Latin America, 2006
Wild birds, 2006
Macintosh & Misc., 2006
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April 18, 2006 [LINK]
Agonizingly slow count in Peru
Alan Garcia still retains a slim lead [in the race for second place], but conservative candidate Lourdes Flores is narrowing the gap as overseas ballots are counted. She is currently about 84,000 votes behind Alan Garcia, with almost 91 percent of the votes tabulated. Up to this point, she has been getting about 60 percent of the expatriate Peruvian votes, to about 17 percent for Garcia and 12 percent for front-runner Ollanta Humala. Garcia seems to be confident of taking second place, as he has urged his party members not to question the validity of the overseas ballots. It is interesting that his party (APRA) and the party of Flores (National Unity) have begun discussing forming a pro-democracy front as a joint response to the threat posed by the radical populist, Humala. (He has about 31 percent right now.) Former president Alberto Fujimori is no doubt pleased that his daughter Keiko won the greatest number of votes of all the congressional candidates from the city of Lima. See CNN.com and El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish).
I've been doing some projections of election results, and have determined that Flores needs to get at least an eight percent margin above Garcia among the votes not yet counted in order to take second place. Assuming that current trends continue, and assuming that about one fourth of the remaining votes (nine percent of the total) are from overseas, that is a very real prospect. The newspaper La Republica casts doubt on that, however, based on a lower estimate of the total number of expatriate votes. (I always had the impression that they were more sympathetic to APRA compared to most other newspapers in Peru.) Apparently, no one really knows how many yet-uncounted votes there are. The Peruvian National Electoral Office announced that the vote tabulation will be completed by the end of this month. If it ends up as close [as I expect], it could easily take a week or two longer, possibly forcing a postponement of the second round election until early June.
Alvaro Vargas Llosa, a conservative scholar with the Independent Institute, is very pessimistic about the second round election. He contends that Ollanta Humala has three key advantages: broad appeal in the various regions of Peru, a general shift toward the left in the Peruvian electorate, and the fact that any alliance between Flores and Garcia in the second round would play into the hands of those who are deeply discontented with the status quo. Ironically, Ollanta's populist approach would only exacerbate the pathological policies and corrupt practices that hinder economic opportunity in Peru. Vargas Llosa writes that entrusting Humala with responsibility for the nation would be like putting the fox in the hen house. He is the son of Mario Vargas Llosa, the renowned author and former presidential candidate who lost to Fujimori in 1990. (Hat tip to Dennis Neal.)
April 20, 2006 [LINK]
Warblers? Only Yellow-rumps
With perfect, balmy conditions I figured there must be warblers and other neotropical migrants swarming around here, but on my walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, all I saw were two male Yellow-rumped warblers, not quite in full breeding plumage. I was lucky that one of them posed for me at close range. Well, I'm sure I'll see many more warblers before too long. Today's list:
- Purple finches (M, F -- abundant)
- Goldfinches (M, F --abundant)
- Chipping sparrow
- Mallards (!)
- Brown-headed cowbird (M)
- Yellow-rumped warblers (M)
- Pine siskin (back yard!)
I also heard a (probable) Blue-headed vireo again, and yesterday evening I saw a Cedar waxwing in our back yard.
Click the camera icon below to see a female (or juvenile male) Yellow-rumped warbler I saw last October.
Save the Horseshoe crabs
I remember strolling along the beach in southern Delaware many years ago, and being astonished to see the carcasses of dead Horseshoe crabs everywhere. Last year I learned that a species of sandpipers known as "Red knots" depends on the eggs of Horseshoe crabs during their migration from South America to the Far North every spring. Fishermen rely on Horseshoe crabs as bait, but their stocks have been depleted in recent years. The National Audubon Society has a campaign to conserve this vital if humble species.
April 8, 2006 [LINK]
It's a three-way race in Peru
As voters are about to begin Phase One of the presidential elections tomorrow, the latest polls indicate that radical populist Ollanta Humala has lost considerable support, as people start to take seriously the extreme rhetoric he and his brother Antauro have been spouting. Mainstream populist and former president Alan Garcia (of APRA) has pulled some support from Humala, while conservative Lourdes Flores Nano is either in the lead or close to it.
I don't recall another election in Peruvian history with such an even three-way split. [2001!] So now the real question is not who will win the greatest number of votes, but who will finish third and be eliminated. If Garcia overtakes Flores in the race to see who will make it to the next round, I would expect a massive sell-off by investors in Peru, as all hope for future stability and development would be lost. CNN.com
April 29, 2006 [LINK]
Big (chill) Spring Day, 2006
"Spring"? Then what was that frost doing on my car this morning?? The Augusta Bird Club conducted the annual Big Spring Day bird survey today, and I covered Chimney Hollow , in the western foothills part of Augusta County. I started at 8:00 and because of the chill, I wore gloves until 10:00 or so. Just before noon, I went to nearby Braley's Pond , where a dozen or so folks were fishing. It was there that I saw the blazing orange head of a male Blackburnian warbler, probably the highlight of the day. Overall, there were five first-of-season birds, all warblers. (NOTE: Even though I am quite sure about identifying the birds listed below by sound alone, I only keep records of sightings.)
This White-throated sparrow appeared in our back yard yesterday. Very soon, it and the rest of its kind will be heading north for the summer.
Altogether, I saw 24 different species, and heard another 17, for a total of 41 species. That is compared to 44 total species two years ago, the last time I participated in the Big Spring Day.
Seen (at least one):
- 5 Blue-headed vireos
- 2 Northern parulas (FOS)
- 6 Titmice
- 10 Worm-eating warblers (FOS)
- 3 Pileated woodpeckers
- 4 Goldfinches
- 9 American crows
- 3 Hairy woodpeckers
- 2 Sharp-shinned hawks
- 4 Blue-gray gnatcatchers
- 1 Ruby-crowned kinglet
- 5 Black-throated green warblers (FOS)
- 3 White-throated sparrows
- 1 Black and white warbler (M, FOS)
- 1 Brown-headed cowbird (F)
- 5 Turkey vultures
- 2 Robins
- 1 Blackburnian warbler (M, FOS)
- 5 Black-capped chickadees
- 1 N. rough-winged swallow
- 2 Somekindof sandpipers
- 2 Barn swallows
- 2 Starlings
- 1 Phoebe (nest!)
I saw quite a number of these purple flowers along the trail, and a few unusual yellow ones. (Roll mouse over image.)
Heard but not seen:
- 1 Cerulean warbler ?
- 2 White-breasted nuthatches
- 6 Ovenbirds
- 4 Red-eyed vireos
- 3 Great-crested flycatchers
- 5 Pine warblers
- 1 Prairie warbler
- 1 Carolina chickadee
- 1 Mourning dove
- 2 Scarlet tanagers
- 3 Blue jays
- 2 Hooded warblers
- 3 Carolina wrens
- 1 [Red-bellied] woodpecker
- 1 Towhee
- 1 Kingfisher
- 1 Flicker
April 9, 2006 [LINK]
Democrats on national security
On Meet the Press today, John Kerry followed up with the Democrats' effort to position themselves as "strong on national security," in preparation for the fall campaign. He is trying hard to shed the image of dour defeatism that cost him so many votes in the 2004 election, but he wants to make it clear that he regrets voting to authorize the war. In late March the Democrats issued a high-profile report outlining their approach to national security, which is summarized at democrats.org. Rep. Nancy Pelosi played a leading role in publicizing this project. So far, however, I can't find much in it that is particularly new or compelling. Their primary objective in the War on Terror is:
Eliminate Osama Bin Laden, destroy terrorist networks like Al Qaeda, finish the job in Afghanistan, and end the threat posed by the Taliban.
Well, that's easier said than done, of course. It's not like we aren't trying already, either. Those goals highlight a common misperception among many Democrats and other war critics: The idea that rounding up the terrorist leaders will put an end to the threat. They call attention to the "economic, social, and political conditions that allow terrorism to thrive," but seem unaware that terrorist movements flourish in societies in which pathological institutions and cultural traditions repress natural human yearnings. Meaningful reform means regime change, which can sometimes be accomplished via economic pressure or military means, but hardly ever via the international means they prefer.
It is significant that the Democrats emphasize "honoring the sacrifice of our troops" by striving for a positive outcome in Iraq, distancing themselves from the defeatism espoused by a certain unmentionable wacko, but what makes them think that "insist[ing] that Iraqis make the political compomises necessary" is going to bear fruit? That's what Secretary of State Rice has been doing already. The Washington Post noted that:
Democrats have polled extensively on national security, testing various possible messages for the fall, and found that the more emphasis put on securing the homeland, the more voters respond. According to one poll taken for the Democratic National Committee, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed responded positively to such a message, rather than a message that emphasized taking the fight to the terrorists and staying the course in Iraq.
So that's their approach, a poll-driven national security strategy? And they want to be taken seriously?? Just imagine during World War II if Churchill and Roosevelt had relied upon opinion surveys to decide when and where to begin the liberation of France. Electoral calculations are probably why the Democrats included in their security agenda the utterly fatuous pledge to attain "energy independence" by 2020. No serious, well-informed person thinks that is remotely possible, but hey, it makes for a good sound bite.
It is interesting to note that the Democrats for National Security Web site no longer exists. I suppose it would be like "Republicans for Guaranteed Social Equality."
April 16, 2006 [LINK]
House wrens arrive
Still no warblers behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this happy Easter morning, but I did see a House wren for the first time this season. Indeed, it was the earliest date in the Spring I had ever seen one. I also heard a probable Blue-headed vireo and saw several Cedar waxwings and some Ruby-crowned kinglets, but nothing else out of the ordinary. The usual woodpeckers, White-breasted nuthatches, and singing Cardinals and Towhees were quite prominent, and Purple finches were everywhere.
Speaking of wrens, click on the adjacent image to see a 30-second video of the Carolina wren singing his little heart out. It was taken three days ago. Unlike most birds, Carolina wrens have less color during the warmer months of the year. Click the camera icon below to see one in its winter plumage.
April 5, 2006 [LINK]
Many of us will be noting this once-in-a-century moment at 1:23 this afternoon, but for military folks the time will be 13:23, so it won't really count. Strictly speaking, the observance should have been last night at 01:23. I would think this time and date in the year 2067 would be a bigger deal.
Speaking of transitory phenomena As the World Turns (the TV soap that recently turned 50!), I happened to have the camera on hand just as the reflected morning sunlight shone on Princess' nest this morning. It created an interesting, high-contrast effect. One of the eggs fell out of the nest last week, so only one remains.
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
Leftists win (?) in Italy
I avoid name calling, but we have to face up to what just happened in Italy: A coalition led by former communists, many of whom probably never really changed their ways, just defeated incumbent conservative prime minister Berlusconi by a tiny margin. Romano Prodi served as prime minister in the mid-1990s (see Foreign leaders page), in the wake of an avalanche of scandals that shook the very foundations of Italy's political establishment. Prodi has a somewhat more responsible reputation than his successor, Massimo D'Alema, who was strongly Marxist. Recounts are still possible in this election, and Berlusconi has not yet conceded. See BBC. I don't see any signs that this result signifies anything in terms of popular preferences on policy, I just think there is a general malaise in Europe and much of the Western world, and people just want a change of leadership. Berlusconi is a controversial figures whose government was enmeshed in some scandals, though nothing on the scale of the early 1990s. Italian troops are due to withdraw from Iraq over the next several months in any case, so a new government would have little effect on that.
The two parties are blaming each other for the collapse of the compromise in the Senate last Friday (see Washington Post), but I draw a somewhat different lesson. Ordinarily, the Senate is supposed to function as a moderating influence, forcing lengthy deliberation and consensus building, as opposed to the upstart House, where the majority tends to run roughshod. In some circumstances when major reforms are called for, however, the centrist approach is not appropriate. That is precisely the situation we are in now. Senate leaders need to listen to their constituents, think hard, and act!
Democrats playing politics on an issue of vital national importance? Perish the thought! Marc Cooper writes in blunt, unflattering terms about the role of electoral calculations in the Democrats' stance on immigration. (via Instapundit)
UPDATE: The Dems' rising multicultural star Barak Obama has long been curiously silent about immigration, fearing that if he says anything it might break up the African-American-Latino coalition, according to Robert Klein Engler. (Hat tip to Chris Green, who also reminds us about the Jesse Jackson's anger at President Fox for his racist remarks.) Then there's those insulting Mexican postage stamps. [link added]
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
I believe I have taken the necessary measures to prevent a recurrence of the security breach that forced me to suspend the functionality of permalinks and à la carte photos last week. The permalinks work normally once again, and the à la carte photos should be operational very soon. My apologies for the inconvenience.
April 19, 2006 [LINK]
Now that's more like it!
Ryan Zimmerman got 3 RBIs on two doubles, and Ryan Church hit a grand slam to put icing on the cake in the ninth inning last night, as the Nationals trounced the Phillies, 10-3. That makes it three wins in a row. One of the pleasant surprises was the clutch hitting of reserve player Daryle Ward, subbing for Jose Guillen in right field. Frank Robinson took a gamble that Ward's batting would count more than his fielding abilities, since he is not too fast, and it paid off, thankfully. See MLB.com. Zimmerman was playing for the U.Va. Cavaliers just one year ago, and is adapting to the sudden ascension into the big leagues with remarkable poise. He is only batting .222 so far, but I have seen nothing to cast doubt on the sky-high expectations baseball experts have of him.
But this is not:
Just as the Nats are getting into something resembling a groove, their general manager Jim Bowden was arrested for drunk driving in Miami Beach on Saturday night. His face was scratched in an altercation with his girlfriend, who was also arrested. "That's gotta hurt!" It's not exactly the kind of behavior you expect someone who wants to impress the new owners, or who is trying to instill discipline in a team full of restless players. See Washington Post.
The Wright stuff
One of the main reasons why the Mets are doing so well this year is David Wright, who is beginning his second full year in the majors. Born and raised in Virginia, he was batting .375 before today, eleventh highest in the majors and just ahead of Washington's Jose Vidro. In today's game against the Braves, however, he was charged with three errors, two of which were very hard hit balls and therefore questionable calls. Until today, he had a 1.000 fielding percentage. Anyway, the Braves took two out of three games at Shea Stadium and pulled to within three games of the Mets in the NL East.
April 22, 2006 [LINK]
Friday's Washington Post had a background piece on the request by the Hunt Oil Co. to further develop the Camisea natural gas pipeline in Peru. It extends 340 from the Amazon rain forest to the coastal town of Pisco, famous for the drink "Pisco sour." The planned liquefied natural gas export terminal there might pose a major risk to the nearby Paracas wildlife preserve, where millions of shorebirds, flamingos, and even penguins congregate. Hunt seeks $400 million in direct loans and $400 million in subsidized credit from the Inter-American Development Bank. Like the Alaska oil pipeline, one of the issues is how to balance environmental protection against economic necessity. The existing pipeline has leaked several times since the project got underway in 2003. One of the reasons to be wary of the project is that it crosses the department (province) of Ayacucho, the heartland of the Shining Path terrorist movement. For over a decade they specialized in blowing up electrical transmission towers, and if their remnants can get organized, there is no reason to think they would hesitate to make a loud statement by destroying the pipeline.
The second main reason to hesitate is the current political climate in Peru, which is virulently anti-trade. The issue of natural gas exports may not seem very important to us, but it was the main rallying cry of the protesters who overthrew the government of Bolivia almost one year ago. Not surprisingly, radical populist presidential candidate Ollanta Humala has criticized the project. His opinion doesn't count for much with me, but I am very skeptical about development projects in the Third World that require public sector financial subsidies. For many years, the World Bank has made loans for mega-projects that did great ecological damage, such as the big dam on the São Francisco River in northeastern Brazil. In my mind, the involvement of multilateral lending institutions for this sort of controversial project should be limited to mitigating the financial risk, through some sort of a limited loan guarantee mechanism. If a stronger consensus in favor of the project emerges in Peru over the next few years, that would be a reason for the IADB to take a more active role in it.
April 27, 2006 [LINK]
Political trends in Latin America
One of the great puzzles about Latin America is whether the shift toward radical populism over the past few years is enduring in nature, or if it represents nothing more than a passing phase. Answering that question will have to wait for another day. The adjacent map, which is found on the Current situation page, is a first stab at depicting the current ideological orientation of the presidents of Latin America. It is subject to revision, as usual, and there will be similar maps for preceding years in the future.
The BBC has a background piece on the topic of whether the leftward turn is truly radical or not. It was written by Emilio San Pedro, a BBC reporter who interviewed activists in various countries, and the findings remind us that reality is often more complex than can be expressed in a newspaper headline. Some of the people working for Hugo Chavez, for example, are dedicated Marxists, while some of those in the nominally socialist governments in Brazil and Chile are much more pragmatic in their approach. The article reminds us that most of the protests against the IMF, neoliberalism, and U.S. imperialism are purely pro forma, a way for people to vent their frustrations in life, even if it doesn't reflect what they really believe. It's always a good idea to take such rhetoric with a grain of salt.
A similar, rather nuanced analysis of Latin American trends was made by Michael Barone in the Washington Times. He notes that some countries in Latin America are resisting Hugo Chavez's pied piper march toward radical populism. (hat tip to Chris Green)
The news chronologies on the Argentina, Brazil and Guatemala pages are now up to date. Others to follow in short order.
Bolivia threatens Andean pullout
Even if reality is often less troubling than the daily headlines suggest, there are still a number of disturbing things taking place. Echoing Hugo Chavez's announcement that Venezuela would withdraw from the Andean Community (see Apr. 23), Bolivia's Economy Minister Luis Arce said that his country would do likewise if Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador do not rescind free-trade agreements they signed with the United States. See CNN.com. Lacking much experience in politics, Evo Morales may be susceptible to the lure of Hugo Chavez even though his agenda is much more local in nature, namely, pushing for social justice on behalf of the Indian majority.
Chavez welcomes diplomacy?
Typical of his head-spinning alternation between crude demagoguery and pious statesmanlike pronouncements, Hugo Chavez now says he would like to engage in a serious dialogue with U.S. diplomats. For whatever that's worth, see CNN.com
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
Catbird returns; warblers scarce
Oh, what a beautiful MOR-ning! On the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad I saw a Gray catbird for the first time this spring. It was not the first time I had seen one this year, however: A Catbird stayed for most of the winter in that area, and I last saw one there when it snowed on Feb. 12. I was a little disappointed not to see very many warblers, which should be arriving in good numbers by now. Perhaps the most notable sighting today was three Hermit thrushes in one place. Today's list:
- Gray catbird
- Goldfinches (30+ M & F)
- Purple finches (20+ F, 2 M)
- Ruby-crowned kinglet (3, incl. 1 M)
- Cedar waxwings (15+)
- Downy woodpecker (M)
- Hermit thrushes (3)
- Yellow-rumped warblers (3+)
- E. towhees (2 M, 1 F)
Above right: female Purple finch. Roll mouse over the image to see the Towhee, which has a red eye.
Below right: Roll mouse over the bird names below to see each one.
We have had several Purple finches (the one on the right is either female or a first-year male) and Chipping sparrows in our back yard lately, and I have taken some closeup photos of both.
UPDATE: I took an improved photo of a Robin late this afternoon out back. It has replaced the old one.
April 27, 2006 [LINK]
Lagging attendance at RFK
Today's Washington Post reports that average attendance at Nationals' home baseball games this year has been almost 5,000 below last year's levels. In two of the games in the awful series against the Cincinnati Reds, fewer than 20,000 fans showed up, and that's including "phantom fans." As I noted in my summary of the Nationals' inaugural season last October 4, "the smallest crowd was 23,332 on April 26 against the Phillies; in only three other games was attendance below 25,000."
The Nationals were not the only team to get swept this week. The same dubious honor also befell the Braves, the Padres, and the Pirates. The formerly high-flying Orioles will try to avoid being swept in Toronto this evening. On a brighter note, the Royals finally pulled out of a nose dive, winning three of their last four games.
The Baker Bowl page has been revised with a revised diagram that conforms to the new standard. Hey, it was easy, so I moved it to the head of the line. Corrections to Yankee Stadium (the diagram, that is) are still pending.
UPDATE: Low bond rating
I saw this bit of news in yesterday's Washington Post, but since David Pinto mentioned it, I figured I should too: The Fitch, Standard & Poor's and Moody's agencies each rated the D.C. baseball stadium project as "low investment-grade" (BBB), on the grounds that it depends mainly on a business tax, which is a highly variable revenue stream. That means it will require a higher yield to float the bonds, which means it will cost more to service the debt, which means the total cost of the project will go up. D.C. officials say they will make up for this and get a AAA bond rating by purchasing insurance, which sounds like a classic "smoke and mirrors" scam to me.
UPDATE: Three stadiums get OK
Speaking of stadium scams, I checked out the Field of Schemes site and learned that it's been quite a busy day in the ballpark universe. The New York city council approved funding plans for both the Yankees' and the Mets' future stadiums. In both cases, the city will absorb infrastructure improvement costs, which might end up being a subsidy of $800 million altogether, and the franchises will pay for most if not all of the stadiums themselves. See Newsday. Also, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved a $522 million funding bill for a new Twins stadium. Now it's up to the state Senate. The Twins would pay $130 million of the construction costs and about $10 million a year in rent in a 30-year lease. According to twincities.com, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said, "We're not going to lose the Minnesota Twins on my watch."
April 30, 2006 [LINK]
McCain & the First Amendment
Most of the time John "Maverick" McCain irritates me with his ingratiating eagerness to say whatever will please the mainstream media. Every once in a while, however, he says something really gutsy that no one else will say. But then I wonder -- Is he just pandering to folks like me? Mark Tapscott provides more evidence for skepticism of McCain: his recent comments that "quote" (as he said) First Amendment rights take a back seat to what he believes is a higher priority: ensuring that we have a clean, uncorrupted government. He is talking about resistance to limits on campaign finance, i.e, the McCain-Feingold Act, and various derivatives. (via Instapundit) If McCain truly thinks that his opinion of what is good or not takes precedence over our basic freedoms, we are in trouble. As I noted on April 17, George Will had some very caustic words for Republicans who voted to restrict donations to "527" groups. I don't make a direction equation between giving money and political speech, as Will does, but those two activities are close enough to warrant extreme caution in trying to regulate political spending.
Hewitt on Election '06
By sheer coincidence, on Friday I saw Mr. Tapscott at a Heritage Foundation talk shown on C-SPAN. He was introducing blogger / radio host Hugh Hewitt, who believes that the upcoming November elections will decide whether we win or lose the war in Iraq, and therefore, the broader war against Islamic terrorism. I'm not sure whether I agree with that, or with the agenda behind his book, Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority. It sounds to me like a denial of the very pluralistic values upon which our system of government was built, but I'll give it some thought. [Pelosi ... Dellums ... Rangel ... It is quite a scary prospect.]
April 28, 2006 [LINK]
James Webb's combat boots
I missed yesterday's visit to Staunton by James "Born Fighting" Webb, the former Navy Secretary (under Ronald Reagan!) who is running as a Democrat for George Allen's Senate seat. Oh well. His transparent effort to portray himself as an authentic military hero may be wearing a little thin, from what I read about his appearance in Arlington later that day. He mocked the incumbent senator's fondness for cowboy boots and urged his supporters to wear boots -- any kind of boots except cowboy boots! -- to show that Democrats are tough on defense. Huh? Well it made the front page of the Washington Post, in a story that was predictably sympathetic. I found it rather odd, however, that Webb declared that the war in Iraq is "wholly unrelated to our national interest," and then went on to lament the skyrocketing price of crude oil and gasoline. Does he not know that Iraq is a major oil producer? A more incisive report of Webb's appearance is at the National Journal's Hotline blog, via Instapundit.
Staunton city council race
I did manage, however, to attend this evening's forum of the six candidates running for the three open seats on the Staunton city council. Thankfully, the tone has been very respectful during the low-level campaign, nothing like the unfair calumnies hurled at Republicans Ray Ergenbright and Elnora Hazlett during their unsuccessful runs for reelection to city offices last fall. As I mentioned on April 17, there is a lot of suspicion that the big downtown renovation projects of recent years, culminating in the reopening of the Stonewall Jackson Hotel last fall, favored certain people at the expense of others. That was the subject of the written question I submitted in advance, and after an hour or so, they finally got to that one. Here is my summary of their main points, not necessarily accurate representations of their views:
- Andrea Oakes: maintain quality of life and education; attract clean, high-tech business
- Carolyn Dull: fiscal responsibility, no to I-81 widening, "living wage"
- Bruce Elder: preserve city legacy, improvements for the whole city, no to I-81 widening
- Roy Hartless: resist tax hikes; pay attention to neighborhoods, not just downtown
- Lacy King (the only incumbent): defended downtown development projects
- Don Wilson: maintain quality of education, fiscal responsibility
The candidates all agreed on the importance of finding a highly qualified person to replace City Manager Bob Stripling, who was involved in some of that controversy last year and just announced his retirement. After two of her male rivals used the pronoun "he," referring to a replacement City Manager, Andrea Oakes made it clear that the best person for the job might be a man or a woman.
Social Security reform
I thought the idea of reforming Social Security was dead as a door nail after Bush got burned on that issue by fear-mongering Democrats last year. Tom Faranda disagrees, arguing that the need by Congress to take action will soon become clear to all, for various demographic reasons. Well, I hope so. He has obviously done his homework on this complicated (and dry) issue.
Limbaugh is booked
Sad news for dittoheads across the Fruited Plain: After his show today, El Rushbo turned himself in at the Palm Beach County sheriff's office as part of a plea agreement by which he will pay a fine and continue to get drug treatment without going to jail. See the Washington Post.
April 1, 2006 [LINK]
Killing time on Betsy Bell Hill
While our old Dodge Colt was being inspected this morning, I took a hike to the top of Betsy Bell Hill, where I saw two birds for the first time this season. Today's list:
- Chipping sparrows (FOS)
- Golden-crowned kinglets
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Sharp-shinned hawk
- Turkey and Black vultures
- Phoebes (FOS)
- Yellow-bellied sapsuckers (M, 1st yr)
- Pileated woodpecker (M) -- SEE PHOTO
- Red-bellied woodpeckers
- House finches
April 19, 2006 [LINK]
Civil - military relations U.S.A.
To my surprise, the lead editorial in Tuesday's Washington Post criticized the retired generals who have called on Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to resign. They make it clear that it would have been better if Rumsfeld had resigned a year or two ago, after the Abu Ghraib scandal, but they believe that caving in to dissenting retired officers would set a dangerous precedent, undermining civilian contol of our armed forces. Today's Staunton News Leader agreed: "Generals don't call the shots." Like the Post, their editorial staff is highly critical of the Bush administration, so this came as a surprise.
This controversy highlights both the unusual circumstances we are now in -- a prolonged low-level conflict -- and our country's uniquely democratic culture that encourages individuals to speak their minds. I think we are a long way off from the situation President Truman faced in March 1951, when General MacArthur was verging on insubordination in commanding U.S. forces in Korea. I also think there is a sharp distinction to be made between active duty officers -- who are obliged to voice their opinions in a discreet way, and then carry out orders -- versus retired officers, who are free of such restraints. I am bothered, however, by the tone of some of retired Gen. John Batiste's statements, which tend to sound like Democrat talking points. One also wonders if some of the dissent isn't aimed at pumping up book sales. Overall, nonetheless, I am not too worried about vigorous debate on how the war is being conducted. We need a candid exchange of viewpoints in order to fashion the best strategy.
I do take exception to the way one military officer recently expressed resentment toward Condoleeza Rice for admitting that tactical mistakes ("thousands") have been made in Iraq, but that the fundamental strategic decision was sound. (See Mar. 31.) I did not take that to be casting aspersions on the battlefield abilities of our soldiers and officers, and anyone who does is being overly sensitive.
Counterinsurgency ups & downs
The New Yorker recently had a feature article on the trials and tribulations of our soldiers who are suppressing terrorists in Iraq, with mixed success. It focuses on the see-saw battle for control of the border town of Tall Afar in northern Iraq, which U.S. forces retook last September, but were unable to maintain complete control in the months that followed because of a lack of troops. Does Donald Rumsfeld know about this? (via Connie)
April 4, 2006 [LINK]
Mets' future home
The New York Times calls attention to the often-neglected (except by Mike Zurawski) plans by the Mets to build a new home next to Shea Stadium by 2009, on the same schedule as the Yankees are proceeding with their future home. One question is what to name it. The "Flushing Bowl," perhaps? Surprisingly, no one has suggested "Casey Stengel Stadium." Amazin'!
Some formerly-front-row fans in Toronto are complaining about the seating modifications made to Rogers Centre during the off season. Two rows in back have been eliminated, to make room for more vending space in the concourse, and one plush, ground-level row has been added in front. See Toronto Globe and Mail. (via Mike Zurawski)
The Miller Park diagrams have been revised with warning tracks and a couple minor tweaks. Also, a new version diagram showing the small picnic area in right field has been added.
Slight of hand
The Nationals would have tied the game with the Mets yesterday if the home plate umpire had made the proper call when Alfonso Soriano slid head first into home in the eighth inning. Video replays showed that catcher Paul Lo Duca clearly dropped the ball during the attempted tag, and to his credit, he later admitted getting away with a bit of good acting, saying he's "a magician in the offseason. ... The hand is quicker than the eye. I was guilty as charged." See MLB.com
UPDATE: Follies closes
I wasn't sure if the feature Style section story in this morning's Washington Post was worth mentioning, but Andrew Sullivan did, so what the heck: The Follies and other gay night clubs located on O Street S.E., where the future Washington baseball stadium will be built, officially closed down yesterday. Apparently it was an emotional occasion. Soon the bulldozers will begin razing the entire area, transforming it into a "family friendly" entertainment zone.
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
Nats' home opener: big letdown
Just like their very first home opener one year ago, it was a spectacular sunny, mild day in Our Nation's Capital, just perfect for baseball. Yet all the pregame hype and hoopla, martial music, and the honor of Vice President Cheney throwing out the first pitch could not conceal the uneasy feeling that the Nationals are not yet able to compete on equal terms with the rest of the major league teams. Today was the last chance Bud Selig had to follow through on his commitment to finalize the sale as soon as the stadium league deal was nailed down. It's been over a month (March 7) since the D.C. Council voted the final approval. What's the holdup, Bud?
The game itself had few memorable moments. Alfonso Soriano hit his third home run of the year, but the Nats only got two other hits, and no runs. Ramon Ortiz struggled to live up to the expectations due a starting pitcher, and giving up four runs was about as good as you could expect of him. The relief squad did not meet the high standards they set for themselves last year. The Nats's record is now 2-6. I have to credit Frank Robinson and pitcher Felix Rodrigeuz for making the point in last Thursday's game at Shea Stadium that Pedro's bean balls will not be tolerated. The suspension they got is the price that had to be paid for the team's honor; see MLB.com.
Around the leagues
It so happened that today was the home opener for both the Red Sox (at newly expanded Fenway Park) and the Yankees. The Red Sox have the winningest record at this point, 6-1. The Yankees piled on some huge run totals in their series against Oakland, but are below .500 nonetheless. I recall hearing something about Milwaukee's high ambitions during the off-season, and I guess I should have paid closer attention. The Brewers and Tigers both went undefeated for their first five games, and then lost the next two. The Mets, Indians, and Reds have been playing exceptionally well, too. It's good to see some fresh faces at the top of the standings, early in the season anyway.
Sheer silliness department: The Miami Dolphins have renamed their home "Dolphin Stadium," without the "s." See sports.espn.go.com (via Mike Zurawski).
April 18, 2006 [LINK]
Poking fun at our oil "addiction"
Have you noticed the price of gasoline has been creeping up again? Well, I sure have. I figure if it settles down for a prolonged period at $3 or so a gallon, it just might be enough to induce American consumers to alter their buying habits. Or maybe not. Given our nation's "addiction" to oil, as President Bush said, it might take $4 a gallon gas to get many of us to rethink and mend our gluttonous ways before it's too late. In Friday's Washington Post, cartoonist Tom Toles lampooned the irony of "super-sized" Americans being so clueless that their sense of entitlement to an energy-intensive way of life makes this country more vulnerable to the threat of terrorist blackmail. Like his predecessor the late, great Herb Block, Toles is superb at his craft and usually makes a good point in a witty way, even if he tends to follow the liberal conventional wisdom in Washington. Click on that thumbnail image to see the cartoon.
MoveOn.org opposes e-mail "tax"
Politics makes strange bedfellows department: MoveOn.org is up in arms about Yahoo's proposed levy on mass e-mailers, on the grounds that it would unfairly inhibit communications by nonprofit organizations. Some people are calling an "Internet tax," but since the money would not be collected by the government, that would be a misnomer. Does this mean that MoveOn.org is joining forces with anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist? It seems pretty obvious to me that one way to discourage the avalanche of spam that fills our e-mail in boxes every day* would be to tax each outgoing e-mail message, say one penny each. That would add up in a hurry, and could be used to fund Internet access programs in the Third World.
*Speaking of which, I'll probably make my e-mail spam filter more restrictive in the near future. To make sure your e-mail gets through to me, and to get me to pay more urgent attention to it, I suggest putting a meaningful phrase in the Subject line.
April 21, 2006 [LINK]
Busch Stadium III
The Busch Stadium III page is now finished, just in time for the weekend series in which the Cardinals host the arch-rival Cubs. The NL Central Division is proving to be extremely competitive so far this year, like the NL East was last year. Time will tell whether their sparkling new home ends up benefiting the Cardinals. Recent new ballparks in Cincinnati and Detroit did not help those teams much, at least not in their inaugural years. (Note that from now on I will put the thumbnail image in the blog text, rather than on the left side bar of the Baseball blog page.)
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee broke two bones in his hand in a collision with Rafael Furcal, and will be on the disabled list for up to six weeks. Last year he led the National League in batting average (.335) and hit 46 homers, like Albert Pujols on the fast track to superstardom. That is a huge setback for the Cubs, who have been running neck and neck with the Astros since the beginning of the season.
Nationals clobber Phillies
The Nats' tenth-inning loss to the Phillies on Wednesday night was about as dismaying as you can get. After having built a three-run lead, with pitcher Livan Hernandez hitting a home run, a double, and a single, the Phillies tied it in the eighth inning. Livan stayed in the game for one inning too many, just like he did more than once last year. The Phils then won it in the tenth, 7-6. The Nationals' bounced back the next day, however, and their phenomenal performance in the rubber game on Thursday night showed that they just may be serious competitors this year after all. The Nats scored nine runs in the first two innings, and Nick Johnson hit two home runs, one of which landed several rows up in the right field second deck at Citizens Bank Park. That was about 390 feet horizontally from home plate, and about 40 feet up, so I figure it would have traveled about 440 feet. Colossal! Ryan Church failed to get a home run after doing so in three consecutive games. [Final score: 10-4.] The winning was pitcher Billy Traber, who was -- like Church -- just called up from New Orleans Zephyrs; see MLB.com. Welcome to the Big Leagues! Wouldn't it be great if the Nats lucked out with a fine new starting pitcher out of their own farm system? Tonight the Nationals host the Braves at RFK Stadium, hoping for their first victory at home this season.
UPDATE: Julio homers!
Julio Franco, the ageless wonder, set the record as the oldest major leaguer ever to hit a home run last night, helping the Mets to beat the Padres and stay 3.5 games ahead in the NL East. He'll be 48 by the end of the season and says he looks forward to hitting a home run when he's 50. Well, his contract with the Mets lasts through next year; maybe the Braves will sign him up again after that. See MLB.com. Not to take anything away from his accomplishment, but I noticed that the ball fell into that odd protrusion in the right field corner at PETCO Park, or else it probably would have been just a double.
April 30, 2006 [LINK]
The announcement in Havana on Saturday of the "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas" -- a trade alliance between Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia -- may be mostly a symbolic gesture, but it is nothing to sneeze at. Cuba and Venezuela had already signed a similar bilateral treaty last year, and Castro's government is already receiving large quantities of Venezuelan crude oil at bargain prices. Cuba is offering medical and educational services as a way to improve the living conditions of poor people in Venezuela and Bolivia. That sounds plausible. The obstacle to making this vision work, of course, is Bolivia's geographical isolation from the outside world. What would Bolivia have to offer the other two countries? Tropical fruit and soybeans, apparently. Presumably Bolivia's coca production will enter the trade picture in some fashion, and if this new pact facilitates increased traffic in cocaine, it would pose a serious threat to U.S. national interests. Will the Bush administration refer to the three leftist-dominated countries as a new "Axis of Evil"? See BBC.
The three leaders made it clear that they are intent on stopping the proposed "Free Trade Area of the Americas," the U.S.-inspired plan to bring the entire hemisphere under a common trade regime. Much as I favor free trade, I have always been skeptical about pushing the agenda that far, especially since the United States does not share strong interests with some of the countries in South America. NAFTA and CAFTA are fine, as are bilateral agreements with Andean nations. In the 21st Century, however, the (slowly) emerging economies of Brazil and Argentina will inevitably give rise to a strategic impulse to maintain a degree of autonomy from North American influence. There is nothing wrong with that.
Whether this new axis gathers strength depends on whether or not it can attact new members, to create genuine community of neighboring states that could trade with each other. The missing piece of the puzzle is what I have always called the "keystone country" of South America: Peru. That is why the ongoing Peruvian elections are so important.
Peru's President Alejandro Toledo, who remains unpopular at home and has been assuming a very low profile for the past several months, withdrew Peru's ambassador to Venezuela as a protest against that country's interference in Peru's elections. Peru's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an unusually blunt statement criticizing the violation of international norms by Venezuela's government. Hugo Chavez recently denounced APRA candidate Alan Garcia as a "thief" and a "crook," heartily endorsing the radical populist Ollanta Humala. He even threatened to withdraw Venezuela's ambassador to Peru if Humala doesn't win the second round election.* See CNN.com. That article did not mention what may be the underlying reason for the hostility toward Garcia that Chavez exhibits: The former president of Venezuela, Carlos Andres Perez (a.k.a. "CAP"), is a good friend and close ideological ally of Alan Garcia. In fact, "CAP" became the godfather of Garcia's first son Alan Raul in April 1988, and Chavez tried to overthrow him in the early 1990s when he was an army officer.
* That CNN.com article mentions that conservative candidate Lourdes Flores has not conceded being eliminated in the first round, even though she is 70,000 votes behind and over 99 percent of the ballots have been counted. The political establishment in Peru is indeed desperate.
South American gas pipeline
The presidents of Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil met in Sao Paulo, Brazil last Wednesday, and agreed to proceed with a huge natural gas pipeline project that would stretch from Venezuela to Argentina. It is estimated to cost $20 billion, and would take at least ten years to complete. See BBC. The economic-strategic implications are obvious: It would forge close trade and investmennt ties between countries on opposite sides of the South American continent, laying the groundwork for the grand "Bolivarian" dream of a vast confederation. Can those countries sustain such a level of cooperation for such an extended period of time? What perplexes me is why they are planning to build it across the extremely rugged Gran Sabana mountain region of southeastern Venezuela, rather than through the lowland gap where the Casiquiare Channel passes between the Orinoco and Amazon river basins.
Will Mexico decriminalize dope?
It may be a pragmatic accommodation to reality, or it may be a sign that Mexico's police and government are simply unable to enforce the country's laws. President Fox is expected to sign a bill that would eliminate penalties for possession of small amounts of cocaine, marijuana, raw opium, or even heroin. See Washington Post. This will no doubt further anger U.S. politicians who are (justifiably) upset about Mexico's policy of promoting illegal emigration, but it is an idea that Americans should consider. Our current "war on drugs" is probably causing as much damage as it is preventing. I think there should be a distinction between highly addictive drugs (cocaine or crystal meth) versus pot, so I would not advocate decriminalizing the former hard drugs. Any reform in our drug laws would need to be carefully thought out and planned.
April 1, 2006 [LINK]
Good job, George Mason U.
Life does not always have a storybook ending, and of course, it usually doesn't. Just getting to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen (earning a Sports Illustrated cover) would have been enough for George Mason University folks to claim a huge triumph for their athletic program. Reaching the Final Four was almost beyond belief. In tonight's game against Florida they started off slow, but closed the gap toward the end of the first half, raising hopes for a possible repeat of their earlier tournament victories. It was not to be, however, as they trailed by 15 points or more for most of the second half. Coach Larranaga, Will Thomas, Jai Lewis, and the rest of the Patriots basketball team deserve hearty congratulations, and thanks for making all Virginians proud.
April 12, 2006 [LINK]
Pine siskin belated appearance
Just as spring warms up, one of the seldom-scene winter migrants finally showed up at our window today: a Pine siskin, which is a close relative of the Goldfinch. If you look closely, you can see the yellow edges in its wing feathers. The yellow color can be seen more clearly in the sunlit photo that I took on Nov. 10, 2004. As far as I know, there have been no other sightings of Pine siskins in this area since the cold season (fall-winter-spring) began. The only remaining songbird that regularly winters in these parts that I have not yet seen this season is the Red-breasted nuthatch.
NOTE: The original photo was replaced on May 4.
April 14, 2006 [LINK]
Retired generals want Rummy out
The dissatisfaction felt by some U.S. military commanders toward Donald Rumsfeld has been well known for some time. After all, he "declared war" on the Pentagon as part of his administrative reform campaign just before the Pentagon was attacked in 2001. What is new is how widespread the opposition to him is, and how many high-ranking officers [are among those speaking out]. Retired Gen. John Batiste says the current Defense Department leaders do not respect military professionals and have violated well-established principles of strategy. What makes his argument more credible is the fact that he turned down a promotion to become a three-star general because he so strongly disagreed with Rumsfeld's approach. In Time magazine, retired Marine Gen. Gregory Newbold blames "zealots" in the administration for launching a "needless war," and criticized Rumsfeld for "micromanaging" military operations, like LBJ and McNamara did in Vietnam. Likewise, former Central Command chief retired Gen. Anthony Zinni says we have "wasted three years" in Iraq. Yesterday's Washington Post summarized the recent critiques.
Such vociferous complaints by so many high-ranking military officers cannot be ignored, but that doesn't mean we should take them at face value either. President Bush is "standing by his man," as usual, and thankfully has not yet said that Rummy is doing a "heckuva" job. Belmont Club contends that anyone calling for Rumsfeld to step down must offer a credible alternative plan of action:
Yet notably absent from discussion is the answer to the question: change [Administration policy] to what? To more troops on the ground? To a renewed effort to bring European allies into Iraq? An accelerated withdrawal from Iraq in order to concentrate on what General Newbold called "the real threat -- Al Qaeda"? All of these are possible alternatives but only one has been formally articulated by the Administration in waiting, the Democratic Party. It is called the Real Security plan and many of Rumsfeld critics are unhappy with that as well. Unless it is the case that 'anyone will be an improvement on Rumsfeld', it is surely fair to ask: how should it be done differently. The Real Security plan has been put forward. Are there any others?
Needless to say, the Democrats' proposal is not based on strategic considerations, but is geared solely to electoral politics. I disagree that calling for Rumsfeld to resign obliges one to offer an alernative approach. Indeed, the main issue in this controversy is managerial style and policy-making process, not necessarily national strategy per se. On a related note, I saw retired Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former aide to Colin Powell (with whom he is now estranged), on C-SPAN earlier this week. He was speaking about what he regards as major strategic errors by the Bush administration in the way he is handling the war against Islamic terrorism. There was a Washington Post Style section profile of him in January, and while his criticisms are serious and well thought out, I get the sense that his dissent is based on personality clashes as much as anything.
On the op-ed page of today's Post, David Ignatius called on Rummy to resign. He thinks we need someone who can muster bipartisan support (that sounds far-fetched to me), suggesting Joe Lieberman or John McCain. I disagree; if Rumsfeld is replaced, it should be by someone who is not part of the political maelstrom in Washington.
I have long had mixed feelings about Rumsfeld. His bluntness and candor are a refreshing change of pace from the dull, mealy-mouthed norm in Washington. As I noted in January 2005, he does deserve some criticism for failing to adequately plan for postwar reconstruction in Iraq, but no one really knew what to expect. A substantial degree of improvisation was inevitable, and our troops and officers have done a very good job of learning how to fight a new kind of war without any advance preparation. Ironically, the need to carry out a war against the Islamic terrorist movements made it difficult for Rumsfeld to carry out the organizational changes in the Pentagon he thought were necessary, and after five years, almost all talk of that has vanished. That being the case, I really don't see what purpose his continued presence in the Pentagon would serve, so it's probably for the best that he should step down soon.
April 1, 2006 [LINK]
I figured it's about time to indulge in some cyber-whimsy, to keep all you baseball fans and fellow stadium geeks alert and on your toes. Presented for you amusement, in all their wretchedly primitive glory, are some of the original baseball stadium diagrams from four years ago, when this site was still hosted by Mac.com. First, roll the mouse over the links below, and then click.
Fenway Park ~ Forbes Field ~ Polo Grounds ~ Tiger Stadium ~ Wrigley Field ~ Yankee Stadium
End of spring training
I noticed that two of teams that were in first place in their divisions as of July 1 last year are at the bottom of the league rankings for this spring exhibition game season: The White Sox and the Nationals! Likewise, the Yankees are way down the list as well, which goes to show how little significiance spring win-loss records have.
April 1, 2006 [LINK]
Irredentists* on the march in L.A.
Unless someone has been very busy with Photoshop, this gallery of photos of the march in Los Angeles at mexica-movement.org is not an April fool's joke. With slogans like "Stolen continent," "Indigenous people against white racists," "All Europeans are illegal," and the like, it is clear that these people would not be content just to gain legal immigration status, via amnesty or "guest worker" visas. They want to undo the results of the Mexican War and have the southwestern U.S.A. returned to Mexico! Don't laugh, it might just happen within our lifetime. How many Latino immigrants truly share such extreme sentiments? How many of them would openly admit it? Perhaps my humorous, offhand reference to reexamining the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (March 29) was closer to the mark than I thought. (Link via Instapundit, who also wonders "Why so little immigration protest in South Florida?" -- [link added])
What this means is that a polarizing dynamic has begun that will almost certainly lead to increasing violence and decreasing trust among immigrants and native-born Americans. For those of us who have tried for years to build bridges of understanding between cultures, it is all an enormous pity.
Interestingly, many of the protesters were holding American flags, apparently aware of the hostility they had incited among otherwise sympathetic folks when they waved Mexican flags. Most of the protesters are apparently oblivious to the fact that Mexico has at least as bad a historical record in treating true indigneous people as the United States. The vast majority of Mexicans and Latinos are mixed blooded, which gives rise to deep anxiety about their ethnic identity. Protesting can be a good way to vent such internal conflicts.
* For you folks in Rio Linda, "irredentism" is a movement demanding the transfer of land from one country to another on the basis of historical claims. Examples would be Germany against Poland during the 1930s, or Ecuador against Peru from the 1940s until the 1990s.
April 10, 2006 [LINK]
¡Sí, se puede!*
Is this a great country, or what?
"La Gran Marcha" in cities across the country was certainly impressive, and it was a real eye-opener to see the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceably assemble for the redress of grievances exercised by people who would probably be shot for doing the same thing in their own countries. Now there's an aspect of American civic culture I would be proud to export: ¡Qué viva la libertad! In one sense, it was heartwarming to see all those American flags and hear those chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" You would have thought it was a bunch of Bush supporters at a NASCAR race. At the rally in Washington (on C-SPAN) I also saw a few flags from Argentina, Colombia, Peru, and Honduras, but NOT from Mexico! Whether the newfound sense of loyalty to Uncle Sam -- in sharp contrast to the Los Angeles protests two weeks ago -- reflects a deeply felt sentiment or is just a tactical shift of convenience for most of the rally participants is not really important. The big question is what policy makers and legislators will make of this awesome display of collective will. The smart ones among those running for election this fall will pay due attention to the voting strength of those whom the protesters represent -- which is to say, hardly at all.
Ironic tone aside (momentarily), I fully sympathize with the aspirations of all those hard-working undocumented folks who just want to come out of hiding and enjoy full rights as human beings. This is where the distinction between human rights (which apply universally) and civil rights (which apply to citizens) is so crucial. Unfortunately, the purpose of the rally seemed to be to blur such distinctions and to shift the debate from the realm of justice and logic to that of mercy and sentiment. Surely most of them must have some sense that they did something wrong when they snuck across the border. Don't they? The fact that many of the speakers at the rally in Washington were calling for "reform" was at least a sign that they are aware that the status quo must change. Hear, hear! I wouldn't expect such a gathering to yield a clear-cut comprehensive plan of action, but I thought some of the loudest slogans at least deserved a response.
"No human being is illegal!"
Well, some of us break the law, and if we get caught, we are duly punished for it.
"We are all immigrants!"
In a historical sense that is true, but by that logic, even the Native Americans are immigrants. The point is that some of us are here in accordance with the law, and some of us are here as a result of having transgressed the law. No way of gettin' around that one.
"Let my people stay!"
What a deliciously ironic twist on Moses! "Please let us be exploited!" If preferring to live here as a virtual slave or indentured servant rather than going home doesn't make clear just how bleak conditions are in most Latin American countries, I don't know what will. Too bad it doesn't occur to anyone that perhaps conditions and employment opportunities in those countries might be improved. But of course, free trade and capitalism are widely considered "evil" in those countries, so they will remain stuck in backwardness for years to come.
* For you folks in Rio Linda (!), "Sí, se puede" means "Yes, we can." It seems to imply that concerted, mass action can force the government to give in to their demands for quick, unconditional legalized status.
Just carry out the laws
As difficult as this problem is, the solution isn't as tough as most people assume. We don't need new laws so much as more rigorous enforcement of existing laws. In other words, the fault lies primarily in the executive branch, not the legislative branch. Are you listening, Señor Presidente?
James Webb's buddy
The motivation for former Navy Secretary James Webb to run against George Allen for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia this year became a little clearer, thanks to an article from The Hill: Webb just happens to be old Navy buddies with a certain senator from Arizona who might end up as a rival to Allen in the 2008 presidential primary races. Hmmm... (Hat tip to Chris Green.)
April 22, 2006 [LINK]
Immigration and the GOP divide
Craig Shirley wrote a superb column in today's Washington Post: "How the GOP Lost Its Way." It summarizes almost perfectly my thoughts and feelings on the widening chasm within the Republican Party that has been brought to light by the immigration issue. The elite "country club, Rockefeller Republicans" want a large supply of cheap (i.e., illegal) labor and therefore resist any change in the status quo. In an attempt to regain control over the party, GOP elitists Ed Gillespie and William Kristol have recently disparaged those who call for strict controls over the border as wanting to turn the GOP into an "anti-immigration Know-Nothing party." Needless to say, the populist "Reagan Republicans" resent being impugned. Excerpt:
Far from being driven by xenophobia and intolerance, conservative populists are motivated by a profound respect for the rule of law and by a patriotic regard for America's sovereignty and national security.
Exactly. Why is that concept so difficult for elitists to grasp? Shirley bitterly laments that the Republicans have squandered an historical opportunity:
The elites in the GOP have never understood conservatives or Reagan; they've found both to be a bit tacky. They have always found the populists' commitment to values unsettling. To them, adherence to conservative principles was always less important than wealth and power.
Unfortunately, the GOP has lost its motivating ideals. The revolution of 1994 has been killed not by zeal but by a loss of faith in its own principles. The tragedy is not that we are faced with another fight for the soul of the Republican Party but that we have missed an opportunity to bring a new generation of Americans over to our point of view.
Wow. Shirley really gets it. As they say, "read the whole thing." I'm not kidding.
Ironically, I find myself squarely in the middle of this divide, perhaps because I see a more nuanced, complex overlapping of factions and interests on the Right. For example, there are economic conservatives inspired by libertarianism, and social conservatives who are fond of using government as a tool, like Bismarck did in Germany (see March 10). Contrary to widespread impression, not all of the economic conservatives are elitists (Arizona Rep. John Shadegg would be one example), and not all of the social conservatives are populists (Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum would be one example). Here's what puzzles me: President Bush and Karl Rove are usually associated with the populist wing in terms of their appeal to constituents, but in terms of policy substance (e.g., immigration), they seem to be squarely on the elitists' side. Could Bush's problem be boiled down to an internal contradiction between populist image and elitist practice?
Someone who simply does not get what's at stake in the immigration debate is academic blogger Daniel Drezner. He concludes a comment on a recent New York Times op-ed piece (which takes pain to refute the red herring argument about the alleged wage-suppression effects) by saying, "Illegal immigration poses significant policy problems -- but those problems have little to do with economics." Good grief. Now I'm starting to understand why people like him and Thomas Friedman are so upbeat about globalization: They are blissfully ignorant of the moral foundation of social order.
April 3, 2006 [LINK]
Why don't we invade Country X?
In Saturday's Washington Post, Francis Fukuyama responded to Charles Krauthammer's criticism (see Mar. 28) by pointing out episodes when he did express opposition to war against Iraq, as early as 2002. Low-key dissent, but dissent nonetheless. Fukuyama's credibility suffers by evading the central charge that he wrongly claimed that Krauthammer called the war in Iraq an "unqualified success." His contorted effort to construe Krauthammer's speech at AEI is not very convincing. Fukuyama is an intellectual who lacks either a core set of beliefs about the world, or the courage to stake his reputation on a clear plan of action to fight global terrorism.
There was a second letter after Fukuyama's, by some guy named Arthur Buono who sarcastically cited Krauthammer's point about terrorism arising from political oppression, necessitating forcible regime change. "If so, in addition to Afghanistan we should have attacked Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan -- not Iraq." It's just another version of the standard lame rhetorical question, rooted in the insinuation that war in Iraq was "all about oil." Those red herrings are typically based on the naive premise that wars are launched on the basis of certain set criteria, ignoring calculations of potential strategic advantage and risk, or that just because military action is appropriate in one situation, it must be appropriate in all. Well, just to reach out to the other side and accept their approach to things, let's go through the checklist:
NOTE: Countries whose names are in capital letters were identified as "rogue regimes" by Raymond Tanter, in Rogue Regimes: Terrorism and Proliferation (1999). [UPDATE: North Korea, also.]
*The checked criteria for each country are based on the post 9/11 period; some countries (notably Libya) are less hostile to U.S. interests than they used to be.
Based on this (relatively) comprehensive set of war criteria, Iraq ranks ahead of Afghanistan, contrary to the much broader global support for military intervention in the latter compared to the former. Interestingly, Syria ranks on par with Iraq as "most eligible" to be attacked on the basis of these criteria. Go ahead and check or uncheck the boxes as you think appropriate, and let me know what you come up with. This ought to be an interesting exercise in collecting survey responses; stay tuned.
April 4, 2006 [LINK]
Tom DeLay to leave Congress
Whether you love him or hate him, Tom DeLay has clearly put the interests of his party first in deciding to resign from the House of Representatives at some unspecified future date. The decision was no doubt prompted by the [guilty plea last Friday] of his former aide Tony C. Rudy, who was involved in the Abramoff scandals, but that does not mean that DeLay is necessarily guilty of anything. See Washington Post. Mean people are just as entitled to the presumption of innocence as nice people are. This day has been coming ever since he was indicted last September, after which he stepped aside as majority leader. For someone with a reputation as a hardball player (nicknamed "The Hammer") his explanation that he didn't want to engage in a "nasty" reelection campaign seemed a little odd.
Rush Limbaugh rightly called attention to the fact that DeLay is the victim of Texas prosecutor (and partisan hack) Ronnie Earle, but went a bit far in lauding DeLay for such things as redrawing congressional districts to benefit his colleagus at his own expense. In my opinion, that whole approach to politics, contriving the rules of the game to maximize the chance of winning, tends to undermine the Republicans' stature and thereby makes it harder to govern. Now the big question is whether this will help the Republicans reverse their recent sagging political fortunes in time for the fall campaign. If you ask me, the GOP leaders had better come up with a positive agenda to persuade voters to pull the right lever, not just another round of slamming liberal Democrats. It's not that the lib Dems don't deserve such slamming, it's just that complaints about them have grown stale. It also raises suspicions among moderates that the Republicans don't really have any positive ideas on how to govern the country.
Socialist folly in Massachusetts
Thanks to Rush, I learned that the Massachusetts state legislature has passed a bill requiring that all residents purchase health insurance, so as to ease the burden of deadbeat [patients on hospitals and the government]. To make it easier on poor people, the state will offer a low-cost health insurance policy. "The House approved the bill on a 154-2 vote. The Senate endorsed it 37-0." See Boston Herald. Such an unfunded mandate marks a devastating blow to individual liberty, one more step in the Long March toward Socialism. Perhaps Hugo Chavez can lend a hand, like he is doing in providing low-cost heating oil to the shivering proletarians in the northeast.
Cruise with Ollie!
This sounds like a good time, if you're a genuine gun-totin' patriot like Ollie North and Wayne LaPierre, and happen to have a big wad of cash in your wallet: Freedom Cruise. Not me.
April 15, 2006 [LINK]
Can Dems seize the opportunity?
Given all the problems faced by the Republicans lately, you would think the Democrats would be ready to pounce, taking advantage of the vulnerability on a range of issues. After all, the Republicans are deeply divided over immigration, budget reform, Iraq policy, and other key issues. Of course, that would mean [the Democrats] would have to slap themselves in the face and get out of the teeth-gnashing, bitterly angry mental state many of them are in. Thursday's Washington Post surveyed some of the key congressional races around the country, and found that the Democrats are not doing as well as one would think. After an intensive recruitment drive aimed at winning back competitive districts, they have only come with a dozen or so candidates that have a good chance at wining. That is not enough to regain control of the House of Representatives, but the Senate is another matter.
Ironically, today's Washington Post showed why it is so hard for the Democrats to succeed in politics under current circusmtances. It profiled a typical Angry Leftist, Maryscott O'Connor, who has a blog (My Left Wing) that is, shall we say, way off the deep end. From the moment she wakes up in the morning, her entire existence is consumed with an obessive hatred for President Bush, his aides, and the "evil" Republican Party. Does she mean all of us, or just some? She needs to get a life. How about watching birds?
April 8, 2006 [LINK]
Dionne on DeLay and GOP woes
Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne is not exactly my favorite, but he makes some good points about what's ailing the Party of Lincoln these days. Specifically, the exit of Tom DeLay is not the main problem, contrary to what many people think.
No, the most important development is the collapse of purpose in the Republican Party and the sense of exhaustion at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Other than the desperate scramble to make something go right in Iraq, our national government seems to have no energy, no coherence and no sense of direction.
His conventional-wisdom assessment of the Iraq situation overlooks the fact that casualties there continue to decline, notwithstanding all the scary headline-grabbing bombs. Likewise, I think he is overstating the depth of the crisis in the GOP, but it is a prospect that cannot be ignored. Dionne reminds us about DeLay gloating after the 2004 elections that the Republicans had amassed a "permanent majority," just as Karl Rove was fond saying in those "glory days." Alas...
McKinney is "sorry"
Well, at least she said the magic words "I apologize." Just like Bill Clinton, Dick Durbin, et al., however, I had the strong sense that she had her fingers crossed behind her back. Donald Luskin links to a cartoon (pre-apology) that portrays Ms. McKinney fairly aptly.
April 4, 2006 [LINK]
Web site hacked!
To my enormous consternation, I learned yesterday that some malicious spammers have hacked my Web site, forcing me to suspend the functionality of the permalinks and à la carte photos. The idea that my domain name may have been attached to messages promoting Levitra, porn, or sleazy stock deals is positively nauseating. It's the first time it has happened, so now I have to spend my precious time studying Web security procedures. I suppose it would be pointless to express anger toward the guilty parties, who most likely have no conscience anyway. Perhaps this is another example of how the anonymity of cyberspace is contributing to the erosion of basic norms of right and wrong.
April 2, 2006 [LINK]
House vs. Senate on immigration
On CBS's Face the Nation today, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, widely reviled as a mean-spirited Republican, or even mocked as a Nazi, for his bill that would raise penalties on those who violate immigration laws, came across as very reasonable and sincere. Sen. Dick Durbin, who compared the U.S. treatment of detainees to Nazi Germany, came across as cynical. You can tell the Democrats are licking their chops as the Republicans beat each other up over this vexing issue. Sensenbrenner pointed out that he introduced an amendment to reduce penalties for those abetting illegal immigration from a felony to a misdemeanor, but it was voted down by Democrats and some Republicans. That was one of those too-clever parliamentary maneuvers, no doubt, but it also sheds light on what Sensenbrenner is trying to accomplish. That unduly harsh provision is obviously meant as a bargaining chip when it comes time for the House and Senate conferees to work out a compromise. Can they get together? Much like the situation in the Virginia General Assembly, where the Republicans in the Senate are at cross purposes with the Republicans in the House of Delegates, it depends on the party's own leaders. In the case of the U.S. Congress, much also depends the leadership of President Bush, which has been pretty weak lately.
April 20, 2006 [LINK]
Al-Arian pleas guilty
Four months after a jury was unable to reach a verdict on charges of abetting terrorism (see Dec. 7), former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian has reached a plea bargain, confessing to one count, under which he will accept deportation from the United States. This represents nothing more than a token victory for Federal prosecutors, who may have gotten carried away with the original charges. Al-Arian had long proclaimed he was the innocent victim of a political witch-hunt, and was a cause célèbre among certain (misguided) civil rights activists. According to the Tampa Tribune (via Instapundit),
Al-Arian admitted he raised money for the Islamic Jihad and conspired to hide the identities of other members of the terrorist organization, including his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar. He also admitted knowing "that the PIJ achieved its objectives by, among other means, acts of violence."
It is not known where al-Arian will go now. He is a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian, and because he abused his freedoms in this country to become an activist on behalf of violent extremists, he is now more than ever a man without a country.
April 21, 2006 [LINK]
A "living wage" at U.Va.
Seventeen University of Virginia students were arrested on Wednesday and spent the night in jail after refusing to vacate Madison Hall, which they had occupied for three days to back up their demands for a "living wage" for all university employees. To them, that means $10.72 an hour, which is a pretty good chunk of change where I live. President John Casteen, to his credit, ordered the arrests after the students refused his offer to join him in a lobbying effort in Richmond. Civil disobedience has its place in our democratic society, but failure to cooperate with a sympathetic public official is just plain dumb. Don't get me wrong, I respect the earnest desire of the students to improve society, even if they are clueless about market economics. The story drew the attention of the Washington Post, but the Charlottesville Daily Progress has all the details, first hand.
Here's the thing: Raising the minimum wage always favors people who already have a job, since employers find it easier to absorb or pass on increased labor costs than figure out how to get by with less help. On the other hand, it discriminates against people who are looking for a job, because it makes employers more reluctant to take the risk of hiring someone who is an unknown quantity. Because most people have jobs, therefore, raising the minimum wage is almost always a popular cause, even though most people are vaguely aware that it might be a bad idea. What it does, basically, is create an artificially high first "step" for new job entrants to scale on the ladder of life. Some of them give up trying, and turn to a life of crime.
But the "living wage" campaign isn't really about the legal minimum wage, because it is only targeted at an institution that is insulated from the competitive market pressures of supply and demand. Education, like health care, is heavily subsidized by the government and paid for to a large extent by "third parties" (student loans, health insurance, etc.), so there are few if any constraints on costs, which therefore tend to rise faster than the overall rate of inflation. So it's easy to push for higher wages when the burden will be shared by the general (taxpaying) public. Who's going to object?
One of the ironies of the situation stems from the socio-political makeup of Charlottesville, derided as a "people's republic" by many on the Right. It is one of the wealthiest urban areas in all of Virginia, and yet one fourth of the city's residents are said to live in poverty. Why? Well, Democrats have controlled the city government for decades, raising taxes that discourage small business formation and hiring. It is a socialist paradise like Massachusetts, which means it's hell for anyone who has to worry about the bottom line. They are stuck in a rut of liberal (or leftist) orthodoxy, too preoccupied with chasing utopia to consider the possibility that their policies may be making things worse for the people they care about.
Here's the final irony: Whenever businesses are obliged by the government to increase wages or benefits, they are tempted to cut costs by just hiring illegal aliens. Somehow millions of people from south of the border are scrambling to take jobs in places like Charlottesville where living conditions for the working class are supposedly so harsh. Does anyone recognize a certain inconsistency here? Would I be wrong in assuming that most if not all of the earnest activists pushing for a "living wage" also oppose restrictions on immigration or enforcement of immigration laws? Is that because they are simply incapable of grasping the likely consequences of what they advocate, or because they know full well that pushing wages to artificially high levels will create more demand for illegal labor?
More "Shad Planking"
Another local Republican went down to Wakefield for the Shad Planking, Chris Green. He has quite a thorough report at Spank That Donkey.
April 17, 2006 [LINK]
Does GOP oppose free speech?
In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, George Will kept up the drumbeat of dissent against the nominally "conservative" party that is clinging to majority status. He bewails the April 5 vote by the Republicans in the House of Representatives to place arbitrary limits on how much people can contribute to the "527" political advocacy groups (such as MoveOn.org), on the grounds that much of what those groups do is obnoxious in tone. Well, I agree with that assessment, but my opinion, or anyone else's opinion on what constitues good taste in political discourse should have no bearing on the law. The First Amendment means what it says, period. This is just another example of one bad law (McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform") begetting another, as legsilators are prone to vote for dubious bills just to prove to the voters that they are concerned, even if they have grave doubts about whether the bill will actually work the way it is supposed to. As Will says, the House Republicans have in effect come out in favor of restricting political speech. He goes on to wonder what would happen once the Democrats return to power (as they will some day, Karl Rove notwithstanding), and tried to muzzle radio talk show hosts on similar grounds? The Republicans would have no basis on which to object. The problem is that too few people on either side of the aisle these days are disposed to look at issues from a detached, abstract perspective, putting themselves in the shoes of the opposition. Among the eighteen "principled Republicans" who voted against restricting 527s named by Will, I noticed John Shadegg of Arizona, who was a contender for the position of House Majority Leader in January.
City government in Staunton
I confess to not paying a great deal of attention to local affairs here in Staunton, but I have often wondered why the city council is elected at large rather than on a ward-by-ward basis. Neaby Waynesboro is smaller, and it uses the ward system. The lead editorial in today's Staunton News Leader confirms my suspicion that the lack of dispersed geographical representation on the city council has resulted in an unusal concentration of downtown business interests. One sometimes gets the sense that many of the development projects, such as the recently-completed Stonewall Jackson Hotel restoration, have been designed in such a way as to favor certain interests over others. The editorial points out that nearly all current city council members either live or work in downtown, which may be why the outlying residuential and commercial areas are often neglected. The election will be on May 2, but apparently none of the candidates are identified with a political party.
April 15, 2006 [LINK]
More purple finches
I finally got a decent (though shade-obscured) photo of a male Purple finch today. As you can see, they are actually raspberry in color, or perhaps magenta, but not "purple." Dozens of females and a few lingering males have been in the neighborhood recently, engorging themselves on tree buds. In back you can see the tip of the tail of a female Purple finch. When lighting conditions are bad, it can be hard to tell a Purple finch from a House finch . [Males of the latter species have red heads and rumps but less color on the back side. Both male and female House finches are more grayish overall, with a square-tipped tail, whereas Purple finches are more brownish, with a notched tail. Finally, Purple finches sometimes display a slight crest, and have a more musical song.]
UPDATE: While going for an evening stroll behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, I saw some Chimney swifts for the first time this season. Their constant twittering up above is one of those sure signs that summer is near. I also saw a pair of Downy woodpeckers at their nest hole, a Hairy woodpecker, a Flicker, and a Tree swallow, plus the usuals.
April 7, 2006 [LINK]
Immigration compromise fails
Prospects for passing a meaningful immigration reform bill faded today when Democrats in the Senate balked at the terms conservative Republicans were demanding. See Washington Post. I must say, McCain's and Kennedy's complicated formula for treating immigrants differently on the basis of how long they have been in this country seemed totally unworkable, another invitation to fraud. When you add the abnormally bitter partisan hostilities of recent years to normal election year politics, the chances for passing anything truly significant are not that great. The main question is whether passing some paltry half-measure this year would be preferable to doing nothing until next year, when legislators will be less confined by the calculus of reelection.
Referring to the huge demonstrations across America last week, Wednesday's Washington Post, "A sleeping Latino giant has awoken." Indeed. The huge Anglo giant woke up first, however, and their superior numbers are made stronger by the widespread conviction that they are on the right side of justice.
Speaking of which, the letter to the editor on immigration which I wrote appeared in today's Staunton News Leader. I was a bit irritated that they deleted some key words in a few places, such as "and in others" after "Xenophobia is a real, enduring problem in our country." That really changed the whole thrust of what I was trying to say. I drew an ironic parallel between Bush's contention that our economy needs illegal workers and his lament that we are "addicted to oil." Closing line: "The only people who really "depend" on illegal immigrant workers are those who think that low, low prices are an American birthright."
On the same page, coincidentally (?), there was a column by Linda Chavez, who strives to clear up some of the misconceptions. Most of her points were on target. She points out something I mentioned in my letter, that many if not most illegal aliens are "otherwise law-abiding." Likewise, most of them do pay their taxes. I would take issue with the way she equates the current flood of immigrants to earlier periods in our history. In particular, there was never a time when the influx literally overwhelmed the ability of our patrol officers to guard the southern border. But she correctly insists that "It's bad for all of us when laws are so wantonly flouted," calling for stiff fines, tighter border controls, and "more flexible" immigration laws. That's fine, but the problem won't go away until we reform the entitlements in this country that undermine the incentive to work and save.
President Bush has said that his "guest worker" proposal would encourage undocumented aliens to register their presence so we can keep track of who is actually here. Why do they need to be "encouraged"? Simple: It's because, generally speaking, they have no respect for the United States or its government. They probably wouldn't take seriously any registration deadlines, either. Unless Congress enacts laws on immigration and labor standards that are reasonably consistent, and therefore likely to be observed, America's global prestige will continue to erode.
Bottom line: Get in line, and Speed up the process.
The answer: probation
I may be wrong, but I really don't think Reps. Tancredo or Sensenbrenner want to "release the hounds" and make every illegal alien in the country subject to immediate expulsion. That would be a recipe for a mass uprising, possibly even unleashing a civil war. On the other hand, no reform could contemplate mass amnesty or "guest worker" program, either, so what are we to do? Sen. McCain is not far off base when he talks about a very thorough, rigorous screening procedure that would put current illegal residents on a path toward eventual legality. The problem is that it would be very tempting to ease up on scrutiny and make all sorts of exceptions for a variety of flimsy reasons. What I say is, offer illegal residents a one-time-only opportunity to register their presence, providing as much documentation as they can regarding their employment and tax payment history. In return, they would be obliged to pay a small ($100?) fine to help cover administrative expenses, plus interest on any back taxes, and would be "sentenced" to probation, five or so years, depending on their circumstances. As long as they stay out of trouble, notify the authorities of their whereabouts, and only take legitimate jobs that pay at least minimum wage and adhere to applicable labor laws, they should be left alone and accorded the respect that is due to all human beings. If not, adios amigo.
But let's not kid anyone. This problem would never have gotten out of hand if our political system were not so terribly dysfunctional, letting our proud "free market" economy become corrupted over the years by massive cheating. All scams involve two willing parties, and the status quo in America's labor market amounts to a colossal, hideous scam that simply cannot be tolerated any longer. That is why I think our so-called "leaders" in Washington should refrain from piously scorning those new arrivals who flaunt our laws when they themselves are so lax in carrying out their solemn duties.
Kaine & Chichester
What could explain the puzzling cooperation on pushing for higher taxes to fund transportion between Democrat Governor Tim Kaine and the Republican (?) Senate leader John Chichester. I have no clue, but there are signs that it is nothing more than old-fashioned tacky cronyism, as Michael Shear suggests at Washington Post blog (via Commonwealth Conservative). He notes that Kaine and Chichester will appear as featured guests at a fund-raiser for the Foundation for Virginia on April 18, one day before the legislature reconvenes. Former Governor Mark Warner set up that foundation as a vehicle for promoting his vision of a hyperactive state government colluding with big business on various futuristic projects.
April 6, 2006 [LINK]
Virginia is for photos
Finally catching up with long-overdue chores, I have created a new photo gallery page, Virginia landmarks. It is full of scenes from around the photogenic Old Dominion. As Mick Jagger sang,
"Oh, come on ... come on down ... to Virginia.
Got to wipe that $#!+ right off your shoes!"
While I was at it, I also redid several of the other photo montages, such as Mushrooms and universities.
Clockwise from top left:
Natural Bridge, near Lexington;
Governor's Mansion in Colonial Williamsburg;
D-Day Memorial in Bedford;
Natural Chimneys, in Augusta County;
Peaks of Otter, in the Blue Ridge.
April 7, 2006 [LINK]
Princess leaves the nest
After two and a half weeks of brooding, Princess finally gave up on her one remaining egg today, and wasted no time in resuming her usual routine of flirting in the perch next to the window. Her excitement is no doubt related to the large number of "eligible" male goldfinches outside the window; they are quickly turning into their bright yellow breeding plumage.
I finally managed to get a good closeup shot of Princess' face today; note that the tip of her beak is always green because of all the kale, spinach, mustard leaves, etc. she munches on. You can also see the black pupil and the dark brown iris, as well as the reflected window light. Compare it to the closeup of George I took last October.
I also put some old photos of Goldie on the Canaries photo gallery page. Some of them are newly-enhanced photos I had posted years ago and later deleted.
April 6, 2006 [LINK]
Will GOP moderates defect?
Perhaps a better question is Should they defect? I have largely overlooked the FY 2007 budget introduced by President Bush in February, already disgusted with fiscal imprudence. Public awareness of the growing budget deficit is putting increasing pressure on the Republicans in Congress, many of whose members are vulnerable to challengers in the November elections. (Imagine that: competitive elections!)
One of the moderates who is leveraging his faction's clout to get $7 billion in additional Federal funding for popular labor, health, and education programs, is Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware. See Washington Post. I tend to be extremely skeptical of such programs, and much as I would like to maintain a Republican majority in Congress, it may be for the best in the long run that the Republicans slough off a few wayward members. Voters need clear choices when they go into the voting booth, and blurring distinctions on basic policy choices, as many centrists in Congress are prone to do, is not necessarily a good way to attract moderate voters. "Who cares, politicians are all the same!"
To understand the Republican squabbling, it is necessary to grasp that many Republicans wrongly equate loyalty to President Bush with being a true conservative. This tendency is related, in turn, to an unseemly eagerness to use harsh campaign rhetoric against liberal Democrats, ironically emulating the dirty tricks that used to keep the Democrats in power. Until more of the Republican activist base adopts a more reflective attitude about the very real dilemmas in terms of the substance of public policy, as a prelude to reformulating a conservative agenda, I don't see how things will improve. As my mailbox is filled up with crass, dumbed-down appeals for money from the RNC, meanwhile, the party leadership seems utterly tone deaf to complaints from grass-roots conservatives.
A recent cartoon in the Washington Post by Joel Pett expressed the vexing moral quandary many Republicans face on the immigration issue. A senator tells his House colleague, "I'm torn between the security issues and my solemn pledge to help the rich exploit the poor." Hey, the truth hurts.
April 12, 2006 [LINK]
Nuclear bluster: Iran and U.S.
How much more can tensions escalate before something gives way, or a true international crisis breaks out? On Sunday the Washington Post reported that the Bush administration is seriously considering various options for a preemptive attack against Iran, aimed at neutralizing its nuclear weapons program. It would either be a quick surgical strike at the nuclear facilities or an extended bombing campaign aimed at crippling Iran's entire strategic infrastructure. Since some of the targets are in hardened shelters underground, nuclear bombs might have to be used, though only as an extreme contingency. One constraint is the availability of land bases for attack planes, including the F-117 stealth fighter. Turkey is extremely reluctant to let us use the Incirlik air base, but I was surprised that there was no mention of air bases in Iraq being used for that purpose. The Post story was based on interviews with various present and past officials, and probably represents a deliberate leak by the White House.
On Monday President Bush dismissed all that as wild speculation, but of course he wants Iran to think that the threat is real. Why the bluster? Bush is simply following up on the declaration in his State of the Union speech (see Jan. 31) that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear arms. He is in essence putting the "international community" on notice that failure by the U.N. Security Council to take a decisive stand on this issue would leave the United States with no alternative but to proceed with unilateral action. While other world leaders prefer to look the other way and let someone else worry about Iran, Bush is well aware that something must be done soon. Whatever his other shortcomings, he cannot be faulted for having a strong sense of responsibility for international security.
On Tuesday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran has succeeded in enriching uranium, and the timing suggests that it was calculated to up the ante with Washington in the escalating war of wills. They have only attained 3.5 percent purity of enriched uranium (fissionable U-235), however, and it takes at least 80 percent purity to make a bomb. Thus, Iran does not pose an imminent threat of weapons-producing capacity, but they have taken a big step forward. Ahmadinejad insisted that this program "is only for the purpose of peace and nothing else," but of course he wants the outside world to think that the threat of nuclear bombs is real. In one sense, it the flip side of the coin to President Bush's ambiguous rhetoric, but there is a profound difference: One side in this showdown wants to maintain the global status quo, and the other side wants to overturn the status quo. Is it not obvious to any thinking person which of those objectives is more consistent with world peace?
Iran's behavior is nothing more than classic "defiant" foreign policy, the small-state variant of imperialistic foreign policy that I analyzed in my dissertation. The underyling purpose of such behavior (in essence, "elbowing" other countries out of the way) is clear: to build national prestige so as to mobilize domestic support and forge national unity and progress. It is useful to recall that Adolf Hitler alternately professed peaceful intentions and blustered menacingly as he rearmed Germany during the 1930s. Indeed, this episode with Iran may be the equivalent of March 1936, when German troops occupied the Rhineland. At that time, France had overwhelming power to force the Germans to retreat, but its government in Paris simply lacked the political will. France at that time was deeply torn by partisan bickering between the left wing and right wing, plagued by strikes and parliamentary chaos. Then, as now, domestic politics proved decisive in determining the course of world events.
In today's Washington Post, David Ignatius calls for a careful approach much like the way John F. Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis. He notes, "Disaster was avoided because Khrushchev believed Kennedy was willing to risk war -- but wanted to avoid it." Ignatius likewise urges the Bush administration to resist the stark alternatives posed to him by advisers, and instead engage in "creative thinking." Given the current (mostly rather stodgy) cast of characters in the national security command structure, that seems to be an unlikely prospect. Some critics charge that Bush lives in a "bubble" isolated from contrary opinions, moreover, and if true, it only compounds the problem. Nonetheless, Ignatius "take[s] heart from the fact that the counselor to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Philip Zelikow, is an expert on the Cuban missile crisis..." (Zelikow recently resigned as director of the U.Va. Miller Center, where I used to work.)
Saber rattling only makes sense when the side making threats has an edge in terms of credibility and range of options as the showdown unfolds. (In political science theory, this is called "escalation dominance.") If one side miscalculates, they will either end up in an unwanted war or else chickening out. It is clear that Bush thinks he has credibility, but many people in this country and in others have grave doubts about him. Given this socio-psychological context, Ignatius warns that we may be headed in an extremely dangerous direction, the kind of unstoppable juggernaut that led to World War I. He cited Zbigniew Brzezinski who urged Bush to proceed cautiously, based on the (questionable) premise that time is on our side. True, we are not yet in emergency mode, but it would be taking a huge gamble to blithely assume that Iran is several years away from nuclear wepons capability.
Many people rightly fear that taking on yet another military campaign against a rogue regime would be beyond our capabilities (see Jan. 20), but that is based upon the flawed premise that our adversaries in Iraq and the ones in Iran are separate entities. In fact, much of the resistance in Iraq depends upon support from Iran, and this will continue for as long as the Islamo-fascist mullahs rule in Tehran. One way or another, we need to push for eventual regime change in Iran. When you come right down to it, our choices are fairly simple: 1) launching a preemptive attack on Iran soon after an ultimatum is issued, 2) emphasizing diplomatic means (coercive or multilateral) to persuade Iran to cooperate, or 3) beginning a strategic withdrawal from the Middle East. In order to make the best choice (i.e., the least bad choice), we need to seriously examine all three of the alternatives, contemplating what the likely ramifications of each one would be. If we do attack, we should expect a wave of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests around the world, possibly with weapons of mass destruction. Fear of such attacks should not dissuade us from taking action, because, after all, the whole point of the struggle against terrorists, and the regimes that harbor them, is to free ourselves from the grip of fear. Either we suppress that menace and put the Islamo-fascists on the defensive, or Western civilization will decline at an even greater pace than it has been.
The stakes in this showdown are obviously huge, and it is tragic that so few Americans are seriously engaged in a discussion over how to proceed. In my view, Bush needs to be firm and accept some risk, but in the end he will probably need to make some tacit concessions. In this delicate situation, "tacit" means not acknowledged by any government officials. Ironically, the low expectations most people have of our president gives him greater leeway at this critical moment. It wouldn't take much for him to outfox the conventional wisdom by saying or doing something that no one expects, thereby regaining the initiative. The bottom line is that, prior to any push toward a military solution, President Bush must offer a major concession to the Iranian government, and he must do so sincerely. He must provide a clear path for the Iranian leaders to retreat gracefully, even if the chances that they would actually take him up on the offer are small. Only by paying due respect to the nationalistic sensibilities of Iran -- a task that Bush bungled in Iraq, quite frankly -- can the United States hope to neutralize the defiant foreign policy posture of Iran. By putting his own reputation on the line in such a magnanimous gesture, President Bush would stand a much better chance of gaining the consent of major countries around the world for an attack, should all else fail. With such consent, Iran might decide to back down as Zero Hour approached. Without such consent, even a 100-percent successful military strike against Iran would only yield temporary strategic advantages. Prepare for war, but give diplomacy a chance.
April 22, 2006 [LINK]
Birding on Earth Day 2006
It was raining for most of the day, but it was Earth Day, so I decided it was high time to do some outdoor cleanup. I picked up some trash and a few dozen beer bottles strewn around the bushes at Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton, and then took a short walk in search of birds. Warblers are still scarce, but I did see four neotropical species for the first time this season, plus a nice variety of other birds:
- Yellow-rumped warblers (M, F)
- Purple finches (F)
- Hermit thrush
- Red-bellied woodpeckers (M, F)
- Downy woodpeckers (M, F)
- Pileated woodpeckers
- Brown thrashers (loud!)
- White-breasted nuthatches
- Blue-headed vireos
- Ruby-crowned kinglets
- Great crested flycatcher (FOS)
- Blue-gray gnatcatchers (FOS)
- Ruby-throated hummingbird (M) (FOS)
- Indigo bunting (M) (FOS: earliest ever!)
April 3, 2006 [LINK]
Batter UP! Opening Day 2006
Actually, last night was Opening Day for the White Sox and Indians, but the rest of major league teams (except the Twins and Blue Jays) begin their regular seasons today. The first game today is the Nationals against the Mets at Shea Stadium. The Nationals have the same starting pitcher as they did for their inaugural game in Philadelphia last year, the rock-steady Livan Hernandez, but half of the rest of their starting lineup consists of newbies, two of whom were acquired in the off-season. Ryan Zimmerman will be under heavy pressure to live up to the high expectations, but he seems well composed for a guy who is only 21. It reminds me of Mickey Mantle's awkward debut with the Yankees in 1951, trying to fill Joe DiMaggio's big shoes. Zimmerman and Alfonso Soriano got hits in the fourth inning, helping to tie the game 1-1. Not a bad start to the season!
UPDATE: The Nationals had runners in scoring position three times in the latter innings, but fell short of the Mets, 3-2. On the plus side, they had more hits (12) than the Mets (10). Oddly, though, the Mets had one more left on base (10) than the Nats. Just remember, the Nationals lost their first game last year, and then came back to win the series against the Phillies.
Selig stalls on sale of Nats
In Today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell explains the delay in the sale of the Washington Nationals: The publication of the book Game of Shadows forced Commisioner Selig to devote all of his (limited?) attention to grappling with the steroid scandal. He is hopeful that Washington will have its own owner in time for the home opener at RFK Stadium on April 11, but makes it clear that "Any failure at this point would be unconscionable." Even though the finalization of the stadium lease means there is no longer any real chance that the Nationals will be relocated, I'm leaving the likelihood as five percent until the franchise is actually sold.
Retro (?) ballpark T-shirts
Those marketing guys at MLB are making a play for us ballpark aficionados, with a set of "retro stadium ringer" T-shirts. I must say, however, the selection of some of them seems rather odd to me. Who in their right mind would ever consider the Astrodome or Shea Stadium "retro" ballparks? In terms of franchise history, Montreal's Jarry Park might be more appropriate [for the Washington Nationals] than Griffith Stadium, but I'm not complaining. What about Shibe Park, Crosley Field, or Tiger Stadium??? See MLB.com.
Citizens Bank Park
Just in time for the Phillies first game (at home), I have modified the diagram on the Citizens Bank Park page, moving the left field fence back slightly. The change made during the off season is too minor to merit a separate diagram version. For some reactions to this change, see the Philadelphia Inquirer. (link via Mike Zurawski)
April 25, 2006 [LINK]
Sluggers take center stage
After he hit three home runs in the game against Atlanta on Friday night, I'm tempted to say that all is forgiven with Alfonso Soriano. It certainly undercut Jose Vidro's complaints about the fences in RFK Stadium being too deep. With two of the Nationals' sluggers batting in the high .300s (Vidro and Nick Johnson), it is a shame that they don't have a better pitching rotation that might give them a better chance to win. If you look at their lineup, there are a number of very solid hitters -- Soriano, Vidro, Guillen, Johnson -- and a very promising future hitter, Ryan Zimmerman. He got his second career home run in the Nats' 6-5 loss against Cincinnati this evening. After an encouraging winning streak last week, mostly by lopsided margins, they have lost their last three games, and all of them were close.
I had estimated that Nick Johnson's homer in Philadelphia would have gone 440 feet, and Bruce Orser tells me that that was exactly how the experts pegged it: see ESPN. Bruce also informed me that the Phillies' Ryan Howard hit a gigantic home run to center field estimated at 496 feet at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday (see MLB.com), but I'm a bit skeptical. According to my estimates, a ball travelling that far would have landed on the sidewalk outside, or at least hit the roof where those concession stands are.
Barry Bonds hit his first homer of the year on Sunday, and at number 709 in his career, he is only five behind The Babe. See MLB.com. Some have commented that Bonds isn't using his legs for extra power like he used to, as the injury to his knees apparently never completely healed. On top of his existing problems, one wonders if he will have enough energy to play for two more full seasons and thereby have a chance at surpassing Hank Aaron's 755 career mark.
More fan feedback
Christopher Jackman noticed (as did I) that there is now just one center field distance marker at Dodger Stadium; there had been markers on either side of center field. It still says "395," however, and that may be a mistake. Since the early 1980s, according to Lowry's Green Cathedrals, the actual (unmarked) distance to straightaway center field has (or had?) been 400 feet, and as far as I know the diamond has not been moved in recent years, so it must be the same.
"Skippy" called my attention to the fact that the formerly enclosed section in Fenway Park was called the ".406 Club," in memory of Ted William's 1941 batting average, not the "409 Club," as I had written on that page. Oops. Corrections pending.
Speaking of fan feedback, a "Beta version" of the long-awaited stadium feedback feature should be ready by the end of the week. Please stand by.
Originally posted: 25 Apr 2006, 11: 12 PM. HTML correction April 13, 2008.
April 21, 2006 [LINK]
Garcia likely to reach Round 2
In Peru, 95 percent of the votes have been counted, and Alan Garcia now has a lead of 93,000 votes over Lourdes Flores in the race for second place, more than a full percentage point. Hopes by conservatives for a chance to run in the second round election are dwindling fast. The very real possibility that Ollanta Humala will be elected president next month is causing great anxiety among many Peruvians. In a press conference yesterday, he sought to ally fears by promising to respect freedom of the press. See El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish). Of course, Hugo Chavez has said similar things. Older Peruvians remember what happened the last time a government tried to take over the press and television, under the military dictatorship of Juan Velasco in July 1974: violent protests and intensified repression of dissent, undermining stability and respect for authority.
Coincidentally or not, a volcano erupted in southern Peru today, spewing huge clouds of ash. See CNN.com.
Hostage crisis in Bolivia
On Wednesday, three Bolivian cabinet ministers were rescued by police and set free after being taken hostage by protesters a day earlier. They were on a visit to the town of Puerto Suarez in the eastern part of the country, trying to explain to local residents why a proposed steel mill to be built by a Brazilian firm would violate regulations prohibiting foreign ownership of property within 30 miles of the border. There are also environmental concerns, because the steel mill would use charcoal as fuel. See BBC. Mineral coal is very scarce in South America, and large-scale production of charcoal would intensify the problem of deforestation in the Amazon basin. This bizarre incident illustrates the fragile hold on power by the new government of President Evo Morales, and the underlying resentment by the economically progressive province of Santa Cruz, which is culturally distinct from the rest of Bolivia and which has considerable sentiment in favor of secession.
Brutality, hypocrisy in Mexico
As the national elections approach, there are a variety of disturbing signs that something has gone terribly awry in Mexican society. The decapitated heads of two police officers were left in front of a government building in Acapulco (CNN.com), police seem unable to control the exploitive "coyotes" who smuggle people across the U.S. border (CNN.com), and a priest confessed to murdering and dismembering his pregnant girlfriend after she confronted him following mass on Easter Day (CNN.com). Respect for the basic norms of civilization is in rapid decline. And we want them to lecture us on how to treat human beings?
The mainstream media is starting to pick up on the Mexican government's hypocritical attitude regarding immigration. It demands unfettered access to the United States for its people, but refuses to accommodate economic refugees from Central American. See CNN.com.
April 26, 2006 [LINK]
FLASH: Lerners win bid for Nats?
According to Washington's WUSA TV 9*, MLB has decided to sell the Nationals franchise to the family of Theodore Lerner, and an announcement will be made on Friday. This is not a big surprise, as the Lerners had been rumored to be in the lead for several weeks. Bud Selig's office denies that any decision has been made. Today's Washington Post reported that Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients met with MLB officials in Milwaukee on Tuesday. The main obstacle, according to some Post articles, was the lack of minority participation in the Lerner group, which has been partly rectified. Former Braves President Stan Kasten recently agreed to join the Lerners as a major equity partner, which may have tipped the balance in their favor. I would have preferred that Fred Malek's group would have won, since he has been an ardent promoter of baseball in Washington for many years. Mayor Anthony Williams has been on friendly terms with Malek, and noted that the Lerners have been nowhere to be seen during all the controversies over building the new stadium in Washington. Well, at least the out-of-town group led by Jeffrey Smulyan (former Mariners owner) didn't win; that would have made it difficult for the Nationals go maintain good relations with the local community.
* I heard about this from Skip Caray on the TBS broadcast of today's Braves game in Milwaukee.
Corolyn Johnson alerted me to an excellent recent batch of photos of Fenway Park, taken by Tom Carmody at pbase.com.
April 8, 2006 [LINK]
Slow start for Nationals
With Washington down 4-3 in the ninth inning at Shea Stadium on Wednesday night, Ryan Zimmerman's first career home run tied the game, giving the Nats a chance to go ahead and win the game in the tenth inning. It was about as heartwarming a turn of events as you can imagine. See MLB.com. Otherwise, there is not much good news to report. Frank Robinson pulled Alfonso Soriano out of that same game after he seemed to be dragging his feet in left field. Lack of good pitching has cost the Nationals dearly, especially last night in Houston, where they lost 6-1. Meanwhile, the public relations war between Comcast and MASN goes on, though congressional intervention begun by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) may force a reasonable compromise.
Wrigley Field renovations
The Wrigley Field page has been updated with a new diagram showing the newly expanded bleachers. Read all about the improvements at MLB.com; it won't be 100 percent finished until it gets warm enough to paint that section dark green to match the rest of the stadium. The construction was just barely completed on time for the Cubs' home opener yesterday. They made it a special occasion by beating the vaunted Cardinals, who had just swept the Phillies in Philadelphia. [More photos of the "Bud Light Bleachers" (ugh) can be seen at Bleed Cubbie Blue.]
Zurawski's ballpark updates
Mike Zurawski continues to bring to our attention ballpark news from around the nation. As for Kansas City, the referendum on paying for renovations at the Truman Sports Complex in Jackson County, Missouri yielded a split decision. A three-eighth cent sales tax for basic renovations was approved, but a proposed $202 million use tax on businesses to finance the rolling roof (which would have covered either Arrowhead Stadium or Kauffman Stadium) was rejected. It remains to be seen whether the NFL will still hold the Super Bowl in Kansas City in 2015, as outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue had offered as an inducement to get funding for the roof. See the Kansas City Star. I guess that is all for the best; that roof looked scary to me. What if a tornado came through?
The Mets provided further details on their future home, pledging to invest about a half billion dollars of their own money to build the stadium. The overall shape is based on Ebbets Field, which is fine except that the triple-decked grandstand in left field will obstruct the view of Long Island Sound. Harking back to the Polo Grounds, there will be a small section that will hang eight feet over right field. Projected dimensions: LF - 335'; LC - 379'; CF - 408'; RC - 391'; RF - 300'.
Under new ownership, Devil Rays are investing some money into sprucing up Tropicana Field. By [July] or so, they expect to have a large tank full of live rays. It sounds cool, but what if one of them gets hit with a fly ball?
UPDATE: Frisco & Barry
That was quite a remarkable comeback by the Braves against Giants at AT&T Park last night. Of course, I fell asleep just before the Braves' eight-run onslaught after midnight (EDT). The Braves failed to repeat the feat in today's game, but the real story in this series was about Bonds -- Barry Bonds. Scorned almost everywhere else, the tarnished hero received loud cheers from the home town crowd. And why not? Maybe such an expression of undying loyalty will bring a change of heart upon the proud slugger, reconciling himself to the truth before his career is over and thereby salvaging honor for posterity. I sure hope so, anyway.
April 17, 2006 [LINK]
Web site Spring cleaning
As part of my relentless, never-ending efforts to make this Web site more automated and interactive, I have begun a transition to a new blog system that will entail a slight change in Web site addresses. Unless I have slipped up somewhere, you shouldn't notice any differences in page format or functionality for the time being. In a slight departure from blogosphere custom, the blog entries on the archives pages will henceforth be listed in natural chronological order, starting with the earliest date. To me, that makes it a lot easier to review old material. For the time being, the "legacy" blog and archive pages (".shtml") will remain intact, and they will eventually have an automatic redirect to the new pages (".php"). As part of this transition, there will be feedback features in the near future, as long promised. Note that the new Macintosh & Miscellanous page serves as the residual catch-all for all blog posts that don't fit into any other categories. That means general culture, religion, music, movies, science, computer technology, and non-baseball sports. From now on, the monthly and categorical archives pages will include all blog entries, up to and including the current date. Therefore, there will be some overlap between current blog pages and archive pages. Here are the new and old addresses for the main blog categories. Please adjust the bookmarks in your Web browser accordingly, and as always, "thank you for your $upport."
One of the tradeoffs with this new system is that I will lose flexibility in making cross blog posts between more than one category. From now on, each post will appear on one, and only one blog category page. That is why you will see this blog post (classified as "miscellaneous") on the old Baseball blog page, but not the new one.
UPDATE: Another change is that for each successive day, blog posts on the central blog page will henceforth be listed from top to bottom in reverse alphabetical order of their category (wild birds first, baseball last), irrespective of what time of day they were originally posted.
Reminder: Legacy blog pages (ending in ".shtml") will not be updated after today. Please choose one of the new blog pages.
April 25, 2006 [LINK]
More hummers arrive
Though groggy from another late night hacking away at the keyboard, I managed to get outside for a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this beautiful morning:
- Purple finches (M & F)
- Yellow-rumped warbler (M)
- Chipping sparrows
- Field sparrows
- Ruby-throated hummingbirds (F)
and kinglets [see Apr. 27] are gone, but there are still lots of White-throated sparrows hanging around. I'm pretty sure I heard a male Yellow warbler singing in the bushes, but he never came out.
Just as we were sitting down for dinner this evening, a male Ruby-throated hummingbird showed up at our nectar feeder for the first time this spring. That was nice.
April 19, 2006 [LINK]
Rube Goldberg & Honda
Now this is cool: An insanely complicated "Rube Goldberg" contraption based on the parts of a Honda Accord, at albinoblacksheep.com. I haven't seen the ad on TV yet, but it's worth watching even if you're not in the market for a prestigious new passenger vehicle. Apparently it took 605 takes before the whole thing worked right. (via Connie)
April 25, 2006 [LINK]
Turmoil in Nepal: brief respite
Much like Peru, the country of Nepal is full of huge mountains that are populated by millions of poor people, some of whom are induced to join fanatical Maoist resistance movements. In Peru's case, the threat of terrorism was mostly vanquished in the 1990s, but in Nepal the security situation has only grown worse. That was the reason cited by King Gyanendra when he dismissed parliament and assumed total control a little over a year ago. (It was much like the "auto-coup" launched by Alberto Fujimori in Peru in 1992.) The King failed to gain broad support for his emergency actions, however, and opposition to him boiled over this month. When fourteen protesters were killed by police a couple days ago, it was clear that the King's support was crumbling fast. Such lethal episodes signal that security forces can no longer maintain order, and are usually the harbinger of a despot's demise. Yesterday the King relented and agreed to permit parliament to reconvene, prompting a joyous outburst by the dissidents. See Washington Post.
Before you get your hopes up about the spread of democracy in an unstable region of the world, however, take a closer look at those now-jubilant crowds of protesters, many of whom were carrying red flags with yellow hammers and sickles. Indeed, the Maoist rebels vowed to press on with further demands, among which democracy probably does not rank high. Because of overpopulation, the fertile mountain slopes in Nepal are suffering from terrible erosion, which leaves even less for the people to live on, so many of them emigrate to India, which has a population problem of its own. Given the underlying socio-economic pressures in Nepal, and the fierce determination of the rebels, there will certainly be a resumption of large-scale political violence in the coming weeks and months.
April 26, 2006 [LINK]
Short-sighted oil politics
Aware of the huge political risk of further gasoline price hikes as the midterm elections approach, President Bush has ordered an inquiry into whether oil companies are "gouging" the public with artificially high prices. Will this convince populist skeptics of Corporate America? No, it will only feed their suspicions of a Massive Conspiracy. He also ordered a halt to filling the strategic petroleum reserve so as to make more supplies available to the market. See Washington Post. This move might have a slight downward effect on prices, but the main effect will be the convince Iranians that the President is not really serious about launching a preemptive attack during coming months. If we really were headed for war with Iran, global petroleum markets would be thrown into utter turmoil, which is precisely what the strategic petroleum reserve was designed to offset. The President needs to let the American people know that energy scarcity is the price they have to pay for having had it so easy with cheap imports made in China for the past decade or so. The chickens are coming home to roost, and now we have to compete with the emerging Chinese economic giant for what is left of the Earth's dwindling supplies of hydrocarbons.
April 16, 2006 [LINK]
Nationals win two straight
After losing six games in a row, Washington won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Today's hero was Ryan Church, who just got called back from the minor league New Orleans Zephyrs* as Brandon Watson was demoted. (How appropriate for Easter Sunday: Church!) He knocked two home runs today, including the go-ahead shot in the top of the ninth. It was a close-fought, back and forth game, and the Nats finally prevailed, 7-5. It was a beautiful day in Miami, but barely 10,000 folks showed up to watch. I suppose it's hard to maintain fan enthusiasm when the franchise is shopping around for a new home. The Saturday game (final score 2-1) was a classic pitchers' duel, as Jon Patterson struck out 13 batters, tying his personal best.
On the down side, Jose Guillen missed the entire series against the Marlins because of a strained rib muscle. In the fifth inning of Friday's game pitcher Ryan Drese had to leave because of a sore elbow, and today, the Nats' new shortstop Royce Clayton left the game after his left arm was hit by a pitch. With such a thin farm system, the Nationals are especially vulnerable to losses due to injuries.
* The Zephyrs are the only professional sports team from New Orleans that has played all their scheduled home games in their customary venue since Hurricane Katrina struck.
The lack of blog posts recently reflects my "behind-the-scenes" Web site upgrading efforts. Please stand by...
April 5, 2006 [LINK]
More on Mass. health care
I was taken aback to find that Andrew Sullivan has nice things to say about the "experiment" in Massachusetts, the recently passed bill that would oblige all residents to purchase health insurance. If a man who prides himself on being a genuine small-government conservative (as opposed to a Bushian "compassionate" conservative") reacts that way, it would seem that prospects for reforming society along market principles are bleak indeed. Sullivan seems to think that establishing a base level of medical coverage would encourage a genuine market to develop, allowing consumers to make sane choices. He must be terribly naive for overlooking the fact that legislatures are universally prone to force insurance companies to provide X, Y, and Z services. With universal insurance coverage, people will get the medical services they want by demanding them from their elected representatives, rather than paying for them themselves.
Another blog bites the dust
One of the premier Virginia blogs, Sic Semper Tyrannis ("Thus always to tyrants," our state motto), shut down as of April 1. Presumably it was not an April Fool's joke. Now how are people like me supposed to make sense of what's going on in Richmond without a variety of critical perspectives?
The congresswoman from Georgia has said so many outrageous anti-semitic and pro-terrorist things in the past that she would qualify for the unmentionable wackos list if she were not an elected official. Unless she has witnesses to refute the charge that she assaulted a Capitol police officer just for doing his duty in checking IDs, I would say she needs to express humble contrition at her court appearance. No easy task, that.
April 23, 2006 [LINK]
Venezuela quits Andean Community
At a meeting with other presidents in Paraguay last Wednesday, President Hugo Chavez declared that Venezuela will withdraw from the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), a regional economic and political organization. He justified this drastic measure -- which is not yet official -- on the grounds that the free trade agreements that Colombia and Peru reached with the United States have rendered the organization "nonsense." Whether Chavez is serious or not is hard to tell, but it is a very disturbing gesture at the very least. CAN secretary general Allan Wagner, who served as foreign minister of Peru under the Garcia government of the late 1980s, called for an emergency summit meeting. See El Universal (English). The Andean Community has been working on a joint trade agreement with the European Union recently, as was discussed by a meeting of the members' presidents in Chile last month. See comunidadandina.org (English).
For once Chavez actually has a somewhat valid point, though his rhetoric is exaggerated as usual. The Andean Group, as it was originally known (established in 1969), was intended to strengthen trade ties among neighboring countries and reduce trade with the United States and other developed countries, in order to promote industrialization. The group neer lived up to its original high hopes, however, as the varying policy directions of various national government over the years kept pulling it apart. Pinochet pulled Chile out in the late 1970s, and Fujimori practically ignored the Andean Group when he was president, even though the headquarters of the Andean Community is located in Lima. Thus, pursuing free trade agreements with the United States is clearly contrary to one of the Andean Community's basic purposes. Even so, the response by other Andean countries that the trade issue is just an excuse for Chavez to pursue his own grandiose dreams is undoubtedly correct. Pres. Toledo said the work of the group would continue in spite of Venezuela's absence. See El Comercio of Peru. It will take some time before the likely ramifications of this abrupt move are known.
Beyond the immediate fate of this political-economic grouping, there lies the bigger question of, "What is Chavez up to?" He has made clear his desire to renew the dream of Simon Bolivar in forging a broad federation of South American states, which is why he officially renamed his country the "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela." Ironically, that nationalistic appeal may not resonate in one of the countries where the new government is otherwise on very friendly terms with Chavez: Bolivia. The Indian rights movement headed by Evo Morales does not view the liberators Bolivar and San Martin with friendly eyes, but only as replacing one set of European overlords with another. Ethnically speaking, what unites the "core" Andean countries (Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador) is their substantial Indian population and strong Indian culture, expressed in language, art, and music. That tradition is much weaker in Colombia and Venezuela. Ethnic division may ultimately impede the radical-populist movement that is surging through much of South America right now.
Latin America pages revised
The Latin America country background pages have been slightly reformatted and updated with links that conform to the new blogging system. In some cases, the news chronologies have been updated and/or condensed, but much work remains to be done. The "current situations" of each country have been removed from those pages, and are now found only on the Current situation page.
April 30, 2006 [LINK]
New visitor David Schwartz alerted me to the fact that the directional compasses on the Kauffman Stadium diagrams were wrong, so I fixed them. Center field is toward the northeast, not due north. (The confusion arose because Interstate 70 is not straight east-west in the area where the stadium is located.) While I was at it, I also corrected the dugouts and updated the text on that page. Note that the links at the bottom of that page refer to pages that are not yet "ready for prime time."
Day of slaughter
Some pretty big scores were racked up yesterday: the Tigers beat the Twins, 18-1; the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 17-6; and the Brewers beat the Cubs, 16-2. The Tigers just finished their best opening month since 1984, and are now only one game behind the White Sox. After the disappointments of recent years, it's about time!
It was a different story for the Nationals, however: They let slip a razor-close pitchers' duel when Albert Pujols hit a solo shot that gave the Cardinals a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, and that was all they needed. Livan Hernandez finally started living up to the high standards he established last year, allowing only three hits over seven innings, but the Nats left 11 men on base, wasting their nine hits. This afternoon they were ahead after four innings, but Zach Day (in his first game as a Nat after being let go last year) and the bullpen collapsed, as the Cards won 9-2. Well, at least the Nationals avoiding being swept in that four-game series in St. Louis.
D.C. officials announced that the ceremonial groundbreaking on the new stadium will take place this Thursday, May 4, presumably with the designated new owners of the Washington Nationals present. Friday's Washington Post reported that Bud Selig is still anguishing over the decision, which seems pretty far-fetched to me. MLB owners are expected to approve the sale of the franchise when they meet in New York on May 17-18.
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
Flores' only hope: expat votes
As of dawn Tuesday, Alan Garcia's lead over Lourdes Flores is now nearly a full percentage point, with 80 percent of the votes counted. Flores cannot be counted out, however: So far she has received 62.2 percent of the votes cast by Peruvians living abroad, of whom nearly a half million are eligible to vote, and only 3.8 percent of those votes have been tabulated so far. Garcia has received only 8.5 percent of those votes, and Humala only 8.0 percent. Voters residing in foreign countries comprise 2.8 percent of the Peruvian electorate. See El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish). If those trends continue, an admittedly big if, Flores would prevail over Garcia by a comfortable margin in the race for the number two spot. In any case, it will take several days or even weeks to finish the vote counting, and there are likely to be a lot of heated arguments over alleged irregularities. This situation is reminiscent of the controversy over handling ballots cast by U.S. servicemen overseas in recent presidential elections. The possibility that overseas votes might tip the balance toward Flores constitutes Peru's only real hope for the future at this point, which would provide an entirely new aspect to weighing the pros and cons of undocumented immigration into the United States, where most Peruvian expatriates live. Living in the Land of Liberty, where contrasting ideas are openly debated in public forums and no one is afraid to express their opinion, gives one a new perspective on social and economic issues.
NOON UPDATE: With 84 percent of the votes counted, Flores continues to slip further behind Garcia, who has 24.7 percent to her 23.6 percent.
UPDATE: Annex Mexico??
That's what Glenn Reynolds suggests, and he is not being entirely facetious. The point is, as I have argued over and over again, is that job-seekers leave Mexico and other Third World countries because their corrupt political systems stifle opportunities for their own people. Therefore, any concessions by the United States on immigration must be matched by reciprocity in terms of economic policy by countries that have gotten used to "exporting" workers rather than face up to the need for reform. ¡No más!
At some point, the United States will have to confront the ugly question of what to do about countries whose governments are so irresponsible that there is no hope for poor people to ever make a decent living in their own country. Imperialism is often regarded as a thing of the past, just as sovereignty is. As those of us who follow politics in the Third World know, however, sovereignty is at the top of the list of the national agenda. This asymmetry cannot go on for long. Either they let in our "exploiting" investors to hire people in their own countries, or we shut the door to further immigration. The question is whether this could be done on a selective basis, targetting the countries with the worst government, like Haiti, Venezuela, or ... Cuba. Therein lies the big irony in all this, folks: Our historical practice of favoring the victims of economic oppression in Castro's hell hole has created an ironic incentive for other countries in Latin America to follow in Cuba's footsteps. It's time to exert the potential leverage we have had and insist that the principles of NAFTA (and now CAFTA) be carried out.
April 27, 2006 [LINK]
Warblers on Bell's Lane
If you think this is a warbler, you flunk Birding 101. It is actually a male American goldfinch, in full breeding plumage, just outside our window. That Pine siskin showed up at this very spot again today. Behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, I saw:
- Ruby-crowned kinglet (*)
- Cedar waxwing
- Purple finches
(* -- Late lingering; I thought they had all headed north by now.) I had much better luck in the evening, as I saw two warbler species for the first time this season while strolling along Bell's Lane.
- Yellow warbler (M, FOS), chasing:
- Yellow-rumped warblers (M, F)
- Prairie warbler (FOS)!!!
- White-crowned sparrows (*)
- E. phoebe
- E. bluebird (M)
- House finches (M, F)
- Cedar waxwings
- Red-winged blackbirds (M, F), everywhere
!!! According to my records, that was the first Prairie warbler I have seen in six whole years! That's hard to believe... Oh, and there were three Mallards in our swimming pool.
April 13, 2006 [LINK]
Nationals get swept at home
Except for the sixth inning in yesterday's game, the Nationals were never really in the competition during their home opening series against the Mets. They have now lost five games in a row, with the worst record (2-8) among all major league teams. Ouch. Well, we all knew that the failure to put together a solid pitching rotation during the off season meant that this year would be more difficult than last year. The Soriano episode plus the lingering ownership and financial questions have had a depressing effect on the team, as they face the first "normal" (post-honeymoon) year in their new home. I'm not worried. What they accomplished last year will stay in our memories for a long time, and will give us fans something to fall back on in times of trouble, like now, for instance.
The big drama this week was whether there would be any fisticuffs or retaliation against Pedro Martinez. Known to be high-spirited, Jose Guillen restrained himself, maintaining "bipartisan" decorum. Every day I am becoming more convinced that Guillen is a perfect fit for the Nationals. Ever since he left LAnaheim under a cloud of resentment, he has found a true home in D.C., and he has matured even as he maintains his upbeat, zestful approach to the game. He is not only a good slugger, he is a major morale booster on the squad. And boy, do the Nationals need one!
UPDATE: Jose Vidro has been complaining about how hard it is to hit home runs at RFK Stadium, but for some reason it hasn't been as hard for the opposing teams. He thinks that the team's management doesn't care about what the players want. Such discontent by the team's senior member is not a good sign. For his part, Jose Guillen has decided that he can live with the wide open spaces at RFK. See MLB.com.
The slow selling of the Nationals
The Washington Post reports that the Lerner family's bid to purchase the Nationals has been undermined by the lack of participation by minority investors. They had been considered the front-runners, so I assume this means that the Fred Malek-Jeffrey Zients partnership now has the inside track. Jeffrey Smulyan, the former owner of the Seattle Mariners, was interviewed at RFK Stadium on Home Opening Day, and he professes to be very optimistic.
Has the team been sold already? There were rumors last month that the Lerners believed they already had they deal locked up. According to Tom Bridge at Metroblogging Washington, the ushers at RFK Stadium have been hired directly by the Nationals, and no longer work for the D.C. government. (Motto: "Service with a frown ... if we decide to show up for work.") Bridge believes this means that Bud Selig has already decided on an owner for the Nats. (via David Pinto)
Even though the television wars rage on, the Nationals' clever marketing ploys in print and on the tube means that there must be somebody with brains in the team's provisional front office. In one TV ad, there's a young, urban group doing some kind of hip hop dance routine. I can dig it ... well, almost.
Fenway Park expansion
The Fenway Park page has an updated diagram showing the newly expanded upper deck. Mike Zurawski came across a fan photo showing the grandstand behind third base, which helped in making a last-minute correction to the diagram. If anyone recognizes the people in that photo, please tell them thank you for helping to make my diagrams more accurate. Mike laments the additional advertising billboards on and around the Green Monster, but that's what it used to be like, before the 1940s. At least they made sure that muted colors were used so as to avoid distracting fans or the players.
April 10, 2006 [LINK]
Garcia pulls ahead of Flores
All day long today, the voting tabulations in Peru showed that Lourdes Flores' margin over Alan Garcia [in the race for second place] was shrinking, and by the evening he had grabbed a slight lead. According to the latest figures, with 79 percent* of the ballots counted, Garcia has 24.9 percent to 24.3 percent for Flores. At this point it would take a huge swing in the late-counted districts for Flores to make up that difference, so it looks like Garcia will face the front-runner Ollanta Humala in Round Two. Because of widespread fears of what Humala might do if he wins in the second round, either Garcia or Lourdes would probably pick up a large portion of the votes cast for each other in the first round and stand a very good chance to defeat Humala. For those who are familiar with Garcia's disastrous first term as president, from 1985 to 1990, the idea that he would be considered the mature, responsible alternative in the upcoming election is almost too ironic to believe.
It is especially ironic that this apparent devastating setback for the cause of economic freedom and opportunity in Peru coincides with the mass protests by immigrants-rights advocates in the United States. Another catastrophe in Peru like what happened in the 1980s would add huge pressure for more immigration to the U.S.A.
* I apparently misinterpreted the election returns reported in the late update yesterday when I wrote that 83 percent of the votes had been counted as of 9:00 P.M.
April 24, 2006 [LINK]
Double standards on leaks?
I have to confess that at first I didn't grasp the spin in Sunday's Washington Post about the firing of Mary McCarthy, the CIA officer who apparently leaked the existence of secret CIA-run prisons to newspaper reporters. The story basically portrayed her as the victim of a political witch hunt by the Bush White House, but at least it made it clear why her offense was considered so grave:
CIA officials, without confirming the information in the article, have said the disclosure harmed the agency's relations with unspecified foreign intelligence services. "The consequences of this leak were more serious than other leaks," said a former intelligence official in touch with senior agency officials. "That's what inspired this [firing]."
Today's Post acknowledged a critical fact that had been omitted on Sunday: Ms. McCarthy was a major contributor to the Democrat Party, giving $2,000 to the Kerry campaign alone. Wouldn't that have been a useful piece of information to consider in making a judgment about her motivations? Now, it may well be that she was acting in the sincere belief that the secret prisons had to be publicized for our nation's own good, but if so she must accept the punishment that is due for stepping out of line -- way out of line. Ironically, today's article was entitled "Democrats Suggest Double Standards on Leaks." Hmmm. Many aspects of this case raise my eyebrows: Ms. McCarthy worked in the CIA internal inspector's office, which is supposed to guard against leaks, among other things. How did a person who has so little regard for the rules that intelligence officials are solemnly sworn to uphold ever get into such a position?
It was back in November that Washington Post reporter Dana Priest divulged the existence of secret prisons for terrorists in certain Eastern European countries. What Ms. Priest said in a Post online chat at the time now makes me wonder: "No one from the CIA and no one who used to be in the CIA proposed that I write the article I did. On the contrary." Really?
Since this case has become hopelessly politicized, I figured I ought to check out the lefty spin. Josh Marshall calls this a "political purge" and "abuse of power from the White House," but he completely glossed over the Kerry/Democrat connection to McCarthy. Instead, he shifts the focus to retired CIA official Tyler Drumheller, who says his views were ignored by the Senate committee investigating intelligence failures. It sounds like a smokescreen to me.
I'm not 100% comfortable with the idea of President Bush allowing the identity of Valerie Plame to be made known (see July 18), and his statements on the matter have not always been consistent, but it is clear that as commander in chief he does have discretion to release sensitive information if he believes it is in the national interest. Those who say that Mary McCarthy only did the same thing as Bush did should remember that she is not the President of the United States.
April 2, 2006 [LINK]
Blue-headed vireos in Blue Ridge
It was a beautiful, clear, balmy day here in Virginia, so I drove up to the Blue Ridge and joined a friend for a three-mile hike in the area north of Humpback Rocks. Almost immediately I heard what I thought was a Yellow-throated vireo, but could not spot it. I heard several others along the way, and when I finally saw one singing, I realized that it was actually a Blue-headed vireo. It was one of the earliest dates in the season I had ever seen a vireo; the early-arrival record for me is March 30, 2000. Early in the hike, we also heard some loud honking calls, like a squeeze toy, and soon saw two Sharp-shinned hawks flying around in a courtship ritual; one of them was building a nest. Other birds we saw were either courting or building nests, and a return visit to that trail should provide some good opportunities to see nestlings, in another month or so. Today's list:
- Sharp-shinned hawks (nest!)
- Yellow-bellied sapsuckers (M, F)
- Juncos (M, F)
- Hairy woodpeckers (2M, 1F)
- Phoebe (nest!)
- Blue-headed vireos (FOS)
- White-breasted nuthatches
- Ravens (nest!)
- Red-tailed hawk
April 20, 2006 [LINK]
McClellan leaves; Rove demoted
At least that's what they want you to think. The likelhood that Karl Rove will give up any substantial amount of power in the White House is minimal at best. No doubt, the new chief of staff Josh Bolten wants to be in charge of policy-making, and President Bush wants to make every gesture to make it seem that way. The question is whether Bush and others in the White House have recognized that there is a big difference between what is necessary to win elections (politics) and what is necessary to run a government (policy). The Clinton White House had the same problem, and was often criticized for being in "perpetual campaign mode" under James Carville. In the Washington Post, Dan Balz interprets this to mean that the White House is in "survival mode." I think that is going a bit far. I am by no means a huge fan of Mr. Bush, and [even though] I give him credit for his determination to carry on in the war against Islamo-fascism, I never expected that much from him in terms of domestic policy. I will give him this, however: He has shown a consistent ability to bounce back from adversity and surprise critics by exceeding their low expectations of him. I'm not banking on a spectacular comeback in his last three years, but he may just end up with a more-or-less satisfactory job performance -- as long as he listens to conservative critics and stops relying first and foremost on Karl Rove.
I figured this would be a good moment to check out Talking Points Memo for the first time in a while; Josh Marshall observes: "unless I'm missing something, this 'shake-up' has yet to see anyone actually penetrate the Bush White House bubble." He also thinks it's strange that no replacement for McClellan has been announced. A caller to Rush Limbaugh said he should take the job, and of course Rush demurred on the grounds he wouldn't take the pay cut. According to the Washington Post, former Rush fill-in and current Fox News host Tony Snow is a leading candidate, as is Pentagon spokesman Dan Senor, who recently married NBC political correspondent Campbell Brown. Either of those guys would be just fine, I think.
UPDATE: "Shad* Planking" 2006
I briefly thought about attending the annual political whoop-dee-do down in Wakefield, Virginia, but decided I'm just not well [enough] versed in what's going on in the Old Dominion to make it worth my while. It is a bipartisan tradition that was intended to get everyone together in a friendly, informal atmosphere, hopefully overcoming the bitterness and distrust of politics as usual. Given the unfathomable showdown in Richmond between Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House of Delegates right now, there must have been a lot of whispering and intrigues going on among the politicos. The Washington Post reported that the event was dominated by a big George Allen contingent, and the photos on Steve Kijak's Right Side Va blog confirm that.
* For you folks in Rio Linda, shad is a fish related to the herring that spends most of the year along the Atlantic coast, but heads upstream to spawn in rivers every spring, when they are easiest to catch. It is tasty but bony, which is apparently why it is cooked over charcoal between wooden planks, so that the meat will come off more easily. Also, shad roe (eggs, like caviar) is a popular delicacy. For more, see The Founding Fish, by John McPhee. [See amazon.com.]
April 9, 2006 [LINK]
Humala leads Garcia and Flores
According to exit polls conducted by four different organizations in Peru, Ollanta Humala has won about 30 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections, while his rivals Alan Garcia and Lourdes Flores won about 25 percent each. The consistency of the preliminary soundings is striking. There were some noisy protesters at the voting station in San Borja (on the east side of Lima) where he and his wife Nadine cast their votes, requiring police protection for the candidate. Vague accusations of fraud were made, but so far there are no serious irregularities other than normal delays and long lines. See CNN.com and El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish).
UPDATE: As of 9:00,
83 percent of the votes had been counted in Peru, and Lourdes Flores is in second place, with 24.9 percent, while Alan Garcia trails with 23.5 percent. Ollanta Humala is holding steady in first place at about 30 percent. Unless there are a lot of uncounted precincts in Trujillo and other northern cities where APRA is known to be strong, it would appear that Flores is in good shape to go to the second round.
Chavez warns U.S. ambassador
After another incident in which Venezuelan mobs assaulted U.S. ambassador William Brownfield, hitting his car with eggs and tomatoes, Hugo Chavez blamed the victim. He said, "I'm going to throw you out of Venezuela if you continue provoking the Venezuelan people." Preoccupied with the far more menacing rogue regime in Iran, the State Department is in no mood to play games with clownish wanna-be's. See CNN.com.
April 5, 2006 [LINK]
Humala warns of uprising
The populist candidate in the upcoming elections in Peru, Ollanta Humala, uttered more menacing words in an interview with the Argentine newspaper Pagina 12 (in Spanish). He warned that if conservative Lourdes Flores Nano is elected, the same thing would happen in Peru as elsewhere in Latin America: a popular uprising by poor people to forcibly overthrow the president. It is a possible outcome, but everything I remain convinced that Peruvian state institutions are more solid than those in Bolivia and Ecuador, and respect for authority is correspondingly much stronger. Perhaps to allay fears that his implied threat might prompt, Humala identified himself as a nationalist, like Charles DeGaulle (!), disavowing any ideological inclination toward either the Left or the Right, but of course, that's what they all say. He made it clear that he looks forward to working with the "progressive" (leftist) leaders that have come to power elsewhere in South American in recent years. He also denied having taken part in any torture or human rights violations when he was a military commander during the war against the Shining Path in the early 1990s, while downplaying the need for amnesty. In addition, he declared his intention to review the environmentally controversial Camisea natural gas pipeline contract, in which Argentine firms have invested. Finally, he said he aspires to good relations with the United States, but insists that there be a distinction between growing coca leaves and producing cocaine. That, of course, echoes the policy of President Evo Morales in Bolivia.
Debt relief for Bolivia?
As the Inter-American Development Bank holds its annual meeting in Brazil, Evo Morales is proposing that Bolivia's debt to that bank be wiped off the books, along with the debts of the other poor countries in Latin America: Haiti, Honduras, Guyana, and Nicaragua. Bolivia is the biggest debtor to the IADB. See BBC. Since the late 1970s, Bolivia has ranked among the most deeply indebted countries in the world, and its aggregate debt burden is often more than half of its entire gross domestic product. Substantial progress was made in reducing that burden during the 1990s, as the country's economy enjoyed a boom thanks to sound monetary and fiscal policies as well open trade policies. There was lingering resentment over the distribution of those benefits, however, eventually exploding into the populist backlash that brought Evo Morales to power. Unless Morales changes course and becomes more pragmatic as Jaime Paz and other left-of-center leaders in Bolivia, there is a great risk that all of the sacrifices endured by Bolivian people during the years of stabilization and adjustment will have been utterly wasted. Back to the drawing board...
My basic position on Third World debt relief is that any such campaign should be at the grass-roots level, not involving sovereign governments. If you want U.S. banks to forgive debts to poor countries, tell your own bank that you will be glad to absorb your share of the loss if they agree to do so. It may seem like a trivial gesture, but it carries a lot more meaning than some protest sign.
Mexican elections & Venezuela
In the New York Post, former Clinton adviser Dick Morris claims that Hugo Chavez is pouring millions of dollars into the campaign of leftist candidate Angel Manuel Lopez Obrador. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) recently informed Mexican legislators about intelligence reports he received to that effect. Given the clear ambitions of Chavez to lead a continent-wide bloc against the United States, it would be surprising if he were not providing financial support to the Mexican Left. If Chavez doesn't start showing some restraint, he is going to offend the otherwise friendly nationalistic leaders in Brazil and Argentina, which because of their great size and stage of economic development, regard themselves as the "proper" leaders of the region. The same is true of Mexico, but it is less involved in South American affairs.
According to the pro-democracy blog Publius Pundit Felipe Calderón (of the conservative PAN) is four percentage points ahead of "AMLO" (of the PRD) in the latest polls, for whatever that's worth.
April 12, 2006 [LINK]
Counting votes in Peru
With 88 percent of the votes counted, Humala has 31.0 percent, Garcia has 24.4 percent, and Flores has 23.3 percent. Only eight percent of the overseas votes have been counted, however, and the lead of Flores among expatriate Peruvians has climbed to 72 percent. APRA is seeking to nullify ballots cast in several overseas cities, including New York, Miami, Milan, and others. Jorge del Castillo charged that campaign activities on behalf of Lourdes Flores were taking place right outside voting places, contrary to law. Of course, it is difficult to enforce Peruvian law in other countries. Whoever wins second place, Humala says he will not be part of any political alliance in the second round election campaign. See CNN.com and El Comerico of Peru (in Spanish).
While the votes were being counted, President Alejandro Toledo traveled to Washington to witness the signing of the free trade treaty with the United States. Peru's minister of foreign trade and tourism, Alfredo Ferrero, and the U.S. special trade representative, Rob Portman, signed the document. If either Humala or Garcia takes office on July 28, however, the agreement might end up being nullified. Both men are strongly against free trade with the United States.
Spanish arm sale to Venezuela
In spite of U.S. objections, the government of Spain is going ahead with the sale of ten military transport planes and eight patrol boats to Venezuela. The deal is worth $2 billion, the biggest military sale in Spain's history; negotiations on it began in November. The CASA CN-235 planes normally contain U.S.-made parts, but because of U.S. restrictions on sale of military technology to hostile countries, the Spanish company EADS-Casa will have to find substitute parts from some other supplier. See CNN.com. It is hard to remember the last time that a country that was recently a close ally of the United States took such an abrupt turn and began providing strategic assets to a country that is an avowed enemy. One can only imagine the consternation in the State Department, and the icy personal relationships with the diplomatic representatives of Spain in Washington.
April 15, 2006 [LINK]
Judas and the Gnostic heresies
There was a lot of commentary last week about the National Geographic special on the "Gospel according to Judas," some papyrus scrolls that were found in Egypt and recently rediscovered in someone's bank vault. The Washington Post explains the background of the writings which may be interpreted as a self-justification by the disciple who betrayed Jesus, or else, more likely, by someone else with his own theological agenda to promote. Donald Sensing took a hiatus from his hiatus to comment on this, and concludes that there's just not much there to get excited about. He explains for us lay people (he is an ordained minister) how it was that the bishops of the early Christian church decided which documents were considered valid and which were not.
There seem to be a lot of parallels between the "Gospel according to Judas," and the "Gospel according to Thomas," the apocryphal writings of the apostle who doubted the divinity of Jesus. Both Thomas and Judas are revered by the Gnostics, a little-known offshoot of Christianity that emphasizes occult knowledge as the path to salvation. It is a message that is clearly contradicts the teachings of Jesus according to the four canonical gospels. In other words, it is heretical. I was surprised to learn in graduate school that there are many adherents of gnosticism even today in parts of Latin America. I myself have seen Gnostic temples in Lima, Peru and San Jose, Costa Rica, but I couldn't tell you what they are up to.
UPDATE (Apr. 16): Thanks to Phil Faranda for linking to this post. To see a photo of the "Gnostic Institute of Anthropology" in San Jose, click on the camera icon below. You thought I was just making that up?
April 5, 2006 [LINK]
Sparrows, sparrows, everywhere
A Field sparrow was foraging in our back yard today, a quite unusual occurrence. Fortunately, it lingered long enough for me to get a decent photo. They are distinguished by an overall pale buff color, with a reddish brown crown, pink beak, gray face, and a white eye ring. There was also a Chipping sparrow, which is also a migrant species, but is more commonly seen inside the city limits. Soon the White-throated sparrows will molt into their bright breeding plumage, and then head north for the summer. To compare the Field sparrow to the much more common Song sparrow, roll the mouse over the image.
April 7, 2006 [LINK]
Sandinistas on the comeback trail
Remember the Cold War? Remember the Iran-Contra scandal and protests against the Reagan administration's policies in Central America? Well, I do. It would seem, however, that a large number of people in Nicaragua have forgotten the disasters inflicted upon them by the Sandinista government, if the leader of that party, Daniel Ortega, continues his recent climb in the polls. As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." On the other hand, perhaps Ortega himself has learned something from his past mistakes: He declared that he "welcomes U.S. investment and tourism." Dissident Sandinista Herty Lewites will run against Ortega in the November elections. The conservative candidate is Eduardo Montealegre. See CNN.com. It so happened that the Sandinistas broke into separate factions just as I was visiting Nicaragua a little over a year ago (Feb. 27, 2005). Ortega has been using the residual power wielded by the Sandinistas in the courts, bureaucracy, and military forces to subvert democratic institutions. Does Hugo Chavez have anything to do with this?
Wedding vows exchanged
As he had promised, former President-for-life Alberto Fujimori (who is still incarcerated in Chile) married his wealthy girlfriend Satomi Kataoka just before the Peruvian elections on Sunday. Apparently, the only "ceremony" was when she filed the necessary papers in Japan before flying to Peru. In a campaign rally for her new husband's party in San Juan de Lurigancho (site of an infamous prison), she spoke in Japanese. It makes you wonder what kind of first lady she would have been if Fujimori had succeeded in running for president again. Santiago Fujimori, the former president's brother and a vice presidential candidate, translated her words into Spanish. See CNN.com.