Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Katha Pollitt puts Ross Douthat in perspective

Katha Pollitt writes:
Liberal blogger men are thrilled with the New York Times's appointment of 29-year-old Atlantic blogger Ross Douthat to replace William Kristol on the op-ed page.
"Smart move," says Matt Yglesias. Ezra Klein and George Packer agree he's "brilliant." At TheNation.com, Chris Hayes calls it a "fantastic choice," and Eyal Press looks forward to "thoughtful commentary."
.. even for a blogo-pundit, Douthat seems unusually averse to engaging with women intellectually, even on perennial topics like abortion and birth control, where you'd think we'd bring something missing to the table--like an interest in our health, well-being, happiness, longevity, pleasure and ability to have some control over our lives.

I was so happy to see Pollitt's piece (aside from calling George Packer a liberal -- an unfortunate buy-in to the idea of there having been "liberal hawks" who supported the 20023 Iraq invasion). There's something odd about the obsession by some folks to the left-of-center with finding the 'good conservative', the person who's an intellectual who's ready for real debate. The David Brooks, in their mind.

In this case, they're willing to overlook what Douthat stands for, which is radical conservatism, particularly on social issues. On top of everything Pollitt writes about Douthat, I'd add that he's been a global-warming denier and thinks Muslims are and have always been out to attack Christians.

Some folks probably praised Douthat for beat-sweetening purposes. And I imagine many of the DC bloggers on the left know him personally. None of this should make them tolerant of his views. Horrible beliefs are horrible beliefs.

There's a place for debate across ideological lines, but I don't see is as an end-goal. It's not something that, in and of itself, will benefit people's lives. If you're really excited about engaging with Douthat, because he's such an independent intellectual or whatever, go ahead. Do that on your own time. But your blog would be more useful to me if you were busy pushing for prosecution of Bush official for authorizing torture, or say for a solid public option in the healthcare legislation. Praising terrible people like Douthat hinders your credibility, anyway.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A day in US air travel

This is what it looks like.

The video is even cooler. This was done by Aaron Koblin and Wired Magazine.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Twitter goes A1 in the Times

I think this is acceptable: the NYT fronts a piece today on whether celebrities actually write their own tweets or not. The best part is a quote from Shaquille O'Neal:
"It’s 140 characters. It’s so few characters. If you need a ghostwriter for that, I feel sorry for you."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Remember that?

Name that place:

Yup, it's the MPR. They put up lots of construction photos of what used to be the campus center.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

EFCA probably no more, and UNITE-HERE split

The big news today was that Arlen Specter said he will vote against cloture on EFCA, at least for this year. Specter was supposed to be the 60th vote. Greg Sargent thinks it's not completely over, but everyone else seems to think that's pretty much it.

I think Specter's announcement also hurts the possibility for any kind of 'compromise' that would do much good. The industry side should have relatively little incentive to compromise now. Oy.


In other labor news, UNITE-HERE split on Monday. Steven Greenhouse reports:
A splinter group claiming to represent 150,000 of Unite Here’s 400,000 members announced Monday that its delegates had voted to break away and merge into the Service Employees International Union.
The conjoined union’s president, Bruce S. Raynor, who previously led Unite, has maintained over the last year that the merger has failed. Mr. Raynor and other former Unite officials have argued for divorce, on the ground that the unification has not realized its goal of increased organizing.

Officials from the hotel workers’ side have opposed any split, saying Mr. Raynor wants to end the merger largely because he has been outvoted on a variety of issues by the union’s board.

John W. Wilhelm, who is president of Unite Here’s hotel and restaurant division and whose allies control the board, denounced the weekend move, saying Unite Here’s constitution did not allow for secession. The two sides are already battling in court over that question.

Tensions were made all the worse Monday because the breakaway group and the service employees announced that they would seek to unionize food service and hotel workers, who have fallen under the jurisdiction of Mr. Wilhelm’s division.

Two thoughts: competition between unions is, at least potentially, a good thing, not a bad thing (or at least that's what Cutler always says; I don't know the history myself). And second, SEIU is a bit anti-democratic and can be sketchy. It's great that they are unionizing more people, but, let's keep an eye on them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

NYT Does Great Piece on Food Inspections, But Says Wes Students are Children

Michael Moss and Andrew Martin had a great piece in the NYT earlier this month on food safety in the wake of the peanut thing. In "Food Problems Elude Private Inspectors" they show that when a company (like Kellogg) hires a third-party inspector to hire a producer (like Peanut Corporation of America), the inspection is often a farce.

Moss also had a great piece a month earlier on the broader problems of food safety ("Peanut Case Shows Holes in Safety Net").

There's one problem with the new article, though. From paragraph seven:
An examination of the largest food poisoning outbreaks in recent years — in products as varied as spinach, pet food, and a children's snack, Veggie Booty — show that auditors failed to detect problems at plants whose contaminated products later sickened consumers.

What? A children's snack? Is that what you say to all the Wes students?

Jackson Diehl, you never cease to amaze me

I try to remember to not underestimate the Washington Post editorial page when it comes to Latin America. When Augusto Pinochet died in 2006, they celebrated him as a hero. When Hugo Chavez lost the referendum in 2007 on eliminating term-limits and a host of other measures, and immediately conceded defeat, the Post struck back a year later with "reliable sources" saying that "the president conceded only after he was told by military commanders that they would not put down protests against a falsified result" -- a claim supported by no evidence. On Colombia, they are virulently pro-Uribe, despite continued murders of trade unionists in the country (one of the highest rates in the world) and Uribe's government still refusing to seriously investigate the vast majority of those murders. Yet they plow on, more and more desperately, in what has now become deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl's bizarre public fight against Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch (Jackson, give up -- the Democrats on the hill are not being fooled).

On Saturday, the Post editorialized on the FMLN's election victory in El Salvador. Here we go.

Some quick history: the United States armed the right wing government in El Salvador's brutal civil war (the FMLN being the leftist side). Government soldiers brutally murdered thousands of civilians in an effort to terrorize the population. Thanks largely to U.S. help, tens of thousands of people were killed, some in government massacres of civilian towns. After the war ended, it was U.S. policy to work against the FMLN ever being elected to power (this changed with the Obama administration).

Anyhow, how would the Post, which does not like the FMLN, reflect on the its victory? "Victory in El Salvador" is the headline. What? Have they switched sides?! No. See, it's a victory for liberal democracy and vindication for the U.S., actually.
If Mr. Funes as well as the election's losers now respect the rule of law, the result could be the consolidation of the political system the United States was aiming for when it intervened in El Salvador's civil war during the 1980s. At the time, the goal of a successful Salvadoran democracy was dismissed as a mission impossible, just as some now say democracy is unattainable in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the Obama Administration, the editorial concludes,
"should also seek to cooperate with a government that has the potential to complete a victory for Latin American democracy -- and U.S. foreign policy."

Borev.net has a great summary of the whole editorial:
"Praise be to God that we armed one side of El Salvador's brutal civil war, needlessly extending it and intensifying the body count for many years, otherwise our sworn enemies, the FMLN, would never have been elected to power twenty years later. This is a tremendous victory for the United States, and a crushing defeat for Hugo Chavez. The Salvadoran people should be forever grateful to us for our benevolent love."

Friday, March 20, 2009

No more death penalty in New Mexico

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill on Wednesday evening abolishing the state's death penalty. It became the 2nd state in recent years to abolish the death penalty legislatively (as opposed to in courts); New Jersey did so in late 2007.

There are now 15 states without the death penalty, but there are many more states that hardly ever use it (9 states executed in 2008). Amnesty International has the rundown on what's going on around the country.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

That's not reporting!

The White House announced today that Obama is nominating David F. Hamilton to fill an opening on the 7th Circuit.

They can say whatever great things they want about him. But they chose to do some of it anonymously. And Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post has actually played along, in his piece online this afternoon:

Hamilton's legal scholarship, coupled with his varied experiences and his sense of "empathy" makes him "precisely the kind of person that President Obama wants on the federal appellate bench," said a senior administration official, who would speak only on background.

Hamilton is expected to attract bipartisan support, something the president will seek in an effort to "put the confirmation wars behind us," the official said.

Wow, that's real top-secret stuff that needed to be on background!

And yes, Fletcher was the guy who asked the question about A-Rod at Obama's press conference. Hmm, my Washington Post subscription dollars, hard at work.

On a related note, David Cay Johnston has a great piece taking the White House to task for this kind of stuff.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pledge your loyalty!

The latest from Organizing for America, the Obama campaign's we're-for-whatever-our-President-is-for outfit: Sign the "pledge" of support.

At least there's something they have you pledging for that's beyond just allegiance:
* Energy — Transforming America's economy to run on clean and renewable energy in order to create new American jobs and industries
* Health care — Comprehensively reforming health care so that families, businesses, and government are relieved from the crushing costs that impede economic growth and prosperity
* Education — Reforming and investing in America's education system so that citizens are prepared to compete in a global economy

But that makes it no less sick in my book. The problem is that Obama's agenda on each of these three topics is mediocre; we should be critiquing it constantly, not signing on just because the broad goals sound nice and all.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The new torture accounts

After the U.S. moved 14 detainees from secret prisons to Guantanamo, in 2006, the men were soon interviewed by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Their accounts were not intended to be made public. Now, Mark Danner has obtained them, and printed extensive excerpts. The full Danner article is in the NY Review of Books; the summarized version (3300 words) is in Sunday's NYT.

We've heard a fair number of details of torture committed by the U.S.; these are a new set. Will it make a difference in the U.S. debate (if I can even call it that) on bringing Bush Administration officials to justice? My guess is it won't be treated as such a big deal in the media. I wonder, though, if it might get to the consciences of a few of the key Democrats.

Democrats control two branches of the government. Neither of those branches is doing much right now on this. Each is receiving extremely little public pressure on the topic. MoveOn is MIA. A majority of congressional democrats just don't care very much. Maybe this could at least help.

As individuals, we can vow to work against the re-election of any electeds who do not support investigating the Bush Administration. There aren't all that many super-vulnerable Senate Democrats for 2010 who should be targeted, but we should put pressure on those we can (i.e. Reid).

Sixty votes needed for EFCA. Or fewer?

The Employee Free Choice Act will need 60 votes to beat a filibuster attempt, but it will, of course, only need 50 votes to pass. The unions and Democratic leaders have suggested that they might get a few of their members, and one or more republicans, to vote for cloture, even if they go on to vote against the bill, and that'd of course be fine with them.

Is this scenario realistic?

With a big-item bill like this, with a definite filibuster threat, and where there are clearly more than 50 votes (but maybe not 60), voting for cloture but against the bill is, you know, perhaps a bit gimmicky. Maybe you could say it's principled -- that the filibuster should only be used in the most extreme cases, and that you disagree with the bill but aren't stopping it. Certainly's there'be been validity to that in many cases, but in this day and age, where filibustering is frequent, I just don't know that it works that way anymore.

So Senators that voted for cloture but against the bill would be trying to satisfy voters on both sides, as well as the unions and the businesses. But Josh Marshall argues that while you can fool many voters, you can't fool, say, Walmart (he's talking about the Arkansas senators). The businesses will know that if a senator votes for cloture, they have allowed the bill to pass, and they may retaliate against the Senator just as hard.

I'm curious about the other side of the equation -- will a senator who votes for cloture but against the bill be in good stead with the unions? This question could be particularly relevant with Specter. The unions are saying that they will support Specter in the general election if he votes for EFCA.

I think Specter ought to be able to tell the unions: "I can vote for cloture but will vote against the bill. That gets you everything you need from me. So I'll do that, if you pledge to help me afterward."

If Specter or others vote for cloture but against the bill, I think Marshall is right that the businesses will see right through it, and do what they can to punish them. But in the public debate, the issue will dissipate after the vote, and could quickly become inside baseball.


From Walt Handelsman of Newsday..

Monday, March 09, 2009

EFCA update: finally moving ahead, but with rough prospects?

I have yet to see any overly encouraging news on the Employee Free Choice Act. But they are moving ahead with it in Congress sometime soon. Politico reports:
The fight over the so-called card check begins in earnest this week, with thousands of union members and business representatives descending on Capitol Hill to pressure fence-sitters and make their arguments to the public.

TPM has a rundown on some of the swing senators and what they've said recently in their local press. The CW is that the Dems would need to hold all of their votes, plus get Specter.

It is completely unclear if they will hold all of their own votes. But about Specter: what a story. This is a man who Nate Silver now ranks as the most vulnerable incumbent Senator for 2010 -- even more vulnerable for a party switch than any of the open-seat states, like the currently-Republican seat in New Hampshire.

The news last week was that conservative radical Pat Toomey -- who nearly beat Specter in the primary last time -- may indeed be running again. Specter could, like last time, face a much tougher primary than general election -- which could mean his incentive in the coming year would be to tack right, not left. So maybe he'll vote against EFCA.

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted in a feature Sunday on Specter's future:
About 239,000 Pennsylvania voters, most of them likely Republicans, switched to the Democratic party in 2008, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. That means that the GOP voters in the Senate primary next year will be more conservative, and thus less inclined to back Mr. Specter.

In the same article, an AFL-CIO official vows that if Specter does support EFCA, union members will cross over in the primary, taking a Republican ballot and supporting Specter. Touche.

Clarification: Turns out it's not quite so simple. The Post-Gazette article, in its own words, said that the AFL-CIO guy told them that
if Mr. Specter wins his union's endorsement he expects a lot of labor members to cross over in the Republican primary to vote for him.

But Pennsylvania has closed primaries -- registered Democrats can't just show up on primary day and take a Republican ballot. Sure, unions could organize them to change their registration (has to be done well in advance of the election), but that's hard to get a ton of people to do.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

LAT: Murder, shmurder!

A popular tic of American editorial pages is to support the U.S.-Colombia free trade pact. Sometimes over and over again. And sometimes they just won't let facts get in their way.

One key issues is the murder of unionists in Colombia. The numbers are indeed down from where they were years ago, but they're still extremely high, perhaps higher than anywhere else in the world. Yet here was the LAT on Wednesday:

"The government responded by protecting organizers and prosecuting their attackers. Activists should declare victory and move on."

has a nice takedown of the whole thing.

I'd note that it's actually true, technically speaking, that the Colombian government has prosecuted individuals who attacked unionists.. in a tiny, tiny number of cases, that is!

The good news, in all of this, is that while most American editorial pages (even the NYT) are willing to bargain away these human lives for a trade deal, Congressional democrats are, impressively, not -- they've held firm against the pact.

Friday, March 06, 2009

22 Dems blocking DC voting rights progress

Twenty-two Senate Democrats -- along with all of the Republicans, minus Dick Lugar -- have stood in the way of D.C. moving toward getting a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. It's unclear what will happen now.

The backstory: with a Democratic President and a larger Senate majority, there was hope this year of at least winning a House seat for D.C. (which may or may not withstand a court challenge on the constitutionality of giving a vote to a place that is not one of the "many states").

There was plenty of support in the House; it was in the Senate that it was a bit closer. But the Dems seemed to have the votes to go ahead. Then John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, introduced an amendment that would abolish "nearly all of the city's gun regulations" (the Post's words), and specify that the District "shall not have the authority to enact laws or regulations that discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms."

The amendment passed, 62-36. Minutes later, the Senate passed the bill, 61-37.

But the damage was done. There's fairly wide agreement in D.C. that removing the gun laws we do have would be disastrous. It's unclear now if the two chambers can reconcile with a bill that doesn't remove our existing gun restrictions, and get both to pass it.

So who are those 22 Dems who joined the Republicans (minus Lugar) in messing this whole thing up?

Baucus (MT)
Bayh (IN)
Begich (AK)
Bennet (CO)
Byrd (WV)
Casey (PA)
Conrad (ND)
Dorgan (ND)
Feingold (WI)
Hagan (NC)
Johnson (SD)
Landrieu (LA)
Lincoln (AR)
McCaskill (MO)
Nelson (NE)
Pryor (AR)
Reid (NV)
Tester (MT)
Udall (CO)
Udall (NM)
Warner (VA)
Webb (VA)

Feingold is certainly the most shocking. I just don't get it. He doesn't even have a serious challenge coming up in 2010, by all accounts -- not that that would make the vote okay. And then there's Reid. And all of those new people we thought we were at least a little bit excited about winning, like Hagan and Udall. Byrd and Baucus trumped them all: they went on to vote against the bill.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

This one goes to 11

Going into today, it had been fully six months since the Washington Post put a Facebook story on the front page, a stunning and hope-inducing gap that suggested the bad-old-days were over. In those days, the Post published 10 front page stories on Facebook in two years. Then the gap began, just days after a new Executive Editor, Marcus Brauchli, began his job in September.

That all came to an end this morning, with "Offbeat Name? Then Facebook's No Friend" by Style section writer Monica Hesse.

Hesse has had two previous pieces focusing on Facebook, both inside the Style section: a December 2007 piece about academics studying Facebook. and an August 2007 think piece on Facebook and what it means for networking, or something (ok, I just skimmed it). But this marks her entry to the, uh, not-so-exclusive club of A1 Facebook byliners.

Today's piece is an amusing look at people who have unusual names, such as Caitlin Batman Shaw, and how Facebook rejects them. They have to complain to Facebook, sometimes repeatedly, and submit identification to eventually be allowed in. The piece says Facebook's rejection of them is about more than just an inconvenience:
People like them have endured decades of name-related annoyance (No, clever sir. No one else has ever suggested that it would be funny if my first name were Five. You are a genius.) Perhaps they experienced childhood ostracism or contemplated name changes. And when they accepted their own quirky identity -- to share it with the world and connect via Facebook like 175 million other people -- they were prevented from joining the virtual sandbox. Grade school all over again.

Say what you will; I found it all sort of amusing, I'll admit. But is it worthy of A1? Absolutely not. Inside the same edition, there's plenty of important news, such as: the Supreme Court's ruling in Wyeth v. Levine, perhaps one of the more important decisions of the session; a deal between Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, the Obama Administration and the House Judiciary Committee on their testifying before that committee regarding Bush Administration firings of U.S. Attorneys; and Hillary Clinton's "rare public complaint" to Israel for bulldozing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. And that's not to mention that we're in a bit of an economic crisis, we have a couple major wars we're in, and there's that thing called global warming, which I do think is sort of important.

So what's the deal, Marcus? I had such high hopes. I felt like I was really starting to trust you on this. Why'd you do it?

Clinton in Israel

Glenn Kessler has an interesting piece on what exactly is going on this week between Hillary Clinton and Israeli officials. Apparently the Clinton people effectively tell the American reporters that the meetings are very cordial and that Clinton is not criticizing or pressuring the Israelis. But the Israeli press is getting a very different story from Israeli officials, who say Clinton is pressing them hard to negotiate a political solution with Palestinians and for increased aid access to Gaza.

Who knows what's actually going on. It's kind of odd for a U.S. official to claim they are being easier on another country than they are; so often it's the other way (i.e. a U.S. administration will say it is pressing China hard on human rights, when in fact it is prioritizing economic issues). With Israel, it could indeed be this opposite situation Kessler suggests. Clinton could be worried about the backlash back home from the lobby but actually be doing and saying some of the right things over there. Let's hope so.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

No good news on EFCA

I haven't seen any promising news on the prospects of the Employee Free Choice Act in a long time. And now Sam Stein has "Worry Grows Over Dem Defections On EFCA" at Huffington Post. The details are a bit thin, but he basically says that several Dems are indeed looking waver-y.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Off the beat

David Simon, the guy who created The Wire, who used to be a cop reporter for the Baltimore Sun, saw some interesting police misconduct cases in Baltimore go largely unreported recently, and decided he had to pursue them. His piece was in the Sunday Outlook section of the Post.

It's not so much about these specific cases as about what has happened to policing with the decline of the newspaper: there is hardly a watchdog, and now more police departments are becoming accustomed to that, and instituting policies such as not releasing the names of officers in police shootings of civilians. Simon writes:
There is a lot of talk nowadays about what will replace the dinosaur that is the daily newspaper. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers and media pundits have lined up to tell us that newspapers are dying but that the news business will endure, that this moment is less tragic than it is transformational.

Well, sorry, but I didn't trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick's identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn't anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Big changes in NYC

Giant swaths of Broadway in Midtown Manhattan will be converted to pedestrian plazas in a plan unveiled by NYC DOT on Thursday. Streetsblog calls it "arguably, the boldest and most transformative street reclamation project since Portland, Oregon decided to tear down Harbor Drive in 1974."

In Times Square, which currently features 7th ave and Broadway, there will be just a 4-lane 7th ave. In Herald Square, there will be no through downtown avenue, with the space in front of Macy's becoming a plaza. There will be plazas and a bike lane all the way from Columbus Circle to Union Square.

Here's the beofre-and-after art for Times Square: