Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Oil Company Gusher

By Robert Reich, originally published on his website, April 28, 2011.

Exxon-Mobil’s first quarter earnings of $10.7 billion are up 69 percent from last year. That’s the most profit the company has earned since the third quarter of 2008 — perhaps not coincidentally, around the time when gas prices last reached the lofty $4 a gallon.

This gusher is an embarrassment for an industry seeking to keep its $4 billion annual tax subsidy from the U.S. government, at a time when we’re cutting social programs to reduce the budget deficit.

It’s specially embarrassing when Americans are paying through their noses at the pump.

Exxon-Mobil’s Vice President asks that we look past the “inevitable headlines” and remember the company’s investments in renewable energy.

What investments, exactly? Last time I looked Exxon-Mobil was devoting a smaller percentage of its earnings to renewables than most other oil companies, including the errant BP.

In point of fact, no oil company is investing much in renewables — precisely because they’ve got such money gusher going from oil. Those other oil companies also had a banner first quarter, compounding the industry’s embarrassment about its $4 billion a year welfare check.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bad Form At The Royal Wedding

Far be it from me to put a damper on the royal festivities, but it seems worth pointing out that those who viewed the spectacle as an opportunity to voice dissenting opinions or protests would not to be tolerated. 

Political Policing In Britain

By Guy Aitchison, originally published in openDemocracy, April 28, 2011

If anyone was in any doubt that we have a highly politicized, out-of-control police force in this country with scant regard for basic rights, the build up to the royal wedding will have provided a much-needed corrective. When it comes to our divinely ordained rulers, even the most minimal pretence at neutrality and respect for due process has been dropped and the attitudes and motivations of law enforcement laid bare. There is to be a strict zero tolerance policy towards republican thought crimes. Faced with tomorrow’s pompous medieval extravaganza, we must either wave our plastic Union Jack flags like the serfs that we are, or else keep quiet and hope we aren’t on the Met’s “political” hit-list.

For weeks, senior officers have been boasting that anyone planning to voice dissent at tomorrow’s event will be treated as a criminal with sinister warnings that officers have been ordered to “shoot-to-kill” and the Queen’s Guard empowered to impale any threat with their bayonets. With the memories of Jean Charles de Menezes and Iain Tomlinson still fresh, such warnings sound more than a little ominous. The press have gleefully collaborated with the Met in their intimidation, uncritically reporting plans for “pre-emptive” strikes against anyone suspected of being inclined to violate the “sterile areas” 1.6 kilometres around the Palace of Westminster created under the totalitarian Serious Organised Crime and Police Act introduced by Labour. In all the frenzied reporting, the words “anarchists” and “criminals” are used interchangeably to denote anyone opposed to a hereditary head of state. Ahead of the happy couple’s big day, political opinions alone are enough to get you locked up. As one “police source” chillingly put it “the same faces often reappear at different protests and we will try and take a pre-emptive strike against them."

Onek's The One

Imagine a District Attorney who wouldn't rely on knee-jerk, overly punitive responses to crime and violence but would instead bring the various stakeholders together and forge strong partnerships with the community as well as law enforcement.

Imagine a District Attorney whose goal was not to put more people behind bars but to find creative ways to to reduce the inflated prisoner population and then reinvest part of the savings into community and law enforcement resources to lower the recidivism rate and make the community safer.

Imagine a District Attorney who understands that the death penalty is a costly, ineffective and arbitrary, and who believes that the misguided Three Strikes Initiative must be reformed because it is a disproportionate punishment that wastes "precious resources to unnecessarily incarcerate minor offenders who pose little threat to society for huge periods of time – and draining resources away from the law enforcement agencies, community organizations and schools that can truly prevent crime and keep us safe."

Imagine a District Attorney who understands and is not afraid to talk about the concept of Restorative Justice, which instead of seeking to punish those who break the law, focuses on those who have been harmed, figuring out their needs and whose obligation it is to meet those needs, and then bringing all the multiple stakeholders together to engage in a reparative process.

David Onek is a candidate for District Attorney of San Francisco.  He is a leading expert on criminal and juvenile justice, with experience in policy-making, academia and government.  He has developed a thoughtful, progressive approach to these issues.  David is currently a Senior Fellow at the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice.  He is a former San Francisco Police Commissioner and also served in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Criminal Justice.

Go to his website to learn more about and contribute to David's campaign.

Hey Gov. Brown, Can You Hear Us Now?

By James Clark, originally published at Huffington Post, April 28, 2011.

Imagine you're strolling down the scenic route in downtown Sacramento, wondering "what the hell is California going to do about that whole money thing?" You turn the corner onto J Street, and BAM! The answer is right in front of you: cut the death penalty and save $1 billion without releasing a single prisoner. You're immediately faced with an important question: are you the current governor of California?

IF YES: Immediately convert the sentences of all those awaiting execution to life without the possibility of parole. Congratulations, you have saved California $1 billion over the next five years.

IF NO: Ok, you're not Jerry Brown, but you can ask him to do all of the above! You immediately go online to and sign the petition asking Jerry Brown to CUT THIS.

Those are the scenarios envisioned by California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, who've placed a billboard on J Street with the CUT THIS message. You see, no one can really figure out why Jerry Brown hasn't cut the death penalty already since it's such an obvious budget solution that provides real accountability, real justice, and real savings. I mean, there have been thousands of people from all over the state who've mailed and emailed and faxed telling Jerry to CUT THIS... but we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he just never noticed how much of the budget was spent on the death penalty, and maybe he just doesn't check his mailbox and email and fax machine.

But, he's bound to go for a walk once in a while -- the Governor's buddy Sutter is a smart dog, but I doubt he's mastered the human art of indoor plumbing. So with the message plastered across J Street, hopefully the Governor will finally realize that cutting California's death penalty is the best way to provide justice for victims of crime in California and save $1 billion at the same time.

California Crime Victims are sending Jerry the CUT THIS message because they know the death penalty is a hollow promise for those who've lost a loved one to violence. Instead of providing justice for victims' families, death sentences drag them through decades of appeals and hearings during which they never know if the sentence will be imposed (and most of the time in California, it's not). Meanwhile, the families who seek help from California's Victims Compensation Fund are denied help because the fund is nearing bankruptcy.

Jerry Brown said, "It's all on the table." If that's true, why is he prioritizing death row over real help -- like counseling -- for victims' families? Why take the risk of executing an innocent person when the alternative is both safer and cheaper? Yeah, I don't know either... Seriously Governor, these are real questions. Unless you've got real answers, CUT THIS.

And hey, if you don't happen to be the current Governor of California, do the next best thing and send him a message.

Palate Cleanser: Cold War Kids

Hang Me Up To Dry by Cold War Kids

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Price of Defending Bigotry - $520/hour

I want to do a quick follow up on lovechilde's post today on the House Republicans' defense of DOMA. Regardless of what you think about the pressure on King & Spalding to drop the case (and I'm not sure I agree with lovechilde on that point) here is something to get mad about:

Think Progress got their hands on the contract (pdf) the House Republicans signed with Paul Clement, who is still defending DOMA at his new firm (though I'm not sure if the terms are the same). Under the contract, which Democrats have rightly criticized, he is to be paid $520 hour up to a cap of $500,000. The current Federal Rate for attorneys in capital cases, cases in which a human life is on the line, is $178 hour. If you are going to represent the government in defense of the indefensible as budgets for basic human needs, including lawyers for poor people, are slashed it is deeply offensive to get rich doing it.

Crossing The Line Revisited

I should be the last person to chastise any lawyer for representing an unpopular cause or client.  In a piece I wrote back in November, Crossing The Line, I explained that after defending death row inmates for over 20 years, I am particularly sensitive to being criticized for representing a despised group of individuals.  At that time, it was the ACLU and CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) who were being skewered for representing the interests of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda, who was allegedly hiding in Yemen and whose killing had been authorized by the Obama Administration.  I strongly disputed Andrew Sullivan's comment that defending what he called an active terrorist "crossed the line," and stated my passionate belief 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. 

But I do think there is a difference between standing up for reviled causes and clients -- which is not only honorable but necessary for our adversary system of justice to work -- and representing those with political power who seek to use laws to discriminate against others.  I am, therefore, not offended that the prestigious law firm of King & Spaulding felt pressure to bow out of representing the Republican-led House of Representatives in defending the Defense Of Marriage Act, the 1996 law which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

What I do find offensive is the litigation strategy of the supporters of Proposition 8, who filed a motion to vacate Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling striking down California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage.  Walker, appointed to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush and recently retired, confirmed this month what was an open secret, that he is in a long-term relationship with a man.  This led Charles Cooper, the conservative attorney representing Protect Marriage, the group defending Prop 8, to seek to toss out Walker's ruling on the ground that he is gay and should have disqualified himself from the case.

As Adam Serwer points out, this argument "relies on the same faulty argument put forth originally in defense of Prop 8:  The qualitative judgment that same-sex relationships are inferior."  Obviously, if a judge in a same-sex relationship cannot be expected to be impartial on whether same-sex marriages are damaging to the institution of marriage, wouldn't the same logic disqualify a straight, married judge?  Serwer explains that "Proposition 8 supporters would never make that argument, of course, because the implication of their argument is that gays and lesbians are incapable of the impartiality expected of judges by their very nature."

David Dayen is exactly right when he says that "this ugly tactic plays to the basest instincts of the human condition, positing LGBT judges as somehow not as committed to fairness in a court of law as their heterosexual counterparts."  Indeed, as the Los Angeles Times editorial states:  "The group's assertion that a gay judge in a relationship is less able than a heterosexual married judge to render a fair decision on a sexual-orientation case says more about the pervasiveness of discrimination against homosexuals than it does about Walker's fitness to hear the matter."

Lawyers should be given exceedingly wide latitude with regard to whom they represent and the methods they employ in the course of their representation.  But I suppose there is such a thing as crossing the line after all.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How Crazy are Republicans - Birther Edition

Still totally, completely crazy. (And, let's be honest, quite thoroughly racist.)

The Wageless Recovery

By Robert Reich, originally published on his website, April 26, 2011.

Fed Chair Ben Bernanke
This week’s biggest economic show occurs [today] when Fed chair Ben Bernanke steps in front of the cameras for the Fed’s first-ever news conference. The question on everyone’s mind: Will the Fed signal it’s now more worried about inflation than recession?

Much of Wall Street thinks inflation is now the biggest threat to the US economy. As has been the case in the past, the Street is dead wrong. The biggest threat is falling into another recession.

The most significant economic news from the first quarter of 2011 is the decline in real wages. That’s unusual in a recovery, to say the least. But it’s easily explained this time around. In order to keep the jobs they have, millions of Americans are accepting shrinking paychecks. If they’ve been fired, the only way they can land a new job is to accept even smaller ones.

The wage squeeze is putting most households in a double bind. Before the recession, they’d been able to pay the bills because they had two paychecks. Now, they’re likely to have one-and-a half, or just one, and it’s shrinking.

Add to this the continuing decline in the value of the biggest asset most people own – their homes – and what do you get? Consumers who won’t and can’t buy enough to keep the economy going. That spells recession.

And the media wakes up

In a post yesterday I questioned if the Republicans were taking less heat for the Ryan plan than the Democrats had for Obama's health care plan or if the media was just under covering it. Now the media suddenly appears to have noticed that the Republicans are having some town-hall trouble with the Ryan plan, especially the destruction of Medicare. Coincidence? I'll continue to keep an eye on the coverage and feel free to highlight stories you see in the comments.

The Normalizing of Political Lies

The embarrassing spectacle of a sitting president having to issue his long-form birth certificate in what promises to be a futile effort to satisfy conspiracy theorists perfectly illustrates Rick Perlstein's thesis about how right wing liars are enabled by the mainstream media.

Last November, Perlstein wrote about President Obama's refusal to challenge the outright falsehoods perpetrated by the opposition prior to the mid-term elections.  ("How Obama Enables Rush.")  Perlstein lamented that "we live in a mendocracy," i.e. rule by liars.  A prime example was that "Republican politicians, and conservative commentators" lied that "Barack Obama was a tax-mad lunatic," and because neither the mainstream media nor the White House corrected them, people believed it:  "When one side breaks the social contract, and the other side makes a virtue of never calling them out on it, the liar always wins. When it becomes 'uncivil' to call out liars, lying becomes free."

Perlstein, whose research has focused on the birth of the modern conservative movement around the Barry Goldwater campaign and the Nixon Era (See Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America and Before The Storm:  Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of America), is perfectly positioned to more broadly explain the historical factors that have shaped the "the modern political lie," which he does in a must-read article, Inside the GOP's Fact-Free Nation, just published in Mother Jones. (As Rick says, you can read it on line, but buy it anyway.)
It takes two things to make a political lie work: a powerful person or institution willing to utter it, and another set of powerful institutions to amplify it. The former has always been with us: Kings, corporate executives, politicians, and ideologues from both sides of the aisle have been entirely willing to bend the truth when they felt it necessary or convenient. So why does it seem as if we're living in a time of overwhelmingly brazen deception? What's changed.
Today's marquee fibs almost always evolve the same way: A tree falls in the forest—say, the claim that Saddam Hussein has "weapons of mass destruction," or that Barack Obama has an infernal scheme to parade our nation's senior citizens before death panels. But then a network of media enablers helps it to make a sound—until enough people believe the untruth to make the lie an operative part of our political discourse.
Perlstein takes us from the sinking of the USS Maine off the coast of Cuba in 1899 to the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 to the 1970s, when thanks to the examples of courageous truth-telling by Walter Cronkite and Daniel Ellsberg, "all sorts of American institutions—Congress, municipal governments, even the intelligence community . . . launched searching reconstructions of their normal ways of doing business."  One "keynote of 1970s culture" was "a willingness to acknowledge that America might no longer be invincible, and that any realistic assessment of how we could prosper and thrive in the future had to reckon with that hard-won lesson."  But then, as Perlstein writes, "along came Reagan."

Wilco Wednesdays: How To Fight Loneliness

How To Fight Loneliness by Wilco. (The only quality video of the song I could find is this clip from the movie Girl Interrupted, which used the song on its soundtrack.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Time for Democrats to Fight

The Ryan budget plan, and particularly his proposal to destroy Medicare and Medicaid, should be a golden opportunity for Democrats. Its incredibly unpopular with the America people. Given that the Democrats were savaged when they went home during the congressional recess after Obama proposed his heath care plan you would think that the same would be happening to the Republicans.

There are some Republicans who are hearing from unhappy constituents, including Ryan, but it is not clear whether it is significantly less than what we saw in response to health care reform or just less covered by the media. In either case the Democrats need to do more to get back in the game and get the rank and file energized. The question is whether the President will let them. His recent budget speech was, as Paul Krugman said, a step in the right direction, but not far enough, and it was only one speech. Another good step are the recent ads which, as Lovechilde noted, the Democrats have just put up. Also encouraging is Democrats continuing to go after oil company tax breaks, forcing the Republicans to defend them as gas heads for $4.50 a gallon. And Harry Reid may try to force Senate Republicans to walk the plank by making them vote on the Ryan budget. Still, it does not seem like a potent, organized response.

While there is an opportunity for Democrats to build some momentum there are several issues that are critical to success. One is that they need to take a page from the Republican's book and stay united. This means people like Dick Durban need to not talk about cutting Medicare or Social Security. It also means the Democrats need to push real alternatives like the People's Budget, not because it has a chance of passing but because it draws a real contrast between actual serious budget reduction and the reverse Robin Hood nonsense that is the Republican Plan. Pushing something like the People's Budget will also help them avoid the kind of false compromise that Robert Reich recently warned against. As Krugman said in the piece linked to above, if Obama's speech becomes the "left pole" and the result is somewhere between that and Ryan it is not a good result. To avoid that the Democrats need to up the leftward ante and learn to negotiate and to fight.

Pressure Drop

It is encouraging to see Democrats on the offensive for once, with ad campaigns designed to highlight the Republican's budget priorities, and particularly their plan to end Medicare.  Americans United for Change will broadcast the following ad in the districts of Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Chip Cravaack (R-MN), and Paul Ryan (R-WI):

In addition to the ad, there is a robocall campaign in 23 districts, which began last week. Here's the script for the robocall.

And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has introduced a new video that boldly states:  "House Republicans promised to protect Medicare. They lied."  Here's that one:

Strong, compelling stuff.  It's about time.

Not So Great Escape

"We have in effect put all our rotten eggs in one basket. And we intend to watch this basket carefully."  Col. Von Luger in The Great Escape
 Despite receiving "billions of dollars in training and equipment from the United States and other countries," Afghan security forces remain "plagued with deficiencies."  Apparently.  Over 450 Taliban fighters escaped through a 1,050-foot tunnel dug "under the walls of southern Kandahar province's main maximum-security prison."  As Kevin Drum says, "If it weren't for the fact that they're a gang of murderous 13th-century religious fanatics, you could almost admire the Taliban's latest prison break."

What Egypt Should Learn From Iraq

by Zaid Al-Ali, originally published at, April 21, 2011.
The Iraqi experience of creating a new constitution from political and social ruin offers lessons for Egypt.

After the extraordinary initial success of Egypt’s popular revolution in removing Hosni Mubarak from power, the supreme council for the armed forces published an interim constitution on 30 March 2011 that is to guide the country through the coming period. Although the text opens up exciting new possibilities and opportunities for change, it is also deeply problematic, particularly insofar as the mechanism for drafting the permanent constitution is concerned.  In that regard, Egypt has much to learn from Iraq, which is the only country in the Arab region to have engaged in a constitutional drafting process in recent memory.

Every country in the middle east has its own share of challenges and attributes, and there is no question that Egypt’s constitutional drafting process will be a far different experience to what took place in Iraq in 2005 (not least because Egypt does not have to suffer the consequences of a foreign military occupation).

However, there are enough similarities between the two countries (aside from obvious linguistic, cultural, religious and historical ties) that allow for one to learn from the other in relation to specific issues.  Egypt and Iraq have many of the same basic needs, some of which can at least be partly addressed through a successful constitutional drafting process. In that sense, the Iraqi experience has failed miserably and Egypt should take stock and learn from that experience, with a view to avoid repeating the same fatal mistakes. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Quite Simply A Mess

"Viewed as a whole, the secret intelligence summaries help explain why in May 2009 President Barack Obama, after ordering his own review of wartime intelligence, called America's experiment at Guantanamo 'quite simply a mess.'"   Rosenberg & Lasseter, McClatchy Newspapers, 4/24/11
Various media outlets have just published classified military documents on Guantanamo detainees originally obtained by WikiLeaks.  Here is the story from McClatchy's Carol Rosenberg and Tom Lasseter.  They report that:
[T]he U.S. military set up a human intelligence laboratory at Guantanamo that used interrogation and detention practices that they largely made up as they went along . . . The documents, more than 750 individual assessments of former and current Guantanamo detainees, show an intelligence operation that was tremendously dependant on informants — both prison camp snitches repeating what they'd heard from fellow captives and self-described, at times self-aggrandizing, alleged al Qaida insiders turned government witnesses who Pentagon records show have since been released.
The New Yorker's Amy Davidson details how some of the evidence was gathered and goes on to say that "the greatest insight the files may give is into what our government thought it was doing, and why, when it decided to imprison certain people indefinitely and out of the reach of the rule of law—the logic, or illogic, of Guantánamo."

As Rosenberg and Lasseter conclude after reviewing the records of the interrogations, "there’s not a whiff in the documents that any of the work is leading the U.S. closer to capturing bin Laden. In fact, they suggest a sort of mission creep beyond the post-9/11 goal of using interrogations to hunt down the al Qaeda inner circle and sleeper cells."  Which leads Davidson to remark:  "And so we sacrificed our values and our moral standing for goals that were increasingly—vanishingly—distant from the ones we had been told were so urgent; or for no real reason at all."

In the wake of President Obama's executive order to continue to hold some of the detainees at Guantanamo indefinitely without any charges, Glenn Greenwald stresses that "these documents conclusively underscore the evils of the Obama administration’s indefinite detention regime." 
The idea of trusting the government to imprison people for life based on secret, untested evidence never reviewed by a court should repel any decent or minimally rational person, but these newly released files demonstrate how warped is this indefinite detention policy specifically.

GE Foxes Invited To Guard USDA Henhouse

By Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, originally posted on PAN's website

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shocked the American public with its hasty approval of three highly controversial GE crops in a row (alfalfa, sugar beets and ethanol corn). In doing so, the agency effectively thumbed its nose at U.S. federal courts and spit in the face of consumers and farmers alike. Now, USDA has apparently decided that getting sued for ignoring U.S. environmental laws is getting to be too much of a hassle. So they've come up with a new plan: why not let Monsanto evaluate the potential harms of its new transgenic products? It’ll be so much quicker this way. And save USDA a lot of money.

The two-year pilot program allowing GE developers to conduct their own environmental assessments for USDA is an “experiment” to improve its systems, says USDA. Tom Philpott calls it a craven way out. 

Conflict of interest - ya think?

USDA currently has responsibility for assessing the potential environmental impacts of new genetically engineered (GE) crops. The assessment — which is supposed to happen before the agency decides whether or not to approve commercial release of the seeds — is required by our National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA was enacted in 1970 for the express purpose of preventing damage to the environment and enriching our understanding of the ecosystems and natural resources within our country. But that was then.

The reality is that USDA has fallen into the habit of skipping over the environmental study part of its job, and approving GE crops as a matter of course. For these failures of duty, USDA has been nailed in federal court. Yet the agency persists in ignoring court decisions, as we saw last month when it deregulated (= approved) GE alfalfa before completing the court-ordered environmental impact study.

USDA's latest “experiment” to hand environmental review of GE crops over to their manufacturers is intended to speed up the process and improve quality while reducing costs, according to the official note in the Federal Register. Certainly putting patent holders in charge seems likely to help the agency get through its backlog (over 20 GE crops await approval and industry is getting antsy). But "improve quality?" I wouldn't count on it. "The conflict of interest is laughable — but we're not laughing" says Kristina Hubbard at the Organic Seed Alliance.

Slippery Slope

Tom Tomorrow captures the slippery nature of the "humanitarian" intervention in Libya. Scroll down and click on the Tom Tomorrow image on the right hand panel for a link to the full comic.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #30

Coleman Hawkins.  The Hawk Flies High (1957).  "In the beginning, on tenor sax, there was Coleman Hawkins and only Coleman Hawkins."  So opens the liner notes for The Hawk Flies High.  Indeed, Hawkins was the first great jazz saxophone player when he played with Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra in the 1920s.  In the late 1930s he recorded the classic version of  the ballad Body and Soul, probably his most well-known performance, considered by many to be an "evolutionary step in jazz recording."  Although he was a pioneer of the Swing Era, he moved comfortably into the Bebop Era, recording with modern jazz icons such as Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.  Following a relatively fallow period in the early 1950s, Hawkins made a strong comeback with a series of albums, starting with The Hawk Flies High, which was recorded in 1957.  It includes young modern players like trombonist J.J. Johnson and trumpeter Idrees Sulieman along with a more traditional rhythm section of Hank Jones on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass and Jo Jones on drums.  As Kevin Whitehead noted on Fresh Air in his review of the 2008 reissue of the album, the band perfectly complemented Hawkins who "had one foot in the past and a step toward the future."  Even after four decades of recording, Hawkins sounds fresh and powerful on this album which runs the gamut from lush ballads (Laura) to classic swing (Sanctity) to more modern bop (Chant).  As one critic concluded, "He lost little of his edge throughout his life, and the later sessions like this one are small treasures."

[Related posts:  Great Jazz Albums,  #1 (Hank Mobley), #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley), #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell); #21 (Gene Ammons); #22 (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers); #23 (Red Garland); #24 (Ella Fitzgerald); #25 (Charlie Parker); #26 (Art Pepper); #27 (Bud Powell); #28 (John Hicks); #29 (Kenny Barron)]

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Men Left On

[Fair and Unbalanced contributor sasqi and her husband Paul are on a two-month road-trip stopping at several major- and minor-league ballparks. Here's Paul's report from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas]

Two months on the road, 15 cities planned, perhaps more before we're done. At least twelve of those stops to see baseball games. So after just four games it's a little premature for generalizations.

But one thing so far, as obvious as it is mysterious: fans are fans. We pretend that we live and die for, struggle with, our teams. We moan, scream, whine, yell; go to bed grumpy or ecstatic, chew our way through inning after inning on peanuts and profanity. And we do it whether we're cheering for the Corpus Christi Hooks, AA, or the Astros, or Rangers, or A's, MLB. We do it in Texas or California, in the creaky confines of Oakland's tired park or the splendid wealth of the Rangers in Arlington.

There's something chastising about this simple revelation. We're all the greatest fans in the world, all the worst and least supportive fans. All just fans, unable to do a damn thing to change the course of a game, bring home a run, make a better slide, dive for that fast-sinking blooper. We can admire, admonish; take pride, feel shame. But it's good to know we're all doing it, all over, and that the only reason it matters so much is because we decide it does.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Knee-Jerk Responses vs. Smarter Safety Policies

By David Onek, originally posted on Calitics, April 22, 2011.

[David Onek is a candidate for District Attorney of San Francisco.  David is a leading expert on criminal and juvenile justice, with experience in policy-making, academia and government.  As the article below demonstrates, he has developed a thoughtful, progressive approach to criminal justice and public safety issues.  David is currently a Senior Fellow at the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice.  He is a former San Francisco Police Commissioner and also served in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Criminal Justice.  Learn more about David and his candidacy here.]

Last September, the San Francisco Police Department - under the command of former chief George Gascón - submitted a proposal responding to the uptick in violence outside a handful of San Francisco nightclubs.

The proposal was supposed to be heard this week by the city's Entertainment Commission, but Mayor Ed Lee appropriately delayed the hearing for more debate.

The violence outside of nightclubs is a serious problem that must be addressed in a thoughtful way. But the SFPD's flawed proposal is a knee-jerk response that will not make us safer and will violate our privacy rights. We need to understand why a city as progressive on policy as San Francisco is being offered flawed political solutions to serious public safety challenges.

A Plan Likely to Backfire

The SFPD proposal mandates venues to swipe patrons' identification cards and keep this personal information on record for subsequent police review and to place metal detectors at some venues with occupancy levels exceeding 100, among other requirements.

This proposal is extremely problematic on a number of levels - the first of which is that it will likely backfire. Most nightclub violence takes place outside, not inside the clubs. Creating bottlenecks and barriers to entry will have the effect of keeping more trouble outside. And creating an environment so unwelcoming that many law-abiding people will stay home or go to other cities, while some potential troublemakers will simply go to unregulated clubs, could make our streets more dangerous at night.

The police proposal has been rightly criticized by the California Music and Culture Association (CMAC), which is proposing more sensible reforms. The SFPD proposal has also come under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has weighed in on very real First Amendment and privacy concerns. Choices of art and music venues often reflect private political and personal preferences; requiring that venues store patrons' identification information thus raises serious constitutional issues.

As the father of two young daughters, I don't make it out to clubs as much as I used to. But I know what a vital role nighttime venues play in our culture, our identity and our economy.

We don't want to put responsible club owners out of business with costly proposals that do not improve public safety. Instead, we should be working collaboratively with these responsible owners on real solutions, such as enhanced training of security personnel, improved lighting and better coordination with the SFPD. I also believe we should look more closely at the licensing status of clubs where crime patterns emerge - and be more aggressive about revoking the permits of those operators who don't provide a safe environment for their patrons and neighbors.

These are practical steps that would make us safer by targeting the problem clubs, not every venue, and they are steps that would not violate the First Amendment and privacy rights of people who patronize San Francisco's clubs.

Cut The Death Penalty

My friend and comrade, Natasha Minsker, the death penalty policy director for the ACLU of Northern California, wrote the following article, originally published in the California Progress Report, which persuasively argues that California should follow Illinois and "cut the death penalty."  As Natasha points out, California's death penalty is ineffective, costly and unjust.

Illinois Ends The Death Penalty -- A Wake-Up Call For California

By Natasha Minsker, April 21, 2011

The end of Illinois’ death penalty comes at a time when more and more people express the view that the death penalty is ineffective, costly, and unjust. A slew of recent editorials and opinion pieces have highlighted the enormous problems with the death penalty in California in particular.  As these editorials and op eds show, it is time for California to cut this: the death penalty.

An editorial recently published in The San Jose Mercury, Pasadena Star News, Long Beach Telegram, and other papers, calls on Governor Brown to convert all death sentences to life imprisonment without any possibility of parole to the death penalty, to save the state $1 billion over the next five years. As these editorials point out, the money now wasted on the death penalty could be better spent to fund education and invest in public safety. Yet, at a time of financial crisis, the Governor and lawmakers are instead choosing to cut public safety, as well as healthcare and education, while remaining on track to spend $1 billion on the death penalty in five years.

“This,” the editorial says, “is fiscal insanity.”

Good Energy In California

My friend, Peter Miller, Senior Scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote following article, originally published at California Progress Report.  

A Golden Future For A Renewable State

by Peter Miller, April 18, 2011

While Congress stalls on America’s clean energy future, California is already making renewable energy the resource with which we’ll power our way to the future. Just last month, the California Legislature passed the 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard with broad bipartisan majorities. This legislation increases the share of renewable energy supplied by electricity providers to 33 percent by 2020. California lawmakers who supported the bill were no doubt listening carefully to their constituents who resoundingly defeated Proposition 23 last November, sending a strong signal that they want to move forward with a clean energy future now.

A national poll from Pike Research shows that support for renewable energy sources is extremely high with 75 percent or more people having a favorable view of solar and wind energy. And a recent California survey also found that over 90 percent of Californians approve of wind and solar energy as sources of electricity for the state.

It’s not surprising that there is broad support for renewables in California and a growing consensus for clean energy in the rest of the country. With more than 12,000 cleantech companies in California, clean energy programs including the 33 percent RPS will create thousands jobs over the coming years and spur billions of dollars of investments in infrastructure projects, contributing to the state’s economic recovery.

Palate Cleanser: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform an acoustic version of Maps from @ 2004.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Whenever you hear a bipartisan group of Senators referred to as a "gang," beware.  It means the left-leaning members of the Democratic Party are being shut out and an unfortunate and unnecessary center-right compromise is being hatched.

In 2005, after Republicans threatened to employ the so-called "nuclear option," that would have changed the Senate rules to preclude filibusters for judicial nominees, seven Democrats joined seven Republicans to form the "Gang of Fourteen," and signed an agreement in which the Republicans in the gang would not vote for the nuclear option and the Democrats would not filibuster except in "extraordinary circumstances."  In practical terms, this meant that Bush was able appoint the conservatives he wanted to the bench and the Democratic minority, without the seven members of the gang, could not stop him.  Most significantly, Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court was permitted an up-or-down vote even though there were enough Senators voting against him to have successfully filibustered and prevented a vote on his confirmation.

There was a Gang of 10, which expanded to the Gang of 20, who were supposed to tackle energy reform and came up with a much-criticized plan that included expanding offshore drilling.   And the Gang of 12 that was supposed to solve the stalemate on  immigration reform.

In the 2009, a bi-partisan "Gang of Six,"on the Senate Finance Committee was formed to reach a consensus on health care reform.  Despite a 60-seat Democratic majority, this conservative group whose members hailed from states representing a tiny portion of the population was inexplicably permitted to control the debate over health care for months, derailing more progressive efforts.  As Kate Pickert recently described on Swampland, this Gang, before disbanding, created the least liberal draft of any of the congressional committee bills and it was the one that was used as the framework for what became the Affordable Care Act.

Now, we have another Gang of 6 senators who have been tasked with reaching a deficit-reduction plan. The six are Republicans Tom Coburn (Ok.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Mike Crapo (Idaho), and Democratis Dick Durbin (Ill.), Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Mark Warner (Va.).  Four members of the Gang served on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, which is derisively referred to as the Catfood Commission (Durbin, Conrad, Crapo and Coburn).

So, here we go again.  The Hill reports that "because of the bipartisan nature of the group, their work is considered one of the best hopes for reaching an accord on deficit and debt reduction."   

And what will consensus look like?  A Republican in the Gang has already stated that it will not include any significant tax hikes.  And one of the Democrats has conceded the likelihood of cuts to Social Security

As Steve Benen put it, it looks like the "Democrats in this group are prepared to effectively give up any hopes of progressive governance for a generation."  While their plan may not pass, it has already provided a frame for a debate on the deficit that has crowded out more liberal approaches, such as the People's Budget proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  (See, e.g., Obama's Deficits, Real Budget Alternative.)

If the Congressional Progressive Caucus would only start calling themselves the Gang of Seventy-Six, maybe we could get somewhere. 


I have previously written about the inhumane conditions of confinement of  Bradley Manning, the Army private who has been accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.  Locke Bowman, Legal Director of  the MacArthur Justice Center, has written an article, originally published in Huffington Post, in which he makes the essential point that while Manning's case received a blast of publicity after a State Department official was fired over remarks criticizing Manning's treatment, "the indignities and abuses he is enduring are merely commonplace" in our maximum security prisons and jails. 

Prisoner Abuse In WikiLeaks Case Puts Our Standards On Trial

By Locke Bowman, April 19, 2011

For a couple of news cycles last month, there was a public debate of sorts about the treatment of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of embarrassing the government by leaking State Department files to Wikileaks.

Manning, it will be remembered, is being held in a maximum security brig in Quantico, Virginia where he has been on "prevention of injury watch." According to news reports, his clothes have been removed every night and he has been forced to sleep in a smock. He is shackled when he is removed from his cell. His only exercise consists of the opportunity, one hour per day, to walk in circles in a room. He is forced to periodically assure his keepers that he is "okay," a procedure that makes it impossible for Manning ever to sleep for more than a few minutes at a stretch.

Manning's lawyer complained in a blog post that his client was being unjustifiably humiliated. Philip Crowley, a State Department spokesperson, famously let slip that Manning's treatment was "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid" -- an indiscretion that cost Crowley his job.

At a news conference on March 11, the president himself faced a question about Manning. Mr. Obama said he'd looked into the matter and received assurances from the Pentagon that Manning's treatment was "appropriate" and "meeting our basic standards," an answer that left some wondering what "basic standards" the president had in mind. Notably, though, Obama declined to answer whether he agreed or disagreed with Crowley's assessment.

The next week, the New York Times blasted the president for his indifference to the violations of Manning's rights. A group of academic luminaries drafted an open letter deploring the detention of Manning "under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral."

Then the flames of controversy died down.

Private Manning's abuse continues -- we must presume. The injustice of it is unabated. It's no less immoral and illegal this month than it was in March to deprive Manning of the opportunity to sleep and to strip him, literally and figuratively, of his human dignity. Due process and the rule of law bar still punishment without trial. And, in our system, even after trial, when punishment is justified, the punishment may not be "cruel and unusual," as Manning's ongoing mistreatment obviously is.

In truth, though, this was never a story about Private Manning. His case only caught the public's attention for a few days because Crowley, the former State Department employee, had the bad judgment to speak the truth about one instance of pointless cruelty. It got more interesting when the president had to respond to an inconvenient, discomforting question and demonstrated, as he has before, the unwillingness of his administration to take a principled stand against abuses of human rights.

The mistreatment of Private Manning is reprehensible. But what matters more is that the indignities and abuses he is enduring are merely commonplace.

My colleague Joe Margulies (a leading voice in opposition to the post-9/11 detention without trial of persons suspected of terrorist involvement) points out that Manning's treatment eerily mirrors the regimen that 9/11 detainees Jose Padilla, Yaser Hamdi and Ali al Marri were subjected to before any of them had been convicted of any offense. Few voices were raised in opposition.

In maximum security prisons and jails all over the United States detainees routinely endure mistreatment worse than the published accounts of what Manning is undergoing. For over a decade, seriously mentally ill prisoners at the Tamms Correctional Center in southern Illinois have been stripped naked for periods of "suicide watch," during which they cower and whimper as security personnel make periodic observations of their "wellbeing." Prisoners at Tamms spend 23 hours per day in barren cells with concrete slabs for beds. They exercise alone in a concrete room. Their view of the outside world is a sliver of sky visible through a tiny window when they stand on their bunks. For year after year, their only human touch is from a guard who shackles their legs and arms whenever they leave their cells. Some lose their minds. No one cares.

The president's brush off of the complaints about Private Manning -- his treatment "meets our basic standards" -- is more an indictment of ourselves than of Mr. Obama. The president was right, of course. "Our standards" are being met in Manning's case. And that's the real problem.

[Related posts:  Ridiculous and Counterproductive and Stupid]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Power To The People

The following piece was originally published on Second Class Justice, a blog published by Steve Bright, president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and one of the great death penalty and social justice lawyers in the country.

The Supreme Court's Vision of the 'Invincible Prosecutor'

by Bidish Sarma, April 18, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Connick v. Thompson threw out a $14 million award that a jury provided to John Thompson, a man who spent 18 years in prison (14 of them on death row) for crimes he did not commit. Mr. Thompson faced a possible execution not because he provided a false confession or because a jailhouse informant cut a deal to testify against him, but because New Orleans prosecutors never disclosed several vital pieces of evidence, including a blood test that demonstrated he was innocent of an attempted armed robbery – evidence that blew apart the State’s strategy and theory in the murder case. (That’s right: Mr. Thompson was not wrongfully convicted once, but twice.) After a court threw out his attempted armed robbery conviction and a jury acquitted him on the murder charge at a re-trial, Mr. Thompson filed a lawsuit, seeking some remuneration for the years of his life and the future opportunities that a corrupt prosecution stole from him. A jury found that the district attorney’s office had failed to sufficiently train its employees to observe the constitutional duty to disclose evidence favorable to the defendant under Brady v. Maryland. Two weeks ago, five robed individuals seated 1,000 miles from New Orleans overturned the decision of 12 Louisiana residents, depriving Thompson of every dime.

Connick v. Thompson has appropriately garnered a great deal of attention. Dahlia Lithwick referred to it as one of the “meanest” decisions ever. And, Scott Lemieux discussed how the opinion “reflects poorly on the American criminal justice system.”  These and other commentators have made two key points, and have made them well: first, both the Supreme Court and the Orleans District Attorney’s office mischaracterized the facts, straining to depict the cause of Mr. Thompson’s wrongful conviction as the work of a single rogue prosecutor who committed “a single” Brady violation; second, the decision all but forecloses the possibility of anyone ever winning a civil suit against a prosecutor. One cannot hold a district attorney liable in an official capacity because Connick v. Thompson sets an impossibly high bar for proving that an office failed to adequately train its lawyers. Moreover, careless and crooked prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity in their individual capacities. The options are limited, to say the least.

Wilco Wednesdays: Wrote A Song For Everyone (featuring Mavis Staples)

The great Mavis Staples and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy perform a cover of the Creedence tune Wrote A Song For Everyone.

Playing Chicken With The Economy

Sen. Demint Threatens Filibuster on Debt Ceiling
Robert Reich, in a post originally published on his website, writes about Republican threats to "crash the U.S. economy" if their demands are not met and asks why business leaders aren't speaking out against this scandalous tactic. 

Extortion Politics:  Why Won't American Business Stop The GOP From Threatening To Blow Up The Economy?

By Robert Reich, April 19, 2011

As the government approaches its borrowing limit of $14.3 trillion, Republicans are seeking political advantage over what conditions should be attached to raising that limit.

This is a scandal — or should be. Raising the debt limit shouldn’t be subject to party politics. Economic extortion should be out of bounds.

It’s bad enough government shutdowns have become an accepted part of political negotiation. But failure to increase the amount the Treasury can borrow would have far graver results.
Not only would the government be unable to issue Social Security or Medicare checks but the United States couldn’t pay interest on its current debt.

We’d go into default. The full faith and credit of the United States would be in jeopardy. Treasury bonds would go into free fall. Interest rates would skyrocket. We, and most of the rest of the world, would fall into financial chaos.

The recovery is still fragile. All this would force us and most of the rest of the world into a deeper recession or worse. 

No one in their right mind would threaten this. Yet it’s talked about as if it’s just another aspect of Washington politics — a threat that might be carried out in early July when the Treasury runs out of ways to keep paying our debts. 

In fact, it’s a giant game of highway chicken, and if one driver doesn’t yield the crash will be catastrophic.

Games of chicken are won by drivers able to convince their opponents they won’t swerve. That gives a strategic advantage to Republicans backed by the Tea Party, who are so convinced government is evil they’ve signaled they’d be willing to risk it and not swerve.

But this shouldn’t be a matter of political strategy. Disagreement about the nation’s budget should be worked out through the constitutional process of majority votes in Congress, followed by the President’s signature or veto, and Congress’s right to override the veto.

No group of legislators is entitled to threaten to crash the United States economy if its demands aren’t met.

The biggest surprise is the silence of American business. They have as much if not more to lose as anyone if this game ends in tragedy. Yet the GOP — which big business and Wall Street fund — insists on playing it.
Why isn’t the Business Roundtable decrying the use of this tactic? Where are the leaders of Wall Street? Where are the corporate statesmen? They should insist this game of chicken be called off or they’ll stop the funding.

Yesterday Standard & Poor’s (hardly a beacon of reliability after the Crash of 2008, to be sure) downgraded America’s credit outlook. Expect more downgrades if the game of chicken continues.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, Supercapitalism, and his most recent book, Aftershock.  He writes a blog at  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Obama's Roots

Rick Perlstein is a journalist and historian whose books Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America and Before The Storm:  Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of America are essential reading for an understanding of modern American political history.  Rick has given me permission to post his recent op-ed, originally published in the New York Daily News. 

Unions Clamor, Obama Cowers

By Rick Perlstein, April 17, 2011

You've seen them: Ordinary white Americans from Wisconsin or Indiana, protest signs aimed at treasonous politicians.

No, not the Tea Partyers, though that description fits them, too. I write of the ones on the left, the thousands petitioning their governors against budget cuts and the slashing of union rights.

But while John Boehner has declared "no daylight" between himself and the Tea Party, one wag joked that President Obama had more to say about whether the Chicago Bears would get into the Super Bowl than the union protests in Wisconsin.

His silence has liberals baffled. The Wisconsin protesters' demands - a focus on jobs; preservation of collective bargaining; resistance to cuts in social services - poll well among the general public. So why are Democrats leaving this political energy on the table?

Historically, grass-roots movements have been an extraordinary resource for Presidents seeking to move history in a new direction. The ability to place oneself at the head of a protest - while also directing its unruly energies - has been a perquisite for successful presidential leadership.

One of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression was to give workers the right to collectively bargain. However, some found their unions' umbrella organization, the American Federation of Labor, too timid. So at a 1935 labor conclave, John Lewis, the leader of the insurgents, strode across the podium to punch the leader of the old guard in the nose, an act that would lead to the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which turned labor into a social movement.

These days, conservatives who seek to discredit the Wisconsin protesters as hooligans point to the alleged damage their posters did to the state capitol's walls. In 1937, CIO strikers in Flint kept GM from producing all but 125 cars in February of 1937. Now that was unruly.

But unlike Obama, FDR supported the strikers, directing GM to negotiate with the union.

Eighteen steelworkers were killed in one of the violent labor conflicts that followed; FDR backed away from the CIO and its militant tactics. Be that as it may, his original intervention on the side of the masses - combined with his savvy in distancing himself from their excesses - paid dividends to the Democratic Party.
In Wisconsin, there have been no such excesses on the protestors' side. And yet Obama has kept his distance.

Lyndon Johnson achieved a trick similar to FDR's: In 1964, he cast his lot with the outraged masses of the civil rights movement. That came with its share of political hardships, but Democrats stuck close enough to their guns to produce an African-American loyalty that remains steadfast to this day.

Nor is this just a strategy of the left. The Christian right entered national politics in the second half of the 1970s. The nation's preeminent conservative aspirant for the presidency, Ronald Reagan, had to decide whether to abjure or embrace this powerful new group.

He managed to do both. Every year, he addressed the "March for Life" - but only by telephone, lest he be seen in a photo with zealots. Right-wing social movements, in fact, were an enormous pain in his presidential derrière, but Reagan was far too wise to betray that publicly.

Obama is the opposite. The demands of liberal social movements seem to annoy him terribly - when he deigns to actually acknowledge them.

This is a curious stance for a leader who has put the semiotics of social movements at the center of his appeal. And maybe, for his reelection, it will work again.

But if he wants to truly change America, he has to master a crucial precedent: That avoiding unprecedented outbursts of mass mobilization on his side of the ideological divide is not a smart option.

Home Of The Brave?

Hendrik Hertzberg writes in The New Yorker Magazine (Prisoners) about the never-ending "war on terror."  Hertzberg points out how shameful it is that the 172 "shackled, isolated prisoners" still held at Guantanamo have "somehow been permitted to engender a miasma of popular fear and political cowardice."

As the New York Times so aptly stated in an editorial on Sunday, "President George W. Bush made [Guantanamo] a symbol of torture and illegal detention."  In the wake of Attorney General Holder's announcement that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks will be tried in a military tribunal and not in a civilian trial, Hertzberg notes how candidate Obama promised that, if elected, he would shut Guantánamo down, prosecute accused terrorists in civilian courts, and discontinue indefinite detention without indictment or trial.  These promises, Hertzberg reminds us, "have been undone by a combination of political nihilism on the part of Republicans, political ineptitude on the part of his own Administration, and political fecklessness on the part of the people’s representatives on Capitol Hill."  Or as described by the Times, "a triumph of raw politics over the nation’s security interests."

Although after the election Obama issued an executive order directing that Guantanamo be closed "as soon as practical," the "slippage," as Hertzberg puts it, "began less than a month later, with a complicated legal tussle over seventeen Gitmo prisoners."  The "mere possibility" that they "might set foot on the United States mainland was enough to ignite a brushfire of not-in-my-back-yard hysteria."  In May 2009, the Senate voted overwhelmingly "not only to keep Gitmo open indefinitely but also to block the transfer of any of its detainees to U.S. soil, where the civilian courts are." 

As Hertzberg writes, "a dispiriting series of tactical retreats from civil-liberties principles has followed."  In January, Obama signed a defense-appropriation bill that continued to block funding for the transfer of detainees from Guantánamo to the U.S.  And then in March, as I wrote about here, Obama issued an executive order clearing the way for military tribunals to be held at Guantanamo.

The Obama Administration can mitigate some of the unjust aspects of these military trials by taking the steps outlined in the Times editorial:  (1) not rely on evidence obtained through torture or coercion or evidence that would otherwise be inadmissible in a civilian court; (2) appoint experienced defense counsel and provide them with sufficient resources; (3) make the trials truly public by televising the proceedings; (4) provide greater access to the press and less secrecy.

Hertzberg argues that Obama could -- and should -- remedy another aspect "of the moral morass that Guantánamo symbolizes":  the "lack of any official accountability for the abuses of the past, especially the embrace of torture."  Given that "there is no dispute that there was torture, that it was systematic, and that it was encouraged at the highest levels," as Bush boasts in his best-selling memoir, there is no reason for not appointing a truth commission "charged with compiling the record, affixing responsibility, and formally acknowledging what was done."

With Republicans asserting that Obama's actions are vindicating Bush's detention policies, the refusal of the Obama Administration to look backward is increasingly problematic.  (See The Pitfalls Of Only Looking Forward.) As Hertzberg concludes, "even with all the failings of the current Administration, the difference between its approach and its predecessor’s is the difference between night and day, albeit a rainy, miserable day, overcast with dark clouds. But, by elevating amnesia to official policy, the President has put himself in a poor position to make even that argument."

Monday, April 18, 2011


[Fair and Unbalanced contributor sasqi and her husband Paul are on a two-month road-trip stopping at several major- and minor-league ballparks.  Here Paul chimes in about their first minor-league park, in Corpus Christi, TX.]

There is nothing bush league about the minor leagues.  F and I realized that with all our b-ball history neither of us had ever seen a minor league game (though some of the A's early season error barrages should qualify, and I do know a few managers I might put in this category). Yesterday we went to Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, TX. (As you drive into Corpus Christi on the highway, as we did last Friday, you find a sign: "Corpus Christi--Home of Whataburger." Whataburger Corp. has alas recently moved its headquarters to San Antonio.) Whataburger began in 1950. On any given stretch of highway down here, you're likely to see two to five of these 24 hour takeouts within a stretch of five miles, their signs several stories above the flat local landscape, turning McDonald's and Burger King into wannabes.

The Whata Field looks like an old fashioned ball park out of a 1920s movie: one level around the field with seats, a second above of boxes with both in-and-outside seating; clear views all over, wide concrete areas behind the seats. It opened in 2005 and has been dubbed the best minor league ballpark in the U.S. for the last two years by MINOR LEAGUE NEWS (who knew?). Corrugated steel around the outside, paying tribute (I've just learned) to an old cotton warehouse that once occupied the site, a sweet spot right along the water. If you're bored with the game, there's a pool and spa behind the right field fence, along with a children's playground including a bungee-jumper for the young set. There's an area of seats in left field that consists of three rows of wooden rocking chairs. The stadium seats 5,000, plus luxury boxes and a berm of grass that can hold another 2000 if sardined in. There are so many season ticket holders that the best we could do for seats was far out in left field, which was fine for us. Announced attendance was 6,000 plus; maybe there were half that number really at the game (though I couldn't count the people in the pool).

But this is baseball, Texas League AA style, complete with a giveaway Hooks fleece blanket. 12-9 was the final score, the North West Arkansas Naturals topping the home team Corpus Christi Hooks (a Houston Astros affiliate). It was a game until the 7th, when the Naturals scored six runs. The Hooks came back in the 7th and 8th, narrowing the margin to 10-9 with home runs in both frames but the Naturals put it away in their half of the 9th against an ineffective reliever.

Still you can see something of the range of players in a game like this. Some looked younger than little leaguers, like they were wearing their wools for Halloween, but they hit well. Not too many outstanding fielding plays, but lots of home runs and fewer errors than that Oakland team we usually cheer for. The Hooks catcher twice blew plays at the plate, catching the fine outfield throws too far into the infield to be able to turn and tag the sliding runners as they crossed home behind his back. On the other side, the Hooks' leadoff man, a shortstop named Wladimir Sutil, looked like the real thing--as a couple fans in front of us said to each other with wise, seasoned nods of their heads: "He's not going to be here long." We'll miss the San Antonio Missions, another AA Texas League team, which has already recorded wins of 23-10 and 26-5 this year. But stay tuned for more Minor League action once we get to Pearl, MS and Memphis, TN in a couple weeks.

[Related posts:  The Open Star]