June 2, 2006 [LINK]
Nats stars on the trading block?
Today's Washington Post lists the Nationals players that are most likely to be traded away next month, unless the team somehow manages to climb the standings and become a contender like they were last year. It seems unfair to the city that just agreed to spend over a half billion dollars for a new ballpark that the new owners make economizing player transactions, even if it is for the long-term good of the team. Well, it's probably inevitable that some of the highest-value players will be let go, so among those mentioned by the Post, here is my list of who should be traded first, last, and in between:
- Ryan Church
- Tony Armas Jr.
- Mike Stanton
- Alfonso Soriano
- Livan Hernandez
- Jose Guillen
- Jose Vidro
The Nats batters have been on again and off again for most of the season thus far, and tonight's opening game in Milwaukee they were definitely "on," beating the Brewers 10-4. They got off to a quick start with two runs in the first and never lost the lead. Nick Johnson hit two doubles, more evidence that he may have pulled out of his slump. Even Brian Schneider, recently back from the DL, got 3 RBIs on a double in the seventh inning, taking the pressure off the weary bullpen. Oddly, however, none of the Nats hit home runs.
June 2, 2006 [LINK]
OPEC meeting in Caracas
To no one's surprise, Hugo Chavez used the first meeting of OPEC oil ministers as a platform on which to draw public attention to himself, criticizing U.S. policy in Iraq and Iran. His proposal to reduce oil production quotas was rebuffed by other OPEC members, however. See CNN.com. Given the windfall revenues that oil exporters are getting at the moment, the idea of reducing output is not very popular, and runs counter to market logic. Chavez wants OPEC to establish a $50 per barrel minimum price of oil, but says the price ceiling should be "infinity." Just like Exxon/Mobil! Well, perhaps he is not completely opposed to capitalist economics, after all.
Land seizures in Bolivia?
President Evo Morales says his government intends to expropriate 77,000 square miles of farm land, for redistribution to peasants, and land owners have begun to organize to resist any such takeover. Supposedly, this only applies to "land that was not being tilled, land that was obtained illegally or land used for speculation." See CNN.com. As anyone familiar with agriculture knows, however, "unused" is a rather subjective term when it comes to land. Depending on the soil type, cropland usually needs to lie fallow every few years or so. A big part of the problem is Bolivia's history of corruption and weak legal system; in many cases there is simply no solid proof of land ownership. Peasants have already begun occupying land on their own initiative in some areas, and the police are not doing anything to stop them. This is setting the stage for a violent social confrontation much like Zimbabwe, where President Mugabe encouraged land seizures that had a devastating effect on the economy. In the 1950s, the Bolivian government undertook a land reform program, but as often happens, many of the beneficiaries eventually lost control of their land through debt foreclosures.
Campaign ends in Peru
It appears that Alan Garcia is headed toward election as president on Sunday, 16 years after leaving office in utter disgrace as Peru was plunging into total chaos, with hyperinflation and rampant terrorism. Presumably, Garcia has learned something in the mean time, and will avoid the reckless policies of his first administration. He would do well to heed the lessons of Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, the philosophical yet pragmatic founder of his party, APRA . The "House of the People," as the party headquarters is called, is a beehive of activity these days, as the party faithful prepare to relaunch their old careers in government. Working people can get cheap dental and medical care there, as well as classes in vocational arts. APRA is not just a party, however, it is an international movement aiming to unite Latin American countries, or "Indo-American," as Haya de la Torre used to call the region.
June 3, 2006 [LINK]
Students in Chile get their way
After three days of violent protests, the government decided to give in to all of the demands. Aside from more funding, the most notable reform proposal to be sent to Congress is putting all public schools under the direct authority of the national government. Since the Pinochet dicatorship, public schools have been under local control, as is the case in the United States, resulting in unequal funding levels from one district to the next. See CNN.com. The quick retreat by the government will put new President Michelle Bachelet in a weaker negotiating position the next time such a challenge comes along.
UPDATE: The race card in Peru
As the historic second-round presidential elections in Peru are about to begin, the Washington Post explains Ollanta Humala's "secret weapon": the widespread feelings of distrust and resentment toward the (mostly white) elite in Peru by those who are of mostly Indian ancestry. That may distort the opinion survey findings, so Alan Garcia's supposed double-digit lead may be much less than that.
June 3, 2006 [LINK]
Driving around Augusta County
This morning Jacqueline and I splurged on breakfast at Shoney's and went for a casual, impromptu drive in no particular direction. We soon found ourselves on Route 794, a picturesque remote road north of Fishersville, and stopped for a few minutes at the water treatment plant near Christians Creek. I had been there once before, doing a bird survey, but had never before continued across the bridge where the asphalt turns to gravel. We saw:
- Cedar waxwings
- Indigo bunting
- Yellow warbler (M)
- Red-tailed hawks
Mary Gray Hill (left) and Betsy Bell Hill (right), as seen from the north side of Fishersville, a few miles to the east of Staunton. If you ask me, preserving scenery like this is ... priceless.
Click on the camera icon below to see an Eastern box turtle we found on the side of the road.
Heading into downtown Staunton on our way to the farmer's market later on, we were surprised to see a Cedar waxwing in a bush across the steet from Mary Baldwin College. This afternoon, a female hummingbird showed up at our nectar feeder for the first time in over a week.
Blue Ridge lunch
After participating in Memorial Day observances on Monday, we went for an excursion up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and had lunch at the Humpback Rocks parking area. I walked down along the trail to where I had seen the Sharp-shinned hawks making a nest on April 2, but was disappointed not being able to find it. I would be surprised if the hawk nestlings had already fledged, so they may still be there. On the plus side, I did see two first-of-season birds. Highlights:
- Chipping sparrow
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Scarlet tanager (M, FOS)
- Cerulean warbler (FOS)
- Indigo bunting
- Red-eyed vireo
June 4, 2006 [LINK]
Peruvians go to polls, glumly
The election in Peru was held today, with many voters having the resigned attitude that neither of the final two candidates are likely to serve the country well. The early exit polls by APOYO indicate that Alan Garcia leads Ollanta Humala 52.8% to 47.2%, but there is a huge margin for error, and we may not know who the real winner is until tomorrow, or even after that. See BBC and El Comercio (in Spanish). There is a large risk that dissatisfaction with the electoral results will further disillusion Peruvians with democracy. The incumbent president, Alejandro Toledo, has had an approval rating of less than ten percent for many months.
UPDATE: Garcia wins?!
Alan Garcia declared himself the winner this evening, even though the votes are still being counted. (With 77 percent of the returns in, he leads 55% to 45%; see peru.com.) He pledged a government of "concertation, consensus, dialogue, and openness" (roughly translated). He won a big majority of votes in Lima, while his opponent fared much better in the outlying provinces. See El Comercio (in Spanish). For a roundup of Peruvian blog commentaries on the elections, see Publius Pundit. Offhand, what is remarkable to me is Garcia's lack of any specific program, in sharp contrast to 1985, when his team of policy experts in APRA had a comprehensive platform of radical changes. Presumably, he learned from the mistakes of the late 1980s, but it's almost anyone's guess what he will do in his second term as president. I'll have much more to say about this tomorrow and in coming days.
2ND UPDATE (just before midnight): Humala has made a concession speech, urging respect for democracy and congratulating his opponents, so it would appear that Garcia has won a clear victory by the end of Election Day after all.
The Paraguay background information page has been updated.
June 4, 2006 [LINK]
This is immigration "reform"?
As the House and Senate prepare for a tense conference session to hammer out a compromise immigration package, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate bill would increase the number of legal immigrants by 20 million over the next ten years. That includes the 11 million undocumented people already here, plus eight million new ones. See Washington Post. In short, it is a recipe for a massive eventual increase in entitlements spending and increased ethnic tensions. Obviously, those who favor the Senate version are grossly underestimating how many people would gain full legal status under their approach. Even worse, the bill lets illegal immigrants off the hook for committing identity fraud to obtain employment, making them more privileged than native-born Americans. That won't fly.
Actually, an increase in legal immigration is not at all bad in itself. Let's try to keep one clear thought in mind, however: Any serious reform of our immigration laws (and practices) must provide for a substantial increase in legal immigration, so as to minimize the incentives for people to immigrate illegally. Otherwise, it's a waste of time. But as long as labor laws remain untouched, however, the latent economic imbalance that invites illegal immigrants will persist. Specifically, the more workers to whom full rights are extended, the greater demand there will be for new illegal workers, so as to keep labor costs down. Why can't "immigrants' rights" activists admit that?
The word "reform" can mean different things to different people. For people like me, it means a broad restructuring of existing policies aimed at consistency, rationality, and fairness. For others, it has the vague meaning of being "nice." Under most of the proposals that have been advanced so far, including the House bill pushed by Rep. Sensenbrenner, there are critical omissions or loopholes that would virtually guarantee even more illegal immigration. That, of course, is exactly what many people want, including certain businesses and "immigrant rights" activists. On Thursday, President Bush criticized "unscrupulous" firms and called for increased penalties for those who hire illegal aliens, but there is huge lobbying effort to prevent such action from taking place, and many membes of Congress are no doubt ethically compromised as the result of having taken campaign contributions from those businesses.
In a globalized economy, the intended effects of "reforms" are often thwarted by foreign competition. So, we should perhaps contemplate more radical, internally consistent policy alternatives, including a wide-open "laissez faire" policy. That would only be feasible, however, if minimum wage laws and most labor standards were abolished. Still, it's something to think about.
June 4, 2006 [LINK]
Haditha: Was it a massacre?
Last month, Rep. Murtha accused U.S. Marines of killing Iraqi civilians "in cold blood" in the town of Haditha last November, and on May 18 I characterized his comments as "foolish dissent." More recently, the Washington Post related what the Iraqi residents of that town said happened, and it may indeed have been a massacre of innocents after all. Apparently, Marines stormed through several houses after one of them riding a Humvee was killed by a roadside bomb. Today's Washington Post suggests that the official version of the violent encounter is contrary to the facts. On the other hand, Rep. Murtha's credibility is not exactly high, either. He even made things worse when questioned by ABC's "This Week" a week ago, practically shouting insults at Charles Gibson, and avoiding the question of "why do you believe those allegations to be true?" Even if it turns out that he was right about Haditha, there is something seriously wrong with Murtha.
The Iraqi prime minister has called for an official explanation, for which he has every right to do, but so far there does not seem to be as much outrage among the Iraqi people as one might expect. It's odd, when you compare this to the freak traffic accident in Kabul that sparked large-scale bloody riots. Obviously, that spasm of violence was orchestrated by the Taliban or sympathetic groups.
In Saturday'sWashington Post, Frank Schaeffer reminds us that even in that great, noble crusade against Fascism known as World War II, there were many, many instances of brutality and incompetence committed by occupying U.S. forces. It just didn't get publicized back then. That doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to abuses committed by our forces -- and indeed, some such abuses are almost inevitable over the course of a long war -- it just means we need to keep things in perspective. How would you feel if your best buddy had just died from a roadside bomb, and some of the people in the village were laughing or making taunting gestures?
There are many questions raised by the tragic case of Haditha, and we should not jump to conclusions, as Murtha did. Did those Marines have good reason to believe that the perpetrators had taken refuge in one of those houses? Were they under the direct command of a nearby officer? If they were guilty of murder, they should face a severe punishment, including death by firing squad if the crime was as egregious and wanton as some people portray it. Until then, however, our soldiers are entitled to the presumption of innocence.
June 5, 2006 [LINK]
Nationals get first sweep of year
Rebounding nicely from that "bump in the road" in Philadelphia, the Nationals defeated the Brewers in three straight games in Milwaukee, thereby earning their first sweep of the 2006 season. Alfonso Soriano hit two more home runs, one of which was a grand slam, and is closing in on the injured Alberto Pujols. Now the red-hot Nats take on the ice-cold Braves in Atlanta, and Livan Hernandez will be taking the mound.
The baseball draft begins tomorrow, which will be an especially important as the new owners try to rebuild the bare-bones Nationals franchise. Will the Nats get as lucky as they did when they picked up Ryan Zimmerman last year? See MLB.com. Brian Schneider was the hero in the Nats' 4-3 win over the Brewers on Saturday, hitting a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning. Rookie reliever Bill Bray was credited with the win, even though he threw only one pitch: Schneider threw out a runner attempting to steal second base to end the eighth inning. Nostalgia time: It was exactly one year ago that the Nationals were in the middle of a ten-game winning streak that launched them into first place in the NL East.
Braves in a slump
Thanks to the Diamondbacks, the Braves were swept in a four-game home series for the first time since they moved into Turner Field. Ouch! To me, the Braves' recent string of losses is puzzling, because Edgar Renteria, Jeff Francouer, Adam LaRoche, and Brian McCann had established themselves as very worthy replacements to former Braves stars who were traded away or let go. Francouer is especially impressive (see MLB.com), while Wilson Betemit continues to provide reliable clutch hitting as a pinch hitter.
June 5, 2006 [LINK]
"NIMBYs" in Augusta County?
The Augusta Free Press has a roundup of opinions on the proposed industrialization of Augusta County, which has elicited a sharp controversy. Chairman Wendell Coleman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors takes exception to those who move to this area and then try to close the door on anyone else who wants to move here. He says he seeks a balance between the rural scenery and economic growth. I would agree in principle, but remain deeply skeptical about the massive scale of development that is apparently being planned. It would change the character of this community forever. Some suggest that such hesitation or opposition is nothing more than selfish "NIMBY" attitudes: Not In My Back Yard! Board of Supervisors member Nancy Sorrells, from the Riverheads district, "thinks the NIMBY label is not appropriate in this instance," and Del. Steve Landes explained why the folks in his Weyers Cave community are so upset by the proposed mega-factory. I was interviewed for that story and acknowledged that such sentiment no doubt plays some part. My conclusion:
The way to keep NIMBY sentiment in check is to make sure that public forums are wide open, with a variety of civic activists involved so that no particular interest groups prevail over the public interest. That should be the primary criteri[on] in evaluating all these development proposals.
With the kind of closed-door process that the Augusta County Board has been pursuing thus far, on the other hand, there are bound to be suspicions that some people are going to benefit much more than others. I commented on this controversy on May 19 and May 15. Since I am a resident of the city of Staunton and not Augusta County, however, my opinion on this matter is not necessarily very important.
FULL DISCLOSURE: In the summer of 1994, I was on the side of "NIMBY" opponents of the proposed "Disney USA" theme park that would have ruined the Manassas battlefield park. I think historical preservation is an inherently worthy cause that everyone should support. In July of 2003, in contrast, I was harshly critical of the "NIMBY" opponents of a proposed new baseball stadium in Arlington, which ended Virginia's best chance for landing the former Montreal Expos franchise, which later became the Washington Nationals. I think that it would have fostered a stronger community in Arlington, raising civic pride, but a non-baseball fan might disagree. See my Baseball 2003 Archives and scroll down to the July entries. The bottom line is, we all have our own subjective biases, which is why it is better to open the decision-making process for these sorts of projects to a wide range of voices, to make sure the public interest is being served.
June 6, 2006 [LINK]
Alan Garcia triumphs, once again
The electoral victory of Aprista candidate Alan Garcia was about what was expected, and unlike his historic election in 1985, there is a more subdued atmosphere among the followers of his party. Most people agree that the results were more a rejection of Ollanta Humala than an endorsement of Alan Garcia, or his policy agenda. The circumstances now are much different than what they were at that time, when Peru was in default on its foreign debt, with the budget deficit soaring. Today, in contrast, most economic indicators are fairly positive, but you would never know it from all the complaining that is voiced in Peru. The one glaring defect in the economic recovery since the financial panic that swirled around Latin America a few years ago is that very little benefit has accrued to the poorer classes. That discontent was fully exploited by Garcia's rival, Ollanta Humala.
The role reversal occasioned by the rise of the populist candidate even has the mainstream media confused. For example, the Washington Post cast Garcia has a virtual centrist, which seems bizarre to me. No person in his right mind could possibly think that Garcia or his party put a priority on friendly relations with the United States or international capital. To the contrary, APRA retains a strong programmatic commitment to an agenda of economic nationalism. In fact, Garcia wrote a book at the time of Desert Storm that referred to the United States as the "new totalitarian" force in the world. (I have a copy.) True, Garcia has moderated over the years, as his Enrique Cornejo, Garcia's principal economic adviser, tried to emphasize (I interviewed him in 1994), but you can't change that much in 15 years. The confusion over Garcia's agenda just goes to show that everything is relative.
La Republica (in Spanish) analyzes Garcia's speech, which expressed magnanimity, saying there were no losers in the elections just completed. Easy for him to say, perhaps, but a nice gesture anyway. Garcia has a huge amount of distrust to overcome before he will be able to accomplish much once he takes office. He is a very smart man and a savvy politician, and I'm sure he is well aware that he needs to mend a lot of fences before Inauguration Day on July 28.
As for the international implications, the BBC emphasized Garcia's defiant rejection of Hugo Chavez, saying that his victory signified a choice in favor of Peruvian sovereignty:
[The voters of Peru] have defeated the efforts by Mr. Hugo Chavez to integrate us into his militaristic and backwards expansion project he intends to impose over South America. Today, Peru has said no.
Of course, everyone wants to know what Hugo Chavez thinks, since he had bluntly endorsed Humala and threatened to cut off diplomatic ties if Garcia won. Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said that diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Peru will depend on what actions Peru takes. See El Universal of Caracas. One can only imagine the enormous pressure faced by Venezuelan diplomats who are obliged to put a positive spin on the absurd rantings of their rogue president.
This marks only the second time in its 80-year history that APRA has won a presidential election (aside from the 1962 election that was nullified by the armed forces). The Popular American Revolutionary Alliance is a fascinating transnational political movement, with perhaps the strongest organization of all political parties in Latin America. In 1985 there was a huge "pent-up demand" by party members for government jobs, which made achieving fiscal objectives much more difficult. The "Peruvian Aprista Party," as it is formally known, is nationalist and left of center in most respects, but what makes it unique is the intellectual legacy left by its founder, Victor Raul Haya de la Torre. He wrote copious volumes of philosophy and practical politics that APRA followers quote as if it were religious scripture. Haya was at once idealistic and pragmatic, and adapted his movement to changing circumstances over the decades, eventually reaching an understanding with the United States. This may set a good example for his "disciple," Alan Garcia, who formed close relations with North Korea in is first term. Although his past record on economic and foreign policy is deeply tarnished, and his ability to rein in graft and corruption in his party remains in doubt, Garcia does have strong credentials in two areas: as a defender of civilian democracy and as a promoter of international cooperation in search of peaceful resolution of conflicts. All we friends of Peru can do is hope for the best, and prepare for something a little less.
One of Alan Garcia's biggest potential assets is his attractive and educated wife, Pilar Nores, who was born in Argentina. She is quite unlike the controversial wife of incumbent President Alejandro Toledo, a Belgian born speaker of Quechua. Señora Garcia played a relatively limited role in his first term, and one way for the President-elect to signal a change in course as he prepares for his second term would be to appoint her to some high-profile social commission.
June 8, 2006 [LINK]
Stadium construction begins
On our way into Washington on Tuesday (when the Nationals were out of town, unfortunately), Jacqueline and I took a slight detour so as to gawk at the massive construction projects. First was the "mixing bowl" interchange on the Beltway at Springfield, and then the new Woodrow Wilson bridge, of which the southern span is scheduled to open in the next few days. Then we briefly entered Maryland and headed north along I-295, across the Frederick Douglass bridge, and stopped at the stadium construction site. What a change since the last time I was there! To my surprise, the demolition of existing buildings is almost complete, and excavation has begun in earnest. Perhaps they'll make that April 2008 target completion date after all!
Looking north from the south edge of the [future] stadium. The dumpsters are about where [first] base will be. On the left in the distance, the tip of the Capitol dome is barely visible. On the right are some office buildings on the west side of the Navy Yard.
Coincidentally, the new owners of the Nationals informed the D.C. government that they will not pay to have underground parking garages built on the north side of the new stadium, on the grounds that it is too late to complete such a structure by Opening Day 2008. See Washington Post. The planned above-ground garages would block the view of the U.S. Capitol except for the upper deck fans.
Nationals keep winning
The Nats won two out of three games in Atlanta, and won the opening game of the four-game series against the Phillies at home in RFK Stadium tonight. Alfonso Soriano hit his 23rd homer of the year, and is now only two behind Albert Pujols. I'm tempted to say all is forgiven, after that little spat about whether he would play in left field before the season began. Since May 14, in only two games have the opponents scored more than five runs. In short, the team is finally hitting its stride, and even though they are still several games below .500, one cannot discount the possibility that they will sustain this momentum and live up to the potential of their many fine players. An intriguing thought...
June 9, 2006 [LINK]
My visit to Capitol Hill
I spent Tuesday and Wednesday visiting the offices of Virginia's congressmen delegation, explaining my position on the immigration issue to the respective staff people. I also got a better idea of what is preventing the House and Senate from reaching a workable compromise on that issue -- i.e., one that secures our borders and deals realistically with the problem of the 11 million or so existing illegal aliens. Capitol Hill staffers tend to get contemptuous from years of dealing with nitwit constituents, so it was very reassuring to be treated with courtesy and respect by the folks who work for Senators Warner and Allen, and Representatives Gooodlatte and Davis.
It had been many years since I had last toured the Capitol building, so I decided to seize the opportunity. I got in line for the Senate visitors gallery, and watched a debate over the bill to give Hawaiian native people the same legal status as that of Indian tribes. Earlier that day, the Senate had rejected the Federal marriage amendment, for which I was grateful. The proposal was nothing more than a thinly-veiled chunk of "red meat" by which the White House was trying to appease the GOP conservative base, which is up in arms about Bush's weak stance on immigration. Sorry, I'm not buyin' it.
Today the Senate failed to pass a proposed permanent extension of [the phased-out abolition of] the Federal estate tax, in a 57-41 cloture vote. I think the estate tax has been grossly unfair to farmers and small business owners, an arbitrary confiscation of wealth, but I think a compromise could be worked out, short of total elimination.
In sum, the Senate has been doing its constitutional duty this week, offsetting the impulsive ways of the House.
I also visited the Capitol Hill offices of Numbers USA, an immigration reform advocacy group. I had a very pleasant and informative chat with Mr. Van Esser, who heads the congressional relations office. He thought about my suggestion of "probation" status for illegal aliens who immediately register with the authorities, but thinks it would be in practice little different from the various amnesty proposals, which would indeed be patently unfair to those outside the United States who are patiently waiting for their visas to come through.
DeLay's farewell address
I've never been a big fan of Rep. Tom DeLay, but I'm glad in a way that he went out "swinging" in his final speech to the House. On the PBS News Hour, David Brooks put it exactly right in commenting on DeLay's lack of remorse:
You can give him credit for honesty. He believed in partisanship. And to some extent, I have no problem with partisanship. My problem with Tom DeLay was sometimes he could be partisan at the expense of conservatism. And especially on matters ... of spending. What he did was he turned the majority into a fundraising and spending machine in order to get more Republican fannies in those seats. And that's fine, but the spending was not what Republicans were supposed to stand for. The earmarks was not what they were supposed to stand for. So, in some ways, he was an old-fashioned party boss who built a majority by betraying some conservative principles.
I should note that one of the Capitol Hill staffers I talked to put in a good word for earmarked ("pork barrel") spending, on the grounds that tends to be more efficient and responsive to local needs than spending directed by bureaucrats in Washington.
June 9, 2006 [LINK]
Zarqawi: The death of a terrorist
In Western civilizations, especially the United States, one of the surest paths to a successful life for a person who lacks privilege or resources is to become a salesman. In the Islamic civilization where feudalistic socio-economic relations persist, in contrast, there are few such business opportunities. That is why so many status-craving enterprising young men in that part of the world make a career out of terrorism. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a nobody in his home town of Zarqa, Jordan, but by capitalizing on the jihad resistance campaign in Afghanistan, he made a name for himself that will not be forgotten for a long time.
Oddly missing from the bio-chronology of Zarqawi in the print edition of today's Washington Post was any mention of his early years as a juvenile delinquent, which explain a lot about him. (The online washingtonpost.com reprinted a 2004 story that mentions that.) I recently read Zarqawi: The New Face of Al-Qaeda by Jean-Charles Brisard with Damien Martinez. Though not really a scholarly book, it has a solid factual grounding. Zarqawi was a misfit in schools, and ended up as a thug in his home town of Zarqa (hence his family name), Jordan. What struck me was the rapid success Zarqawi had in fund raising in Europe, after training with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He did take refuge in Iraq for several months after the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban government in late 2001, which U.S. officials cited as evidence of a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. For most of that period, however, he was in the autonomous Kurdish region.
In his final months, Zarqawi seemed to be gaining prestige as he outwitted the Coalition pacification forces, wreaking mayhem and misery on the Iraqi people with impunity. Zarqawi's tactics were characterized by indiscriminate targetting and a shocking degree of ruthlessness that can only be described as diabolical. From his (absolute Evil) perspective, the future seemed bright, and then Fate (or was it Divine Mercy?) took a sudden, unexpected turn: BOOM! He survived the initial bomb blasts, which makes one wonder what could have been going through his twisted mind during those last couple hours? Perhaps some of the fools he recruited to blow themselves up were motivated by hopes of the "72 virgins" in paradise, but Zarqawi was nobody's fool. That is why we can take some schaudenfreud satisfaction in knowing that his agonizing last moments on Earth were haunted by the specter of failure.
What does this prove? It's a good sign that most people seem to recognize that the very act of killing Zarqawi was an important milestone in the war, whether it leads to a reduced level of violence or provokes another upsurge of terrorism. In the short term, that is beyond our control. On a tactical level, the succesful pinpoint bombing of the safe house where Zarqawi was hiding shows that high-tech smart weapons can, on occasion, be extremely useful in fighting the terrorist movement. It will force terrorists to take even greater precautions against detection, and it will make them suspicious of each other, whether or not it is true that a bounty-seeking "rat" was the key to locating Zarqawi. (That story may be one of those "Psy Ops" schemes.)
What now? Austin Bay thinks this provides broader political opportunities for the new Iraqi government. (By coincidence, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had just completed filling the positions in his cabinet, offering some hope for averting all-out civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites.) The Staunton News Leader editorialized that killing terrorist leaders is like cutting the head off of the mythical Hydra serpent: Two new heads grow back in its place. That is a useful metaphor, reminding us that the enemy is not any particular person, organization, or country, but rather an extremist ideology. We can't "kill" such an amorphous adversary, all we can do is cut off its food supply and encourage the development of more modern, liberal alternative ideology.
I think the ultimate consequences of killing Zarqawi depends on whether our forces in Iraq "strike while the iron is hot," retaking the strategic momentum by hunting down Zarqawi's Al Qaeda associates and other terrorists. From what I have read in the news today, I am encouraged that our forces are doing exactly that. If they can kill or capture a substantial number of other fugitives in the coming days and weeks, there is a very good chance that it will "send a message" to prospective terrorist recruits that have nothing but death and shame to look forward to. Little by little, the cold, hard reality of seeing photographs of their leaders as bloody corpses will undermine the romantic fantasy of martyrdom. Jihad will eventually go out of style, Omar and Ibrahim will learn how to make a living as salesmen, and the good guys will win.
June 9, 2006 [LINK]
? ? ? ? ? ?
This morning was clear and mild, so I went for a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. I heard a Yellow-billed cuckoo, and I think I saw one or two of them tussling around in the tree tops, but couldn't be sure. The only other birds of note I saw were an Indigo bunting and some Towhees. I at least managed to get close-up photos of a "Question Mark" butterfly, which is named for the distinctive marking on the underside of its wings, as well as a Cabbage White butterfly.
While Jacqueline and I enjoyed a nostalgic stroll under the cherry trees at the Tidal Basin in Washington late Tuesday afternoon, I caught a glimpse of a Baltimore oriole. They are distinctly rural-dwelling birds, but I suppose they are attracted to the big city by the by all those cherries, a huge food supply. Some Northern rough-winged swallows were also zooming around. While crossing Occoquan Creek driving south on I-95 the next day, I saw a high-flying Great blue heron.
June 10, 2006 [LINK]
Venezuela prepares for invasion
President-for-life Hugo Chavez ordered Venezuelan civilians and [armed forces to prepare] for invasion by the North American aggressors, and a mock battle exercise was staged this week on the beaches of Guaira, just north of Caracas. Some residents were upset by the explosions and live ammunition, mostly blanks. Chavez claims the U.S. is planning to seize control of Venezuela's oil reserves, not bothering to provide any evidence for this. It's hard to see how he can keep up the anti-gringo hysteria much longer without some major reaction taking place. See CNN.com.
Paraguay ex-president to jail
Former President Luis Gonzalez Macchi was sentenced to six years in prison on embezzlement charges, but he says the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. See CNN.com. He succeeded to the presidency under unusual circumstances in 1999: President Raul Cubas was forced to resign after his involvement in the plot to assassinate the vice president was revealed, and Gonzalez Macchi, the leader of the Senate, was next in line. Paraguay remains a den of corruption and contraband, but there has been a recent reform movement to change things.
Chilean students end strike
Even though President Michelle Bachelet gave in to all of their demands last week, students in Chile continued their strike this week, raising their demands. Once they realized they weren't going to get anything more, they gave up and went back to their classes. [See BBC.] The Washington Post had a feature on President Bachelet, who took time from her official trip to visit a public school she had attended in Bethesda, Maryland in 1963, when her father was stationed in Washington as a military attache. I happened to see an interview of her on one of the Washington TV stations, and she came across as very nice and sincere. [Her command of English is excellent.]
The Motorcycle Diaries
Jacqueline and I recently rented the 2004 movie The Motorcycle Diaries (see imdb.com), about the journey across South America made by Ernesto "Che" Guevara and a teacher-friend in 1952. It's a vivid portrayal of the beautiful, varied landscape of the continent, and of the social injustice that instilled a revolutionary conscience into the young doctor. The scene when they arrived at Machu Picchu was especially moving for us, having been there ourselves not so long ago. I highly recommend the movie to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of Latin American society, and I would probably require it of students next time I teach a Latin American politics class. A partial text of Guevara's original book can be found at: marxists.org.
The soundtrack music (mostly composed by Gustavo Santaolalla) was enchanting, adding a lot to the "atmosphere" of the movie. So, I went to check Apple's Music Store to buy the main theme song, which is titled "De Usuahia a la Quiaca." (Usuahia is a town in Tierra del Fuego, and Quiaca is on the northern border of Argentina, near Bolivia.) The song is played on a charango, and its haunting melody reminds me a little of Led Zeppelin's "Battle of Evermore." Unfortunately, it is one of the "Album Only" songs, meaning you can't buy it separately. Drat.
UPDATE: Garcia makes first moves
President-elect Alan Garcia announced that he will cut in half the number of staff people working in the executive mansion ("Palacio del Gobierno"), as an economy measure. Whether that means a genuine net reduction in staff or just a relocation to some other building is not clear. What is clear is that Garcia is well aware of the huge amount of suspicion that he must overcome in order to govern the country. As part of that initiative, he plans to deactivate the office of the First Lady. (His wife, Pilar Nores, says she doesn't like that term.) Garcia also intends to reactivate the position of "anti-corruption czar," and has appealed for a dialogue with his defeated rival Ollanta Humala. See El Comercio (in Spanish).
June 11, 2006 [LINK]
Stadium construction sqabble
The controversy over whether to build an above-ground or below-ground parking garage north of the future stadium has exposed latent tensions among the various concerned parties. The Lerners, who recently were named as the Nationals' new owners, are starting to assert more control over the whole stadium construction project, even though they aren't paying a dime for it. They are worried that poor management by the D.C. government will delay the stadium's completion beyond the April 2008 target date, which would eat into their profits. As I have noted before, this just goes to show why stadiums that get such a heavy public subsidy tend to waste money and time: there's no bottom line incentive! The Washington Post notes that Mayor [Williams] has created an "Office of Baseball" in the D.C. government, as a way to coordinate the efforts of the various agencies who play a role in this project, and the city council.
Nationals gain in NL East
The Nationals beat the Phillies in 3 out of 4 games at RFK Stadium, and are now tied with the Braves for third place in their division. Their 9-8 win on Friday night was an especially crucial test for the rebounding Washington club. The Phillies got two runs in the first inning, then fell behind, then took an 8-7 lead with five runs in the seventh inning, but a clutch RBI single by Brendan Harris in the bottom of the inning tied it, sending the game into extra innings. After more wasted run-scoring opporunities, Marlon Byrd finally scored the winning run in the 12th inning on a single by Robert Fick, with a dramatic slide into home. It's a good sign when reserve players make clutch hits like that: depth! It was interesting that in the two preceding games, Alfonso Soriano went hitless. Jose Guillen has returned from the DL, and got two hits and two RBIs in today's 6-0 win, only the second shutout for the Nats so far this year. I hope he doesn't feel miffed that the team was doing so well in his absence; he can be a little touchy at times.
Yankees plead with NPS
The Yankees have hired the law-lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to prevail upon the National Park Service to grant permission for their planned new stadium to be built on the plot of land just north of the existing one. The land is not owned by the Federal government, as I had thought, but because Federal money was spent to improve it in 1978, the Feds retain rights to have a say over its use. I find it hard to believe that bureaucrats serving under a pro-business administration would adopt a dead-set obstructionist position in this sort of situation, but we'll see. See Washington Post.
June 11, 2006 [LINK]
Canary candy: cabbage flowers
G-rated: Princess and George have developed an insatiable craving for the yellow flowers from the cabbage plants growing next to our back patio. Princess trusts us enough to eat them from our hand, while George, who is normally more wary of us, will let us approach within a couple feet in hopes of getting a quick bite. The cabbage plants are running out of flowers, but soon the basil plants will be sprouting the flowers that they love so much.
R-rated: Princess recently gave up on her most recent clutch of eggs (3), and George has been harrassing on a regular basis her ever since as she starts building another nest. (We removed the old eggs and nest from the basket.) For some reason, his libido is highest at the crack of dawn, as he sings with unusual intensity and then makes threatening gestures and jumps on top of his reluctant mate. They seem to alternate between loud squabbles and interludes of soft, intimate chirping. Seriously, you would have to see this canary "soap opera" to believe it. "Amor salvaje!"
June 11, 2006 [LINK]
World Cup 2006 begins
If baseball is our "National Pastime," then soccer (i.e., "football") is clearly the International Pastime. English hooligans do their best to advertise the decline of Western Civilization. In the Outlook section of the Washington Post last Sunday, political science blogger Daniel Drezner explored the hypothesis that the World Cup promotes world peace, as U2 singer Bono has claimed. It is an old debate. Drezner cited a 1973 article by anthropologist Richard Sipes, who concluded that athletic competition has a slightly greater tendency to incite latent aggression than to sublimate aggression. Drezner mentioned the soccer match played between German and British soldiers during the Christmas truce of 1914, but there is no reason to think that soccer was what caused that truce. Another case was the 1969 "Soccer War" between Honduras and El Salvador, but the soccer match that was alleged to have precipitated hostilities was not the underlying cause of tensions. Drezner concludes, rightly, that soccer brings out the best and the worst features of nationalistic sentiment.
I have always thought that baseball brings out more friendly rivalry than bitter enmity, but there are obvious exceptions -- Red Sox vs. Yankees being at the top of the list.
June 11, 2006 [LINK]
Evening on Bell's Lane
I haven't spent much time outdoors lately, but I did take a quick walk along Bell's Lane this evening, and saw a fair number of birds:
- E. towhees (M, F)
- Green heron
- Indigo bunting (M)
- E. kingbirds
- Tree swallow
- Brown thrasher
- Downy woodpecker
- Red-bellied woodpecker
Plus the usuals. I also heard a Yellow warbler singing, as well as a Willow flycatcher. It has been unseasonably cool for the past week, and I wonder if that may be having an effect on the size of bird broods.
My brother John just sent me this Yellow warbler photo. Doesn't that worm look good?
June 12, 2006 [LINK]
FARC attacks rival rebels
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have launched an offensive against the much smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) in the eastern province of Arauca, accusing their erstwhile quasi-allies of acting in the interests of the enemy "bourgeoisie." See BBC. Their official communique (see the FARC Web site, in Spanish) cited unspecified acts of aggression by the ELN, and warned farmers in that region not to get involved. The justification for this offensive seems contrived, however. This seems to be an effort by FARC to fill the power vacuum as ELN has been engaged in preliminary discussions for the last several months that may lead to an end to hostilities. FARC is much more involved in the illegal drug trade than ELN is, which is why it has greater resources and less inclination to end hostilities. It has essentially evolved over the years into an enormous, vicious mafia using revolutionary symbols and rhetoric as a cover.
June 13, 2006 [LINK]
Twins' stadium to emulate Safeco
My initial impression of the plans for the Twins' future ballpark was that it resembled the overall shape and design Safeco Field in Seattle. In part, that reflects the desire to keep open the option of putting a rolling roof supported by parallel rails. Not only that, the Twins intend to make the outfield dimensions similar to those of Safeco, not like such slugger-friendly "band boxes" as Citizens Bank Park or Great American Ballpark. See twincities.com (hat tip to Mike Zuawaski)
Memorial Coliseum update
The Memorial Coliseum page has been updated with a new diagram that conforms to the new standard. The existing "sideways" diagrams (not truncated) have been stretched by about 50 feet, based on Google satellite photos forwarded to me by Bruce Orser.
Rockies edge Nats
The Colorado Rockies have fallen from first to last place in the surprisingly competitive NL West, but they showed they are still a team to be recknoned with, beating the Nationals last night by a score of 4-3. Tonight rookie Mike O'Connor takes the mound for Washington. In today's Washington Post, Thomas Bowell talks about how he and Shawn Hill -- another "long-shot" rookie, though one with major league experience in 2004 --plugged a huge gap in the team, keeping them competitive, and keeping fans' hopes alive.
UPDATE: Jose Guillen hit two RBIs in his first two games after returning from the DL, possibly motivated by rumors that he may be traded. Even if he stays for the rest of the season, the fact that he asked for a $50 million contract apparently makes him less desirable from the perspective of the Nationals' front office. He says he's not worried, which means he probably is worried, which is a good sign that he (and presumably other players) really want to stay with the team. See MLB.com.
Tigers cling to first
The Detroit Tigers have cooled off just a bit lately, but they still have the highest winning percentage in all of baseball, .641. What is behind their amazing rebound from 12 consecutive losing seasons? New manager Jim Leyland is probably part of the reason, but what really stands out when you look at their players' records is how solid and well balanced they are. Almost every player has a batting average of .280 or higher, and no one is batting better than .310. When you've got a cadre of young, ambitious players with unknowns like Curtis Granderson, there is a big potential for improvement. No one player is truly spectacular, but when there are no weak spots in the lineup, the pressure on opposing pitchers is relentless.
I was informed by Mike Rodak that Boston University terminated its football program in 1998, contrary to what I wrote on the Braves Field page. I'll incorporate that piece of info when that page is updated in the near future. (Its remnants are now called "Nickerson Field.")
Jodi Yarbrough asks why the dugouts are reversed at Wrigley Field, with the home team on the third base side. Does anyone know?
June 13, 2006 [LINK]
Karl Rove avoids indictment
The office of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has advised Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, that Rove is not a target of the investigation into "Plamegate." See CNN.com. As Rush Limbaugh noted, Rove stayed out of legal jeopardy by simply telling the truth when he was testifying to the grand jury -- five times, altogether. Democrats, who have been gleefully anticipating Rove's indictment by Fitzgerald for months on end, are now disconsolate. The Daily Kos speculates that Rove has cooperated with Fitzgerald so as to pin the blame on Dick Cheney, who is (in their somewhat twisted view) at fault for the Iraq war. Now that's some creative spin!
Coincidentally, just yesterday Rove made a speech to Republicans in New Hampshire in which he pulled no punches in denouncing Democrats for undermining the U.S. war effort, singling out Rep. John Murtha. See Washington Post. I don't often agree with Rove's approach to politics, but on that point, I would concur. The Democrats are stuck in a rut of rhetorical pandering to their lunatic fringe, pretending that the threat of terrorism is not real, thereby making it less likely that they'll retake the House or the Senate this November.
Plame's husband Joe Wilson appeared at the "Yearly Kos" convention of leftist bloggers in Las Vegas this weekend, and his breezy, smug attitude was something to behold. He has yet to come clean for multiple distortions about how he came to be sent on a fact-finding mission to Niger in 2002, and his partisanship puts him in the same league with folks like Tom DeLay or Nancy Pelosi.
Webb wins Dem primary
Former Navy Secretary James Webb has won the Democratic nomination for the Senate, according to the AP; see newsleader.com. "Fightin' Jim" Webb is charismatic and well-known, so that's not a big surprise. Harris Miller had positioned himself in the John Kerry mold -- appealing to the party's left-liberal base, with a few moderate statements for the sake of balance. There was a flurry of controversy last week when Webb's campaign released a cartoon flyer with a caricatured features of Harris Miller, but the hook nose wasn't as pronounced as some people thought. It does make you wonder, however, whether some of the people who are working for Webb are anti-semitic.
"Moderate" blogger Joe Gandelman recently declared that he would vote for George Allen as a protest vote if Webb beats Harris Miller in today's primary.
June 14, 2006 [LINK]
No apologies from Garcia
President-elect Alan Garcia said he refuses to apologize for comments he made about Hugo Chavez, who had strongly endorsed Garcia's rival in the recent elections, Ollanta Humala. After meeting President da Silva in Brasilia, Garcia declared that the interference by Chavez was "unacceptable in international law." (Ironically, Garcia expressed support for da Silva, who is expected to run for reelection in October.) For the time being, diplomatic relations between Peru and Venezuela will remain suspended. See Washington Post. This rejection of Chavista radicalism, coupled with recent statements Garcia has made in favor of free markets and foreign investment, make me think he really may have learned from past mistakes and mended his ways after all. It was also interesting that Garcia says he wants closer relations with Brazil, because Peru has historically maintained preferential ties with Argentina, which is sometimes at odds with Brazil.
Cuba blacks out U.S. diplomats
After the lights went out in the U.S. mission in Havana, the State Department accused Cuba of a deliberate black out. Cuba flatly denied this, but Castro has recently vented harsher than usual rhetoric against Washington. See CNN.com. This is probably in response to an electric message board outside the U.S. mission that has been providing news and anti-Castro opinions to Havana residents at night since January. It may also be motivated by a desire to "strike while the iron is hot," acting in collaboration with Hugo Chavez in stoking regional tensions.
Latin America in the World Cup
Four of the six Latin American countries in the 2006 World Cup won their first matches. Each team will play two more matches in the first round, which began June 9, and which will end June 23. Two teams from each of the eight groups (A - H) will go on to the round of 16, and so on, until the final championship game on July 9. Here are the results so far, in chronological order:
- Costa Rica lost to Germany, 2-4.
- Ecuador beat Poland, 2-0.
- Paraguay lost to England, 0-1.
- Argentina beat Ivory Coast, 2-1.
- Mexico beat Iran, 3-1.
- United States* lost to Czech Republic, 0-3.
- Brazil beat Croatia, [1-0].
* The U.S.A. has a larger population of Spanish-speaking people than most countries in Latin America. For more scores and the upcoming schedule, see washingtonpost.com.
UPDATE: Uribe visits Bush
Almost immediately after his press conference this morning, President Bush welcomed President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia into the White House for a brief meeting. Bush congratulated Uribe on his reelection victory, and praised his counterpart's commitment to fighting narco-terrorism and upholding human rights; the latter issue is a matter of controversy in Colombia. See whitehouse.gov.
June 14, 2006 [LINK]
Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad
Much like his surprise visit to Iraq for Thanksgiving in 2003, President Bush's visit yesterday was unannounced and almost exclusively symbolic in nature. There's nothing wrong with that, and on the heels of the death of Abu Musab Zarqawi, it was indeed high time for such a morale-boosting gesture. The fact that Prime Minister Maliki was not notified that Bush was in Baghdad until five minutes before the meeting was obviously awkward, but few people would question the need for such extraordinary security measures. Perhaps in another two years Iraq will be sufficiently pacified that Bush could make an appearance in a friendly city, such as Kirkuk (in the Kurdish homeland) or Basra (the southern Shiite bastion). Or perhaps not. The upsurge in car bombings, ethnic strife, and U.S. combat deaths in recent months are an undeniable negative sign, and it may not be possible to withdraw a significant number of U.S. troops until next year.
Fighting off fatigue in his Rose Garden press conference this morning, Bush did quite well, showing both unshakeable resolve and a sober appreciation for the challenges we face in Iraq. (See transcript at whitehouse.gov.) He didn't mince words about the likely continued mayhem for the foreseeable future. It may not convince the hard-core anti-war people, but it will at least reassure moderate skeptics that Bush and his advisers are keenly aware the battlefield situation in Iraq, and public sentiment in the U.S. I was especially glad that Bush emphasized, "Success in Iraq depends on the Iraqis," though he avoided the question of what we will do if they fail to get their act together. (Taking such a prospect seriously would cast doubt in Iraqi eyes about the depth of U.S. commitment. Once again*, Bush tacitly accepted criticism for some past decisions, but denied he had any doubt that the basic decision to go to war was correct. As he concluded, "it's worth it, it is necessary, and we will succeed."
* I thought it was appropriate when Bush recently expressed regret for having said "Bring it on!" in 2003, before the strength of the terrorist insurgency was fully understood. Taunting evil people is usually not a good idea.
Meanwhile, some Democrats are calling for complete withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2007. One notable exception is Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was booed for taking realistic position on this. Any sensible person knows that setting a fixed deadline for withdrawal plays into the enemy's hands. The only sincere alternative policy is a rapid, unconditional withdrawal, along the lines proposed by Rep. John Murtha -- in other words, admitting defeat.
East Timor and the U.N.
It is interesting to contrast Iraq to East Timor, where public order has broken down in recent months. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan blamed the chaos on the premature withdrawal of troops by the United States and other countries, announcing that additional U.N. troops (Australians) will be sent to East Timor by early next year. See Washington Post. The high-profile role of Australian armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and East Timor in recent years puts that country on almost the same level as Britain or France; perhaps they should be admitted to the G-8, replacing Russia. East Timor is a very sobering lesson about the limited usefulness of U.N. peacekeeping operations. It's a situation much like Bosnia or Kosovo: A regional minority group had been repressed by an army they regarded as alien occupiers, and gained independence in large part as the result of peacekeeping troops from Western countries. Whenever my classes covered peacekeeping, I always cited East Timor as the best example of how the United Nations sometimes can help to pacify strife-torn countries. Well, maybe not.
In the Washington Post Outlook section two Sundays ago, Joshua Kurlantzick related his personal experience in that tragedy. He thinks the tensions resulted from the desire by the East Timorese elites, who spent most of the 1975-1999 period in exile, to make Portuguese the national language, even though most common people do not speak it. Corruption among the newly empowered political leaders in East Timor is another big problem.
Happy Birthday U.S. Army
Donald Sensing, who has resumed blogging on a semi-regular basis, to my delight, reflects on the 231st anniversary of the establishment of the United States Army.
June 15, 2006 [LINK]
Teachers strike in Mexico
After staging a strike for three weeks, demanding higher salaries, teachers who were occupying the central plaza in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca were forcibly evicted by police, twice. Helicopters flew over the city, and several cars were burned. Governor Ulises Ruiz denied reports that some strikers had been killed. See BBC. It's sad to think that the pleasant colonial city we visited only three years ago has been afflicted by widespread violence. This is another example of the rising social tensions across Mexico as the presidential elections approach.
Last week the wife of Carlos Ahumada, who was accused of bribing officials in the government of Mexico City, survived an assassination attempt. He had threatened to release tape recordings of allies of leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the mayor of Mexico City. This casts a cloud over his campaign, but the incident may have been staged. See Washington Post.
Venezuela to buy Russian jets
Frustrated by the unavailability of replacement parts for Venezuela's U.S.-built F-16 jet fighters, Hugo Chavez announced that his government will purchase Russia Sukhoi Su-30 jets. He said the first ones would arrive by the end of the year, but didn't specify the total number. This is the latest in a series of large-scale arms acquisitions that seemed designed to annoy Washington as much as possible, and which will greatly increase tensions in South America and the Caribbean Basin. See CNN.com. Just remember, if you're a CITGO customer, that's where you're money's going!
UPDATE: The BBC reports that Chavez plans to buy 24 Sukhoi jets by the end of the year, with an option to buy additional units later on. He also bragged about the greater missile range of the Sukhois (200 km) compared to that of the F-16s (60 km).
Did Fujimori take drug money?
A judge in Chile questioned Alberto Fujimori about alleged links between his government and drug lords. Roberto Escobar, brother of notorious Pablo Escobar (killed in 1993), charged that former intelligence adviser Vladimiro Montesinos accepted contributions from the Medellin cartel in Colombia. See CNN.com. Montesinos had previously been accused of selling weapons to guerrilla forces in Colombia, a bizarre plot that remains unresolved.
Chilean gold mine is approved
The government of Chile has approved a gold and silver mine in the central mountains, about 300 miles north of Santiago. Environmental activists warned that the "Pascua Lama" mining project would cause large-scale pollution and cause glaciers to melt, threatening water supplies to rural communities. See BBC. It seems odd that a Socialist government would be so eager to accommodate foreign investors in this kind of project, especially since the copper mining industry remained under state control, even as the rest of the Chilean economy was privatized during the Pinochet years.
The news chronology on the Chile background page has been updated.
June 15, 2006 [LINK]
Illegal immigrant crackdown?
The Bush administration has finally begun a serious attempt to enforce laws governing immigrant labor, with a series of sweeps in several high-security locations across the country. Nearly 2,200 illegal immigrants have been rounded up so far. At Dulles Airport, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained 55 construction workers whose documents were not valid. Most of them were apparently employed by Lane Construction Corporation. See Washington Post. If this represents an attempt to persuade immigration reform advocates in the House of Representatives to ease up, it is probably too little too late. Still, it's better than nothing, and you have to start somewhere.
Citizens resist mega-site
The Augusta County Board of Supervisors met last night, and it is clear that public sentiment is strongly against the proposed industrial "mega-site" in Weyer's Cave. As for the alternative of seeking small and medium businesses, Supervisor Tracy Pyles said, "We would like to find those 200-employee industries, but they're not there." See newsleader.com. I think he's just not looking hard enough. Elected officials are duty bound to get the very best bargain for their constituents they can, not selling out our precious heritage to attract whatever kind of development they can get. Have some self-respect and play hard to get, for Pete's sake!
June 16, 2006 [LINK]
Nationals in a nose dive
The Rockies completely dominated the Nationals, who were swept for the first time in over a month, and for the first time ever in a four-game series. In the latter three games, the Rockies amassed 20 more runs than did the home team. Frank Robinson fired bullpen coach John Wetteland, but it will take some time before we know whether that move will do any good. See MLB.com.
Tonight the Yankees came from behind to beat the Nationals, making it five losses in a row. It was the first time the Yankees played in Washington since 1971. As an old Yankees fan, I found myself in a state of deep confusion, but at least I could take cheer no matter which side won. The Nats actually had the lead for most of the game, but Gary Majewski allowed the visitors to tie it in the 8th, and Chad Cordero gave up the winning runs in the 9th. That bullpen... Bernie Williams hit the go-ahead home run; he was supposed to have retired after last season, but he is sure helping out his ailing team in a pinch this year. Attendance at RFK Stadium was 44,749, the most since the Nats' home opener in 2005. I heard that all three games this weekend are sold out. Can that be true?
AT&T / SBC / Pac Bell Park
The AT&T Park page has been updated with a new diagram that conforms to the new standard. Let's hope the "AT&T" name doesn't change as quickly as the two earlier names did.
June 17, 2006 [LINK]
Trail of tears: back to Mexico
Another piece of evidence that the Bush administration may just be serious about defending our nation's borders after all: An increased number of would-be illegal immigrants are being returned involuntarily to Mexico, some of them penniless and destitute. This is causing enormous hardship for the people who thought they had made it into the Promised Land, and it is causing disruption in some towns in northern Mexico. See CNN.com. This is sad but inevitable. The alternative to serious border enforcement is the emergence of vigilante groups such as the Minutemen, and the resurgence of the long-dormant overt racist politics advanced by the Ku Klux Klan.
Oddly, the immigration issue has had relatively little impact on the presidential campaign in Mexico, according to the Washington Post. I was watching a debate among the presidential candidates in Mexico on C-SPAN, and the conservative candidate, Felipe Calderon, fended off attacks on his character by the leftists. The World Cup has taken many Mexicans' minds off the mudslinging, at least.
War on poverty in Bolivia
The Bolivian government announced a broad program to fight poverty, in addition to the land redistribution program already announced. They plan to create 100,000 jobs a year for the next five years, which sounds good, but the inexperience of the "outsiders" in the new government of Evo Morales raises questions about their capacity to administer such an ambitious program. In any case, the far leftist inclination of Morales suggests that free trade and private investment will not be a significant part of the equation. Given Bolivia's desperate need for such infusion of wealth, that would be a tragically wasted opportunity. See BBC.
June 17, 2006 [LINK]
Budget compromise in Virginia?
I got so sick of reading about the petty personal squabbles that have prevented the leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates in Virginia from reaching a compromise on the biennial budget resolution that I pretty much tuned out Richmond from my consciousness. Now, however, it seems that they have set aside their differences and taken a big step toward avoiding a government shutdown and/or constitutional crisis. (Governor Kaine had said he would issue emergency orders to spend for essential services, which Attorney General Bob McDonnell opined would violate the state constitution.) The central issue of how to fund transportation projects has been postponed for the time being, so at least the fiscal conservatives on the House side managed to hold their own. Good. As for the political ramifications of this prolonged stalemate, today's Washington Post explains,
The Republican-controlled House and Senate have clashed over the budget three times in the past five years. The repeated failure of the GOP's conservative and moderate factions to resolve their differences over taxes and spending has given Democrats hope that they might retake control of one or both legislative chambers next year.
Leadership? Party cohesion? Hel-lo-o?! As an example of how bad the level of trust between the two chambers has become, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester responded to a letter from House leaders by saying, "God, they're dumb as rocks!" (See Friday's Post.) Is that the kind of language you would expect from an intelligent politician speaking about members of his own party?
June 17, 2006 [LINK]
Birds of Summer
The temperatures climbed into the upper eighties today, so summer is finally here. I drove around various spots in northern Augusta County this morning, but was frustrated once again in my attempts to get a good photograph of the orioles that abound around Lewis Creek. I later drove up to "Leonard's Pond," where local birders have reported three White-rumped sandpipers in recent days, but none were present when I arrived. I did get close enough to a male Bluebird on a wire to get a good photo, though. On the way home I stopped at Bell's Lane, where I heard several Brown thrashers performing their amusing random ensembles. Today's highlights:
- Baltimore orioles (M, J)
- Orchard oriole (1YM)
- Indigo buntings
- Bluebird (M)
- Tree swallows
- Brown thrashers
- Willow flycatcher
- Yellow warbler (M)
Earlier this week, I took a quick walk on YuLee's Trail at Montgomery Hall Park, but all I saw were some Blue-gray gnatcatchers and an Indigo bunting. Chickadees are abounding, now that the first brood has fledged. In our back yard we see Downy woodpeckers more days than not, but Hummingbirds only show up every few days or so.
June 18, 2006 [LINK]
Down 7, Nats rebound and win
WOW! Saturday's Big Event in D.C. was probably the most thrilling Nationals game I have ever seen (on TV), and it won't be forgotten for a long time to come. For me, the most vivid image was when the stocky Daryle Ward was chugging his way around third base (pant! pant!) on Jose Guillen's triple in the bottom of the eighth, putting the Nats on top, 10-9. Saturday's win put a very timely end to the Nationals' five-game losing streak, raising hope once again for a respectable season. It was a remarkable game in many ways: It was the first time since 2002 (or possibly 1997, as I thought I had heard) that the Yankees had lost a game in which they had been ahead by seven or more runs. It was also the first time that Mariano Rivera had given up any runs in over a month. The come-from-behind victory was truly a team effort: Ward not only scored the go-ahead run, he batted in the first run in the bottom of the fifth inning, starting a four-run rally that took most of the sting out of the Yankees' seven-run onslaught in the top of that inning. He also hit a homer into the right field upper deck in the seventh inning. Not bad for a substitute player! (Nick Johnson left in the third inning after straining his back while reaching for a wide throw.) Ryan Zimmerman and Brian Schneider each batted in two runs, and most of the other position players either scored a run or got an RBI. Once again, we have to give credit to Alfonso Soriano, whose patient walk and aggressive base stealing tied the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. The announced attendance was 45,085, but I saw a fair number of empty seats in the upper deck. See MLB.com. I noticed that the capacity of RFK Stadium is now listed as 46,382, whereas it was 45,250 last year. Where did they squeeze in those extra thousand seats?
Nats come back again, win series
Today's game was a sharp contrast in tone to yesterday's, a tense pitcher's duel that ended in spectacular, abrupt fashion with Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off home run, converting a likely 2-1 loss into a 3-2 win. WA-HOO-WA!* Against all odds, the Nationals ended up winning the series against the Bronx Bombers. (Yes, I do have mixed feelings about this.) In all three games, the winner came from behind in late innings. In case you haven't noticed, Zimmerman's batting average has climbed above .280, quickly closing in on the slumping Alfonso Soriano. Zimmerman was struggling early in the season, but with ten home runs, he is considered a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. Official attendance today was 45,157. As the Braves continue their horrible slump, the Nationals unexpectedly find themselves in third place. The Marlins are closing in fast, however. The Mets beat the Orioles today, averting a sweep, but they are so far ahead of the rest of the division it's as if there is no real competition.
* For you folks in Rio Linda, that's the rallying cry of the University of Virginia Cavaliers, the alma mater of Zimmerman, Katie Couric, and (graduate school) moi.
Is Tiger Stadium doomed?
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has proposed to tear down Tiger Stadium, preserving only a small token section of the grandstand and the infield diamond area, so as to make room for a new housing and commercial development. The neighborhood is mostly vacant at present. Demolition will cost between $2 million and $6 million, which seems like an awful waste of money compared to what could be done with the old structure if such money were used to preserve and develop it. Unfortunately, no willing developers have come forward as of yet. Why don't they bring back the Old Timers' Game and play it in Tiger Stadium every year? See ESPN. Hat tip to Shane Bua.
The mail bag
Peter Piroso submitted his fond memories of Ebbets Field, which will be posted on one of the "Fans' Experiences" pages in the near future.
Frederick J. Nachman sent me some corrected info about Comiskey Park, Wrigley Field, and Soldier Field, which will be incorporated into the respective (baseball) stadium pages in the near future.
In response to the recent query from Jodi Yarbrough about Wrigley Field, Charlie, a.k.a. "Stadium Guru," reports:
The Cubs dugout is on the 3rd base side because that side was closer to the train tracks that ran along the left field side back when teams would travel by train.
Also, 3rd base side has the sun at its backs, so the Cubs are always in the shade for the vast amount of day games.
Finally, Frank Trimborn informs me that the Cubs have installed special wireless phones for communication between the dugout and the bullpen in Wrigley Field. It's a special system created by Motorola that supposedly is secure and untappable. Does the Department of Homeland Security know about this? See foxnews.com.
June 19, 2006 [LINK]
Three more eggs from Princess
As expected, Princess laid another clutch of eggs soon after she finished rebuilding her nest last week. All three eggs had fully formed shells. This time, however, she waited a day after the first egg before laying the second. I wonder if that pause might have been deliberate, that she is somehow aware of the calcium deficiency that resulted in two "bad" eggs in March and April? For the first time that I can remember, she did not do any "flirting" (wing flapping and loud chirping) in the window prior to laying the eggs. Perhaps this is another sign of approaching middle age.
George is spending more time in front of to the sliding glass door in our living room these days, singing loudly so as to "mark his territory." He is very energetic and curious about the Song sparrows, Carolina wrens, Mourning doves, Grackles, and Blue jays that come to to feed on our back porch.
June 19, 2006 [LINK]
Immigration: policy and politics
One of the reasons why communication between the United States and Latin America is difficult is the fact that the Spanish language makes no distinction between policy (which is what the government does with its power) and politics (which is the struggle to control government power). Come to think of it, neither does Karl Rove! The immigration issue is a classic case of how politics has corrupted public policy, as both parties have deferred confronting a slowly growing problem for fear they would lose the next election. Today's Washington Post lays the blame for lax border enforcement on the Bush administration: "The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003..." Can you say "remiss"? Mark Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies, is quoted as saying the Bush administration's record in this area is "laughable." Even a pro-immigration activist called enforcement efforts "woefully tiny."
That Post article also noted that in 1999, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) pressured the Justice Department to put an end to "Operation Vanguard," a crackdown on illegal labor in meatpacking plants in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. Like the other leading "moderate" senator, the one from Arizona, Hagel is known to have Higher Ambitions and therefore panders to the mainstream media. Coincidentally, in Thursday's Post, Hagel was quoted by columnist David Broder as asking,
Is the party of Abraham Lincoln going to allow a permanent second class of people waiting to be citizens?
For a public official who acted to thwart law enforcement and who makes excuses for the status quo two-tiered labor regime to turn around and accuse others in his party of discrimination is the height of hypocrisy. The whole point of genuine immigration reform is to halt the widespread existing exploitation of immigrant workers and put everyone on equal legal terms. Sen. Hagel should be ashamed of himself.
Sunday's Washington Post reported on the changed atmosphere on the Rio Grande, now that the old "catch and release" policy has been replaced by the new zero-tolerance "catch and remove" policy. Many Mexicans are genuinely surprised that the gringos are actually trying to stop them, and the U.S. Border Patrol agents state quite frankly that, until the recent change in policy, "They [border crossers] had no regard for us." What many people fail to understand that prestige and respect are the very foundation of national security. When a country's armed guardians are made to look like fools, it only encourages criminals and terrorists to challenge them.
In yesterday's Outlook section of the Post, George Will contrasts the short-term advantages the Republicans are likely to garner from the immigration issue this fall's elections -- however Congress deals with the pending legislation -- versus the long-term erosion in terms of voting support from Latinos. He does not conceal his scorn for the Bush administration and the Senate "moderates," but his long-term pessimism seems excessive. I say there are plenty of intelligent Hispanic voters who would tacitly acknowledge that the existing system is very harmful to their own people, dehumanizing desperate Latinos and undermining respect for law. It should be obvious that people who can't trust the police are more likely to come under the sway of violent gangs. With proper explanation, immigration reform could attract a large number of Latino votes. Reform-minded Republicans should not write them off.
Catalonia votes for autonomy
In a referendum yesterday, nearly three fourths of the voters in Catalonia expressed a desire that their region of Spain have more autonomy. No one is certainly exactly where this would lead, however, and the wording was apparently vague. Only 49 percent of eligible voters participated, however, so the results don't necessarily mean that much. See BBC.
June 19, 2006 [LINK]
Air strikes in Afghanistan
The Coalition counteroffensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan is getting a lot of help from the U.S. Air Force. Surprisingly, one of the most effective aircraft is the B-1 "Lancer" supersonic bomber, which was once criticized as either redundant or obsolete for the mission of delivering nuclear warheads onto Soviet soil. With its swing-swing configuration, it can patrol in a circular pattern for hours, and then race quickly to the target when the bad guys are pinpointed. It has a heavier payload capacity than a B-52. Most of the attacks have been in the southern province of Kandahar, where the poppy cultivation is centered. Other air strikes have targetted the moutainous region along the border with Pakistan, whose forces have cooperated in rooting out Taliban and/or Al Qaeda sanctuaries. One worrisome sign in the recent military campaign is that the Taliban has begun operating in larger-size units than before. On the other hand, the Taliban has lost its fundamentalist ideological fervor and has evolved into just another band of drug racketeers, like the FARC in Colombia. See Washington Post.
These facts suggest that the war is likely to drag on as a "low-intensity conflict" for years. Meanwhile, progress in training Afghan regular army troops and building government institutions is slow and frustrating. There are many differences with the war in Iraq, which is really just a series of terrorist actions, not a military campaign per se. Afghanistan is fractured among several ethnic factions, while in Iraq there are just three main rival groups. The Coalition in Afghanistan enjoys much broader international support than in Iraq, so the fledgling democratic government in Kabul can count on a steadier degree of assistance than the one in Baghdad. Hopefully, the often-impatient American public will at least keep that in mind as the long-term campaign to encourage a more liberal, open political system in Afghanistan goes on.
North Korean missile test?
U.S. worries about nonproliferation in recent weeks has been focused on Iran, but now North Korea is clamoring for more attention, declaring its plans to test launch its new intercontinental ballistic missile, which could reach California. The United States, Australia, and Japan have warned the Pyongyang government of "serious consequences" if it proceeds. The missile is on the launch pad and has apparently been fueled, so it appears North Korea is calling the Allies' bluff. (See CNN.com.) What would the United States do in response to such a blatant provocation? I was wondering whether the U.S. Air Force might use some secret anti-missile system to shoot the thing down, presumably during the early launch phase. Rush Limbaugh thinks that option is being seriously considered as well.
June 20, 2006 [LINK]
Brazilian airline in peril
Varig, the leading international airline of Brazil, is in dire financial straits and over half of its planes are out of operation for want of maintenance. The private firm (actually, a non-profit foundation) declared bankruptcy a year ago and has asked for a government bailout, but the leftist government is not sympathetic. The airline workers' union has joined with private investors in seeking to buy out the firm, but details remain to be worked out. A judge has accepted the proposed sales terms in the bankruptcy hearings, but set Friday as a deadline. After that, the jets and other assets go on the auction block. See BBC. As with Pan Am and other old, established airlines in the United States, Varig fell victim to low-cost upstart airlines that were not burdened by high labor costs and pension obligations.
June 20, 2006 [LINK]
U.S. soldiers butchered
The bodies of two missing soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division were found late yesterday, and we now know that Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker died in an especially grisly manner. One can only imagine the distress their families must feel. The new leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq has bragged about the barbaric manner in which they were killed. See washingtonpost.com. He and other terrorists are apparently still under the impression that they can force the United States to give up by such displays of savagery. No doubt it will make some Americans more inclined toward defeatism, but I'm willing to bet that for most of us, it will only make even clearer the evil nature of our adversaries, and the need to redouble our efforts to defeat them. Donald Sensing repeated his prediction from 2003 that beheadings of American soldiers in Iraq would lead to disproportional retribution by our guys. It's an illustration of Clausewitz's axiom that the scale and intensity of violence in war tends to escalate without limit. I wonder, however, whether that might not be precisely what Al Qaeda was trying to accomplish: to bait us into stooping to their level to make it appear to other countries that there is really no difference between us and the Islamic terrorists.
June 21, 2006 [LINK]
Stadium parking compromise?
Mayor Williams has submitted a revised plan for a combined above-ground / underground parking complex north of the future stadium. For aesthetic reasons, it "would be surrounded by shops, restaurants, 660 condominiums and a swanky hotel." The Nationals new owners, the Lerners, warned that the mayor's announcement was "premature," casting doubt on the whole idea. I understand the Lerners' desire to get the thing built on time, but they seem oddly adverse to compromise on this project. I hope this doesn't mean more friction is to come... See Washington Post or (via Mike Zurawski) Washington Business Journal.
Nationals choke in Boston
The momentum the Nationals had gained from their thrilling come-from-behind wins against the Yankees over the weekend lasted exactly three innings in Boston on Monday night. After that, it was all down hill. Last night, Livan Hernandez didn't even last two innings, giving up six runs to the Red Sox, who won 11-3. Back to grim reality... The Marlins are still on a hot streak, meanwhile, and have now climbed into third place in the NL East.
UPDATE: The Red Sox trounced the Nats again tonight, 9-3, completing the sweep in Fenway Park. The grand slam by David Ortiz (SI cover boy) in the second inning put this game on track to become a virtual replay of last night. In fact, all five teams in the NL East lost tonight, so the standings are unchanged. The Marlins' attempt to set a franchise record by winning ten games in a row fell just short, as the home team Orioles prevailed. In Atlanta, meanwhile, the Braves fell to the Blue Jays, their ninth loss in a row. Finally, the visiting Yankees got revenge for last night by shutting out the Phillies.
The mail bag
Mark London saw a Brewers home game and took a tour of Miller Park and noticed that the right field distance marker still says "345," even though it was reduced by eight feet or so during the off-season. He also informs me that fans complained that the original foul poles at Busch Stadium III were too wide, so they were replaced in the latter part of April with narrower ones.
Mike Zurawski informs me that MLB Vice President Bob DuPuy is involved with the negotiations between the Florida Marlins and Hialeah
County [city!] officials over funding for a new baseball stadium.
John Iburg reminded me that I need to update the Shea Stadium page to reflect the recent (semi-final) agreements to build a new stadium for the Mets next door. Done!
June 21, 2006 [LINK]
Garcia meets with Toledo
President-elect Alan Garcia met with outgoing head of state Alejandro Toledo today. "The meeting was strictly private, and at the end there were no statements to the press." It is assumed that Garcia made clear his annoyance with the controversial end-of-term ambassadorial appointments by Toledo, which one would assume to be political payoffs. Garcia's wife Pilar Nores criticized outgoing First Lady Eliane Karp (who is more or less estranged from Toledo, from what I can tell) for taking an expensive trip to Europe just before the Toledo government comes to an end. See La Republica (in Spanish). It was almost certainly Garcia's first visit to the Palacio de Gobierno since his term as president ended 16 years ago. Does he anticipate making those fiery speeches to huge, enthusiastic crowds like in the old days, or will he concede the role of young populist upstart to Hugo Chavez?
Garcia was supposed to meet with runner-up candidate Ollanta Humala, but the bitter electoral adversaries have not been able to work out an appropriate agenda or setting.
Kirchner visits Spain
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner arrived in Madrid, where he hopes to reach agreements with Spain that will result in more investment in Argentina. Today he met with King Juan Carlos, and tomorrow he is expected to meet Prime Minister Zapatero.
June 21, 2006 [LINK]
Bogus incentives for hybrids
Daniel Drezner professes (!) to be mystified by the tax incentives for hybrid-powered vehicles. That happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves, so I couldn't resist jumping into the fray. Unfortunately, something is wrong with his blog comment system, so my repeated attempts to post the following comment came to nought. For the record:
Prof. Drezner says "why someone should get a tax credit of over $1,500 for a Lexus GS 450h when its gas mileage is below a lot of non-hybrid cars on this list is beyond me." Is it not obvious that the whole idiotic system of tax breaks is designed to artificially inflate the social prestige value of energy conservation? The transparent sop to "domestic" car makers via that 60K quota diverts attention from the more fundamental question of why U.S. energy policy is not market based. My wife and I considered an Escape Hybrid but I detest being suckered by fickle Federal incentives, so we got the conventional V-6 engine instead. If Congress really believed that energy is more precious than is reflected by current market prices, they should simply raise excise taxes on fuel across the board. Of course, they won't do so as long as most Americans believe that cheap energy is their birthright. Hence the tax code gimmicks and statist social engineering. Seeking to discern rational intent in a policy that is in essence a cloak to conceal massive hypocrisy is a waste of time.
Here's another way to look at it: Anyone who feels guilt over driving a gas-guzzling vehicle is in effect admitting that he or she is not paying as much for the gas as it's really worth. We've had our Ford Escape for just over a year, and it's doing fine. I would have preferred a Chrysler PT Cruiser, but Jacqueline had her heart set on the Escape.
Save the whales? Not!
Prof. Drezner also explains why the International Whaling Commission so often makes decisions that are contrary to basic conservationist principles: flagrant bribery! In this case, by Japan. Who would have thought that an international organization would be susceptible to such crass practices? Since the whaling moratorium was enacted in 1986, more than 24,000 whales have been killed, mostly by Japan, Norway, Russia, and Iceland. See CNN.com.
June 23, 2006 [LINK]
Standing up for (which?) workers!
It was a delicious irony as the Senate debated the immigration issue and then the proposed minimum wage hike on Wednesday day. Sen. Kennedy was at his glorious best in his oratory on the Senate floor, yet somehow completely oblivious to the contradiction in his positions on those two issues. We need to make sure that American workers get paid enough so they don't have to live in povery! And we need to let more foreign workers into the country to take the jobs that no one will do for the (increased) minimum wage! Anyone who cannot make the connection between the Great Society welfare/labor policy regime in this country and the huge demand for "off-the-books" workers has his or her head stuck in the sand. I know, that means at least 75 percent of Americans fall into that category. And that, I'm afraid, is why neither the House nor the Senate versions of immigration reform will resolve the underlying problem. Democrats heaped scorn on House GOP leaders for proposing to hold hearings across the country to get input on how to approach the issue. (See Washington Post.) That would have been a good idea last year, but now it smacks of a delaying tactic. As some immigration reformer (such as Numbers USA) argue, no immigration bill this year is better than a watered down bill that lets the problem slide for another decade, and I tend to agree. But being more of a realist, I think a bill that accomplishes 80 percent of what needs to be done this year would be good enough.
In yesteday's Washington Post, Dana Milbank portrayed all this as "Republicans gone wild," which I think is unfairly dismissive. I am very worried that Republicans will be tempted to turn immigration into nothing more than another "wedge issue" to help them hold onto Congress in the fall elections, which would poison efforts at genuine, comprhensive reform.
Novak on Murtha
Rep. John Murtha is viewed by some people as a war hero (Vietnam) and honest crusader, and even I have tended to give him the benefit of the doubt on occasion. On May 31 I noted that Murtha was one of two members of Congress who turned down the bribe offer in the 1980 Abscam affair, but that was based on a Wikipedia article -- not necessarily accurate. As Robert Novak explains, however, it was more of a "wait and see" response that an outright rejection. I should note that Novak neglected to mention that then-Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD) was the only one who refused to even consider accepting the bribe. Murtha's appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday was extremely embarrassing -- the idea that U.S. Marines could "redeploy" to Okinawa and be ready to handle emergencies in the Middle East is ludicrous.
June 25, 2006 [LINK]
Venezuela on Security Council?
This fall the U.N. General Assembly will choose the next group of five countries to serve as rotating members of the Security Council, and the leading candidates from Latin America are Venezuela and Guatemala. U.S. diplomats sent a note to a number of other countries, one of which divulged it to the BBC. The crux of the U.S. argument: "We are deeply concerned that Venezuela would seek to disrupt the work of the Security Council and use the Council for ideological grandstanding rather than concrete problem-solving." Well, there's not much question about that. There is a big question, however, as to whether anti-American sentiment abroad is so strong that it will translate into a reckless vote in favor of Venezuela. The work of the Security Council could easily grind to a halt at some critical moment, giving ammunition to Neocons and others who would prefer to minimize U.S. reliance on the U.N. and multilateral diplomacy. (I'm not a big fan of that approach, but it would be foolish to throw away a potentially useful tool, as the Neocons seem eager to do.) Venezuela's presence on the Security Council would exacerbate a polarizing dynamic in global politics that is already very unhealthy.
World Cup 1st round
I've been watching a few of the soccer matches off and on, and I've learned that if you step away for even a minute, you will probably miss a goal, and perhaps the only goal of the match. It must be a corollary of Murphy's Law. Among the countries of Latin America, anyway, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Ecuador made it to the Round of 16, while Paraguay, Costa Rica, and the U.S.A. were eliminated. Ecuador lost to England yesterday, 1-0, and Argentina prevailed over Mexico today, 2-1. Brazil is heavily favored to defeat Ghana on Tuesday. Wouldn't that be something if Brazil faces Argentina in the final match on July 9?
Lula seeks 2nd term
As expected, Pres. Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva announced that he will in fact run for reelection in October. He remains fairly popular, in spite of various corruption scandals involving his Workers Party, but he has acted in a responsible way so far, and it will be hard for anyone to beat him.
June 26, 2006 [LINK]
Wet field of dreams* in Baltimore
I had my heart set on seeing the Nats play up in the beautiful Camden Yards this year, ready to put an end to my silly boycott at long last, but social obligations made that impossible. (Ay, estas fiestas peruanas...) I was in Northern Virginia, so at least I got to see the Nats games on TV, for once. As things turned out, being there in person wouldn't have been that entertaining anyhow, given the repeated rain delays. Considering the record-breaking torrential rains that fell in Maryland and nearby areas, it's amazing they were able to finish all three games in the series. In the first two games, the Nats batters failed to capitalize on critical run-scoring opportunities over and over, letting the fine pitching performances of John Patterson and Mike O'Connor go to waste. The Orioles won both games by a single run.
On Sunday, the Nationals' batters woke up at last, and the team won by a convincing 9-5. Everyone seemed ecstatic over Alfonoso Soriano's sacrifice bunt that sparked a two-run mini-rally in the third inning, but I would call it "enlightened self-interest." He knows he has a reputation for being a prima donna and hard to get along with, and given that he will probably be up for trading in the next month or so, it was exactly the right thing to do -- for the team's sake and for his own career. Oddly, the hero of the final game was shortstop Royce Clayton, a solid fielder and adequate batter who seldom garners attention. With the bases loaded on three walks in the fifth inning by Daniel Cabrera (who threw four wild pitches!), Clayton knocked a perfect double into the right center gap, driving in three runs. That gave Livan Hernandez a big enough margin to pitch with confidence, and he finally got another win. So the new cross-state rivals ended up with an even win-loss record, 3-3. Attendance was not that great at either RFK Stadium or at Camden Yards, so it may take a while before the rivalry really heats up.
* Double entendre? Moi??
Whither the Athletics?
Following up on some of the recent leads from Mike Zurawski concerning the possible short-distance relocation of the Oakland Athletics, I came across a new Web site: A's Baseball to Fremont. It's possible, but I'll believe it when I see it.
June 26, 2006 [LINK]
Australia: Our pals "Down Under"
In Friday's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer lauded our most loyal ally over the past century, Australia. Its troops have fought alongside ours in every major war, including Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Krauthammer highlights the cultural and strategic reasons for this close partnership: Both countries were settled by rough-hewn frontiersman with a disdain for social pretense, and most people in both countries understand that their long-term security depends on the maintenance of a pluralistic world order that promotes free trade. Ever since World War II, Australians have had a keener sense of foreign security threats than Americans, mainly for geographical reasons. They live much closer to tumult and violence than we do, as the 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali reminded everyone.
Unfortunately, Australia was eliminated from the World Cup today, losing to Italy, 1-0. It was only the Aussies' second appearance in the World Cup.
U.N. Security Council members
Motivated in part by the flurry of global security controversies that have arisen recently (i.e., Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela), I have finished yet another background chronology page: U.N. Security Council. It dates back to 1990, the onset of the post-Cold War Era when the ideal of collective security first became a practical reality. Indeed, it was tested almost immediately by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Only two of the 15 member countries voted against military action to liberate Kuwait: Cuba and Yemen; China abstained. That chronological table is color-coded according to region, and the customary rotational pattern is readily discernible. To my surprise, I learned that Australia has not been a member since 1985-1986.
June 27, 2006 [LINK]
Immigration & identification
Sunday's Washington Post provided some historical background on why the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill ultimately failed: The critical provision to require national identification cards was deleted in the last hour of debate on the House floor. Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-CA) warned that we would be heading toward a Nazi-like regime ("Let me see your papers!"), and that was the end of it. Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) recalled having the rug pulled out from under him:
We told them this would be the last amnesty. ... That there would be penalties against employers. It was like, Merry Christmas! But without identification, sanctions are toothless.
I mentioned the proposed REAL ID system on May 17, 2005, and it does pose a real (!) dilemma. At some point, a stark choice must be made between border vigilance and internal policing. Neither alternative is appealing, but I think most people would prefer focusing on the former. It would be nice if a more balanced, less intrusive approach were possible.
Meanwhile, in the present day, the leading Republican moderate in the Senate, Arlen Specter, says he is willing to compromise on the immigration issue and put a priority on protecting border and greater law enforcement in the interior. See Washington Times.
The chairman said he is open to novel approaches to reducing illegal immigration, including a suggestion by Lou Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, Pa., who says landlords should have to verify that their tenants are in the country legally, just as employers are supposed to verify that their workers are legal.
It speaks volumes that such requirements are not already on the books. Well, Specter's flexibility on this is certainly encouraging. I am by no means solidly on the House side in this controversy, and the fact that reality is starting to sink in for some senators is a hopeful sign that the same will happen with some of their counterparts in the House.
Speaking of which, I think it is time for conservatives to give due credit to the GOP moderates -- most notably, Senators Specter and Warner -- for last year's compromise on judicial nominations that averted the "nuclear option." Since then, two solid conservatives, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, have joined the Supreme Court, which is a pretty good outcome from a conservative point of view.
Flag amendment fails
I am relieved that the proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote today, but I am dismayed that it fell only one vote short, 66-34. "Three Republicans joined most Democrats in voting against the measure. They were Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Robert Bennett of Utah." See washingtonpost.com. Good for them!
Politics gets nastier
These days, the biggest fear that members of Congress have about their daily mail is anthrax, ricin, or some other toxin. So guess what Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) received in a package from one of her constituents? Dog poop! The alleged perpetrator is Kathleen Ensz, a Democratic activist who has taught at the University of Northern Colorado for 30 years. See The Hill. Apparently, Prof. Ensz has not grown up yet.
June 28, 2006 [LINK]
Minnesota baseball history
My sister Connie brought to my attention a new book, Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History, by Stew Thornley, on the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library Web site. That page includes a link to a very useful timeline of historical milestones pertaining to baseball stadiums, especially legislation. It reminds us Washington fans that Minnesota fans have endured as much or more frustration as negotiations to build a new stadium have repeatedly stalled since the 1990s. See their Baseball Stadiums issues page. I was puzzled, however, by this line entry:
1982 - The Metrodome hosts its first Major League baseball game on April 6 against the new Washington Senators.
Perhaps they meant 1961, in Metropolitan Stadium.
A-Rod comes through for Yanks
Alex Rodriguez has phenomenal slugging stats but is reputed to choke in clutch situations. What better way to counteract that perception than a walk-off home run in extra innings in a nationally broadcast game?! Yanks 4, Braves 3. Too bad Marcus Giles' homer in the top of the twelveth ended up being all for nought.
Upshot: The pressure is off the Nats in Game 2 in Toronto tonight; otherwise they might drop into last place in the NL East. Like the Twins, the Blue Jays haven't received much attention lately because of the amazing success of the Red Sox, who have won ten games in a row. As for the AL Central division leading Tigers, they are being closely followed by the White Sox and Twins, all of whom have won nine of their last ten games. All this reflects the lopsided win-loss record in favor of the American League against the National League teams this month.
One of the TBS announcers in today's game said that the Yankees intend to conserve all or part of Yankee Stadium, for historical purposes. Wouldn't that be nice? Further inquiry pending...
I recently referred to Hialeah "County," Florida, but it is actually a city, part of Dade County. Duly corrected; thanks to Christopher Jackman for pointing that out.
After taking a careful look at the aerial photo of Crosley Field in the "Take Me Out to the Ballpark" 2006 calendar, I realized that there is no bend in the front side of the grandstand in the left field corner. That means I'll have to correct that diagram in the near future. Oh, bother... The slope in front of the left field fence creates an optical illusion in some photos.
June 28, 2006 [LINK]
Peru ratifies free trade with U.S.
The Peruvian Congress voted to approve [the free trade treaty with the United States that was signed last year.] All 28 members of the Aprista party, of which President-elect Alan Garcia is the leader, voted in favor of it. President Toledo pushed to have the vote taken before his term ends on July 28, after which the leftists allied to Ollanta Humala will gain a substantial number of congressional seats. Some of those legislators-to-be barged into the chambers during the late-night debate and staged a noisy anti-trade demonstration. This may be a grim foretaste of what is to come in Peruvian politics. CNN.com. In any case, the vote in favor of free trade marks an amazing turnabout from APRA's historical nationalistic stance, and it also demonstrates the party's strong parliamentary discipline. Some of the old guard Apristas must have cringed as they cast their affirmative votes.
Politics as usual in Colombia
Former justice minister Alberto Santofimio is on trial for plotting to kill Luis Carlos Galan, the charismatic presidential candidate, in 1989. It was a particularly gruesome scene as pistol shots were fired at close range on a crowded rally platform. Santofimio was a rival of Galan, and is accused of conspiring with the late drug lord Pablo Escobar to eliminate the crusading anti-narcotics politician. See BBC.
There are rumors that Ingrid Betancourt, who has been held hostage by the FARC rebels since 2002, may be released soon as part of a prisoner exchange. A FARC official says she is in good condition, but her family has had no contact with her since 2003. She was abducted while running for president, but the sweeping reelection victory by President Alvaro Uribe last month seems to have undermined the rebels' negotiating position. See CNN.com.
Brazil's war against gangs
Police in Brazil launched a preemptive attack against gang strongholds on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, killing at least 13 gang members. Another wave of violence was anticipated. See CNN.com. The possibility that this organized crime wave might spread to other cities and evolve into some kind of bandit-terrorist campaign poses a big threat to the government, and may hurt President da Silva's chances for reelection.
June 28, 2006 [LINK]
Après le déluge ... oiseaux! *
The torrential rains finally ended late yesterday, and this morning the sun came out in full force. I took advantage of the break in the weather to check out the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, and parts of it were quite a mess. The rushing water had carried the makeshift plywood "bridge" over the creek 50 or so feet away, so as a public service, I dragged it back into position, more or less. Anyway, I saw a few interesting birds:
- Red-bellied woodpecker (M)
- Downy woodpecker (F)
- N. flicker (M)
- Indigo buntings (2 M, fighting!)
- Black and white warbler (M) !!
While visiting Northern Virginia over the weekend, I peeked inside the space under mailbox in front of my in-laws' house, and saw a dead nestling Bluebird. So, I got a shovel and buried the poor thing. To my relief, there were four other nestling bluebirds still alive in that nest. With the rains came an increased supply of worms brought by the parents, so the rest of the brood should be fine. I also saw some Chipping sparrows, Cowbirds, and Indigo bunting, and a Phoebe in their neighborhood, as well as a Mockingbird harassing a large black snake in the middle of the street. That was pretty amusing.
On our way home driving along I-81, I spotted a Great blue heron wading in the north fork of the Shenandoah River.
* For you folks in Rio Linda, that's French for "After the deluge ... birds!"
June 29, 2006 [LINK]
Hockey in Yankee Stadium?
The NHL is exploring the possibility of holding a match between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders at Yankee Stadium in late December, or on New Year's Day. It would be the second-ever outside pro hockey match, the first being between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers, played at the Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium (a football venue) in November 2003. See newsday.com (via Eric McErlain). I recall seeing a photo of that in the newspaper, and marveling. The only previous MLB stadium in which pro hockey was once played was Tropicana Field.
Braves Field update
The Braves Field page has been updated with two new diagrams (1915 and 1946), and more yet to come. This playing field in this stadium was modified too many times over the years for me to do a version of every single change. I plan to do 1928, 1933, and 1937 versions in the future, plus a football version or two. Once again, I would like to thank Bruce Orser for several very helpful archival photographs, as well as a Sanborn Insurance map. The Atlanta Braves are in desperate need of some bit of luck to get them going again, so maybe this will help.
June 29, 2006 [LINK]
Mexican campaign ends
Only two more days remain until Mexicans go to the polls to choose their leader for the next six years. The BBC. By law, all campaign activity must cease four days before voting takes place, to give people a calm atmosphere in which to reflect. Felipe Calderon (PAN) and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (PRD) are running neck and neck, while Roberto Madrazo of the once-dominant PRI is trailing badly.
Mexico's El Universal (English version) compares the likely foreign policies of the leading candidates. AMLO "doesn't speak English, rarely travels outside Mexico and says the best foreign policy is to stay at home and avoid meddling in other nations' affairs." He sounds like Pat Buchanan.
The Washington Post has an ongoing news update blog-like feature, "Campaign Conexión." written by Ceci Connolly. She is amazed by the huge, enthuasiastic crowds in Mexico City's Zocalo (main plaza), as the citizens come to realize what a historic turning point is at hand. Will they get swept up in AMLO's promises of New Deal-style giveaways, or will they heed the call of reason by conservative Felipe Calderon? The latter candidate has offered to form a coalition government if he is elected, which may be a sign of nervousness on his part, as AMLO's rhetorical attacks on him seem to be having an effect on the public.
I remain more than a little surprised that Calderon has held the lead in the polls for most of the campaign. After the largely ineffective term of Vicente Fox, I thought the PAN would be discredited. I see no indication that PAN is expected to pick up a substantial number of seats in Congress, so a win by Calderon would signify an endorsement of the odd "divided government" status quo in Mexico. We in the United States are used to having a president of one party face a Congress controlled by another party, but in Latin American countries with an authoritarian tradition, it is unusual.
Daniel Drezner quotes at length from a Financial Times article on the upsurge of economic natonalism in resource-rich countries of Latin America. The Pentagon's Southern Command is concerned about the possibility that U.S. oil imports will be disrupted for political reasons. Will Mexico and Peru follow Venezuela's and Bolivia's example?
June 30, 2006 [LINK]
Minnesota stadium design
Just as the Washington Nationals were very eager to come up with a distinctive design for their future stadium, the Minnesota Twins are endeavoring to do the same with theirs. Among the features under consideration is building the upper deck above the adjacent railroad tracks. As for the option of making the ballpark enclosed, the Duluth Superior reports:
There remains a window of two to three months, [Twins executive Jerry] Bell said, that would allow for the addition of a retractable roof to the design, but there is no payment plan in place and the team has not been focused on that issue.
Hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who also apprised me of the rather fluid Miami / Hialeah situation. The Miami Herald reported that Florida officials objected to the site of a proposed Marlins stadium, on environmental and planning grounds. So, MLB honcho Bob DuPuy has paid another visit to South Florida to exercise some friendly persuasion, touting the vast market potential of Miami and its suburbs.
Nationals in a free fall
The Blue Jays left no doubt that they are a very good team, as Washington got swept in three games at Toronto. None of the games were really very close, and the Nats simply failed to perform in either pitching or batting. In the final game, John Patterson suffered yet another arm injury, leaving the game in the middle of an at-bat in the fourth inning. Only recently returned from nearly two months on the disabled list, Patterson's near-term future is once again very uncertain. See MLB.com. I hate to say it, but I'm beginning to wonder if Patterson will ever stay healthy for a long enough period to help his team. He has been one of the Nats' (and before 2005, the Expos') most promising starters, but his arm simply may not be strong enough to pitch in the majors. Perhaps he could switch to the role of a closer, like John Smoltz did with the Braves a couple years ago.
Tonight's 11-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays surely marks rock bottom for the Nationals. Ah, let's look back a year and reminisce on the glory days of June 2005, when the "new kids in town" surprised everyone by surging into first place. Or was it all just a dream?
Bowden keeps his job
Nationals President Stan Kasten announced that Jim Bowden has been asked to stay on as General Manager. That's probably good for the team. I question some of Bowden's past decisions (such as signing the pricey Alfonso Soriano for a one-year contract), but you can't deny he's got the enthusiasm you need on a winning ball club.
Speaking of the Braves, they have won two games in a row, but won only 6 out of 31 games in June, their worst monthly record since 1940. (Maybe that new Braves Field diagram did the trick! ) On the TBS telecast of tonight's Braves-Orioles game, they were showing the home run leaders in each league at the bottom of the screen. Among the AL leaders was listed "A. Soriano" (24) of Texas. That's pretty lame.