleaders of defeatism.
The greater significance of the Senate resolution, perversely, was that it may encourage the terrorists and undermine the Iraqi government. The silver lining around the gray clouds of gloom is that all this political cacaphony in Washington is ultimately irrelevant to the delicate task of handing over more and more responsibility to the Iraqis. No finger-pointing or grandstanding in Washington will change the facts on the ground in Baghdad, and no silly protests by Cindy Sheehan will sway most Americans. Because our government is firmly committed to seeing through this vital historical task, Iraqis will get an excellent chance to set up their own government, and unless most of them are incredibly fearful or short-sighted, leaders will emerge to take up the reins of self rule. Why? Because they share common interests in maintaining commercial ties with the United States, which is very fortunate to have such superb, dedicated soldiers, and a president who is determined to prevail. That doesn't mean total victory or elimination of terrorism, but simply the creation of a new political dynamic in the Middle East that favors more liberal, limited governmental systems. Once that trend gets underway, the proud (though premature) words "Mission Accomplished" will have greater resonance.
November 17, 2005 [LINK]
Latin American guards in Iraq
About a thousand privately employed ex-soldiers from Peru, Chile, Nicaragua, and Honduras recently began patrol duties in the (relatively) safe "Green Zone" of Baghdad, where government ministries, embassies, and Western journalists are concentrated. They are paid $1,000 a month, plus room and board. Whether they ought to be considered as mercenaries remains to be determined. See El Heraldo of Tegucigalpa. (in Spanish). Honduras had deployed 300 of its troops to Iraq, but withdrew them later. El Salvador still has a small contingent there, as far as I can determine...
November 18, 2005 [LINK]
Merino is Peru's new ombudsman
Beatriz Merino, a respected technocrat who had once headed the country's tax collection agency SUNAT, was just sworn in as "Defender of the Public," a kind of ombudsman. See La Republica (of Peru, in Spanish). In a country where public administration is often capricious and/or corrupt, that is a very important position. Ms. Merino served as prime minister for the hapless President Toledo from July until December 2003, and was forced to step down after a vicious campaign of rumors that she was a lesbian.
The presidential election in Honduras will be November 27, nine days hence. The candidate of the National Party, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, promised 600,000 new jobs under the slogan of "work and security for all." With a background in agribusiness (wealthy landlord?), he says he has a strong fist but denies aspiring to be a dictator. See El Herald, in Spanish.
Costa Rica & CAFTA
At least 10,000 people marched to the seat of the national legislature in San Jose on Wednesday, protesting against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States. Costa Rica is the only signatory state that has not yet ratified the agreement.
November 19, 2005 [LINK]
New D.C. stadium design
According to the Washington Post, the new stadium
features an exterior wall largely made of glass and broken up by limestone portals, according to city sources who have seen the drawings. Aspects of the design create a translucent quality, offering fans inside views of the surrounding neighborhood and teasing those outside with glimpses of game activities.
Councilman Jack Evans is reportedly very angry about the design submitted by the Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum architectural firm, preferring an old-fashioned brick exterior. The ballpark will be oriented toward the northeast, but very few people will have a view of the Capitol dome, which is a shame. "the deepest part of center field is 408 feet, the sources said." Artists renderings will probably not be made public for several more weeks.
Nats sign Marlon Anderson
The Washington Nationals just signed Marlon Anderson to a two-year contract worth $1.85 million. He will apparently play primarily in a pinch hitting role, as he did for the Mets this past year. That means utility players such as Jamey Carroll and Carlos Baerga may be traded. They are also negotiating with Florida Marlins pitcher A. J. Burnett. Those are good signs, but General Manager Jim Bowden is talking to the Red Sox, and the long that the sale of the Nationals is delayed, the greater will be the risk that top-quality athletic talent and valuable front-office staffers will be lost.
Coors Field updates
The Coors Field diagram now conforms with the new standard, but I kept the old "sideways" diagram (with a few minor corrections) because the corners of the structure, and even the back edge of the "Rockpile" bleachers, were truncated. Just roll the mouse over the diagram; I may put text links on that page later. I moved the upper decks in right field closer to the field, and tweaked a few other details. The new version shows the newly added box seat rows behind home plate. With any luck, I'll make it out to Denver next summer and get some better photos of that ballpark. Coincidentally, the outfield dimensions of Coors Field and those of the last ballpark I updated, Comiskey Park, are virtually identical, as you can see on the Side-by-side page.
New book from Japan
I just received in the mail a complimentary copy of a new book published in Japan, Hit the Road! Traveling the U.S. and Learning English with Baseball Stories, by Tsuneo Matsuura. It serves primarily as a travel guide for tourists from Japan who want to see major leage baseball games in the U.S., and has detailed information on terminology, folklore, and each MLB team, including stadium photos. It includes some great full color aerial photos of Coors Field, Tropicana Field, and Turner Field, as well as interior views of Minute Maid Park and Jacobs Field. On page 81 a photograph (THIS ONE) of RFK Stadium taken by yours truly (properly credited, thank you) appears, though the roof is cropped out. It is published by East Press, but unfortunately, I couldn't find it on Amazon.com.
November 19, 2005 [LINK]
House rejects anti-war resolution
Well, what did they expect? The Democrats have been asking for such a showdown on Iraq war policy for many months, and Rep. John Murtha's speech on Thursday provided the Republicans with the perfect opportunity to dare them to back up their words with an actual vote. Not surprisingly, the Democrats flinched from the challenge. Pent-up anger on both sides exploded when Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) invoked the dreaded "C" word as she conveyed the thoughts of a constituent Marine reserve officer:
"a few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp," an Ohio legislator and Marine Corps Reserve officer. "He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do." (SOURCE: Washington Post)
A fistfight almost broke out, and I caught the tail end of it on C-SPAN. Interestingly, Schmidt was the victor in that high-profile special election held in August, defeating Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett. The key vote on the House floor last night was HR-572, the procedural question of whether to consider HR-571, "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." The former measure passed 210 - 202, not exactly a strong show of support for the war effort, but it was useful nonetheless. The vote on HR-571 was 403 - 3, with 6 abstentions and 22 not voting. Both Rep. Murtha, who had announced that he would introduce such a resolution, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who actually did so, voted against it. The three "brave" dissenters were Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Robert Wexler (D-FL). To the untrained eye, this parliamentary maneuver seems like an exercise in hypocrisy, but it's a good illustration of how legislative bodies work. In R. Douglas Arnold's terminology, HR-571 was a "Politically compelling policy: The popularity of the intended effects outweighs the legislator's doubts that the means will actually work, because his opposition would be construed as lack of sympathy." The Republican leadership in the House deserves credit for astute handling of this issue, in holding the Democrats' feet to the fire.
In his speech on Thursday, Murtha said that "U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists and foreign jihadists." However, he did not mention the Shiites and Kurds, who comprise a majority of Iraq's population and do want us to remain there to ensure that the old regime does not regain power and subject them to persecution once again. Murtha then laid out his "plan":
- To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
- To create a quick reaction force in the region.
- To create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines.
- To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.
He seems to be calling for a retreat from Iraq without abandoning the Persian Gulf, but where could a U.S. presence is maintained? We already withdrew our forces from Saudi Arabia, where we had worn out our welcome after a decade, and Kuwait and Bahrain would be rather precarious footholds in such an unstable region. Such a shift in deployment makes no strategic sense at all. If we do indeed pull out of Iraq, we might as well kiss the entire Middle East goodbye. As for diplomacy (!), perhaps Murtha could suggest someone to serve as the first ambassador to Al Qaeda. Murtha is an old man, and I suppose he can be excused for not comprehending the nature of the shadowy yet vicious adversary that we all face. I do not doubt that the pain he feels from the families of servicemen and women is genuine, and in a sense he is correct to say that military means are not the key to victory in this struggle, in which the psychological dimension is paramount. The huge irony is that he seems completely unaware that what will determine whether we ultimately prevail or succumb in this war is the home front, where he himself plays a critical role!
As a resolutely open-minded participant in this national discourse, I fully understand both the logical arguments and emotional sentiments against the war. I share some doubts myself, but I have more confidence in our President -- for all his faults -- than with the general public. Sad to say, many Americans are simply not attentive to global politics, and not particularly inclined to make sacrifices for the collective good. I'm well aware that "staying the course" does not sound like a sophisticated strategy, but the situation we are in simply does does not lend itself to any other approach than slow, grinding exertion. What I do not understand at all is how so many people in this country seem oblivious to the basic fact that our national unity and resolve is being tested by the Islamo-fascists. It sounds trite, but it cannot be repeated often enough: United we stand, divided we fall. I dearly hope that most Americans wise up and come to agree that there is No End But Victory (via Instapundit)
November 21, 2005 [LINK]
D.C. ballpark cost overruns
No surprise here: Today's Washington Post reports that the cost estimate for the future home of the Washington Nationals (not including land acquisition and infrastructure) has gone up from $244.1 million to $300 million. The cost of the design as submitted by the architects at HOK had risen to $337 million, and in response Allen Lew, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, mandated that some elements of the new stadium be trimmed back. In Washington, the idea that a budget is a rigid constraint on what can be spent is a foreign concept, and cost overruns such as these are par for the course. Constant vigilance by local taxpayers and fans will be necessary to prevent all sorts of porcine crooks from "feeding at the trough."
In addition, the D.C. government is putting pressure on the Federal government to contribute funds for this project, which is certainly appropriate since they did so for RFK Stadium. In fact, I urged Rep. Tom Davis to introduce legislation such that the Federal government would retain naming rights to the stadium -- presumably for some appropriate, dignified purpose -- in exchange for payment of Federal money. If you ask me, the idea of letting some private company put its name on a major landmark so close to the Capitol building would be extremely tacky. Concerned fans are invited to join in this call by contacting Rep. Davis via his Web site.
Inasmuch as legal disputes over the proper price to be paid to existing land owners continue, and financial wrinkles remain to be ironed out, there is still no firm date for ground breaking to begin. If they finish building the new ballpark in time for the 2008 season, as is officially planned, it will be a miracle of epic proportions.
Mike Zurawski sends a link to a forum hosted by the Oregon Stadium Campaign (they are still hoping to lure one of the "troubled" MLB franchises to Portland!) that includes a rendering of the proposed future Miami "ballpark," with a roof that could be moved
to cover the Orange Bowl, much like what has been proposed in Kansas City. All I can say is "yikes!" Mike also reminded me that Carlos Baerga is a free agent and therefore can't be traded by the Nationals, though his continued service with the team remains in doubt.
I've been hit with another wave of friendly e-mail messages from new fans. I appreciate such feedback very much, but can't always respond adequately or in a timely fashion. Thanks for your understanding.
November 21, 2005 [LINK]
Minutemen come to Virginia
Those vigilantes who have taken it upon themselves to police the wide-open U.S.-Mexico border, the Minutemen (see Web site), have come to Virginia, looking for illegal aliens in work places. If news reports and anecdotal tales of harrassment and intimidation are accurate, then this is clearly stepping over the line of legitimate citizen action, turning into crude xenophobic persecution. As I've said before, however, unless and until the Federal government and state governments agree on a more consistent approach to immigration soon, the door will be wide open to these "free-lancers," needlessly raising social tensions. If there is one clear lesson from what just happened in France, This matter cannot be left on the back burner forever!
The Washington Post editorialized against these self-appointed guardians, but they missed a fundamental point: The demand for labor in Northern Virginia reflects the high barriers to entry for legitimate employees, via mandated fringe benefits, with skyrocketing health insurance premiums, etc., etc. By deriding efforts to uphold the law (they sniff that the IRS "has bigger fish to fry") the Post is contributing to the atmosphere of lawlessness that undergirds a substantial portion of the U.S. economy, but which hardly anyone has the guts to acknowledge. What a shame.
Protests against Fujimori
A background article by Monte Reel in Saturday's Washington Post explored the various reactions by Peruvians to the surprise arrival (and arrest) of former president Alberto Fujimori in Chile last week. Opinion polls indicate that most people oppose his (possible) candidacy, but many of his backers remain fervently convinced that "only he can save Peru." (I'm borrowing the slogan of APRA for the sake of ironic effect.) The "Si, cumple" movement sounds suspiciously like a Fujimorista front organization to me.
Venezuela may join MERCOSUR
Presidents Hugo Chavez and Nestor Kirchner met to discuss building a pipeline that would carry natural gas from Venezuela to Argentina. The estimated cost is $10 billion, and there would be a high risk to the ecologically sensitive Amazon Basin; think Alaska pipeline times ten. Chavez is thinking about joining MERCOSUR, but doing so might necessitate pulling out of the Andean Group, which is headquartered in Lima, Peru. See CNN.com.
Guatemalan official arrested
The top Guatemalan anti-narcotics investigator, Adan Castillo, was arrested in Virginia on drug-smuggling charges last week, along with two of his deputies. In a supreme irony, he was attending a training course on fighting drug trafficking. See CNN.com. The State Department had strongly criticized drug corruption of the previous leader of Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo, and this case shows that this problem lingers to some extent in the government of Oscar Berger, who was inaugurated in January 2004.
November 23, 2005 [LINK]
"Redeployment" done right
Today's Washington Post reports that the Pentagon plans to reduce the U.S. force level in Iraq by three brigades (from 18 to 15) early next year. This would be a return to a "normal" force level, since reinforcements were deployed to maintain extra security for the consitutional referendum in October and the election next month. It is hoped to reduce the number of U.S. troops from 150,000 to less than 100,000 (10 brigades) by the end of next year, depending on how well the new Iraqi forces perform. No one knows how such contingencies will turn out, and the battlefield situation could improve markedly or deteriorate. The latter would be much more likely if the drawdown of U.S. forces proceeds too hastily, as Rep. John Murtha wants.
This is encouraging news, especially since as of eleven months ago, it was thought that 13 U.S. brigades would have to remain in Iraq through early 2007. Nevertheless, we must remember that in the heady days after the liberation of Baghdad, the plan was to have all major U.S. combat units out of Iraq by the end of 2004. Since Americans are virtually unanimous in wanting to get out of Iraq as soon as is practical to do so, the less political opportunism, the better. In that regard, it is fortuitious that the Thanksgiving holiday provides us all with a "time out" to let our tempers cool.
Murtha & retreat
Army Col. James Brown, commander of the 56th Brigade Combat Team, which is scheduled to leave Iraq next month, pointed to signs of progress in the fight, noting that the number of road-side bomb attacks is declining except in western Iraq, and warned against ending the mission prematurely:
Physically here on the ground, our job is not done. We have to finish the job that we began here. It is important for the security of this nation. It is important for the security of this region, and certainly it is important for the vital interest of the United States of America. (SOURCE: See defenselink.mil)
N.Z. Bear (via Instapundit), debunks the new "Murtha Myth" propagated by some on the Left, above all the false notion that Murtha did not call for immediate retreat but only sought to begin a discussion of the subject. There was, in fact, no mention of such dialogue in his speech on Thursday. He wants to bug out!
Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) has retracted her comments on the House floor (conveying a message from a constituent) suggesting that Rep. Murtha was a "coward." In retrospect, that was unduly harsh, and disrespectful of an elder veteran, however mistaken he might be.
Photo-blog from Iraq
Take a look at Michael Yon, an intrepid independent journalist. (via Instapundit)
November 24, 2005 [LINK]
Marlins threaten to leave Miami
Speaking on behalf of team owner Jeffrey Loria (vacationing in Europe) on Tuesday, Florida Marlins president David Samson made plain his intentions to look elsewhere for a permanent home: "Baseball is no longer assured of staying in [South] Florida." After failing to persuade state and local governments to contribute enough funds to build a new baseball stadium with a retractable roof next to the Orange Bowl, it appears that the "project is now dead." Samson emphasized, "I will tell you now, unequivocally, that we will not sign an extension, even if it is offered, to continue to play in this building [Dolphins Stadium]. We simply must play in a baseball-only stadium." Their lease expires after 2007, and the Dolphins told them they must be out by [the end of] 2010. The Marlins have already received permission from Major League Baseball to explore other home cities, in a process that seems somewhat more expedited than the Montreal-to-Washington move. See the Marlins Web site.
The immediate effect of the franchise's uncertain future is that its top players have been traded away. Pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell are heading to Boston, while first-baseman Carlos Delgado is joining the Mets. The Nationals are still pursuing pitcher A.J. Burnett, but that's a long shot. Once again, the Marlins are having a "fire sale," leaving baseball fans in south Florida without much to look forward to next year. It's sad that a team that has won two World Series in its short (13-year) life span hasn't received more public support, but that may simply reflect that tropical Florida is not a good place for sports in the summer.
As for the future, Portland is the most likely new home, though the team name would no longer be appropriate in the North Pacific. What about the Portland Salmon? And if Portland doesn't work out, Mr. Loria may still have some friends up in Montreal. Wouldn't that be ironic?
Prompted by the latest dust-up in Miami, I have created a new table of "Stadium prospects" that shows the 13 current baseball stadiums whose long-term future is open to question. It's sort of a "snapshot" of the current situation of major league ballparks and franchises. The "expected life" (my best guess, basically) and "relocation probability" are shown for each team / stadium. The 35% probability of the Marlins relocating away from Miami reflects the fact that the ongoing showdown (blackmail?) is typical negotiating behavior in baseball these days, and I assume that the two sides will probably comes to their senses, and come to terms. I will remove Busch Stadium II from that list as soon as I add a new page for Busch Stadium III, which is under construction.
Odd 'n ends...
While watching the movie Anger Management (starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler) last night on FOX, I noticed that an extended scene was filmed in Yankee Stadium, so I've updated that page with said cinematic information.
Bruce Orser came across a Web page for Oaks Park, where the PCL Oakland Oaks used to play, as well as a book: Runs, Hits, and an Era: The Pacific Coast League, 1903-58 (1994), by Paul J. Zingg / Mark D. Medeiros. It's available from highboskage.com.
Photos of football and soccer games at Safeco Field can be seen at Yu's Ballparks. That will help when I redo that diagram with a football version. (hat tip to [Daley Holder])
November 25, 2005 [LINK]
Chavez offers oil, seeks arms
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has directed that CITGO, a subsidiary of Venezuela government oil firm, begin selling heating oil at a discount to poor neighborhoods in New York and Massachusetts. The transparent bid to divide Americans and undermine President Bush was well received by some of the early recipients, and Rev. Jesse Jackson praised the "noble" initiative. See Washington Post, and the corporate press release accessed via CITGO.com. Curiously, Boston and the Bronx have been targeted for this program, which may be the one thing that can finally overcome the hatred between fans of the Yankees and Red Sox. Perhaps they should put a portrait of Chavez atop the famous CITGO sign that looms beyond the "Green Monster" wall in Fenway Park!
Not content to posture as a benevolent despot, Chavez is intent on building up Venezuela's military force, ostensibly to bolster its defenses against an imagined invasion by the gringos. He is going ahead with plans to acquire modern arms manufactured in Spain, whose Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez, Zapatero has warm relations with Chavez. "Spain plans to sell $1.56 billion of equipment to Venezuela, including four coastal patrol ships, four corvettes, 10 C-295 transport planes and two maritime surveillance planes." See CNN.com.
UPDATE: Venezuelan blogger Pedro Mario Burelli has some thoughts about what Hugo is up to, especially the Kennedy connection to CITGO. Teddy gives new meaning to the phrase "Big Oil"! Now I know why that sign near Fenway park is so prominent. (link via Chris Green)
Flap over Bolivian elections
Meanwhile, the busy-body Chavez and his government have continued to meddle in the internal affairs of Bolivia, which has become even more unstable in recent months. The Bolivian foreign ministry summoned Venezuelan diplomat Azael Galero after he compared Jorge Quiroga, a candidate in the elections set for next month, to Pontius Pilate. Chavez openly backs the left-wing Evo Morales, whom he joined at the anti-U.S. protests during the Summit of the Americas in Argentina. See BBC.com
Pinochet under house arrest
After many months of suspense, Chilean authorities have formally charged former dictator Augusto Pinochet with embezzlement and money laundering, apparently based on revelations of his dealings with the Washington-based Riggs Bank. He just celebrated his 90th birthday under house arrest. However, there are as yet no charges against him on human rights grounds, and many former victims of Pinochet, and their families, are angered by this. See BBC.com.
The Honduran elections are only two days away, and the two leading contenders -- Porfirio Lobo Sosa (National Party) and Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales (Liberal Party) -- are apparently matched fairly evenly. Both are considered moderate conservatives. See BBC.com
Haiti's first-round election has been postponed again, until January 4. The second round is scheduled for February 15.
November 25, 2005 [LINK]
"Cutting and running"
Is Rep. Murtha right or wrong to urge an immediate withdrawal from Iraq? There is a debate over this hot topic under a commentary written by retired General William Odom at niemanwatchdog.org. (link sent to me by an anonymous benefactor) He concludes:
The wisest course for journalists might be to begin sustained investigations of why leading Democrats have failed so miserably to challenge the US occupation of Iraq. The first step, of course, is to establish as conventional wisdom the fact that the war was never in the US interest and has not become so. It is such an obvious case to make that I find it difficult to believe many pundits and political leaders have not already made it repeatedly.
Expressing views on complex issues in such terms of absolute certainty is not convincing to me. General Odom is an international affairs realist, meaning that he downplays values and emphasizes balance of power above all else. During the Cold War, he argued that the United States had no choice but to support authoritarian dictators (such as Chile's Pinochet) as preferable to allowing Soviet clients to gain more power in the Third World. I consider myself a "normative realist" in the tradition of Hans Morgenthau, allowing for some consideration of values and ethics. I noticed that one of the commenters on that page is Michael Schrage, whose Washington Post op-ed piece in 2003 I praised (see May 19, 2003 blog post), and who was nice enough to contact me about it. For the record, I am not so fervently "gung-ho" that I regard the Iraq war as a "do-or-die" mission. It is clearly in our national interest that pluralistic, non-despotic regimes take root in that part of the world, and while that outcome could not have come about without the U.S.-led effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power, it may be the case that our continued presence there could prove to be counter-productive. I strongly hope that is not the case, but I don't think winning the war is worth tearing apart our nation. War opponents need to understand that their own words and actions can have a self-fulfilling effect. Of course, the less sincere ones among them certainly do realize that...
Iraq syndrome: Neo-isolationism?
Meanwhile, Daniel Drezner explores the possibility that the Iraq war may spawn a renewal of the age-old tradition in American politics to just tell the rest of the world to go to hell. He also ponders the difference in attitudes between civilian and military Americans, wondering which of those social groups is more delusional. Very interesting...
November 26, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals earn $10 million
After losing a total of $80 million during the last three seasons as the Montreal Expos, the Washington Nationals franchise made an after-tax profit of $10 million in 2005. Not too shabby for a rookie season in an old, worn-out stadium. It kinda makes you wonder why they didn't move earlier. Oh, yeah. Does all that squandered potential profit get figured into the compensation formula for the Baltimore Orioles? Are the rest of the MLB franchise owners such big suckers that they were willing to absorb such big losses for the sole benefit of one franchise? Ordinarily, baseball franchise profits are kept secret, but the unusual circumstances of the jointly-owned franchise in Washington allow for more openness. See Washington Post.
D.C. council balks, again
Sadly, there is more melancholy news about foot-dragging on the D.C. Council with regard to building the new baseball stadium. Several council members demand that MLB assume the risk for any cost overruns on the project, and Chairwoman Linda Cropp warns that she may put the issue to a vote, even though the matter was supposedly settled last year, when sentiment on the council was more favorable toward baseball. See Washington Post. Since there inevitably will be cost overruns, this is a major stumbling block, and may further delay the process of selling the Nationals franchise. That, in turn, would mean their prospects for acquiring enough talent to compete in the NL East Division next year are fading fast. The possibility of a prolonged impasse also raises the minute possibility that the franchise will ultimately move to another city, so I've raised Washington's relocation likelihood from 0% to 5%. I hope Bud Selig gets the message that it's time to cut a deal.
Few options for Marlins
According to the Palm Beach Post, the Florida Marlins don't have many viable alternative home cities if they are really serious about leaving Miami. Portland, and possibly Las Vegas, are the only real options. Here's a scary image: "a $420 million retractable-roof stadium by the Orange Bowl has collapsed." (quote deliberately taken out of context ) Also, Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga has discussed building a stadium for the Marlins (which he used to own) next to Dolphins stadium. (hat tip to Mike Zurawski)
[corrected] CORRECTION: Mike tells me that the artist's conception of a sliding roof (which I mentioned on Nov. 21) [was only for the proposed Miami baseball stadium]; the Orange Bowl would remain uncovered under the plans for the Marlins' hoped-for stadium. My apologies for the mistaken impression. Coincidentally, I got to see a televised game at the Orange Bowl this afternoon, as the U.Va. Cavaliers blew a lead, losing to the Miami Hurricanes.
The governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, has admitted that he was never drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in 1966, as he had long claimed. Why is it that so many people think they can get away with such preposterous resume-inflating empty boasts? Well, we can all dream, I suppose. For the record, my baseball career ended in my early teens, as I devoted my athletic efforts to golf (!). I did play quite a bit of softball during the 1980s, however.
November 27, 2005 [LINK]
U.S. division deployment
After researching the Web sites of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps combat divisions, including National Guard divisions, I have updated and revamped the table that shows their current deployment, which can be found on the War page. The information on it is still tentative, pending further research. One useful feature of that table is that it includes links to each division's official Web site, though some are not currently available. Some of those Web sites are of professional quality, and others are embarrassingly amateurish. I used to count on a similar but much more detailed page called "Where Are the Divisions?" at StrategyPage.com, but it has not been updated in nearly one year.
I asked a friend of mine who used to serve in the
Army [Marine Corps!], Chris Green, how it is that wheeled combat vehicles such as the new Stryker can withstand having their tires blown out by rifle bullets. He said the tires are built integrally onto the wheel rims, presumably with a stiff inner frame. He also sent me this interesting link: www.strykernews.com.
November 27, 2005 [LINK]
Fox sparrow, Winter wren
I took advantage of the first mild temperatures in several days by going for a walk on the trail behind Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, and saw the two above-named birds for the first time this season. There was a nice variety of other winter birds, with the notable absence of any kinglets. To my surprise, given the recent cold snap, I saw a late-lingering catbird back there once again, probably the same one as I saw on Nov. 14.
- Red-bellied woodpeckers
- Yellow-rumped warblers
- Fox sparrows (FOS)
- Purple finches
- Cedar waxwings
- Downy woodpeckers (F, M)
- Hairy woodpecker (F)
- Winter wren (FOS)
- Yellow-bellied sapsucker (F)
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Catbird (VERY late in the season!)
Osprey Web cam at Blackwater
My friend Dave Givens sent me a link to a Web camera mounted on an Osprey nest platform at the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, south of Annapolis, Maryland. The image reloads automatically every 30 seconds. Most of the time it's empty, but I got lucky this afternoon, when this Bald eagle showed up. See www.friendsofblackwater.org, or just click on the image.
November 28, 2005 [LINK]
Liberals win Honduran election
The candidate of the Liberal Party, Manuel Zelaya, has (apparently) won the presidential election in Honduras, by a comfortable margin of about five percent. It will take another day or two to complete the count, and National Party candidate "Pepe" Lobo -- an ally of incumbent President Ricardo Maduro -- has not yet conceded. Zelaya's campaign emphasized fighting corruption, while Lobo called for a tough stance against criminal gangs, applying the death penalty. Both candidates are wealthy landowners and support the CAFTA free-trade agreement, which is odd in a region where there is considerable anti-American sentiment. Inauguration day will be January 27. CNN.com.
November 28, 2005 [LINK]
Warner vs. Biden on the war
Yesterday's Meet the Press provided a rare opportunity for cool-headed dialogue in the heated battle over Iraq war policy. Sen. John Warner represented the sensible mainstream Republicans, and Sen. Joe Biden represented the loyal, sane wing of the Democrat side. Some Republicans resent Warner for trying too hard to maintain constructive relations with the Democrats; it's a thankless, difficult task that must be done. Once again, Senator Warner made me proud to be a Virginia Republican, soberly acknowledging the high cost in lives and money, but insisting that the fight is worth it. For his part, Biden coyly hedged when Tim Russert asked him if he really believed that the war was "lost," as he recently hinted. Biden is smart enough to know that such words from a high-level U.S. politician would have a self-fulfilling effect. Unlike some other Democrats, who are now "invested in U.S. defeat," as Rush Limbaugh puts it, Biden aspires to higher office (the presidency, as he frankly acknowledged) and therefore must carefully strive for a balance between promoting the national interest and pandering to the Democrats' activist base. Talk about a tough dilemma! If anyone could pull it off, though, it's Biden. The king of the media-conscious, pompous grandstanders on Capitol Hill, Biden is the Democrats' version of John McCain, who is often exceptionally honest and courageous, reflecting well on his party, but sometimes relapses into the habit of saying whatever makes the reporters happy.
In Saturday's Washington Post, Biden elaborated on his call for a "timetable" for withdrawal from Iraq, but most of what he wants is already being done. Perhaps the heat he and other moderate Democrats are putting on President Bush could have a useful effect, by letting the Iraqi leaders know that they must pick up the slack soon, or risk a premature termination of U.S. support. That would be a manifestation of "two-stage diplomacy," one of my favorite tools of game theory in political science. Ironically, Biden is brimming with presumptuous overconfidence in the ability of the United States to get the Iraqi factions to forge a compromise. In the end, however, talk of a "timetable" is just a meaningless sop to the clueless American masses.
Novak on Durbin
Among other Democrats in the Senate, Dick Durbin (D-IL) has stood out recently as particularly obnoxious, comparing U.S. treatment of captured terrorists to totalitarian regimes like Pol Pot (see June 24). Robert Novak called Durbin to task for his procedural shenanigans in the Senate in today's Chicago Sun Times. Durbin forced C. Boyden Gray to write a formal letter of apology for a political ad two years ago before allowing his nomination as U.S. ambassador the the European Union to go forward, and accused Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) of allowing oil executives "to lie" by not putting them under oath. In the old days, which John Warner still remembers, senators refrained from impugning each other.
Speaking of Stevens, he managed to restore the funds that had been appropriated for the "bridges to nowhere," but now those funds are not earmarked. As long as Alaskans don't spend that Federal money on those bridges, no one in the Lower 48 will probably notice...
Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) tearfully resigned his seat in the House of Representatives today after pleading guilty to bribery charges in San Diego. Apparently the former Navy pilot had been on the take for many years, and his opulent lifestyle, driving a Rolls Royce, must have raised a few eyebrows. Some believe that other legislators may be caught up in the crooked Web of mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Are the Republicans on Capitol Hill going to live up to the "Contract with American" and demand higher standards of each other, or are they going to cash in their hard-won majority chips and become like the Democrats?
Can Republicans get a grip?
That raises the broader question of where the Republicans are headed. In Sunday's Washington Post, Douglas MacKinnon examines how the Republican Party is bearing up under the stress of sole responsibility for governing the nation. Many Republicans are tearing their hair out in expasperation over the Democrats' gleefully destructive rhetoric on the war in Iraq, falling prey to the temptation to respond in kind. Very tacky. On domestic policy, meanwhile, some GOP leaders are intolerant of any kind of dissent, forgetting that honest policy differences are a universal phenomenon in majority parties. MacKinnon scolds Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) who used his power as chairman of a House subcommittee to eliminate discretionary ("pork barrel") spending in the districts of 21 fellow Republicans as punishment for defying his commands and voting in favor of AMTRAK. At this critical moment for the country and for the Republican Party, I strongly agree with the fundamental lesson MacKinnon draws:
We can still govern, and we still have time to do the right things -- chiefly, not waver on Iraq. But is the Republican Party truly prepared to "stay the course" as we approach the elections? GOP members need to stand shoulder to shoulder with the president in this increasingly unpopular but necessary war, and not put finger to wind and decide that self-preservation comes first.
November 29, 2005 [LINK]
Bush "tackles" immigration
Trying to regain the confidence of conservative malcontents in the GOP, President Bush unveiled yet another revision of his immigration reform proposals. He still wants a long-term (six-year) "temporary" worker program, but now he is willing to devote resources to patrolling our southern border. See Washington Times. In Mexico, U.S. border patrols are regarded as an outrageous insult, and President Fox has demanded that the United States tear down the walls that protect the border south of San Diego. My initial impression is that this is just another half-baked compromise aimed at pleasing Hispanic voters (presumably anti-abortion), in hopes of building the GOP voter base. Since no serious person contemplates mass expulsion, some reasonable accommodation to reality as Bush suggests -- i.e., amnesty -- is necessary, quite obviously. Unless immigration reform includes stiff penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers, and is tied to major reforms of entitlements and labor laws, however, it will be a complete waste of time, and we will be back to square one within a few years. For more, see the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Government falls in Canada
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin lost a vote of no-confidence in Parliament yesterday, obliging him to begin the process by which Parliament is dissolved and new elections are called. This is the long-anticipated fallout from a series of huge bribery scandals that have plagued the dominant Liberal Party for the past year or two. Martin bitterly denounced the three opposition parties for their obstructionist stance, saying that the Canadian people do not want a new election now. The election is set for January 23, and the campaign is expected to be acrimonious. (Well, at least it will last less than two months!) See the Toronto Globe and Mail. Martin inherited the top post after former Prime Minister Jean Chretien resigned two years ago, and this will be the first time he faces the judgment of the electorate. Since the other three parties have little in common, however (one of them is the separatist Parti Quebeçois), it is hard to imagine how an effective governing coalition could be formed without the Liberal Party.
November 29, 2005 [LINK]
The view from the "sandbox*"
Strangely enough, the troops on the ground in Iraq don't see the war the way it's portrayed by the mainstream media. Fortunately, an article in the Christian Science Monitor took a step toward rectifying that deficiency. Key excerpts:
Yet as perceptions about Iraq have neared a tipping point in Congress, some soldiers and marines worry that their own stories are being lost in the cacophony of terror and fear
"We know we made a positive difference," says Cpl. Jeff Schuller of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines... "I can't say at what level, but I know that where we were, we made it better than it was when we got there."
Part of the reason that such stories usually aren't told is simply the nature of the war. Kidnappings and unclear battle lines have made war correspondents' jobs almost impossible.
That last bit shows why pro-war folks should refrain from too-heavy criticism of the mainstream media. Trying to be objective isn't easy when you're the target!
* "Sandbox" is military slang for "Iraq," for you folks in Rio Linda.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, often regarded as the lonely conscience of the Democrat Party, recently traveled to the "sandbox," and points to many signs of improvement there. He reminds wavering Americans that it would be a "colossal mistake" for the U.S. to withdraw its forces right now. See opinionjournal.com, registration required. (via Instapundit)
The Sunnis and terrorism
Well, of course, all of the Sunnis cannot possibly be terrorists, but it is getting harder and harder all the time to find any who are not sympathetic to the mass murderers who lurk in alleys throughout the "Sunni Triangle." James Dunnigan in strategypage.com, writes of the desperation the Sunnis find themselves in, as the insurgency alienates the non-Sunni population of Iraq. I think they brought it on themselves, and we may have to accept partition of Iraq as a result of the failure of enough moderate Sunni leaders to step forward. It would be reasonable to suppose that Saddam had nearly all such prospective leaders executed while he was in power.
Saddam on trial
Speaking of which, the next phase of the former dictator's trial has just resumed. Saddam Hussein tried to disrupt the court proceedings, and from what I could tell from C-SPAN, the judge was unflappable. With any luck, most Iraqis will make the connection between Saddam's Baathists and the surge of vicious terror being inflicted upon their country.
Odom: darling of Left
After reading the anti-war essay and comments by retired Gen. William Odom last week, I became curious about his connection to right-wing dictators when he served in the Reagan administration. While Googling on that (I didn't find much), I came across a curious fact: Virtually all of the top-ranked Web sites that have quoted him lately are leftists! I know that politics makes strange bedfellows, but this is ridiculous! Are those folks even aware of how disdainful he was of human rights activists during the Cold War?
Murtha: not a "hawk"
The standard template in the MSM is that, until very recently, Rep. John Murtha was a stalwart pro-war, pro-military Democrat. Well, in May 2004 his opposition to the war was already so strong that it earned him a feature one-on-one interview with Ted Koppel on ABC's Nightline. See newsbusters.org.
November 29, 2005 [LINK]
During a family visit to Colorado for Thanksgiving, my brother John was lucky to get this photo of an American dipper in the town of Lyon. Dippers habituate mountain streams in the West, and are unique among songbirds in being able to swim! The entire Midwest was blanketed by a blizzard just after John, Dan, and Dad returned home; whew!
Here in the Old Dominion, it's been raining cats and dogs almost all day, and many rivers are flooded. Local bird expert Allen Larner sighted some Northern harriers and a Short-eared owl in the Bell's Lane area yesterday, so I'm going to take a look when the weather clears up.
November 30, 2005 [LINK]
MLB rejects D.C. stadium terms
MLB President Bob DuPuy has rejected the request by the D.C. government that MLB contribute $20 million toward the construction of the new stadium, putting the whole process into major uncertainty once again. He said they might file for arbitration if a lease agreement is not reached with the city by the end of December. See Washington Post. It's not that much money, relatively speaking, but it was not in the terms of the original contract, so I think DuPuy has solid legal grounds, if not moral grounds. Can we just split the difference and get on with it?? D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Chairman mark Tuohey is in charge of negotiating, and is trying mightily to achieve a delicate balance between the business aspects, financial realities, engineering practicalities, and politics. He urges the interested parties to accept "value engineering," i.e., cutting back on design elements to offset cost increases. Council chairperson Linda Cropp has revived her senseless proposal to build a new stadium next to the existing one; the money it would save would be far exceeded by the squandered investment spinoffs expected in the Southeast D.C. neighborhood.
RFK: long-term home?
One fall-back option for the Nationals is simply sticking with the status quo: RFK for the long term! It's not very likely, of course, but it's not totally out of the question, either. The problem is that building a new stadium was an explicit, central element of the deal that brought the former Expos to Washington, and there is a non-negligible chance that MLB would rather cut off their nose to spite their face, pulling the franchise out of Washington even though everyone knows they couldn't earn nearly as much money anywhere else as they could in D.C. -- even if they do stay in RFK Stadium! As I've said before, I almost wish they could stay in RFK Stadium for at least four or five years. Structurally, RFK could probably be maintained for at least another 20 or 30 years, if not longer. Is it worth the cost of rebuilding, refitting, and renovating all the ancient plumbing and wiring? A discussion on this topic can be found at: DCist.com.
Loaiza to Oakland
As another consequence of the interminable process of nailing down stadium construction terms and selling the franchise, the Washington Nationals' reliable starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza just signed a three-year deal with the Oakland Athletics. I admired the way he kept a compeptitive attitude and splendid performance after several disappointing losses in May and June when the team's batters let him down in close game. He will be sorely missed. See MLB.com
Mike Zurawski brought to my attention some facts regarding the prospects of various older stadiums. For one, construction on the new Yankee Stadium is expected to begin next year, and it should be ready by 2009. I'd rather not face up to that sad eventuality, but I've updated the Stadium prospects table anyway. Other revisions of that table are pending...
A few days ago I made a minor update to the Arlington Stadium page without announcing it, just to see if anyone would notice. Sure enough, Steven Poppe saw it and responded right away.
I have added a new blog archives page: Peter Angelos rants.
November 30, 2005 [LINK]
Venezuelan opposition backs out
The three main opposition parties in Venezuela -- Democratic Action, Project Venezuela, and the Social Christian Party (COPEI) -- announced they are withdrawing from the legislative elections set for this weekend because flaws in the national voter registry have not been corrected. Chavez is seeking a two-thirds majority so that he can enact constitutional changes that would remove the last impediments to his "Bolivarian revolution." The opposition had been rather subdued ever since Chavez won in the referendum of August 2004, and this may be a sign that they plan to resume overt resistance to the authoritarian regime. See CNN.com.
Honduras election: too close
The votes in the presidential election in Honduras are still being counted, and Manuel Zelaya's lead has shrunk from five percent to half of one percent. "Pepe" Lobo Sosa complained that the election official who declared Zelaya the winner, after only one percent of the votes were counted, is from Zelaya's Liberal Party. Observers from the OAS say they will stay until the tabulation is completed. Sounds like another Florida! See CNN.com.
November 30, 2005 [LINK]
McDonnell wins AG race by a hair
Speaking of close elections (see Honduras), the Virginia State Board of Elections has certified that Bob McDonnell has won the attorney general race by the slimmest of margins: 970,886 to 970,563, a difference of only 323 votes. Runner-up Creigh Deeds says he wants another recount, but he will have to pay for the office space he has been sharing with McDonnell if he ends up losing. It is the closest statewide race in modern Virginia history!
Here in Staunton, the ballots cast in the race for treasurer are going to be reviewed and recounted beginning on Friday. There are 250 paper absentee ballots, and the rest are electronic and already verified. It could take until the end of December to complete the process. Incumbent Elnora Hazlett lost to Rick Johnson by 36 votes. See newsleader.com.
November 30, 2005 [LINK]
Bush outlines victory strategy
Continuing his effort to get caught up with long-overdue tasks, President Bush today presented a clear-cut plan to achieve victory over terrorists in Iraq, and the greater Middle East. The highlight of his speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis today was when he declared with sincere, deep emotion: "America will not cut and run from car bombers and assassins so long as I am commander in chief." Wow! In conjunction with the President's speech, the National Security Council released National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, available (as PDF) from whitehouse.gov. For me, the most notable aspect is the way that the various processes (or "tracks") -- political, security, and economic -- are integrated with each other. (The link between security and economic policy is my own research specialty.) The strategies devoted to each of those tracks are based on clear, sensible assumptions, and are tied to each other in a logical fashion. The document rightly points out that no war has ever been won "on a timetable," and neither will this one. Likewise, "The terrorists have identified Iraq as central to their global aspirations." Like German, Italian, and Japanese fascists in World War II, the Islamo-fascists cannot be satisfied until they have achieve world domination. Prevailing over them will require sustained effort on the part of all Americans. Let honest debate among us proceed!
The speech has already had a very positive effect on the home front: Sen. John Kerry is scrambling to jump on board the victory bandwagon, rapidly shifting rhetorical gears. Only two weeks ago, Kerry had made a speech responding to Bush's Veteran's Day speech (text HERE) that was filled with distortions of fact and calumnies against the President, leaving no room whatsoever for building mutual trust, which is absolutely essential. Reasonable people can disagree about where the errors in intelligence lay, but Kerry simply refuses to accept any other interpretations or premises than his own. Unless Bush and the Republicans admit they were all wrong about Iraq, Kerry will refuse to negotiate. Meanwhile, Rep. Nancy Pelosi disparaged Bush's speech as warmed over "stew," declining the opportunity to respond with something positive. The close-mindedness of Kerry, Pelosi, and many Democrats is a classic sign of defeatism: Ironically, by spreading defeatist sentiment in this country, they have made defeat for their own party in next year's elections much more likely. The American people may be fickle and only semi-attentive to world events, but they're not so stupid as to fall for the rhetoric of the war opponents.
November 30, 2005 [LINK]
I drove out to Bell's Lane late this afternoon, and sure enough, I saw three Northern harriers, which were reported by Allen Larner. They were the first harriers of the season for me: one adult male (gray) and two females or juveniles (brown). Augusta Bird Club member Jo King arrived while I was scanning the fields, but we never did see the hoped-for Short-eared owl. On the lower pond that is visible from the high point, I saw a Great blue heron, a dozen or so American coots, plus some Mallards, probable Ruddy ducks, and other ducks. Several meadowlarks were calling, and I spotted one on the ground, and a White-breasted nuthatch, which seemed out of place in such open country.
A Sharp-shinned hawk landed in our back yard this afternoon, but flew away before I could get a picture. Princess and George were unaware, thankfully.