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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Kerry on Meet the Press

The Meet the Press transcript from today isn't posted online yet, but when it is it will be here.

So I can't quote directly. In any case, I was not impressed, though I should admit I don't like Kerry much to begin with, probably because I'm a Massachusetts Democrat who has seen his song and dance before. He's equivocating and looking out only for himself in this campaign, as usual.

The first segment of the Russert interview, focusing on Iraq, was basically characterized by Kerry saying "Let me be clear" and then making lots of qualifications without taking a firm stance. I'm reasonably intelligent and aware of current events, and I paid attention, and I still don't get his Iraq views. Somehow Kerry voted for the war, is critical of the war, and still thinks that his vote was the right thing to do anyway. Russert pressed him on all of this, revealing the internal contradictions. For example, Kerry said that the president misled the senators who voted for the war resolution, and his vote was based on information that turned out to be false. But he won't admit that voting as he did was the wrong thing to do, even though his vote helped bring about a situation he now admits is very bad. This is the problem that will continue to dog him: if he persists in criticizing the war, people have to conclude either that Kerry was wrong or was duped, neither of which is a conclusion people make about someone they vote for in the presidential race.

From all I heard, John Kerry's Iraq policy boils down to this: "elect me." (The campaign site's page on Iraq focuses on how to rebuild the country, not revisiting the vote or attacking Bush. Check the spelling of wavered as "waivered" in the first sentence. I'm also not sure how practical his proposal is to bring in international troops while keeping all US soldiers under US command.)

The second half of the interview was on domestic issues, primarily the economy. Kerry emphasized that he doesn't want to repeal the entirety of the Bush tax cuts, as candidates like Dean and Gephardt have advocated, because doing so would raise taxes on middle class people. I think this is a destructive strategy that helps Kerry at the expense of Democratic rivals while also playing into the president's hands. Kerry's emphasis implies that the Bush tax cuts were mostly a boost to middle class people struggling to get by, when in fact they were almost completely a boon to the very rich. I can envision Kerry trying to argue this in the general election and Bush's campaign replying that Kerry himself had extolled the gains to the middle class from the tax cuts during the primary season.

Instead, I would like to see Kerry say, "You know, the tax cuts enacted in the last few years are largely a give away to the super rich, and those cuts are not justified either economically or morally. But the small portions of the cuts that do benefit middle class people are the sections that we should maintain, and that is where I differ with some others seeking the nomination." (The Kerry campaign site's page on economic policy is reasonable on this, alleging Bush's reaction to the weak economy has been to "cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and run up the deficit to starve the government." Base on this and the Iraq page, I gather his web site and his comments to reporters differ in some important ways.)

For more background on Kerry, I suggest the Boston Globe seven-part biographical series.

Atrios on Friedman Again

More inconsistency across columns.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Nagourney on the Dems

Adam Nagourney seems to think the Democrats are already conceding defeat to Bush in 2004. This is simply not the case. Sure, Bush will have about $200 million, but the main factors in the race will be whether the economy and Iraq improve or not. If those things get better, Bush is probably all set. If they continue to be problems, we will have a close race, regardless of who the Democratic nominees is.

Tight Money in Mass

Today's Boston Globe is full of articles about the state, businesses or individuals fighting to get more money.

Bill Bulger's request for a larger pension gets front-page coverage. You'd think that the extra $32,000 he's asking for annually is what is going to make or break the state budget from the coverage the story gets, when in fact the state is a few billion dollars short of the cash needed to provide the same services as a few years ago. But of course the Globe would never let antipathy toward Bulger color its coverage, or whip up public opinion to try to influence a vote by the state pension board.

Tom Reilly is criticizing KeySpan for planning to jack up energy bills 40 percent in some cases this winter. That story also gets top billing on the front page, and justifiably so, since it means a lot of people could have trouble affording to heat their homes adequately this winter.

Meanwhile the state is trying to raise some cash itself through a T fare hike that a new report, called self-serving by critics, says would have little impact. All I know is that the T's service is generally poor and unreliable, and it isn't even worth what I pay now.

The state has also introduced fees for using rooms in the State House for events during the day, "as much as $4,650 for daytime use of the Great Hall, the Grand Staircase, and other historic rooms." I expect we'll see an increase in events on the State House steps and other places where you don't have to pay through the nose to actually say something near state government offices. Only the well-funded interests will be able to buy the access of an event in the Great Hall now, a damaging state of affairs that is not worth the slight revenue the fees may take in.

In a break from the pattern, some tolls on the Mass Pike could be eliminated, we learn in the Metro section.

And finally, an op-ed by James Carlin suggests ways to "trim the fat" at UMass and save some money. For a former UMass trustee and chairman of the Board of Higher Education, Carlin is stunningly ignorant about how universities operate. Maybe he has some scores to settle with the people still running UMass, who knows, but what is clear is that his proposals will never work. Here's an example of his angry rhetoric, perhaps a clue as to why he's no longer a university administrator:

"Trustees should put the brakes on institutions trying to be all things to all students by conducting meaningless soft science research, offering programs for which there's no demand, providing country club-type amenities and performing frivolous so-called public service."

Hostility doesn't serve anyone, Mr. Carlin, though it probably will win you some points with the Howie Carr crowd, right?

I think his worst idea is to eliminate tenure for UMass professors:

"Tenure is a very expensive lifetime job guarantee and it is a one-way street. Institutions can't terminate a tenured professor, but the professor can quit anytime and accept a better deal at another school, usually with tenure being offered as well at the new job. Tenure makes our campuses unmanageable. Tenured professors can tell their bosses to 'get lost' any time they want, in any manner, on any matter, and there's nothing the institution can do about it. Tenure kills productivity. Eliminate tenure."

Where to begin? I will limit myself to saying that tenure is in existence at all of the top colleges in the country. If UMass does not offer tenured positions, good professors will go elsewhere, leaving behind those who aren't good enough to get anything better than what UMass offers. This hardly seems to fit with Romney's professed aim of building UMass-Amherst into a "flagship" public university in the mold of Berkeley or Ann Arbor. Plus there is the case for tenure ensuring academic freedom, which is kind of nice too. Professors are not private sector executives.

All in all, the articles in today's Globe are a strong sign of the anxiety caused in all quarters by the weak economy. There simply isn't enough money to go around.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Conason on Compassion

Joe Conason writes on Bush's "compassion"--a topic much-covered in this space lately, in an article for The Nation:

"Indeed, 'compassion' is a featured topic on the new website put up by Bush-Cheney '04 (www.georgewbush.com), where 'news' about the President's agenda of compassion includes highlights like 'President stresses importance of health and fitness.' The need for such filler reflects how thin the Administration's portfolio for the poor remains. The site's most noticeable feature is a 'compassion photo album' consisting almost entirely of photos of the smiling Bush with smiling black children. This is almost identical to the public-relations material Bush and his advisers rolled out during the 2000 campaign (and the minstrel-show GOP convention in Philadelphia), repackaged to remind voters that he is, or purports to be, a 'different kind of Republican.'"

Previous posts here and here.

Flood the Zone Friday

This week the topic is the environment.

Central Banker Pay

The Economist has a new "Big Money" index, to go with its Big Mac index, tracking the pay of central bankers around the world. I want the Hong Kong job:

"Alan Greenspan, the world's most important central banker, is one of its lowest paid, on only $172,000 a year. In contrast, says a survey of central bankers' pay by Central Banking Publications, Wim Duisenberg, soon to step down at the European Central Bank, earns a handsome $417,000. Even that is less than the head of the Netherlands' central bank (Mr Duisenberg's old job).

"In truth, the Big Money index has a fatal flaw: central bankers are neither tradable nor (like Big Macs) identical goods. Europe's look overpaid. In a global competitive market where consumers can compare prices and shop around, prices in different countries should converge. But we are far from such a market in central bankers. The world's most lavishly paid is Joseph Yam, of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, who earns 6.5 times as much as Mr Greenspan--although Hong Kong has a currency board backed by dollars, so that all its important monetary decisions are taken by America's Federal Reserve."

Eisinger on OK WorldCom Charges

Jesse Eisinger's "Ahead of the Tape" column in the Wall Street Journal echoes my post from last night:

"Note to those Feds who cringe every time Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson denounces Bernie Ebbers and works on his klieg-light tan: You brought this on yourselves.

"For this is the result of federal investigators -- at the SEC and the Justice Department -- not enforcing the nation's antifraud statutes to the fullest extent of the law.

"Sure, some boardroom miscreants who dabbled in fraud actually get indicted. Some even go to jail. ImClone's Sam Waksal is in prison (though not for accounting fraud). Enron's Andy Fastow awaits trial. But most of the time, the wheels of justice fall off the wagon. Cendant's Walter Forbes (remember him?) is under indictment but still hasn't been brought to trial. The statute of limitations to bring criminal charges against Sunbeam's Al Dunlap expired. Many WorldCom executives have been charged, but they are small fries compared with Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Richard Scrushy and Mr. Ebbers (all of whom proclaim their innocence).

"And so ambitious pikers from the states step in. The Feds should have learned their lesson from Eliot Spitzer and seen this coming. In the case of WorldCom (now called MCI), public frustration is palpable. The accounting fraud was revealed well over a year ago.

"Now any possible case against Mr. Ebbers could be jeopardized, the Feds complain. It's true. We have national securities laws, national regulators and national authorities because the markets wouldn't function with 50 different sets of law (not to mention what Guam might say). That's all the more reason for the Feds not to give any local authority an opening to meddle.

"The Feds complain about how difficult it is to prove accounting fraud. But it is their culture that sets them up for second-rate results. They love to settle. When the SEC settles, the guilty party neither admits nor denies wrongdoing. This isn't a bit of harmless Kabuki theater in which we all know the truth. Indictments and convictions for accounting fraud are exceptions, not the rule. Settlements are less significant than prosecutions that result in prison. Prison deters white-collar criminals. Household names need to be busted quickly and some need to head to jail."

Dr. Z's NFL Picks

The Sports Illustrated NFL Preview is now complete with playoff picks, projected standings, and a ranking of teams from one to 32. Dr. Z somehow has Kansas City winning the AFC, depite the fact that they have no defense. I'll have the official DK NFL preview coming soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Blogging Class

Via Oliver Willis I see that there is actually a class at Georgia Tech that reads "famous blogs."


Today's Boston Globe has an amazing article about how many weapons are being seized from passengers at Logan Airport, with a record set during June:

"The number of potential weapons seized is steadily climbing at many of the nation's airports and the TSA has intercepted more than 7.5 million items, including 49,331 boxcutters, 1,437 firearms, and 2.3 million knives, since it began taking over security at the nation's major airports in February 2002, according to federal officials."

I used to find the signs at security checkpoints somewhat funny, reminding people that they can't take guns, knives, explosives, etc. on board. I guess people are actually that stupid that they try to carry on these things anyway. Where have they been the last two years? Under a rock?

Oklahoma Sues WorldCom

NYT notes that the announcement by Oklahoma that they will bring criminal charges against WorldCom, Bernie Ebbers and some of his top cronies could hurt the pending federal criminal case against the company. The article is really negative, basically saying Oklahoma AG Drew Edmondson (a Democrat) is an idiot for doing this.

I think the piece is overly harsh in its criticism here, even if the complications to the federal case that's pending are all true. Edmondson, like most reasonable people, is probably outraged that the feds did not bring any criminal charges against Bernie Ebbers, who made himself fabuously rich by orchestrating a massive fraud. This is largely a commentary on how difficult it is to convict someone of a crime in this area, but there is also, I believe, warranted skepticism about how far the SEC will go to enforce existing law. I personally do not trust the administration to go after corporate fat cats with the requisite zeal, and I welcome the efforts by state AGs like Eliot Spitzer in New York and Edmondson to pick up the slack.

MORE: Via CBS Marketwatch, here are some Edmondson comments:

"[A]t a press conference to unveil the charges Wednesday, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson expressed frustration with the punishment the company and its former senior officers have received so far for what is considered the largest accounting fraud in U.S. history.

"'I don't think the company has been punished; I think it's been rewarded for its bad acts,'" Edmondson said, referring to federal contracts MCI has received that are worth billions of dollars. 'I would be very surprised if Oklahoma remained the only state to file either criminal or civil actions against WorldCom and its officers.'

"'I have no lack of respect for our federal prosecutors in the FBI and the SEC,' Edmondson added. 'I simply do not believe that they are going to allege violations of Oklahoma law or pursue Oklahoma remedies.'"

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Connect the Dots

I was checking out the CNN headlines and I came across these two stories: "Bush Limits Pay Increases for Many Federal Workers" and "EPA Revises Air Pollution Rules". From the first article:

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- "Citing the 'national emergency' created by the September 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush Wednesday exercised his authority to limit the pay increase for many federal workers next January to 2 percent -- well below the 15 percent some employees would have been entitled to receive."

And from the second:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- "The Bush administration on Wednesday exempted thousands of older power plants, refineries and factories from having to install costly clean air controls when they modernize with new equipment that improves efficiency but increases pollution."

Basically, federal workers have to take a pay cut while big polluters get a break from regulations that will save them some money. This really shows you where the president's priorities are.

Krugman Posts

Krugman has two new posts up today here and here. The first is on state tax data sources, apparently in response to questions about his column from Friday criticizing Schwarzenegger. The second is an excerpt from the Publishers Weekly review of his new book, The Great Unraveling. PK says the book will be in stores September 12 and that he's planning a 14-city tour. When he comes to Boston (and I expect he will) I will be there.

Hoops News

Isiah Thomas is out as head coach of the Indiana Pacers, a move that surprises absolutely no one, except for the timing. Everyone knew Bird and Thomas don't mix and Larry, after coming back to join the front office, would want his own coach. Everyone also knows that coach most likely will be Rick Carlisle, a former Bird teammate and the guy who should've been hired instead of Thomas three years ago.

This move is a long time coming for Indy. I watched the Pacers get beaten soundly by the Celtics this spring, despite having far more talent than Boston, and Thomas deserves the blame for failing to get his guys to play as a team and employing some baffling substitution patterns.

The other big story is that the US barely beat Argentina in Olympic qualifying last night. We're now in an era when even with our top players on the national team (as opposed to the second stringers who played in last year's World Championship and lost to Argentina), the better foreign squads will push us. They play much better together than a US team that is thrown together at the last minute, and with the talent gap closing in recent years, the US is finding it can't just skate by in international competitions anymore. Maybe we should actually try to have a national team that practices more together and plays a better team concept in order to try to retain our slipping claim to global basketball supremacy? Of course, there may not be money enough to provide incentive to do this.

Kudos to Jermaine O'Neal for stepping up in the game last night. I hope the news about Isiah Thomas doesn't hit him too hard (O'Neal re-signed with the Pacers this offseason specifically out of loyalty to Thomas) and he keeps playing well because the US will need more of what he showed versus the Argentines.

My Take on Playmakers

The reviews I cited yesterday were largely correct about Playmakers. The show does hold my interest throughout, but the script and storylines are way overdone. The linebacker, who is mad at his dad for his brother's death in football practice as kids, is silly. So is the blatant favoritism shown to the younger running back by the team ownership. And, as Simmons notes, smoking crack a half hour before the game? Come on, now, that's crazy.

I also agree that the narration by characters is excessive and lacking in subtlety. "When you're a playmaker, the rules don't apply," is a good example--as if that isn't clear when the cops let off a guy who is speeding with drugs in his car.

Still, I'll be watching, though more out of a curiosity about how ESPN will depict things than because I'm expecting to be blinded by artistic brilliance.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Early Reviews of Playmakers

The newspaper reviews of Playmakers are fair to bad today, with the Globe saying, "The minute you meet these characters, you know their plot arcs," which is what I gathered from the promos. USA Today trashes the "heavy-handed and often pretentious script" and "pedestrian performances." And even Bill Simmons, writing for Page 2 on ESPN.com, says the show fails his unique "four beer" test.

"Compassion" in WaPo

Atrios notes that a Dana Milbank article today points out that Bush's "compassion" photo gallery on his campaign site is mostly of black people, as Kos pointed out last week.

Campaign Songs

Joanna Weiss has a story in today's Globe about the Democratic presidential candidates looking for the right campaign song. Apparently the Kerry web site has been taking suggestions on this for a while.

I have long believed that a campaign couldn't go wrong with Van Halen's "Right Now", an optimistic, energizing rock song. A similarly-titled song, "Right Here, Right Now" by Jesus Jones could be good too.

Dean has been using the "Little Less Conversation" Elvis remix as his entrance music lately, which seems fitting, except for those darn sexual overtones. John Edwards' choice of Smashmouth's "I'm a Believer" cover is decent, while the other candidate songs are pretty lame--I admit I haven't heard the original "We've Got a Friend in Bob Graham", though it sounds hokey. I guess the song choice has to try to appeal to everyone, which means it ends up being something bland.

NFL Preseason Injuries

Mike Wilbon repeats the same old complaints we hear every August about how the NFL preseason is too long and players end up needlessly injured. And even though we go through this every year, nothing ever changes. I don't expect changes this time around either.

As a Pat fan, I'm not so excited Chad Pennington is out either (his dislocated & broken wrist injury was nasty, painful to see on TV) because Vinny Testaverde can get the job done. The Jets will suffer at other positions this year, but not QB. The whole situation reminds me of when Testaverde blew out his knee in the opening game against New England in 1999 (a fellow Pat fan I knew at school claimed he "had an orgasm" when he saw Vinny hurt). Then of course Ray Lucas led the Jets to a win in Foxboro later in the year, dashing the Pats' playoff chances.

BTW, the premiere of "Playmakers", ESPN's gritty new drama series about football players, is Tuesday night at 9. I questioned the propriety of the show in this post, and I'll be back with my thoughts on the actual show after I see the first episode.

NYT on Bush and "Compassion"

Picking up on a theme I covered last week (here, here and here), the NYT uses a "Political Memo" to point out how Bush's so-called "compassion agenda" of education, faith-based stuff, AIDS money to Africa, Americorps, etc. has gone nowhere.

Trade with China

The New York Times reports on growing pressure from manufacturing interests and members of Congress on the administration to press China to increase the value of its currency. They claim the undervalued yuan is responsible for job losses in the US.

If China for some reason wants to sell us cheap manufactured goods, we should happily accept the low-price imports. This helps US consumers, don't forget. If US producers can cut their own costs or make higher quality output, they will be able to compete. Otherwise they should exit on account of higher Chinese efficiency. And if China's policies are really so crazy, they will not be sustainable in the long run; similarly, if their producers are selling below cost, they won't be able to stay in business, and if their government subsidizes them, we should gladly allow a foreign government to pay for a discount for our consumers.

The Times also plays up the angle of the White House not wanting to piss off China right now, given the situation in North Korea and our need for Chinese help there.

Unfortunately, the nonsensical protectionist position is gaining favor in Democratic circles:

"For her part, Governor [Jennifer] Granholm [D-MI] said that the issue was so important to retaining manufacturing jobs in her state that she would make it one of the litmus tests as she decides which candidate to endorse in the Democratic presidential primary."

Monday, August 25, 2003

Victims' Tasteless Reaction to Geoghan Murder

More evidence that some church abuse victims have lost their minds:

"'They're not happy about this,' attorney Mitchell Garabedian said at a news conference at his Boston office, where he was joined by two alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse. 'This is not going to help victims heal. They feel as though this has reopened wounds, that they did not need this figurative salt in their wounds.'

"There was no mention of Geoghan yesterday during Mass celebrated by Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley at St. Rose of Lima in Chelsea, but prayers were offered for Geoghan elsewhere in the archdiocese.

"Such prayers were 'in poor taste,' Michael Linscott, 45, an alleged victim of Geoghan, said at the news conference.

"The news that Geoghan was beaten and strangled in prison on Saturday was still sinking in, Linscott said. He said his initial reaction was mixed, one of relief and sadness.

"'I did have that moment of, `You know what, he got what he deserved,' but at the same time, a lot of people are still suffering, and this hasn't changed that,' he said.

"Linscott, who said he was abused by Geoghan while he was a young parishioner at St. Paul's in Hingham, said Geoghan's death did not bring him a sense of closure. 'As victims, we'll all live in our own prison for the rest of our lives, and he got out of his,' Linscott said. 'He got off easy.'"

Linscott doesn't seem to realize that his own comments are in bad taste here. A man was brutally murdered, and we're supposed to believe he "got off easy"? And this is "salt in the wounds" of victims? Don't they feel even a bit of regret for causing such a publicity storm over Geoghan? Seeking media attention was admittedly necessary to get the church to fess up to its misdeeds, but why was a press conference necessary yesterday, for example?

They made Geoghan such a notable figure that he was targeted in prison. The state bears responsibility for allowing this to happen, but that doesn't prevent victims from feeling sympathy for the slain Geoghan. That, however, would require that Linscott still have the capacity for human feeling beyond just feeling sorry for himself.

Roy Moore in WSJ

Roy Moore defends his Ten Commandments monument in the Wall Street Journal:

"Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor and my fellow justices have argued that they must act to remove the monument to preserve the rule of law. But the precise opposite is true: Article VI of the Constitution makes explicitly clear that the Constitution, and the laws made pursuant to it, are 'the supreme Law of the Land.' Judge Thompson and the judges of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have all sworn oaths which bind them to support the Constitution as it is written -- not as they would personally prefer it to be written.

"By subjugating the people of Alabama to the unconstitutional edict by Judge Thompson, that public officials may not acknowledge God, the attorney general and my colleagues have made the fiat opinion of a judge supreme over the text of the Constitution."

This is fatuous reasoning. The Constitution does not state explicitly whether or not a monument with the commandments can be displayed in a courthouse lobby, and thus the issue has to be decided on the basis of Constitutional interpretation. A valid interpretation, put forth by Thompson, is that the monument can't be displayed as Moore has them. Moore may disagree, but he is stunningly arrogant to defy the federal court order because he thinks his alternate interpretation is correct.

Moore also offers this bizarre argument:

"Had the judge declared the 13th Amendment prohibition on involuntary slavery to be illegal, or ordered the churches of my state burned to the ground, there would be little question in the minds of the people of Alabama and the U.S. that such actions should be ignored as unconstitutional and beyond the legitimate scope of a judge's authority."

This is a monument in a building lobby we're talking about. Moore is not being enslaved or terrorized, and the fact that he compares his situation with victims of racial violence shows just how deranged his perspective is.

How Geoghan Died

The Washington Post has info that I'm sure will also be in the Boston papers tomorrow on how John Geoghan was killed in prison. An inmate serving time for murder, who was also a Nazi, followed Geoghan back to his cell after lunch. This inmate jammed the cell door, bound and gagged Geoghan with a bed sheet and repeatedly jumped on and pounded on the elderly priest. One guard was on duty at the time. Not surprisingly, there have been budget cuts affecting security at Massachusetts prisons recently.

Geoghan was a bad guy, to be sure, but no one should be murdered in prison like this. It's a disgrace for the state.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Tom Friedman

Atrios notes the changing rationale for the Iraq war according to Tom Friedman. I find Friedman (and he's not the only columnist who does this by any stretch) very repetitive: yes, Tom, we know you thought war in Iraq was a good idea. Friedman did this with his globalization columns too, recycling the same material from The Lexus and the Olive Tree for a year. If you're writing two columns a week, I think you should actually come up with two distinct arguments.

Robert Bork, Ken Starr and bottles of wine

Interesting New York Times article today on the fight over whether to allow unfettered interstate shipment and home delivery of wine, as opposed to the highly regulated system we have now. Some top conservative legal figures, including Ken Starr for the wineries and Robert Bork for the state regulators, have engaged in a public battle over this issue.

Essentially the debate boils down to whether the commerce clause somehow overrides the second section of the 21st Amendment (repealing prohibition), which reads: "The transportation or importation into any State, Territory or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited."

Starr makes two main arguments in the article:

"'This is naked protectionism,' he declared in the winery dining room, flipping through a pamphlet-sized copy of the Constitution that he says he carries everywhere he goes. 'If you allow wineries from western New York to ship to Manhattan or Rochester or Syracuse or wherever, you need to allow a winery in Connecticut or a winery in Napa to ship, too.'

"He also argues that the laws hurt consumers: 'People get very upset when they're told in a free society that they cannot engage in this commercial transaction.'"

I agree with Starr and the wine producers on second point (I agree with Ken Starr!); I believe you should be able to have wine delivered to your home if you want. I don't know if the protectionism charge is legitimate--he would have to back up the claim with some data and examples of states making tighter regulations to help their own wine producers.

C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel to Bush 41, is also on the Bork/states' rights side, and he makes what I believe is the correct legal argument:

"'To me, it's straightforward,' Mr. Gray said. 'Alcohol is unique in having its own amendment. The dormant commerce clause is not irrelevant, but it's trumped by this provision. The 21st Amendment gives the states the power to deal with this issue.'"

The 21st Amendment sets out liquor as a special area in which state laws are supreme regarding interstate commerce. It was ratified later and, based on my reading, appears to be an intentional exception to the commerce clause.

Thus to reach the sensible outcome Starr is advocating, I believe we need something that makes the second section of Amendment 21 somehow inoperative or irrelevant. Perhaps asking the states themselves to voluntarily get rid of their own silly regulations is too much to ask?

Saturday, August 23, 2003

NYT Mag on Larry Summers

The New York Times Magazine article by James Traub profiling Harvard President Larry Summers is surprisingly favorable. I was expecting them to be tougher on Summers over the Cornel West incident and his other acts taking on progressives.

Still I get the impression that Summers is not made to be a university administrator. Maybe Harvard's trustees do want someone who can shake things up, as the article suggests, but the fact that Summers has to work so hard not to rub people the wrong way, build consensus for decisions, etc. indicates to me that he's not a natural as president. And lest we forget, he was one of the most promising young economists of his time. Why not stick with what he excels at, doing research in economics, rather than struggling on as an administrator?

Saugus Mind Games

"'Hopefully it put a little fear into them,' said Saugus manager Rob Rochenski."

Is this what Little League is really about?

Geoghan Killed in Prison

Priest/child molester John Geoghan has been killed in prison by another inmate. There aren't many public details at this point. I would've thought Geoghan would have tight security given the publicity surrounding his crimes, and the tendency for violence against other prominent inmates (Jeffrey Dahmer was killed in jail, I believe, for example). In any case, this is another dark chapter in the church abuse story.

Friday, August 22, 2003

The DK College Football Preview

The college football season officially gets under way tomorrow night, with Kansas State ready to give Cal a spanking in the Black Coaches Association Classic. That means it's time for all of the sports media to make their predictions on how the season will turn out. Dimmy Karras is no different.

This is impossible to do really because who knows which young players will come out of nowhere to be stars? Anyway, it's fun to guess and see what happens. ESPN has expert predictions, a side-by-side comparison of the national polls and a listing of the year's top games.

I'll make a few picks here for the hell of it. In making my picks for the national championship game--the Sugar Bowl this year--I don't bother trying to figure out which team is the best. Instead I focus on who has a schedule that I think will allow them to finish the regular season undefeated. The first team that jumps out at me is Michigan, rated fourth in the AP poll. They have a non-conference schedule that includes Notre Dame at home and a game at Oregon. In the Big Ten they don't play Penn State or Wisconsin, so I think they have a great shot at being undefeated for the November 22 showdown with Ohio State, which is at the Big House. And I think they'll get over the hump and beat the Buckeyes this year too.

In case you don't know yet, Maurice Clarett is facing a multi-game suspension. He won't be playing in the OSU opener next Saturday night vs. Washington, and I think the Huskies have a shot at winning that game. Without Clarett, the Buckeyes won't control the clock as much, so they'll have less of a chance to keep Cody Pickett and the Washington passing attack off the field. You heard it here first. In any case, even if OSU wins next week, I just don't think the team can avoid being distracted over Clarett's status. They had a ton of breaks go their way last year to win the title, and the controvery surrounding the program now is an inauspicious sign for the coming season. The SI curse lives. (Previous Clarett coverage here and here).

I will go ahead and pick Oklahoma (the AP #1) to face Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, and just for fun I'll make the Sooners my national champ too. The whole Big 12 will come down to the Oklahoma-Texas game on October 11 in Dallas. Only one of those teams can even go to the Big 12 championship game, and whichever does should win it and be undefeated. Two possible problems for Oklahoma are that they have a QB coming off knee surgery in Jason White and an Oklahoma State team that has beaten them the last two years visiting on November 1. The Cowboys have ruined Oklahoma's national title chances the last two seasons, and I think Bob Stoops will have his team ready for their intrastate rival this time around.

The Big East, SEC, ACC and Pac-10 look too jumbled to produce an undefeated conference champ that will head to the Sugar Bowl to me. I don't see Miami as being any better than Virginia Tech or Pittsburgh (I do look forward to seeing the reaction during the 'Canes Big East farewell tour, including a stop at BC on September 20). NC State should challenge Florida State in the ACC. I'm not sold on USC and Auburn as conference champs either, and Notre Dame, playing at Michigan and Pitt and hosting FSU and USC, will lose a few. Thus I believe the national championship game matchup will be the Big Ten and Big 12, with the OSU-Michigan and Oklahoma-Texas games deciding the exact pairing.

The Heisman is also a tough call. None of those four teams I just listed as Sugar Bowl possibilities have a standout QB or running back who is considered a candidate, yet history shows that those positions on the BCS teams are often Heisman finalists and winners. (I guess Cedric Benson, the Texas runner, does qualify, and WR Roy Williams is also a possible finalist if the Longhorns excel.) A lot of people are talking about guys like Kevin Jones at Virginia Tech as candidates, but the team's success has a lot to do with the Heisman--remember Brad Banks last year? Given my pick of a Michigan-Oklahoma championship, I expect toward the end of the year we'll hear some people calling for a defensive player to win the award, possibly OU DT Tommie Harris or Michigan corner Marlin Jackson. I'm not saying a defender will win, just that it'll be a topic of discussion. Michigan QB John Navarre could also emerge, like Banks a year ago.

OK, those are my predictions for the college football season to come. Let's hope this year is as memorable as last, when the Miami-Ohio State championship was a game for the ages.

Charles Barkley on LKL

Barkley was on Larry King tonight, commenting on "his friend Kobe Bryant" as the writing on the screen told viewers. I like Chuck--his outspoken comments are a breath of fresh air compared to much of what you hear from TV analysts, neither bland nor meaningless bluster. One thing that has bothered me about Barkley for a while is how he always tries to play up his friendships with bigger stars like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

Maybe he feels he needs to do that to help out his own career as a talking head, but that is definitely no longer the case after his years building a good TV rep on TNT. Another possibility is that he feels he needs to be seen as the pal of the stars for his own self-esteem. In any case, it seems a little distasteful to me. Just make your comments and leave your personal relationships with people out of it whenever you can.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Jacoby on Economic Writing

In his Boston Globe column today, Jeff Jacoby unfairly criticizes economic writing. After expressing his disgust at an excerpt from Alan Greenspan's recent congressional testimony, Jacoby asserts:

"There is no excuse for economic prose to be so dull and sluggish. It shouldn't be any harder to write absorbingly about economics than to write about culture, science, or sports. As a discipline for understanding and describing the human condition, economics is at least the equal of the others. But a reader looking for feeling and eloquence doesn't typically find them in the financial pages of the newspaper or on the 'Economics' shelf at the library. Of course, there are lively and compelling exceptions, but all in all, economic writing is the driest thing I know."

Jacoby is making an invlaid comparison between economic writing such as Greenspan's testimony and the newspaper's financial pages with writing on other topics that is meant for a mass audience. Technical writing in almost any field will confuse and bore those who are not specialists. Vivid writing on economic issues does exist as well--I wonder if Jacoby's ever read Liar's Poker or Barbarians at the Gate, both of which you could probably find in the 'Economics' or 'Business' section of a library or book store near you.

Foreign Affairs, September/October 03

The new Foreign Affairs issue is on their web site, and it features a long article by Madeleine Albright arguing that the Bush administration has hurt itself in the war on terrorism by alienating allies. Maybe I'll read the thing tomorrow and have more then.

By the way, as you can see, I'm tinkering with my links on the side of the page. More tinkering to come. Now I will sleep.

Kos on Bush's Compassion

From Kos:

What "compassion" means to Bush

Hey everyone, check out Bush's definition of "compassion." Apparently, it means talking to black people.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Olympic Qualifying Hoops

As I type, the US National Team is playing its first game in the qualifying tournament for basketball at the 2004 Athens Olympics (here's NBA.com). They only led Brazil by 2 at the half, though now they're up by 10.

You can watch on TV if you're willing to pay $10 a game or $60 for all twelve. As Sal Paolantonio noted on Sunday's Sports Reporters, no one watched the World Championships on free TV last summer, so now they put the games on PPV? Hello?

UPDATE: With a strong second half, the US won big.

Summers on NYT Mag Cover

The cover story of this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine is a profile of Harvard President Larry Summers, according to "In Other Magazines" on Slate. The Times site still has last week's issue up.

And while I'm on the topic, what was up with this past Sunday's article on CNN? Was there any point, beyond expressing the NYT's frustration that the potential counterweight to Fox News isn't drawing as many viewers?

Mo Rocca, Know Your DK!

On VH1's "I Love 1973" Mo Rocca calls the priest character in The Exorcist "Father Alex Karras." (As everyone knows, the name is really Damien "Dimmy" Karras).

Boston Convention on the Web

There's been some confusion over which site is the official site of the Boston Democratic Convention. It's not the impostor noted in the Globe article, but actually boston04.com. There's not much on the site just yet. You can volunteer to help with the convention coming to town here.

Bush's Site, Again

Kevin Drum has an interesting post on what he sees as transparent protectionism-for-votes in the "Bush Team Leader" section. This is bad, I agree, but the Democrats running aren't exactly sounding like free-trade saints either out on the stump.

UPDATE: The bloggers over at Not Geniuses are hatching a dastardly plot to use Bush's site to spread unflattering info about administration policies to media outlets. And Neal Pollack mocks campaign blogs on his site.

Spencer Abraham, Beware

I see in the New York Times that the Energy Dept. is taking charge of the blackout investigation. If things turn bad here, I wouldn't be surprised to see Spencer Abraham lose his job. I base this on his being a corpulent gentleman. The large and in charge advisors to Bush, such as Lindsey and DiIulio, have departed already, and I know a pattern when I see it.

Thought on the Bombing

Over the weekend there was a news item on a new study ranking the countries most likely to be the target of a terrorist attack (CNN). The World Markets Research Centre listed Colombia as the most likely victim, followed by Israel, Pakistan, the United States and the Philippines. You can buy a copy of the report for $1500, and maybe there's some complexity to the study I'm missing, but why is the US #4 while Iraq is (I believe) #8? Today's events make the notion that Iraq is less vulnerable to attack than the US look far off.

TMQ Blames Canada

Just like Billy Tauzin, Gregg Easterbrook says we should blame Canada for the blackout. He also offers, along with the TMQ AFC preview, a nice riff on Canada, though without the obligatory South Park reference. After complaining that Canadians get better access to NFL on TV, Easterbrook writes:

"Plus in Canada, marijuana is close to legal. Same-gender marriage is recognized. So all these gay married Canadians are sitting around smoking pot and watching NFL Sunday Ticket -- enjoying total access to games made possible by the tax dollars of Americans! -- while in the United States, you can only drink beer, marry someone of the opposite sex and watch whatever awful woofer game your local network affiliate has chosen for you."

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Compassion Again

Tim Noah explains what the "compassion" issue tab on the newly released Bush web site is all about--it sounds pretty flimsy (I questioned it in this post from this morning). He also compares the site to the earlier version he happened to see.

Slate on Little League

I'm happy to see that Slate has two articles criticizing the Little League World Series. Jeremy Derfner exposes "bogus nostalgia" in a piece that is run-of-the mill criticism of the commercialism and TV exposure with some good historical details. Josh Levin has a humorous article on the "hulk children" who invariably dominate the competition, including a few who went on to become major leaguers (Sean Burroughs, Lloyd McClendon).

Globe Goes After Romney

The Globe today has an article about DDi Corp, a company whose stock has flopped spectacularly the last few years from $30 to under 10 cents. Apparently Bain Capital was a major investor, and the article suggests that analysts were pressured to make DDi look better than it was. An SEC probe found Lehman, and not Bain, to be at fault here, but the fact that Romney signed off on much of the DDi dealing and made a pile of money for himself certainly has the appearance of some impropriety.

I can't say that I'm shocked by this story. There have been plenty of shady deals uncovered in the past few years, and this is hardly the worst. It would be hard for Romney, as such a prominent venture capitalist, to escape the taint of corporate malfeasance entirely. The details of the story are also probably too complicated for it to be a major problem for Mitt because it won't resonate with the public. He can easily deny any involvement in the wrongdoing as well.

Meanwhile, on the op-ed page, Joan Vennochi offers a critical assessment of Romney's term thus far, arguing he had the wrong motives in removing Bulger at UMass and that he has no major accomplishments to speak of. I agree with Venocchi completely, and again I wonder why this line of reasoning didn't receive as much media play in the Globe and elsewhere when the Bulger resignation push was on. Maybe now that the Gobe has that scalp, they feel the need to move on to other targets, with Romney next on their list.

The Astrodome

Should it be torn down, or kept for posterity? That is the topic of an LA Times piece today.

I say keep it. I'm happy that I saw the Kingdome before it was knocked down out in Seattle, and I haven't yet had my chance to see the Astrodome. I suppose the real answer depends not just on sentimentality but also on how valuable the real estate is and what other development options exist. The article notes that, "taxpayers pay an estimated $1.5 million a month just to maintain the little-used Astrodome, which rests on 9 1/2 acres of real estate, is 710 feet in diameter and is tall enough to contain an 18-story building."

Bush Campaign and Bloggers

Check this WaPo article. On the campaign issues, Bush's "site reveals that the environment is one of Bush's top issues, along with the economy, compassion, health care, education, homeland security, national security and education." Compassion?

Clemens Wants to Pitch in Olympics

Roger Clemens says he would like to pitch for the US in the 2004 Athens Olympics. I've never heard of a major leaguer wanting to participate in the Olympics, and I wonder if this could be the start of a larger trend.

Baseball has only been a medal sport since 1992, remember. Hockey recently decided to allow NHL pros to go compete in the Olympics while the season is put on hold for a few weeks--would baseball do something similar? Before we reach that point, there will have to be more of a groundswell in favor of major leaguers playing in the games. The strong international competition facing the US from countries like Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Japan could make for quite an event (I think I recall hearing not too long ago a proposal for a "world cup" of baseball). Maybe Clemens is leading us down this road.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Insider Selling

This article in today's WSJ on a rise in insider selling is generating some responses on other blogs. See DeLong and Drum, as well as my comments on why the worries may be exaggerated a bit.

My Saugus Little League Semi-Joke

If these kids keep on winning, they may supplant the Kowloon as the most famous thing in Saugus. (This is a Boston-area reference, for those confused, and I also would like to add that I do not advocate the watching of Little League on TV, especially when we have exciting pennant races going on in professional baseball).

Arnold on Oprah

Via ABC's The Note, I see that Newsweek is now reporting that Schwarzenegger is considering an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show. That ought to satisfy critics who say he won't take tough questions on the issues, right?:

"NEWSWEEK has learned that Schwarzenegger is considering an appearance on 'Oprah.' An endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, a close friend of his wife, Maria Shriver, could boost his appeal tremendously among women."

Alabama's GOP Governor Seeks Big Tax Hike

Via TomPaine.com's blog I see a reference to this article on the front page on Sunday's Washington Post. Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors best expresses how amazing the story is:

"'We've got a conservative, evangelical Christian, Republican governor,' he said, enunciating each word as if to get his head around the details, 'trying to get a massive turnout of black voters to pass a tax increase so he can raise taxes on Republican constituents.'"

I say good for Governor Bob Riley in finally coming to his senses. I hope he somehow manages to pull this off:

"In a stunning subplot to the fiscal crises roiling the states, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) -- who for three terms in Congress boasted that he never voted for a tax increase and was elected governor on a promise not to raise taxes -- is proposing to raise state taxes by a record $1.2 billion, eight times the largest previous increase and almost twice what is needed to close a $675 million budget deficit...

"'I'm tired of Alabama being first in things that are bad and last in things that are good,' an impassioned Riley told a Rotary Club in Prattville the other day as he traveled the state, sleeves rolled up, hawking what he calls Alabama's 'Foundation for Greatness.'"

Riley is actually using the New Testament to make his case, and Connors offers the nice, moderate quote, "If a Democrat had proposed this, we would be burning down cities." Unfortunately Grover Norquist and national Republican groups are working to defeat the plan and, "With four weeks of campaigning left, polls showed Riley's proposal at least 20 points behind." At the least this should provide some good political theater, if not an actual victory for the voices of reason in Alabama state government.

UPDATE: I see Time Magazine Online's Mitch Frank has written on this story too.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Holcomb over Couch

Butch Davis has decided that the Cleveland Browns starting QB will be Kelly Holcomb rather than Tim Couch. This is the right decision. Holcomb was awesome in Cleveland's playoff loss last season and he looked good in some of the Browns preseason game I saw on Friday night as well. Even though Couch came in heralded as the #1 pick in the draft, he has not quite performed at the level we've seen from Holcomb.

I give credit to Butch Davis for having the guts to sit a quarterback earning over $6 million and who was brought in to be a franchise cornerstone a few years back. The evaluation of talent in the NFL is never an exact science, as Holcomb and many others have proven through the years. The Browns really can't lose out here because they have two good QBs, a necessity due to probability of injury at the position. And if Holcomb holds the job this year, they can almost certainly deal Couch in the coming offseason to free cap room and get some draft picks.

Arnold's Tax Problem

Drudge is now reporting that Schwarzenegger has confided to his advisers that he will not rule out raising taxes as governor. The leak to Drudge is a sign that the right wants to put pressure on Arnold on this issue or even dump him in favor of someone else, perhaps Bill Simon. As I initially wrote on Friday and again yesterday, Prop 13 and the tax issue could be a serious problem for Arnold's candidacy.

Clarett and NFL Eligibility

George McCormick, a Michigan State law professor, has an open letter in Sunday's New York Times, counseling Ohio State's star running back Maurice Clarett to challenge the NFL's eligibility rules and go pro. McCormick does a good job explaining in clear language why he believes Clarett would win his case against the rule followed by the NFL and its players union that young men must be at least three years removed from graduating high school before they are eligible for a spot on an NFL roster.

McCormick is absolutely correct, in my opinion, that the eligibility rule represents an unlawful restraint of trade under the Sherman Act and that the potential justifications for the restraint (eg the health and welfare of young players) do not rise to the level the law requires.

My gripe with the system is that it is so obviously wrong, and big time college football such an academic farce, but we still have to put one individual, be it Maurice Calrett or someone else in the future, through the ordeal of a trial, media attention, etc. I know that there has to be injury to a person and all that crap to make the case valid. The problem is that the pain of going through that whole procedure, and the resentment that will last, regardless of the outcome, against the person who complains, discourages the making of the challenge in the first place, and the awful system continues on perpetuating itself.

Unfortunately the power structure in big time sports is such that internal reform is extremely unlikely. It will take the courage of a Clarett to right matters.

Best Sunday Talk Show Moment

Billy Tauzin, when pressed in an interview on This Week to assign blame for the blackout, refused to do so, joking that we could "blame Canada" like the South Park movie. I was pleasantly stunned. I bet he's never seen the movie and had the line suggested to him by an aide, but I still like that he said it.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Vick Injured

Mike Vick suffered a fractured leg in an Atlanta Falcons preseason game against Baltimore earlier tonight. He is expected to miss six weeks at least.

Vick is the most exciting player in the NFL, and I'm upset that I won't be seeing him for a while. This also is a big blow to Atlanta's hopes for this season, considering Vick may be out longer than six weeks and could be hampered by the injury for a long while after that. The Falcons have been a hip Super Bowl pick this training camp, with their offseason acquisiton of Peerless Price as a top receiver to complement Vick. Now there is far less reason for enthusiasm among Falcons fans.

Injuries are a major reason why NFL success is so fleeting. They also make fantasy football frustrating as hell (too bad if you drafted Vick already).

Prop 13 Again

I forgot to post a link to this LAT article from today on the fallout from Buffett's Prop 13 remarks (see yesterday's post on this topic).

"Schwarzenegger immediately sought to distance himself from his high-profile economic advisor and defended the 1978 tax-slashing measure, which has become akin to holy writ, particularly among California homeowners.

"Rivals — Democrat and Republican alike — seized on the comments to criticize Schwarzenegger and accuse him of ducking a serious debate on issues.

"'I think it's time for Arnold to come out from behind the curtain,' Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Simon Jr. said as he opened his campaign headquarters, 25 stories above downtown Sacramento.'I guess apparently he stands for higher taxes, based on what his chief economic advisor said today.'"

Arnold's invincible position sure disappeared quickly, huh? Now a poll finds him in a virtual tie with Bustamante, and efforts to postpone the recall are making headway too, as I'm sure you know by now. That is supposed to be good news for Gray Davis, and the way things are going the October 7 date may not be soon enough for Schwarzenegger anyway. Eventually his handlers will have to put Arnold out there on his own talking policy--and I'm really looking forward to seeing that.

Clark Q&A

Wesley Clark sure sounds like a guy running for president in this interview on the Newsweek site. Maybe he'll wait until September to announce officially given that it's August and people usually don't pay much attention to politics this time of year.

By the way, Enetation's site is down at the moment, and hence so are my comments. They should be back some time soon.

Kobe's Rap

The Weekly Standard has an interesting look at Kobe's lyrical exploits, including a rap that seems to predict his current entanglement with the law.

Queer Eye Takedown

Kara Baskin has an article over at TNR online critiquing Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I have not seen the program myself, though I have had a vague sense that the concept is somehow wrong. Baskin puts her finger on it:

"Oh, those adorable gays! What will they do next? It's the pop culture equivalent of watching exotic animals in a cage."

"The Myth of American Prosperity"

That's the title of an article in the September 1 issue of The Nation by Will Hutton, and it seems to be crying out "I'm Important!" I'm usually a bit skeptical of titles like this; they seem to imply that the author is making a profound case for why the world is as it is, and such an endeavor is likely to end in failure.

I give Hutton a B for this effort, not nearly as bad as I could've expected, but far from perfect as well. The first half of the article contains some faulty reasoning about the implications of the US trade deficit. The second half is better, focusing on inequality of opportunity, especially in education. His rhetoric also improves as the piece progresses.

A major objection I have is that Hutton does not provide adequate data or examples to back up several of his assertions. He mentions in general language a report on economic data here, a company there, without delving into a full explanation of why the example fits his point. The space constraints of a magazine article make this a difficult problem to avoid, certainly, though his argument could also be tighter.

Additionally, Hutton, an Englishman, writes with a very pro-European outlook, and I'm sure this will lead conservatives to dismiss him entirely. Amateur psychologists will say Europeans have an inferiority complex, especially after the US got its way in Iraq, which makes them feel the need to assert that they are better than the Americans in some respects. (Hutton's weak attempt in his final paragraph to tie America's economic ideology to foreign policy in Iraq adds to this impression). I don't think I would go so far, but I do think the article's fixation on Europe as a model is misplaced. Hutton should look more at American problems in the context of what the US could achieve if they were solved.

So, there's a first cut on an article I expect will be generating some commentary from the chattering classes.

Mavs-Warriors Deal

An eight-player trade is in the works between the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors that would send Nick Van Exel to Oakland in exchange for Antawn Jamison and Danny Fortson (five other players involved will play little or none). I think this is a dumb trade on both sides, motivated by things other than basketball common sense.

The Warriors seem to be happy to move Jamison's max contract and acquire Van Exel, whose own big contract expires much sooner, leaving Golden State with cap room to play with. However, the Warriors now have two point guards after signing Speedy Claxton, (supposedly to be the starter) this offseason. This gives Mike Dunleavy more playing time at small forward as well, which will help him develop, but in the short run this will set back a team that was not too far from making the playoffs last year.

The Mavs appear to have been desperate to pull off something in this summer that has seen all of their rivals improve while they have been shut out by the top free agents. Jamison gives them more scoring at the small forward position, which is not a team need--I thought the Mavs did best last year when they had a defensive stopper like Raja Bell at one of the wing positions. They also lose their main bench scorer and the primary catalyst for their playoff success last season in Van Exel. Fortson is also too short and injury-prone to be the inside enforcer Dallas needs. The Mavs will be a good team that falls short as long as they lack an intimidating rebounding/shot-blocking presence in the lane.

No Looting!

Congrats, New York! The lights went out and there was no looting! You guys are just saints, you know that?

People act decently for once during a tough situation and everyone heaps praise on them. I think this is a case of setting the bar pretty damn low.

Idi Amin Obituary

Not having lived through the 1970s, I am learning a lot about Idi Amin from his obituaries running in the newspapers today. Aside from being an awful guy, which I already knew, he was quite eccentric and had a very interesting life. For example, this NYT obit includes the following:

"As an awareness of spreading horror and suffering filtered out of Uganda, Mr. Amin began to address the criticism, choosing words that intentionally added insult to injury. Wearing the Israeli paratrooper wings he had gained on a military training course in Tel Aviv, he declared that Hitler had been right to kill six million Jews. Having already called Julius Nyerere, the president of Tanzania, a coward, an old woman and a prostitute, he announced that he loved Mr. Nyerere and 'would have married him if he had been a woman.' He called President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia an 'imperialist puppet and bootlicker,' termed former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 'a murderer and a spy,' and said he expected Queen Elizabeth II to send him 'her 25-year-old knickers' in celebration of the silver anniversary of her coronnation.

"...[Amin] joined the King's African Rifles in 1946 as an assistant cook. Later, after he had given himself the rank of field marshall and covered his masive chest with medals, he would claim that he fought with the unit in Burma, but there is no record of such combat. Still, the 6-foot, 4-inch, powerfully built Mr. Amin, did quickly attract the attention of British commanders as an impressive physical type who could pass on and impose the orders of others, an ideal sort of a colonial sergeant major.

"He boxed and for nine years was for a time the heavyweight champion of Uganda. He was the only African on an English rugby team and old teammates unconsciously painted a poignant portrait of the time as they described passing Cokes to him after a game as he stood on the verandah of a Nairobi bar open only to whites."

Some people also say his crazed behavior may have been partly the result of untreated syphilis. There's lots more in the full (and lengthy) obituary.

Friday, August 15, 2003

CPI Rises

The CPI report has largely been buried in the news by the blackout coverage. Anyway, here's the release from the BLS, which reports a seasonally-adjusted 0.2 percent increase in the CPI in July. The threat of deflation is basically nil now.

Blackout Blame Game

Here we go, it's time for tons of articles on who is to blame for the blackout.

Alan Murray blames Washington over at CNBC's site: "Too bad the lights didn’t go out in Washington. That would have been justice."

On TheStreet.com, Christopher Edmonds also sees a culpable government:

"There will be plenty of finger-pointing regarding the cause of Thursday's blackouts, but politicians and energy regulators could start by looking in the mirror. All the time that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, state public utility commissions and legislative bodies were in a rush to deregulate generation and allow the market to set power prices, most failed to grasp a very important piece of the puzzle -- the impact deregulation would have on the transmission grid."

This CBS Marketwatch piece takes a more cautious approach, suggesting it may be days or weeks before we know what caused the problems. But can we really wait that long to blame somebody?

The Economist on Blogging

The Economist has an article (free to non-subscribers too) that asks the question of whether blogs can be profitable.

Nordlinger on NFL Coaching/Race Issue

The National Review has a preview of the September 1 issue up on their site, and Arlen Specter, "The Worst Republican Senator", is the cover boy. Along with the Club for Growth assault on Specter, detailed in last week's NYT mag, the National Review's efforts to eliminate him could spell the end for Specter, especially given that primary voters are more likely to be conservatives who will prefer Pat Toomey rather than moderates Specter can win over during the general election.

I also have noticed that Jay Nordlinger has an article on the ridiculous NFL hiring policy for head coaches, requiring a black candidate be interviewed for any opening, in light of the recent Detroit Lions fine (which I've railed against here and here). From his rhetoric I doubt that Nordlinger and I would agree on all racial issues, but I do support his general argument. The preview is this:

"This business of interviewing candidates of a certain color — regardless of your plans or thinking — is a tricky one. Gene Upshaw, head of the Players Association, warned of this, way back: He said that, if you mandated something like the Rooney Rule, 'it will lead to sham interviews and sham lists [of coaches].' But when Millen hired the coach of his dreams, Upshaw said that he had 'treated [the rule] almost as a nuisance.' Well, no kidding. Many commentators have scoffed at 'courtesy' interviews, and 'going through the motions,' and 'dog-'n'-pony shows' — but if they support tokenism — nay, mandate it — what else do they expect? They decry the indignity that a black coach has to suffer when he's used as a pawn in the satisfaction of a rule — but, again, what else do they expect? Teams had better interview these black candidates 'in good faith,' they say, and 'with an open mind': but how is such a mental state to be determined?"

I'm still disappointed that major sports media won't run anything remotely like this criticizing league policy. I'm not impressed when a publication like the National Review does this, given its readership--a more civil, roundtable discussion that doesn't pass judgment (more typical of sports media in recent weeks) would actually be a more courageous approach for NRO to take.

Arnold, Buffett and Prop 13

Warren Buffett, now an economic adviser to Arnold Schwarzenegger, has hinted that California's property taxes are too low, according to a front-page story in today's Wall Street Journal:

"Warren Buffett, the billionaire financial adviser to Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign for California governor, strongly suggested in an interview that the state's property taxes need to be higher.

"Mr. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., took on California's famous Proposition 13, which has limited property taxes there since 1978. As an example, he pointed out the difference between his own property-tax bills for homes he owns in California and Nebraska.

"His home in Omaha, he said, is valued at roughly $500,000. His current yearly property tax bill on that home: $14,401.

"In California, he owns a Laguna Beach home valued at $4 million, or eight times as much. The annual property taxes on that home are just $2,264 -- a fraction of what he pays in Omaha.

"More to the point, said Mr. Buffett, the taxes on his Omaha home rose $1,920 this year, compared with $23 on the Laguna Beach home. Mr. Buffett attributed the scant jump in California to the restrictions of Proposition 13, which generally limits property-tax increases to 2% a year, no matter how much the value of a property appreciates.

"Mr. Buffett stopped short of saying he would urge Mr. Schwarzenegger to seek a reversal of Proposition 13 to increase property taxes -- a move that would almost certainly be attacked by many of Mr. Schwarzenegger's fellow Republicans. But he left little doubt that that is where he is leaning...

"Proposition 13 limits on property taxes aren't directly responsible for California's current fiscal problems, which had the state facing a deficit of $38 billion for the fiscal year that started July 1. But in general, the limitations on property taxes have forced state government to rely on other taxes, such as the personal income tax, and to engage in complicated maneuvers to reallocate the state's revenue and help entities that faced funding gaps, especially schools. Even with those constraints, state spending grew faster than inflation in the 1990s, but then leveled off and is down this year.

"Mr. Schwarzenegger, like other candidates, has vowed to improve the state's fiscal picture. But suggestions that tax increases could be an answer could represent a problem for Republicans and the Bush White House, who have pursued tax cuts as the best way to improve the economy overall. Democrats are sure to leap at the contradiction, and the Buffett comments may likely to deepen the biggest fear of many national Republicans: that the moderate views of Mr. Schwarzenegger, for all his appeal as a candidate, could spark infighting within the party."

This is going to get very interesting. The moderate stances on social issues, while not in line with conservative orthodoxy, can be construed as necessary in order to win state-wide office in a state like California, and the right is likely to tolerate Arnold's pro-choice, pro-gay views if they help the Republicans win the governor's job. But Prop 13 is another matter. It is often held up as an example of a major change in economic thinking in this country, marking the rise of conservative tax policy that would reach its height under Reagan in the 1980s. Such an iconic piece of legislation cannot be repudiated lightly.

The more Arnold moves to the left, the more likely fissures in the Republican party become, and the less devastating a Schwarzenegger victory becomes for progressives anyway.

Fair and Balanced Day

As much F&B fun as you could ever want is here.

Freddy v. Jason

David Edelstein has an enjoyable review up at Slate on Freddy vs. Jason. I must say I can't decide whether to see that movie or Uptown Girls this weekend--I really wish the studios wouldn't release such similar films on the same day.

Krugman's Column

First off, I am back, and I welcome readers to Fair and Balanced Day in the blogosphere, as declared by Neal Pollack and Atrios. Many others are participating, of course. Happy F&B day to you.

Paul Krugman's column from today is a riff I've seen variations of regarding the job market difficulties of the present. It all sounds quite depressing, and it makes me wonder exactly how to improve the employment situation. A complaint I've heard about Krugman's NYT columns is that he always is on the attack and he never offers a good alternative way to fix the problem. That criticism seems valid today, especially given this conclusion:

"The best guess is that growth in the second half of the year will be faster than in the first half, possibly high enough to create some jobs, but not high enough to make jobs easier to find. In other words, in terms of what matters most, the economy will continue to deteriorate.

"All this is, of course, an indictment of our economic policy — a policy that has managed the remarkable trick of generating immense budget deficits without giving the economy much stimulus. But that's a subject for another day."

I know you can't save the world within the space of one op-ed. But could he at least offer some reason for hope, some indication that there might be a way to improve matters?

I would especially like to hear PK weigh in on the current debate among the Dem candidates for president about the merits of repealing some of the Bush tax cuts (regardless of how unlikely this is from a political standpoint). And is a stimulative policy strong enough to generate enough jobs possible without causing inflation? Krugman claims that, "Just to stabilize the labor market in its present dismal state would probably take growth of at least 3.5 percent; it would take much more than that to return the economy to anything resembling full employment."

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Out of Town

I'm spending the overnight in Vermont on business. Will check on Dean HQ if I can tear myself away from work for a bit. Next post late tomorrow/early Thurs.

Little League!

I'm going to get sick of these kids from Saugus in the coming weeks, I can feel it. Why must the Little League World Series be such a big event? It sucks!

TMQ Returns

Easterbrook has a full off-season's worth of good bits.

Duncan and Virgin Islands Basketball

Why doesn't Tim Duncan play for the US Virgin Islands basketball team? Marc Stein has the answer in his column today, and it looks like Duncan really doesn't want to play for the US in the upcoming game against his compatriots in the Americas Olympic qualifying tourney.

Interest Rate Unchanged

The Fed has held steady at 1%.

CBS: "The Federal Reserve kept its overnight lending rate unchanged at a four-decade low of 1 percent following Tuesday's policy meeting. While noting improvement in recent economic data, the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement that it still believes a 'minor' possibility of disinflation remains the major risk to the economy. No inflationary pressures are present. Spending is firming, the committee said, but labor markets are mixed. 'In these circumstances, the committee believes that policy accommodation can be maintained for a considerable period' the statement said."

AOL Name Issue

The news yesterday that AOL-Time Warner is considering dropping the AOL from its name has predictably opened the way for another round of criticism in the press. (Jonathan Miller of AOL wrote in a memo, available at InternalMemos.com, that "there is no question this will provide the media yet another opportunity to write negatively about the merger of AOL and Time Warner"). See WaPo's Filter for a good roundup of coverage.

While everyone gleefully piles on AOL, I wonder if maybe they are overestimating the extent of the trouble. An interview with M&A expert Tom Taulli on the Business Week site today adds to my suspicion:

"After I just called AOL Time Warner one of the worst mergers ever, I do think that the company is in capable hands and is doing a very good job in dealing with integration and stabilizing the business. Considering the immense assets the company has, I think it's a long-term buy. I do think that we'll see that fuzzy thing called synergy take effect, and at some point three or four years down the road I could almost see a headline on the cover of BusinessWeek saying that AOL Time Warner did something right."

There is a lot of bitterness since the technology bubble burst, and we shouldn't let such feelings prevent us from considering a company's fundamentals first and foremost.

Fair and Balanced

I'm joining the party, temporarily renaming this blog "Dimmy Karras - Fair and Balanced" in keeping with the trend in the blogosphere now that Fox News is suing Al Franken for using the F&B line in his new book title. Almost every blogger is writing on this one today, and here's the NYT article on it. Check out the random attacks on Franken in the text of the lawsuit:

"'Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality,' according to the complaint. 'He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight.'"

"...Mr. Franken is also accused of verbally attacking Mr. O'Reilly and other Fox personalities on at least two occasions, and of being 'either intoxicated or deranged' as he flew into a rage at a press correspondents' dinner in April 2003. Mr. Franken has not filed a response in court to the suit."

Fox News is run by a bunch of bastards, as you can see, but you already knew that.

Monday, August 11, 2003

What Anti-Semitism?

Neal Pollack reviews Mel Gibson's new film, The Passion (background on the controversy).

Barrios in '06

Matt Yglesias is spreading rumors about State Senator Jarrett Barrios running for Congress in 2006 if Rep. Capuano goes for governor.

Garnett a Net?

MSNBC reports the Nets may be considering a trade with the Blazers that could ultimately be designed to help Jersey sign Kevin Garnett next summer. This would be a nightmare for the Celtics; we've seen Antoine Walker toasted by Kenyon Martin in the playoffs, so how would Walker fare against KG? I actually think the Nets would gain from just the Blazer trade alone, and Portland may want to deal just to shake up their roster. KMart is an idiot for demanding a trade.

The Blazers' management told fans they have a new code of conduct for players, which may also explain the desire to move Rasheed "Technical Foul" Wallace and Ruben "Sex Offender" Patterson. The code was mocked on Fox's Best Damn Sports Show last week, with sample entries including things like "rookies must change veterans' bong water."

And finally, leave it to US Olympian Allen Iverson to offer some wise words on the Kobe case:

"'It's just something I don't like to discuss or want to discuss, because I've been through that in my own life,' Iverson said. 'You have people speculating on what they think happened, and everybody is talking about it. It's a big media circus, and it takes away from the realness of what went on. You turn it into a comedy show instead of something real. It's just unfair to speak on it and say what I think. I just wouldn't do it. I got respect for Kobe and I got respect for the alleged victim, and I won't do that.'"

Graham's Blog

Via Daily Kos I see Bob Graham has a blog. It calls Sen. Graham the "original blogger" too, citing his bizarre habit of writing down everything he does:

"This is the weblog of the original blogger, Senator Bob Graham. For over 30 years, Senator Graham has kept a log of all his daily activities. Join us as we help him get to the White House!"

I don't think the candidate's insanity is something the campaign should be trumpeting proudly. It also offers this catchy slogan:

"Hate the war? Miss your job?
Don't just sit there, vote for Bob!"

And then there's "Give Your Dime" and "Give Your Time" linking to online donations and volunteer sign-ups.

Dems in '04

It looks unlikely the Democrats will take back either the House or the Senate next year, according to WaPo and BW articles today.

Watch out for this virus

Fascinating NYT piece today on a British guy acquitted of kiddie porn charges because he successfully argued a virus put illegal images on his computer. This reminds me of the Opie and Anthony segment "Unlucky Lottery."

Spike TV

Today is the new cable network's official premiere.

Recall Thoughts

I have little original to add on the recall, though here are two things I think haven't been emphasized enough.

Immigration/Latino Vote: Art Torres on This Week was trying to tie Schwarzenegger to Pete Wilson, the bogeyman Democrats have been conjuring up for years in California to try to get Latino votes. I know the Dems made lots of literature in 2000 printed in Spanish tying Bush to Wilson, for example. Arnold will also have to take a position eventually on Ward Connerly's ballot initiative trying to ban the government from collecting racial and ethnic data, a move that would cripple affirmative action efforts. That question also comes up to a vote on October 7. We'll see if Arnold can successfully be painted as anti-immigrant/anti-Latino by the Dems, or if his own immigrant background is enough to carry him through.

Democratic Presidential Candidates: Thay are getting no attention these days because all of the political junkies in the country are preoccupied with the excitement on the west coast. Dean's boomlet of coverage with the magazine covers last week seems to have lasted for a very short time. The only discussion I saw on the Sunday shows this morning of the Dem candidates was Joe Lieberman's interview on Fox in which he bashed Dean's positions, echoing his National Press Club remarks of a few days back. Maybe attention will return in October, but the recall at least may make it hard for candidates in the Democratic presidential race to establish momentum between now and then.

ESPN Hypocrisy on the Ills of Sport?

I'm not entirely convinced of my own argument here, but I'll go ahead and throw it out there half-baked anyway because I feel like it's at least partly true.

ESPN is making money by feeding into the big business of sports that is accountable for many of sports' ills, and then ESPN seeks to make further money by exploiting the public's fascination with those ills.

Take for example this morning's Sports Reporters show, in which the panelists discussed during the opening segment Kobe Bryant, Mark Cuban, Jeremy Shockey and Maurice Clarett. William Rhoden of the New York Times called Shockey an "idiot" and suggeted a "gag" for Cuban. But what if these guys never got in trouble and made controversial remarks? A show like the Sports Reporters would no longer have any reason to exist. (The two black athletes discussed, Bryant and Clarett, both of whom may have actually committed crimes, unlike Cuban and Shockey, received much nicer words from a fatherly Rhoden, who happens to be black himself, I noticed).

ESPN and other sports media outlets build up these larger-than-life auras around superstar athletes. Then they relentlessly stick microphones in people's faces, take quotes out of context, and try to crucify Cuban and Shockey before anyone has a chance to examine the full extent of their remarks and the setting in which they were made. And then we get to contemplate, over the airwaves, the fall of the idol that the media had created in the first place.

Another new ESPN project is the show Playmakers, debuting late this month. From the promos I've seen the last few days, it looks like a TV knock-off of films like Any Given Sunday and The Program, chronicling the lives of football players as they fight their own demons. It seemed rather incongruous to me that the promos were on several times during the preseason NFL game ESPN broadcast Thursday night, a constant reminder that the guys out playing the game for my entertainment faced serious problems with injuries, drugs, etc.

If you are promoting football as entertainment, should you also be promoting a show about why football can be so bad for the people involved? If you recognize the ills that exist in a show like Playmakers, doesn't that make showing NFL games immoral on account of the complicity in the misery of many pro football players?

I don't know if the answer is a straightforward "yes" to those questions, but it certainly is a strange mix of programming to have.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Marcus Banks

The Globe's profile of the Celtics top draft pick, Marcus Banks, is interesting for a few reasons. For one thing, there's the strange fact that Banks is the first NBA player ever to have grown up in Las Vegas. More importantly, there's his obsession with being the starting point guard from day one in Boston:

"'I'm not going to Boston not to start,' said Banks. 'I refuse. I'm going to do everything in my power to start. That's my goal, unless they bring in a guy that's hands-down better than me in every category. I've never come across anyone who can stop me from doing anything I want to do, stop me from pushing the ball up the court, going by 'em and scoring. It's not going to happen. I'm not going to let it happen.'"

I'm all for the kid having self-confidence, but "I refuse" not to start? How about just saying you have confidence that if you work hard preparing for the season, you will prove yourself worthy of the starting job? Wouldn't that be enough? He stayed in school through his senior year, which should help some in adjusting to the league, but he still has to realize that the NBA game is much tougher than the WAC. I saw him play in the Boston summer league. He was backup quality, I would say, worthy of an NBA roster but not a starting job just yet.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Tell on the Dems

David Tell has an interesting recap of the Democrats' AFL-CIO event this past week in The Weekly Standard. He's not just spouting conservative propaganda here, actually admitting Dean could win the White House, etc. His mockery of Bob Graham and Dennis Kucinich is funny too:

"As I say, though, Gephardt is not the worst of them. That would be Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who runs behind Carol Moseley Braun in most of the polls, and for good reason. Graham provided the only real squirm-in-your-seat moment. And it came the very first time he was asked to open his mouth. 'Sen. Graham, you have a solid globalization record,' moderator Bob Edwards of National Public Radio noted. 'How do you reconcile your recent promises on trade policy with your voting record on the issue?' Graham said . . . nothing, and stood blank-faced, for several agonizing seconds while nervous titters spread through the auditorium. Had it not occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, the AFL-CIO would want to hear a word or two about duties and tariffs and whatnot?

"... Kucinich spent most of his time doggedly attempting to goad his fellow panelists into a more-progressive-than-thou contest. Kucinich would 'cancel' the NAFTA and WTO trade agreements on his first day in the Oval Office, he says. He would replace a 'failed' private-sector health care system with a British-model, government-managed national scheme funded by a '7.7 percent tax paid by employers.' And will 'Dick' or 'Howard' or any of the rest of them make such pledges, Kucinich wondered aloud--repeatedly and sarcastically? Well, will they, huh, huh? 'Let's go home knowing that.' This time, Kucinich did not lose the room. You got the sense, instead, that everyone was watching, intently, to see whether 'Dick' or 'Howard' would blow a gasket and strangle the man. Dennis Kucinich, it turns out, is going to be fun to watch."

The most interesting part, though, is Tell's description of Al Sharpton, who often at these events gets the best appluause, despite polling very low. Sharpton has charged the media this week with being unfair to his campaign, and Tell's article sheds light on why his polling and appluase are so disconnected:

"Al Sharpton went over big in Chicago. He got off the best one-liner: He showed up 15 minutes late, explaining that he'd had a 'non-union cab driver.' Sharpton got the evening's only standing ovation, too--when he railed against the Bush Justice Department for unspecified investigations into union corruption. And so far as I can tell, Rev. Al's rousing reception in Chicago was par for the course. He has a genial, entirely un-politician-like stage presence, and Democratic audiences generally enjoy his company--in the moment, that is. When they answer pollsters' telephone calls, however, it's a different story. Sharpton barely rates a blip. My guess is that a lot of people vaguely sense they're supposed to disapprove of the man, but can't put their finger on why.

"Here's why. Sharpton is a funny, genial, ingenuous man with a record of lurid demagoguery in the not-so-distant past. Also, he's an ignoramus--a totally unqualified candidate. What will President Sharpton do about rising health care costs, he is asked? 'We need to have a constitutional amendment that is being proposed now under House Resolution 29 to make the quality health care of all citizens a constitutional right,' he replies. This would be a stupid idea under any circumstances, but there's a more basic problem: House Resolution 29 is a bill to convert a temporary federal judgeship in Nebraska to permanent status. What will President Sharpton do to help workers who claim to have been harassed or fired for union-organizing activities, he is further asked? 'If I were president, we'd have a federal law' banning such retribution, he promises, apparently unaware that just such a law has been on the books for decades."

I think this hits the nail on the head. Sharpton is fun to see speak, but I don't want him as the president. And if he wants to be taken seriously in the press, he should actually hire some staff in Iowa and New Hampshire and try to win some primaries, as Donna Brazile has suggested.