Thursday, May 28, 2009

In which the U.S. government adopts left wing language

Josh Meyer has an exclusive in today's LAT:
The FBI and Justice Department plan to significantly expand their role in global counter-terrorism operations, part of a U.S. policy shift that will replace a CIA-dominated system of clandestine detentions and interrogations with one built around transparent investigations and prosecutions.

Under the "global justice" initiative, which has been in the works for several months, FBI agents will have a central role in overseas counter-terrorism cases. They will expand their questioning of suspects and evidence-gathering to try to ensure that criminal prosecutions are an option, officials familiar with the effort said.

Who knows what exactly this will mean, but it sure sounds much much better than the current situation. No, we shouldn't be the world's policeman (cliche!), but if we are going to be, we should do it a bit better.

I'm stunned and intrigued, though, to see the agencies using the word "justice." I think that "justice" has been mostly a word of the left for a long time now. Sure, some on the right used it after 9/11, but I don't think it was a lot. And "global justice" -- that's unquestionably a left-wing term. And now the U.S. is going to try to use it? Weird. Could be good or bad. "Global justice" is a phrase that, to me, conjures up ideas of universal human rights, anti-colonialism, a more just trade system, and even universal jurisdiction. Of course, that's not what they're going for here.

Politico confuses Democracy Now with Air America

Politico's Lisa Lerer had a story up Wednesday afternoon about criticism of Sotomayor from the left. That's good.

She writes:
"She is a mixed bag. I would not call her a left liberal," Marjorie Cohn, president of the progressive National Lawyers Guild, said in an interview on Air America.

"I'm thrilled that there will be the first Latina on the Supreme Court and that there will be another woman. But I really would have liked to have seen a real progressive counterweight to radical rightists on the court."

But the quoted passages were not from Air America; they were from Wednesday morning's Democracy Now! While there may be some individual stations that air both DN and Air America content, the two are completely separate; DN is not Air America programming.

In fact, confusing the two is pretty absurd. One is progressive. The other has a star morning host who, let's see, just yesterday advocated bombing Tehran.

Final chances to use the oven before it gets ridiculously hot

Roasted red potatoes with rosemary and red onion; scrambled egg with broccoli.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Carl on Kojo

Carl was on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU today, debating DC City Councilor Muriel Bowser and Bruce Riordan of the LA District Attorney's Office over Mayor Fenty's civil injunction proposal for combating gangs. It's a bad idea.

Times Square, two and a half days in

I can't say I've been there, but all the reports so far are pretty positive. Tuesday was the first day with regular weekday traffic, and -- surprise -- the world didn't end.

And, you know, the NYC press is slowly improving on this stuff. William Neuman, the Times' metro transportation writer, for instance, has come a long way. Last summer, when NYC DOT made a protected bike lane and a small esplanade on Broadway between Times Square and Herald Square, he manufactured the notion that it might be dangerous to sit out on the park (600-1000 lb planters/bollards aside). In Wednesday's paper, though, Neuman is content.

The Daily News and Post mostly behaved themselves well enough in Tuesday's editions.

The News' editorial page was a bit skeptical (I don't know the backstory on the stats they get into) but at least they didn't go into panic mode.

It's a start.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


It's one of the more extreme examples, but for a look at what we may see more of on Sotomayor, see David Letterman's version of the wild-crazy Judge Judy who speaks Spanish - video here.

Obviously it's disappointing, though not un-expected, that Obama has picked someone with a relatively centrist record.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The lessons of the EFCA battle

Tom Hamburger's EFCA story in the LAT last week looks back at how the unions have been outmaneuvered, including this interesting bit:
But once [Obama] was elected, labor leaders made a fateful decision. Originally, they had planned to keep in place their extensive network of field organizers, who had just worked to elect Democratic candidates, and ask them to build pressure on lawmakers to vote for card check.

Instead, they changed course. The labor groups scaled back, partly to give Obama time to get his bearings amid the deepening economic crisis.

Business groups, meanwhile, had started work well before the election and did not stop.

It's hard to prove what caused what. But I bet he's right that easing off Obama was indeed a fateful decision.

Times Square opens up

On Sunday, Broadway was opened up to pedestrians in much of Times Square. I hope it's a moment we'll look back on some day as something of a turning point.

(Reuters/Michael Nagle)

Update: has a photo gallery from Sunday afternoon/evening.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Sprawling Phoenix Rising

Phoenix's housing crash has ended, the LAT reports. The background:
Phoenix experienced one of the most dramatic real estate crashes in the nation. Median home prices for resold homes peaked at $268,000 in June 2006. Now the median price is $120,000. It is the biggest decline in the top 20 metropolitan areas tracked by the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index.

Now, apparently, it's suddenly tough to find something if you're looking to buy.

So exurbs are back! Well, maybe not the ones in Texas or Florida yet. But with Phoenix (or DC), they're good to go. For now.

Tamil Tigers

All I have to add about the week's news from Sri Lanka is that it gives me an excuse to link back to this bizarre "Air Tigers" propaganda video. That's right, the Tamil Tigers had an air force -- aka single-propeller, Czech planes with some kind of improvised set up that could hold four bombs. Their first major (?) attack was in March, 2007.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Haganah as armed forces

In a travel section piece on Israel over the weekend, the NYT refers to the Haganah as "the pre-independence armed forces." Armed forces? No, they weren't the army of a government. They were a paramilitary organization. A militia, a guerrilla force, operating primarily in the British Mandate of Palestine. Armed forces refers to the "combined military, naval, and air forces of a nation" (M-W). I've written in for a correction.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

David Sanger: Breaking with Bush policies means taking risks with security

Saturday's news analysis by David Sanger, "Obama After Bush: Leading by Second Thought" is a recounting of how Obama has, particularly in the last few weeks, gone back on many pledges regarding detainee policy, and in several areas adopted positions at least partially in line with the Bush Administration.

Much of it is relatively straightforward, but then there's this:
Faced with the choice of signaling an unambiguous break with the policies of the Bush era, or maintaining some continuity with its practices, the president has begun to come down on the side of taking fewer risks with security, even though he is clearly angering the liberal elements of his political base.

It's a "News Analysis", so he gets to say just about whatever he wants. And that's enlightening, if nothing else, because here we find out that he believes that deviating from Bush's policies risks U.S. security.

Personally, I think that Bush's policies on detainees were and are a hindrance to U.S. security. In terms of some of the particular issues at hand in the past few weeks, various people have made arguments for why they think using military commissions will make the U.S. safer, and why not releasing this batch of abuse photos will make the U.S. safer. I haven't seen anything that's convinced me. David Sanger is apparently convinced, though he doesn't explain his thinking on the evidence here.

Sanger is welcome to have whatever opinions he wants. Now that I know how he sees the above issues, I'll be skeptical of everything he writes.

She's back!

Wow, I had missed this. Judith Miller is a Fox News analyst these days. Classy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Second season of Whale Wars!

Starts Friday June 5 at 9pm on Animal Planet.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The torture photos we won't see, for now

There's not much good news to be found in Obama's decision not to release the torture photos that he had pledged he was going to release.

Dan Froomkin has a rundown of why most of Obama's reasons were pretty nonsensical. He's most troubled by the "the-bad-apples-have-been-dealt-with" excuse -- classic Bush Administration.

Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook in the LAT are good and direct in pointing out that one of the White House's arguments is simply factually incorrect:
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the national security argument the administration intended to make in court -- that releasing the photographs could create a backlash -- was "one that hasn't been made before."

But, in fact, that issue was raised and rejected by a federal district court judge and the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which called the warnings of a backlash "clearly speculative" and insufficient to warrant blocking disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Whether or not the photos will eventually get released, by order of a court, now remains to be seen.

The one part of this all that I did like, though, was the repeated use of the notion that these photos put American soldiers at risk. I mean, that's one (of many) of the arguments anti-torture advocates have used over the years. But the idea has been consistently downplayed for years. Now Obama, on purpose or not, is mainstreaming it, helping to make it the uncontroversial CW.


I'm a couple days behind. From Jennifer Finney Boylan's op-ed in the NYT on Tuesday, this nugget:
How do we define legal gender? By chromosomes? By genitalia? By spirit? By whether one asks directions when lost?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

This is for real

This is from the AP, not the Onion. (There's also a video report, here).

Rotten office fridge cleanup sends 7 to hospital

May 13, 2009

SAN JOSE, Calif. --An office worker cleaning a fridge full of rotten food created a smell so noxious that it sent seven co-workers to the hospital and made many others ill.

Firefighters had to evacuate the AT&T building in downtown San Jose on Tuesday after the fumes led someone to call 911. A hazmat team was called in.

What crews found was an unplugged refrigerator crammed with moldy food.

Authorities say an enterprising office worker had decided to clean it out, placing the food in a conference room while using two cleaning chemicals to scrub down the mess.

The mixture of old lunches and disinfectant caused 28 people to need treatment for vomiting and nausea.

Authorities say the worker who cleaned the fridge didn't need treatment -- she can't smell because of allergies.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Monday, May 11, 2009

In week that NYT twice fronted Wesleyan killing, four murders in NYC

In the same week that the NYTimes ran two front-page stories on the murder of Johanna Justin-Jinich (Friday, Saturday), four people were murdered within NYC, according to statistics released by the NYPD today.

The NYPD releases the statistics based on a Monday-Sunday week, and they are preliminary, subject to revision. There are usually about 10 murders each week within the five boroughs (an incredibly low number for a city of 8+ million).

I hope to have more soon on the extent of coverage of those four murders.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Does "nearly everyone" in prison profess innocence?

Today's Post had a review of "Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption", by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. Thompson-Cannino had pointed to Cotton, in a police line-up, as the man who raped her, and he went to prison for 11 years -- before it was proven that in fact he was not the perpetrator, and he was released. The two are now friends.

The review, by Kate Tuttle, is positive and sweet. But it starts with this: "Nearly everyone in prison protests their innocence, but Ronald Cotton was telling the truth" (the version currently on the website removes the word "their"). This strikes me as unlikely. Does anyone out there know of any research on this matter?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Couriers are Cool

I think it's pretty darn cool that we still have couriers/messengers in this day and age.

I just called one, and 10 minutes later, a guy showed up. On a bike? In a car? No, on a motorcycle. Made my day.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


It's been hard, at least for me, not to think a lot in the past day and a half about the murder of Johanna Justin-Jinich at Wes.

Not that I have an actual connection to anyone there now -- just the feeling of a connection. And certainly to that spot; we've all been there, eating our paninis and what not (or black bean soup, when it was Atticus), one time or another. When the story went national pretty heavily this morning, my first reaction was my usual -- why is this young white woman at a fancy college getting all the attention when 15,000 people or so are killed every year in this country? I felt like I had at least some reason to pay attention (maybe?), but that the rest of the world didn't.

Maybe in general we shouldn't obsess over the details of a murder, whether we have no connection or a feeling of a connection or whatever. On the other hand, maybe it ought to go the other way -- that all of those other thousands of people should have their stories told, too. But no, lets not further murder as some commodity. The story on the front page of Fridays's NYT made me a bit frustrated -- most murders within the five boroughs obviously don't get that much attention. But then I ended up touched by it. I dunno.

More specifically on the media part of it, it's a reminder that we should be cautious in the face of the demand for speedy information. Most of the initial reports seem to have gotten the basics right -- as far as we know now. But several CT media outlets initially reported that Morgan was Justin-Jinich's "ex-boyfriend" -- a claim they later backed away from.

I'm particularly interested in the reports that Morgan had written in his journal (recovered from his car) about targeting other Jewish people. It seems straight-forward, but it's one of those things where we haven't actually seen what was there. I can't think of a reason the local police would want to mislead about what it said, but still, so often the anonymous, and even on-the-record sources after crimes say things that turn out not to be true. There was the Columbine case, which I wrote about the other day; another example would be the killings of the high schoolers in Newark the other year, where the motive is, last I remember reading, still under debate.

Obviously, it is a relief that Morgan is in custody tonight. There will be a lot of talk about the lessons learned. Let's take some time to figure it out and not rush to conclusions.

Update 5/11
: The NYT put the story on the front page for a second time on Saturday. Disappointing. And they had 11 people writing or contributing to the story. Those people could have been working on so many other things.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Wes student shot and killed this afternoon in bookstore

More on WTNH and at Wesleying.

Wesleyan U. student fatally shot; suspect at large

By KATIE NELSON – 1 hour ago

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (AP) — A Wesleyan University student was shot and killed at a bookstore near the central Connecticut campus Wednesday afternoon, officials say, sparking a manhunt while police cautioned students and staff to remain indoors.

Officials didn't identify the victim, but said she was a student who was at the Red and Black Cafe inside Broad Street Books.

A gun was recovered at the scene, the university said in a statement.

Police cordoned off the area around the bookstore as officers wearing camouflage and carrying automatic rifles walked the streets as onlookers gawked.

Officials at the private university notified students and faculty members by e-mail, text and voice mail about the emergency and asked them to remain inside.

Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano said he did not believe the public was in danger.

"It was focused. This wasn't random from what I can tell," Giuliano said. "Somebody went into a bookstore and fired multiple shots at one person."

State and city police did not immediately return calls Wednesday.

All campus events scheduled for Wednesday, including its popular Spring Fling concerts, were canceled.

Officials at nearby St. Mary's School, a Roman Catholic school with 240 students, ordered a lockdown for about 30 minutes Wednesday afternoon, Principal Kathleen Dutil said. Police arrived and children were dismissed once authorities gave the go-ahead, she said.

Middletown, in central Connecticut, has a population of about 48,000.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Washington Post Thinks You Are Stupid.

We heard it over and over again during the campaign, and it's really not all that complicated. If you make less than $250,000, your taxes won't go up. In fact, they'll probably go down. If you make more than $250,000, though, your taxes will go up under Obama's plan to revoke the Bush tax cuts for the richest taxpayers (putting the top rate back to about what it was before Bush changed it -- a rate that was lower than what it was for most of the Reagan administration). Those are the basics.

The conservatives who oppose this plan like to say that it will hurt small business owners. The saintly small business owners! Don't touch them! Of course, only a tiny, tiny fraction of small business owners make that much, but even if a lot of them did, that they own small businesses doesn't, you know, make them God.

Anyhow, enter the Washington Post. Oy. The article, from April 27, was "Small Businesses Brace for Tax Battle; Under Obama Plan, Some Entrepreneurs' Bills Would Soar". It's by Lori Montgomery and V. Dion Haynes. From the top:
Gail Johnson doesn't think of herself as wealthy. The former pediatric nurse has spent 20 years building a chain of preschools and after-school programs that accommodate sick children so working parents can keep their jobs.

But, like most small-business owners, Johnson reports her profit on her personal tax return. In a typical year, she and her husband make more than $500,000, according to her accountant, a figure that throws them squarely into the ranks of the richest Americans -- and makes them a prime target for the Obama administration's tax policy.

So there you have it. The Post has uncovered a truly important fact: Obama's plan will slightly increase the tax burden on some people who don't think of themselves as wealthy, but are in fact wealthy.

There's plenty of more nonsense in the article, where you can learn about the terrible situation the Johnson family find themselves in ("For us, we're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.").

I'm posting the whole article below; the Post needs to be shamed.

Small Businesses Brace for Tax Battle
Under Obama Plan, Some Entrepreneurs' Bills Would Soar

By Lori Montgomery and V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 27, 2009

Gail Johnson doesn't think of herself as wealthy. The former pediatric nurse has spent 20 years building a chain of preschools and after-school programs that accommodate sick children so working parents can keep their jobs.

But, like most small-business owners, Johnson reports her profit on her personal tax return. In a typical year, she and her husband make more than $500,000, according to her accountant, a figure that throws them squarely into the ranks of the richest Americans -- and makes them a prime target for the Obama administration's tax policy.

Since last year's campaign, President Obama has vowed repeatedly not to increase taxes for families making less than $250,000 a year. That pledge, while politically popular, has left him with just two primary sources of funding for his ambitious social agenda: about 3 million high-earning families and the nation's businesses.

Johnson, with her company, falls into both categories. If Obama's tax plans are enacted, her accountant estimates that her federal tax bill -- typically, around $120,000 a year -- would rise by at least $23,000, a 19 percent increase.

"You hear 'tax the rich,' and you think, 'I don't make that much money,' " said Johnson, whose Rainbow Station programs are headquartered near Richmond. "But then you realize: 'Oh, if I put my business income with my wages, then, suddenly, I'm there.' "

Across the nation, many business owners are watching anxiously as the president undertakes expensive initiatives to overhaul health care and expand educational opportunities, while also reining in runaway budget deficits. Already, Obama has proposed an extra $1.3 trillion in taxes for business and high earners over the next decade. They include new limits on the ability of corporations to automatically defer U.S. taxes on income earned overseas, repeal of a form of inventory accounting that tends to reduce business taxes, and a mandate that investment partnerships pay the regular income tax rate instead of the lower capital gains rate.
'A Permanent Target'

Business groups say they're bracing for even more battles with the administration.

"They're desperate for revenue. And therein lies the concern of the broader business community," said R. Bruce Josten, chief lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"We're going to be a permanent target, and we understand that," added Catherine Schultz, vice president for tax policy at the National Foreign Trade Council. "The way they see it, corporations don't vote."

Obama has proposed some business tax breaks, but those proposals have been dwarfed by the tax increases under consideration, particularly his plan to let tax cuts enacted by former president George W. Bush expire for high earners.

Administration officials say they would simply restore rates in effect during the Clinton administration for every dollar of income over $250,000 ($200,000 for individuals). The plan is intended to counter years of rising inequality in which wealth has been concentrated at the top of the income scale.

From 1979 to 2006, after-tax incomes rose by $863,000 -- more than 250 percent -- for the top 1 percent of households, compared with $9,200 -- or 21 percent -- for middle-income households, according to a recent analysis of IRS data by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. By allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire next year for upper-income taxpayers -- but keeping the cuts that benefit middle-income families -- Obama has said he hopes to "restore some balance to the tax code."
A Big Issue for Small Firms

Republicans and business groups argue that Obama's plan to tax the rich would strike some of the nation's most productive businesses. Though certain very large companies must organize as separate entities that are taxed twice -- on profits and shareholder dividends -- most smaller businesses opt to be taxed only once by reporting their profits on the personal tax returns of their shareholders.

Most of these businesses make much less than $200,000 a year, though the precise figure is in dispute. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has said the tax increase would affect about 2 percent of taxpayers with small-business income. An analysis by the Bush Treasury Department found that 7 percent of filers with business profit were in the top brackets in 2006. More recently, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which evaluates tax policy for Congress, projected that 3 percent of filers with business profits -- about 750,000 taxpayers -- were likely to face higher taxes in 2011 under Obama's proposal.

Whatever the figure, Republicans argue that those who fall into the upper brackets tend to be firms with the greatest capacity for job creation. In a 2007 survey, the National Federation of Independent Business found that about 15 percent of small-business owners -- and half of those with at least 20 employees -- said they expected their household income to exceed $200,000. In the Washington region, Census figures show one in seven families earn more than $200,000 a year.

"For the vast majority of people who earn less than $200,000, raising taxes on higher earners might not sound so bad. Yet a lot of small businesses are in that category," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a recent radio address. "Tell these business owners their taxes will go up; odds are, they'll cut spending . . . stop hiring and lay people off."

That's what worries Johnson. She conceived her business in 1989 while teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University. Through her nursing students' clinical practices, she saw firsthand the problems that a sick child can pose for working mothers, causing them to miss work and putting their jobs at risk. "I started out thinking I could provide a service for kids with acute medical needs," she said.

The idea eventually spawned nine, full-service campuses that serve sick and well children from infancy through age 14. New schools opened last year in Austin, Charlotte and Gainesville, Va., each with about 75 employees.

Johnson declined to say whether she voted for Obama. But she said she ignored his tax plans until her husband, who handles real estate and construction for the schools, mentioned it one day. "I've since talked to my accountant," she said. "And, oh, my gosh!"

The accountant, Carroll Hurst, said Johnson is unlikely to owe any federal taxes this year due to accounting changes that confer a one-time tax benefit. But in a typical year, he said, Johnson and her husband earn about $515,000 from various entities related to the schools. They claim around $90,000 in deductions -- much of it contributions to charity -- reducing their taxable income to around $425,000. Johnson said the sum they take home in wages is "substantially less."

In a typical year, Johnson's federal tax bill would be about $120,000. But starting in 2011, the higher marginal rates would add about $13,000 a year, Hurst said. Capping the value of itemized deductions at 28 percent would add another $10,000, for a total increase of $23,000.

And Johnson's tax bill stands to grow dramatically if Obama were to revive a plan to apply Social Security tax to income over $250,000 instead of capping it at the current $106,800. Because Johnson is an employee and an employer, she would have to pay both portions of the tax, Hurst said, tacking another $30,000 onto her bill.

Johnson said such an increase would force her to consider scaling back operations.

"You can try to pass it on to consumers. But if you raise tuition, you put pressure on family budgets," she said. "For us, we're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea."

Other business owners are also nervous. Jim Murphy, president of EST Analytical in Fairfield, Ohio, which sells analytical instruments to environmental testing labs and pharmaceuticals, said his company is struggling in the sluggish economy. But if profit returns to pre-recession levels -- about $455,000 -- Murphy said his accountant estimates that Obama's proposals could add $60,000 to his $120,000 tax bill.

"The misconception is that guys like me take [our profits] and put it into our pockets," said Murphy, who employs 47 people. "But the money the company earns in a given year is used to buy additional inventory so we can grow and hire." A 50 percent tax increase, he said, would be "really painful."

Not all business owners are complaining. Marc Friedman, who earns about $350,000 a year operating Ace Hardware stores in the District and Baltimore, said he wouldn't mind the extra $35,000 to $50,000 he stands to lose to the IRS.

"The small-business community feels there's a disproportionate amount of tax placed on us, and it's true," Friedman said.

But government services "can't be paid for equally by everyone," he said. "It's a big burden, but we're fortunate to be successful."

6th anniversary of mission accomplished!

"He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics." -Chris Matthews, May 2003.

That and other gems at Greg Mitchell's "A 6th Anniversary Look Back at Media Coverage of 'Mission Accomplished'"

Are there any computers available at PAC Lab right now?

Yes. In fact there are apparently 5 available at the moment I'm writing this. Or at least that's what it says on the ITS website, which these days has a live status update on each of the labs (ST has 4 and Keck has 13, in case you were wondering).

Of course, you do have to be at a computer (or at least a mobile device that can browse the web) to be able to find out where a computer is available, which is a bit circular. But this feature would have been useful, say, if you were at one of the stand-up computers in Olin and wondering which direction was the best bet.

Of course, what would have been even more useful is if somehow that website told you which lab the cool kids were hanging out at.