"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
August 29, 2008
POLITICS: Sound and Fury
My take on Obama's speech last night, before it gets completely overshadowed by the McCain VP announcement (if it's indeed Palin, now we know what John McCain wanted for his birthday: Barack Obama's news cycle):
1. Yes, it's hard for me to objectively evaluate a speech of this nature by a Democrat, but I can say this: it wasn't a dud like Kerry in 2004 and wasn't power-mad like Gore in 2000, but it also wasn't full of "how can we possibly beat this guy" moments like one of Clinton's speeches. Only in the MLK homage did his rhetoric really soar, and his "specifics" still seemed either vague, small-bore, shopworn or implausible in light of his record.
2. Obama said nothing at all that will be remembered a week from now - no Cross of Gold, no "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," no "kinder, gentler America," no "Bridge to the 21st century." If there was a unifying theme, it eluded me.
3. Probably Obama's most effective claim - I lack the time to deal with this one today - was his promise to cut taxes. Also his promise to eliminate government programs. Neither bears any relationship whatsoever to his record or his campaign to date.
4. Almost certainly the flimsiest part of the speech was where Obama basically said "I know we disagree on abortion, guns, immigration and same-sex marriage, but surely we can all agree on some talking points on these issues that Democrats have been using for years."
5. Someone should tell Obama to stop using the "my brother's keeper line" as long as George Obama is living on $1 a month in a shanty in Kenya.
6. The set wound up being less pompous than billed, but still reminded me of Bill Maher's old set:
UPDATE: I wrote too fast this morning and missed a crucial point I had wanted to make. A year ago, Democrats were full of woe about the future of Iraq. Last night, the worst Obama could think to say about the state of Iraq is that they are running a budget surplus.
POLITICS: The Suspense Is Killing Me
Well, I will say this for John McCain: the man and his team can keep a secret. The leaks on his VP selection process have been self-evidently intentional and savvy, and here we are the morning of the announcement knowing no more for certain than ever before. Last night it seemed nearly 100% certain that he was taking Tim Pawlenty, and now Pawlenty says it's not him and he won't be in Dayton today. Conflicting reports on whether Mitt Romney will be in Dayton or not; I believe he's still scheduled to be at the second stop of the day in Missouri, but Fox is reporting it's not him. And word is suddenly out that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has chartered a flight from Anchorage to Dayton, presumably not for the scenery...but at this point, I don't even know what to believe.
PS - Quick take, now that it increasingly seems to be Palin: whether this is a success or not will depend very heavily on how well she holds up debating Biden on national security.
August 28, 2008
I missed a good deal of the first two nights of the Democratic Convention and only caught last night's action on the radio after the Mets game ended (which conveniently was right before Biden went on) plus some TV highlights of Bill Clinton's speech, so I can't really speak to the growing sentiment from pundits on both sides of the aisle that the Convention is lacking in a coherent theme and unlikely to produce the kind of post-Convention polling bounce enjoyed by dynamic campaigns like the Dukakis campaign in 1988. I will say that Biden last night was fiesty, if scattered, although his alternative/revisionist history of the Iraq War, in which the success of the surge proved Obama right in opposing it and calling for a complete withdrawal by March 2008, was positively surreal. And the clips I saw of Bill Clinton suggest that the man still hasn't lost his flair.
But if Obama was looking to come off more like a rock star than a potential Leader of the Free World with his (apparently) impromptu appearance to steal the scene from Biden last night, he certainly did a good job of it, barking that "If I'm not mistaken, Hillary Clinton rocked the house last night" and talking about moving the party elsewhere (specifically, "Mile High Stadium," which no longer exists -
Meanwhile, we shall see how well John McCain's campaign tonight avoids what tripped up Obama in keeping a secret of his VP pick, scheduled for rollout Friday in Dayton Ohio - the need to move the candidate and his or her Secret Service detail into the location. Then again, (1) McCain hasn't made a big deal of promising his supporters a text message in advance of media reports (McCain's more interested in the voters who go to bed after the evening news) and (2) if word somehow leaks and steals some of the spotlight from Obama's speech tonight, I'm sure the McCain camp won't be heartbroken (ordinarily I'd consider that cheesy to step on Obama's big day but with only one business day between the two Conventions, it's a necessary evil).
BASEBALL: Uneasy Lies The Head
All I gotta say on the last two nights' Mets-Phillies games is, maybe sometimes it is better not to have the early lead.
August 27, 2008
POLITICS: Cantor for VP
We had a roundtable yesterday on the GOP Veepstakes over at RedState (as you can see, among the Contributors there we have a major divergence not only over the right VP pick but over McCain's odds in this election - and yes, that's former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith taking the view that McCain is a lost cause). I ultimately came to the conclusion that McCain should pick Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor, a view I and the other Directors of the site formally endorsed here. Obviously the chief consideration is that Cantor's the most conservative of the remaining plausible candidates, and he's smart and articulate. Cantor wasn't my ideal choice - I preferred Mark Sanford or Don Carcieri - but he's the best of the group that seems to be currently under consideration.
Cantor would be considered a little light on experience for a presidential candidate, but (1) McCain at the top of the ticket already has experience to burn, and (2) Cantor is obviously more experienced than Obama, having been in Congress twice as long and in House leadership since Obama was in the Illinois statehouse (like Dick Cheney, Cantor managed the unusual accomplishment of being named to a leadership position after just a single term in the House); he passes the basic threshold for credibility in the job, and should have no problem taking the same stage with Joe Biden. As I note in the roundtable there are different cases in their resumes and profiles for picking guys like Pawlenty (who has the most experience as a public executive) or Romney (who brings the private-sector business experience), but Cantor's the guy among the remaining candidates who stands the best chance of firing up the base, and he's been more involved in national security policy for the past 8 years than the other two, while avoiding some of the pitfalls of the more outside-the-box choices.
I should note that while John Kasich's name still comes up I have no idea if he's ever been considered - Kasich would also be a fine choice.
August 26, 2008
BASEBALL: Stuff About Stuff
In case you have missed it, The Hardball Times has had two recent looks at Mets starting pitchers and where and how they are locating their pitches - Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez. Santana may yet end up leading the league in ERA and innings pitched, but THT notes his alarming drop in strikeout rate, which I had assumed was tied pretty directly to lost velocity, but THT's numbers indicate no loss compared to 2007 (there's no data shown for his Cy Young campaigns) and seems more concerned about movement on his fastball declining from outstanding to just good. Santana has a 2.13 ERA since June 1, third best in the game in that period, but he's done it by controlling the high HR rate that plagued him in 2007 and early 2008, possibly at the expense of the K rate. Meanwhile, it seems that Pedro's lost velocity is making his slider far less effective. Meanwhile, Maine is back on the DL. The Mets have no good options, although if they intend to give Neise a shot, better to try him out now rather than have to throw him to the wolves with no margin for error as they did to Phil Humber last year.
August 25, 2008
POLITICS: Biden in Plain Sight
Two sets of thoughts on Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate - more on this to follow:
1. Gaffe-Tastic! The initial gut reaction of essentially every Republican I know was giddiness. Biden's the most gaffe-prone politician I have ever seen, and if you think about the competition that is a truly impressive accolade. Others have spent more time cataloguing Biden's taste for his own shoes or the things he has said that are wholly inconsistent with Obama's message...one thing Obama has going for him, of course, is that it is absolutely impossible for Biden to lose Obama the support of African-American voters if he makes yet another of his famous racially insensitive remarks, which once upon a time brought calls for his head from lefty bloggers. Then there's his equally famously interminable monologues disguised as questions that anyone who watched the Bork, Thomas, Roberts or Alito hearings remembers well - he has a famous habit of starting sentences without a thought in the world of how he intends to end them. I've long described Biden as a sort of Senatorial equivalent to a boy raised by wolves; he entered the Senate at 29 just four years out of law school, and spent all of his 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s surrounded by Senators, and sometimes seems unable to remember how to talk to people who are not Senators. Biden once cracked that a typical Rudy Giuliani sentence was a noun, a verb and 9/11, but a typical Joe Biden sentence starts with "I," ends with "me" and takes the longest possible route between the two. And sometimes, there's just....
STEWART: "Is there anything in Delaware the Bidens don't control?"
In a way, Biden is sort of like McCain: he's unscripted and unpredictable, and you never know what he's going to say next. Leaving aside the other dissimilarities between the two - more on which below - I've noted in the past that this can be a strength of McCain's...but nobody in his right mind would pick John McCain as a running mate, because you get the downside of his being constantly off-message, off the reservation or just plain off on his own planet, without the upsides.
2. What He Brings To The Table: All that said, Biden's fiesty speech on Saturday was a good reminder that while he's a risky pick due to his inability to stop himself from saying silly things, he does bring some benefits to the ticket. Biden's an affable, likeable guy; McCain likes him, Bush likes him, even I kind of like him. Despite his bouts of impenetrable Senatitis, he at least doesn't speak in that horrible robotic Hillaryspeak in which every single thing in his life has to be reduced to a trite sermon on public policy, doesn't use language that's focus-grouped within an inch of its life, doesn't talk like he thinks he's the only guy in the room who finished the fourth grade; this is a major departure for Democrats. He's likely to play much better with blue-collar white voters than Obama. (The papers stressed Biden's Scranton birth, but he hasn't lived in Pennsylvania since 1952; McCain's lived in Virginia more recently than that).
Obama had a choice of which of his many weaknesses to shore up with his running mate; clearly his main focus was the charge of foreign policy inexperience. Biden really doesn't have the ideal resume for a presidential candidate - like Obama, he has no executive experience, no military experience, no business experience. But with 36 years in the Senate, nobody seriously doubts that he'd be capable of stepping into the role of Commander-in-Chief at a moment's notice.
(BTW, the fact that neither Obama nor Biden has really ever had any responsible job other than lawyer and politician is a major reason why McCain may be leaning towards Romney - for all my well-catalogued dislike of Romney as a presidential candidate, the fact is that a McCain-Romney ticket would contrast their extensive military and business backgrounds before politics with two guys who have basically only been lawyers and legislators - see Dean Barnett's excellent look at Obama's career. By contrast, I have to think the Biden pick works against Joe Lieberman - not only does it seem crazy for both parties to pick tickets of two Senators given the awful history of Senators in presidential politics and the historic low approval record of Congress, but with Obama picking a safe East Coast blue-stater rather than a guy who scrambles the map, the case for a high-risk choice like Lieberman seems much weaker).
Biden's also serious about national security, or at least tries to be; he hasn't tended to fall into the John Kerry habit of reflexively echoing the talking points of America's enemies. But his judgment in foreign affairs is also notoriously erratic - just on Iraq, while he supported the current Iraq War, he opposed the 1991 Gulf War; he also spent much of the past two years pushing a crackpot plan to carve up Iraq into three separate countries on the model of 1990s Yugoslavia. Biden is, in short, McCain without the very things that make him attractive as a candidate - the strong and consistent view on national security, the military record, the "maverick" reputation (like most veteran Senators, Biden's worked across the aisle from time to time but he's basically a conventional liberal and party man).
On the whole, Obama might have done worse; a Tim Kaine pick would have just been flaunting Obama's inexperience, for example. But Biden doesn't help sew up a key state and comes with some extremely well-known warning signs; Obama can't blame anyone else if he loses a few news cycles as a result of Biden's mouth firing off again accidentally.
August 22, 2008
LAW: SOX Survives
A divided panel of the DC Circuit this morning, in Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, No. 07-5127 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 22, 2008), rejected a challenge to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board's appointment on separation of powers grounds; because of the lack of a severability clause in Sarbanes-Oxley, the challenge presented the possibility that the court would have had to declare the entire statute unconstitutional. Judge Judith Rogers, joined by Judge Janice Rogers Brown, found that the statute did not unduly dilute the executive branch's control over the PCAOB:
We hold, first, that the Act does not encroach upon the Appointment power because, in view of the [SEC]'s comprehensive control of the Board, Board members are subject to direction and supervision of the Commission and thus are inferior officers not required to be appointed by the President. Second, we hold that the for-cause limitations on the Commission's power to remove Board members and the President's power to remove Commissioners do not strip the President of sufficient power to influence the Board and thus do not contravene separation of powers, as that principle embraces independent agencies like the Commission and their exercise of broad authority over their subordinates.
Slip op. at 3 (emphasis added). In short, the court found "no instance in which the Board can make policy that the Commission cannot override." Id. at 33. The court did, however, find that the constitutional challenge was properly presented and did not require exhaustion of administrative review procedures. Id. at 7-8. Judge Brett Kavanaugh dissented, on essentially similar grounds to Justice Scalia's masterful (but lone) dissent in the 1988 independent counsel case, Morrison v. Olson, although he also argued that the constitutional problems here go beyond those in Morrison:
The President's power to remove is critical to the President's power to control the Executive Branch and perform his Article II responsibilities. Yet under this statute, the President is two levels of for-cause removal away from Board members, a previously unheard-of restriction on and attenuation of the President's authority over executive officers. This structure effectively eliminates any Presidential power to control the PCAOB, notwithstanding that the Board performs numerous regulatory and lawenforcement functions at the core of the executive power. So far as the parties, including the United States as intervenor, have been able to determine in the research reflected in their exhaustive and excellent briefs, never before in American history has there been an independent agency whose heads are appointed by and removable only for cause by another independent agency, rather than by the President or his alter ego. But that is the case with PCAOB members, who are removable for cause only by the SEC - and it is undisputed that the SEC as an independent agency is not the President's alter ego.
Presumably, the plaintiffs will petition the Supreme Court for cert; it remains to be seen if the Court takes the case.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:54 AM | Business | Law 2006-08 | Politics 2008 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
August 21, 2008
BASEBALL: Working Economically
Following up on last night's thoughts on the Mets' rotation and their ability to go deep in games, here are the key numbers for the Mets' five primary starters:
The thing that really jumped out at me is that Maine has thrown at least 7 full innings in a start only twice this season compared to 11 times for Pelfrey, 6 for Perez and 16 for Santana (Pedro's done it once). At the opposite end of the scale, Perez has twice failed to throw 2 innings in a start, which pulls down his averages, while Pedro's injury-shortened first start is the only time any of the others has thrown less than 4 full innings.
As you can see, Santana and Pedro are both efficient with batters, while Maine is extremely inefficient. Pedro's problems are his lack of effectiveness (the high number of hitters per inning) and durability (the low pitch count), while Maine's innings are held back almost entirely by the number of pitches he eats up getting through each hitter; he throws nearly as many pitches per start as Santana and Pelfrey.
August 20, 2008
BASEBALL: He Could. Go. All. The. Way.
You know, I was just thinking something last night that was borne out completely by tonight's Mets game, in which Mike Pelfrey went the full 9 innings, throwing 108 pitches: if you go into a big series or the postseason without Wagner, your #2 starter behind Santana has to be Pelfrey. I am not sure I really trust Pelfrey quite enough to think him more effective in a big game than Maine or Perez; but I'm quite certain that I trust his ability, more than theirs (or certainly Pedro's) to go 7 or 8 or 9 innings. And if your starter goes 8, for example, you retain the ability to go lefty-righty-lefty with the specialists and not have to rely on the closer you don't have.
PS: Daniel Murphy is the new Ty Wigginton. Discuss.
POLITICS: Did We Mention That Eric Cantor Is Jewish?
The Democratic National Committee has a website set up to attack potential McCain running mates as "The Next Cheney" (if only); if you want to see there are pages dedicated to Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney, John Thune, Tom Ridge, Tim Pawlenty, Carly Fiorina, Charlie Crist, Fred Smith and Eric Cantor. Lest there be any doubt as to the origins of this site, there's a disclaimer at the bottom of each page: "Paid for by the Democratic National Committee - 430 S. Capitol St. SE, Washington DC 20003."
If you go to the page on Congressman Cantor, you will see a grainy image of a grimacing, disembodied headshot of Cantor, and then the meat of the attacks, starting with the shocking revelation that a member of the House GOP leadership frequently votes with the GOP, and then moving on to various efforts to tie Cantor to Jack Abramoff based on having done some fundraisers with the prolific fundraiser.
Where this gets creepy, though, is the persistent focus on Cantor's faith. We should associate Cantor with Abramoff, the Democrats tell us, because "Both Abramoff and Cantor are Jewish". Then we get this item that is supposed to make us fear Cantor:
At Fundraiser, Jack Abramoff Named Sandwich After Eric Cantor -- Cantor Asked To Switch Sandwiches. "At a January 2003 fundraiser for Cantor, who had just become chief deputy whip, Abramoff unveiled the Eric Cantor sandwich, 'a tuna-based stacker,' which, lamentably, was 'not quite [the] power lunch befitting' the only Jewish Republican in the House. Hence a request by Cantor ... to switch his eponymous sandwich to roast beef on challah, 'a deli special that exudes Jewish power.'"
Oooh, that scary Jewish sandwich power! Head for the hills!
In fact, in a webpage that runs just 660 words, the word "Jewish" appears five times, which I suppose in some circles is a really devastating indictment of Cantor. You can see a screenshot of the page below the fold.
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POLITICS: Quote of the Year
I'd forgotten to cross-post this when I wrote it, but can you really top this as a slogan for Chicago politics?:
"Most aldermen, most politicians are hos"
With the news of Carl Yastrzemski having chest pains resulting in open-heart surgery, it's worth remembering - while he is still with us, hopefully still for many years to come - what a ballplayer Yaz was. He's one of those guys whose career is subject to a number of cross-cutting statistical illusions: he played his prime years in a hitters' park in a pitchers' era, was an excellent glove man in the outfield (as a left fielder he averaged 15 assists per 162 games for his career) who nonetheless spent seasons as a 1B and DH and even was given a short-lived experiment as a 3B*. But the biggest one is the fact that - like Ernie Banks, Robin Roberts, Robin Yount and Craig Biggio - Yaz had a very long career (he's second only to Pete Rose in plate appearances) yet should be best remembered for the handful of seasons when he was really a dominating ballplayer.
In Yaz's case, he was a productive hitter most of the years from age 22 (1962) to 43 (1983), including some very good seasons here and there, mostly for bad Sox teams, but it was four seasons (1967-70) when he was truly one of the very best players in the game. For those four years, swimming against the tide of the late-60s pitchers' era, he batted .302/.414/.554 and averaged 106 R, 102 RBI, 37 HR, 110 BB, 30 2B and 15 SB - numbers that ranked him first in the majors in Runs, second in OBP, third in slugging, fifth in HR, 6th in RBI and 7th in batting average.
The true Fenway faithful, of course, remember him the best for the magical 1967 season that transformed a franchise that had been adrift since the early 1950s. More than anybody, the left fielder from Long Island created what we now think of as "Red Sox Nation" - it may seem hard to believe now, but between 1959 and 1966, the Red Sox finished in the bottom half of the league in attendance 6 times in 8 years; from 1961-66 they never averaged as many as 12,000 fans per game, and dropped below 10,000 twice. Attendance in 1967 doubled, and the Sox have remained the centerpiece of the Boston sports world ever since. Yaz was everything that year - MVP, Triple Crown, led the league in OBP and Slugging and Runs and Total Bases, won the Gold Glove, had 3 hits in the All-Star Game, carried his team to the pennant in an airtight race with a blistering stretch from August 19 through the end of the year when he batted .358/.466/.723 with 16 HR and 40 RBI in 45 games (including .523/.604/.955 with 16 RBI in the last 12), batted .331/.434/.662 with RISP and .367/.467/.674 when batting with two outs, and hit .400/.500/.840 3 HR in the World Series. It was an amazing season for a great player.
* - Ever notice how many Hall of Famers who played the bulk of their careers at other positions spent at least part of a season as regular third basemen? The list includes Yaz, Johnny Bench, Cap Anson, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Tony Perez, Cal Ripken, Jackie Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Ryne Sandberg, Buck Ewing, Frankie Frisch, Joe Sewell, Honus Wagner, Luke Appling...some of these guys played the hot corner at the beginning or end of their careers or were just migrant sluggers - none were really third basemen - but several of them were, like Yaz, basically mid-career experiments to plug a hole.
POLITICS: McCain's Website Needs An Obama Tax Hike Calculator
So I spent a little time noodling around the McCain campaign website, and maybe this is buried deep in the site somewhere and I missed it, but shouldn't the site have a place where you can calculate, even roughly, how much Obama's tax hike plans will cost you? Certainly taxes is a huge issue, being a hardy GOP perennial, an issue on which Obama has been backtracking, and the focus of several of McCain's recent ads, like this one:
I recall the tax cut calculator being a popular feature of Bush's site in 2000, back in the Stone Age of web campaigns. But you can't do anything similar on McCain's site. The "Issues" section of McCain's site also has no separate page on taxes. (On a related note, the RNC website's "Obama Spendometer" link no longer leads you to anything - maybe Obama broke it?)
A little compare-and-contrast. On the GOP side, John McCain has decided against a bitter battle to bend the party platform to match his own idiosyncratic views:
Republicans are inviting suggestions for their party platform this year, and thousands have responded online. But when a committee meets to draft the document in Minneapolis next week, one voice will be largely absent: John McCain's.
Platform writers for Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton worked side-by-side Saturday as the Democratic Party developed a policy statement to promote nominee-in-waiting Obama and keep Clinton backers involved.
As Ezra Klein notes, "[t]his whole process was quarterbacked by Obama's Senate policy director, Karen Kornbluh..."
Now, on one level this is unsurprising; Obama's trying to be a transformational figure and leader of his party, so you'd expect him to want his stamp put on the platform; McCain's a long-time dissenter from various party orthodoxies who claimed the nomination without really being embraced by his party's base, so he needs to avoid unnecessary battles over his long-term impact on the party's direction. But the major reason why Obama's role matters is that the Obama platform takes significant steps to strip away even the tepid Clinton-era nods in the platform towards rhetorical moderation on abortion. We may hear the media feed us the every-four-years perennial "Republican platform fight about abortion" stories anyway, but it's the Democratic nominee who is leading his party further away from the center on the most divisive issue of the day.
August 19, 2008
BASEBALL: No Closer To Winning
While the Mets have been going pretty well of late, it's still quite clear that they just can't close out games without Billy Wagner, so the news that an MRI of Wagner's elbow shows inflammation that could put him out for the season is dire indeed. The acquisition of Luis Ayala over the weekend (for Anderson Hernandez, batting .203/.262/.307 at AAA) seems more like hope than strategy:
The Mets are hoping they can fix Ayala in much the same way they repaired Guillermo Mota in 2006. Their scouts have determined Ayala has regained most of the velocity he lost in '06 when he underwent reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, but they also believe he has lost the sink that made an effective reliever with the Expos in 2003 and '04.
Leaving aside Mota's substantial role in losing the NLCS that year, you can't just extrapolate from Rick Peterson's modest success with a struggling Mota that the current Mets brain trust can do the same for Ayala just because he's been bad. And make no mistake: Ayala's long been an excellent pitcher, but he's been horrid this year to the tune of a 5.77 ERA and crummy peripheral stats to match.
Obviously, my previous optimism about Aaron Heilman was misguided. But Duaner Sanchez hasn't shown any consistency either, and really nobody else is a credible candidate (Feliciano's really a specialist - righties are batting .322/.412/.517 against him and .318/.413/.500 against Schoenweis, while lefties are batting .318/.434/.455 against Joe Smith). And I continue to think, as I did before they called him up, that Eddie Kunz' AA numbers don't suggest a guy who is big league ready, and it's dicey to take a starting pitching prospect like Jon Niese and toss him into a MLB closer job. The only starter they could spare now is Pedro, who probably could not really transition well to working multiple days in a row (El Duque maybe, but he probably won't be ready to pitch until 2009, if ever). I'd suggest a deal (Huston Street?), but not only is it past the deadline but the acquisition of Ayala suggests that the Mets tried already and that was the best they could do.
BASEBALL: Roto Rooting, Down The Drain
As a general rule, on grounds of not boring the audience, I don't write that much about my fantasy baseball teams other than an annual roundup of my draft (which I was too busy to get to this year) and the occasional aside about who I do and don't own as a way of explaining who I'm watching more closely. But permit me here a moment of despair.
I have three teams - an AL-only traditional Roto team and two AL/NL Yahoo autodraft teams. At this writing I'm tied for fourth in the former and in first and second in the latter two. The roto team is my 'main' team, consuming the most effort because you have to dig much deeper on AL rosters to fill out your squad. My active lineup this season has featured such luminaries as Denard Span, Joe Inglett, Brian Buscher, Guillermo Quiroz, Morgan Ensberg, Shawn Riggans, Andy Marte, Jonny Gomes, Chris Shelton, Willy Aybar, Brandon Boggs, Ben Broussard, Jose Vidro, Grant Balfour, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jason Jennings, Sean Green, Dustin Moseley, Arthur Rhodes, Jesse Carlson, and Ross Ohlendorf.
Anyway, thus far I have survived the injury to my $27 ace pitcher, Erik Bedard (thank you, John Danks, Dice-K, Joakim Soria and BJ Ryan). I have been surviving the injury to my $38 top offensive player, Carl Crawford. I have been surviving the injury to the revived Joe Crede, and disappointing years from Nick Swisher and Adrian Beltre.
But if Ian Kinsler is out for the season with a sports hernia, I am even more thoroughly doomed than the Rangers are. Kinsler's batting .319, he's leading the majors in hits, he has 18 HR, 26 SB and 71 RBI, and he's been on fire in recent weeks. He and Crawford account for more than half my team's steals.
This has been an unusually busy summer for trades and an unusually busy August, in particular, for injuries. In both real and fantasy baseball, the healthiest will have a huge leg up to outlast the competition.
August 18, 2008
POLITICS: Obama's Revisionist History on Iraq And WMD
Warren: What's the most significant--let me ask it this way. What's the most gut-wrenching decision you ever had to make and how did you process that to come to that decision?
Obama: Well, you know, I think the opposition to the war in Iraq was as tough a decision as I've had to make. Not only because there were political consequences, but also because Saddam Hussein was a real bad person, and there was no doubt that he meant America ill. But I was firmly convinced at the time that we did not have strong evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and there were a lot of questions that, as I spoke to experts, kept on coming up. Do we know how the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds are going to get along in a post-Saddam situation? What's our assessment as to how this will affect the battle against terrorists like al Qaeda? Have we finished the job in Afghanistan?
So I agonized over that.
Kevin Holtsberry has already discussed how Obama mischaracterizes his 2002 anti-war speech as an act of political courage when it was really pandering to his political base, and Taranto notes that Obama's speech itself shows no indication that he struggled with the decision or even considered supporters of the war to be acting in good faith. (I've discussed previously why Obama's speech also trafficked in anti-Semitism).
But there's another aspect of Obama's revisionism that bears noting: his claim today that he was skeptical about the international intelligence community consensus that Saddam had biological and chemical weapons programs and was proceeding apace to get nuclear weapons.
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Michael Crowley of The New Republic covered this back in a lengthy look in February of this year at that speech:
[I]n interviews around [mid-2004], Obama refused to say flatly that he would have voted against the 2002 congressional war resolution. "I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports," Obama told The New York Times on July 26. "What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that, from my vantage point, the case was not made." In other interviews that week, Obama said, "[T]here is room for disagreement" over initiating the war, and that "I didn't have the information that was available to senators."
Obama later justified these comments as an effort to avoid a split with his party's presidential ticket: Both John Kerry and John Edwards had voted for the war, after all. Yet this explanation was undermined when Obama repeated the point more than two years later. "I'm always careful to say that I was not in the Senate, so perhaps the reason I thought [the war] was such a bad idea was that I didn't have the benefit of U.S. intelligence," he told The New Yorker's David Remnick in October 2006. "And, for those that did, it might have led to a different set of choices."
Obama's repeated emphasis on classified intelligence is curious. He never questioned Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction. In October 2002, he acknowledged that Saddam has "developed chemical and biological weapons, and [has] coveted nuclear capacity." But, Obama argued, Saddam "poses no imminent and direct threat" and, "in concert with the international community, he can be contained until...he falls away into the dustbin of history." The power of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) lay in its firm assertion that Saddam had a frightful WMD arsenal. But the NIE did not cast Saddam as an imminent threat. If Obama already accepted that Saddam had WMD, why would the intelligence have changed his view about war?
Lest you question the context, here is the full excerpt from the 2002 war speech:
Now let me be clear - I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.
He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.
In other words, Obama offered - in virtually his sole recorded statement on the war prior to the invasion other than his explanation of why the war was not popular with African-Americans - nothing to dispute the widespread consensus on Saddam's WMD programs, ambitions, and deceptions. Instead, he argued that we could contain a WMD-armed Saddam. And as is so often true of the Left, and as is consistent with Obama's domestic law-enforcement focus on gun control, he turned his focus away from how we stop evil men and onto the idea that the source of all danger is weapons, not the people who use them:
You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to make sure that the UN inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe.
Even this argument, of course, ignores the fact that if you took the position that we could "contain" even a WMD-armed Saddam, nobody else is going to be much afraid of your earnest requests that they disarm and stop dissembling with UN inspectors; in fact, they are likely to reach the opposite conclusion. (Even Obama seemed to concede this point in 2004 when he suggested missile strikes against Iran's and Pakistan's nuclear facilities).
The bottom line? Obama's lucky he has such a short public record, because even the little that he has, he can't seem to keep straight.
« Close It
BLOG: Back But Not All The Way
I'm back from vacation but it's looking like tomorrow at the earliest before I'm dug out enough to resume regular blogging.
August 17, 2008
SPORTS: What makes an MVP?
Posted by Ricky West
This will be my final post as the Crank is returning from his much deserved vacation. I want to thank him for allowing me this opportunity to reach a new audience and reignite the vigor for political debate that I'd lost a few months back when I went into virtual hibernation. I'm truly not worthy. To all who felt like looking me up on google & pummeling me: I truly enjoyed it, it was a blast, and I wish you all the best....don't take this politics stuff too seriously. Oh, and I was right and you were wrong. :)
The year 2002 gave us Miguel Tejada as the AL's MVP. In 2006-2007, the NBA gave us Dirk Nowitzki as its league's MVP. To me, both decisions were ludicrous and simply reinforced the oft-held notion that sportswriters are lazy and simply vote for the best players on the best teams. Crank gave his arguments against Tejada almost 6 years ago, before the award was given:
An argument can most certainly be made against giving an award to the person who simply had the best numbers. NFL teams with horrific defenses often have quarterbacks who throw for more than 4,000 yards simply because they're always playing from behind, for example. I agree that it would be a bad precedent for adopting the practice of simply awarding personal achievement that may come at team expense. Then again, if you just look at the top teams and eliminate the players that have the misfortune to be surrounded by excellence that the front office acquired, you can end up with laughable decisions like giving the esteemed Bill Russell the MVP during the season when Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points and 27 rebounds. And, before anyone retorts that Wilt simply shot it every time he got it that season, keep in mind that he was 3rd in the league in FG percentage that season. I'm sorry, when someone has the greatest offensive season in league history, the greatest rebounding season in league history and is the 3rd most efficient field goal shooter, they're the MVP. It wasn't Wilt's fault that Russell was surrounded by 8 future hall-of-famers (not taking anything from Russell, the greatest winner in sports history...he just wasn't as good as Wilt, period). Or, Joe Dimaggio winning the MVP when Ted Williams is the triple crown winner.
In the case of A-Rod & 2002, you had Rodriguez having arguably the greatest offensive season for any shortstop in major league history:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB HBP 162 624 125 187 27 2 57 142 9 87 .300 .392 .623 1015 389 10
And, for anyone who says that it was just a case of Rodriguez putting up offensive numbers, he also won the gold glove that season. So, you had a player who was not only the best offensive shortstop that season (he was the best offensive player in baseball) but he was the best defensive shortstop that season. Who got the MVP? Another shortstop. One who wasn't as good offensively or defensively. Yes, clutch hits and intangibles are huge, but they don't erase the sheer dominance that A-Rod displayed that season.
Likewise, let's consider the case of Dirk Nowitzki. Truly, the best player on the best team in the NBA that season. Yes, he faded in the playoffs, but the voting occurs before the playoffs. Let's ignore Kobe Bryant's statistical dominance over Nowitzki, substantial as it is. It's quite simple: Kobe Bryant was the scoring champion that season. Kobe Bryant was 1st team all-defense (Marcus Camby was the defensive player of the year). Much like A-Rod winning the gold glove, Kobe Bryant was the best defensive player at his position. Dirk Nowitzki, on the other hand, was neither the best offensive nor defensive player at his position. Nowitzki wasn't among the top 4 defensive players on his own team, by the way. Again, you have the best offensive player in the league and best defender at his position being denied simply because he played on the 'wrong' team. With the passage of time, we know that Bryant wasn't the cause of the Lakers' mediocrity last season, but rather it was the rest of the team getting better as they made the NBA finals this year*.
Summation: No, don't give out the top awards to the guys who put up the best numbers. However, you don't ignore those who are obviously the best and most valuable in the league simply because their teammates aren't quite up to par with the top franchises. Or, in the case of Wilt & Teddy Ballgame, the sportswriters hate you.
Thanks, again, Crank!
*Note: I most certainly do not bring Kobe Bryant into the discussion because I'm a Laker fan or Bryant fan. Currently, the NBA player I dislike the most is Kobe Bryant. Thus, this is purely an argument based on the merits, not the personalities.Finally, note to self: Something you believe + the words "Rush" and "Limbaugh" pasted at the top = blog comments gold!
August 15, 2008
RELIGION/POLITICS: I guess I'm on a roll
Posted by Ricky West
BLOGS: Oh, my; plus, 'I'm intolerant of intolerance'
Posted by Ricky West
I told myself that I wouldn't turn Crank's site into a blog that talks about other blogs, but all I can say is.....wow.
Also, a tangential comment about this:
Hate dominates like the Celts in the East
Not the lyrics and not anything about Malkin. Heck, the real crime to me is that people are still buying into the shinola that is hardcore rap (save yourself the effort), but for some reason it reminded me of an old episode of Politically Incorrect, the Maher show that at least tried to entertain instead of spread propaganda, where a no-name rapper was there to discuss the issues of the day (yeah, probably alongside Carrot Top). Anyway, the guy got around to admitting that he and his group were communists, not long after Maher had held up the band's CD and urged people to purchase it at their local retailer, since the rapper was there as part of the band's junket.
Reminds me of the young groupies following Rage Against the Machine (who rocked, by the way) and their willingness to adhere to the words urging them to stick it to the capitalist powers that be. Apparently, a part of the mechanism for the impending Marxist revolution was purchasing RATM CDs, shelling out cash for a moshpit-laden concert and making all the band members millionaires. What, you believed the lyrics?
Maybe I'm missing something. Wouldn't be the first time, of course:
Minority Americans have been flocking to the nation's "swing counties," hotly contested areas that could play a crucial role in this year's election.
They finally pinpointed something pertinent in the final sentence, although the entire story still doesn't make much sense. As Al Gore and John Kerry found out, losing an overwhelming majority of counties (we've all seen the red/blue county-by-county map, right?) means, well, nothing electorally. States matter. Electoral votes matter. If Sen. Obama can eek out some states that were red in '04, then he'll be our next president. Winning counties? Besides, is anyone out there willing to put money down that Obama will win NC or Florida? The red states have been the ones increasing their electoral tallies and the ones that are really in play are OH and VA. I know I certainly don't expect McCain to win Michigan. I'm sorry, I don't see the story or why a paper would devote space to something that is of zero importance.
That is, unless the story is a rebuttal to the county-by-county map that the right has pointed to for over seven years. Again, I admit that I'm probably missing something, but could there be any other logical reason that an editor gave the go-ahead on such a non-story, because Obama winning counties in Florida means jack squat if he wins Florida. Again, ask Citizen Gore.
August 14, 2008
PERSONAL: Trust me, I'm aware of my circumstances
Posted by Ricky West
Today, my little girl turns 11.
My, how time flies.
With all the choices out there; a Hannah Montana CD, a trip to some play zone, a dinner at her favorite restaurant, some video game or toy, clothes....my little princess wants to go see a major league game with her Daddy. As she slowly moves from little-girl into budding-young-lady, I keep thinking back to that lil' pumpkin that introduced me to parenthood. All the dads out there know, you don't just love your daughter simply because she's your daughter, they cause you to fall in love with them. Sure, there are tons of love songs about a man and a woman, but when a daughter blinks her little eyes at her dad, that is the true epitome of a melting heart. She's my little girl, my princess, my first born and along with her brother & mom, make what is my world something to look forward to each and every day.
So, while you're having dinner or watching the Olympics, I'll be viewing the Cubs likely pummeling my Braves (the Cubs are my #3 team, behind Atlanta & the BoSox). However, the actual outcome of the game isn't important at all, as I'll be sitting beside my little girl, my little middle-schooler, watching a major league baseball game at her request.
Yeah, I'm that lucky.
August 13, 2008
POLITICS: Rush Limbaugh on health care
Posted by Ricky West
The libertarian in me is horrified by the notion that the government may
August 12, 2008
POLITICS/BLOGS: Yes, but that was then and we REALLY needed to win
Posted by Ricky West
Four years ago today:
To some up, it is very credible that Kerry was in or near Cambodia during Christmas 1968 AND it is clear that the operation involved substantial incursions into Cambodia.
Ah, good times. Back when military service was crucial during a campaign.
"Reporting for duty", indeed.
August 11, 2008
POLITICS: The evidence doesn't warrant the chargePosted by Ricky West
Going to the wayback machine. I posted a similar item on my site back in 2003, but the html was screwed up & it's not legible at this time, so why not an update?
A lot has been said about the inability of national/federal Democrats to win elections in the south. Much of what I’ve seen has disproportionately been little more than excuses disguised as rationale, such as the "Nixon southern strategy", "God, gays and guns", or the ever present "confederate culture" (read: racists). This sort of rhetoric is usually revisited every two years, as elections need to be won & villains need to be found. However, is this actually the case? Are southerners actually hostile to Democrats?
Well, I did some research on just what the political makeup of the region was as recently as 1996. I chose the "big" four offices for each state, Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General, along with the respective chambers of their legislatures. Each state will have different avenues of choosing their officers so I won’t go that deep in the analysis but thought that a quick reminder would shed some much-needed light on the scenario. Democratic margins are in bold while Republican margins are in italics. Here is how things stood in mid-1996 in the south, and by that I mean the "south" where Maryland, Missouri or Oklahoma are fine states but not of the southern brand:
(source: World Almanac and Book of Facts)
Liberals, or their newfound attempt at branding, 'progressives'? Not so much.
BASEBALL: The complete total base
I know Crank is a lot like most new-age baseball fans & pays close attention
Diehard fans look at that list and know that Pujols was on the DL last month.
Yes, Shady Grady Sizemore is the complete total base champ of baseball, at
Assuming that there is no reliable specific data that one can point to in order to judge a player's worth, does this truly account for a player's numerical fantasy value? Thoughts? Reactions?
August 9, 2008
POLITICS: Are you lonesome tonight?
Posted by Ricky West
This campaign season is definitely not a good one for Republicans. It's shaping up to be not so welcoming to liberals:
There’s an old saying in politics that elections are won or lost one vote at a time.
Note I typed "liberals", not "Democrats". Watching Obama run as far from his ultra-liberal past reaffirms what many have known all along: while the country may not be Reaganesque in its conservatism, it most definitely is not a left-of-center country. And, apparently, many Dems know it.
But not Al Franken.
August 8, 2008
BASEBALL: The worst player in the majors?
Posted by Ricky West
Scott Boras, infamous for being a first-class jerk who nonetheless is constantly able to garner big bucks for his clients (often much more than they’re worth), may have been able to offset some of the bad PR throughout the entire A-Rod debacle, where he came out the big loser. He was able to snag a $36 million dollar deal (2 years) for Andruw Jones, who statisticcally appears to be the worst player in the majors. Say what you will about Boras, and there's not much positive that I can conjure, but knowing that his client is guaranteed well into
Ricky normally doesn't blog very much any more at blog.rjwest.com, but in his spare time he enjoys baseball, fantasy baseball, Baseball Tonight on ESPN and knowing that he can renew Tim Lincecum for a pittance on his fantasy team next season. On the downside, he realizes that Andruw Jones would probably be the third outfielder on this season's Braves team. Plus, his phone service has been on the fritz for about 18 hours, so he's hoping that he'll be able to provide Crank with some material early on in his well-deserved vacation.
BLOG: Guest Starring....
There's a bunch of stuff I'd like to get to today, but I really have to get everything in order before I leave on vacation. So in case I don't get back to the blog this evening, as I did the last two years I have lined up a guest blogger; I will be leaving you in the capable hands of the excellent but semi-retired-from-blogging Ricky West, who really is a good guy despite being a Braves fan.
August 7, 2008
BASEBALL: Kid Nichols in Action
There are any number of interesting things you can stumble across on the web, and this public-domain collection of old-timey (1880s-1910s, mainly 1901-06) baseball photos from the Boston Public Library is pretty impressive. Among others you can find Honus Wagner shaking hands with Nap Lajoie, a 1906 Cubs team picture, a picture of Hugh Duffy in mid-career, an 1895 picture of four of the stars of the old Baltimore Orioles, and a 1901 team picture with Cy Young at the center.
Below the fold you can see one series of pics from 1901 of Hall of Famer Kid Nichols demonstrating for a photographer his pitching grip & motion (granted, the motion's a bit artificial since it has to be stopped for still photos in a studio). Nichols, largely forgotton today, was easily one of the 10 best pitchers in the game's history - he won 63% of his career decisions with a 2.95 ERA pitching mainly in the offense-crazy 1890s, his career ERA+ of 140 means he was 40% better than the league for his career (among pitchers with over 3,000 career IP, only Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens can top that, and Nichols threw a thousand more innings than Grove), his average record from age 20-28 was 31-15, his decision to be a player-manager in the Western League for two years in mid-career is probably the only reason he didn't join Cy Young and Walter Johnson as a 400-game winner, and he was durable and tremendously consistent despite carrying a heavy workload from an early age (over 420 innings a year from age 20-24). The picture at the side here is of Nichols as a 20-year-old rookie in 1890. It's funny; I've known a fair bit about Nichols for a long time and this is the first time I've seen anything like action shots to give a sense of what he looked like on the mound.
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Here's Nichols holding the ball low; he threw overhand, so this must be the start of his windup, although the picture isn't numbered and the next two are marked "1" and "3".
Here's Nichols in his windup - note the absence of a leg kick. I assume if he had one in his usual delivery he'd have tried to demonstrate that here.
Here's the delivery, presumably still a bit above the release point - Nichols seems to be twisting his wrist a bit.
And here's his grip, which looks like what I believe would now be described as a two-seam fastball.
« Close It
You know, if there is one thing - one thing - that will encourage the development of alternative fuels, it's the same thing that led to the mad scramble of capital into internet and telecom in the 1990s: the belief by investors that whoever got ahead in the race to market would reap fabulous profits.
The best possible way to blunt that belief is to slap additional taxes on today's energy producers for being too profitable. Especially when they aren't even all that profitable on a returns-on-investment basis; those humongous profit figures are just due to massive market share:
Exxon's profit margin stood at 10% for 2007, which is hardly out of line with the oil and gas industry average of 8.3%, or the 8.9% for U.S. manufacturing (excluding the sputtering auto makers).
(That WSJ editorial also notes that Google had a 25.3% profit margin).
Anyway, I'll probably get into this further when I have time for a longer post on energy, but I laid out the case in 2006 for some ideas on how government can do more to strengthen the confidence of investors that the winners of any alternate-fuel gold rush actually get to enjoy the spoils of their investment and labor.
POLITICS: Why Obama's Flip-Flops Matter
If you looked at Barack Obama's record, public statements and campaign platform as of any time before June 3, 2008 (the last day of the Democratic primaries), you could detect a trend: on issue after issue after issue, there was a conservative position, a moderate position, a liberal position...and then there was an Obama position. Other liberals opposed the Iraq War; Obama called for complete withdrawal by March 2008. Other liberals opposed confrontation with Iran; Obama pledged to meet its leader unconditionally. Other liberals supported abortion on demand or even partial-birth abortion; Obama went beyond that to oppose any legal protection for a child born alive after a failed abortion. Other liberals supported amnesty to give illegal immigrants citizenship and "bring them out of the shadows"; Obama championed giving drivers licenses to illegal aliens even as they continued to live outside the law. Other liberals were concerned about surveillance outside of the FISA framework; Obama pledged to filibuster even a bill that brought surveillance into that framework unless it allowed civil lawsuits against phone companies that had complied with prior government requests. Other liberals voted against Justice Alito; Obama voted against Chief Justice Roberts, too, and for that matter voted to filibuster to prevent a vote on Alito. Other liberals courted liberal interest groups; Obama sought the nomination of a Marxist third party. Other liberals championed a "nuclear freeze" during the arms race of the early 1980s; Obama called for eliminating nuclear weapons and "slow[ing] our development of future combat systems" during a period of American nuclear and military predominance. On issue after issue after issue - taxes, guns, energy, you name it - Obama not only stood outside the national political mainstream, but on the far left edge even of his own party, which is how he earned the National Journal's "most liberal Senator" rating for 2007 despite the presence of a self-described Socialist in his caucus. Indeed, he was the candidate who promised Democrats that he would eschew Clintonian triangulation to lead "not by polls, but by principle; not by calculation, but by conviction" - to run as the same arch-liberal he has been throughout his (admittedly brief) political career. Republicans, having enjoyed great success in presidential contests against openly liberal candidates between 1968 and 1988, salivated at the prospect.
Once he won the Democratic nomination, though, Obama started moving so quickly to re-brand himself as a 'centrist' that you'd be forgiven getting whiplash watching him move. Suddenly, he was siding with the Supreme Court's conservatives supporting the death penalty for child rapists and opposing the DC gun ban, and opposing an abortion bill he himself co-sponsors. Suddenly, he didn't think it worth drawing a "line that cannot be crossed" on FISA. Suddenly, he was fudging on Iraq, muddying the waters on his position and newly willing to meet with our commander on the ground. And now, under fire from John McCain and the GOP, he's been sending signals, however tepid, about buckling on his opposition to domestic oil drilling. (Other examples of Obama's shifts here (trade), here (affirmative action), here (campaign finance pledge), and here (faith-based initiatives, Israel, education and Social Security taxes), and here (oil reserves).) His own supporters have ranged from bewildered to in denial to enraged to laying out lists of things he must not concede (H/T). Meanwhile, in some cases the McCain camp is simply refusing to accept that Obama has abandoned his former position, preferring to run against the less ambiguous left-winger.
Should Obama's sudden and jarring shifts on such a broad menu of issues in the span of two months concern voters about what kind of man this is, and what he really believes in and stands for? Should he face the same sort of skepticism about his principles that eventually overwhelmed Mitt Romney's presidential campaign? I say yes, and for essentially the same reasons.
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I. The Mystery of Political Conviction
Here's the thing: it can be frustratingly difficult to figure out what a politician, any politician, really believes on a given issue. It's easy enough to say you are for a particular position, if it happens to be popular with your constituents or your party at a particular moment in time. For this reason, almost any significant political figure generates a cottage industry of pundits and would-be biographers trying to explain what it is he or she really believes. And to some extent, that ambiguity can be an asset, allowing supporters to project on the leader their own thought processes, and assume that the leader, when he disagrees, will come around in time to their way of thinking. But it can also present risks: voters who have been burned many times before may simply not believe a candidate's words. They will say, instead: show me. Prove it.
1. Why We Care if They Keep Their Word
As I have argued before in contrasting Howard Dean to the allergic-to-principled-stands John Kerry, politicians can win over voters by taking and holding principled positions over a period of time - and they can make that approach work for them whether they actually believe in those positions or not, so long as they show the voters that they mean what they say and carry it through:
[W]hat matters more than anything is not a politician's fealty to his own internal principles but his ability to take a principled position and stick to it, whether he believes in it or not. Regardless of [their] sincerity, Howard Dean's positions on Iraq and on the Bush tax cuts were principled positions: he made sure everyone knew precisely where he stood, he made all the arguments for those positions as forcefully as he could, and he left himself no wiggle room to back away if those positions were rejected by the voters or if (as happened with the capture of Saddam) his principled position was discredited by subsequent events. What we look for in leaders, especially presidents, is that ability: the willingness to say, "here I stand," let the voters judge the merits of that stand, and keep faith with your promises, even when the going gets rough.
That said, as I wrote back in my series on Romney, politicians can usually get away with some flip-flopping as long as they recognize its limitations:
[A]ll politicians flip-flop, hedge and straddle from time to time. Indeed, in a representative democracy, this is arguably a good thing. Let's consider an obvious point: what if a candidate for public office is exceptionally well-qualified for the job and has positions you agree with on a number of important matters, but disagrees on a point that is relatively small, yet important to you personally? Would you rather the politician change his position? Is that better than rejecting a good candidate over one minor issue, or alternatively electing someone who takes a stance that troubles you? For most of us, if we are honest, the answer is yes; we want to be represented by people who will do what we want them to do. Voters like flip-flops; they reward flip-flops, especially when a candidate is moving from a local to statewide, or statewide to national electorates....
Put simply: flip-flops buy votes, but do so at an escalating cost to a politician's credibility. First, they erode a candidate's reputation as a leader; then, in time, they come to cast doubt even on the candidate's announced positions, creating fear that he will hold them only until a better offer comes along. Voters may not mind if you sold somebody else out to get their vote, but they will not vote for you if they expect you to sell them out as soon as [you] come under fire. ...
Thus, while voters are tolerant of some flip-flops, the first problem with flip-flopping is that it creates doubt in the voters about a candidate's current promises because it undermines the sense that the voter can rely on what the candidate says today as a guide to what he will do tomorrow. As I discussed in the Romney and Kerry examples, this is a particular concern if the candidate can't identify a set of "core" issues that justify trimming around the margins, but it's also a problem if the flip-flops come too fast and furious in too short a time period and without a plausible justification beyond mere political expediency.
2. Why We Care If They Are Men of Conviction
The larger hazard of flip-flopping for some presidential candidates, though, goes beyond just issues of truth-in-advertising with regard to their policy proposals. A very large part of the president's job - arguably the most important part - is the president's ability to deal with unforeseen crises and challenges, especially in his role as Commander-in-Chief. Presidents must be ready for the full spectrum of crises a nation can face - wars and terrorist attacks, hostage taking and blackmail, man-made and natural disasters, epidemics and financial crises. There is no way to predict with certainty how any man or woman will bear up under these stresses, but voters traditionally look to a candidate's record and biography for clues as to what they are made of. There are many personality traits we look for, but among the most important are constancy (the ability to stay the same under stress and over time), persistence, determination, resiliency, commitment...and a candidate whose positions seem to change with the wind, who panics at the slightest squall, will give voters good reason to believe that he will lack those virtues when faced with sterner forms of adversity. It's the question that comes to mind again and again over the course of a presidential campaign, and which makes it fundamentally different from a legislative race: what are you made of?
II. Barack Obama and His Principles
A. The Words Are The Last To Go
So, in demonstrating to voters that he means what he says on the issues, and that he possesses the necessary character traits to be a strong and dependable Commander-in-Chief, what does Obama have to run on? As I have detailed before at length, Obama is almost totally lacking in the kinds of experience we look for in presidents - no executive experience, no national security/foreign policy experience, no military service record, no private sector business experience, and his political experience is limited to a single unfinished Senate term (which he essentially won by default) and 8 years representing a tiny, insular, idiosyncratic one-party state Senate district, mainly as a backbench member of the minority party. He simply hasn't been road tested at all. Even his record as a State Senator is shockingly sparse, as he apparently destroyed his office's records from those years, and few of his public statements are available (his life before entering politics in 1996 is similarly riddled with gaps and silences as to which we have little but Obama's own memoirs to go on).
Obama's partisans have spoken of his "judgment" as a substitute for experience. Of course, voters may have a harder time identifying examples of that judgment on so slim a record. It's not his judgment in choosing his close friends and political associates - he bought his family's home with the financial aid of a man now convicted of felony political corruption, he chose his faith, baptized his daughters and chose the name of his book under the tutelage of a man who preached racial resentment and peddled vicious conspiracy theories; he launched his political career with a fundraiser at the home of unrepentant terrorists. Nor is it his judgment in choosing his subordinates, as we've had almost too many examples to count of Obama sacking or distancing himself from aides over a variety of transgressions. Nor can it be his judgment on those very few occasions when he's committed himself on national security issues, not after he staked his credibility on a policy diametrically opposed to the successful "surge" in Iraq, a blunder so egregious Obama has since scrubbed his website of evidence of his prior position.
In other words, Obama has nothing of substance to run on but his principles. Voters will judge him - have no choice but to judge him - by what he says he stands for. Every claim Obama can plausibly make for himself comes down to this: he says good things, and will do what he says. Indeed, the entire advantage that less-experienced candidates have in any race is less baggage - fewer shifts and changes over time. But Obama's battery of flip-flops is undermining even this one, last remaining justification for seeing him as a man anybody can depend on in the White House. Obama and his partisans contend that he doesn't need the kind of experience every other president has brought to the White House, doesn't need the base of knowledge amassed by guys like McCain who have been doing this sort of thing for decades, because he already knows better. But how can he keep up the pretense of knowing better if he is still thinking things through? If Obama does not have the courage of his convictions after all, what then remains of the argument that he is ready for the job?
B. Where Does The Flop Land Him?
So, if Obama is undermining the central surviving rationale of his candidacy, what is he really doing by flip-flopping? Is he simply a leap in the dark for liberals, as Richard Cohen argues? (H/T) Suckering either the left, the middle, or both, as Iowahawk brilliantly illustrated? An unusually smooth liar running his campaign like a graduate seminar, as blackhedd suggests? A man without a core, as Kevin Holtsberry contends? Or, as Jim Geraghty thinks, a man with out a home?
Certainly some of the "flip-flops" are really fudges, examples of Obama just using hedged language to obscure the policy differences between his position and the Republican position. And on the social issues, my own view is that Obama is basically running a cynical game of three-card monte on the electorate - he knows full well that, for example, he can say he supports the death penalty for child rapists because he intends to appoint federal judges who will make it impossible for the people's representatives to actually carry out such sentences. Thus, Obama gets to fool people who think he's not a hard-left-winger, and he can't be directly called on it for years down the road.
But in most cases, it's just impossible to tell who the suckers are or whether Obama is serially pandering or just can't make up his mind on issues he hasn't properly thought through. You may have your own theories, but what your theory and my theory have in common is that neither of them has any evidence to support them. We simply have nothing to give anyone real confidence of how Obama will handle adversity or crisis in the White House; just "hope" that he will do a good job.
III. John McCain: Principled Leader Abroad, Pragmatic Moderate at Home
Some readers, at this juncture, will wonder: what about McCain? Hasn't he changed his positions at times over the years on a host of issues? Does anybody really think McCain is a man of unshakeable political principle?
There's really two answers to that, and together they explain why the flip-flop charge just isn't a big deal in McCain's case.
A. Duty, Honor, Country
The first goes to the question of flip-flops as a proxy for the character traits we look for in a Commander-in-Chief. In McCain's case, he has both a biography and a record we can examine - and they both point in the same direction. McCain has been a rock of stability for many years in his dedication to U.S. national security and his philosophy of how to protect it. It is the central cause to which he has dedicated his life and his political career.
You know, of course, the story of McCain's quarter century in the Navy and his time in a North Vietnamese prison; while that's not in and of itself enough to qualify a man for the nation's highest office, Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive reminds us what his sustained refusal over a period of years to accept early release from the POW camp in Hanoi should tell us about his character:
You would think it would be simple, but I forget that the concepts of Duty, Honor & Country are dirty words to the left/press. None who have served, well none with more than 4 months in the motor pool, wonder what John McCain proved to us. We know that a man who would refuse to be released ahead of others and allow the enemy a propaganda victory definitely understands and stays true to those three pillars....
Let's compare the two:
John McCain was so loyal to the men he was imprisoned with he endured torture on their behalf.
Barack Obama associates with those who can help his career, and throws them right under the bus when they become inconvenient to his aspirations.
That single issue of character matters more than all the others combined. You can trust John McCain. You can trust Barack Obama to use you as a stepping stone.
McCain is a known commodity. It's not just that he's been around a long time and staked out positions antithetical to those of his Republican base. It's also -- and more important -- that we know his bottom line. As his North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. This -- not just his candor and nonstop verbosity on the Straight Talk Express -- is what commends him to so many journalists.
Obama might have a similar bottom line, core principles for which, in some sense, he is willing to die. If so, we don't know what they are. Nothing so far in his life approaches McCain's decision to refuse repatriation as a POW so as to deny his jailors a propaganda coup. In fact, there is scant evidence the Illinois senator takes positions that challenge his base or otherwise threaten him politically. That's why his reversal on campaign financing and his transparently false justification of it matter more than similar acts by McCain.
What you see when you review McCain's record over the quarter century he's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee is that he has stood up and stood in on national security - he's been a leader and been willing to take the heat that comes with that, most recently with his staunch advocacy of the Iraq War and the "surge" even when the war was terribly unpopular and being given up in many quarters as lost. And he hasn't changed his tune on national security based on the partisan composition of the White House or Congress. For example, in the case of both Bill Clinton's prosecution of war in Kosovo in 1999 and George W. Bush's terrorist surveillance program, McCain supported the president's policy goals but also urged him to go to Congress for support. He's traveled the globe, spoken at scores of overseas conferences, and worked on a bipartisan basis with John Kerry and the Clinton Administration in normalizing relations with Vietnam. He's been part of pretty much every major foreign policy and military policy debate since the 80s, and his views on issues of American national interest and national security are extremely well-known not only here at home but around the globe. Nothing he does in the arena of domestic politics changes any of that.
B. The Moderate Pragmatist
I'm a great believer in the importance of conservative principles, and my preference would be to run a presidential candidate who has an established record of standing foursquare for those principles. But that's not the McCain record, and more importantly it's not how McCain has marketed himself to the public over the years. Yes, on some issues, notably issues like free trade and immigration that have an internationalist/foreign policy component, McCain has been not just consistent but courageous (even foolhardy) over the course of his career. But while he professes faith in conservative principles at a general level - lower taxes, less spending, less regulation - one need not look too far for examples of him departing from those principles in practice in specific cases. McCain's self-proclaimed "maverick" status derives from that record.
Basically, McCain over the years has presented himself to the public not as an ideas guy but as a moderate pragmatist, one who goes here and there sometimes without a ton of predictability or philosophical consistency. And there's a goodly chunk of both the public and the press that likes moderation, pragmatism, willingness to change positions to follow the public mood. For voters who prefer that kind of leader, the fact that McCain is willing to change his spots from time to time on economic and regulatory issues and some social issues is a feature, not a bug; it's precisely why they like the guy. Energy policy - where McCain jumped ahead of Obama by jettisoning McCain's own prior opposition to offshore drilling - is a classic example of an issue where the public seems to actually prefer someone who won't let prior stances get in the way of rethinking the right approach in the future.
At the end of the day, as I discussed above, John McCain can get away with this approach on domestic-policy issues because nobody doubts that the test of McCain's leadership in foreign affairs or in times of crisis is his very lengthy record in those areas, regardless of the more mundane business of domestic government. Unlike Obama, McCain has earned that credibility, because unlike Obama, McCain has more to back up his words than the words themselves.
John McCain has the strength and determination to be the Commander in Chief, in good times and bad; by long years of trial we have seen what he is made of, what he stands for, and when he is and isn't willing to change his position. His "maverick" nature may make it impossible to be 100% certain where he'll come out in particular domestic-policy debates, but on the whole, any reasonably astute observer of the political scene knows what we are getting with McCain.
None of that can be said with any confidence about Obama. He's a dot-com stock, a subprime loan, an email enticing you to help him transfer money if you send some now - no track record, no established management, no earnings, no visible means of support, just a lot of promises that keep changing every time you ask. He will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. Obama has staked his entire campaign on the value of "just words," and now even the words are changing. His appeal may prove durable to the young, seeing everything for the first time. But at the end of the day, how can we know what this man is made of? We can only hope. How can we know what he stands for? We can only hope. What can we do if we wake up early next year and discover he's not what we hoped for? We can only pray.
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August 6, 2008
BASEBALL: Throwing Zs
Amidst the collapse of a previously overachieving A's team (in part an unavoidable risk of Billy Beane dumping Rich Harden, Chad Gaudin and Joe Blanton), one high point has been Brad Ziegler, who entered tonight unscored upon in 34 innings over 26 appearances.
Ziegler attracted notice last week for breaking George McQuillian's 101-year-old record for most consecutive scoreless innings to start a career. He may be approaching the record for consecutive scoreless games to start a season as well; baseball-reference.com's database, going back to 1956, lists the record as 33 by Mike Meyers in 2000, albeit over only 17.2 innings. Since high-turnover relief pitching was in its infancy in 1956, that's probably the record. He's also passed the club record for consecutive scoreless innings by a reliever.
I'm less sure if it's the record for consecutive scoreless innings to start a season. Walter Johnson's AL record 55.1 consecutive scoreless innings started on Opening Day 1913, but the Yankees got a first inning run against the Senators that day, and I assume Johnson was the starting pitcher, so he must have allowed that run.
August 5, 2008
POLITICS: Bait .... Switch
Kevin Holtsberry looks at Obama's response to GOP mockery of his advocacy of saving fuel by properly inflating your tires. In a lot of ways it's a perfect example of an Obama response - it's highly effective if you've only heard one side of the story, as Obama presents the issue as an argument between Obama, making a useful suggestion, and Republicans who "take pride in being ignorant." In fact, his suggestion that we raise awareness of the benefits of proper tire inflation is mildly helpful, although as Jim Geraghty notes, government policy initiatives that depend on the government changing the behavior of the people don't tend to be all that effective, especially against the hard core of folks who are disengaged from the news. (As a conservative, I tend to have more faith in the people's right to change the government than the government's ability to change the people).
But just as in other controversies - most notoriously, when Obama used his much-ballyhooed Speech About Race In America to change the subject from questions about his own personal relationship with his pastor - Obama's response completely ignores the actual subject at hand, which is the fact that he proposed tire inflation as an alternative to, and adequate substitute for, domestic oil drilling, yet anybody who looks at the issue (Kevin collects a few examples) can tell you that it won't come close to doing that. Dialogue being the skill set he lacks - he's happy with a microphone in his hand, but only as long as he's the only one who decides what to talk about.
POLITICS: Paris Fires Back
UPDATE: McCain responds to Paris Hilton's energy plan. No, really. Actually from the GOP perspective, it says something of the zeitgeist that even Paris Hilton's tongue-in-cheek energy plan makes room for more drilling. If that thought has penetrated even the empty heads of Hollywood floozies, we really have won this debate.
BASEBALL: Heilman the Fireman
Jerry Manuel confirms that he'll turn to Aaron Heilman as the closer with Billy Wagner on the DL. This makes sense to me - Duaner Sanchez just hasn't been consistent this year, and while he can be quite effective at times, I suspect it's still physical problems from his injury rehab that cause him to be erratic. Feliciano, Smith and Schoenweis are better suited to righty/lefty work. Whereas a lot of Heilman's periodic struggles (like he had this weekend) seem mental as much as physical, and the challenge of closing may help lock him in - Heilman's exactly the sort of pitcher who probably has a streak of 11 straight saves in his arm at some point in his career.
Of course, the loss of Wagner for any stretch is still a big blow and one that cascades down the line in the pen - Heilman closing means Sanchez has to be the go-to 8th inning guy, etc. Ruddy Lugo is being called up to add to the pen, which of course will be leaned on hard if Maine and/or Pedro can't get back to contributing a reliable 6-7 innings every fifth day some time soon. The upside is that if Wagner does come back at full strength, the rest may make him fresher for September and possibly October than he's been in past years.
POP CULTURE: Music Television
POLITICS: Senator, You Are No Ronald Reagan
Feast your eyes on one of the silliest things you will see this election season:
Via Kos (H/T), though even Kos has to present it without comment to keep a straight face. Where there's nonsense, of course, there's also always Andrew Sullivan to declare it "the best way to respond to Rovian tactics." One has difficulty viewing this video and imagining that it is intended to be taken seriously.
Anyway, nonsensical as the idea is that Obama in 2008 is somehow comparable to Reagan in 1980, there is quite a lot of sentiment you see these days from commentators on the left yearning for Obama to be the Left's Reagan, the guy who realigns the political landscape around his ideas. One can never predict the political future, but this, too, seems to miss some critical points about Obama and Reagan, points that go beyond the simple and stark difference between the substance of their ideas.
Similar Experience? Really?
Both Reagan and Obama burst on the national political scene as the result of a single speech given during a presidential election campaign. In Reagan's case, it was the 1964 "Time for Choosing" speech, a nationally televised 30-minute address on behalf of the Goldwater campaign; in Obama's, his 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.
You could plausibly argue that the two men had similar experience up to that point. Obama had more political experience, 8 years as a state legislator in Springfield; Reagan, unlike Obama, had some executive experience, eight years as the head of a labor union, running the Screen Actors Guild from 1947-52 and 1959-60, and while SAG is not your usual union, it was a challenging job:
Ronald Reagan presided over Screen Actors Guild at one of the most challenging moments in our union's history, as the rise of television significantly impacted the compensation and working conditions for the nation's screen actors. Under his tenure, SAG grew significantly in size and influence as the Guild tackled issues ranging from runaway production, to fair compensation, to unity in an increasingly complex industry - all issues that remain timely to working actors today.
Reagan's role as head of SAG also brought him directly into the great national security policy debates of the day - this was the McCarthy era - including his 1947 testimony to Congress about Communist infiltration of Hollywood. One looks in vain for analogous examples of Obama's role in national security debates in the 1980s.
Reagan also had some military experience, albeit not terribly impressive, serving in the reserves from 1937-42 and making training and PR films in Hollywood during World War II. But still, eight more years in military service of any kind than Obama can point to.
Of course, what matters is what these men did with the national platform they inherited. Reagan immediately became a leading spokesman on national security issues; in 1967 he debated Robert Kennedy about the Vietnam War on national television before a hostile audience, and by all accounts mopped the floor with the Senator and former Attorney General. Obama, by contrast, kept a fairly low profile in 2005-06 as a backbench freshman Senator in the minority party. Still, you could still plausibly argue that Obama in 2008 has comparable credentials to Reagan in 1968: four years as a Senator compared to two as a Governor.
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Then early in 1968, several leaders of the state Republican party came to see me and said they wanted me to run for the Republican presidential nomination on the California primary ballot the following June as a favorite-son candidate. If I did, he said the party could avert a repeat of the kind of bloody battle between moderates and conservatives that split the party so badly in 1964. I agreed with them that there were still lots of hard feelings left over from the Goldwater-Rockefeller primary fight and that a heated primary race between the three major candidates in 1968 - Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, and George Romney - would probably reopen the wounds. But running for president was the last thing on my mind. I'd been governor for less than two years and I said it would look ridiculous if I ran for president. But they countered: "A favorite-son candidate is not the same thing as a real candidate. If you enter the primary as a favorite son, the major candidates won't enter the race, so we'll avoid a disastrous primary fight; as governor, you'll win the primary, but that only means you'll head the delegation to the convention."
Yet, that's exactly the point in his career at which Obama is insisting that he is ready. Reagan, by contrast, had a lot more to do before he won the nation's trust in 1980. Eight years, two full terms, as Governor of the nation's largest state, and the years 1967-74 were turbulent times in California. An unsuccessful national presidential campaign in 1976. Years in the 1970s mulling the great issues of the day, reading voraciously, and presenting detailed commentaries on everything from the SALT and Law of the Sea treaties to revultions in Sub-Saharan Africa to the future of Medicare. Then and only then, finally, after 16 years on the national stage, did the GOP give Ronald Reagan its nomination and present him as its candidate for the presidency.
On The Issues
Just as importantly, Reagan was Reagan, and had the lasting impact he did on our politics and American political thought, not just because of who he was and what he had done but because of what he stood for. And therein lies a major distinction.
Go back and watch some of the Reagan 1964 and Obama 2004 speeches:
What will jump out at you is that even from the very beginning of their roles on the national stage, Reagan was talking about specific issues and specific ideas, drawing stark contrasts with his party's electoral and ideological opponents. The theme of the Goldwater campaign, after all, was "a Choice, not an Echo." And Reagan addressed himself from the very beginning to the nation's challenges abroad. The personality came later; in 1964, Reagan hadn't yet learned how to integrate his genial movie-star personality with the force of his ideas, which come on hard, unfiltered and uncompromising.
Obama, by contrast, talked very largely about himself, putting his winning political persona at center stage and shunting disagreements about the issues off center stage. His speech had little enough of note to say about America's role in the world, and far from drawing contrasts, he was at pains to sell a message of unity (the theme of his speech was that Republicans were drawing false contrasts between "Red" and "Blue" America), a theme that was irreconcilable with laying down clear principles and hard truths applied to the great issues of the day. Reagan was selling ideas; Obama was selling Obama.
And so it continued. Obama's campaign has been mostly about Obama's cult of personality and the historic nature of his background. The Left wants to believe that Reagan's success was about his personal popularity and the stagecraft of his aides, but while those certainly helped, that never explained why Reagan's legacy endured long after he personally retreated from the national stage. Reagan won the presidency not just by popularity, nor even by amassing credentials like exexcutive experience, but by consistently and forcefully laying out a specific vision of America's role in the world and the role of our government at home; he left no ambiguity about those ideas, and after 16 years on the national stage he had become their leading spokesman. Not for nothing did Peggy Noonan write that even when Reagan seemed distant and aloof from his White House staff, the "idea of Reagan" was ubiquitous; everyone knew what he stood for.
The idea of Obama is simply Obama. He has not had the time nor the patience nor the platforms of a governorship, a prior national campaign or national radio and newspaper commentaries to build support for an agenda larger than himself. The dream of Obama as the Left's Reagan simply has no foundation. He will win or lose this election on Obama and nothing more.
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August 4, 2008
POLITICS: Cantor: Obama "seeking culprits rather than solutions" on Energy
Courtesy of my RedState connection, I participated in a short conference call this morning on Obama's energy policy (before the rollout of Obama's latest energy speech, which Ed Morrissey hits the highlights of here) with Virginia Congressman and House Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and McCain campaign spokesman Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Here's my summary of the call.
The chief theme pushed by Cantor and Holtz-Eakin is that Obama is at best weakly committed, and at worst outright opposed, to more domestic energy production. At all turns they brought the conversation back to this theme, which has clearly been a winning one for Republicans in general and the McCain campaign in particular. Rep. Cantor pointed out that Obama's recent statements of willingness to support domestic drilling "if that's what we have to do" is not leadership and conflicts with his own party's position in the House. The Q&A session was more involved and is discussed below the fold.
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Cantor & Holtz-Eakin took five questions, four from MSM sources and one from yours truly.
1. An AP reporter (Bob Lewis) asked about Rep. Cantor being on the VP shortlist and asked about his conversations with Sen. McCain on this point. Rep. Cantor pointedly responded that he was on the call to discuss energy policy and refused to comment. (For those of you reading tea leaves, while the McCain campaign was deploying Cantor, it was also sending Mitt Romney out on CNN and circulating transcripts of his appearance, so one should not get over-excited about the choices of surrogates; they have clearly decided to make maximum use of the people on the short list whenever possible).
2. A reporter from USA Today (David Jackson) asked about the Democrats' "use it or lose it" proposal to embargo new drilling rights until oil companies use the leases they have already purchased from the federal government. Holtz-Eakin responded that Sen. McCain supports 'use it or lose it' because it is already current law, in the sense that under current law an unused lease reverts to the government after five years. (This isn't exactly the same as what the Democrats are proposing, but his point is that we already have rules on this topic that McCain supports).
3. I asked about two things - one, Obama's announced plan "that would give families a stimulus check of $1,000 each, funded in part by what his presidential campaign calls 'windfall profits from Big Oil.'" - and two, this passage from Obama's website on "Energy & the Environment":
Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund: Obama will create a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund to fill a critical gap in U.S. technology development. Obama will invest $10 billion per year into this fund for five years. The fund will partner with existing investment funds and our National Laboratories to ensure that promising technologies move beyond the lab and are commercialized in the U.S.
My question was whether we should be concerned that Obama was moving towards more government control of sources of energy production that had heretofore been controlled by the private sector (I thought better of asking them to directly compare Obama's energy policies to those of Hugo Chavez).
Rep. Cantor replied first, saying that we are not going to be able to tax our way out of energy supply problems, and after noting again the Democrats' lack of action on this issue he stressed that imposing windfall profits taxes had been tried under President Carter and led to less domestic energy production. He accused Obama of "seeking culprits rather than solutions" on energy. He noted that there is broad popular support, over 2/3 support, for more domestic oil exploration, and said we would not solve our energy problems by cutting people checks and that it was a dicey business to start trying to decide which profits are legitimate.
Holtz-Eakin stepped in next to say that at a technical level, Sen. Obama's plan to use taxpayer money for 'venture capital' just doesn't work, noting that lots of private venture capital in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is already heavily invested in the search for alternative fuels. He contrasted Sen. McCain's plan, which utilizes the private sector in the search for new battery technology. He concluded that Obama is offering "just words to fill a void where he knows we need action."
4. A reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked whether the current energy crisis was all Bush's fault for failing to ask for national action after 9/11 to wean us off foreign oil. Rather than rehash the battles over prior energy bills, both Cantor and Holtz-Eakin took the view that the problems had been longstanding and bipartisan, but Cantor closed for the kill on Obama by noting once again the failure of action on pending drilling bills:
The first thing he should do is pick up the phone and call Speaker Pelosi and ask her to move for a floor vote on the bill now pending in the House to allow for more domestic energy exploration.
5. A reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times compared energy to housing and asked why Americans think we have an entitlement to cheap oil. Rep. Cantor challenged the use of the term "entitlement" but said that the simple fact is, we are in a fossil fuel economy and as long as we are, we need to lower prices because they are hurting families and businesses.
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BASEBALL: Mets Open Thread
Try as I might, I just can't bring myself to write about this weekend. Have at it, or anything baseball.
POLITICS: The John Edwards Test
The Obama campaign and its supporters have been quick to throw around charges of racism when their candidate has been criticized. I propose the following easily-applied thought experiment before evaluating such charges: would Republicans say the same thing about John Edwards?
Edwards is not, of course, precisely identical to Obama, but if you were conducting a test for racial bias and needed a white "tester" to change places with Obama, he's as good a fit as you'd be likely to find - close to Obama's age, similar in his level of experience (one undistinguished Senate term, tenuous grasp of national security issues) and accomplishment (close to zero), smooth-talking but challenged in answering tough questions, and drawing his support from a similar ideological base. By far the biggest distinguishing factor between the two men is the color of their skin.
Now, some will argue that this is not the right test, that some attacks that would be fair game against Edwards would not be fair against Obama. But watch for this switch: it's the point at which Obama supporters have stopped asking for sympathy for their candidate having to carry burdens other candidates wouldn't face, and instead are asking for immunity from the burdens other candidates must shoulder. And that's precisely the point at which a lot of people who might sympathize with Obama's appeals to fairness will instead see that he's asking to be judged by a different set of rules nobody else gets to play by.
So, applying that test, where does it get you? Obama has complained about McCain harping on the risk of Obama's inexperience and national security naivete, but certainly Republicans would be arguing that an Edwards presidency would be a huge risk to the nation and its economy (indeed, I challenge you to name a presidential campaign in living memory in which one or both candidates was not accused of being a risky choice, from the 1964 'Daisy' ad to Al Gore's "risky scheme" rhetoric). Obama is squealing about an ad comparing him to shallow celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, but given that right-wing pundits for years have referred to Edwards as the Breck Girl or the Silky Pony, it's hard to see why the GOP would forego a similar line of attack. Edwards never matched the pomposity of Obama's cult of personality, but not for lack of trying; certainly the absurd arrogance of Obama's declaration that his primary victory would lead to the very tides receding was criticized from the Right on much the same basis as Edwards' claim that a John Kerry presidency would get Christopher Reeve out of his wheelchair. Edwards' left-wing lawyer wife was criticized for some of her pronouncements on the trail just as Obama's left-wing lawyer wife has been, and just as Bill Clinton's was.
Obama has given the Right opportunities Edwards never did, in terms of his associations with Marxist third parties, crooked political fixers, unrepentant domestic terrorists, Palestinian agitators, and the like. But nobody in their right minds thinks Edwards would have been immune to criticism if he'd had the same circle of friends.
Probably the one exception is the Rev. Wright story. Edwards would certainly have faced intense criticism if he'd had Obama's sort of longstanding personal relationship with a preacher who howled "God damn America!" and inflamed the sort of racial resentments as Rev. Wright, and that's true whether it was a racist white preacher or a racist black preacher. But the Wright story is uniquely damaging to Obama because it's a black man's black preacher; it's a story that speaks to white voters' fears that Obama will be willing to listen to the counsel of those who see fairness and equality as secondary to resentment and payback and score-settling.
I still contend that his association with Rev. Wright is entirely fair game - it's Obama, after all, who chose this man as a role model and spiritual mentor, who named his book after one of Rev. Wright's fiery sermons. But at least I can understand why this particular line of attack makes Sen. McCain more nervous than many others, because it undeniably does put Obama in a different place than it would put John Edwards. But in that regard, it is very much unlike any of the criticisms the McCain campaign has actually chosen to deploy.
POLITICS: Racist Campaign Ad Watch
Given that our betters have been instructing us again and again that it's racist to depict or associate Barack Obama with white women, I have investigated and uncovered scandalous new evidence of more ads and campaign videos that have used this racist tactic. Read on for the evidence of this smear campaign directed at Senator Obama:
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Obama ad, July 31, 2008
Obama shown with white women at 0:17-0:20
Obama campaign video, July 31, 2008
Obama seated on a stool between two women, at least one of them white 0:33-1:15; also flanked by many white women seated behind his podium.
Obama campaign video, July 25, 2008
3-minute video centers on white woman discussing what she likes about Barack Obama.
Obama ad, July 8, 2008
Obama shown with white women at 0:23, 0:28-29
Obama campaign video, July 4, 2008
At 3:27-32 and 3:51-57, video lingers on white women gazing approvingly at Obama as he speaks.
Obama ad, June 19, 2008
Obama shown with white women at 0:14, 0:25, 0:45-46; Obama also scurrilously shown with his white mother at 0:10-11
Obama ad April 2008
Obama shown with white women at 0:15, 0:23-24 (with his hand on her shoulder - horrors!), 0:26 and 0:28. Another white woman is shown at 0:04 but is compared unfavorably to Obama.
Obama ad October 2007
Obama shown with white women at 0:09, 0:13-15.
Obama ad September 2007
Obama shown with white women at 0:18, 0:25; also shown again with his white mother.
Clearly, this is all a racist conspiracy to smear Barack Obama. Please contact the Obama campaign and tell them to stop spreading racist images of Senator Obama with white women.
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August 1, 2008
BASEBALL: The Ones You Don't Make
Cerrone summarizes Omar Minaya's press conference on why the Mets made no deals at the deadline. Realistically, having dealt Milledge and stripped much of the farm system's tradeable chips in the offseason to get Santana, the Mets could not compete for the likes of Manny or Jason Bay. Bay brought home 4 prospects - the Mets only really have two prime time prospects now, outfielder Fernando Martinez and LHP Jon Niese, and with a long-term core of Wright-Reyes-Santana-Beltran-Maine (if healthy)-Pelfrey in place, they don't want to totally abandon the future to win now just because they are running near the end of the line with Delgado, Pedro, Wagner and maybe Perez (I won't mention Alou and El Duque here since they aren't contributing now anyway). It's frustrating, since this is a pretty good team now that just has some gaping holes to fill, especially with Church's status perenially uncertain, but I guess we are now wedded to Fernando Tatis as an everyday player, and hoping the 33-year-old Tatis doesn't wake up one morning and realize the 1990s are over.
Cerrone runs down the longer list of guys Minaya talked about as prospects. A quick look:
*Martinez, 19, is batting .292/.332/.420 at AA and has is ailing again, this time his hamstrings. .292 with doubles power is not bad for a teenager at AA, but with no HR power yet and a 14/56 BB/K ratio he's clearly not going to be of any use to the big club this year and probably needs a full year in the minors in 2009 before you can talk about him as a serious major league regular.
*Niese, 21, has just been bumped up to AAA. I assume we see him for a September cup of coffee, earlier only if Maine's rotator cuff is worse than the Mets are letting on. He has a 2.95 ERA and his per 9 ratios are 8.15 K, 3.15 BB and 0.41 HR in 23 starts. His ERA was 4.29, but with similar peripherals, in A ball last year. He seems to project as a third starter type, maybe a #2 at best.
*Robert Parnell, the #2 starter behind Niese at AA Binghamton, pitched really well his first season in low A ball in 2005, but has a 4.39 ERA since then, including 4.32 this season, averaging 6.56 K, 4.32 BB and 0.93 HR. I can't see what in his performance record makes him a prospect any time in the near future.
*Dan Murphy, 23, has good numbers at AA this year (.308/.374/.496 with 26 2B, 13 HR, and 14 steals). Unfortunately, Murphy's a third baseman (and an error-prone one at that, career fielding % of .920) and has little prior track record of minor league success; to be useful to the Mets he would need a new position, but breaking in a new position makes a guy hard to trade while he's learning it.
*Eddie Kunz, 22 and also at AA Binghamton, is a RH reliever who has never allowed a home run in 59 pro innings, has a 2.87 ERA and 7.85 K/9 this season, but also 4.40 BB. Like Murphy, he's only done anything to merit appearing on the prospect radar this season. I can't see the use in rushing a guy like that until his control improves.
There's also Nick Evans and Mike Carp, of course, who will presumably battle it out for the 1B job next season assuming Delgado is allowed to walk (anything else would be nuts) and the Mets finish second in the Teixeira sweepstakes.
One more note: the Mets officially do not miss Paul Lo Duca, who was cut by the Nationals along with Felipe Lopez and Johnny Estrada.