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March, 2003:

So does this happen to you?

BTW, the link below came to me in email. I get this sort of thing on a regular basis, more than one might expect for a puny weblog that gets 250 visits on a decent day. I’m more likely to blog about something that comes in a genuinue note from a real reader, as opposed to something like this which I’d call spam if I were feeling cranky, but I’m willing to overlook that if the mood strikes me. Having already blogged about this, I certainly appreciate the tip, regardless of who else may get it.

So out of curiosity, how many tips and links to other blogs do you bloggers out there get on a daily basis? I get between two and five a day, many from the same sources but occasionally new ones. I’ve apparently been subscribed to a few mailing lists as well. How I feel about all this varies over time, so I’d to know what others think. Thanks!

TPJ takes aim at Tom DeLay

The progressive group Texans for Public Justice has filed a complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle over Rep. Tom DeLay’s political committee Texans for a Republican Majority (TRM).

TPJ contends that TRM’s IRS filings reveal hundreds of thousands of dollars in ostensibly political expenditures that were not reported in the PAC’s disclosure reports filed in Texas. IRS reports also reveal that TRM raised at least $602,000 in corporate contributions. TPJ contends that TRM used these corporate contributions—contrary to Texas law—to pay for some or all of its non-reported political expenditures.

Earle has already announced an investigation into TRM and how it raised and spent its money, so this is some extra fuel for the fire. It still doesn’t mean anything until an actual indictment is handed down and/or DeLay gets pressure from fellow Republicans to Do Something about this, but as always, I’ll take my good news where I can get it. Stay tuned.

Look out, there’s a new maverick in town

And the winner of the 2003 John McCain Maverick Award, complete with a year’s supply of fawning press coverage, is (drum roll, please)…David Dewhurst!

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst may not know everything about the etiquette of having breakfast with the high and the mighty, but he thinks he knows how to count votes in the Texas Senate.

Last week, Dewhurst failed to show up for his weekly breakfast meeting with fellow Republicans Gov. Rick Perry, Speaker Tom Craddick and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

A spokesman said Dewhurst was busy making phone calls to senators and had sent word that he would be late. But harmless oversight or not, the timing — from a political standpoint — could have been better.

A day earlier, Dewhurst’s independent streak — and that of the Senate — surfaced with the rookie lieutenant governor’s attempt to steer the state budgetary process.

With Perry still preaching cut, cut, cut and Craddick bogged down for the second straight week in House debate over proposed civil justice changes, Dewhurst announced that he and most senators, Democrats and Republicans, were ready to dip into nearly $6 billion in nontax revenues to soften looming cuts in state programs and services.

They include tapping into the state’s $1 billion savings account, known as the rainy day fund, and using certain accounting changes, which Perry had spoken strongly against only the day before.

Heck, even Molly Ivins has some nice things to say about Dewhurst, a sign that he’s either a rising star or about to become forever marginalized by the powers that be.

All snarkiness aside, it is refreshing to see someone in our monolithically Republican state government think outside the box, even a little bit. I don’t condone all of the things Dewhurst is trying to do to cover the revenue shortfall, but I give him credit for recognizing that there’s precious little fat to be cut, and cutting muscle and bone does more harm than good. If we do make it through this legislative session without turning social services into something that Charles Dickens would recognize, we’ll have Dewhurst to thank. It won’t get him off the hook for the 79th Lege session in 2005, but it’s a start.

Why I’ve never wanted to be a manager

Last night I called the mother of one of my players to ask her to attend a Team Mom meeting on Tuesday. We will get our schedule and information about uniforms at that time, so I’ll finally be able to plan out my time for the next two months.

After she agreed to attend this meeting, she dropped a little bombshell on me: Apparently, a couple of the other moms had a problem with the way my assistant coach ran the practices on Thursday and Saturday. Hoo boy.

One reason why I’ve never been interested in pursuing a manager’s role at work is because I have no desire to deal with personality conflicts. I don’t want to have to sort out who did what to whom, who started it, whose fault it is, who’s getting shafted and who’s getting away with it, etc etc etc. Some day, I’ll have kids of my own, and I’ll have to deal with that sort of thing with them. I don’t need it from adults.

It turned out not to be so bad. My assistant coach has been very helpful to me, but he’s not particularly warm and fuzzy (as one of the moms I spoke to put it). He wanted to work out particular kids at particular positions, based on some covnersations we’d had about where I thought they’d be playing, and wasn’t very receptive to questions about it. I mostly listened to the moms and let them vent a little – there are days when having a background in customer service really comes in handy – and assured them that everyone on the team has a contribution to make. Both of them told me they appreciated my taking the time to talk to them, so I hope this incident is behind us.

One thing that came out of my conversation with my assistant coach, whom I spoke to before I called the moms, was how to marry a philosophy of wanting to have fun with the reality that winning is more fun than losing. I’m a relatively mature adult who knows full well that Winning Isn’t Everything. On the other hand, as Charlie Brown once said, losing isn’t anything. I’ve played on various beer league softball teams, all of which were mediocre at best, and it’s my personal opinion that it’s a lot harder to just play for fun if you have no chance to win. There’s no joy in getting your butt kicked on a regular basis.

A coach of a team in a competitive league has to put the welfare of the team ahead of the welfare of any individual. In particular, that means only playing your best players. This league insists on having everyone play, and that’s a philosophy I support. That doesn’t mean that everyone gets to play wherever they want, though. I do think that at this level it’s in the best interests of both the team and the individuals to generally play the best players in the infield, since that’s where most of the action is. I want to give everyone a chance to succeed, and that means not setting them up to fail.

To be blunt about it, there are a couple of kids who don’t catch or throw well enough to warrant regular playing time on a team whose primary mission is to win. Our primary missions are fun and learning, so they’ll play as much as everyone else does. Given that I do believe that you cannot completely de-emphasize winning, however, I’ll be limiting how often they play in the infield.

(On a side note, as it happens both of the kids whose moms I spoke to would be reasonably successful in the infield. I believe they will be more successful in the outfield, not because they’ll be hidden from the action but because I think they can shag fly balls. I told them as much, and I plan on giving a form of that speech to the kids themselves on Tuesday.)

It’s a fine balance, and I expect to stumble a few times on the way. I hope the next time I’m confronted by this issue it goes as smoothly as this one seems to have gone.

That’s our DA

Just one thing before I call it a night. I see that our very own District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has been arguing the state’s case in the sodomy case that’s before the Supreme Court. Apparently, he didn’t do a very good job:

After watching the arguments, longtime court reporters wrote analyses comparing Rosenthal’s performance unfavorably with that of his much more seasoned opponent, Paul Smith.

The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse wrote that the argument “proved to be a mismatch of advocates to a degree rarely seen at the court.”

Stephen Henderson of Knight Ridder Newspapers listed among low points in Rosenthal’s argument his response to a question from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg about whether Texas bars gays from adopting children. (It does not.) “I don’t know,” Rosenthal replied.

Henderson wrote that Rosenthal’s response “underscored how poorly his argument was going,” and that the DA “had a difficult time articulating a rationale for the law.”

USA Today’s Joan Biskupic called the arguments “surprisingly lopsided,” noting that Rosenthal “struggled” to defend the law and “had trouble answering questions about what harm the 30-year-old statute seeks to prevent.”

Even Justice Antonin Scalia, who along with Chief Justice William Rehnquist made a mighty attempt to bolster Rosenthal’s case, squinched up his face at one point and admitted, “I don’t understand your argument.”

Heh. I don’t know if Rosenthal was simply playing to his base, if he was trying to regain some dignity after the Bradford debacle, or if he sincerely believed it was his job to make the public argument. Whatever the case, it’s got his stamp on it now.

UPDATE: I’ll never catch up on all the reading I missed while on vacation, but thanks to Ginger‘s comment, I found this post, which in turn points to this post, both of which neatly sum up why the law that DA Rosenthal is trying to bolster has no basis in rationality. Go check them out.

I’m back

We’re back from DC, having had a great time at the wedding and visiting with family and friends. To those who think Houston has wildly variable weather, note this: Yesterday in DC it was sunny and 75 degrees. Today it was snowing. Thankfully, the ground was not cold enough for it to accumulate, and our plane took off without delay.

Back to the usual routine tomorrow.

What he said

Just wanted to pop up for a second from my secure undisclosed location to note the following quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski from this interview in In The National Interest:

While at this stage it is too early to make any categorical judgments, it would appear that before too long, it is in the interest of U.S. credibility–especially the Bush Administration’s credibility–to demonstrate tangibly that Iraq has–or has had–weapons of mass destruction.  (Since Saddam is fighting for his life it would be surprising, and rather strange, if he didn’t use the weapons of mass destruction that he is said to have.)  Secondly, one would also hope that there will be more evident demonstrations that the Iraqi people are welcoming their “liberation.” 

Both issues, after all, were central to the U.S. case for undertaking what has been undertaken.

You can say that again.

Away from my desk

Tiffany and I are travelling to a wedding this weekend. I may or may not have any Net access while we’re gone, so if you don’t see any updates until Sunday when we return, it doesn’t mean I’ve been carted away by Homeland Security to be asked a few simple questions by Herr Ashcroft. At least, I hope it doesn’t mean that. In any event, there may be no updates until Sunday. See you then if not before.

Senate skirmish over revenue

We all know that the motto of this Texas legislative session has been “We’re gonna balance this budget without any new taxes if we have to kill everyone to do it”. The reality of bringing expenditures for our growing population in line with our shrinking revenues was a 12.5% across-the-board cut, which would have decimated Medicaid, CHIP, various services for the retarded and mentally ill, corrections, you name it.

That reality has started to make some Senators, as well as Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, blanch a bit. They’ve started looking around for other nontax revenues, such as the Rainy Day fund and parts of the $17.3 billion tobacco lawsuit settlement, to fill the gaps. This development does not please Governor Goodhair:

The governor’s comments to newspaper editors and publishers put him at odds with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who recently outlined nontax proposals that, he said, could cover $5 billion to $6 billion of a $9.9 billion revenue shortfall.

“The Legislature should not try to balance the budget with billions of dollars in budgetary sleights of hand and one-time revenue sources, instead of real spending reductions,” Perry told the Texas Daily Newspaper Association.

The governor, Dewhurst and key legislators all have vowed to bridge the budgetary gap without increasing state taxes. But after that point, they have begun to part company.

Dewhurst said he found Perry’s comments “confusing,” particularly the governor’s opposition to using the rainy day fund, a state savings account, to avoid cuts in state programs and services.


The governor criticized lawmakers who were “looking for a quick fix” to the financial crunch.

“Securitizing tobacco funds, emptying the rainy day fund for ongoing expenses, deferring large payments to the next budget cycle may sound attractive now, but they won’t be when the bill comes due later,” he said.

He said such steps would increase the likelihood that the next legislative session would have to enact a “major tax hike.”

But Perry defended his proposal to divert part of the rainy day fund for economic development purposes. Such initiatives help create jobs and expand the future tax base, he said.

“By keeping our spending disciplined, and by growing our economy, we will build a long-term foundation that will be able to support vital health care and education needs,” he said.

Dewhurst said the rainy day fund plus other nontax revenue should be used to help “protect our Foundation School Program, higher education, Medicaid, CHIP (children’s health insurance) program, mental health and mental retardation.”

“Most of the senators are in favor of seriously considering the totality of this in order to balance our budget and maintain our central services,” added Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate.

Perry said children’s health insurance and other services could be funded, instead, by cutting state funding for cultural, research, historical and other “special items” from the higher education budget.

Today it appears that Perry may lose this fight:

[More] than the two-thirds majority of senators needed for passage have agreed to tap into nearly $6 billion of nontax revenues, an option Gov. Rick Perry sharply criticized this week.

The state is facing a projected $9.9 billion budget shortfall between now and 2005. To balance the budget without raising new revenue would mean cutting services by 12.5 percent, which senators argued is too much.

“It’s my belief that in order to pass an appropriations bill that we can get the votes for in the floor of the Senate, we will need to use the nontax revenues that we have been discussing,” said Senate Finance Chairman Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo.

“Not everybody agrees with every idea, but I think we have the critical mass to pass the bulk of the nontax revenues,” he said.

Perry has essentially been reduced to sputtering over this development, something I’m sure he never expected given the dominance of his party in the state government:

“If you remember the cartoon Popeye, then surely you will understand what I mean when I say using budgetary sleights of hand is something like ol’ Wimpy would have done,” Perry said. “It’s the same as saying, `I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.’ ”

Perry is referring in part to a suggestion of Dewhurst’s to defer some payments to school districts for a month, which carries into the next fiscal year. Oddly enough, I agree with Perry on this point. That is just prestidigitation that covers up but does not solve a big hole in our finances. Not that this is a catastrophe – it’s an artifact of being constitutionally bound to make everything balance out by a given calendar date. That bill still needs paying, though, and it’s unlikely to be easier in the next go-round.

Still, I think Dewhurst and the Senate have recognized that the drastic cuts that Perry’s dictates would force is a bigger negative than groping around for whatever loose change they can find. They still haven’t accepted the reality that the state’s tax structure is hopelessly broken and needs fixing immediately, but at least they’re trying.

Doc discovers liberals

Since I bashed Doc Searls for being woefully ignorant about liberal bloggers, it’s only fair for me to note that he’s now discovered a few, thanks to a tip from Patrick. Happy reading, Doc.

Chron discovers Raed

Like many other media outlets, the Houston Chronicle has discovered Salam Pax, the man behind the Where is Raed? weblog. Not unexpectedly, they expressed doubts about his authenticity:

While stories like those by Salam Pax may seem intriguing, Aly Colón, an ethicist for the media think tank Poynter Institute, said the entries should be taken with a dose of skepticism.

“Blogs are another tool for journalists and the public to get other perspectives from inside Iraq,” Colón said. “The danger is taking this, or anything on the Internet really, at face value.”

Colón said while the blog may be convincing to some, it could just as easily be a computer prankster in Topeka, Kan.

Salam Pax lists only an e-mail address as a means to contact him. The e-mail address, operated by a British music magazine, responded several times Monday with a message indicating the inbox was full. Efforts Monday to contact Salam Pax or determine his location were unsuccessful.

Look, maybe Salam is real and maybe he is a hoaxster from Topeka. The problem is that this “analysis” gives short shrift to the question. For one thing, Salam’s blog has archives that go back to September. If he’s having it on with us, he’s put an awful lot of time and energy into doing so. That’s by no means conclusive evidence of his bona fides, but it’s a fact that ought to be taken into consideration.

Second, while you may not be able to get hold of Salam himself, that doesn’t mean he’s a cipher. Why not treat him like a reclusive author who doesn’t give interviews – read his collected works, speak to people who know him, and paint yourself a picture. Maybe there’s something in an old post that clearly contradicts what he says about himself. All I’ve seen so far in the old media accounts of Salam is quotes from his most recent entries, which again gives the impression that he’s a newcomer on the scene.

As for his peers, Salam has been a blogworld celebrity for some time now, and a number of bloggers have corresponded with him. Diane E. was an early booster, and she thinks he’s real. Other bloggers, especially those on Salam’s blogroll, likely have some useful insights. Maybe one of them has an actual email from Salam, whose headers could be checked to see if the originating IP address is in a block that’s assigned to Iraq. You never know till you ask.

I understand that this story is seen as “timely”, and the steps I’ve outlined would take more time than a reporter in this position might like to take. But I think we deserve a better examination of the question of Salam’s genuineness than the canned opinion of some “media ethicist”. Who knows, we might even discover the truth of the matter.

UPDATE: Someone has done some of this detective work, and he thinks Salam is real, too. Thanks to Ikram and Ginger for the tip.

Time for an Enron update

Two sizeable articles in the Chron today about the state of the Enron criminal and forensic accounting investigations. This first one asks the question why the feds have mostly bagged small fry instead of the big fish, Fastow excepted:

There are several reasons top executives like Skilling and Lay may not have been charged, say observers of the case.

The most obvious one is that they are not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing and prosecutors have simply not found evidence against them, even though they may still be looking.

Or, it could be prosecutors have enough to make a case but are seeking more evidence for a broad charge against several people and possibly the company itself.

The public likely won’t know until charges are filed or the task force disbands.

Hard to argue with that, I guess.

The story mentions this NYT article which had suggested that Kenny Boy has a good “clueless, not criminal” argument against insider trading charges. That doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be other charges related to fraud or other SEC violations:

Prosecutors have not abandoned looking at Lay, however, and as recently as this month have questioned people about Lay’s loans. The government lawyers could also be looking at other fraud-related charges against Lay or Skilling — relating to anything from presentations to the Enron board to public statements about asset values.

Several lawyers involved in the case believe that is what prosecutors are doing but also note that a built-in defense might come if Lay or Skilling had credible legal advice backing up their actions.

The investigation into Enron Broadband Services has been seen as a pathway to charges against Skilling. For months a task force prosecutor has threatened, not cajoled, people involved in Enron Broadband, asking about the reliability of the technology behind the business and how executives, including Skilling, represented the business to investors and analysts.

Meanwhile, bankruptcy examiner Neal Batson has issued a 2100-page report about how Enron kept its books, and there’s sure to be some grist for the legal mills in there:

The report, the most in-depth look at Enron’s books to date, saves some of the harshest language for how Enron disclosed information in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The report says the company went to great lengths to meet the letter of accounting law while failing to conform to the spirit by providing a complete picture of the company’s finances.

Batson has no legal standing beyond the bankruptcy court, but his statement that Enron’s filings ” … diverged materially from Enron’s actual economic condition and performance,” is similar to the phrasing prosecutors would use when filing charges of civil and criminal securities fraud.

The company repeatedly denied its financials were lacking when it came to relevant data. And former Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling even argued before Congress last year that the relevant information was all there in the filings. But details from the Batson report, combined with a growing list of details from charges against former executives, challenge those claims.

Batson himself has been somewhat controversial in terms of how much he’s billed for his services so far, but if he brings Skilling or Lay into the prosecutors’ crosshairs, I’ll call it money well spent.

More props for The Agonist

Sean-Paul gets written up in the NYT. Way to go, dude!

What to do with Saddam if we catch him?

This story in the Financial Times asks the question “what are we to do with Saddam if we catch him alive?”

The US government’s decision will tell us whether any wisdom has been gleaned from the army’s experience more than half a century ago. It has a number of options.

First, it could shoot him. This was General George Patton’s choice for dealing with captured Nazis: line them up, tell them what they did and pull the trigger. Was there any question of their guilt? One look inside a concentration camp was enough to know. Why dignify such behaviour with trials? The drawback is that this option contradicts the principles of democracy which the Bush administration says its invasion is intended to preserve.

Second, it could try him before an international court. The charges against Mr Hussein would include violations across several borders, which would justify his trial before an international tribunal similar to Nuremberg. Like Nuremberg, however, such a court would be vulnerable to charges of “victor’s justice” – guided not by due process but by a desire for revenge.

Nuremberg’s detractors were quick to point out that Russia’s crimes were as reprehensible as Germany’s. How did Stalin’s regime qualify to sit on the tribunal and judge Germany? And did transgressions by the British and US, such as the bombing of Dresden, not throw doubt on their ability to judge a defeated enemy fairly? For all they achieved, the Nuremberg trials remain compromised by these questions.

Third, it could turn him over to his own people. This is unlikely. If compromised by Mr Hussein’s forces, such a court might vindicate him and find the US guilty of an illegal invasion. At the end of the first world war, the US turned German prisoners over to the German government for trial. A handful were tried, the rest set free. The US would not risk a repeat of that fiasco.

Fourth, it could try him before a military tribunal. This is the most likely scenario. It has precedent. Between November 1945 and August 1948 nearly 2,000 of Hitler’s henchmen – administrators of concentration camps where the “final solution” was implemented – were tried by such a tribunal at Dachau, 65 miles south of Nuremberg, in one of the largest yet least known series of war trials in history.

Tribunals, however, face tricky procedural issues: how far down the chain of command would guilt extend? What rights would the accused be granted in preparing their own defence? What charges might be brought, on what kind of evidence? This panoply of legal challenges has plagued such efforts in the past.

In my mind, the best option is probably the much-reviled International Criminal Court. It would provide open proceedings that the world can see – you know, they way things are done in a free society and all that – and the Bush administration’s contempt for it would be a strong defense against charges that it’s just a puppet of the American government. Naturally, I don’t expect this to happen.

Obviously, things will be much easier for Team Bush if Saddam and his inner circle are considerate enough to be casualties of combat. No one will bother noticing a military tribunal for lower-ranking functionaries, at least as long as we don’t get too zealous about it. I’ll say this: The longer this invasion takes, the less likely Team Bush is to be in any way magnanimous in victory.

So when does this season actually start?

HISD spring break is over, so with any luck we should have a full house at tomorrow’s practice, which will once again be at the batting cage. T and I are travelling to a wedding this weekend, leaving on Wednesday, so that’s the only practice I’ll get to attend. I expect my main assistant coach to run a couple while I’m gone. I have no doubt he’ll do a fine job of it, though a small part of me worries that the kids will somehow see me as less Coach-like when I return. For now, I’ll need him to work a couple of the kids whom I envision pitching but who missed all of last week’s practices.

I’m still concerned about the hitting – our coach-pitch and kid-pitch batting practices were not exactly filled with the sound of the crack of the bat (well, with aluminum, I guess it’s more the *ping* of the bat). I’m anxious to see how they do against the Jugs machine, which has the virtue of throwing consistent strikes.

As far as I know, the season is supposed to start Real Soon Now, perhaps next weekend. As yet, I have no idea what the schedule is. I’ve got some travel and other likely conflicts over the next two months, so I’m getting a little antsy about having to make plans without knowing when I’ll have a game. Soon, they tell me, soon.

Finally got our catcher’s equipment problem solved – the league equipment manager met me after our Saturday practice and handed off two chest protectors and a second pair of shin guards. As it happens, the original pair did seem to fit the two kids we worked out at catcher that day. Both of them have promise behind the plate – they don’t fear the ball and they can make the plays, two traits that are very much not to be underrated at this age. I’ll work out one or two more kids behind the plate, but those two will see the bulk of the innings there.

This has really been a good experience for me so far. I can’t wait for the real games to start.

When thumbs up means thumbs down

If you happen to see pictures of Iraqis giving US troops and/or camerapeople the “thumbs up” sign, you should know what that means in this context:

Thumbs up, meaning “everything is great” or “I’m Okay” to the West can be equated to the “middle finger” by Middle Easterners. Of note, hitch-hikers do not “thumb a ride”, rather they hold their hand horizontal to the road and wave it up and down as though telling motorists to “reduce speed”.

Via the increasingly indispensable Sean-Paul Kelley. Someone get this man a case of Jolt! and a pepperoni-n-anchovy pizza, stat.

A little light reading

The long-awaited book Power Failure, by Enron quasi-whistleblower Sherron Watkins, is due out tomorrow, and it has some juicy stuff in it:

Among the anecdotes:

· CEO Jeff Skilling would ponder aloud whether Chairman Ken Lay understood Enron and how it made money. ” ‘Do you think Ken understands what we do at all?’ ” he’d ask. ” ‘Do you think he gets it?’ ” No one would answer, but everyone would smile encouragingly, so Skilling would answer the question himself. ” ‘Naaaaah,’ he’d say. ‘I don’t think he gets it.’ ”

· Despite his ruthless reputation, Skilling was, in some ways, a pushover. Badgered by employees for ever-higher compensation, he would meekly accede and tell them to work out the details with human resources.

“The caterwauling got so intense that Jeff Skilling routinely disappeared the week bonuses were distributed,” writes Swartz, who is married to a Houston Chronicle assistant managing editor.

· Sliding toward bankruptcy in October 2001, Enron sought to control the fallout from reports that Fastow had enriched himself through an off-the-books partnership, LJM. Public relations crafted an explanation for LJM, and executives including Lay, Fastow and then-Chief Accounting Officer Rick Causey reviewed it together.

In the document Fastow was cited as the fund’s ultimate creator, causing him to explode, “It was Skilling!”

· Seemingly a Master of the Universe dealmaker, Fastow was astonishingly childlike, playing with Slime in his office, driving remote-controlled toy cars up the legs of female employees and throwing tantrums when he didn’t get his way. He also showed a lack of spine, routinely failing to make a case for his staffers at bonus time.

· Skilling began “drinking heavily,” had difficulty sleeping and came to detest the job after he was named chief executive officer in February 2001 and the stock price began an inexorable decline.

The Chron gave it a pretty good review as well. Personally, I’ll probably wait until it’s on the Remaindered pile before I plop down any of my spare change on it, but if I do come across a copy I’ll let you know.

How clueless can you get?

Like a number of my blogging brethren and sistren, I received the following email from the Heritage Foundation:


You’ve been discovered! Tim Rutten’s Media column in today’s edition of
The Los Angeles Times is the latest example of the traditional media’s
newfound appreciation of the growing influence of bloggers on America’s
public policy debates.

Our job at The Heritage Foundation is to provide useful resources –
objective data and conservative analysis and commentary – to journalists,
analysts and commentators of all stripes. But we aren’t quite sure how
to do this with the blogger community.

So this email is an invitation for you to participate in an experiment.
For the next month, we will periodically email to you short notices
about significant Heritage studies, publications and events. At the end of
the month, let us know if these notices were helpful. If not, tell us
at any time, and you won’t get any more. If you find you only want those
notices regarding specific issue areas – foreign policy, welfare
reform, etc. – we’ll limit our future emails to you thusly. If you want to
continue receiving all of the notices, let us know that, too.

Regardless of your perspective on the issues of the day, we are
confident you will find Heritage materials useful in your effort to provide
the kind of incisive, immediate and thoughtful commentary and analysis
made possible by blogging.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Laura Bodwell Mark Tapscott
Marketing Manager Director, Media Services
The Heritage Foundation The Heritage Foundation

My first reaction to this is to note that this email was sent to my Yahoo address instead of the one listed above. That address can only be found on my old site, which you may have noticed hasn’t been updated since July. Anyone can run a ‘bot to harvest addresses and send form-letter emails to them (some of us call them “spammers”), but a certain level of cluefulness is required to disguise that fact.

I don’t plan on replying to this email, which if I’m reading the text correctly means they assume I’ve opted in for their press releases. That’s fine – I’m actually moderately curious about this, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why they just didn’t set up their own blog instead. I can just about guarantee it would have gotten a better bang for their buck (and a lot less snarkiness) than scattershooting email to a bunch of people they know nothing about.

I’m willing to attribute Heritage’s ineptitude to inexperience, but what in the world is Doc Searls thinking?

Not too coincidentally, Heritage is a conservative think tank. On the whole, conservative thinkers are far more clueful about the Web and its authority structure than their liberal counterparts — as both the Rutten piece (which was almost entirely about warbloggers) and this emailing attest.

Liberalism may not be absent from the blogging world, but it’s certainly impotent. The only voices on the left with any firepower on Web are Michael Moore and Robert Byrd, and neither one of them blog (though Moore uses the Web quite intentionally, which Byrd does not).

Okay, there’s Eric Alterman.

Want to see how little peaceblogging actually counts? Wagging the Tale of War, which I wrote yesterday, got a whopping eight inbound links on Technorati. Total visits for the day were 1908, which is somewhere between half and a third of what I get on the average Wednesday. As a percentage of my Technorati Cosmos (all the inbound links in the last 24 hours or so), my peace post hardly did any better than two other posts — Sixth Column (about blogging itself) and RSS for Webcasts — and lost by one link to Book support.

My point isn’t about me. I’m just in a position to witness first-hand the complete absence of a peaceblogging movement. There’s no Glenn Reynolds on blogging’s left. No Andrew Sullivan or Charles Johnson. Even Brian Linse’s Lefty Blogroll is thick with bloggers who not only support the war, but are pro-war in general.

Where to begin? Doc’s ignorance about liberal voices on the web is so shocking it almost has to be willful. Have you really never heard of Atrios, Doc, who gets over 21,000 hits per day, who’s ranked ahead of everyone but Reynolds, who was cited by Paul Krugman in the New York Times for his blog’s role in the recent Trent Lott dustup? Have you never heard of The Daily Kos, which was just cited by Forbes as being the best war blog? Brad DeLong? Tom Tomorrow? Jeralyn Merritt? I could go on listing topnotch widely-read liberal blogs – they’re pretty much all on my own blogroll over there – but I’m just gobsmacked that someone who wrote something called The Cluetrain Manifesto was unwilling or unable to find out any of this on his own.

As for your claim that the lefty blog world is “thick” with folks who support this war, all I can say is that if you’d kept scrolling down, you could have clicked on any number of links to bloggers who have loudly condemned the invasion of Iraq. A little bit more of that “research” thing I mentioned in the previous paragraph might have led you to this collaborative effort, which is written and maintained by lefty and libertarian types.

Finally, you’re right when you say this “isn’t about me”. Perhaps one reason why your Wagging the Tale of War post got so few links on Technorati is because the majority of liberal bloggers don’t read you. (For all I know, this is true of libertarian bloggers as well. I’m not very familiar with that community, so I’d rather not make any sweeping statements about it.) I can’t say I’m surprised by that. Better luck next time.

Gun case goes to trial

Brian Linse has been following the federal lawsuit that the NAACP has filed against gun manufacturers, and he’s got another update today. The case is especially interesting because of the involvement of Robert Ricker, a former lobbyist for the firearms industry who appears now to be a whistleblower – he’s preparing to testify for the NAACP.

Brian’s your go-to guy for this case. He has previous entries here and here as well. Go check it out.

Civil discourse and worst nightmares

I don’t often link to specific items on Ted Barlow’s blog because I figure anyone who is anyone is already reading him (as well they should be). That said, I commend you to go read this piece on civil discourse. You rock, Ted.

At the end of that same post, Ted links to this Instapundit piece:

In the town of Safwan, Iraqi civilians eagerly greeted the 1st Marine Division.

One little boy, who had chocolate melted all over his face after a soldier gave him some treats from his ration kit, kept pointing at the sky, saying “Ameriki, Ameriki.”

This is the “peace” movement’s worst nightmare, isn’t it?

Ted and Jim Henley have already responded to this, so now I’d like to add my version. It starts out looking like this (via Henley) and like this, from The Agonist:

Tens of thousands of mostly youths protested the U.S.-led war against Iraq in Egypt and the Gaza Strip on March 22. More than 20,000 protesters gathered at Cairo’s prestigious al Ahzar University, calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to provide military assistance to Iraq — or else step down. Anti-riot police were deployed to contain the protesters, but there been no reports of clashes so far. In addition, about a thousand lawyers held a sit-in protest at their association headquarters in Cairo to protest the government’s position on the war. Lawyers associations in Egypt are often connected with the banned Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood which counts thousands of professional Egyptians among its ranks. In Gaza, a reported 10,000 people — mostly students from Gaza’s Islamic University — filled the streets, chanting “No blood for oil,” “Death to America and Great Britain,” and “Where are the Arab countries’ armies and leaders?” Agence France-Presse reported.

and culminates, at some undetermined point in the future, looking like this. If you’d paid any attention to the many rational voices that spoke out against this war, Glenn, you might have understood that.

(I’m sure I don’t have to say that I fervently hope this particular nightmare remains nothing but a bad dream, but I’m going to say it anyway just so we’re all clear on this point.)

UPDATE: Here’s another scene from the “peace” movement’s nightmares. Is it in your nightmares, too, Glenn? I don’t see any mention of it at this time.

Ronnie Earle gets busier

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is a busy man these days. Not only is he investigating a political committee founded by Tom DeLay, he’s now issuing subpoenas to see if a closed-door legislative meeting violated state law.

Two grand jury subpoenas were issued late in the afternoon by state District Judge Mike Lynch at the request of Earle’s office, and they were served on the chamber’s custodian of records.

The move came one day after news of the secret meeting broke on the House floor and scuttled debate of House Bill 4, a sweeping revision of state civil justice laws. Whether the state’s open meetings law applied to the meeting is debatable.

After a Feb. 26 meeting of the House Civil Practices Committee, which first considered the legislation, Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, invited members into a private coffee room to discuss the legislation. A quorum of the nine-member committee, of which Nixon is chairman, was in the room as Nixon laid out his plans to merge two bills.

The public had no access to the meeting, and no record was kept, leading Democrats to charge that the meeting violated House rules for openness.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Saturday that Earle’s office is trying to decide whether the meeting violated state open meetings law as well. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $500 and by up to 60 months in jail.

The subpoenas ask for all records, audio and video, of the Feb. 26 committee meeting, as well as all recordings of the House on the day the meeting was revealed.

Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick released a statement on Saturday expressing his commitment to open government and saying that the subpoenaed materials are already part of the public record.

“We are cooperating fully with the district attorney’s subpoena — delivered to the House Custodian of Records at 4:45 p.m. Friday — and will see that these records are delivered Monday morning,” he said in the statement.

The bill in question started out as legislation to deal with rising malpractice insurance rates, but then House Civil Practices Committee Chairman Joe Nixon combines it with another tort-reform measure that had been pushed by business and insurance interests. The newly-reconfigured bill was temporarily delayed by a wide assortment of amendments that were proposed by Democratic lawmakers, all of which were voted down on straight party lines, then it was shelved after a point of order was raised when the secret meeting came to light.

[Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco] based his request that the bill be withdrawn on an affidavit from Rep. Yvonne Davis, a member of the House Civil Practices Committee. Davis said that on Feb. 26 after the committee adjourned, Chairman Joe Nixon said, “Let me talk to the committee just real quickly back in our little coffee room,” a reference to a private room behind the committee room. Nixon, R-Houston, can be heard on a recording posted on the House Web site making the request, Davis said.

Davis, a Democrat from Dallas, said that seven members of the nine-member committee convened in the back room, and Nixon explained his intent to combine House Bill 3, which concerned medical malpractice lawsuits, with HB 4, which limited other civil lawsuits.

On March 4, the committee voted to approve a substitute for HB 4, which contained the medical malpractice provisions. Gov. Rick Perry had made medical malpractice revisions an emergency issue because of rising insurance premiums that were driving some physicians out of business.

Democrats, who criticized the decision to combine the two bills, filed 300 amendments. The House had considered about 50 amendments, defeating most along party-line votes, when the procedural challenge was raised.

[House Speaker Tom] Craddick at first said that he would let the House decide whether the rules had been violated. But after Democrats objected, he made the ruling himself.

As Clay Robison notes, one reason why Rep. Nixon combined House Bill 3, which addressed the medical malpractice issue, and the far-reaching HB4 is that the medical lobby would then be forced to advocate the whole package. Pretty clever, if underhanded. Apparently, HB3 turned out to be a tougher nut to crack than you would have thought after drawing opposition from a group of Christian conservatives who argued that it would lead to more abortions. Republican Senator Bill Ratliff, chair of the Senate Affairs Committee, has also expressed skepticism.

Despite all that, I expect some form of this bill to go forward. It has too many champions who are too far in debt to its interest groups not to. In the meantime, we’ll see if Ronnie Earle can throw a monkey wrench into the works.

Travis County DA targets Tom DeLay

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who has not been shy about aiming at big targets, is investigating a political committee set up by Tom DeLay.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, created Texans for a Republican Majority as an offshoot of his Americans for a Republican Majority. The Texas committee was designed to help the GOP win a Texas House majority and put Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, in as speaker.

Texans for a Republican Majority raised more than $520,000 — a third of all its money — from corporations.

The contributions included $20,000 each from Bacardi U.S.A. and the Philip Morris Cos. and $100,000 from the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, a coalition of nursing home chains based in Boston.

While a political committee can legally raise corporate money to pay for administrative expenses, it would be illegal to use corporate money for political activities.

TRM also coordinated its activities with the Texas Association of Business, which is the target of the grand jury investigation. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is investigating whether the business group illegally used corporate money to pay for issue ads designed to win 20 House seats for the GOP.

I will, of course, be cheering for DA Earle, but I will not be holding my breath. DeLay’s first line of defense will be to scream that the Democrat Earle is on a partisan witch hunt. Earle’s unsuccessful prosecution of Kay Bailey Hutchison in 1994 for allegations of misappropriated campaign funds while she was State Treasurer will be his Exhibit A, and it will carry some weight. Earle will point out that he’s prosecuted quite a few Democratic politicians in his day, with his biggest scalp being that of former Speaker Gib Lewis. I will expect much sound and fury, with the usual results. But I’ll keep an eye on it anyway, just in case.

Meanwhile, back in Austin

Bombs may be dropping in Baghdad, but the business of the state must go on. A couple of days ago, a bill was filed in the Texas Lege that would have profound effects on how the state spends money.

House budget leaders have filed a series of bills to make deep budget cut proposals permanent in law — cuts in such areas as health care for the poor, state employee retirement benefits and death benefits for police officers killed in the line of duty.

The legislation has the potential to dramatically shrink state government while putting considerable policy-making power in the hands of 29 budget writers.


The most sweeping changes would curtail long-standing health and human services to young, old and disabled Texans. These include cutting funding for tuberculosis prevention and control, closing state mental hospitals and schools for the retarded, eliminating Medicaid funding for substance abuse and cutting funding for foster care by up to a quarter.

It’s hard to convey just how monumentally stupid such a plan would be. Tuberculosis is a contagious disease that would have the potential to infect many Texans if left unchecked. Closing mental hospitals and schools for the retarded will put a huge burden on affected families. The whole point of a social safety net is to help prevent families burdened by illness or the need to care for someone who needs special help from going under.

Look at your own situation. How would you be affected if you were suddenly given full responsibility for someone who needed round-the-clock care? Could you afford to hire someone? Would you or your spouse have to quit working? Some people can make the adjustment, but everyone needs some amount of help to survive. The state of Texas is considering cutting off much of that help, all because no one in power wants to confront reality. “The people won’t let us impose new taxes,” they say.

Well, the people may not have gotten that memo. Three letter writers today all stated the need for a state income tax, in conjunction with a reworking of our hopelessly broken overall state tax structure. The people already know that attempting to balance the budget without any tax increases is pure folly. There’s less opposition to an income tax than you’d think, and one that was properly designed and sold would probably be less controversial than what’s currently being proposed.

But that takes leadership, and that’s in typically short supply. Until Governor Perry and his cohorts feel that there’s a bigger political price to be paid by their current course of action – and polls aren’t showing that right now – we’ll continue to get more of the same.

You gotta hand it to Karl Rove

I’m sure it will come as a great comfort to everyone to hear that according to Karl Rove, the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with politics.

“It is really the height of cynicism to suggest a president would make the awesome decision to send people in harm’s way for politics,” Rove said. “He did this because he believes fervently that after 9/11, that the world has changed.”

You have to give the man credit. A lesser mortal would have burst into flames immediately upon saying such a thing after having told the RNC last summer that “[we] can go to the country on this issue, because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America”, but it’s just another day at the office for the Rovemeister.

Although thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in several U.S. cities to protest the war, Rove said he did not see that as any kind of solid opposition to the president. He said polls have shown the American public has consistently favored the ouster of Saddam Hussein as the leader of Iraq, even if they differed on how to do it.

“In the last few days, the polls have indicated a vast majority of Democrats support the president’s actions,” Rove said. “This is not an issue about politics. This is an issue of what is best for world peace and the nation’s security.”

Polls are showing about 75% support for this invasion. That’s about the level of support for Gulf War I, though it’s interesting to note this particular difference:

Two weeks ago, 54 percent approved of the way Bush was leading the country, according to the New York Times/CBS Poll. Thursday’s poll found 67 percent approving of how the president does his job.


In 1991, then-President Bush’s job approval rating jumped to 82 percent in the early days of the Persian Gulf War, eventually peaking at 88 percent.

Make of that what you will.

Little League goes on

Spring break may decimate our practices, but thankfully war seemed to have no effect. Last night was what should be the last sparsely-attended practice due to family travels. One of the kids who was there had just returned from attending Spring Training in Phoenix. He eagerly recited the games he saw, and mentioned that he’d gotten Benito Santiago’s autograph.

We ran through more batting practice, first with me pitching and then with the kids taking turns on the mound. That was really more like pitching practice, since two of the four had a hard time throwing strikes. Several of the kids who I believe will get the bulk of the innings pitched weren’t there, so if nothing else I’ve got a firmer idea of who probably won’t round out the staff.

Tiffany was at the practice last night. On the way home, she asked me about one of the kids, whom she thought had an attitude problem. I said no, he’s just a hyperactive 10-year-old, who doesn’t have the patience to wait his turn and is always letting you know it. I told her I was a lot like that when I was a kid in baseball camp. I knew a lot about baseball, and I knew that I knew a lot about baseball, and I wasn’t afraid to let the coaches know it if I thought they weren’t measuring up. I’m probably the only kid who ever got tossed out of a game at the Hall of Fame Warrior Baseball Camp for being a pain in the ass. (Note to Mom and Dad: It was Joe Nugent who tossed me. I know you’re just shocked to hear that. I thought he was screwing us on ball/strike calls.)

Telling Tiffany that reminded me of a particular incident from baseball camp. One of the guys on my team had hit a home run, and as he was crossing the plate the coach noticed that the catcher had removed his mitt and was rubbing his left hand. It turned out that the bat had hit his glove during the swing. “Aha!” cried the coach. “Catcher’s interference! The home run is cancelled and the batter goes back to first base!”

(I should point out here that the coach in question was one of the lowly assistant coaches. Bert, Jack, or Larry would never have gotten this call wrong.)

“That’s wrong!” I piped up. I had just come across this particular rule in a Rules Quiz in Baseball Digest magazine. “If the batter reaches base despite the catcher’s interference, the play stands.” It was to no avail. The coach, who knew that I was a little sharpy, insisted that I was making that rule up and that the only possible outcome to catcher’s interference was the batter winding up on first base.

Do I really have to tell you who was right? Here’s Rule 6.08 (c):

The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when-

(c) The catcher or any fielder interferes with him. If a play follows the interference, the manager of the offense may advise the plate umpire that he elects to decline the interference penalty and accept the play. Such election shall be made immediately at the end of the play. However, if the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batsman, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, the play proceeds without reference to the interference. If catcher’s interference is called with a play in progress the umpire will allow the play to continue because the manager may elect to take the play.

I may have been obnoxious, but I knew my rules. And I feel reasonably confident about how to handle kids like that. I had some experience with it before, you see.

UPDATE: To belatedly answer Rich’s question in the comments, catcher’s interference is scored as an error on the catcher.

Blanket coverage

Sean-Paul has wall-to-wall coverage of the Iraq invasion, with constant updates. I’m getting carpal tunnel just reading it. If you want to stay on top of what’s happening, visit The Agonist and keep hitting Refresh.

My wife asked me: “are you going to do this all day?”


“And tomorrow?”


“You’re nuts!”


Yup. Hang in there, Sean-Paul.

And now, some distraction

Thank $deity for fluffy news stories like this: Joe Millionaire star enjoys his fleeting fame.

Evan Marriott knows his time is running out.

In the 15-minutes-of-fame universe, he’s at about 14:50.

Which is why the star of the Fox Television hit Joe Millionaire is sitting inside a limo outside a Galleria nightclub, signing hundreds of fliers promoting his appearance at the Miss Hawaiian Tropic Model Search, waiting for hordes of fans to surround the car.

Only they don’t.

Evan who?

Joe what?

“I know I probably won’t be a major star or anything,” Marriott says before entering the Roxy. “I doubt if people will line up at movie theaters or anything to see me, so that’s why I’m doing this.”

Um, Evan, are you saying that you need a reason to be a judge at a Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest? Because, like, I don’t. I mean, I’d need a dispensation from Tiffany and all, but I think the job itself is reason enough. But hey, I was never a reality TV star, so what do I know?

Keep ’em coming, folks. I’m gonna need a lot of distraction over the next few days.

A tangible way to support the troops

We’re going to be hearing the phrase “Support the troops” a lot in the coming weeks, so here’s a way that you can actually do something to support them: You can be a foster caregiver for their pets.

[Army Staff Sergeant Dwayne] Armour is stationed at Fort Hood, whose 48,000 soldiers make it the largest army installation in the world. The 265-square-mile base is near Killeen, 180 miles northwest of Houston.

Thousands of dogs and cats were killed on American soil during Operation Desert Storm. Soldiers like Armour couldn’t find a friend or relative to pet-sit indefinitely, so they abandoned their animals on country roads or dumped them at the pound — and animals that enter the pound usually don’t leave alive.

In 1991, Killeen had a mass slaughter of military pets, says Carmen Wallace, who volunteers at Second Chance, an animal shelter in Killeen.

The Killeen pound “couldn’t even hold the pets but a couple of hours,” Wallace says. “They were euthanizing them left and right.”

To prevent mass mutt murders and keep dogs and cats off casualty lists, Wallace is organizing a foster program. Armour saw it on the news last week; he called and the next day Wallace had several potential foster parents who promise to send him pictures and updates while he’s gone.

“Time is getting short. I would never just abandon her,” he says. “I was really getting depressed about it. We’re getting closer and closer, and I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

As noted in the article, you can go to NetPets or Hugs for Homeless Animals to offer your assistance. So there you have it.

Mister Bush’s War, Day One

I’ve decided not to listen to the radio for the duration of the invasion. I don’t think I’ll be able to hear a happy-talk DJ offer brainless platitudes or brook-no-dissent “patriotism” without making like Lane Meyer in Better Off Dead and ripping the damn thing out of the dashboard. Actually, I think I’m just going to boycott Clear Channel altogether. It’s the least I can do.

(Speaking of Clear Channel and their sponsorship of those faux grassroots pro-war rallies, guess who else they’re sponsoring? Thanks to Digby for the catch.)

By the time the combat part of the invasion is over, we’ll know once and for all if Saddam has WMDs. If it turns out that he doesn’t, or that all of his illegal weapons were destroyed or about to be destroyed by the inspections process, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Bush’s amen corner why it was that Saddam didn’t need WMDs to be an immediate threat to America’s safety.

It’s more likely, I think, that he does have some nasty chemical and/or biological weapons and that he will unleash them in the next few days. If so, I wouldn’t be so quick to call that the final nail in the UN-weapons-inspections-are-a-joke coffin. After all, it was pretty clear that no matter what was or wasn’t found, we were going to invade Iraq and depose Saddam regardless. Given that he had no real incentive to cooperate fully, is it really a surprise that he might have held back an ace in the hole?

I’ll echo the recommendations of Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Gene Healy of this Robert Wright piece about the invasion’s likely long- and short-term effects. Meanwhile, Seth Michaels puts the likely refugee problem into perspective:

Picture this scenario: a war some decades in the future between the U.S. and Canada. Canada informs us that in three days, Chicago will be no more, so people had best evacuate. How would they all get out? Cars would be clogging the roads, people would leave on foot, panic would set in. Where would these people go? Stay in hotels? Stay with friends? Imagine the impact of three million people, proud owners only the possessions they can carry, suddenly thrust into the suburbs and countryside. What would they eat? Where would they sleep? How many would have no choice but to stay and be killed?

Now, consider that Baghdad is bigger than Chicago, and that the area around has less infrastructure – no motels, no ATMs, no supermarkets. This is the humanitarian crisis the U.S. will be faced with – not at some unknown hypothetical future point, but in a matter of ten days or so.

Remember, there’s no money officially budgeted for this invasion yet. The administration has only recently even suggested a dollar amount. We’re doing this without a real discussion of the costs. Keep that in mind the next time an administration flunky insists that deficits don’t really matter.

Argh. I need some distraction. Thank $deity I’ve got a team practice tonight.

And so it begins…

We have crossed the Rubicon. I feel sick to my stomach.

Right now all I want is for the fighting to end as quickly and bloodlessly as possible. After that, I can only hope that we won’t come to regret what we’ve done. May our troops be safely home soon, and may our actions truly benefit the citizens of Iraq.

I’m too upset to say anything else.

True commitment

It’s time for another segment of Is This Headline Real, or Is It From The Onion: Media Banned From Free Speech Event.

CLEVELAND – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia banned broadcast media from an appearance Wednesday where he will receive an award for supporting free speech.

The City Club usually tapes speakers for later broadcast on public television, but Scalia insisted on banning television and radio coverage, the club said. Scalia is being given the organization’s Citadel of Free Speech Award.

“I might wish it were otherwise, but that was one of the criteria that he had for acceptance,” said James Foster, the club’s executive director.


The City Club selected Scalia because he has “consistently, across the board, had opinions or led the charge in support of free speech,” Foster said.

Yes, and he sure did demonstrate his famous commitment to free speech by his actions here, didn’t he? Perhaps the City Club might reconsider the award.

Scalia made the same demand on John Carroll University, where he spoke Tuesday night. He talked mostly about the constitutional protection of religions, but also said that government has room to scale back individual rights during wartime without violating the Constitution.

“The Constitution just sets minimums,” Scalia said. “Most of the rights that you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires.”

Well, at least he’s consistent in his devotion to individual rights.

Thanks to Tom Spencer, who also has an exhaustive review of Gulf War II: Electric Boogaloo among his recent updates, for the link.

Texas Lege update

Things are a little busy today, so I’m going to point to a couple of posts up on the Political State Report about recent news items. First, the heartwarming news that Rick Perry does not want Texas to become the only state not participating in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), so abolishing it in the name of budget balancing is not an option. Second, a little time out for some new abortion restrictions and a redundant Defense of Marriage Act.

Welcome to North Korea

I saw an amazing movie on Cinemax yesterday, a one-hour documentary called Welcome to North Korea. I’d read a review of it before watching (here’s another one that compares this film to the similar documentary Uncle Saddam) so I had some idea of what to expect, but I was still blown away.

The reviews cover the main points of the film – the restrictions on who the filmmakers can speak to, the unending tributes to Beloved Leader Kim Il Sung, who is portrayed as a demigod, like a modern-day Pharaoh, and so on – but seeing the emptiness of Pyongyang is just profoundly creepy. The city is full of sleek modern buildings that apparently suit no purpose, since there’s no one there to use them. There are plenty of tour guides but no tourists. The whole place is part Potemkin village, part mass hallucination. It’s Disneyland as designed by Sartre.

No commerce of any kind was evident. You do see some people on the streets, though not in the main part of town, and you do see one scene in a subway terminal as people whisk past, but the only people you see that are actively engaged in an occupation are the tour guides, soldiers, a few police officers, and the government flunkies that were assigned to mind the filmmakers. The only schoolchildren you see are busy preparing for the 55th anniversary celebration of the Workers’ Party. I kept asking myself “How do they pay for all of them empty buildings, all of the Kim Il Sung statues and monuments, all of the idle support staff for these things?” The film has no answers, but it’s easy to speculate, and all of the choices are scary.

We see the demilitarized zone from the Northern perspective. I’ve been to the DMZ on the South side, and it’s very different there. Of course, I was in an area that’s been turned into a tourist attraction, but the reality is that there’s an awful lot of soldiers on both sides and nothing more than a cease-fire that holds back hostilities. The film shows a wall in the DMZ that was built by South Korea as a deterrent against invasion. Apparently, the existence of this wall is not generally acknowledged on the South side, and it’s not readily visible from there.

The war memorials that I saw on the south side of the DMZ were primarily about history, healing, and the desire for reunification. The war memorials depicted in “Welcome to North Korea” were all about the brutality of American soldiers in the Korean War. One display item was a burned-out husk of a fighter plane that had been shot down by “our women”, according to the tour guide. A soldier at the museum talked emphatically about how his pregnant grandmother had been beheaded and disemboweled by American troops. How much of these stories is true I couldn’t say (in the latter, the storyteller’s then-five year old father was the only survivor, which left a lot of room for doubt in my mind), but they were very effective as propaganda.

One other thing that struck me about this movie was that Kim Il Sung was a much bigger figure than Kim Jong Il. There were the statues and monuments and portraits, the huge mausoleum, the constant references to Beloved Leader and his benevolence, the scads of books written about him and by him – Kim Il Sung is everywhere. The propaganda machine has started creating myths about Kim Jong Il, but the Beloved Leader cast a huge shadow over his people, and his son is nowhere close to emerging from it as far as I could tell. What will Kim Jong Il do to make his mark on North Korea? I don’t know and I’m not sure I want to find out.

Two thumbs up. If you get the chance, check it out.

Misplaced gratitude

Meant to blog this last week, but I was temporarily kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a pod person (I’m sure none of you noticed the difference). Anyway, Tom Tomorrow notes that sixteen Democratic senators voted in favor of the so-called “partial birth abortion” ban:

The vote was 64-33, with 3 abstaining. Which means that it was the 16 Senate Democrats who voted “yes” who put this thing over the top…Thanks, Democrats!

Yes, well, I seem to recall that this ridiculous and dishonest piece of grandstandinglegislation made it out of the Senate several times in the 1990s. Why hadn’t it already been adopted as the law of the land?

Oh, that’s right: Because we had a Democratic president to veto it every single time.

Thanks, Ralph!