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A Brief Note On the Latest Silly Season Controversy About Nothing

[ 150 ] July 15, 2008 |

I’m going to go even beyond where bean is and straight-up endorse the views of Edroso and the Editors. On the proposition that all satire requires extensive belaboring-the-obvious signaling lest some complete idiot misunderstand the point, I vote “no.” On the proposition that everything in a magazine (or movie or song or whatever) should be precisely calibrated so as to weigh its potential partisan impact, I vote “double hell no, you want to be like those NRO tools who decry the wrongthink in movie trailers and are only capable of enjoying “Clampdown” if they can convince themselves that it was really an endorsement of Reagan’s policies in El Salvador?”

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I Wonder What He Means by "Neutralize"

[ 8 ] July 15, 2008 |

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak:

“If we see the development of systems that could reduce our deterrent potential, our military will have to take steps to neutralize the threat,” Kislyak was quoted as saying at a briefing in Moscow.

He did not specify the steps that would be taken, saying, “This will be decided by military specialists.”

“We would prefer not to have to do this,” he added.

I would assume, if he’s serious and not simply engaged in bluster, that this means refurbishing the Soviet missile force, perhaps rebuilding the MRBM force, and developing weapons intended to target the missile defense sites themselves.

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DDG-1000 Down at the Bow

[ 15 ] July 14, 2008 |

It looks as if procurement of the DDG-1000, also known as the DD(X) or Zumwalt class destroyer, may end at 2. The $2.5 billion ship is designed to attack land targets with missiles and long range precision gunfire, and uses stealth technology and an experimental hull. The motivating concept is the need for a ship that could counter a 1990 style Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; the ship, protected by stealth, would maul an army moving in the open. In addition to massive cost overruns, the perceived need for such a vessel has waned. The initial production expectation was 32; this dropped to 24, and more recently to 7. Instead, it looks as if the Navy will pursue additional DD-51 (Arleigh Burke) destroyers, and use the two DDG-1000s already ordered as technology demonstrators and test vehicles for future ships.

Danger Room has much more.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 1 ] July 14, 2008 |

Franklin Roosevelt, statement on Bastille Day, 14 July 1943:

The fourteenth of July is, for all the peoples of the world, devoted to the ideals of Liberty, a day of celebration. We observe it this year, here in the United States, with special fervor. Immortal France has reaffirmed once again, in the most heroic circumstances, her greatness and her glory.

On this anniversary of the winning by the French people of their liberties, I wish to recall again that the fundamental principles which guide our democracies were evolved from the American and the French Revolutions. The keystone of our democratic structure is the principle which places governmental authority in the people, and in the people only. There can be one symbol only for Frenchmen- France herself. She transcends all parties, personalities, and groups: They live indeed only in the glory of French nationhood.

One of our war aims, as set forth in the Atlantic Charter, is to restore the mastery of their destinies to the peoples now under the invaders’ yoke. There must be no doubt, anywhere, of the unalterable determination of the United Nations to restore to the oppressed peoples their full and sacred rights.

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Corrupt Bastards Update

[ 0 ] July 14, 2008 |

Nearly ever member of Alaska’s Corrupt Bastards Caucus has now been indicted, with only Ted Stevens and his son Ben awaiting their turn to be stripped and deloused.

The latest charges, against state Sen. John Cowderly, are as hilarious as all the rest. According to the indictment, Cowderly arranged for $25,000 worth of campaign donations from VECO — an oil and gas pipeline company — to be delivered to a mildly recalcitrant colleague; the recipient of the money (which was apparently never actually secured) was then supposed to vote in favor of an oil tax bill that VECO favored. Cowderly allegedly facilitated the bribery during a breakfast meeting at a popular diner in Anchorage; FBI agents were eating in the adjacent booth and recorded everything. Later, they recorded telephone conversations in which Rick Smith — one of several VECO executives who later pled guilty to extortion, bribery and fraud — recommended that the target of the bribe be told that it was “come to Jesus time.” Brilliant.

Other fun trivia from the Alaska corruption probe: Jim Clark, former chief of staff to our loathsome ex-Gov. Frank Murkowski, used some of his bribe money to run a poll to discover whether his boss was actually as widely despised as everyone seemed to believe at the time. Murkowski, of course, finished third in his own party primary two years ago. I’ve often thought Clark should be charged with additional crimes simply for pushing his bribe money down a rat hole like that.

Correction/clarification: This original post was incorrect to suggest that Jim Clark received money personally; Clark has admitted to spending VECO money in violation of Alaska campaign law, but I was wrong to write that any of the money was “his” to spend….

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Oh THAT New Yorker Cover

This one.

While I’ll agree with…oh, just about everyone that the drawing plays right into the hands of Faux News et al., I can’t say that I agree with Atrios’s summary:

Since it’s the controversy of the day, let me make my views more clear. It obviously was an attempt at satire, but it fails. It represents the basic stuff that you get from the Right about Obama, but it neither mocks nor exaggerates them. It’s a sad state of affairs that conservatives are hard to satirize or parody because they’re so insane, but that’s where we are.

Well, yes, the far right is so insane these days that it is hard to satirize them. But I think does the trick. It *does* exaggerate the stuff they say about Obama — that’s exactly the problem so many other progressives are having today.

So we can be angry at the New Yorker for giving the other side such great ammunition. But I don’t think we can say it’s not at least a little funny. Especially given that it’s titled “Politics of Fear.”

Ok you all. Pounce. I’m ready for it.

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Veep Random Notes

[ 72 ] July 14, 2008 |

Kathy G has an exhaustive roundup on potential running mates for Obama. I bascially agree with the rankings, if not all of the reasoning. A few points:

  • This adds further ammunition to my belief that Sebelius is the best choice. Of the top three, she’s the only one with significant executive experience, and the only woman. Edwards’s greater national experience cuts both ways; his performance on the previous ticket was underwhelming. With respect to Brown, I don’t think that having a Democratic governor in Ohio ends the problem with appointing a red-state Senator. Whether we would get another re-electable, progressive Democratic Senator in Ohio is questionable. I’d rather have Brown in the Senate unless he was clearly better than the alternatives, and I don’t think he is. Edwards offers similar strengths without the obvious downside.
  • This point about is important: “Evan Bayh is one of the biggest Democratic corporate ‘hos in the senate — he’s “fiscally conservative,” voted for the bankruptcy bill, is a DLC Dem all the way. He is literally one of the Wall Street Journal’s favorite Democrats.” Although it’s tempting to describe divisions within the Democratic caucus as falling along cultural lines, red-state Democrats tend to straightforward economic reactionaries. (Tim Roemer whining about not being made DNC chair although he voted for Bush’s tax cuts and against Clinton’s budget package is a classic example.)
  • Kathy’s claim that Lieberman may have cost Gore the election is, I think, a pretty clear pundit’s fallacy. I knew a lot of people how voted for Nader or flirted with the idea at the time, and I don’t recall Lieberman being a major issue for anybody, and nor am I aware of any contemporaneous evidence for the proposition. Moreover, selecting Lieberman was the only time period of the campaign in which Gore received generally positive press coverage, which has to at least balance whatever trivial loss of voters there were. On the other hand, Lieberman also suggests that picking running mates on the merits is important, as he certainly would have been a disaster in he job, especially had 9/11 happened.
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Hell Exists on Earth? Yes. I Won’t Live In It.

[ 0 ] July 14, 2008 |

When you hear that the country’s most prominent op-ed page can feature the Feng Shui Princess of Georgetown describing a conversation between Mike Barnicle and Margaret Carlson, you know that the State of Perfect Complacent Vapidity has been achieved.

And what’s worse is that they weren’t even the first to get there.

Somerby: “Things have deteriorated to the point where staffers at People are mystified by the inanity of the political press corps.” Sad, but true.

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Vidro

[ 7 ] July 14, 2008 |

95 games into the season, the deep and wide flaws of the organization known as the Seattle Mariners baseball club have been cruelly exposed to the world. At 37-58, they are the worst team in the American League by a fair margin. (On the senior circuit, only the Nationals are currently worse, the Mariners surely have a decent chance of catching them). This is made all the more pathetic by their payroll in excess of one hundred million dollars.

So many obvious and stupid mistakes have been made by this organization that to attempt to catalog them would simply be too depressing. One stands out for me, though: Jose Vidro. For many superficial baseball analysts, the trade with which we acquired Vidro turned out reasonably well for the Mariners. The prospects they traded haven’t amounted to much of anything, and Vidro hit .314 for them last year. The flaw in this reasoning is that he was still among the worst DH’s in the American League, because he didn’t hit for any power. A closer look at his 2007 season reveals that his high batting average was in large part the product of Vidro’s unusually high infield single rate. Now, if you’re Ichiro, infield singles are part of your skill set. Anyone who thinks Vidro’s infield single rate is the product of his baseball skills clearly has not seen him play in several years. Feed me a large steak dinner and pour a pitcher of beer down my throat, spin me around a few times, and I could still beat Jose Vidro in a footrace without any diffiulty at all. His infield hit rate was clearly a fluke, and if you return it to league average, his 2007 falls below replacement level.

So 2007 contained plenty of evidence that Vidro was quite likely to be done as a useful player. Vidro’s performance in 2008 has given us all the confirmation we could ever need. His on base percentage sits at 261; his slugging percentage at 310. How bad is this? We’ve got a truckload of advanced meta-statistics in baseball these days, and I don’t have the mathematical chops to have strong opinions about most of them, so I’ll choose one at random (others would paint a similar picture). MLVr is an expression of marginal lineup value. The number expresses how many runs would be added (or subtracted) if you shifted from a lineup of 9 perfectly average players to a lineup of 8 perfectly average players and the player in question. The very best in the league (Chipper Jones, Berkman, Pujols) are adding over half a run per game.

There are 199 players in baseball with 250+ plate appearances so far this season. Of these, only five are inept enough offensively to have MLVrs below -.250. Vidro is, of course, one of these five (another is Kenji Johjima, who was just given a three year, 24 million dollar extension by the Mariners, even though their best prospect plays his position). The other four, of course, play difficult defensive positions (CF, 2B, C). To make matters more baffling, Vidro continues to hit cleanup. And, he’s got a vesting option for 9 million dollars in 2009 if he gets enough plate appearances.

Let’s review: One of the worst hitters in baseball is a declining, immobile, weak-groundout hitting machine who plays DH. He continues to not only play most of the time–he’s starting and hitting cleanup.

Is there any precedence for this? The glorious baseball-reference.com allows me to find out. In the history of the DH, there are 160 player-seasons that were full time enough to qualify for the batting title, and where at least 70% of playing time came as DH. Here’s the list. As you might expect, only 10% of these seasons were below average, because these people are paid to hit, and nothing else. The below average seasons are mostly from good to great players (Hank Aaron, Edgar Martinez, Alvin Davis, Eddie Murray, Reggie Jackson, Paul Molitor, Greg Vaughn, Dave Parker), the sort of player one could reasonably hope would turn it around. If Vidro continues this pace, he will join this list as the very worst DH ever, by a wide and significant margin. Yet he plays, hits 4th, and marches toward a vesting option that further hamstrings whatever fool takes the GM position with even more pointless payroll giveaways.

Some high comedy: placeholder manager Jim Riggleman seems to be making some justificatory argument about “protection” for Raul Ibanez. This might make sense if he also had a secret plan to replace every other team’s scouting report on Vidro with the 2000 version (and if protection was an actual phenomenon). Apparently they think other teams evaluate players based on how good they were five years ago, too. They’re willing to cut bait on other hitters who are clearly done (Sexson, Wilkerson) but who aren’t as done as Vidro.

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Personnel and Precedent

[ 10 ] July 14, 2008 |

Reading Linda Greenhouse’s valedictory essay , Digby emphasizes this passage:

In five days on the witness stand, Judge Bork had a chance to explain himself fully, to describe and defend his view that the Constitution’s text and the intent of its 18th-century framers provided the only legitimate tools for constitutional interpretation. Through televised hearings that engaged the public to a rare degree, the debate became a national referendum on the modern course of constitutional law. Judge Bork’s constitutional vision, anchored in the past, was tested and found wanting, in contrast to the later declaration by Judge Anthony M. Kennedy, the successful nominee, that the Constitution’s framers had “made a covenant with the future.”

It has made a substantial difference during these last 21 years that Anthony Kennedy got the seat intended for Robert Bork. The invective aimed at Justice Kennedy from the right this year alone, for his majority opinions upholding the rights of the Guantánamo detainees and overturning the death penalty for child rapists — 5-to-4 decisions that would surely have found Judge Bork on the opposite side — is a measure of the lasting significance of what happened during that long-ago summer and fall.

Elsewhere in the dead tree edition, the paper identified three landmark cases; Casey was called “The Triumph of Precedent.” But was it, at least in the sense that precedent compelled justices to do something they would otherwise have been strongly opposed to? It’s far from clear. The three justice plurality in Casey reached pretty much the same conclusion you would expect reasonably moderate Rockefeller Republicans to reach: formally legal pre-viability abortion while states have wide latitude to pass silly regulations that make it harder for poor women to procure them. More importantly, had Bork been confirmed the Roe precedent would have been worth nothing. It was the defeat of Bork, rather than the pull of precedent, that explains Casey.

And for this reason, as I’ve said before, it’s unwise for progressives to get too complacent about Roe or other landmark liberal precedents. The upholding of Roe may seem inevitable in retrospect. but it wasn’t. Had Reagan nominated Bork and Scalia in reverse order, or Bush had gone with Ken Starr rather than Souter, Roe would have been overruled. It’s true that the Court rarely swims far outside the mainstream, but governing factions have a variety of interests and political priorities. In the Rehnquist Court, culturally moderate conservatives controlled the center. I would be unwise to assume that the same would be true of the Roberts Court after another Republican term or two.

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Too Weird for Words

[ 0 ] July 14, 2008 |

Via Angry Professor, there’s this jaw-slackener from Jesus Land.

Girls long to be loved and adored, and give their heart to their hero. God is that hero! The characteristics focused on in this Bible storybook will help your little girl blossom into the princess she was created to be. Virtues to create beauty such as compassion, sharing, and truth are highlighted in fun and engaging ways. The perfect format for girls to learn about their destiny as a daughter of their King. Features included are: Beauty Secrets, Bible Princesses, My Hero (Scripture promises), Take a Bow (Easy plays that are Bible-focused), I Adore You (Put girls energy to use with songs, scripture and worship), Royal Truths, Down In My Heart (Scripture Memory), Princess Charming, Worthy of Love (Ideas to show how to love her royal subjects: family, siblings, friends and those in the community).

I’m sure the creators of Gigi figured out how to soft-pedal this bit of unpleasantness among others:

Text not available

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The Bonds Question

[ 11 ] July 14, 2008 |

I was at Shea yesterday, which was great except for Pedro leaving the game early (although he was pitching 1-hit shutout ball with no stuff.) Between that and Alou unsurprisingly out for the year, it makes me a little sad (and makes me feel old) as the number of still-active players from the definitive team of my baseball fan existence continues to shrink. You have to think this is it for Alou, and the careers of Better Than Koufax Martinez and Floyd aren’t exactly looking robust right now.

Anyway, with the Expos playing Cinderallas and marginal prospects on the corners but back in contention, I guess this brings up the Barry Bonds question. At his subscription site, Bill James has made an extensive case against a team signing him in most circumstances:

Look, I like Barry Bonds. I don’t have to deal with him, but I was always on his side, and I still am. I don’t think he belongs in jail; I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Ten years ago, he was playing by the rules as they were enforced ten years ago. It seems self-righteous to me to say now that he was cheating.

But. . .it’s over.

The argument is primarily baseball related: basically, that once a player 1)starts getting hurt, and 2)produces value solely by hitting homers and drawing walks the chances of a complete collapse in his value have to be considered very high. (Perhaps this could be called the Jack Clark effect? Although I still wish he had showed up to the ’93 Expos…)

Is this right? It’s certainly plausible. I think there’s a tendency to rely to much on the Ruth analogy, although the 1935 Braves are certainly a powerful example (pretty good team signs still-high-OPS Ruth, Ruth collapses, team literally posts worse record than 1962 Mets.) Still, one can say something similar about Aaron and Mays, and the comparable players you can’t say that about (Williams, Mantle) retired without pressing the issue. None of those players peaked in their late 30s, but it’s reasonable between that and the circus he would create (especially when he didn’t go through spring training) you would want to pass. In the context of New York, I can understand if the Mets would prefer to make a play for Ibanez or Rivera or Bay. Still, if I’m the Devil Rays, and look at my athletic, good pitching-and-defense team notably lacking in the power core your main wildcard rivals have…I’d be pretty inclined to take the risk. Tom Tango summarized the discussion and disagrees with James.

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