Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gone Fishin'

Fair and Unbalanced will be on hiatus for a bit.  As long as you're here, why don't you scroll down and read some of the posts you might have missed or click on some of the links on the right  -- the list of jazz greats, the indie radio playlists, popular posts, and the excellent stuff from the blog roll.  See you soon.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fair And Unbalanced Radio 9

Here is the ninth edition of Fair and Unbalanced Radio, consisting of ten previously posted songs:



1.   Neil Young and Crazy Horse:  Oh Susannah
2.   Wilco, Nick Lowe and Mavis Staples:  The Weight
3.   Jack White:  Love Interruption
4.   Real Estate:  Easy
5.   Cloud Nothings:  Stay Useless
6.   The Walkmen:  Heaven
7.   Alabama Shakes:  Hold On
8.   The Shins:  September
9.   The Kills:  Baby Says
10.  Bettye Lavette:  I'm Not The One

You can always click the radio icon on the right of the blog for the latest playlist.

[Here are the previous playlists:  Fair and Unbalanced Radio, Volume 1; Volume 2; Volume 3; Volume 4; Volume 5; Volume 6; Volume 7; Volume 8]

Friday, July 6, 2012

Scalia Watch

DonkeyHotey
There has long been a consensus in mainstream circles, if not necessarily in the legal community, that whether you agreed with him or not, Justice Scalia possesses a great legal mind.  Indeed, the conventional wisdom for decades, as Jeremy Leaming writes, "has held that Justice Antonin Scalia is the high court’s most brilliant, disciplined, albeit ideological, member."

It may be that exposure through the internet "has altered the narrative by giving forums to an array of writers who have been quick to poke holes in an increasingly tiresome and shoddy line of reporting" or simply that Scalia's over-the-top rants and overt partisanship have finally reached a critical mass.

But as the country becomes more politically polarized, Scalia, as Dana Milbank wrote a while back, has had more difficulty containing his rabid partisanship.  He noted that “Scalia’s tart tongue has been a fixture on the bench for years, but as the justices venture this year into highly political areas such as health-care reform and immigration, the divisive and pugilistic style of the senior associate justice is very much defining the public image of the Roberts Court.”

Leaming is absolutely correct that "with each passing high court term, Scalia seems to be coming wackier, more out-of-touch, increasingly shrill. And he’s being called out for his nuttiness with growing frequency." 

"The Madness of Justice Scalia," Leaming's piece, cites various legal scholars and reporters, including law professor Paul Campos, who observed that Scalia “has in his old age become an increasingly intolerant and intolerable blowhard: a pompous celebrant of his own virtue and rectitude, a purveyor of intemperate jeremiads against the degeneracy of the age, and now an author of hysterical diatribes against foreign invaders, who threaten all that is holy.”

Perhaps Scalia has finally gone too far.  In a column last Wednesday (before the ACA decision), E.J. Dionne called for Scalia to resign:
So often, Scalia has chosen to ignore the obligation of a Supreme Court justice to be, and appear to be, impartial. He’s turned “judicial restraint” into an oxymoronic phrase. But what he did this week, when the court announced its decision on the Arizona immigration law, should be the end of the line.

Not content with issuing a fiery written dissent, Scalia offered a bench statement questioning President Obama’s decision to allow some immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children to stay. Obama’s move had nothing to do with the case in question. Scalia just wanted you to know where he stood.

After this case was argued and while it was under consideration, the secretary of homeland security announced a program exempting from immigration enforcement some 1.4 million illegal immigrants,” Scalia said. “The president has said that the new program is ‘the right thing to do’ in light of Congress’s failure to pass the administration’s proposed revision of the immigration laws. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of federal immigration law that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind.

What boggles the mind is that Scalia thought it proper to jump into this political argument. And when he went on to a broader denunciation of federal policies, he sounded just like an Arizona Senate candidate.

Dionne takes Scalia to task for being a "blatantly political actor" and justice at the same time:  "Unaccountable power can lead to arrogance. That’s why justices typically feel bound by rules and conventions that Scalia seems to take joy in ignoring."

Recall, as Dionne reminds us, 2004, when "three weeks after the Supreme Court announced it would hear a case over whether the White House needed to turn over documents from an energy task force that Dick Cheney had headed, Scalia went off on Air Force Two for a duck-hunting trip with the vice president."

Then there was the speech Scalia gave at Switzerland’s University of Fribourg a few weeks before the court was to hear a case involving the rights of Guantanamo detainees:  "I am astounded at the world reaction to Guantanamo,” he declared in response to a question. “We are in a war. We are capturing these people on the battlefield. We never gave a trial in civil courts to people captured in a war. War is war and it has never been the case that when you capture a combatant, you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts. It’s a crazy idea to me.”

Dionne does not even mention how Scalia (as well as his fellow conservative justices Thomas and Alito) regularly attend right-wing events and political fundraisers.  (Indeed, Clarence Thomas, in particular, is far quieter, but similarly nakedly partisan and ethically challenged.  See, e.g., here and here.)

Scalia is 76 years old but despite the urging of E.J. Dionne does not appear to be leaving the bench any time soon.  What is of far greater concern is that Justice Ginsburg turns 80 next year and Justice Breyer turns 75.  When you throw in Justice Kennedy (75), you have what the New York Times points out is "among the oldest courts since the New Deal era."  As a result, "the winner of the race for president will inherit a group of justices who frequently split 5 to 4 along ideological lines," suggesting "the next president could have a powerful impact if he gets to replace a justice of the opposing side."

And while it is true that Chief Justice Roberts showed some modicum of sanity in voting to uphold the Affordable Care Act, he has not been magically transformed into the new swing justice.  It should be noted that while the outcome was welcome, his legal reasoning was, as Justice Ginsburg put it, "stunningly retrogressive."  (See 10 Ways John Roberts Is Still A Conservative's Best Friend.)

What shouldn't be lost in all the hoopla over the validation of Obamacare is that the Scalia and the other three dissenters (Thomas, Alito and Kennedy), as Paul Krugman points out, "did so in extreme terms, proclaiming not just the much-disputed individual mandate but the whole act unconstitutional. Given prevailing legal opinion, it’s hard to see that position as anything but naked partisanship."

As I have previously written, Romney's choice of Robert Bork as co-chair of his Justice Advisory Committee is a disturbing sign of the kind of radical jurists Romney would nominate.  (See Romney Gets Borked.)  In the wake of Roberts' "defection," there will be even more pressure on Romney to choose right wing extremists in the Scalia-Thomas mold, a fact he is essentially admitting on the campaign trail.  Dionne is right that Scalia should resign but that isn't going to happen.  But there remains an even more disturbing prospect than Scalia staying put.  It is that a President Romney will  add more right-wing ideologues to the Supreme Court (and throughout the federal judiciary), forming a solid block of partisan operatives.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Robert Reich: Patriotism July 4, 2012

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

In the last two weeks, the Supreme Court has allowed police in Arizona to demand proof of citizenship from people they stop on other grounds (while throwing out the rest of Arizona’s immigration law), and has allowed the federal government to require everyone buy health insurance — even younger and healthier people — or pay a penalty.

What do these decisions — and the national conversations they’ve engendered — have to do with patriotism? A great deal. Because underlying them are two different versions of American patriotism.

The Arizona law is aimed at securing the nation from outsiders. The purpose of the health care law is to join together to provide affordable health care for all.

The first version of patriotism is protecting America from people beyond our borders who might otherwise overrun us — whether immigrants coming here illegally or foreign powers threatening us with aggression.

The second version of patriotism is joining together for the common good. That might mean contributing to a bake sale to raise money for a local school or volunteering in a homeless shelter. It also means paying our fair share of taxes so our community or nation has enough resources to meet all our needs, and preserving and protecting our system of government.

This second meaning of patriotism recognizes our responsibilities to one another as citizens of the same society. It requires collaboration, teamwork, tolerance, and selflessness.

The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but in requiring younger and healthier people to buy insurance that will help pay for the healthcare needs of older and sicker people, it summons the second version of patriotism.

Too often these days we don’t recognize and don’t practice this second version. We’re shouting at each other rather than coming together — conservative versus liberal, Democrat versus Republican, native-born versus foreign born, non-unionized versus unionized, religious versus secular.

Our politics has grown nastier and meaner. Negative advertising is filling the airwaves this election year. We’re learning more about why we shouldn’t vote for someone than why we should.

As I’ve said before, some elected officials have substituted partisanship for patriotism, placing party loyalty above loyalty to America. Just after the 2010 election, the Senate minority leader was asked about his party’s highest priority for the next two years. You might have expected him to say it was to get the economy going and reduce unemployment, or control the budge deficit, or achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. But he said the highest priority would be to make sure the President did not get a second term of office.

Our system of government is America’s most precious and fragile possession, the means we have of joining together as a nation for the common good. It requires not only our loyalty but ongoing vigilance to keep it working well. Yet some of our elected representatives act as if they don’t care what happens to it as long as they achieve their partisan aims.

The filibuster used to be rarely used. But over the last decade the threat of a filibuster has become standard operating procedure, virtually shutting down the Senate for periods of time.

Meanwhile, some members of the House have been willing to shut down the entire government in order to get their way. Last summer they were even willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States in order to achieve their goals.

In 2010 the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to unlimited money from billionaires and corporations overwhelming our democracy, on the bizarre theory that corporations are people under the First Amendment. Congress won’t even pass legislation requiring their names be disclosed.

Some members of Congress have signed a pledge — not of allegiance to the United States but of allegiance to a man named Grover Norquist, who has never been elected by anyone. Norquist’s “no-tax” pledge is interpreted only by Norquist, who says closing a tax loophole is tantamount to raising taxes and therefore violates the pledge.

True patriots don’t hate the government of the United States. They’re proud of it. Generations of Americans have risked their lives to preserve and protect it. They may not like everything it does, and they justifiably worry then special interests gain too much power over it. But true patriots work to improve the U.S. government, not destroy it.

But these days some Americans loathe the government, and are doing everything they can to paralyze it, starve it, and make the public so cynical about it that it’s no longer capable of doing much of anything. Norquist says he wants to shrink it down to a size it can be “drowned in a bathtub.”

When arguing against paying their fair share of taxes, some wealthy Americans claim “it’s my money.” They forget it’s their nation, too. And unless they pay their fair share of taxes, American can’t meet the basic needs of our people. True patriotism means paying for America.

So when you hear people talk about patriotism, be warned. They may mean securing the nation’s borders, not securing our society. Within those borders, each of us is on our own. These people don’t want a government that actively works for all our citizens.

Yet true patriotism isn’t mainly about excluding outsiders seen as our common adversaries. It’s about coming together for the common good.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.  He writes a blog at www.robertreich.org.  His most recent book is Beyond Outrage

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

All Star Outrage

I have always revered the All Star game.  When I was growing up, it meant seeing Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente in the same outfield.  It also meant getting to see how some of my favorite Met players measured up to the greats.  True, the Mets did not usually populate the team, but at least Tom Seaver could be counted on to dominate American League hitters, and occasionally Bud Harrelson at short, Jerry Grote behind the plate, Jerry Koosman or Jon Matlack on the mound were worthy additions. 

Beginning in 1969, fans have been given the privilege of voting for All Star starters.  I used to fill out two ballots as a kid.  I would diligently scour statistics and choose players based purely on merit.  Then I did a second one which included Met players, regardless of the season they were having.  On this second ballot I admit, I voted for Wayne Garrett over Ron Santo, Felix Millan over Joe Morgan, Tommie Agee over Cesar Cedeno, Jerry Grote over Johnny Bench, and even Ed Kranepool over Willie McCovey.

Over the years, the fans generally got it right.  The popularity contest and bias towards one's home team was, for the most part, outweighed by votes for the players having the best years.  What helped making this system relatively fair was the rule that each team received the same number of ballots to hand out.  But with the advent of internet voting and organized campaigns by the teams themselves, the process has gotten out of balance.

The San Francisco Giants' marketing department was particularly relentless and creative this year in urging their fans to vote for Giants players early and often.  As a result, the Giants can boast three starters in this year's game:  Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera.  Sandoval, who spent a good deal of time on the disabled list, is having a season that pales in comparison to David Wright, who is having an MVP-type year. Wright leads all third basemen in every offensive category.  (Padres' third baseman Chase Headley is also having a far better year than Sandoval.)

Giants' catcher Buster Posey is having an excellent season, coming back from last year's injury, but he should not be the All Star starter -- despite receiving more votes than any other player in history.  Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, who is having a remarkable year, is far more deserving.  So is Yadier Molina of the Cardinals.

Melky Cabrera is arguably worthy of a start in the NL outfield, but the outsized votes for Sandoval and Posey, and for other Giants such as 1B Brandon Belt and SS Brandon Crawford -- who just missed starting nods (and 2B Freddie Sanchez came in fourth despite being sidelined all year) -- demonstrate that the system is broken.

Fans have been disenfranchised before.  In 1957, an organized campaign in Cincinnati resulted in seven Reds players being elected as starters:  Johnny Temple (2B), Roy McMillan (SS), Don Hoak (3B), Ed Bailey (C), Frank Robinson (LF), Gus Bell (CF), and Wally Post (RF). (The only non-Red elected was Cardinal first baseman Stan "the Man" Musial.)  The Cincinnati Enquirer apparently printed up pre-marked ballots to allow fans to vote early and often.  After an investigaton, Commissioner Ford Frick substituted Willie Mays and Hank Aaron for Gus Bell and Wally Post as NL starters, and changed the system so that managers, coaches and players voted instead of fans.

It is time to take the vote away from the fans again.

Andy Griffith (1926-2012)

"When a man carries a gun all the time, the respect he thinks he's getting might really be fear. So I don't carry a gun because I don't want the people of Mayberry to fear a gun. I'd rather they respect me."  -- Sheriff Andy Taylor (from the Andy Griffith Show)

At Least Those Supreme Court Conservatives Aren't Influenced By The New York Times

Clarence and Virginia Thomas
After the theory that Chief Justice Roberts' vote to uphold ACA was caused by his epilepsy medication didn't fly, the latest conservative narrative making the rounds (thanks to a "scoop" by CBS's Jan Crawford) is that Roberts switched his vote, buckling to external political pressure, and then withstood a ferocious month-long campaign by Justice Kennedy to bring him back around. 

Who knows what truth there is to this story (or who inside the Court leaked it), but I was particularly struck by a remarkable nugget in Crawford's article which describes the conservative wing of the Court, in contrast to Chief Justice Roberts, as impervious to outside influences -- or at least liberal ones.  Thus, while Roberts "pays attention to media coverage," the conservatives, "such as Justice Clarence Thomas, deliberately avoid news articles on the court when issues are pending (and avoid some publications altogether, such as The New York Times). They've explained that they don't want to be influenced by outside opinion or feel pressure from outlets that are perceived as liberal."

What the article left out are the right-wing influences on Justices Thomas, Scalia and Alito.  As I've previously written, these three justices have attended, headlined and spoken at political fund-raising events for right wing organizations.   In another piece, Activist Judges, I pointed out that Justice Alito attended a major fundraising event for the notorious right wing magazine American Spectator (notorious for smearing President Clinton with false stories as part of the "Arkansas Project," an effort to get Clinton impeached), and that Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have also attended secret political fundraisers.

And as stated here, Scalia and Thomas were featured guests at a retreat of wealthy Republicans and conservative leaders organized by Charles and David Koch, the brothers who finance right wing causes from the money they made from their energy conglomerate.  One of the Koch brothers pet causes had long been ending financial regulations on elections.  Indeed, according to Common Cause, they funded many of the groups who filed amicus briefs in the Citizens United case.  What is so unseemly about the appearances of Thomas and Scalia at the Koch Industries-sponsored event is that it occurred while Citizens United was pending before the Court.

And then, of course, there is the influence of Justice Thomas's wife, Ginni Thomas, a right-wing activist and powerful lobbyist, who worked to repeal the health care lawThomas was employed by the Heritage Foundation, a right wing think tank, between 2003 and 2007, and then set up a political consulting business, Liberty Central, which is described as an advocate for “liberty-loving citizens" fighting against the left wing "tyranny" of President Obama and the Democrats.

Well, at least the conservative members of the Court are not influenced by the New York Times and other dreaded liberal media.

Monday, July 2, 2012

If Pre-Existing Conditions Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Pre-Existing Conditions

Tom Tomorrow's latest:  Health Care Glossary Updated

Click here (or on the Read Tom Tomorrow link on the right panel) for the full comic.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mets Hit Parade

A player with the most hits in a team's history usually possesses two qualities:  greatness and longevity.  Several legendary stars lead their teams with 3000 or more hits, including Willie Mays (Giants), Ty Cobb (Tigers), Pete Rose (Reds), Carl Yastrzemski (Red Sox), Hank Aaron (Braves), Cal Ripken (Orioles), Stan Musial (Cardinals), Roberto Clemente (Pirates), and most recently, Derek Jeter (Yankees).

Even some of the 1960s expansion teams can claim players with 3000 or more hits:  George Brett (Royals), Robin Yount (Brewers), Craig Biggio (Astros) and Tony Gwynn (Padres).

Hall of Famers such as Mike Schmidt (Phillies), Cap Anson (Cubs), Sam Rice (Senators/Twins), Zack Wheat (Dodgers) and Luke Appling (White Sox), while not reaching the hallowed 3000, have the most hits on their long-time teams.

And then there are teams like the Mets, celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year, whose all-time hit leader can boast longevity but not greatness.  Except for the Marlins, Rays and Diamondbacks, who all came into existence in the 1990s, no team other than the Mets have a career hit leader with less that 1500 hits.

Ed Kranepool, who played for the Mets in their inaugural season of 1962, all the way through 1979, is their all-time hit leader with 1418.  For better or worse Kranepool played in far more games than any other Met and, as a result, is in the top 10 in most offensive categories.  But pretty soon we won't have Kranepool to kick around anymore.

29-year old David Wright, is in his ninth year with the Mets and having his greatest season.  After starting off his career in spectacular fashion, the five-time All Star has had an uneven last few years, which included a beaning and a concussion in 2009, and missing more than two months from another injury last year.  But he is putting it all together in 2012, with an MVP-type year.

David Wright is the Met all-time leader in runs scored, RBIs, and doubles.  He is about 75 hits behind Kranepool, and is sure to pass him sometime this year.  Hopefully, he will be a Met for many years to come, and if so, he will fit right in there with the great hit leaders of the other Major League clubs.