"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
June 30, 2009
BASEBALL: Not Working
Joe Posnanski ponders, at his usual length, how the apparently knowledgeable people running the Royals ended up - through a combination of poor decisions, lack of resources and bad luck - taking a very bad offensive team and making it progressively worse each of the past two seasons.
POLITICS: The Favor Factory
I had meant to link earlier to Francis Cianfrocca's piece on the cap-and-trade bill and how - from what little anyone knows of what's in it - it vastly expands the federal government's role in doling out rewards and punishments to particular private businesses, a role that inherently brings with it a cesspool of corruption. Also worth noting is the Democrats' strategy of trying to blitz through Congress as many things as possible at once so as to minimize the possibility of public debate (the cap and trade vote being held while the press was covering the Michael Jackson story).
BUSINESS: The Salesman
BASEBALL: No-Hittable, Part II
wezen-ball looks at the pitchers who took the most no-hitters into the 7th inning. H/T Unsurprisingly, Nolan Ryan laps the field, while Don Sutton leads among guys who never closed the deal. Interesting to see Tim Wakefield's name on the honorable mentions.
Chris Jaffe looks at the 10 hardest and 10 easiest lineups ever no-hit. The Nomo no-hitter might go to #1 if you only looked at home batting averages, but #1 is indeed hard to top, especially since it was no-hit by a guy who that season struck out 83 batters while allowing 294 hits.
June 26, 2009
Pejman looks further at the growing scandal involving the Obama Administration's purging of Inspectors General who deliver bad news. John Kass explains why this is completely consistent with Obama's Chicago background.
Seriously, anybody who expected Obama wouldn't behave like this needed their head examined.
This whole flap, by the way, underscores one of my longstanding arguments, which is that the various Inspectors General and periodic should be replaced by a single Cabinet-level official charged with investigations of public integrity. A strong, prominent IG would have a couple of institutional advantages: harder to fire by virtue of his or her prominence, yet still directly accountable to the President; able to bring the perspective that is lacking in ad hoc special prosecutors; able to remove public integrity cases from DOJ, freeing up the Attorney General to focus on less politically-charged law enforcement priorities. Granted, this means yet another Cabinet department, but even aside from the issue of eliminating departments, you could make room by combining a bunch of the currently redundant departments, like Commerce and Labor or Interior and Energy.
POP CULTURE: Wacko Jacko Not Coming Backo
I'd always expected Michael Jackson to go by slipping into the Cracks of Doom while clutching his Precious....Seriously, I never had any sympathy for him, given that he was a pedophile or something very like it (leave for another day the people who thought it was a good idea to send their children over to his house), but Jackson was a figure deserving mainly of pity. His family, especially his father, wrecked him, and he spent most of his life mutilating himself and indulging his increasingly bizarre fixations, and seeking the company of children, old women, animals, basically anyone but adults who could have dealt with him as a peer. I have to wonder if his death was more or less intentional, especially given some of the financial problems the Wall Street Journal had been reporting he'd been having lately.
Musically, Jackson wasn't my cup of tea - I loathed him when he was big in 1983, and other than some of the pure Motown-ish Jackson 5 stuff, once the craze was gone the only one of his songs I liked (which is on my iPod) was "Beat It," his collaboration with Eddie Van Halen, which really does rock after all these years. But I came to appreciate the fact that he was a great musical talent and, in his day, a great entertainer. But his personal wierdness did that in as well - an entertainer needs some sort of connection with the audience, and after Thriller, Jackson was just too bizarre for anybody to identify with or connect with him at all. Smeagol was long gone by then.
June 25, 2009
POLITICS: Sanford Steps Out, But The Battle Continues
Perhaps the most telling moment in the past few days' controversy over South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's absence and subsequent revelation that he'd been visiting his mistress in Argentina came during the period when his staff was putting out the story that Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the Democratic National Committee rushed out a press release blaring that the Trail had received stimulus money, and therefore Sanford - as an ardent opponent of the stimulus bill - was a hypocrite for walking on ground that had been touched by Obama's pork-barrel bill. Once the reach of the federal fisc had touched that ground, no possible alternative is permissible but to agree with the political dictates of the hand that holds those purse strings.
The incident speaks volumes about the peril the nation faces to its way of life, and the depth of the trust Sanford breached by engaging in a reckless affair at a time when he was one of the small handful of people in the country well-positioned to do something to stop it.
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We live in a time when the governing majority in Washington is pressing to weaken or coopt every institution that could stand, as De Toqueville would put it, as an independent bulwark against the power and pervasive influence of the federal government - private businesses bought off with no-exit bailouts and subsidies or coerced with regulatory threats, the states bribed with no-exit stimulus money and compelled to accept it, private charities subsidized or supplanted, universities, newspapers, schools, churches, the family - everyone ensnared in the influence of Washington and expected to dance its tune, and none permitted to stand against the one, singular set of value judgments imposed by the cultural and economic Left. The push to insert the federal government far more deeply into health insurance and health care is now the critical inflection point. Health care involves a person's most basic, private, intimate, familial and life-and-death values and relationships. "Health" can be and is used, by the Left, as an excuse to regulate everything else - the argument being that if the taxpayer's involved in your medical care, Uncle Sam has a financial interest in whether you smoke, wear a seatbelt, own a gun, eat fast food, watch too much television, etc., etc., etc.
We sometimes hear the much more modest ambitions of the Right - prohibiting abortion, maintaining existing legal definitions of marriage - described as if they were some sort of massive conspiracy to meddle in other people's private lives. Libertarians complain, in the same-sex marriage debate, that really we'd be better off if the government was out of the marriage business entirely. But of course, such things are inconceivable as long as the federal government keeps expanding - with ever more programs directed at 'families,' government is incapable of staying neutral on how to define a family, as it would in a nation with more liberty and less government. On issue after issue, we get cultural flashpoints precisely because government has already moved in and set up shop, and is now just quibbling over the price.
For all of that, there is still, out there in the public, a fair amount of sentiment in support for the traditional American way of life - having liberty and taking personal responsibility for your own decisions, the bad ones as well as the good ones. But what that public sentiment is missing is a leader. A lot of the burden of speaking out on the issue has fallen on older right-wing war horses like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, but while Rush and Newt are formidable spokesmen, neither holds elective office or is likely to again. And the battered Beltway GOP has lost many of its leaders and most of its authority on size-of-government issues. That's one reason why so many hopes have devolved on the next generation, the 50-and-under Republicans, many of them in state government or in the House: Sanford, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey.
Among that younger generation, Sanford stood out as the most experienced, and has compiled a strong record not only of principle but of public integrity, from leaving Washington after three terms in Congress to battling his own party back home over spending. It's too early to pick a horse for 2012, but a lot of us had already put valuable time and energy into studying up on Sanford and promoting his views: I'd interviewed Sanford and written up a long profile of him when I could have been doing something else with my time, just as I'd pored over video clips of him last summer. Erick Erickson stuck his neck out during Sanford's absence, passing on his staff's explanation about being on the Appalachian Trail. Even to those of us already jaded about politicians, Sanford seemed, however quirky, to be a true believer in the good fight and a solid if unexciting guy to possibly line up behind.
And Sanford betrayed us, just as he betrayed his family; he lied to us and wasted our time. But that's not what is so frustrating - it's that at a time and place when the nation desperately needs champions of our traditional liberties, he was one of only a few people who could really have made a difference. To read his emails to his mistress, you can sense that Sanford was in the hold of a deep infatuation, and any of us who have been lovesick teenagers can understand that, but the man's not a teenager; he's a married father with responsibilities not just to his family and his State but to the nation as a whole. He's not easily replaced, and the American people will be poorer for his abandonment.
The Left, of course, sensing the removal of an obstacle to ever-greater social control, is ecstatic at Sanford's downfall. It's amusing to watch, given that these are the same folks who told us a decade ago that an executive's affairs - even felonies committed to cover them up - are nobody's business and only the concern of people with some sort of mental problem (I believe it was Sid Blumenthal who argued that anyone remotely disturbed by Bill Clinton's affairs must be a closeted homosexual), but then they always just assume nobody remembers what they said back then, having no principles but the pursuit of power. The convenient excuse is that it's only hypocrisy when Republicans act immorally, on the theory that Democrats don't believe in right and wrong anyway, an argument whose counter-factual nature and fundamental depravity I have dealt with at length before and won't rehash here. Republicans, while we may disagree among ourselves about precisely the impact of Sanford's affair, aren't switching sides on this the way the Democrats do, and have all but unanimously written him off for the office Clinton once held; nobody is planning a pep rally on the Statehouse lawn to celebrate in his honor. (I had more thoughts on the significance of marital infidelity to executive and legislative roles in this post on John McCain last fall).
The fight to preserve the American people's independence from Washington control will continue. But for now, the people will have to fight on without one of their best leaders. Shame on him for that.
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June 24, 2009
POLITICS: Questions That Have Very Obvious Answers
This is from Obama's press conference yesterday:
President Barack Obama on Tuesday squared off with the insurance lobby over industry charges that a government health plan he backs would dismantle the employer coverage Americans have relied on for a half-century and overtake the system....
As usual when Obama has to respond to a serious criticism, he acts like a snarky left-wing blogger rather than a serious adult, throwing off a one-liner that seems to his die-hard supporters like a clever parody of Republican arguments but doesn't stand up to even the most minimal of scrutiny. Typically, it's pointless to debate whether Obama is being astoundingly ignorant or deliberately mendacious; the point is that no sane person could defend his response. Daffyd offers a long list of screamingly obvious ways in which the private sector would be unable to compete with a government plan even though the government plan is inefficiently run, including the obvious-to-everyone-but-Obama fact that a profit-making enterprise has to make a profit, whereas a government agency or government-sponsored entity can afford to lose money pretty much indefinitely (Francis Cianfrocca points out to me that the proposed new healthcare GSE, which he refers to as the Consumer Health Management Corporation or "Charlie Mac," would start with something on the order of $10 billion in capitalization, many multiples larger than the market cap of even large insurers, and with an endless credit line from Uncle Sam). There is even - you may know this, but presumably Obama does not - a whole body of antitrust law dedicated to preventing large companies in certain circumstances from driving competitors out of business by undercutting their prices to sell at a loss, then jacking prices up when the competition is dead and buried. Profit-making private entities don't actually act like that very often, for obvious reasons: but governments can and do, at the taxpayer's expense. As Phil Klein notes, one of the main arguments by supporters of the government plan is that it will use its vast size to obtain cost savings at the expense of health care providers (doctors, hospitals, drug companies, all of which are presumed to continue providing the same level of goods and services without regard to profit motive), cost savings that far smaller private insurers could not obtain. That's an argument Obama himself has made repeatedly, yet he now professes ignorance of it. Because, of course, he retains at all times the confidence that nobody will ever call him on this sort of thing.
BASEBALL/POP CULTURE: Out Of Money Ball
Rich Lederer has an excellent post breaking down MLB starting pitchers this season by strikeouts per 100 pitches, which is a nice way of correlating the ability to get strikeouts with pitch efficiency. You can really see what a great year Javier Vazquez is having, as well as one of the year's most significant stories, the development of Justin Verlander. On the down side, Mike Pelfrey is way at the bottom of the list (of course, Pelfrey's groundball tendencies mean he doesn't need a great K rate to win, but he has to do better than this).
June 23, 2009
POP CULTURE: "The Most Important Instrument"
I don't read interviews with Bruce Springsteen all that much anymore - although Bruce's music is still mostly only vaguely political, as I discussed at some length back in 2002, in recent years he's gotten sufficiently actively partisan that I prefer to just listen to the music and tune out the politics. But this interview has some telling (if in a few places overly grandiose) musings on the thing that - other than the music itself - I've always loved and admired about the Boss, and that's the fact that the man truly gives a damn about connecting with his audience, and works at it, which is why he remains the best live showman in the business:
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The idea of a show was delegitamised [in the late 60s] through that bohemian notion of selling out, which I always felt was somewhat misguided. Because once you're onstage, you're in a show, my friend, whatever you're doing. There's certain kinds of people I wouldn't want to see put on my show, because it's not who they are. But the idea - and it remains a good one, and a bridge to your audience - was putting on a show with the intent of reaching a deeper level of communication and getting at a deeper truth.
An excited audience is an exciting audience. The audience is a very decisive factor in our show. It is a place of communion, that's the point. You are in concert, truly, with the audience - they're the other instrument you're playing. That's something I've learned and studied since I was very young from the very first band I was in, The Castilles. It's a survival mechanism. We played to all kinds of audiences - supermarket openings, drive-ins, to all black audiences, to all rocker audiences ... And we knew how to survive in each situation by reading that audience and, within the realm of what you wanted to do, reaching them. So I go out at night, I know everything I can know about the instruments I have onstage. I go out every night cold about the most important instrument - the audience. It makes it interesting.
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POLITICS: Through The Looking Glass With Andrew Sullivan
My always-worth-reading New Ledger colleague, Christopher Badeaux, has the definitive and exhaustive profile of Andrew Sullivan's work and the obsessions that have defined him as a writer and wasted so much of Sullivan's prodigious writing talents. You'll want to print this one out and digest it at leisure. Here's the opening:
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Perhaps the single, common life goal of every intellectual, pseudo-intellectual, and intellectual aspirant, is to be a true Renaissance man - a genius whose force of will and flexible, dominating intellect allows him to master or nearly master not one or two, but a whole host of related and unrelated fields of study and practice.
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June 22, 2009
WAR: Wrong Way Rules of Engagement
As a general matter, while I write a fair amount about national security strategy, I'm usually hesitant to wade into military tactics, a subject best left to the professionals. Even among those who know their stuff, military tactical decisions often involve difficult tradeoffs on which reasonable people can and do disagree, plus people who lack a military background (as I do) often make hilarious mistakes when attempting to lay out the facts of such stories, let alone dissect them, without running them by someone who knows their stuff. I'd prefer to avoid the kind of armchair generalship we had among so many on the Left during the Bush years who were hair-trigger quick to accuse U.S. tactical decisions of being (1) incompetent or (2) atrocities.
All that being said, I find myself utterly baffled by this report from the Associated Press on comments made by and on behalf of the new commanding officer in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and his spokesman, Rear Adm. Greg Smith, and of course I have to wonder if the order comes from McChrystal or originates higher up the chain of command from the political branches:
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The top U.S. general in Afghanistan will soon formally order U.S. and NATO forces to break away from fights with militants hiding in Afghan houses so the battles do not kill civilians, a U.S. official said Monday.
As the article notes, there are reasons why the U.S. military needs to be careful about civilian casualties, because casualties make us unpopular with the Afghan public and cause friction with the Karzai government. But then, the "Team America" image of left-wingers to the contrary, our military is always more careful about civilian casualties than it would be if it was 100% focused on killing the enemy. That's the nature of our military even without formalizing an order in the rules of engagement, and moreso when you consider the rules of engagement typically ordered in most circumstances.
But McChrystal's order strikes me as going way too far in taking us out of the business of fighting the enemy. First, we know full well that our jihadist enemies love to use innocent or captive civilians as human shields; that particular war crime is their standard M.O. and has been for many years (as it is against the Israelis as well) - I can recall that being their standard tactic at least as far back as Mogadishu. To give them a complete sanctuary by virtue of committing a war crime is a very bad precedent that diminishes the U.S. military's effectiveness - thus prolonging the war - and only encourages more of the same barbarity. Second, publicly announcing that the strong preference for not shooting at people hiding behind civilians is being codified in a hard and fast rule only gives the enemy more encouragement and advice as to how to nullify our forces.
McChrystal "has said his measure of effectiveness will be the 'number of Afghans shielded from violence,' and not the number of militants killed." Now, it was true in Vietnam and Iraq and is true in Afghanistan that enemy body counts alone are rarely the sole measure of success. You win by breaking the enemy's will to fight and belief that it can accomplish anything by fighting, and while attrition alone can occasionally win a war, in the usual course you have to demonstrate the futility of resistance in other ways as well. But in any military engagement, simply playing defense cedes too much initiative to the enemy, and an enemy with the initiative and secure places to hide can always talk itself into continuing the fight.
What finally worked in Iraq was a 1-2-3 punch - more U.S. and especially local troops, expanded rules of engagement, and a dedication to clear and hold areas of the country and deny safe havens among the Iraqi people. McChrystal's new rules, if accurately described here, seem to be a move in the opposite direction on both of the latter two scores, and a repeat of some of the less successful tactics tried in Iraq. That's bad news all around.
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June 21, 2009
POP CULTURE: Democracy's Pop Star
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd recently gotten into the music of Kelly Clarkson. Well, I ended up digging up enough material on her to turn out a fairly exhaustive profile for The New Ledger of her formula for success and place in the culture (consider it a counterbalance to all the Bob Dylan content on the site). I've always had a soft spot for people who made a career path where one didn't exist before, and Clarkson isn't quite like anybody else in the music business. I also came to the conclusion that she is, with the exception of Justin Timberlake, probably the naturally funniest person in the music business.
June 19, 2009
WAR: The Biggest Domino
I know it's redundant to tell people to read Krauthammer - really, you are doing Friday wrong if you don't read his column every week - but he boils down the essential stakes in Iran neatly, and reminds us that this isn't just about Ahmadenijad vs Mousavi. Samples:
[T]his incipient revolution is no longer about the election. Obama totally misses the point. The election allowed the political space and provided the spark for the eruption of anti-regime fervor that has been simmering for years and awaiting its moment. But people aren't dying in the street because they want a recount of hanging chads in suburban Isfahan. They want to bring down the tyrannical, misogynist, corrupt theocracy that has imposed itself with the very baton-wielding goons that today attack the demonstrators.
As Bill Clinton might put it: it's the mullahs, stupid. Krauthammer, as always, looks at this from the broader perspective of regional/global strategic dynamics. The stakes, if the regime falls:
Imagine the repercussions. It would mark a decisive blow to Islamist radicalism, of which Iran today is not just standard-bearer and model, but financier and arms supplier. It would do to Islamism what the collapse of the Soviet Union did to communism -- leave it forever spent and discredited.
Krauthammer does oversimplify a bit; there are forces in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that are also crucial to the counterrevolution against democratizing and liberalizing the region. But in neither of those states do the reactionaries have full control of the government the way they do in Iran (internal Saudi and Pakistani politics being deeply Byzantine), and changing the Iranian regime would put those forces in a much weaker position within their own states in the same way it would isolate Syria.
As Krauthammer notes, and as I discussed yesterday, Obama is on the wrong side of this - not in the Ahmadenijad vs Mousavi dispute, on which he's properly neutral, but on the broader people vs mullahs battle, in which his tepid responses and olive branches to the mullahs are effectively placing him on the side of the billy clubs. The House just voted 405-1 to "condemn" repression in Iran and stand with the dissidents; only Ron Paul, who votes against these things as a matter of course, sided with the mullahs and the White House.
POLITICS/LAW: The More Things Change...
Not that there's anything wrong with that; we conservatives have been standing up for Justice Scalia's view of the unitary nature of executive power - and the democratic accountability it promotes - for years. It's the people who blathered about it during the Bush years who didn't know what they were talking about, and now have to pretend that they were in favor of this kind of thing all along, much the way they only learned to despise the Independent Counsel when they found themselves on the receiving end of it.
June 18, 2009
POLITICS: Hey, Sure, But This Time It Will Work!
WAR: Say Goodbye To Cairo
The Obama Administration's response to protests against the Iranian regime's contempt for even its own thin facade of democracy has been markedly muted and tentative; even the French Government has spoken out more clearly against the fraudulence of the presidential election and the mullahs' suppression of the Iranian people than has President Obama. One conclusion we can draw from Obama's failure to offer support for the Iranian people against their theocrat masters is that it eviscerates the entire point of his Cairo speech to the 'Muslim world'.
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In and of itself, there were already many reasons to be concerned about the Cairo speech, as Mark Steyn, Charles Krauthammer, Martin Peretz, Andrew McCarthy and Erick Erickson have all detailed at length - its factual distortions and omissions of history, its false equivalencies, its acceptance of the legitimacy of treating "the Muslim world" as a collective political construct superseding national interests or popular sovereignty, its contrast between Obama's deferential words towards Muslim nations with his meddling in the affairs of the world's lone Jewish nation. In the speech, Obama embraced the role of a defender of the Islamic faith, even going so far as to speak of where Islam "was first revealed," a statement that explicitly endorses Islam's claim to theological truth. Obama proved the old saw that a liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in an argument: on every issue on which there is a pro-American (or pro-Western or pro-Israeli) set of factual assertions and arguments and an opposing set of anti-American (or anti-Western or anti-Israeli) factual assertions and arguments, Obama accepted the anti- premises and ignored the pro-. Thus, as Peretz details, he accepted the notion that the State of Israel owes its legitimacy entirely to European guilt for the Holocaust, and wholly ignored the pre-1945 history of Zionism. Thus, he accepted the notion that the U.S. properly bears the baggage of historical guilt for the sins of Europe, while refusing to claim credit for the blood Americans have shed repeatedly for Muslim peoples. Thus, Obama blamed tensions between Muslims and the West on "colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims" - even though many of the core regions of the Islamic heartland (such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Levant) were either never Western colonies after the rise of Islam or were only briefly under British control between the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Second World War. As a whole, while the speech's historical and political narrative departed from the pro-American view of the world, it dovetailed neatly with the views of Egyptian-raised scholar Edward Said, a professor at Columbia during Obama's time there and mentor to Obama's friend and Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi. (Perhaps that's one reason why Obama chose Cairo as his location and why he's taken every available opportunity to offer petty diplomatic snubs to the British in particular.) In short, Obama spent the speech accepting, rather than challenging, the views of his audience, and leaving to someone with a job other than President of the United States the task of defending the United States against the arguments made against it.
There is, of course, an argument to be made, and that has been made by Obama's supporters, in favor of giving such a speech. Certainly, if you want to persuade people, it's easier to do if you start your remarks by buying into their view of the world, even if this requires the embrace of demonstrable untruths. (The definition of diplomacy is the art of not speaking the truth). By setting himself up as the arbiter of two contending parties - America and the Islamic world - and above both, Obama banked on using his own personal popularity with Muslims to establish a separate brand identity, the Obama Brand (count the number of times the word "I" appears in the Cairo speech, as well as the references to his own biography), with a base separate and distinct from the American Brand with all its historical associations. As Andrew Sullivan expressed the argument, back in 2007, for the value of having Obama as a distinctive representative for America rather than an advocate for its values or a defender of its record:
A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man - Barack Hussein Obama - is the new face of America. In one simple image, America's soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama's face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
All of this raises a question. If the Obama Brand is to be sold to Muslim populations in various nations, to what purpose? What do we hope to accomplish by having an American President who is more well-regarded for his identification with the views of Muslims than is America itself? If Obama's charm initiative can pay some dividends to the United States, when do we collect them?
The Iranian crisis reveals the hollowness of the entire effort. Here we have a situation in which the truth is obvious: the Iranian people, a majority Muslim population, are being oppressed by their government. And in which the ideal outcome is obvious: anything that weakens the control of the mullahs over Iranian society is a positive, and with the legitimacy of the regime now staked on the victory by the odious Ahmadenijad, any outcome that undermines that victory is a step in the right direction.
Under a presidency, like that of George W. Bush, that single-mindedly pursued American interests and American values, the answer would be to speak that truth and lend public support to the Iranian people against the mullahs. That doesn't mean offering explicit support for Mousavi, the dissidents' candidate who is only slightly less a tool of the mullahs than Ahmadenijad, but it does mean acknowledging the legitimacy of the people's grievances. The downside if President Bush took that step is the risk of a backlash: that Ahmadenijad in particular could rally anti-American public support against the protestors by portraying the whole enterprise as an American puppet. Reasonable minds can differ on whether that backlash would be a serious problem (certainly the people behind the Iron Curtain always approved of Ronald Reagan speaking the truth about the oppressive nature of the regime they lived under), but it's the cornerstone of the Obama supporters' argument for why the President should keep out of this one.
But what if President Obama did it? If Cairo was about anything, if it was worth anything, if the Obama Brand could ride to the aid of the interests of the United States in a situation where a more explicitly pro-American president could not, Obama should be willing and able to put that brand to work in a situation where the obvious objective truth is that he was acting to favor the interests of an Islamic population. He should be able to draw on his personal favorability in a crisis when something real is at stake.
There are two possible answers to why Obama hasn't done that. One is that when push comes to shove, the Obama Brand in the Muslim world isn't actually worth anything when there are real stakes. That people everywhere are savvy enough to know that nations and peoples don't change their inherent interests simply because they've hired a new front man, that personalized diplomacy doesn't do anything to budge the basic dynamics of international relations, and thus that efforts like Cairo are just meaningless piffle in terms of their practical effect on America's ability to pursue its foreign policy objectives when there are opportunities presented to alter the status quo in our favor.
The darker possibility is that Obama views strengthening, rather than weakening, the Iranian theocrats as America's predominant foreign policy objective in this crisis, and thus he would regard action on behalf of the Iranian people as counterproductive. That case is laid out by Robert Kagan and Francis Cianfrocca. Low an opinion as I have of Obama, I'd prefer not to believe that he actually wants the mullahs to win, although Kagan and Cianfrocca make a compelling argument at least that Obama's strategy prior to this crisis was to offer more American-conferred legitimacy to the mullahs and Ahmadenijad as a carrot in arms control talks (the opposite of the Reagan strategy).
In either event, this much is clear. Cairo was only words, in a situation when words alone would mean nothing, cost nothing. When words could make a difference, President Obama won't speak them. The Iranian people aren't deemed worthy of change they can believe in.
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I'm as disappointed as the next guy with how things have gone for the Mets this season, but I seriously can't believe people are starting to call for Jerry Manuel's head. I don't love Manuel as a manager, and yes, like his predecessor he's on some thin ice after a late-season collapse (albeit a slightly less epic one in 2008 than in 2007). But really, what more could the man have done this year? It's not Manuel's fault that Reyes, Delgado, Church, Schneider and occasionally Beltran have been injured. It's not Manuel's fault that Perez, Putz, Pelfrey and Maine have as well. It's not Manuel's fault the team has no legitimate corner outfielders, an overpaid, aging slap hitter at second base and little offense from the catching position. All things considered, this team could be doing a lot worse with all the adversity.
If anybody deserves to be sacked, it's the training staff. You can't eliminate injuries, but the Mets rather persistently seem to have trouble diagnosing them and getting people back in the lineup quickly without getting reinjured. Maybe that goes higher up the organization than the trainers, but dammit Jim, Manuel's a manager, not a doctor.
June 17, 2009
WAR: Put Not Your Faith In Princes
June 16, 2009
POLITICS: Fixated On FOX
BLOG: Now This Is A Car Review
H/T Erick Erickson.
POP CULTURE: Democracy's Pop Star: Kelly Clarkson
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The first step was controlling her own destiny. Clarkson's initial victory gave her the basic platform: a recording contract, a song that became her first hit, a long round of promotional appearances, and a contractual obligation to appear in a universally-panned "romantic comedy" with the runner-up, Justin Guarini (who is now mostly a pop culture footnote). But that just extended her allotted 15 minutes of fame, and at the time it was expected that she'd make a living a Celine Dion-style crooner, as Cowell predicted. But Clarkson had other ideas of her own. It was her second album, Breakaway, released in 2004, that launched her to real stardom, with hits of varying styles ranging from the country-ish ballad "Because of You" to the rock anthem "Since U Been Gone." And before she did Breakaway, Clarkson took a critical step: she sacked her managers and took more creative control of her album, pushing RCA Records to include six of her own compositions. She has gone on to butt heads again with the industry, from a nasty public feud with RCA president Clive Davis over the songs she included on her darker and commercially disappointing third album, My December (which sold anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 million copies, depending upon the source, but still far less than its predecessor), to firing her second set of managers. Besides songwriting, she also now scripts her own videos. As the dropoff in sales for My December proved, Clarkson's judgment hasn't always panned out (either that, or feuding with your record label is a bad way to get your album promoted; the album's most radio-friendly song, "How I Feel," was never released as a single). On her fourth album, All I Ever Wanted, she's returned to a 50/50 mix of her own compositions, rather than 100%. But the strife has preserved her independent identity as something more than the prepackaged product many expected to come off Idol's assembly line. Most 22-year-olds with one album under their belt wouldn't have taken the step that Clarkson did, but as she has since noted, the goodwill she'd generated with a mass audience gave her the confidence to demand that her own judgment be respected. They were her fans, not the record company's, and like any savvy elected official, she knew when to go over the heads of the gatekeepers and appeal directly to her constituents.
To illustrate the versatility of that stage presence, consider as well her raucous televised performance of "Since U Been Gone" at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards; Clarkson's voice was getting raw by this point of the marathon Breakaway tour, during which she was frequently ill from exhaustion and overwork, but she compensated with energy what she was missing in polish:
Clarkson's stage show sets her apart from many female pop singers of the day: no dancers or choreography, no outlandish costumes, no light shows, no lip synching, no layers of electronic sound, just Clarkson (typically barefoot and attired in jeans) and your basic garage-band backing (drummer, keyboard, some guitars, two backup singers, an occasional horn). It's more a rock stage setting than a pop one, and tends to lower the barriers between performer and audience: her act is less dancing than cheerleading, goading the crowd to clap, jump, wave their arms and sing along, and her onstage banter veers from the humorous to the confessional.
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June 15, 2009
POLITICS: Third Time The Charm?
High on the list of states where the GOP needs to rebuild its credibility and has a realistic chance to do so is Wisconsin, whose two-term Democratic Governor, Jim Doyle, is seeking a third term in 2010 (no Democrat has ever won three terms as Governor of Wisconsin). The state of Tommy Thompson's Governorship was part of the great ferment of GOP reform in the Upper Midwest in the 1990s, and despite Democratic sweeps of the state in the past decade, many statewide races have been very close (George W. Bush lost Wisconsin by a razor-thin margin in 2004). If the climate has turned against the Democrats by 2010, this is a state that should be a prime target. For his part, Doyle pushed for billions in new taxes in 2007 after running on a no-new-taxes campaign in 2006, and now faces huge budget deficits. CQ reports that the polls are showing his weakness:
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Wisconsin Gov. James E. Doyle is looking vulnerable as he seeks to win a third term in 2010, according to a new Public Policy Polling poll. The PPP poll, conducted June 9 and 10, found that just 34 percent of voters approved of Doyle's job performance, while 60 percent disapproved.
That echoes a recent Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll that also recorded Doyle's favorability rating at an all-time low.
Read the whole thing; CQ notes that the PPP poll has Doyle trailing his GOP opponents, while the Kos poll unsurprisingly has him leading, but that any poll shows his opponents to be very unknown this far out, leaving much of the race to be determined by who the GOP nominates, how much money and activism they generate, how quickly the party coalesces behind a candidate (in past years, a late primary has left GOP challengers dead and buried before there was even a nominee) and how Doyle succeedes in defining his opponent to the electorate.
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June 13, 2009
WAR: In Praise of Chaos In Iran
Iran, we are told, is on the edge of, if not sliding immediately into, chaos. Both sides of the presidential election have claimed not only victory but landslide victory, and as happens in such cases in states that are not genuine democracies, the candidate who is out of power has apparently found himself under arrest, and the population is edging from restive to explosive. The usual voices of the status quo will undoubtedly tell us that America needs to be worried about this. But while chaos in Iran is not without risk, it is greatly to be encouraged.
First, Iran has been a thorn in the side of the United States, both in Iraq and more broadly around the region, and as often as not it has meddled in our and others' affairs without cost. There are few principles of international relations more critical than always giving the other guy a downside for making trouble. The disputed election makes the Iranian regime vulnerable; it is precisely at such moments of vulnerability that the regime can be made to suffer the downside of making us an enemy.
Second, the Iranian regime is bad for the Iranian people. Anything we can do to improve the chances of eliminating that regime improves the odds of cracking open Iranian society for the better. Violence is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception in revolutions, but freedom often isn't free - and as we have seen in recent decades, a surprising number of brutal but brittle regimes have crumpled in the face of popular uprising when they lost the will to stage their own Tianamen Square moment. There is only one way to find out; if the Iranian people are ready to take the chance, we should do whatever we can in our power to encourage them.
Third, a weak and inward-facing Iranian regime will be a lesser threat to continue pursuing its nuclear program and other forms of mischief, and may even provide opportunities for well-funded intelligence operations to take advantage of an unstable situation to further weaken Iranian capabilities.
Fourth, Iran has long stood as a propaganda victory for the Islamists, proof of a sort that an Islamic revolutionary state could stand against the West. That victory has inspired even Sunni Islamists who otherwise have little in common with Shi'ite Iran. The collapse or weakening of the regime at the hands of popular unrest would further demonstrate the dead end that is the radical Islamic political project.
America today has a great opportunity to make trouble for a hostile government while at the same time potentially lending an opportunity for freedom to its oppressed people. We should use whatever resources are at our disposal to make the best of that chance.
BASEBALL: Subway Series Open Thread
Sorry, still don't have the heart to write about last night. Talk amongst yourselves.
POLITICS: The Left Falls In Love With Profiling
In the wake of the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, there's been something of a mad rush by left-wing bloggers to use the shooting to validate the now-infamous Department of Homeland Security report on "right-wing extremists.".
There are two noteworthy aspects of this effort. One, it continues the DHS report's willful misidintification of people like James von Brunn, the museum shooter, as "right-wing." And two, it ultimately embraces the concept of profiling in law enforcement, in ways that liberals used to deplore.
The initial problem with this effort, as Leon and Pejman have detailed, is that von Brunn had more in common with left- than right-wingers: he railed against Christianity, "neocons," President Bush, John McCain, and Bill O'Reilly, peddled 9/11 conspiracy theories, and had in his possession the address of another possible target: the building that houses The Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute, the nerve center of neoconservatism. Like the DHS report itself, the left-wing commenters simply assume that "racist" = "right-wing," and therefore lump together conservatives with racists who reject, root and branch, virtually everything conservatives believe in. (This is the historical fallacy used to designate the Nazis as right-wing, when - as Jonah Goldberg details exhaustively in his book Liberal Fascism - they were thoroughgoing economic statists, marketed themselves as a socialist worker's movement, pushed a platform with numerous planks that could come straight from modern-day liberals and did in fact come from 20th century American progressives, were obsessed with health food and anything "natural" or "organic," and campaigned persistently to undermine, subvert and replace the authority and legitimacy of Christianity, among other family resemblances to the Left.)
We can see the same effort to link racial hatred to strains of actual right-wingery in the DHS report:
Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
One wonders if these guys would qualify on the first half of that definition.
The second point of interest is the left-bloggers' embrace of profiling. Now, let's back up a bit: law enforcement officers generally rely, in identifying possible suspects in the absence of a direct tip, on their own experience and the institutional knowledge of their departments in identifying who might be a criminal. Profiles are a part of the second half of that equation, one that's been formalized in recent decades as a regular feature of law enforcement agencies. Profiling principally involves profiles of behavior indicative of various kinds of criminal activity - bank fraud, prostitution, serial killing, drug smuggling, etc. None of this is controversial. What is controversial is including things that aren't prelude-to-crime behaviors in a profile, whether it be inherent characteristics (race, gender), or what are generally thought of as protected activities (religion, political affliation).
The conservative view on profiling has generally been to treat it as disfavored but not necessarily rule it out entirely, while liberals spent years making a cause celebre of racial profiling (Barack Obama made an anti-profiling crusade one of his priorities as a state legislator). Profiling, if done carefully and drawn narrowly from factual experience, can be a useful law enforcement tool. The problem with profiling people based on general characteristics, especially things like race and religion and political affiliation, is that it tends to feed into stereotypes, be grounded in overbroad generalizations rather than hard evidence, sweep in too many innocent people into a law enforcement net, and as a whole encourage dangerous and usually sloppy law enforcement.
The DHS report was all that, and any liberal worthy of the name would not be defending its sweeping generalizations. And still less would liberals be rushing to validate it based on individual shootings in a nation of 300 million people. Imagine if the DHS report had focused on African-Americans as especially likely to commit murder: how many shootings by lone African-Americans would be enough to justify profiling on the basis of race? More than one or two, I'd bet - certainly I wouldn't tolerate profiling on such a basis.
Federal surveillance and vigilance against actual groups of potentially violent political extremists, whatever their political stripes, is of course reasonable. And conservatives, being believers in the virtue of experience as the basis of knowledge, should not turn up our noses at efforts to draw profiles of other possible groups based on experience with existing ones. But we can and should demand something more rigorous than sloppy generalizations in venturing onto the dangerous turf of profiling political opponents of the current Administration (the same Administration whose Attorney General has previously raised the temperature of otherwise peaceful political debate by threatening to criminally prosecute members of the outgoing Administration over policy differences).
But liberals who are cheering this sort of thing ought to be deeply ashamed of themselves, if they ever meant anything they said about racial profiling.
June 12, 2009
BASEBALL: Climate of Suspicion
Jeff Pearlman on Raul Ibanez and steroid suspicion; David Pinto wrote about the same comments from a different angle, and Pinto looked here at the extraordinary season Ibanez is having.
Today's probably not the day for a Mets fan to have perspective on Ibanez...that said, Pearlman and Pinto both hit the basic point that Ibanez' complaints are really better aimed at the current climate in the game rather than the particular folks pointing fingers at him; the rumors may be unfair but we've passed the point of sanity a long time ago in this discussion. I think it's still somewhat premature to point the steroid finger at a guy for having a good year in the middle of June a little more than a third of the way through the season, but Ibanez really is at the point where he's pretty likely, at age 37, to blow away his career high in homers, and oddly he's hit 13 of the 21 away from Citizens' Bank Park, whereas last season he hit 14 of 23 at home, so the obvious explanation of a homer explosion triggered by escaping SafeCo doesn't seem to hold water.
UPDATE (from the comments): Joe Posnanski, who has followed Ibanez in KC for years, weighs in - it's worth reading the whole thing, as is always the case with Posnanski, but the core of his argument is that Ibanez has always been unusually streaky:
Look: Through 55 games, Ibanez was hitting .329/.386/.676 with 19 homers.
June 11, 2009
POLITICS: A Tale Of Two Projects
Jim Geraghty notes that Gov. Palin has brought ExxonMobil to the table in her signature policy effort, the natural gas pipeline, defying critics who didn't think she could make the big energy companies blink and cut a deal. Meanwhile, President Obama faces the first defection from his effort to drum up support for nationalizing health insurance, as the AMA comes out against the so-called "public option" of government health insurance.
It's far from the end of the journey for both these initiatives; Palin still faces other hurdles, and Obama retains a strong position (the NYT notes how he can put the screws on the doctors: "If the doctors are too aggressive in fighting the public plan, they risk alienating Democrats whose support they need for legislation to increase their Medicare fees."), despite the powerful arguments Karl Rove outlines for marshalling opposition. But it's encouraging to be reminded that sometimes, governing is actually about doing things rather than just talking.
WAR: The Moderate
Goldfarb looks at some samples of the rhetoric of Mir Hossein Mousavi Khameneh, Ahmadenijad's opponent in the Iranian election. Whether he's a "moderate" depends on what you think this is moderate compared to:
In 1988, Reuters reported on a radio address by Mousavi to the Iranian people:In a Foreign Ministry statement read on Tehran radio today, Iran said that Israel should be annihilated and that implicit recognition of it by the Palestine Liberation Organisation ignored the inalienable rights of the Muslim Palestinan people.
Read the whole thing. Ahmadenijad is unusually belligerent and unhinged even by Iranian standards, and so removing him can only be a good thing, but the reality is that the real power in Iran continues to lie with the very much unelected religious and security establishment; the mullahs control the selection of candidates and the scope of their authority, which is limited. A new front man won't change that. And the fact that Iranian "moderates" all end up saying about 95% of the same stuff as the "extremists" just illustrates the fact that the problems with the Iranian regime run far deeper than any one man.
WAR/LAW: Living Down to the Stereotype
Must-read on Obama Administration's decision to give Miranda warnings to captured jihadists. Like so many things Obama has done, this one was derided as a straw man when Sarah Palin claimed last year that he would do it.
June 10, 2009
BASEBALL: It's Not The Wind
It's still a little early in the inaugural season to jump to conclusions about park effects - David Wright's moaning about CitiField being hard on home run hitters seems rather premature after yesterday's game. But AccuWeather takes a look at the new Yankee Stadium and concludes that the weather patterns, at least, are not a significant factor in the new Bronx Bombing Range:
After analyzing the 29 games played and the 105 home runs hit at the new Yankee Stadium, AccuWeather.com has determined that a portion of the home run derby that has taken place this season cannot be directly attributed to the weather. As it turns out, walls, not weather, are the homer helpers for 19 percent of the home runs thus far in the new Yankee Stadium.
Taking into account the dimensions of the field and wall height, AccuWeather.com has calculated that 19 percent (20 out of 105) [of the] home runs would not have flown out of the old stadium. If the first 29 games are any indication, 293 home runs will be hit by the end of the year at the new Yankee Stadium, just short of the record of 303 home runs hit at Denver's Coors Field in 1999. If this is the case, as many as 56 home runs could be attributed to the size of the new playing field.
Of course, we have yet to see as well how the wind will shift once Old Yankee is torn down.
June 9, 2009
POP CULTURE: When A Plan Comes Together
Well, we all have our ways of moving on from tragedy in our lives. If you're Liam Neeson, that entails....assembling the A-Team!
Liam Neeson is in talks with movie bosses to star in the upcoming big screen version of The A Team.
I pity the fool who's not excited about this. There's actually a good deal to be said for remaking something that was cheesy at the time and is now terribly dated; there's a lot more freedom. Of course, it could still be awful, as most Hollywood rehashes are. As for Neeson, well, I hope it's a fun movie to make, he could use that.
WAR: The Eastern Goalpost?
North Korea's escalating provocations since the Taepodong rocket launch in April offer an early test of President Obama's foreign policy. But before we can judge whether Obama's policy is a success - or, for that matter, the policies of his predecessors - we need to define the realistic parameters for success in dealing with Pyongyang's Stalinist regime. I would propose a number of possible benchmarks or victory conditions one could use, but it's easier said than done to pick what a realistic goal should be. Here are the choices:
1. Total victory: the elimination of the North Korean regime (whether or not accompanied by reunification of the Korean peninsula) and/or the complete and permanent removal of the conventional, nuclear and proliferation threats posed by the regime. This strikes me as an unrealistic goal, although of course removal of the regime should remain our long-term ambition.
2. Nuclear disarmament: leaving North Korea as is, except without nuclear weapons. This has been the main stated goal of the last two administrations, at which both obviously failed, and seems to be the main stated goal of Obama as well. Expect more failure, especially after Obama's grandiose renunciation in Cairo of the right to interfere with any nation's nuclear ambitions.
3. Conventional containment: preventing the North Korean regime from initiating direct hostilities with its neighbors. By this benchmark, both the Clinton and Bush Administrations can claim success by virtue of doing lots of jaw-jaw instead of war-war with Pyongyang.
4. Total containment: not just conventional containment but preventing North Korea from sharing nuclear secrets or materials or other assets with terrorists or other rogue regimes. To me, this is the highest priority, even higher than nuclear disarmament. We lack adequate public information to judge the success of the Bush team on this score, and will lack it with Obama as well unless and until we get the ultimate bad news. That doesn't mean we know nothing, just that the public will remain in the dark about many key facts. (Broadly speaking, the movement away from open war to terrorism and proliferation as the main threats presents an ongoing problem for voters in evaluating the real successes and failures of our leadership, which to succeed must do so in secret, and which of needs must often take action on the basis of state secrets).
5. Internal reform or relief: changing the repressive nature of the North Korean regime and/or providing humanitarian relief to the population it brutalizes. A noble objective, but not likely to drive our policy when bigger stakes are in play.
6. Engagement: treating talks with the North Koreans as an end in themself. This has certainly seemed, at times, as if it was the State Department's only objective under the past three Administrations.
7. Regional Politics: under this view, the larger issue is the struggle for power with China, so our principal goal should be to make Pyongyang a bigger headache for the Chinese than it is for us. There is little evidence that Obama or his team even think in those terms, and so little reason to believe they could succeed. To be fair, Bush's record in this regard with China was spotty at best, and in his second term he largely gave up.
8. Credibility: under this view, the end state is less important than using the standoff with Pyongyang to demonstrate that America stands by its regional allies and is not easily messed with, and that we will not simply give away concessions without getting something concrete in exchange. By this standard, Obama also seems likely to repeat the abject failures of Clinton and Bush in maintaining U.S. credibility in dealing with North Korea.
The question of what reasonable objectives we might set for our North Korea policy is one on which reasonable minds can differ. The short answer is that, given its methods and worldview, the Obama Administration is likely to succeed in its dealings with North Korea only if it sets low expectations that can be met by maintaining the visible status quo modified by cosmetic accomplishments.
POLITICS: Not As Projected
Whether or not you assign the Obama Administration any responsibility for making things worse four-plus months into the new president's term, and whether or not you blame Congressional Democrats (who took over under much better economic conditions over two years ago), the simple facts are:
1. The direct costs of the stimulus are known.
The primary reason, of course, is Crank's First Law of Government Financial and Economic Projections: they are always, always wrong. Nothing is ever accurately forecast by the government, because forecasting is hard even for the private sector experts, there are tons of variables, and there are too many incentives to shade the truth. The proponents of the policy, bearing the burden of defending it, have their work cut out for them in explaining why we're better off than if nothing at all had been done.
Reason and experience told anyone familiar with the issue that the stimulus was, on balance, a colossal expenditure of taxpayer money - money that really could have been used in the credit-starved private sector right now - that was going to pay zero dividends in the short run, and only small dividends greatly outweighed by its costs in the long run. But then, the point of the exercise was never about hepling the economy anyway, as any serious adult had to know.
June 6, 2009
POP CULTURE: Only One Bob Dylan
A collection of Dylan's idiosyncratic observations from his radio show, some of which can't help but crack you up. H/T. And while I am at it, my New Ledger colleagues have more on Dylan: Pejman on Dylan's self-education, Sean Curnyn on Dylan's new album, and Paul Cella on "The Patriotic Bob Dylan." I'm not a huge Dylan fan but enjoy the best of his work, and as Paul has often reminded me, he's a man who has always defied easy classification.
BASEBALL: Scratched Out
Even in victory tonight, the Mets looked like Marlon Brando at the end of On the Waterfront. I think my brain still hasn't processed how hard and fast the injuries have come on, and I'm not sure Jerry Manuel has either.
I'm still trying to figure out why David Wright thought it was a good idea to steal third with nobody out in the top of the tenth, but since he'd already driven in the winning runs, that'll be forgiven. I still think Wright could really have a monster year this season; he still doesn't seem like he's gotten untracked this season, and he's hitting .338.
June 4, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: Don't Know Much About Arithmetic
Noah Pollak notes of President Obama's claim that "if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world":
Obama is right - we're one of the largest, only outranked by Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Yemen, China, Syria, Malaysia, Tanzania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Somalia, Guinea, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Cote d'Ivoire, Congo, Libya, Jordan, Chad, Turkemenistan, Philippines, France, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Thailand, Mauritania, Germany, Oman, Albania, Malawi, Kenya, Eritrea, Serbia and Montenegro, Lebanon, Kuwait, the UAE, and…well, at some point here you get to the United States, which has (estimates vary) around 1-3 million Muslims.
BASEBALL: Reyes Out
NY Post Mets beat writer is reporting that Jose Reyes has a hamstring tear and will likely be out until the All-Star Break (he'll be evaluated in two more days). Aside from Wright, and maybe even more than Wright, this is the injury the Mets are least equipped to handle. It really has been an awful deluge of injuries.
More details here.
BASEBALL: Big Unit Lands
Congratulations to Randy Johnson on winning his 300th game. I've previously pooh-poohed the perennial "this is the last 300 game winner" prediction, which after all was made by people in the media even as Johnson and Tom Glavine were closing in on the milestone (as well as Mike Mussina, who likely would have made it if he'd wanted to). But this time there really should be something of a drought: I have to collect my prior posts and run the numbers again, but look at the active leaders: the only guy within 80 wins of the goal is Jamie Moyer, who's 46 and allowing 2.4 home runs per 9 innings this season. Pedro Martinez, ahead of the pace 2-3 years ago, will need a serious resurgence to get another 86 wins and is presently unemployed. John Smoltz is 42 and not close. That leaves only Andy Pettitte. Pettitte shouldn't be counted out, but even if he notches another 10 wins this season he enters his age 38 season needing 70 more wins, and like Mussina his desire to pitch into his 40s is questionable at best.
If Pettitte doesn't make a run, probably we'll be waiting on guys who aren't halfway there yet, like Roy Oswalt and Roy Halladay (I don't take Mark Buehrle's chances too seriously), or maybe Santana (Sabathia's ahead of Santana's pace but seems likely to break down by age 35). The 300 game winner may not be extinct, but we should probably expect some period of hibernation.
BASEBALL: Out of Action
POLITICS: Sanford's Stop Sign
Whether or not Republicans can ever get a meaningful mandate to significantly cut government spending, the political climate has unmistakably shifted to one in which one of the great domestic issues of the day is simply putting the brakes on runaway expansion of government and the concomitant diminution of the true private sector. Frank Luntz thinks that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is making headway in selling the message that it has to stop somewhere:
Unfortunately, a court order from the South Carolina Supreme Court may cost Sanford this round in the budget fight no matter what the public thinks. But the battle to win public opinion never ends.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:14 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: McLouth Overboard
There's not much good that can be said about the Pirates trading Nate McLouth to the Braves for three prospects. It's not as if McLouth is about to walk as a free agent:
McLouth is under contract through at least 2011, having signed a three-year, $15.75 contract in spring training. The deal includes a team option for a fourth year at $10.65 million, with a $1.25 million buyout.
That's really not that much money, even for a team like the Pirates, and while McLouth is hardly a superstar - according to the Fielding Bible, he was a very far cry from deserving his Gold Glove last season - he's not at all overpaid for a guy who has produced a 120 OPS+ since 2007 (.268/.353/.482), runs well and can play an outfield corner if you're not happy with his defense in center. As Bill James wrote of the Seattle Mariners in the early 1980s, if you couldn't afford to pay Floyd Bannister, you have no business owning a major league baseball team. The same goes for the Pirates: if you can't afford to pay Nate McLouth, you have no business owning a major league baseball team.
Yes, the Bucs got three prospects back, but they have plenty of "prospects"; what the Pirates lack is baseball players. McLouth is 27 and, with the arguable exception of Freddy Sanchez, is the best player on the team. Maybe he'll be a little past his prime and at the end of his contract by the time Pittsburgh's younger players have come into their own, but if you keep dealing away guys like McLouth you never even get close enough to contending to make those kinds of decisions.
And what did they get back? Gorkys Hernandez, the key guy in the deal, has slugged .387, .387 and .391 the last three seasons (two of those in A ball), and this year has 15 walks and 54 strikeouts in a third of a season and has been caught stealing 8 times in 18 tries. That may not suggest a failed prospect: Hernandez is still just 21, and the Braves system has a lot of pitchers' parks. But he's a long way from being the player in AA that McLouth is in the National League. Charlie Morton flopped with the Braves last year, although his minor league numbers are still pretty good. And Jeff Locke is 6-16 with a 4.42 ERA in A ball since the beginning of last season; Locke's peripheral numbers are better than that, but like Morton and Hernandez, he's got nothing in his record that would just blow you away and make you say "hey, we should trade our best player, who is 27 and signed for two more years, for this guy."
Now, I pity the fools who run the Pirates.
June 3, 2009
BASEBALL: Fear Will Keep The Batters In Line
POLITICS: Pay No Attention To The Actual Governor
Jon Corzine promises that if he's re-elected, NJ will not invade Iraq. As Jim Geraghty notes, a guy with a 36% approval rating needs something better than "I'm not Bush" to defend the corrupt and dysfunctional status quo in Trenton, where Democrats have ruled unchecked for years with predictably familiar results.
Chris Christie's victory in yesterday's GOP primary is good news. Christie's the best shot the GOP had, and he's had a spectacular record of hunting down corruption in the state (granted, in New Jersey that's like hunting cows).
One of the interesting potshots from Corzine's speech was focusing on John Ashcroft. I know why he did it: Christie is close with Ashcroft and has drawn some fire for appointing him as a federal monitor as part of plea deals with corporate defendants. It's a silly charge; while I agree broadly that the entire monitor concept is something of a racket, it's been used widely by prosecutors of both parties (it was a similar arrangement that got Deval Patrick hired at ExxonMobil), and it's fairly ludicrous to argue that a man who'd served as Attorney General, Governor and Senator was not qualified for the job.
But what makes it politically interesting is the assumption that Ashcroft is universally unpopular with moderates; I'm not so sure that's true anymore. Ashcroft's DOJ was a model of professionalism and aggressive law enforcement, and only looks better compared to his famously inept immediate successor, and if anything moderate voters have heard a lot since 2004 about some of the settings in which Ashcroft's pushback established the outer legal limits on some of the more controversial Bush Administration anti-terror policies (an unpleasant, but necessary role for the AG to sometimes perform). We'll see if using Ashcroft as a boogeyman is effective, let alone effective enough for New Jersey residents to decide that they'd prefer more of the same disastrous tax-spend-steal policies to electing a guy who knows John Ashcroft.
UPDATE: Geraghty also notes that the centerpiece of Corzine's campaign in 2005 was a promise to cut taxes, which - like all such promises from Democrats - he broke, leaving the state with the nation's highest tax burden.
June 2, 2009
BASEBALL: Carried Away
It was a sad day when the Mets dealt away Ramon Castro to make room for Omir Santos. Castro's perennial problem has been his durability; I've never questioned the decision to leave him as the backup catcher, because he clearly physically can't catch 100 games a year. And given Brian Schneider's own durability issues, Castro's trips to the DL have been doubly frustrating. And Santos has hit surprisingly well this season (.275/.303/.475 with a number of big game-breaking hits).
But Castro and Santos are actually both known quantities, and only one of them can hit. Castro in his Mets career has batted .252/.321/.452 over 785 plate appearances, better on balance than what Santos has done...and Santos has only made 89 plate appearances. Yes, Castro is 33, but then Santos is 28 and has batted .258/.303/.348 over 2,429 minor league plate appearances. I don't care how many game-winning hits you get in a month, that's not a major league hitter. Given that Schneider is also 32 and not hitting, the broader answer is that the team needs a new everyday catcher. But Omir Santos will never be that guy.
June 1, 2009
BASEBALL: PR Jay
Bill James and Joe Posnanski discuss hype and reality with Matt Wieters. I'm very high on Wieters, but I find myself being a bit contrarian because the hype is so out of hand compared to what even the all-time greats can do as rookies. Should the Orioles be happy if Wieters gives them a .294/.349/.472 season with 15 HR, 57 Runs, and 65 RBI? That's the average of the rookie seasons of Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza, the greatest hitting catchers the game has seen (average age: 23, same as Wieters).
POLITICS: Bill Ayers' Revenge: The Left's Crocodile Tears on Domestic Terrorism
Because they usually lack the organization, training, funding, numbers and suicidal ideology of international terrorists, it can at times be difficult to distinguish domestic terrorists from ordinary psychopaths. But domestic terrorism has been a sporadic presence in the United States since at least radical Kansas abolitionist John Brown in the 1850s, running through the likes of Leon Czolgosz, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Black Panthers, Tim McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, and more recenly Bruce Ivins and John Allen Muhammad. The causes they have killed for have ranged from the noble (Brown) to the nefarious to the outright deranged (Kaczynski), and their inspiration has ranged from the purely domestic to imitations of foreign movements like anarcho-syndicalism or Islamism. This being America, domestic terrorists have almost always done more harm than good to their stated causes.
It appears that Scott Roeder, the man arrested for Sunday's murder of notorious late-term abortionist George Tiller, would qualify for membership in this group, given press reports that Roeder has a long record of extremism, possession of explosives and profession of belief in killing abortionists. Now, it's hard to generate much sympathy for Dr. Tiller himself; whatever moral blinders it may be possible for a man to wear regarding early-term abortions, anyone who has seen a sonogram or felt a child kick against its mother's womb can hardly imagine the cruelty required to repeatedly perform..."terminations"...of such helpless and innocent victims. But as long as we live in a nation of laws made by the people and as long as his conduct is permitted by law, the job of judging men like Dr. Tiller belongs to the Lord alone, and the job of stopping men like him remains with the democratic process and with peaceful protest and persuasion; the way of the domestic terrorist is the way of madness no matter the cause.
Even before anything was known about Roeder, the left side of the blogosphere reacted to Dr. Tiller's murder as if it was Christmas morning and they just got a pony; I was following the Twitter feed of Markos Moulitsas, the man best known for reacting to the murder of American contractors in Iraq by declaring "screw them," and he and others were positively vibrating with giddiness about the possibility of using Dr. Tiller's murder to discredit pro-lifers in general and critics of Dr. Tiller in particular.
Well, unlike the Left, some of us have been against associates of domestic terrorists all along. Most of us would, I think, agree that if Roeder somehow escaped prosecution, we would have serious reservations about supporting politicians who subsequently associated themselves with him in the process of cultivating favor with the Right. But that, of course, is exactly what Barack Obama did with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. And anyone who supported Obama has zero credibility in criticizing anybody for associating with violent domestic extremists.
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Ayers and Dohrn, you will recall, were participants in the Weather Underground, one of the few domestic terrorist groups that was genuinely organized and operated over a period of years, engaging in bombings (including bombing the Pentagon), riots and vandalism; when a splinter group led by a friend of Ayers and Dohrn committed a sensational armed robbery and murdered a security guard and two cops, Ayers and Dohrn took in her son and raised him as their own. Dohrn ultimately landed on the FBI's Most Wanted List. To this day, they are wholly unrepentant. I discussed the cases at greater length here, here, here, and here. Obama not only appeared at Ayers' home in one of the coming-out events that launched his political career (again: imagine a Republican doing this at Roeder's home 20 years from now), he gave a glowing review to one of Ayers' books, made joint public appearances with him, and most tellingly of all, Obama in the only executive role of any kind he held before the White House funnelled millions of dollars to educational projects under Ayers' direction to help Ayers further a politicized educational agenda. Ayers was and is still dining out on the notoriety of his status as a domestic terrorist, and Obama abetted and financed Ayers in doing so. And the Left saw no problem with any of this.
Associating with known domestic terrorists is a very bad thing. I'm glad the Left has belatedly awoken to this fact. Now perhaps the people looking to make political hay over Roeder will extend some of their outrage to Bill Ayers' benefactor in the White House.
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