Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holy Pointless Gimmick, Batman

Otto Preminger as Mr. Freeze
There he goes again.  In an effort to "appeal to Republican leaders leaders" in order to find what the New York Times calls a "a common approach to restoring the nation’s economic and fiscal health," President Obama announced he will freeze the pay of civilian federal workers for two years.  A symbolic gesture that will have minimal impact on the deficit led Daily Kos to dub Obama "President Gimmick."  Even assuming -- without conceding -- the deficit must be addressed immediately by cutting spending (but see Growth is Good, Let 'Em Eat Catfood), this plan will do little but punish mostly middle class federal workers.  And what concession did Obama get in return from Republicans?  Nothing, of course.  As Lawrence Michel of the Economic Policy Institute stated:
This is another example of the administration's tendency to bargain with itself rather than Republicans, and in the process reinforces conservative myths, in this case the myth that federal workers are overpaid. Such a policy also ignores the fact that deficit reduction and loss of pay at a time when the unemployment rate remains above 9% will only weaken a too-weak recovery.
All President Obama has succeeded in doing is again buying into the misguided Republican notion that rather than temporarily increase spending in order to stimulate the economy, the government must tighten its belt, i.e., gut government programs.  It sure would have been refreshing on the eve of his meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders for Obama to come out fighting.  As the Times suggested in an editorial Sunday, Obama "should pound the table for a clean, yearlong extension of unemployment benefits, and should excoriate phony deficit hawks — in both parties — who say that jobless benefits are too costly, even as they pass vastly more expensive tax cuts for the rich."  Instead, we get Mr. Freeze.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Evolving Justice

Justice John Paul Stevens
After the Supreme Court struck down existing death penalty laws as unconstitutional in Furman v. Georgia, 37 states enacted new death penalty regimes which sought to address Furman's concerns over the arbitrary application of the death penalty.  In 1976, four years after Furman, the Court upheld several of these statutes.  Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens voted with the majority.  In 1994, a few months before he retired from the bench, Blackmun famously, if belatedly, changed his mind.  Stating that "the death penalty experiment has failed," Blackmun declared he would no longer "tinker with the machinery of death." 

Justice Stevens also reconsidered his views on capital punishment late in his tenure, after years of tinkering.  In a 2008 concurring opinion, Stevens, like Blackmun before him, denounced the death penalty as unconstitutional.  He wrote:  "I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes."  After Stevens retired, at the end of the last term, he has become more outspoken about the fatal flaws of the death penalty.  He stated in an interview with NPR in October that the one vote he regretted in his long career was the 1976 vote to uphold the death penalty.  In an article just published in The New York Review of Books, On the Death Sentence, in which he reviews the book Peculiar Justice by David Garland, Stevens discusses his growing opposition to the death penalty in more detail and great candor

When Justice Stevens voted to uphold the constitutionality of the death penalty in 1976, he believed there would be sufficient safeguards in the law to ensure that it would be limited to a narrow category of defendants and that facts unrelated to moral culpability would be excluded from the sentencing decision.  What Stevens did not account for was what he refers to as "personnel changes" which have resulted in "regrettable judicial activism and a disappointing departure from the ideal that the Court, notwithstanding changes in membership, upholds prior decisions."

The Court, according to Stevens, overturned established precedent in several cases, leading to far "broader application of the death penalty," which he states would not have occurred but for the change in the Court's composition.  Stevens cites the abrupt reversal of established case law which had prohibited the admission of highly emotional testimony on the impact of the crime on the victim's family which "could serve no purpose other than inflaming the jury."  Legal principles did not evolve to warrant this change; what happened was that Justices Powell and Brennan were replaced by Justices Kennedy and Souter. 

Stevens provides other examples, including: (1) a case allowing death eligibility for defendants who participated in a felony that caused death even if they did not intend to kill; and (2) cases making it easier to exclude prospective jurors from capital cases if they express opposition to the death penalty even if they are willing to set aside their personal beliefs.  Finally, Stevens criticizes the notorious 1987 decision of McCleskey v. Kemp, which upheld a death sentence in a Georgia case despite a comprehensive statistical study which established that in Georgia murderers of white victims were eleven times more likely to be given the death penalty than murderers of blacks. (Justice Powell, who wrote the McCleskey, later told his biographer this was the one case he regretted).

Justice Stevens often claimed that he didn't move to the left, it was the Court that moved to the right.  But it really can't be disputed that Stevens evolved over the course of his career and ultimately became, as the New York Times described him, "an eloquent voice for civil liberties, equal rights and fairness."  Stevens, Blackmun, and recently-retired Justice David Souter as well, reconsidered their views on the death penalty and other issues based on their experience on the bench and upon seeing the impact their decisions had on people and on society at large. 

What a stark contrast to the conservative bloc on the Court:  Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts.  As the Citizens United case recently proved, these four (when abetted by Justice Kennedy) are willing to reverse long-standing precedent for partisan reasons because they can.  Unlike great justices, such as John Paul Stevens, it is impossible to imagine these ideologues ever wavering from their deeply entrenched views on criminal justice, civil rights, the role of the federal government, and free enterprise, or ever expressing regret about a legal opinion -- unless it had the unintended consequence of undermining a preciously held conservative tenet.  Instead, it is we who are left with deep regret that they were nominated and then confirmed to serve lifetime appointments.  [Related posts: Waxing Nostalgia, Waning Outrage, Activist Judges, Corporate Takeover]

Monday Jumpstart: Fanfarlo

The Walls Are Coming Down by Fanfarlo

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #9

Clifford Brown, Clifford Brown & Max Roach (1955).  It is hard to disagree with the assessment of Clifford Brown as "the most brilliant trumpet player of his generation, an original and memorable composer, a dynamic stage presence and one of the authentic legends of modern jazz."  According to another critic, he "had a fat warm tone, a bop-ish style . . . and a mature improvising approach; he was as inventive on melodic ballads as he was on rapid jams."  In about a 3-to-4 year period before his tragic death at the age of 25, Brown produced an incredible body of work, including the amazing two volume Art Blakey, A Night at Birdland (with Horace Silver and Blue Mitchell), Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown, and At Basin Street (with Max Roach and Sonny Rollins).  My favorite is Clifford Brown & Max Roach.  Ben Ratliff includes it in his top 100 jazz albums and says it is "one of the strongest studio-made albums up to that time in the nascent LP era," and includes "four of Brown's great performances in Parisian Thoroughfare, Jordu, Daahoud and Joy Spring."  [Related posts:  Really Great Jazz Albums,  #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8]

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Does The GOP Want To Destroy the Country In Order To Save It?

Start with the point often made by historian Rick Perlstein that there is an unwavering block of Americans, including many elected Republicans, who do not believe a Democratic president is legitimate or that liberalism is a legitimate form of government.  Then add Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's admission that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.... Our single biggest political goal is to give [the Republican] nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."  (And don't forget Jim DeMint declaring how critical it was to defeat health care reform for political purposes:  "If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo.  It will break him").

The question is how far will the Republicans go.  Paul Krugman questioned the motives behind the "odd" and "incoherent" Republican attack on the Federal Reserve's plan to buy longer term debt in order to lower interest rates and create jobs.  Krugman dared to speculate that "Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there’s a Democrat in the White House."  According to Matt Yglesias, given that the Republican leadership wants above all else to defeat Obama, together with the obvious point that "tangible improvements in the economy are key to Obama's re-election chance," you have Republicans "do[ing] everything in [their] power to reduce economic growth."  Steve Benen, like Yglesias, suggests that it is not merely that the GOP does not want the economy to recover before 2012, but, in a provocative post, None Dare Call It Sabotage, furthers the hypothesis that Republicans may be purposefully and knowingly undermining the economy in order to win the next presidential election.  As Benen put it, if you wanted to do the most economic damage:
You might start with rejecting the advice of economists and oppose any kind of stimulus investments. You'd also want to cut spending and take money out of the economy, while blocking funds to states and municipalities, forcing them to lay off more workers. You'd no doubt want to cut off stimulative unemployment benefits, and identify the single most effective jobs program of the last two years (the TANF Emergency Fund) so you could kill it.
Still not convinced?  Let's throw in for good measure the Republican scuttling of the START nuclear treaty with Russia for no comprehensible reason.  Obama has referred to ratification of the treaty as a "national security imperative," and has the support of the Secretary of Defense and former defense and national security leaders from both Republican and Democratic Administrations.  The only logical conclusion to be drawn from Republican opposition to the treaty is that they simply don't want to give Obama a political victory regardless of the consequences.  (See What's Up With Arizona)

There is plenty of evidence that the Republicans are not about "Country First" but Party First.  Isn't it time, then, for the President and his fellow Democrats to stop meekly seeking compromises on watered down bills that won't sufficiently get the country back on track and start calling out the Republicans for their unpatriotic motives?  This would not only show Americans that the Democrats are actually willing to fight for their principles and the good of the Country, but it just may shame at least some Republicans into doing the right thing -- not the right wing thing.  [Related post:  Greider On Obama]

Friday, November 26, 2010

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Holiday Wrap Up

Here is a recap of some of the nuttier stuff that's been happening, proving once again that crazy has a right wing bias:
1. Electric Shock.  Conservatives went berserk after Motor Trend named GM Volt Car of the Year.  Notwithstanding the huge success of the government bailout of the auto industry, The Weekly Standard derided the electric hybrid as “Obama-approved" and "government-subsidized."  George Will's column, "What's Driving Obama's Subsidies of Chevy's Volt, snarks about the government “spending some of your money” to sell the Volt and essentially "bribing" people to buy it.  And then there is Rush Limbaugh, who went off on a total rant about Volt winning Car of the Year.  This is not the first time Rush criticized the concept of an electric car.  In July, he argued that liberals have been pushing the electric car "for a hundred years" despite the fact that it has so little promise. 
2.  Let 'em eat McVenisonSarah Palin criticized Michelle Obama for "this kick" she is on with regard to child nutrition and anti-obesity.  According to Palin, the first lady "is telling us she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat."  Palin believes that "instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some . . . politician's wife priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back, and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions and then our country gets back on the right track."
3.  Don't touch his junkGlenn Beck's take on the airport security controversy is that it is all a secret plot by President Obama to create a private army.  It goes like this:  People will hate TSA, and its employees will then "beg for somebody to protect them and represent them," i.e., a union.  And, of course, "if you wanted to really have a security force, wouldn't a unionized TSA under the umbrella of Homeland Security be the best thing? I mean, why start a whole new security force when you already have one?"

Crazy, right?   But, there is a method to all this madness.  A wide swath of the country listens to these voices and their rhetoric about a dangerous and distrustful government that wants to interfere with decision-making of families and businesses. And they don't just vote on Dancing With the Stars.  [See related post:  Convenient Ignorance From Climate Zombies]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Do Managers Really Matter?

Casey Stengel
The Mets hired a new manager, Terry Collins.  Will it matter?  George Carlin, in one of his classic routines, riffs on the differences between baseball and football, and points out that "only in baseball does the manager wear the same clothing as the players do."  While Carlin speculates this is because you wouldn't want to see (then-Oakland Raiders coach) John Madden in a football uniform, it is really because only in baseball is the manager permitted onto the field of play.  I wonder, though, whether the manager is less important in baseball then in football or in basketball, where the coaches are far more involved in play-calling throughout the game.  In baseball, the manager fills out the lineup and pretty much lets the players play.

Indeed, other than flashing the occasional sign for a player to steal or bunt, the manager does not really seem to do much during the game until the later innings, when he must decide such things as whether to take out a pitcher or bring in a pinch hitter.  Even these decisions are usually dictated by the mythical "book," the unwritten code of baseball tenets.  This includes baseball's collected conventional wisdom on when to intentionally walk a batter (don't put the tying run on base), when to bunt late in the game (play for a tie on the road and a win at home) and when to lift a batter for a pinch hitter (right-handed batters should face left-handed pitchers).

The same managers can be brilliantly successful with some teams and dismal failures with others.  Casey Stengel and Joe Torre won many World Championships when they managed the Yankees but could not win at all with the hapless Mets.

After Endy Chavez's miraculous catch in the 2006 playoffs, followed by a devastating loss, the Mets have been in a downward spiral.  Neither Willie Randolph, who managed the 2006 team and was fired halfway through the 2008 season, or Jerry Manuel, who replaced him and was not re-signed after last season, were able to salvage what have been a pretty dismal few years.  I am glad Manuel's gone.  In my opinion he was a terrible manager.  He stayed with lousy players way too long, bunted way too much, and handled the bullpen atrociously.  But frankly, while a better manager probably could have squeezed a few more wins out of the team, I'm not sure it would have made a difference.  Bottom line is that success in baseball comes down to the quality of the players and the ability of management to obtain quality players.  So, good luck, Terry, you're going to need it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thank You Steven Gladstone, Wherever You Are

I was in 11th grade in 1975.  A classmate, Steven Gladstone, was touting an album, Born to Run, by a guy with the Jewish-sounding name of  Bruce Springsteen.  Turns out, Springsteen is a Dutch name, and Bruce was raised Roman Catholic.  No matter.  His songs, with their epic stories about the love, rebellion, and lost innocence of working class folks on the Jersey Shore resonated with this relatively privileged kid from Long Island.  Throw in a great band, blistering guitar and a saxophone, and  I was hooked.  I bought his two earlier records, and gleefully anticipated his next release.  But due to legal wrangling with his manager, the next album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, did not come out for three years, an excruciatingly long time to wait.  But then came the album's eventual release and the Darkness Tour.

Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1978.  I had never seen a performance like it before.  There was a relentless energy and intensity throughout the marathon show.  And there was the sheer joy Bruce and his E-Street Band conveyed on stage and the sincerity of the stories Bruce told in the lead-up to some of the songs.  And, of course, there were the great songs themselves.  When I returned to college in the fall I was a fanatic, and sought to spread the gospel of Bruce to my friends by endlessly playing the bootlegs of his concerts that I had obtained.  Then I learned that the tour was coming to my school.  My friend Henry and I, as well as a few other acolytes, slept out overnight for tickets.  We were rewarded with third row seats, and the show remains unforgettable.

Springsteen sort of lost me with some of his later albums and I can't say I listen to his music much anymore.  But it may be time to revisit the past with the release of The Promise and its 21 previously unreleased songs recorded during the period between Born to Run and Darkness.  As with the excellent but very stark album Nebraska that came out as a counter to its predecessor, the over-hyped Born in the U.S.A., Bruce did not want to follow Born to Run with a huge commercially-appealing pop album.  So, he stripped the obvious hits from Darkness, and gave them to other artists (e.g., Because the Night to Patti Smith and Fire to the Pointer Sisters).  Now we can hear those great songs as originally cut, together with other songs from that remarkably fertile period.  Three years was too long to wait for Darkness on the Edge of Town.  It has been a 35-year wait for The Promise.

Mid-Week Palate Cleanser: Surfer Blood

Floating Vibes by Surfer Blood

Monday, November 22, 2010

Keep Truth Alive

Officials at the Bush Presidential Library consider whether or not to retrieve the Mission Accomplished banner from storage and put it on display, while Bush goes on Oprah and hawks his new book in a "jokey interview."  Yes, I am still harping on Bush's attempt at rehabbing his sullied reputation (see, e.g., Bush Rehab, Pitfalls of Only Looking Forward).  But I'm not only doing this because I enjoy it.  I believe that Bush's attempts to mitigate his gross malfeasance with falsehoods and misrepresentations must be challenged and that he not be allowed to escape responsibility and rewrite history.  As Dan Froomkin says, if the case Bush keeps making for himself "goes largely unrebutted by the traditional media, as it has thus far -- then perhaps he can blunt history's verdict."  So, please read Froomkim's article, "The Two Most Essential, Abhorrent, Intolerable Lies of George W. Bush's Memoir, which takes Bush down on his two more egregious lies -- that he had legitimate reasons to invade Iraq and legitimate reasons to torture.  And, please read David Corn's articles, including Omission Points, Bush Photoshops Rove Out of Plame Scandal, and Still Not Telling the Truth About Iraq and WMDs. And please read the invaluable Robert Parry, George W. Bush:  Dupe or Deceiver?.  And please read George Packer's blistering review in The New Yorker, which concludes thus:
Bush ends “Decision Points” with the sanguine thought that history’s verdict on his Presidency will come only after his death. During his years in office, two wars turned into needless disasters, and the freedom agenda created such deep cynicism around the world that the word itself was spoiled. In America, the gap between the rich few and the vast majority widened dramatically, contributing to a historic financial crisis and an ongoing recession; the poisoning of the atmosphere continued unabated; and the Constitution had less and less say over the exercise of executive power. Whatever the judgments of historians, these will remain foregone conclusions.

Waxing Nostalgia, Waning Outrage

What should have been
In recognition of the 10-year anniversary of Bush v. Gore, Sunday's N.Y. Times Op-Ed page provides tender reminiscences of hanging chads and dimpled ballots.  It is one thing for Ted Olson, counsel for Bush-Cheney, to recount (so to speak) popping expensive bottles of champagne in victory.  But what of the other side?  We have Laurence Tribe bravely accentuating the positive, focusing on "decency" and "perseverance," and Ron Klain speaking wistfully of the hopelessness of a negotiated settlement.  And then there is former Supreme Court reporter for the Times, Linda Greenhouse, who cleverly refers to the decision as a"bad hair day," rather than a tragedy or travesty.

There is no sense of outrage.  Whether this is because the Times chose only moderate voices or because of a waning sense of disgust over what happened is unclear.  What should be clear is that this was one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Supreme Court.  The decision which stopped the Florida recount and handed the presidency to George Bush was a severe blow to democratic rule.  It was a legally unsound, politically motivated decision.  Conservative justices, who invariably relied on principles of federalism to avoid redressing unjust actions by state governments, intervened in a state's voting process, relying on an indefensible interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause.  The opinion itself implicitly conceded its flawed legal reasoning by explicitly stating that it was “limited to the present circumstances” and could not be cited as precedent.  Justice Souter, appointed by the first President Bush, was so disturbed by the ruling that he considered resigning at that time. 

Bush v. Gore was plain and simple "crudely partisan," as Souter later described it, putting a lie to the notion that the liberals on the Court were the judicial activists.  Justice Breyer, in dissent, described the majority decision as a "self-inflicted wound -- a wound that may harm not just the Court, but the Nation.”  Prescient words.  The harm to the Court, as Justice Stevens dissented, was that it gave credence "to the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges" and undermined the country's "confidence in the judge as impartial guardian of the rule of law."  (This view has only been exacerbated by such cases as Citizens United, which also blatantly ignored established precedent to reach a nakedly partisan result). 

By a narrow 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court interfered with a presidential election and gave us George W. Bush, the majority's preferred candidate.  That would be "the wound" that "harmed the Nation."  There should be more outrage and fewer fond remembrances.

Monday Jumpstart: Yeasayer

Sunrise by Yeasayer

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Convenient Ignorance From Climate Zombies

This is simply mind-boggling.  The National Academy of Sciences urges the United States to "act now to to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a national strategy to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change.”  But this won't happen because a significant number of Republicans don't believe in man-made global warming.  ThinkProgress reports on a survey which reveals that more than half of the incoming Republican caucus are "climate zombies" who deny climate change based on a host of disproved myths.  76% of the Republicans in the Senate and 52% of incoming Republicans in the House publicly question the science of global warming.  The report concludes that "there are no freshmen Republicans, in the House or Senate, who publicly accept the scientific consensus that greenhouse pollution is an immediate threat."

Are the Republicans really that ignorant or are they being driven by their ideological aversion to regulation and their financial ties to pollution-making industries?  The answer doesn't really matter, I suppose.  Either way, climate change legislation seems doomed despite the urgency.  Instead, incredibly, Darrell Issa, the incoming chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, reportedly intends to investigate Climategate, the phony scandal of purported data manipulation by climate scientists, whose allegations have already been deemed unfounded after several inquires.

But again, we can't just blame the Republicans.  Before the mid-term elections, the Democrats put forward a bill that would have at least imposed a nationwide cap on emissons.  But, as The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert states, "After months of posturing and further concession-making, Senate Democrats failed to come up with a bill that they were willing to bring to the floor. While the Senate dithered, President Obama was silent. He did nothing to rally public opinion on the issue, and what he did do—open up new areas to offshore oil drilling, for example—only undermined the negotiations."  So, here we are.

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #8

McCoy Tyner, The Real McCoy (1967).  I have been lucky enough to see McCoy Tyner perform solo, in a small group, and in a big band.  He is one of the truly great and influential jazz pianists of the 20th Century.  His playing has been described "as a blues-based piano style, replete with sophisticated chords and an explosively percussive left hand [which] has transcended conventional styles to become one of the most identifiable sounds in improvised music."  The Real McCoy was the album he made after his long and wonderful stint with John Coltrane.  It features Joe Henderson on saxophone, Ron Carter on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.  Every track is a Tyner composition and each one is a classic. [Related posts: Really Great Jazz Albums #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7]

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hide and Seek

This fall, the State of California rushed to execute Albert Brown before the expiration date of sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in the lethal injection "cocktail," lapsed. There is a nationwide shortage of the drug, and Hospira, the only U.S. company that manufactures it (and has objected to its use in executions) cannot produce more until early next year.  After Brown's execution was called off, California revealed that it had obtained a new batch of sodium thiopental from an undisclosed supplier.  In late October, Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona after officials there obtained a new supply of the drug from an unnamed source in Great Britain. 

Lethal injection is supposed to provide a more painless and less grisly method of execution than the gas chamber, hanging, or the electric chair, the other recently used methods of state killing in the United States.  The combination of drugs used was designed in the 1970s by a state medical examiner from Oklahoma without scientific testing and then adopted by the other states without further examination. (Oklahoma is now taking a different route, hoping to experiment with a new untested drug now that they can't obtain sodium thipental).  Contrary to common belief, lethal injection may cause excruciating pain that is masked by the paralytic effect of one of the drugs -- particularly if incorrectly implemented.  Despite countless examples of botched executions, state governments are demanding the benefit of the doubt.  They insist on relying on new sources of sodium thiopental -- and, in Oklahoma, a new drug -- that for all anyone knows are untested, unsafe, and could result in unnecessary pain and suffering.

The refusal of the states to provide meaningful information about how they have obtained new drug supplies is as mystifying as it is disturbing.  Hopefully, various challenges to the states' recalcitrance will result in more transparency.  A lawsuit has been brought in London, challenging the export of the drug to facilitate an execution in Tennessee, on the grounds that this violated the E.U.'s ban on the sale and export of devices that can be used for executions.  In Texas, a ruling yesterday requires its state correctional department to disclose the source of its supply of sodium thiopental.  And a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Northern California this week seeks records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) about its recent acquisition of sodium thiopental.

The more the governments that engage in state killing allow us to peak behind the curtain, the more we will learn about how flawed and how grotesque the process is.  And that, undoubtedly, is why the government is trying so vehemently to keep their methods and sources a secret.
[Related posts:  Drug Problem, Banality of Evil]

If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo (Tom Courtenay)

Tom Courtenay by Yo La Tengo in a very funny video involving a Beatles fantasy.

Winning Isn't Everything

Cy Young
Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners won the Cy Young award despite winning only 13 games and losing 12. The Cy Young Award, voted on by members of the Baseball Writer's Association, is given to the best pitcher in each league.  Cy Young pitched from 1890-1911, and won 511 games, almost a hundred more than anyone else in history (Walter Johnson won 417).  But he also lost 316 games, also more than any other pitcher.  No doubt, Cy Young is one of the all-time greats but he generally is not ranked as the greatest, an honor reserved for Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson or Lefty Grove.  Nevertheless, the prestigious award is given in his name and has often gone to the pitcher with the most wins.

Wins are undoubtedly relevant to a pitcher's performance but they shouldn't be valued above all else.  The number of runs a pitcher's team scores for him, the ability of the defense to prevent the other team from scoring, and the quality of relief pitchers to close out games are all factors in winning games that are beyond the pitcher's control.  For example, this year, Felix Hernandez was dominant in most statistical categories.  His relatively low number of wins was because he had the lowest run support from his team than any other pitcher.

Historically, pitchers have won the award because of high win totals despite other pitchers having better years.  In 2002, Pedro Martinez had a phenomenal year and led the American League in just about every category but wins.  The A's Barry Zito had the most wins and won the Cy Young Award.  In one of the more egregious oversights, Blue Jays pitcher Dave Stieb should have won the award in 1982, but lost out to the less-than-stellar Pete Vuckovich of the White Sox, who had more wins. (Steib probably should have won in 1984 too, but it was given to Tigers relief pitcher Willie Hernandez).  And don't get me started with Ferguson Jenkins and his 24 wins, beating out my beloved Tom Seaver in 1971, despite the fact that Seaver, in arguably his best year, led the league with a 1.76 ERA (an entire run lower than Jenkins) and with 289 strikeouts in 286 innings.

Possibly due to the rise of more accurate statistical measures, the over-emphasis on wins in determining the Cy Young Award winner thankfully seems to be waning.  Last year, Tim Lincecum of the Giants (15 wins) and Zach Greinke of the Royals (16 wins) won the award despite failing to lead their respective leagues in wins.  And now we have Felix Hernandez, with the lowest win total by a starter ever to win the award.  Dave Stieb should be proud.
[Related posts: Fielding Errors]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

And Justice For All

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'
 Ahmed Ghailani was convicted of conspiracy for his involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.  Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court, will be sentenced to somewhere between 20 years and life in prison, most likely life. As The New Yorker's Amy Davidson notes, "the verdict came after five days of deliberations, four weeks of trial, a year in a Manhattan jail, three years in Guantánamo, and two in a darker sort of prison, a “black site” run by the C.I.A."

Predictably, as the Times reports, because Ghailani was acquitted of all but one count, including the murder counts, "critics of the Obama administration’s strategy on detainees said the verdict proved that civilian courts could not be trusted to handle the prosecution of Al Qaeda terrorists."  Thus, N.Y. Rep. Peter King contends that "we must treat them as wartime enemies and try them in military commissions at Guantanamo."  Conservatives like King appear to be arguing that our system of justice didn't work because it wasn't rigged to ensure convictions on all counts.  As Davidson states, however, "our legal system is not a machine for producing the maximum number of convictions, regardless of the law."

Or as counsel of the Rule of Law Program at the Constitution Project said, "I don’t think we judge success based on the number of convictions that were received. I think we judge success based on fair prosecutions consistent with the Constitution and the rule of law.”

One argument offered in favor of a military tribunals is the ability to use evidence obtained through torture.  However, in this case, where evidence from a key witness whose identity was obtained through torture was deemed inadmissible, the judge made clear that a military commission judge would have excluded that testimony as well.

The trial proved that our justice system does work.  Greg Sargent asserts that the reality is "Ghailani's trial took a mere month, at the fraction of the cost of flying translators, jurors, lawyers and reporters back and forth from Guantanamo. He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. There were no opportunities to use the court as a "platform" to preach terrorism, and no security threats that disrupted the lives of New Yorkers. Opponents of the use of civilian trials often argue that civilian courts can't "handle" terrorists. They literally just did."  And Jack Tapper quotes a senior administration official:  "So, we tried a guy (who the Bush Admin tortured and then held at GTMO for 4-plus years with no end game whatsoever) in a federal court before a NY jury with full transparency and international legitimacy and -- despite all of the legacy problems of the case (i.e., evidence getting thrown out because of Bush-Admin torture, etc,) we were STILL able to convict him and INCAPACITATE him for essentially the rest of his natural life, AND there was not one -- not one -- security problem associated with the trial."

Amy Davidson makes a critical point in rebutting the assertion that the use of civilian trials creates significant hurdles for the prosecution -- and conviction -- of terror suspects:  "if time in the extra-judicial limbo of black sites, and the torture that caused some evidence to be excluded, makes prosecutors’ jobs harder, the problem is with the black sites and the torture, and not with the civilian trials that might eventually not work out quite the way everyone likes."  Finally, as Glenn Greenwald says, " When a reviled defendant is acquitted in court, and torture-obtained evidence is excluded, that isn't proof that the justice system is broken; it's proof that it works.  A "justice system" which guarantees convictions -- or which allows the Government to rely on evidence extracted from torture -- isn't a justice system at all, by definition."

What's With Arizona?

Tweedledee and Tweedledum
First Governor Jan Brewer signs the notorious "papers please" anti-immigration law.  Then the Diamondbacks have a dreadful season, winning only 65 games and ending up in cellar of the NL West.  And now, we have the shameful performances of both Arizona senators.

John McCain continues his completely disingenuous efforts to stymie repeal of DADT.  First, he said he needed to wait until the military brass supported repeal, and when they did, he needed to wait for the Pentagon's internal study; and now that the study appears to show that most servicemembers are indifferent to gays and lesbians openly serving, he is insisting on congressional hearings -- and threatened to filibuster the defense spending bill if the amendment repealing DADT isn't stripped from the bill.  As Jon Stewart put it:  "It's the maverick way -- spend a year studying whether soldiers deserve full civil rights, and a half an hour deciding who will be your presidential running mate."

And then Jon Kyl, the senior senator from Arizona, scuttles a nuclear arms treaty with Russia for no understandable reason.  As the Times reports, "the treaty would trim American and Russian strategic arsenals and restore mutual inspections that lapsed last year."  The "failure to approve it will undermine the ability to curb nuclear weapons, sour Obama's effort to “reset” ties with Russia and win greater cooperation from Moscow in areas like counterterrorism, transit routes to Afghanistan and pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear program."  Ratification, which requires 2/3 of the Senate, shouldn't be controversial, and the Administration even agreed to giving Kyl what he asked for in return -- billions of dollars to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.  Kyl nevertheless stated he will block ratification. As the Times editorial states today:  "The treaty is so central to this country’s national security, and the objections from Mr. Kyl — and apparently the whole Republican leadership — are so absurd that the only explanation is their limitless desire to deny President Obama any legislative success." 

When the choice is between national security and obstructionist politics, Republicans have no problem choosing the latter. [Related post: Don't Ask, Don't Tell:  Don't Be Lame]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tom Terrific's Birthday

My favorite athlete of all time, Tom Seaver, turned 66 today.  I remember as a kid recalculating his E.R.A.after every start.  (Here's a post with all the numbers).  I was lucky to be at Shea on April 22, 1970, when he tied what was then a record of 19 strikeouts in a game and set a record for striking out the last 10 in a row.  I was absolutely devastated on June 15, 1977, when he was traded to Cincinnati for Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman.  I  attended his return to NY as a Red, when he faced another of my favorite pitchers, Jerry Koosman.  Along with the rest of the crowd, I was cheering for Seaver, who beat the Mets that day.  The Mets and I eventually made up, but I continued to root for Seaver for the rest of his great career.  3 Cy Young Awards, 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts and a 2.86 E.R.A.  In 1992, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and has the only plaque with a New York Mets cap.  He now owns a winery in Calistoga, California.  I haven't tried it yet but I'm sure the wine is terrific.

Growth is Good

"Cutting the deficit is not only about making cuts." 
In today's NY Times, David Leonhardt writes about trimming the deficit by cultivating growth. Leonhardt explains that " A good deficit plan doesn’t simply make across-the-board cuts for years on end. It cuts funding for programs that do not spur economic growth and increases funding for those relatively few that do."  Ezra Klein agrees that the best way to reduce the deficit is growth. He also astutely points out that this is one reason why the narrow focus on the deficit commission is a mistake. "We should've had a broader commission looking at getting the economy back on track. Then there could've been recommendations to accelerate short-term growth," such as the one put forth by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who is co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus.  As Digby says, "Why Democrats haven't been saying jobs=deficit reduction on a loop, I don't know. I guess they figure it's just too complicated to explain that when people aren't working they aren't paying taxes so the government doesn't have as much money. If government spends money to help people get back to work, it will be paid back when those people get jobs and pay their taxes. Et voila, deficit reduction. (See: 'the 1990s')." Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly also would like to see the Democrats "talk up this idea . . . It's not that complicated; the 1990s offer a recent model of success; and no one outside the far-right really wants those brutal spending cuts anyway."  [Related posts: Let 'Em Eat Catfood]

Mid-Week Palate Cleanser: Blind Pilot

One Red Thread by Blind Pilot

Library Books

Yesterday was the groundbreaking on the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  There was much fanfare and self-congratulation among the honored guests. A gaunt, sickly-looking Dick Cheney contended that  "history is beginning to come around" on the Bush presidency.  Hardly.  A Rasmussen poll out yesterday found that 37% of likely voters view Bush as one of the worst presidents in history just slightly improved from the June mark of 40%.  Hopefully, articles like those by Walter Pincus in the Post (Bush Memoir Makes Selective Use of Iraq Data)and David Corn in Mother Jones (Bush Photoshops Rove Out of Plame Scandal) will continue to rebut the attempted rewrite of history. With Bush plunging a shovel into the dirt to kick off construction, I began thinking about what books should, but won't, be housed in the Bush Library.   Here's a start.  Feel free to add your own suggestions:
1.   U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights
2.   U.S. Constitution for Dummies
3.   The Complete Idiot's Guide to the U.S. Constitution
4.   Geneva Conventions
5.   Too Close to Call (The 36-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election) by Jeffrey Toobin
6.   The Lies of George W. Bush by David Corn 
7.   Disarming Iraq by Hans Blix (former Director of UN Inspection Commission)
8.   Imperial Life in the Emerald City:  Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
9.   Fiasco:  The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks
10.  Worse Than Watergate by John Dean
11.  Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government by Valerie Plame Wilson
12.  The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration by Jack Goldsmith
13.  Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib by Seymour Hersh
14. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals  by Jane Mayer
15.  Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror by Mark Danner
16.  The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of the Truth in Bush's America by Frank Rich
17.  Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City by Jed Horne
18.  Angler:  The Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman
19.  United States v. George Bush et al. by Elizabeth de la Vega
20.  Reading Mastery - Level 2 Storybook 1 (includes The Pet Goat)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Crossing the Line

John Adams
I have been representing death row inmates for over 20 years.  My clients have been convicted of committing some pretty despicable acts.  When I reveal to others what I do for a living, I sometimes get a horrified reaction, and am then asked with disgust,“how can you defend those people?”  My answer is multi-fold: (1) I don’t believe in the death penalty; (2) my clients are not the sum total of their bad acts but have a humanity about them that is worth defending; and (3) I believe in the criminal justice system and the right of everyone to a vigorous defense in a court of law. 

Because I have been questioned about the legitimacy of what I do -- representing those despised by society -- I was disheartened to read Andrew Sullivan chastising the ACLU and CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) for representing Anwar al-Awlaki.  Others, including a law professor who is on the CCR board, have also criticized the legal challenge brought in support of Awlaki.  The Obama Administration has authorized the killing of Awlaki, an American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda and allegedly hiding in Yemen.  A lawsuit brought by Awlaki’s father, who is represented by the ACLU and CCR, challenges “whether the government has the power to kill any American citizen it labels as a terrorist without review by the courts.”  Shouldn't we be questioning the legality of our government's ability to kill American citizens, and shouldn't we celebrate instead of condemn a justice system that gives us a vehicle to argue the constitutionality of such practices?  Even the federal judge hearing the case pressed the Justice Department "to explain why the government needs a court warrant to eavesdrop on an American overseas but not to kill one."  This does not “cross the line” as Andrew Sullivan asserts.  Indeed, as Glenn Greewald passionately argues:  "How could it ever 'cross a line' for a civil liberties lawyer to represent an American citizen in an American court arguing that the Government is transgressing the limits of the U.S. Constitution?  The only thing that crosses a line is to insinuate that there's something improper about that." 

This controversy is reminiscent of the recent campaign by Liz Cheney and her group, Keep America Safe, which smeared lawyers in Obama's Justice Department as the "Al Qaeda 7," for previously having represented Guantanamo detainees.  I am obviously not objective about this, but I believe that a lawyer's most important role is to represent people who are hated and feared, and to ensure that the government is following the law.  Back in March, a group of former Bush Administration officials and other prominent lawyers published a letter condemning Liz Cheney's ad as shameful.  They rightfully stressed that "the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre."

Monday, November 15, 2010

This Should Be Easy

Shannon Brown misses slam dunk
As the Democrats signal their willingness to "compromise" with Republicans over tax cuts, it is worth noting the hold-outs on the Left.  Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva and Lynn Woolsey, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi urging a vote on making permanent the middle-class tax cuts permanent without linking it to the Bush tax cut for the wealthiest Americans:

As Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we would like to reiterate our support for President Obama's Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal that would extend the Bush tax rates for the middle class, but permit the tax levels to return to previous levels for single taxpayers making more than $200,000 or married couples making more than $250,000. We respectfully request that we have a Caucus discussion regarding our position before any proposal is brought to the Floor.  The Treasury Department estimates that President Obama's tax proposal will collect $41 billion in additional revenue in Fiscal Year 2012 and $680 billion over the next ten years. If we are serious about cutting our budget deficit, we must allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire. Before President Bush's tax cuts were enacted, the federal budget had a steadily rising surplus that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated would hit 5.3 percent of GDP by 2011. Within a few years of the enactment of the Bush tax cuts, these projections turned to deficits.  Therefore, we believe extending the Bush tax cuts would be a giveaway to the nation's wealthiest people and would significantly increase government debt. This debt, in turn, will be paid by the lower and middle classes through increased interest payments and decreased social services for generations to come. This astronomical sum could instead be used to close our budget deficit. It is critical that we pass President Obama' s middle-class tax proposal without providing an even greater lift for the wealthiest Americans.
It remains incomprehensible to me how the Democrats don't see this as a political winner.  As Greg Sargent says, holding such a vote would "force Republicans to vote for Obama's proposal, or against a middle class tax cut. By contrast, a phony 'compromise' on a temporary extension of all the cuts would only muddy all these waters further [and] merely telegraph Dem weakness, signaling clearly that Dems will cheerfully give the GOP their way as long as everyone agrees to call it a 'compromise.'"

As opposed to the progressives' position, we have two Democratic Senators floating their ideas for a compromise.  Charles Schumer suggests raising the threshold to $1 million, rather than $250,000, and Mark Warner wants to let just the high-end cuts expire for two years while using the revenues gained to cut taxes for small businesses.  Jon Walker at Firedoglake explains why these proposals fail to shift the debate:  "If Democrats actually want to win political fights, they need to pose a stark choice between their own position and that of the Republicans. Neither Schumer’s compromise or Warner’s wonky proposal does that. That is why Democrats need to make this a clear choice between their wanting to provide direct help to all working Americans, and Republicans demanding that money be funneled to the wealthy."

Paul Krugman's column today notes that Obama appears to be ready to "give in to Republican demands that tax cuts be extended for the wealthy as well as the middle class."  Krugman argues that, instead, "Obama could and should be hammering Republicans for trying to hold the middle class hostage to secure tax cuts for the wealthy. He could be pointing out that making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent is a huge budget issue — over the next 75 years it would cost as much as the entire Social Security shortfall. Instead, however, he is once again negotiating with himself, long before he actually gets to the table with the G.O.P."  Steve Benen of Washington Monthly sums it up:  "I've never seen a party so afraid of doing the obvious, popular thing that puts their rivals on the defensive. It's a gift-wrapped present that Dems seem afraid to open."
[Related posts:  Weak in Preview, Greider on Obama, Let's Make a Deal, Wrong Lessons]

Weak in Preview

The various nuggets in yesterday's Week in Review in the NY Times combine to provide a pretty depressing snapshot of what the GOP have in store:  (1) maintain the Bush tax cuts for that wealthiest 2% of the population; (2) gut funding for health care if they can't repeal the act altogether; (3) stymie a vote on repealing DADT; (4) scuttle the new strategic arms treaty with Russia; and (5) launch bogus investigations and hearings on the Obama administration's purported corruption.  It remains to be seen whether Obama and the Democrats will fight or cave.  E.J. Dionne made an interesting point in his column last week, that after the 2008 election when Republicans were routed in the presidential and congressional elections they didn't moderate their votes, but rather "held their ideological ground, refused to give an inch to the new president and insisted that persistent opposition would eventually yield them victory."  Furthermore, notwithstanding the 2008 election results, Democrats were advised not to move too far left because we were a still a "center-right nation."  After following this advice and suffering a major setback, the Democrats are being counseled to do the opposite of what Republicans did -- compromise and move further to the center (a center that keeps moving to the right).  As Dionne put it, "Funny that when progressives win, they are told to moderate their hopes, but when conservatives win, progressives are told to retreat."   Not really so funny.

Monday Jumpstart: Ra Ra Riot

Boy by Ra Ra Riot

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #7

Bill Evans, Portrait in Jazz (1959).  Trying to describe Bill Evans reminds me of the line attributed to Martin Mull (and sometimes to Elvis Costello) that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture."  You've really just got to hear him -- in a trio setting or with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Jim Hall, or even accompanying Tony Bennett.  He is often considered the most influential post-WWII jazz pianist with "his use of impressionist harmony, inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, and trademark rhythmically independent, 'singing' melodic lines."  The obvious pick for the greatest Bill Evans album is the legendary Village Vanguard Recordings of 1961, recently released as a complete box set.  But I don't want to be obvious, so instead I'm going with Portrait in Jazz, which comprised the same trio (Scott LeFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums) as on the later Village Vanguard sessions.  Portrait in Jazz includes mostly standards, but as one critic said, "the influential interpretations were far from routine or predictable at the time . . .  and [the trio's] versions of such tunes as "Come Rain or Come Shine," "When I Fall in Love," and "Someday My Prince Will Come" are full of subtle and surprising creativity.  A gem."  [Related posts: Really Great Jazz Albums #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6]

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Worth Reading: Greider on Obama

William Greider writes a tough and cogent critique of Obama in The Nation, which urges the President to play "hardball," to "push back aggressively and stand his ground, more like those ruthless opponents trying to bury him."  Greider contends that Obama must "switch from cheerleading to honest talk. Tell people what the nation really needs, what Republicans intend to sabotage."  According to Greider, "what's missing with this president is power—a strong grasp of the powers he possesses and the willingness to govern the country with them." While Obama's extraordinary rise to the presidency was due to "learning rare skills, the ability to bridge different worlds comfortably and draw people together across racial, political and intellectual divides . . . to charm and disarm, not to smash and conquer" these skills, together with the Washington insiders and old friends with which he surrounded himself, have ill served him as president.  This has been particularly problematic when the Republican opposition "are masters of deceptive marketing," having cast him "as a power-mad (black) leftist, destroying democracy with socialist schemes," a portrait "so ludicrous and mendacious, the president's party hardly bothered to respond."  Greider argues that Obama needs to fight back and his allies need to encourage him to do so:  "Popular forces . . . can mobilize to demonstrate visible support for the president's loftier goals and to warn him off the temptation to pursue a Clintonesque appeasement of the right. Given the fragile status of his presidency, Obama needs to know that caving in is sure to encourage enemies and drive off disheartened supporters. People should, likewise, call out the president's enemies and attack them with the harshness that's out of character for him. The racial McCarthyism of the GOP establishment is a good place to start."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hey Hey, My My

Neil Young turns 65 today.  After Bob Dylan, Neil Young (in my opinion) is the greatest North American singer/songwriter/musician of the Rock 'n Roll Era.  He is still writing and playing with originality and integrity today, having released a new album, Le Noise.  He continues to organize an annual benefit for the Bridge School, an educational organization for children with severe verbal and physical disabilities, where he and other great musicians perform in Northern California.  My favorite albums were the ones from the 1970s, particularly After the Gold Rush, Harvest, Zuma and Rust Never Sleeps, as well as those he made with Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Many of his later albums also have great merit. And Neil has been releasing a series of archival material of previously unreleased studio and live recordings, which sound remarkably fresh and exciting.  So, Happy Birthday to NY.  We are very lucky that he didn't burn out or fade away.

Let 'Em Eat Catfood

OK, there is a budget deficit that must be dealt with at some point.  But, surely, in this time of economic crisis it is not the greatest concern, and as most economists believe, it is more important for the government to spend money now to kick start the economy than to start cutting back.  Focusing on the deficit is an old Republican canard for gutting social welfare programs.  So-called deficit hawks oppose health care reform that would substantially reduce the budget, but insist on maintaining tax cuts for the top 2%,and oppose any cuts to the defense bill.  But for some reason, President Obama decided he needed to appear "reasonable" and "bi-partisan," so pays lip service to the Republican argument that the government needs to tighten its belt, and created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, appointing the folksy former Republican Senator Alan Simpson to co-chair it.  Simpson, a deficit hawk, is know, as Paul Krugman noted, for repeating the "zombie lie" -- a debunked misstatement that keeps coming back -- "that Social Security will be bankrupt as soon as payroll tax revenues fall short of benefit payments, never mind the quarter century of surpluses that came first."  In fact, as William Greider explained in an article in the Nation this summer, the 18 member commission "is top-heavy with fiscal conservatives and hostile right-wingers who yearn to dismantle the retirement program."

Thus, the Commission has been dubbed the "Catfood Commission" by opponents who anticipate that proposed cuts will force retirees to eat pet food.  Why is Obama really doing this?  According to Greider, it is widely understood inside the Beltway that the "president intends to offer Social Security as a sacrificial lamb to entice conservative deficit hawks into a grand bipartisan compromise in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits for future retirees while Republicans accede to significant tax increases to reduce government red ink."  And lo and behold, the chairmen of the commission have just proposed "deep cuts in domestic and military spending . . . limiting or eliminating popular tax breaks in return for lower rates, and benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security."

As Digby contends in a blog post today, "Obama has made some less than savvy political decisions in office but this one has to take the cake. If he ends up signing on to deep cuts in social security in exchange for some tax hikes then he will have presided over the destruction of the Democratic Party. If they can't even protect the safety net during a time of great financial stress --- when they have the presidency and one house of congress --- just what the hell is the point?"  Kevin Drum points out that the proposals are not even really aimed at reducing the deficit, but "at keeping government small."  As Drum says, "there's nothing wrong with that if you're a conservative think tank and that's what you're dedicated to selling. But it should be called by its right name. This document is a paean to cutting the federal government, not cutting the federal deficit."

If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo (Sugarcube & Periodically Double or Triple)

Sugarcube (acoustic version) by Yo La Tengo (followed by Periodically Double or Triple)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bush's Final Execution: Oops, I Did It Again

Claude Jones was executed on December 7, 2000.  He was the last of the 152 men and women who were put to death under then-Governor George Bush.  It has previously been reported that Bush gave short shrift to clemency decisions and that the clemency memos prepared for him by his legal counsel, Alberto Gonzalez, were incomplete and inaccurate.  The Texas Observer reports today that new DNA tests undermine the evidence that convicted Claude Jones, who professed his innocence until the end. Jones was convicted based on a strand of hair recovered from the crime scene that prosecutors claimed belonged to him.  "DNA tests completed this week at the request of the Observer and the New York-based Innocence Project show the hair didn’t belong to Jones after all."  The Observer asserts that "the results of DNA testing not only undermine the evidence that convicted Jones, but raise the possibility that Texas executed an innocent man." The DNA technology was not available at the time of Jones' trial but could have been used prior to his execution ten years later.  The day before Jones was executed he asked for a stay so that the hair could be submitted for DNA testing, but Bush denied the stay request.  Remarkably, the clemency memo that was sent to Bush and recommended denial did not even mention Jones’ request for  testing.  Jones is the second man executed in Texas based on demonstrably flawed forensic evidence.  As an article in The New Yorker detailed, Cameron Todd Willingham, was executed in 2004 for starting a house fire that killed his three children but fire scientists now say the fire was accidental and the arson evidence used to convict him was erroneous.  Claude Jones' son issued the following statement after learning of the test results:  "I hope these results will serve as a wakeup call to everyone that serious problems exist in the criminal justice system that must be fixed if our society is to continue using the death penalty.”