Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Monday, January 26, 2009

That was sort of an expensive inauguration, considering we're in, like, an economic crisis

But maybe that counts as stimulating the economy?

Back in 2004, Democrats and some in the media criticized Bush for having an extravagant inaugural while the country was in a fairly big war. This time, I didn't see much criticism at all.

But there was some, it turns out. James Rainey compared the reactions in 2004 and 2008. He says that there was a fair amount of criticism this time, but definitely not as much as there was of Bush's inauguration in 2004.

I imagine one reason it got more play last time is that the pols (i.e. members of the house) were taking part in the criticism, which fed the media fire. This time, most of the Republicans must have calculated that it wouldn't be worth it to criticize the high price tag, and the media by themselves didn't do that much with it.

Who are the real Arizona Cardinals?

In case you didn't know, when it comes to major U.S. professional sports, football is the socialist one. It's the opposite of baseball, where the Yankees and Red Sox and a few other teams have tens of millions more than the others and buy expensive players and build dynasties (though certainly the teams with the highest payrolls do not always win -- just often). Football has revenue sharing, a salary cap, the draft and weird luck (as Barack Obama might have it, "there are no rich teams in football, no poor teams in football, just American teams.")

In football, teams sometimes go from being the worst in their division one year to winning it the next. There are perennial losers, yes. But compared with other sports, football allows the opportunity for so many teams to achieve, or at least to have hope.

With the Arizona Cardinals going to the Super Bowl, though, there's been something of a backlash in the interwebs and beyond. The Cardinals, many say, are just too mediocre. They made it to the Super Bowl with a lot of strange turns of luck. And this will now be the third year with oddball teams making it to and/or winning the game.

To Charles Pierce, "The Cardinals are a glorified Arena Football League team with a soft defense and a running game unworthy of the name. They are in the position that they're in because the NFL rigs its season worse than any carny rigs his wheel."

The Washington Post has a forum on the "Cinderella Teams." Dan Levy says "We need Goliaths in sports, because without them, there'd be no Davids to root for. But compelling drama in every game, every week... I think that's actually become more fun to watch." Gene Wang argues that the NFL looses out financially when teams with little national fandom play in the big games.

I think that football's equality makes it enjoyable to watch. And I don't feel guilty rooting for the Steelers over the Cardinals.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Obama White House and the press

Dana Milbank had a pretty scathing review of Robert Gibbs' first press conference at the White House. Gibbs stonewalled, a lot.

The Obama team is also heavy on using anonymous 'administration officials.' This is worrying. First there was a transition-by-trial-balloon, and now an Administration that is afraid to say a lot of things on-the-record.

One good news is that some of the reporters are trying to challenge the use of anonymous briefings:

Reports Milbank:
When Gibbs returned later for his on-camera briefing, Ken Herman of Cox News asked: "Why did the administration believe it was important for the American people not to know the name of the two senior administration officials who briefed us?"

Obama hesitant on undoing Bush's detention and torture policies

The Obama Administration is keeping me worried about their detention and torture policies. They're trumpeting their executive orders to close Guantanamo and to use the Army Field Manual as a rule for interrogations conducted by the CIA. These are good things. But they're leaving themselves a lot of room: leaving open the possibility that they could allow techniques beyond the Army Field Manual in the future, that they might use rendition in the future and even that they might re-open the military commissions.

The top papers did some work explaining this important stuff, but in each case the headlines didn't mention it, instead trumpeting the administration's line:

  • LAT: Obama overturns Bush tactics in war on terrorism
  • Post: Obama Reverses Bush Policies On Detention and Interrogation
  • NYT: Obama Reverses Key Bush Security Policies

    For a good run-down on all of the loop-holes that the Administration is leaving, see Josh Gerstein's "Why the Gitmo policies may not change" in Politico.

  • MA Pride

    So how cold was it at the inauguration? In the words of long-time Massachusetts resident Yo-Yo Ma, "It was wicked cold."

    Thursday, January 22, 2009

    Some good news

    The good news today was that Obama appointed George Mitchell to be special envoy for the Middle East. I was worried it was going to be someone terrible. Mitchell could be pretty good.

    US policy is going to have to shift fairly dramatically, and this appointment alone is only so big a shift in the big picture. But it gives me some reason for hope.

    Dennis Ross, meanwhile, doesn't have a job announced in the administration yet. Let's hope he's not going to be running Iran policy. That'd be yikes.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    More pictures

    The reader-submitted photos at nytimes.com are quite impressive.

    The Inauguration

    The day in photos.

    Monday, January 19, 2009

    Fear the terrorist sympathizers!!

    In the nytimes.com Q&A today with Taghreed El-Khodary, the paper's longtime stringer in Gaza, there was, as you might expect, some questioning of whether she, as a Palestinian, can provide fair and objective reporting. The paper minces no words in defending her (see the final Q&A). It's kind of awkward that they even have to do that.

    We've seen the same thing with Iraqi and Afghan reporters doing much of the work for American news outlets there. In all of these cases it's not a conscious decision by the organization that the coverage would be better if it's done by someone from there, but that the only way to have coverage at all is for someone from that country to do it, largely for security reasons.

    The right and in some cases center have gone after El-Khodary and many others, thankfully with not too much success, at least yet. They say someone who was born and lives in the country can't be objective (and maybe they're even a terrorist sympathizer!). But when it comes to a white person in a European country, they don't have any problem. John Burns, for example, is now the London bureau chief, and he's British. I don't hear anyone complaining about how he is necessarily biased.

    The name for this all is of course 'racism'.

    Some reporters are fair and some are not, whether they are Arab or White, native to the country where they are reporting or not.

    Saturday, January 17, 2009

    Recipe: sweet potato deliciousness

    Mark Bittman has an interesting sweet potato recipe that I recommend highly. This isn't to say that just poking it with a fork, baking it for an hour and slicing it open and dropping in some butter and salt isn't simple and uber-delicious; it is. But this recipe is a nice twist.

    You peel the thing and shred it, preferably in a food processor with a top blade. You fry the stuff with oil salt and pepper; it's very quick. Try not to over-stir it, so as to keep the strings from becoming a mush. In a separate pan, you saute butter, sage leaves and garlic. Then you pour the second over the first.

    Here's the recipe and the accompanying video.

    I served it with salmon (marinated in teriyaki and broiled) and kale with garlic and raisins. Delish.


    Something you don't usually see: a NYTimes article that mentions international law more than in passing, and in this case five times. It's Steven Erlanger's A1 look on Saturday at whether Israel has committed war crimes. I'm glad they're trying to take this seriously. I don't know enough to understand if he gets the international law correct or not.

    Be Scared!

    From NYTimes.com right now:

    That's right, "Chaos is increasingly engulfing Washington"

    Really? Um, no. There may or may not be chaos on inauguration day, or even one of the days between now and then. But there has not yet been any evidence of chaos.

    The linked article itself, in Saturday's paper, by Katharine Seelye, is actually quite good; it's about how many people who initially talked about traveling to DC for the inauguration have since decided not to, and some of them decided that because of dire warnings from various agencies.

    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Birds and jet engines

    Livescience.com already has up an extensive story on the matter of what happens when airplane engines suck in birds, as likely happened today with the USAir plane.

    Not surprisingly, the experts say it's usually larger birds that are more likely to cause serious damage to the engines. The danger is soon after takeoff, before the plane gets to a higher altitude than the birds hang out. In this case, it sounds likely that both engines were damaged.

    No inauguration hotel crunch

    Last Friday, the Post finally walked back from its hyping of an inauguration rental housing crunch ("Inaugural Rentals Begging For Takers" is the headline, which sounds about right). The Post had helped build the idea that people were successfully renting out their apartments for thousands of dollars, and didn't back down from it despite evidence to the contrary.

    Today's paper has another interesting tidbit on the inauguration housing situation, this one on page B2:

    "Actually, Hotel Space Remains Available" is the headline. The online version gives more detail than the print version. Here it is:
    The District's official tourism office, Destination DC, reports that there are 15,000 rooms available in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District.

    A total of 800 rooms remain available within the District limits, said Victoria Isley, Destination's senior vice president for marketing.

    For weeks, Isley said, word has spread across the country that the region was booked up in anticipation of Obama's historic swearing in. But she said that impression was incorrectly conveyed because hotels, faced with the anticipated demand, withdrew their rooms from on-line travel services such as Travelocity in order to exert tighter control over their bookings.

    Destination came up with its own numbers by surveying the hotel owners.

    This is fascinating news, and I'm glad the Post is reporting it. I just wish it got more prominence, and that the Post had figured this out a lot earlier.


    "Zoo Asks for Help Feeding Its Pandas"
    The National Zoo issued a public appeal yesterday for bamboo to feed its famous giant pandas. For a combination of reasons, the zoo's supply of the crunchy green stalks is critically low, and zoo officials said they might not have enough to last the winter.

    (Mei Xiang, Oct 2008)

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009


    Johannes Mehserle was finally arrested and charged in the murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland. The D.A. says he is still deciding between first and second degree murder, and that "from the evidence we have there's nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder."

    Will the METRO be chaos on inauguration day?

    The METRO might be chaos on inauguration day. It might also not be chaos.

    My bet is with some of each, but more not-chaos than chaos. I think all the chaos-hype has scared at least some people away. There's at least some precedent for this sort of thing: when the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago was getting major work a couple of years ago (with long-term lane closures) the hype led to a situation where on the first day of construction the remaining open lanes were actually under-used.

    I think the problem spots will be at the downtown stations, and particularly the transfer stations. They are already messy during rush-hours, and that's with people who know where they're going. Union Station is another stop that's already beyond its capacity.

    A danger with large crowds of people who don't know where they're going are the escalators and, to a lesser extent, stairs. Metro has said it will be turning off the down escalators and leaving the up ones on. I tend to think that's a decent balance. The danger is that a fair number of people abruptly stop walking within a few feet of the end of the escalator. It's not usually a problem during rush-hour because people know where they are going, and are in a hurry, no less. On inauguration day, it could be an issue.

    I think there will be some messy situations here and there. But I think it will mostly work out well enough because the travel will be spread out across so many hours.

    UPDATE: I missed this earlier. On Tuesday, Metro announced their plans specifically for how they will deal with the heavy volume in the downtown stations. From 4am to 10:30am, Federal Triangle, Federal Center SW, Farragut West, Capitol South and McPherson Square will all be 'exit only' stations. Many of the other downtown stations will be enterable through just one entrance. I like it.

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Franken time

    Al Franken, it appears, will probably be headed to the Senate. That's good news. The Dems could use an extra vote on things like the Employee Free Choice Act.

    But I'm not going to be under any illusions that Franken is a progressive. On most issues, he isn't. He is a Bush critic; that makes him like most Americans.

    Here's one that just came up -- Israel. This weekend he joined Coleman (and Klobuchar) at an event in support of Israel (saw this via M.J. Rosenberg).

    Saturday, January 10, 2009

    Oscar Grant

    Two thoughts on the case of Oscar Grant, the unarmed man who was shot and killed last week by a BART police officer in Oakland:

    -The notion that the officer meant to reach for his taser seems unlikely. I say that because, as the Oakland Tribune reports,
    The department does not have enough of the stun guns to equip every officer with one, Gee said. When officers do carry Tasers, he added, they are kept on a separate part of their belts from their service pistols.

    "They keep those Tasers on the opposite side of their gun hand, or in the middle, pointed the opposite direction so you have to turn your hand to get it," Burris said. "No movement (on the videos) suggests (the officer) was reaching for anything other than the location where the gun was."

    -The D.A., or some authority, ought to say publicly why it is going to take possibly another two weeks before any charges are pressed. Perhaps there's good reason that it will take them that long to determine the appropriate charge. As the Oakland Tribune's editorial argues, this can't just be treated like any officer-involved shooting. The public is understandably eager for justice. The Tribune also says that the D.A. allocated more extensive resources to the case -- after the public outcry began.

    Friday, January 09, 2009

    Hamas executions

    Amira Hass reports on Hamas's executions of those it deems to be collaborators:
    Since the operation began on December 27, Hamas operatives have executed several people it classified as collaborators. Members of the group have confirmed the executions took place, and said the victims had admitted giving information to the Shin Bet security service that resulted in the deaths of Palestinians, or had already been sentenced to death by a Palestinian military court but the sentences were delayed for various reasons.

    Independent sources said that among the dead were those not known publicly to have been collaborators, as well as others long suspected of cooperation with Israel, or those arrested and later released.

    Estimates of the number of suspects executed range from 40 to 80, but amid the prevailing conditions shelling, fear of walking the streets and media blackouts it is virtually impossible to verify the numbers or identities of the dead.

    Executions are carried out secretly.

    Thursday, January 08, 2009

    Fun with Factions

    Like Fractions -- but way less cool.

    By factions I mean the socialist, communist and other flavors of red groups in the United States. It's hard to keep track of them, and probably not a productive use of time to do so, but I used to at least follow which of them had which major front groups. I stopped paying attention at some point. But now I want to check in on who's-who of some of the major fronts.

    In terms of who the parties are, there's a wonderful chart here. It's out of date, but no less amusing. I found a bunch of info on the ANSWER-related factions -- which seemed to check out well -- in an article by Bill Weinberg.

    So here's a rundown of some of the major front groups of today and recent years, to the best of my understanding:

  • Not In Our Name -- These folks seemed so innocuous! They organized one of the first big anti-war demos in the fall of 2002 - in the East Meadow of Central Park. They had this obsession with the globe image on top of a black background, and they were also really into that 'pledge' thing that people signed against the war. They are a front for the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), fans of the Shining Path in Peru, among other bad things. At some point a few years ago, they wound down, and in their place came..

  • World Can't Wait -- The difference between NION and it's successor is that by the time of World Can't Wait, things were so bad that the world was on fire! Yikes. WCW has had somewhat of a focus on the issue of US torture; they often use orange Gitmo-jumpsuits (other groups do too, but WCW has used them a lot). WCW is a front for the RCP.

  • Refuse & Resist -- Yet another RCP front. They started back in 1987; I'm not sure if it was a front from the beginning or if it later got taken over. At some point, they were big on abortion rights ("Abortion on Demand").

  • ANSWER -- ANSWER formed just after 9/11 as a front group for the International Action Center (IAC), which is in turn a front group for the Workers World Party (WWP). But in 2004 there was a factional split, and the faction that retained the ANSWER name is actually NOT the WWP/IAC faction, but rather a faction that created the new Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). This PSL/ANSWER faction included many of the Bay Area people.

  • Troops Out Now Coalition -- TONC is the group that was the other faction in the ANSWER split. These are the IAC/WWP people, who needed a new front group after they (left? were expelled? from ANSWER). They are stronger in NYC than on the West Coast. And yet, ANSWER seems to be turning out far more people than TONC at recent demonstrations. The WWP, it should be noted, supported Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.

  • Campus Antiwar Network -- The International Socialist Organization (ISO) has had many front groups and attempts at front groups (United For Peace & Justice, while non-sectarian, has had quite a few ISO people trying to get very involved, I believe). But CAN was (is?) actually something of a success -- in the days of 2003 and for a few years after that, they got anti-war groups on dozens of campuses in the same rooms. I don't know what their deal is now, but their website is down (www.campusantiwar.net). I remember them having hundreds of people behind their banner at an anti-war march in NYC as late as 2006.

  • Wednesday, January 07, 2009

    Starbucks union update

    In case you missed it, just before Christmas an NLRB judge ruled that Starbucks had illegally fired employees in a Manhattan store because of their unionization efforts. See Steven Greehnouse in the NYT.

    Tuesday, January 06, 2009


    The Israeli elections are coming up, but first its time for a war.

    There's no good moral basis for Israel's attack. While Hamas has been firing rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel intermittently for a long time, Israel apparently now "has to act." Why it didn't "have to act" at some point before is unclear.

    The notion of having no choice but to attack is a neat trick. It's meant to legitimize anything, no matter how extreme. In fact, Israel didn't have to do anything. It chose one specific policy option, and the costs to Israel -- short term and particularly long term -- of it's choice will likely be significant.

    As usual, there's a wider range of debate in Israel about the policy options and their consequences than there is here in the U.S.

    On the right wing, there's a trendy notion, noted by Glenn Greenwald, that if Israel kills civilians, that's actually a good thing, because it will show the Arabs who the boss is.

    As for the Bush Administration, its decision to not explicitly demand a cease-fire, while not surprising, keeps us as the rogue state from the international community. And that's one thing the U.S. media have missed -- just how extreme that position is (more on the media later).

    Obama's silence on the war is unimpressive. He speaks on some economic issues, but when he wants to avoid an issue, he falls back on the "one president at a time" thing. And there's Mike Bloomberg, who parachuted in to Israel for a quick campaign appearance over the weekend. Yuck.

    Perhaps most frustrating are the congressional democrats. Several have spoken out critically of Israel (I'll steal Daniel Levy's list on this: Donna Edwards, Lois Capps, Joe Sestak, Earl Blumenauer, Betty McCollum, and Keith Ellison). But the Reid's and Pelosi's and the rest won't utter a word critical of Israel. As usual, the Democrats' policy on Israel is very different from that of Democratic voters: in a Rasmussen poll, 31% of Democrats supported Israel's action, while 55% said Israel should have sought a diplomatic solution.

    As for the media in the U.S., it's been an interesting mixed bag. There's lots of sick stuff, but I think there's also some evidence of improvement.

    The bad is epitomized by David Gregory's interview of Tzipi Livni on Meet the Press. MTP is supposed to be the "tough questions" show, though that's almost always not been the case. And it wasn't on Sunday: Gregory's questions were the softest of softballs. Greenwald has the rundown. Gregory didn't even ask Livni about her repeated assertion that there is "no humanitarian crisis" in Gaza, a claim that is easily debunked.

    The on-the-ground reporting in Gaza by the top print media has been far more impressive, and in the face, no less, of an Israeli government that is banning journalists from entering Gaza. This hasn't become a major story in and of itself (why not?) but perhaps it will soon. The reporters are presumably quite frustrated about the situation; the NYT's Ethan Bronner went so far as to tell the AP that "Israel has never restricted media access like this before, and it should be ashamed."

    Luckily, several of the majors already had part-time staff or stringers in Gaza, and they have produced commendable work documenting the civilian casualties. The NYT has Taghreed El-Khodary (Jan 6, Jan 5 (page 1), Dec 31); the LAT has Rushdi abu Alouf (Jan 6, Jan 5, Dec 28) and the Washington Post has Reyham Abdel Kareem (Jan 6, Jan 5, Jan 2, Dec 31, Dec 30 (page 1), Dec 29 (page 1); the AP has Ibrahim Barzak (Jan 5, Dec 30, Dec 28) and NPR has Ahmed Abu-Hamdan (Jan 5). NPR has also had coverage of civilian casualties reported form outside Gaza (Dec 31, Dec 29).

    Newsweek, of all places, surprised me. They ran a short essay by Aaron David Miller, "Obama Must Get Tough With Israel to Achieve Peace." And their big story this weekend bordered on reasonable:
    "there is only one path to peace, and both sides know what it is—and yet neither side has been willing to take it. ... The current Olmert "shelf plan" is remarkably similar to the Clinton parameters: a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians make painful compromises on the core issues of territory, security, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

    I haven't seen much of the TV coverage. The clips I saw of the Sunday morning shows were rather pathetic. Ashraf Khalil of the LATimes says that Al-Jazeera has led the pack, by far, in covering Gaza.

    I think what's missing the most is a bigger picture examination of what Israel has to gain or lose from this attack -- and of what the U.S. policy options would be beyond blindly supporting anything the Israeli administration does. It's a bit too easy to forget, reading this stuff, that the U.S.'s policy is extreme, and there's no reason it has to be this way.

    Also, the U.S. media almost all went with the "Hamas started it" storyline, which sort of misses the point, and isn't really true anyhow (FAIR says almost all the media got it wrong, with the notable exception of an Ethan Bronner article).

    All of that said, some bits of the coverage I mentioned above gives me some hope that we're moving ever so slightly in the right direction. And within the Jewish community in the U.S. (and I mean the people, the organizations, and pundits), there's good reason to believe that we've seen some improvement (see Jane Hamsher's coverage of this).

    I should say that Jon Stewart's show Monday night was a much more serious take on this than just about anything else I've seen.

    Update 2: Ethan Bronner has a story now specifically about Israel blocking journalists from covering Gaza (Jan 7).