Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jarrett Barrios to be next ED of GLAAD

Oh, ha, they announced this a couple of weeks ago. Jarrett was our state rep and then state senator back in the day. Everyone thought he was headed toward statewide office in MA, though this sure seems to make that less likely (especially as GLAAD is in NYC). But anyhow, GLAAD does some very good stuff. You ever notice how some media outlets switched over the years from "homosexual" to "gay"? Some of that was their work.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Coup, not a coup

Yes, coup in Honduras. And in fact the majors have been good, all using the word coup, which is pretty straightforward here (I checked NYT, WP, LAT, AP, NPR). The ever-snarktastic BoRev.Net has a nice rundown on the conservatives who are trying to claim it is not a coup (and an earlier post with more), and catch some of the majors in confusion over what the referendum was about.

The Washington Post editorial page weighs in in Tuesday's edition: ok, so, they shouldn't have, like, arrested him and expelled him from the country, but, their hearts were in the right place.

Venezuela censoring news of Iran protests.. Not!

BoRev.net has a great catch: the Washington Post put a story online with this lede:
"Out of fear that history might repeat itself, the authoritarian regimes of Cuba, China, Burma and Venezuela have been selectively censoring the news this month of Iranian crowds braving government militias on the streets of Tehran to demand government reforms."
But then further down the story reported, accurately, that in fact Venezuela had done no such thing. Oops! As BoRev says "Another awesome story has been DESTROYED, by reporting." The Post fixed the story on the website, and had it fixed in time for Saturday's paper.

Troy Davis update

Two developments in the Troy Davis case:
  • The U.S. Supreme Court didn't announce anything today, meaning that they won't announce till the fall whether they're doing something with the case. They once previously held the execution but then decided not to take it up; this is a seperate appeal from that one.
  • In an impressive bit of reporting, the AP's Russ Bynum and Greg Bluestein tracked down many of the jurors from the original trial to ask them what they think now. It doesn't add all that much new, as some of these folks had already spoken with Davis' attorneys a couple years ago (and in some cases expressed doubts about his guilt). It doesn't change anything factually, but it could change something in the court of the public opinion -- that some of these jurors now say they don't feel sure, or don't think he should be put to death.
For more info and to write to the new (as of last year) Chatham County DC, see Amnesty's Troy Davis page.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Going around marriage in Utah

Lisa Duggan's article in The Nation this week has gotten almost no attention in the blogotubes, and it's too bad. She says that queer rights organizing in Utah could be a model for how to get shit done.

The Democracy Now interview (video and transcript) is here.

Waxman-Markey: how they voted, and the outlook

On Friday, the House passed sweeping legislation that would, among other things, set up a cap-and-trade system for carbon.

The bill passed 219-212. The NYT has the roll call here. 211 Dems and 8 Republicans voted yes. 44 Dems said no -- mostly conservatives, but there were also at least 2 who voted against it from the left (Kucinich and DeFazio -- of the Eugene / coastal Oregon district -- are the ones I saw, though perhaps there could be another or few I'm missing). (UPDATE 6/29: There's a third -- Pete Stark of CA. As noted on 538.)

The Senate will now have to make their own bill, pass it, and reconcile it with the House bill. Boxer says she hopes to have it out of her committee before the August recess; a vote could come in the fall -- or anytime before the end of the session in 2010. Somehow, just somehow, it would have to get 60 votes in the Senate.

For an analysis of the politics and outlook going forward, see Nate Silver.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My analysis: Metro operator likely hit brakes at least 3.8 seconds before collision (and possibly way earlier)

Alright, I haven't seen any media outlet do the kinematic equations using the numbers we have so far on this, so I've done it.

  • Metro trains, generally and in that specific section of track, are not supposed to exceed 59 mph (86.533 feet/sec)
  • The NTSB's 1996 report on the Metro collision at Shady Grove reports that the maximum braking, or emergency braking acceleration is: 3.2 mph/sec, +/- .2 mph/sec (4.693 feet/second per second)
  • Investigators say the brakes appear to have been operated 300 to 400 feet before the collision point.
Using kinematic equation [v2 = vo2 + 2a(X - Xo)] to solve for final velocity, and then [V = Vo + at] to solve for time, I find that, if the train had been going at maximum speed (and it's very unlikely that it would have accelerated up to that fast in just 1-3 blocks):

If 300 foot braking distance, final speed was 46.6 mph and time to collission was 3.87 seconds.
If 400 foot braking distance, final speed was 41.7 mph and time to collission was 5.42 seconds.

Please note, this is all somewhat approximate, and this is based solely on the 3.2 mph/sec deceleration estimate -- something that's obviously not precise. I suppose deceleration could have been a bit higher than normal given the relativley empty train.

Also, again, these are maximums -- using the 59 mph speed, which I must reiterate, I think is unlikely.

Now, 41.7 mph is easily enough for one car to jump over, or "telescope" over another. In the 1996 Shady Grove crash, the train was estimated to be going 22-29 mph. In the 2004 Woodley Park crash, the train was estimated to be going 37 mph. In both cases, the telescoping was, at least at first glance, somewhat similar to in this case.

(I got those numbers from Matt Johnson's comprehensive post at Greater Greater Washington exploring the safety differences between the different series of Metro rail cars. See also his earlier post explaining the systems that are supposed to keep trains seperated).

But in conclusion, it is unlikely that the operator did not hit the brakes at least a few seconds before the collision. If the train had been traveling slower than 59 mph, and I think it probably was going much slower, then the braking time could easily have been several seconds longer than that. Given the right curve in the track, and the operator sitting on the right side of the train, it's unclear that the operator would even have been able to see the train ahead all that much more than several hundred feet in advance, no matter how much she was paying attention.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Crunch time on Waxman-Markey

It's crunch time: the Dems in the House have scheduled a vote for Friday on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, which would, among other things, create a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions.

Getting something through the Senate will be the real challenge, but the House has been no piece of cake. Waxman and Markey have had to make a lot of concessions on the bill to get these 'moderate' Dems on board, and it's quite frustrating to watch. Almost all of the bigger enviro groups are totally on board, but there are plenty of enviros who are criticizing it from the left, saying "um, this is not good enough, this would probably not save the world, actually" which is a fair point.

I think Yglesias makes some good points about the politics and the big picture scenarios:

There’s simply nobody else in Congress whose record of progressive legislative accomplishments can hold a candle to Waxman’s. When you draw intersecting curves of “what needs to be done” and “what can realistically be done,” Waxman has time and again put himself at the intersection, and I think it involves a fair amount of hubris to think that you know better than him what the best feasible legislative outcome is.

That said, there’s really no getting around the fact that the best feasible legislative outcome isn’t good enough according to the climate science. What we’re left with is essentially the hope for an iterative process—a flawed bill that makes progress helps spur a productive meeting in Copenhagen helps spur some kind of bilateral deal with China which helps create the conditions for further domestic legislation. I think this is the best idea anyone has, but it’s a pretty dicey proposition. Bottom line is that to get a better bill you need a situation wherein a non-trivial number of Republicans are willing to contemplate emissions reductions. Faced with uniform Republican support for untrammeled pollution, the only viable legislative path involves buying off every Democrat.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kosher as 'okay' or 'clean'

I don't see any reason why the word 'kosher' would need to refer only to food. Jess may have been the one who introduced me to using the word for a variety of things. It means that something is good, or clean, or acceptable. Or it can mean content -- i.e. "Would you like some more water?" -- "Naw, I'm kosh."

Anyhow, I was very pleased when I opened up Today's Papers on Slate this morning. The headline? "Iran's Guardian Council: Election Was Kosher."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Incitement to violence

Columnists on the left have been doing a good job pounding away at the link between right wing talkers and right wing violence (most recently i.e. Bob Herbert on Saturday; Gabriel Winant's piece on O'Reilly's demonization of Tiller was also important).

The point is this: right wing extremists who have committed attacks in the U.S. (the murders in Pittsburgh the other month are the other recent example) have, in many cases, cited conspiracy theories that big-name right wing talkers helped spread. One key one was the notion that the Obama Administration was going to be setting up concentration camps, a notion that Glenn Beck even once mentioned on air (though he later took it back) -- an issue that the Pittsburgh shooter mentioned as one of his causes.

Colbert King was ahead of most of the pack; he was writing about this issue as something to watch out for after the Tiller murder, but before the Holocaust Museum attack. "Words have consequences," he warned.

So, is there blood on their hands? I'm not sure the link is direct enough yet, but maybe I could be convinced.

Ultimately, if you are someone concerned about right wing violence in this country, here's one potential avenue for action: boycotting companies that advertise on Hannity, Beck, O'Reilly, etc.

I mean, here's the theoretical scenario: some guy attacks the president. It turns out that guy was upset because the president was going to take his guns away. Which actually isn't true. But it's been suggested by various right-wing talkers. Various companies advertise on those shows.

At what point do we decide we shouldn't wait longer before taking action against those companies? I'm not sure.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Washingtonpost.com to cut Dan Froomkin

This is obviously a significant loss. Froomkin has done tremendous work, particularly on torture / detentions. I hope he takes his blog elsewhere. There are plenty of people at the Post who don't know what they're talking about, and one of them could have been cut instead.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guy starts dance party

I guess this is the new hip video. I learned about it from Jason's blog.

Obama and Chicago 2016

On Tuesday, Obama announced the creation of a "White House Olympics office" which will lobby for Chicago 2016.

I wrote in April about some of the reasons Chicago 2016 is a bad idea, and how Obama should see the light and not lobby for it (he could go through the motions without actually pushing too hard).

Kenneth Vogel of Politico has some good detail on the Administration's connection with the Chicago 2016 folks. It turns out there's a lot of overlap, most notably Valerie Jarrett. Yuck.

What works with Obama and the DNC: threatening to withhold donations

So President Obama signed an executive order today extending some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. And he said "I stand by my long-standing commitment to work with Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. It's discriminatory, it interferes with States' rights, and it's time we overturned it."

The move comes after gay bloggers and others announced they were canceling plans to attend a DNC fundraiser next week (some even pledged to demonstrate outside).

I'm not a big John Aravosis fan but he captures the point well on this one:
The White House actually admitted to the NYT that they were offering the benefits to help contain the "growing furor among gay rights groups." How about doing it because it's the right thing to do? How about doing it because you were already planning to do it to help our community, because you recognize us as human beings?
With all due respect, don't our civil rights deserve a bit more attention than some kluge thrown together at the last minute to save a cocktail party?

Chris Geidner has a take on the good and the bad in Obama's language today, as well as a round-up of others' reactions to the announcement.

The honor roll: 32 Dems buck Obama on war funding

On Tuesday, 221 Democrats in the House voted for the $106 billion supplemental for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the IMF. A mere 32 progressives bucked Obama and Pelosi and voted against it. John Nichols has the rundown. Obviously there are lots of disappointments. There are several new members, though, who were brave enough to buck the party leadership, such as Jared Polis (Colorado) and Donna Edwards (Maryland). Rising stars.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Here comes Alvaro!

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will visit with Obama in Washington on June 29, the White House announced Friday. The WH statement makes no mention of discussing human rights.

Uribe has been a frequent visitor in recent years; he comes, among other reasons, to lobby members of congress to approve the free trade agreement, and to woo business leaders and editorial board writers on the subject, so they can then influence members of congress.

Impressively, the Democrats in congress have held firm. Now what?

Reuters notes
Obama, who also opposed the trade deal during last year's presidential election, asked U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in April to work with Congress and Colombia to establish "benchmarks" for Bogota to meet in reducing killings of trade unionists and increasing prosecutions.

Here's what to expect: editorial pages large and small will use the opportunity to criticize Obama, saying he needs to get over his qualms and the pressures from those pesky labor unions, and make the trade deal a reality. It's perfect for the big editorial pages -- they've mostly liked a lot of what Obama has done, but here they'll have the perfect place to criticize him from the right.

Uribe was most recently darlinged by Newsweek, which said it was a good thing that he got his congress to extend the term limits to a second term.

Waxman in the news

Charles Homans' profile of Henry Waxman in Washington Monthly is an enjoyable and inspiring read.

Gosh, it's a good thing he dethroned Dingell. That 137-122 vote has made such a huge difference already.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What's the plan, folks?

There may or my not be some kind of big LGBT rights march in Washington this fall, which would likely be on Columbus day weekend (Oct 11), and may or may not be focused on marriage.

I'm not up on this stuff, but there's been talk of it for a while and it got new attention this week when Cleve Jones (remember, from Milk?) said it should happen. Gay City News rains on the parade a bit, reporting that the national mall is already booked with several other events for each day that weekend. Perhaps another location could be worked out, especially if it were more of a march than a rally.

Now, I know what you're thinking, that's the same weekend as PPP. But PPP is Saturday and this march may be on Sunday, so it could be alright.

But anyhow, the mediocrity of the Obama administration and the Democratic congress so far on LGBT issues in the past few months has and could continue to provide energy for such a march.

I'm really curious what others think about strategy on these issues, as I don't know much in this area. Would a large march be a good thing? (let's say, hypothetically, that we're talking about a march that is progressive enough that it is not only on marriage, but rather has a more broad agenda of 'equality' -- but this is all a subject for another post).

There's a long history of people saying "you should be quiet and not speak out and scare people" (the 1963 March on Washington being a famous example), and so I'm inherently skeptical of any such notions. But certainly that's not to say there couldn't be occasions where they are correct.

What would the role of a large march (a tactic) be as part of a strategy to achieve the larger goals? Is it a good compliment to other tactics?

I'm also really interested in seeing if this march can be organized without a well-funded organization behind it. I think it's absolutely possible (and this depends in part on the level of grassroots energy), but I also think plenty of things could go wrong.

Responses to Obama's Cairo speech from the left

I'll go in alphabetical order. Ali Abunimah makes a concise case against, saying that describing a tension between "America and Islam" is the same old notion of the monolithic "Muslim world", who have to prove themselves not to be terrorist sympathizers. He says that a stop to "natural growth" of the settlements isn't something to get that excited about -- the settlements are still there, and Obama's not saying they ever won't be. Phyllis Bennis provides the detailed analysis of how Obama's language differed from past U.S. statements, finding that Obama made all sorts of good first steps, but that the actual changes to U.S. policy were minimal (I guess that was sort of the analysis of some of the traditional media, but hers is better). Overall, she gives a mixed review. Noam Chomsky gives a thumbs-down, in a piece that is way too long for me. I did notice that while Chomsky is a two-stater, he's not impressed with Obama, or John Kerry, on the issue. Robert Dreyfuss says Obama hit a home run.

Monday, June 08, 2009

NYT saga on detainees who 'rejoined' Jihad wraps up

NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt took top editors to task on Sunday for the May 21 lead story, "1 In 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds." (No sense in linking to the story because it's been changed from the original version).

The central problem in the May 21 article: it's unclear how many of these prisoners were 'rejoining' jihad -- in fact, there's plenty of evidence that many of them were not 'fighting' in any way before they were imprisoned at Gitmo, but then fought afterward because of their Gitmo experience. Minor difference! Also, there's the problem that the figure is actually 1 in 20; 1 in 7 includes cases that even the Pentagon isn't alleging are confirmed. And then there's the problem that the Pentagon has put out these kinds of numbers many times before, and been easily disproved. For example, three of the people the Pentagon once listed as leaving Gitmo and then fighting were, in fact, not fighting at all, but simply involved in the production of a documentary critical of Gitmo.

The Times also issued an editors note about the issue on Friday.

The primary hero of this tale is TPM's Jutin Elliott, the blogger most responsible for taking on the NYT on this for the past weeks; his coverage is here.

The other hero is Clark Hoyt, who has sometimes been oddly defensive of the paper, but came out swinging here, hard:
But the article on which he based that statement was seriously flawed and greatly overplayed. It demonstrated again the dangers when editors run with exclusive leaked material in politically charged circumstances and fail to push back skeptically. The lapse is especially unfortunate at The Times, given its history in covering the run-up to the Iraq war.

Ouch. Those are wounds that need to be re-opened, and often, but rarely are.

Elisabeth Bumiller -- the reporter who wrote the Gitmo story -- comes out looking like, well, Elisabeth Bumiller. She points out that this wasn't something the Pentagon handed to her, but rather a document she had to convince a Pentagon-critical source to hand over. That's relevant to know, but doesn't change the fact that she got the premise wrong.

The other folks who come out of this saga looking not-so-good are Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet and standards editor Craig Whitney, each of whom rushed to defend the story after it was initially criticized.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Obama's speech and the Iranian elections

Am I crazy, or was Obama's speech significantly intended to influence the outcome of the Iranian elections? I mean, surely they could have scheduled this speech for sometime other than eight days before the vote (June 4 and June 12).

This question has gotten some attention (i.e. CSM, foxnews.com) but it sure hasn't been the focus.

It will be impossible to know with certainly what effect Obama's speech has on the election. Polling in Iran is hardly reliable, and there are plenty of other factors.

If I had to guess, I'd bet that Obama knows well what he's doing, and that his speech could indeed move votes form Ahmadinejad to Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Perhaps not too many analysts on any side want to say anything about the effect of Obama's speech for fear that their analysis will look silly if the other candidate wins. It's possible, say, that Obama's speech could move votes toward Mousavi, yet Mousavi could still lose (I'm pre-emptively defending myself! I make no predictions about the election outcome). Without good polling, though, who knows where the candidates stood before the speech.

After the election, though, there ought to be lots of spin from all sides! (well, not from the Obama Administration itself, which wouldn't, presumably, directly brag if it felt it had successfully influenced a foreign election).

If Mousavi wins, what will the neocons do?! They'd have to find someone new to get riled up about.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Ethan Bronner: "Iran seems to be hurtling toward nuclear weapons capacity"

Here's the beginning of Ethan Bronner's otherwise-interesting news analysis, "Obama Pins Mideast Hope on Limiting Settlements" on Saturday's A1:
Iran seems to be hurtling toward nuclear weapons capacity, Hezbollah could win Sunday’s election in Lebanon and Hamas is smuggling long-range rockets into Gaza again. So why is President Obama focusing such attention on the building of homes by Israeli Jews in the West Bank?

That, in essence, is the question being angrily posed by the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and underscores one of the biggest shifts in American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in three decades.

Hurtling toward nuclear weapons capacity?! Oh my. That's not even the U.S. government's position. Or anything close to it.

It kind of reminds me of the 2002-2003 days, when reporters were casually referring to "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction".

Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama mostly saying the right things on climate change

Climate Progress notes that Obama said this today in Germany:
As I told Chancellor Merkel, unless the United States and Europe, with our large carbon footprints, per capita carbon footprints, are willing to take some decisive steps, it’s going to be very difficult for us to persuade countries that on a per capita basis at least are still much less wealthy, like China or India, to take the steps that they’re going to need to take in controlling carbon emissions.

It seems so simple, and yet, so many (and we're talking Democrats) don't get it. Instead, they just repeat the point that, in the future, China will be a much larger total carbon emitter than the U.S. (true!), ignoring the fact that presently -- and for the foreseeable future -- we are much higher emitters per capita.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Washington Post Refers to Israeli Settlements as Not Legal Internationally

In a stark change from past policy, the Washington Post referred to Israeli settlements in Tuesday's news pages as "legal under Israeli law but not internationally."

The development marks the first time in months -- perhaps many years -- that a top U.S. media outlet has labeled the settlements as in violation of international law. It's an appropriate move and the Post deserves praise.

The new language came in "Israeli Minister's Visit Aims To Calm Settlements Dispute" by state department reporter Glenn Kessler.

The Post, like many other U.S. news outlets, does not, in its own words, label the settlements as illegal under international law. It sometimes quotes individuals or cites groups who say that they are illegal. Often, the issue of illegality is not brought up at all -- except referring to outposts that are illegal under Israeli law, which confuses people into believing that some settlements are illegal and others are legal.

Other top U.S. outlets have similarly thrown their hands up on the issue. The New York Times has settled on the formulation that "much of the world" considers the settlements illegal under international law, language it first introduced in 2005. Some NYT articles note that the settlements are considered illegal by the E.U. and the U.N. (that's referring to security council resolutions). NPR also goes with the two-sides-to-the-story, i.e. "And what Israeli officials call expansion of a neighborhood of the united Jerusalem, the Palestinians call an illegal settlement. Har Homa is built on land Israel captured and annexed after the 1967 Mideast war, annexation the Palestinians and much of the international community view as illegal." The LATimes had mostly been the best, most recently saying that the settlements are "nearly universally seen as a violation of international law" and previously reporting the "near-universal contention that its established settlements violate international law." The AP, on the other hand, almost always avoids the issue of illegality altogether, instead simply noting, i.e., that "The U.S. considers Israel's 121 settlements to be obstacles to peace, since they are built on territory claimed by the Palestinians" or that Israel's annexation of East Juraselam was a "move not recognized by the international community."

This is one of those issues where there are multiple sides to the story, but trying to report the multiple sides is actually quite misleading -- because of the near-consensus on the issue. Sure, there are a few legal scholars out there who agree with Israel's contention that the settlements aren't illegal. There are also some scholars out there who say some other pretty crazy things. At some point, the media outlet must do its audience a service and call a spade a spade, and not mislead by implying some ambiguity.

Anyhow, the Post's language on Tuesday could be a conscious shift -- or perhaps just a slip. I'm awfully curious.

Here's the full paragraph:
There are more than 120 settlements in the occupied West Bank that are legal under Israeli law but not internationally. The Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel ratified in 1951, forbids an occupying power from transferring "parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies," but Israel disputes that this provision applies to settlements. Israel seized the West Bank and other territories in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Scotusblog is getting attention. Yet (sadly) it is not that influential.

SCOTUSblog, and its founder, Tom Goldstein, have gotten a lot of attention in the past week since the Sotomayor nomination. The site has been around for six years, and it's been an incredibly useful resource. It's getting more attention now in part because of Goldstein's impressive predictions, and his analysis of Sotomayor, pre-empting conservative criticisms and reviewing her record of opinions thoroughly.

In the moments and days after the nomination, Goldstein was quoted a lot. And on Monday, Howard Kurtz profiled Goldstein and the site.

That's mostly good -- I'm all for the traditional media giving alternative media fair recognition.

Unfortunatley, though, I don't think Goldstein is as influential as Kurtz paints him to be. If you read FAIR's analysis of the Sotomayor coverage so far, they argue that the news has been heavily built on conservative criticisms. Those conservative ideas are what is driving the media agenda; Goldstein's analysis, which said that she is relatively moderate, is getting less attention.

How long does it take a speed reader to read 900 pages aloud?

A while.

The other week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman was trying to get the climate change bill through his committee (the bill that would create a cap-and-trade system -- it's not that great, but it'd be a huge step). But Rep. Joe Barton, the esteemed ranking member of the committee, wanted to stop the progress. He threatened that he might make the clerk read the whole 948-page bill (and possibly all of the amendments the Republicans proposed).

In the end, Barton didn't make them read the bill. But Waxman had already hired a speed reader, just in case, so Barton indulged and had the speed reader read the first bit of the bill:

Even with that guy, it still would have taken a long time to read the thing -- about 9 hours, according to the WSJ. Climate Progress has more.