Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another Nail in Newspapers' Coffins

This question appeared in today’s Washington Post political chat:

The Democrats passed an Energy Bill that everyone admitted NO ONE READ. Yet, the media portrayal of it is "green jobs" creator and solve our dependence on foreign oil. Has any journalist read the Cap-and-Trade Bill? If not, why parrot the Democrat talking points and not give the public the specifics of the Bill? Is skepticism dead?

Here is the reply:

Colleagues have closely followed the committee hearings and other negotiations leading up to last week's vote, and the measure still has to go before the Senate, which may greatly alter the bill's current form.

Remember also that the House Energy & Commerce Committee briefly hired a speed reader in case Republicans ordered a full reading of big portions of the bill. That threat never materialized, but it would certainly take a fast reader to get through it.

I encourage YOU to read it, and then find a way to share your thoughts about it.

It’s the last sentence that disturbs me. Granted, in a perfect world, we would all take the time to read these bills and understand them, then send informed opinions to our elected representatives. The problem is, we don’t have the time, and we don’t have the expertise to make suitable sense of the arcane facts and language. This is what we depend on newspapers for, to digest and analyze the important parts for us, and here’s a reporter telling us to feel free to figure it out for ourselves, and let him know. They apparently don’t have the time.

Every day newspapers make the prospect of living without them a little less disturbing.

The House of Thrills

I saw my first major league baseball game at Forbes Field, which opened one hundred years ago today. Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Sandy Koufax, Henry Aaron, and too many others to count showed me what a Hall of Fame player looked like in person there. Built at a cost of $1 million, it was the first of the great concrete-and-steel stadiums that were meant to last, and the Pirates played there for 61 years.

Babe Ruth hit his last home run there, over the grandstand roof in right field; he hit three that day. The expansive dimensions in left and center field allowed for the batting cage to be stored on the playing field during games; the bases for the light towers were also on the field. Those generous dimensions helped the Pirates to hit eight triples in the game played May 30, 1925; the record still stands. The distances to the fences made Forbes a pitcher-friendly park, but the enormous gaps created by those deep fences contributed to its lore: in 4,700 games, a no-hitter was never thrown at Forbes.

Possibly the most famous home run ever hit cleared the left field wall on October 9, 1960, when Bill Mazeroski took Ralph Terry deep to win Game 7 of the World Series. New Yorkers may vote for Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard Round the World,” but Thompson’s Chinese home run at the polo Grounds only won a pennant; Maz’s 400-foot shot won the World Championship. (I may be a little prejudiced myself, as Maz’s homer is my oldest conscious memory, as a four-year-old listening to the game in the family car.)

Forbes Field is gone now, abandoned in 1970 for the late, unlamented Three Rivers Stadium, which was in turn razed when the Pirates moved into PNC Park in 2001. The University of Pittsburgh’s Posvar Library now stands on much of the old Forbes Field site. Pitt has done its best to preserve Forbes Field’s heritage. A line of bricks running along the Schenley Drive sidewalk shows where the left field wall used to be. A plaque marks the spot where Mazeroski’s homer run left the yard. The bricks extend across Roberto Clemente Drive to the last remaining section of the ivy-covered wall; the 435-foot marker is still visible.

Maybe the best tribute is in the library itself. Home plate is about where it used to be, prominently mounted in the floor, encased in acrylic. The covering has to be replaced periodically, as students facing difficult exams slide into home for luck. The House of Thrills (as announcer Bob Prince called it) is gone, but its traditions grow even after its demise.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Best Defense of the Public Option I've Seen Yet

From a chat in today's Washington Post:

In colonial Philadelphia, there was no fire department. Each fire insurance company had its own private fire department. When you bought insurance, you got a medallion to put on your house. If a fire truck from the Green Tree company came to a burning house that had a Penn Mutual medallion, they would let it burn to the ground. After this happened a few times, a municipal fire department was established, a socialized fire department

What Conservatives fail to realize is that some things like health care are best done by cooperation, by government, while some things are best done by individuals. Their problem is that they cannot distinguish one from the other.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Loves Me Some Barney Frank

He's funny looking and talks funny, but Massachusetts Representative Barney Fran has a way with words. Here are his comments about Republican efforts to preserve funding for the F-22:

These arguments will come from the very people who denied that the economic recovery plan created any jobs. We have a very odd economic philosophy in Washington: It’s called weaponized Keynesianism. It is the view that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation.

Negotiating With Himself

I voted for Barack Obama in November not as a misty-eyed True Believer, but as someone convinced this country needed substantive change we weren’t going to get from John McCain. Obama’s record to this point has inspired mixed emotions. I think he understands the social and fiscal problems before us. The added deficit worries me, but it is probably a necessary evil to make up for years of fiscal malfeasance. His decisions about what to do with the Guantanamo prisoners and the Bush Administration’s legacy of illegal searches and torture are woefully inadequate.

The most surprising and disappointing aspect of the still young Obama presidency is his unwillingness to stand up for what he seems to believe in. For example, he has spoken out eloquently on more than one occasion for the need for a public option for health care. During yesterday’s (June 23) press conference, he responded to the question, “Wouldn't [a public option] drive private insurance out of business?” with the following comment:

Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical.

He’s right: it’s not a logical argument, and this should be brought to bear on anyone who argues against a public option. Unfortunately, today he undercut his own position:

We have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured. Those are the broad parameters that we’ve discussed.”

Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman summed it up best in his blog:

My big fear about Obama has always been not that he doesn’t understand the issues, but that his urge to compromise — his vision of himself as a politician who transcends the old partisan divisions — will lead him to negotiate with himself, and give away far too much.

Obama’s post-partisan goals are admirable, but they should not obscure the message of the last election. Americans made a dramatic change in government, producing a Democratic president and sizable Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Bi-partisan support for any legislation must include an acknowledgement of the people’s will for those laws to be worth anything. Extend a hand, but if the minority doesn’t want to take it and work with you—which many Republicans still refuse to do—then let’s remember who has the votes, and how they got them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Moe Better Facts

The civil rights conversation that got me defriended by Moe continued after my ejection. (Thanks to the Graceland Correspondent for catching me up. It should be noted that Moe made sure everyone in the thread knew I would no longer be commenting on his posts. I was not told we were no longer friends, which is proof enough I have not actually lost a friend, though Moe has.) Among the evidence offered to prove Republicans’ superior civil rights record was Everett Dirksen’s work to break the “Democratic” filibuster that almost derailed the Civil Rights Act.

The Democrats who filibustered that vote were also known as Dixiecrats. They were only Democrats because the South had always been Democratic, mainly because Republicans freed the slaves and forced Reconstruction down their throats. They no more reflected the mainstream of 20th Century Democratic thought than Everett Dirksen reflects current Republican philosophy. (All of us old enough to remember them can take a minute to ponder how Dirksen or Nelson Rockefeller would fare in today’s GOP.) Evidence of the Dixiecrats separation from the mainstream can be found by the wholesale defections to the Republican Party after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were enacted, thus creating the South as a Republican bastion that is only now showing signs of strain.

Orval Faubus was used as en example of Democratic racism in Moe’s discussion; a reasonable person could assume they tar George Wallace with the same, well-deserved brush. Remember, though, that Wallace had to run for president as an Independent, as he couldn’t get enough traction with Democratic primary voters outside of the South to get close to their nomination.

Republicans have built much of their political base over the past forty years by their virtually monolithic support in the South. This monopoly was created largely from the racist attitudes that drove southern Democrats away from the party as civil rights gained momentum. For a current conservative Republican to claim credit for Everett Dirksen while scorning Strom Thurmond is like arguing against using taxes to “redistribute wealth” after spending thirty years lowering the rates of the highest earners while raising the real rates of those who could already least afford it. (Social Security and Medicare tax rates are higher than thirty years ago; graduated income tax rates are lower on the highest bracket. You can look it up here. And here.)

Of course, they’ve done that, too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fighting Dirty with Facts and Rational Argument

I am a Facebook novice. I may never improve, as I haven’t found value in it beyond a ten minute daily diversion. Despite this less than enthusiastic embrace. Facebook has taught me a valuable lesson in less than two weeks.

Among my original friends when I signed up is someone I have known and liked for over twenty years. Let’s call him Moe. Moe and I have remained friendly, even though we have not seen each other in over fifteen years, and our political views have diverged as they evolved.

Moe is fond of posting conservative talking points on his page, which, as we are Facebook friends, end up on my wall. I was tempted a few times to tweak him about these, as they appear, unsolicited, on my page. (Example: When he commented that a June temperature of 54 degrees was proof against global warming, I chose to accept it as a tongue-in-cheek comment, even though he had previously posted strongly-worded diatribes about how anthropomorphic causes of global warming had been discredited.)

Last week he posted a link to an article about the Justice Department’s intention to enforce voter fraud statutes, and, possibly, to encourage the creation of a photo ID just for voting, commenting on how oppressive this was for native-born citizens such as himself. This moved me past the tipping point on my “Conservative Hypocrisy Disguised as Faulty Memory” index. I replied with a remark about how entertaining it was that conservatives were now against these measures, after either ignoring or encouraging them for eight years while their boy was in charge.

This got me flamed by a third party I never heard of, who cited the Democrats’ abysmal record on civil rights. Starting with “Robert KKK Byrd’s” opposition to the Voting Rights Act in the 60s, back through Orval Faubus and southern Democrats’ association with the Klan in the early parts of the 20th Century. My reply pointed out how Republicans are forced to refer to themselves as “The Party of Lincoln,” since ending slavery was their last appreciable act to promote racial equality.

That got me flamed again by the same guy, with more examples of Democratic offenses, the most recent of which was over fifty years ago. I replied again (sometimes I can’t help myself), this time noting that by his reasoning, Germans were all genocidal maniacs, the French were “let them eat cake” royalists, and Catholics still used the Inquisition to keep people in line. I also pointed out the lack of Republican outrage during the heyday of one of their own, Joe McCarthy, in the Fifties.

The following day Moe removed himself from my friends list. I guess rational thought and relevant examples have no place in current conservative discourse.

But, of course, anyone who follows the news even superficially already knew that.

(Note: The Facebook examples above are paraphrased to the best of my recollection, as the original posts disappear when the Friend link was broken.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Out One Door and In The Next

I don’t post a lot about my personal life. If your personal life is so bad you feel the need to read about mine, then what you really need is professional help. This week was an exception. Reportable things happened so quickly I didn’t have time to post it in bite-sized chunks, so you’re getting it in one, big, undigested glob.

The Sole Heir graduated high school on Monday. On Saturday afternoon I was accompanied by the Beloved Spousal Equivalent and both parental correspondents to L’Estate du Sole Heir for party set-up duties and a cook-out. It had rained every day for the previous week, but the Sole Heir’s charmed life kicked in on our way over and the weather was perfect once we got there.

Sunday was more of the same. People of a certain age—mine—took care not to get too much sun, but all else was perfect. About eighty-five people moved through the house and back yard during the course of the day. The noon start allowed The Sole Heir to get a monopoly on many of her friends before they had to start making the rounds. About fifteen gathered in the shade near the bottom of the yard for over an hour to reminisce and make plans they already know they won’t keep.

The graduation went without a hitch, except for getting into and out of Constitution Hall. Those not from around here should be aware that DC area high schools do not have graduation ceremonies at the school. They all use larger, more commercial venues such as Constitution Hall, the Verizon Center, or the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center. Constitution Hall lends gravitas to the ceremony and is large enough for everyone to get in, but parking and traffic in downtown late Monday morning is a crisis. Add to that movie trucks on the streets north and south of the building and half a dozen tour buses parked right up against it, and searching for a particular kid among the crowd was like looking for a clear marble in a pile of whites.

Lunch was across the street from the Treasury Building, at the Old Ebbitt Grill, where the politically elite meet to eat. Plenty to eat, all of it good, and it only cost a hand and a foot, as opposed to the expected arm and a leg.

A hectic three days. Tuesday was back to work at [agency name redacted] for a couple of days of relative sanity, before freshman orientation at the University of Maryland. Get there before nine, stay till after six (TSH stayed the night in a dorm), and learn all you need to know to feel comfortable about sending your kid to a major university. The presentations and handouts were such that the parents were never bored, and left as well-informed as could be imagined. The kids went off on their own to do some pre-registration stuff; actual registration is today.

That was our week. The Sole Heir woke up Monday morning a high school girl; she ate lunch on Friday as a young woman in college. I handled it much better than expected. Only teared up once at the ceremony. The memories I thought would break me up were there, but superseded by watching her enjoyment at all aspects of the week. She’s ready to make the next step. Though I’ll miss having her around as much as I have in the past, I can’t wait to see what she does next. Whatever it is, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch, and to participate in as much as she needs.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sport Imitates Life

The Detroit Red Wings beat the Pittsburgh Penguins twice this weekend at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena to take a two games to none lead in the best four-of-seven Stanley Cup finals. After the game, NBC’s on-ice analyst Pierre Maguire said Pittsburgh wasn’t in trouble yet, as he thought no team was in trouble during a playoff series until they’d lost a game at home.

Maguire then threw it back to the booth, where play-by-play man Mike Emerick immediately said (without malice) that the team winning the first two games as home as a 31-1 record in Cup Finals.

My Penguins are in trouble.

Maguire’s assurance that all was well failed to take into consideration that Detroit gets the seventh game at home, if it goes that far, so Pittsburgh can win all its home games and still lose the Cup. It also now has to beat a team that had a superior record over an 82-game season four times out of five to win.

Pierre’s magnificent assurance in his beliefs in the face of indisputable facts reminds me of the arguments about evolution. On the one hand, Mr. Creationist has his beliefs, acquired because someone told him that was true. Mr. Evolutionist has an airplane hangar full of evidence.

You be the judge.

Let’s go Pens.