Friday, July 31, 2009

Why do they do that?

At Mother Jones, Dave Gilson reviews the New Yorker's article on Michael Savage. And is very unimpressed.

Really, guys?

From Thursday's Democracy Now:
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a startling two-part series that has just been published in the Gazette newspaper of Colorado Springs called “Casualties of War.” It examines a part of war seldom discussed by the media or government officials: the difficulty of returning to civilian life after being trained to be a killer.

Discussed enough in the media? Certainly not. But "seldom"? No.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Back to 1918?

If Manny and Big Papi indeed used performance-enhancing drugs (that they tested positive in 2003), as the NYT is reporting today, does this put an asterisk by the world series victories this decade? (There's a long running debate in the baseball world with how to deal with the records and statistics set in the steroid era, and books could be written on the subject, if they haven't already).

But anyhow, if you subscribe to the idea that the steroids at least taint the record in some way, then you could say we're back to the Red Sox not having won a legitimate world series since 1918.

In which case, being a Red Sox fan could have meaning again.

(braces for criticism).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Beijing pledges to reduce executions

Andrew Jacobs' write-up on this is good.

It's hard to know, but executions have probably been going down, and it's quite possible this means they'll go down a bunch more. But, it's hard to know the full story since the government doesn't release the data.

Still, this is an example of the international pressure over the years having a positive effect.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why the U.S. should withhold 15% of Merida Initiative aid to Mexico

(For background on U.S. aid to Mexico, see my earlier "The Mexican Military's Torture")

So has Mexico met the human rights conditions that Congress set out when it initiated the Merida Initiative? Or no?

Human Rights Watch laid this out earlier this month. It's pretty simple. Mexico hasn't met the conditions. Most notably, they are still not prosecuting torture/abuse cases in civilian courts.

So, by the rules that Congress set out, and a simple look at the facts, the State Department should withhold 15% of the funding.

Whatever they announce, it will be a big deal for US-Mexico relations going forward.

Obama sets a tone for U.S. policy on Human Rights in China

Here are Obama's comments Monday to a visiting Chinese delegation on human rights. I think these are probably alright. The bigger question is what's going on behind the scenes.

Some backstory: when pressured on human rights in China, the Bush Administration responded "If we yell 'you need to improve human rights' to Beijing, it won't be effective." And, strictly speaking, that's probably largely true. However, it's not as if the administration was doing everything it could on the issue behind the scenes. Hardly. Bush -- like many of his predecessors, I believe, though I'm less familiar with that -- genuinely cared about some rights issues in China, but it was a far lower priority than so many other issues in the U.S.-China relationship (i.e. economic issues, North Korea, Iran).

Jaeah Lee of CFR has a piece proposing how the Obama Administration should engage China. Lucia Green-Weiskel also had a provocative piece on this in the Brooklyn Rail last year; she comes at it from one radical left angle ("..Hollywood liberals and Washington neo-cons have formed an unsung and unholy alliance against China.." etc).

Monday, July 27, 2009

NYT does Chicago 2012 developments

Monica Davey's "Recession Shadowing Chicago Bid for Games" looks at the issue of costs -- who will be paying for the games, and to what extent the taxpayers may or may not end up paying a lot.

Good for the people who went to the public forums in Chicago recently; a few of them got themselves quoted.

The one notably odd part of the article was this: "A decision by the International Olympics Committee is due in October, and Chicago is considered a favorite among the four finalists." Huh?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Detroit vs. Chicago: A Brief Photo Essay



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

F-22 funding - how the senate voted

The senate voted today to cut off funding for more F-22 fighters. The Obama administration had pushed the move.

Here's the roll call.

There's a fair amount of crossing over parties in both directions; some Democrats with manufacturing facilities in their states sadly decided they wanted to throw more money at this (i.e. Cantwell, Murray, Dodd, Shaheen, Boxer, Feinstein). In the other direction, Republicans voting on the correct side included Lugar, McCain and Coburn.

The F-22 vote was just part of Robert Gates' initiative to change what kinds of things the military buys (increasing total funding slightly; replacing things like the F-22 with other programs).

Back when Obama appointed Gates, Geithner, Summers, Duncan, Clinton and various other mediocre to bad folks, there was a lot of debate about if maybe there was some good to it -- that these people would actually provide cover for Obama doing progressive things. I was skeptical of that argument, but think the truth remains to be seen.

The case at hand, though, is almost surely a case of this theory being true. Robert Gates could sell to congress the idea of finally bringing F-22 purchases to an end.

Chicago Olympics thought

Carrie linked to this a bit ago. It's a piece in the Chicago Reader by Ben Joravsky -- "An Open Letter to the IOC: Why you don't want to give Chicago the Olympics."

He makes the argument that they just might not be able to do it financially. And he says that while the public opposition is not that visible currently, that really could change when people realize "oh shit, our schools and infrastructure are crumbling, and you want us to spend our tax money this year on what?"

And apart from the money, there's the question of whether they could actually pull it off physically. Sure, it's not Chicago city agencies that would be running the show. But they'd be part of it. And I don't mean to sound anti-government, because I'm not, but I just don't know that they could pull it off. I was talking to a friend who used to work for a Chicago agency and his stories of bureaucracy lived up to all the cliches. Do the Olympics people really want to have the fun of trying to work with that?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Brad Will case, Mexican government moves ahead with its farce

Brad Will was an American citizen who was murdered in Mexico in 2006.

He was, as Rolling Stone put it, the "revolutionary who filmed his own murder." He was filming for Indymedia in Oaxaca during the uprising, or whatever you want to call it.

I last wrote about the story in October, when Mexican prosecutors announced they had found the two men responsible -- despite overwhelming evidence that Will's killers were in fact two different men, men affiliated with the government (see that post for much more of the story).

The news last week was that one of those two men has now been sentenced to prison time. Back in October, the NYT noted that every other murder prosecution from the Oaxaca events had been dropped.

In other words, the Mexican government -- likely at the highest levels -- is going well out of its way to make a show of justice in the Will case, something it doesn't do with most murders. The audience for this justice is not Mexican, of course, but American.

But it is a show of justice based on an obviously-flawed hypothesis -- a fake case. The question is, what will the American audience say? Will we look at the analysis of Mexico's National Human Rights Commission and other groups who have pointed to very deep flaws in the investigation?

Unfortunately, the response from Washington is still mostly one of avoidance. Several members of Congress, including Senator Durbin, have admirably raised the issue (Brad's parents live in Illinois; he grew up in Kenilworth). But from so many others there's just silence. Obama did not express the concern that Durbin did. Brad lived in Brooklyn, but his Senators looked the other way.

Now Clinton and Obama are in power, and nothing has visibly changed.

Will one of them finally speak out publicly about the Mexican investigation and say "we don't want fake justice, we want real justice!" ?

For all the Barack or Hillary fans out there, think of Brad when you think of them.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Mark Weisbrot jumps in, makes a few phone calls, and convinces himself that the Iranian election was definitely fair.

You can't be an expert in everything.

Another story quashed by the facts!

Some neocons have been concerned about the giant new Iranian embassy in Managua. And even Hillary Clinton was, saying in May that "The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua .. And you can only imagine what that's for."

On Monday's front page, the Washington Post reports that the whole thing isn't true. Good for them.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Green week at Taco Bell

Taco Bell's New Green Menu Takes No Ingredients From Nature

Review of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings

Dahlia Lithwick writes a review of the upcoming Sotomayor hearings.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Mexican Military's Torture

In "Mexico Accused of Torture in Drug War; Army Using Brutality To Fight Trafficking, Rights Groups Say" the Washington Post's Steve Fainaru and William Booth do an impressive job of getting at some of what the Mexican military has been up to. It's surely not an easy story to report.

The Mexican government faces an extremely difficult situation, where they are on the verge of essentially losing control over parts of the country. I don't think they're torturing many people just for the heck of it; they really think they're doing what is necessary to get information on the cartels. Of course, torturing people is not going to work.

The U.S. has a fairly big amount of leverage over Mexico. When we authorized the "Merida Initiative" in 2008, providing hundreds of million of dollars in funding toward the Mexican government, congress attached human rights provisions (after extensive lobbying from Amnesty International and other groups) saying a portion (15%) of the funding was dependent on Mexico's human rights performance (the Post article reviews this). If that sound symbolic, it's because it is, but it's an important symbolic.

If anyone in the executive or Congress tries to say Mexico is passing the test, that'd be silly. Withholding part of the funding -- even though it doesn't really matter that much in the scope of Mexico's military operations -- would be a significant rebuke. And it could get Mexico to change it's action. Paternalistic, yes, and that's a critique from some of the Mexican left. Yet this is paternalism that could save lives.

The history of US-Colombia relations in the last decade or so is different, but relevant. The actions of the Colombian government are still awful, yet not as awful as they were before. All of the pressure from the human rights groups and some congressional Dems didn't stop all of the killing, but it certainly made a difference.

Doing time

I'm always talking about "doing time." I got it from my great uncle. It can mean anything, really. "I did a few years in New York," or "she did some time on the hill."

Sometimes people give me funny looks, as if "doing time" necessarily has to do with prison. Nonsense.

And so I was very happy to read Tom Sietsema's restaurant review in this weekend's Post magazine. Regarding chef George Vetch of C.F. Folks:
The Swiss native has done time at a lot of Washington restaurants -- among them the Oval Room, Cirlce Bistro and the late Etrusco -- but to hear him talk, his latest gig might be his best yet.

Friday, July 10, 2009


This reminds me of how the NYT was covering the Mets a few years ago. Here's how the Washington Post lead their article on Wednesday night's Nationals game:
DENVER, July 8 -- If ever there comes a day, years from now, when historians gather up the courage to revisit the 2009 Washington Nationals, perhaps they can begin and end their study with a quick, purposeful look at the 21 1/2 hours between 6:40 p.m. Tuesday and 4:14 p.m. Wednesday.

In that span, the Washington Nationals lost two baseball games. They committed six errors, not that they didn't try for more. The final innings of their latest defeat, a 10-4 afternoon decision against Colorado at Coors Field, unfolded at a deadening pace suited to stop matter itself.

So yes, there is a twisted sort of history here. Uniquely adept at losing, unmatched in their willingness to make a beautiful sport unsightly, the Nationals finished perhaps their most degenerative series of the year with help from every comer.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Fred Hiatt and Robert McNamara

What would the Washington Post editorial page do with the death of Robert McNamara? I braced myself before I read. Sure enough, McNamara turned out not too bad.

McNamara was "vilified" by the anti-war folks. But in the end McNamara was just a "tragic character." You see:
Vietnam was called "McNamara's War" by one of his Senate critics, and to some degree the term stuck. But in truth, no appointed official makes a war on his own, or with the intellectual brilliance of his analysis. Any president, once forces are involved in a conflict, is under intense political pressure not to "lose" the war, as are members of Congress.
Right, so... It's not all McNamara's fault. True. But that's not the point. I mean, you could point to any individual Nazi high officer, and say it wasn't all their fault, and that doesn't really matter in terms of deciding whether their legacy is a positive or negative one.

The point is that McNamara played a roll in leading to the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. It's an interesting question as to how significant his role was, but regardless of the answer, it doesn't change that he was terrible, right?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Froomkin's new gig

Dan Froomkin has now been picked up by the Huffington Post. Glenn Greenwald has some backstory on the firing and the hiring.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Newsweek misspells OSHA

I haven't had much of a chance to check out the new and revised Newsweek. This week, though, they have an anti-EFCA piece by a small business owner, Kevin Kelly, and (at least in the online version) it mentions "OHSA" and the "Occupational Health and Safety Administration." Of course, the agency is actually OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

It also has an issue with an apostrophe:
We also know that some union contracts strictly limit the ability of managers to help run or setup machinery, something that would deeply hurt our company, where supervisor's often wield wrenches.
What's the deal?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Obama and Chavez

Who knows what the real story is. But for what it's worth, Tom Hayden is saying this:
According to eyewitness sources, under the apparently blind eye of the global media, the two leaders had lengthy conversations. The media covered the friendly photo of the initial handshake between the two leaders, then made much ado about an apparently-impertinent Chavez handing Obama a book in Spanish by Eduardo Galleano.

What has not been reported is that Obama, leaving his advisers behind, held lengthy private conversations with Chavez where only an interpreter was present. It is not known what occurred in the secret talks. But sources in Caracas say that Chavez has become fascinated with Obama, seeking to understand the new US president and the forces around him, partly with advice from Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

NYT Editorial: mullahs "stole" Iranian election

The NYT editorial page has firmed up their wording to describe the Iranian election. Here's the passage from their editorial Friday:
.. the hard-line mullahs brazenly stole the election for the hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
That's an even more explicit declaration than their previous takes.

Their June 18 editorial:
Government authorities bulldozed the results of last week’s presidential election — declaring the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the winner by a landslide before the votes could be credibly counted.
And June 15:
There is no transparency or accountability in Iran, so we may never know for sure what happened in the presidential election last week. But given the government’s even more than usually thuggish reaction, it certainly looks like fraud.

Although a runoff was widely expected between the two top vote-getters, the polls had barely closed before authorities declared victory for the hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And it was a landslide: 62.6 percent versus just less than 34 percent for the main challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi.

We understand why so many Iranians found that impossible to believe. Mr. Moussavi had drawn hugely enthusiastic crowds to his campaign rallies, and opposition polls suggested that he, not Mr. Ahmadinejad, was the one with the commanding lead. Even more improbably, and cynically, authorities claimed that Mr. Ahmadinejad carried all of his opponents’ hometowns — including Mr. Moussavi’s — by large margins.


If the election were truly “real and free” as Mr. Ahmadinejad insisted, the results would be accepted by the voters and the government would not have to resort to such repression.


The only choice is negotiations backed by credible incentives and tough sanctions. Even if the mullahs had allowed Mr. Moussavi to win, that would still be true.
Now, mind you, I think they did steal the election. I can't prove it, though. I'm not sure it's so responsible to describe it as a fact.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Post again says Israeli settlement are not legal internationally

A month ago, the Washington Post referred to Israeli settlements as "legal under Israeli law but not internationally." As I wrote at the time, this was the first case in months, if not years, that a top U.S. outlet had put the illegality in its own words in the news pages, and that was an excellent development. But I wasn't sure if it was just a fluke or a permanent policy chance.

It may be the latter. On Wednesday, in "Barak, U.S. Envoy Discuss Settlements", also by Glenn Kessler, we get:
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 to transfer "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
Impressive. Good for the Post.