Friday, August 2

Be Careful What You Wish For

Mac Thomason suggests that "Hamas is targeting non-Israelis now, workers and students and (I expect) tourists as part of a program to isolate Israel and damage the economy." That sounds eminently plausible in light of the attack in Tel Aviv two weeks ago in an area populated by foreign workers and Tuesday's attack on the foreign student center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. By going after a target where Americans were almost certain to be found (and killed, and injured), however, Hamas is playing a very dangerous game. Americans do not take well to their fellow citizens being killed, and they do not take well to the sight of thousands joyfully celebrating those deaths in the streets.

In expressing his anger yesterday, the president nevertheless reaffirmed his belief that peace was possible. And of course we should always remain open to the possibility of peace. But the president's words should not be seen as an indication of weakness: he spoke alongside King Abdullah of Jordan, and certain diplomatic niceties had to be observed. In addition to becoming more and more a target of Israel, Hamas is close to becoming a military target of the United States. And regardless of how fervently they may believe in their cause, that is not a position that Hamas should desire.

Investigating Congress

Kevin Raybould notes the central problem with the FBI's request that members of the House and Senate intelligence committees submit to polygraph tests:

These investigations can only be meant to have a chilling effect on how Congress does its jobs. The FBI is investigating members of Congress for possible criminal activity AT THE SAME TIME said members are investigating the failures of the FBI. How can this be read as anything other than intimidation, especially considering that the investigations were prompted by the Vice President's complaints, and that
Both House and Senate rules specifically state that leaks of classified information should be investigated by the Congressional ethics committees. [Quoted material may be found here.]
The only reason to side step those rules, even before the Ethics Committee has had a chance to investigate, is to intimidate the legislative branch.

The full post is worth reading.

Update: Josh Marshall blasts the FBI investigation here and here.

Arms Inspections in Iraq?

Many bloggers are commenting this morning on Saddam's offer to negotiate over the resumption of weapons inspections, a move that will complicate (and was no doubt meant to complicate) the Bush administration's stated aim of effecting a regime change in Iraq. Saddam has done this before when threatened with military action: we're willing to submit to inspections, of course, but no American inspectors, because they're spies, and no inspections of my palaces, because that would violate our national sovereignty, and advance notice before the inspections occur because we need time to move, um, I mean, because we need time to prepare a lovely fruit and cheese tray so that the inspectors can refresh themselves….

My question: given that this was an easily foreseeable tactic, why didn't the administration try to pre-empt it previously by demanding an immediate resumption of inspections, without restrictions? Particularly given the passage of time since the last inspections in 1998, a compelling argument could be made that any restrictions sought by Saddam in the face of such a demand would simply represent an effort to hide his stockpile of weapons; such an argument would have made it easier to rally support against Iraq. The same argument could be made now, of course, but given that Saddam

I suspect that the administration has avoided an inspection demand to this point principally because of a fear that the demand would be accepted and that inspections would resume. If Saddam did indeed capitulate, the administration would not be in a position to seek his ouster. But the odds of Saddam agreeing to a truly rigorous inspections regime strike me as very low. By permitting Saddam to seize the initiative on negotiations, the administration has complicated the task that it has set for itself. Simultaneously, the administration has failed so far to explain to the American people why action against Saddam is urgently needed at this particular time (and despite Saddam's clear potential to further destabilize the middle east, it's not self-evident that an action potentially involving hundreds of thousands of troops and significant casualties is warranted at this point). All of this calls into question the competence and judgment of Bush's foreign policy team, at a time when, given the dangers we face, we desperately need to be able to have faith in them.

Thinking About 9/11

Jessica has a wonderfully written reflection on 9/11, prompted by an unexpected encounter with footage of the second plane hitting the south tower at the World Trade Center.

Mets Online Again

Although fan site Mets Online is still offline thanks to Major League Baseball Properies, sportswriter Dan Lewis notes that site owner Bryan Hoch now has a column devoted to the Mets at Fox Sports.com. The column's title: "Mets Online." Good for Fox Sports for giving Hoch a platform, and, once again, shame on MLBP for forcing a popular, six-year-old fan site off the net.

Thursday, August 1

Another Stinker for Baseball

Yankees fan Charles Kuffner examines the Red Sox' acquisition of Cliff Floyd from the Montreal Expos and cries foul. And with good reason. Major League Baseball, which currently owns and operates the Expos, also has close ties with the Red Sox, having effectively selected the Sox' new owners in a highly suspicious insider deal last winter. The Red Sox have lost ground in their race with the Yankees, and the acquisition of Floyd fills a need for a left-handed power hitter. And to acquire this missing piece of a puzzle, the Red Sox gave up virtually nothing: two minor-league pitchers, both of them injury-prone; marginal prospects, in other words, going to a team that, in light of baseball's contraction plans, itself has marginal future prospects at best. The trade makes no baseball sense at all for the Expos, who only recently acquired Floyd in an effort to improve their playoff chances. Although Floyd had not hit well since rejoining the Expos (for whom he played earlier in his career), the team had lost no ground in the playoff standings and remained a viable contender. Not anymore. But the Red Sox, with an owner hand-picked by Commissioner Bud Selig, who now directs the Expos and hopes to oversee their demise, are revived. The whole thing stinks. And I say this as someone who dislikes the Yankees.

I'd Watch

Jeff Jarvis modifies Matthew Yglesias's idea for a 24-hour liberal news channel:

I have an even better idea:
Left News/Right News: Every half hour, you switch. For the first 30 minutes, you get the liberals; for the next 30 minutes, you get the conservatives; and on the top of the hour, they spend 5 minutes yelling at each other.
Now that's entertainment. And it's balanced.

Somehow, we've wound up with a 65-minute hour, but nevermind—it still sounds like fun.

The Emerging Radical Center?

An historic opportunity for political realignment is arising, and the Democrats, true to form, are in the process of squandering it.

In this week's New Republic, John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira write that "ever since the collapse of the Reagan conservative majority, which enjoyed its final triumph in November 1994, American politics has been turning slowly, but inexorably, toward a new Democratic majority." The assertion seems odd at first glance, given that we have a Republican president, a Republican majority in the House, and Democratic control of the Senate by the slenderest of margins (and only because of a Republican defection). But Judis and Teixeira are not completely off-base, even if their argument (in its abbreviated article form, drastically condensed from a forthcoming book) is not entirely convincing. They write:

Just as the McKinley majority was closely tied to the onset of industrialization, the emerging Democratic majority is closely linked to the spreading postindustrial economy. Democrats are strongest in areas where the production of ideas and services has either redefined or replaced assembly-line manufacturing, particularly the Northeast, the upper Midwest through Minnesota, and the Pacific Coast--including the Sunbelt prize of California--but also including parts of Southern states like Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina. Republicans, meanwhile, are strongest in states like Mississippi, Wyoming, and South Carolina (as well as in former Democratic enclaves like Kentucky), where the transition to postindustrial society has lagged.

Participants in the new economy, Judis and Teixeira write, tend to be fiscally moderate but socially tolerant, believers in capitalism but also in the need for government to act as a fair referee to curb capitalism's excesses, supporters of political reform. And, Judis and Teixeira posit, as America increasingly moves to a postindustrial economy, these voters will become more numerous. They will not alone be sufficient to form a majority of voters, but they will represent an increasingly important portion of any majority coalition.

The Bush administration is in no position to benefit from the posited shift. From the large tax cuts for the richest Americans, to the refusal to do anything about American corporations relocating offshore to avoid tax liability, to the weak corporate governance reforms, to the massive giveaways in the farm bill and the energy bill, the Bush administration, at least in its domestic policy, is dedicated principally to the proposition that government of the cronies, by the cronies, and for the cronies shall not perish from this earth. Its basic outlook is therefore antithetical to the emerging center-left voters that Judis and Teixeira believe they have identified. The president's economic platform was never terribly popular—witness Bush's poll ratings last summer, before the terrorist attacks—and the wobbly economy, erratic stock market, and accounting scandals have done nothing to make it look more appealing. Likewise, the social conservatism that dominates the southern wing of the Republican party tends to alienate the new economy voters.

There thus appears to be a significant mass of voters defined loosely by the following characteristics:

* They recognize the importance of a dynamic capitalist economy as the engine for economic growth but fear that a market left to its own devices will inevitably lead to the excesses and abuses we are now seeing in the collapses of Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, and the like. To those who would argue that these collapses prove that the market ultimately will correct abuses on its own, these voters would point to the significant costs that the recent correction has imposed in terms of unemployment and investor losses. Preventative medicine is usually more effective than emergency care. They thus look to the government not only to set rules for financial reporting but to enforce those rules rigorously.

* They also want an honest accounting from the government. In this respect the transition from the Clinton administration, which consistently overestimated deficits and then underestimated surpluses, to the Bush administration, which has consistently underestimated deficits, is striking: the Republican administration's actions are hardly deserving of the label conservative.

* Speaking of preventative medicine: these voters recognize that, in contrast to the view expressed by Bush in the 2000 campaign and not modified since, the availability of emergency medical care at hospitals is no substitute for adequate preventative health care for the nation's increasingly numerous uninsured. Although leery of a massive bureaucratic plan like that proposed early in the Clinton administration, they also doubt that the Republican proposals for tax incentives will make a significant dent in the problem.

* They recognize that the welfare system as it existed prior to 1996 needed reform, but they also recognize that moving people from dependency to the workforce requires a transitional support system—education, job training, child care—that costs money, and that entering the workforce can be difficult in times of economic uncertainty. Simply cutting people loose to fend for themselves won't do.

* They are leery of the growing power of large corporations over various portions of their lives—the abuse of personal information, the restrictions on uses of new technology, the restrictions on choices.

* Joined by an increasing number of libertarian-oriented Republicans, they are suspicious of the administration's plans for homeland security, which threaten similar intrusions into their privacy in exchange for uncertain results.

The situation would seem tailor made for the Democrats—there is significant potential for a campaign of the people over the powerful that need not devolve into crude class warfare. Mounting this campaign, however, would require leaders able to formulate a coherent plan, articulate it to the public, and defend it from the inevitable Republican attacks. And, at the moment, none of the leading Democrats is in a position to assume this role.

Much of the blame must be laid at the feet of the Democratic Leadership Council, which in recent years has devolved from a useful counterweight to other factions within the party into a pure tool for business interests and the wealthy. Thanks to the influence of the DLC, Tom Daschle has refused to allow a straight vote on requiring stock options to be treated identically on tax returns (where many corporations treat them as expenses) and financial reports (where most do not treat options as expenses). Thanks to the influence of the DLC, the Democratic leadership refuses to call for repeal of the large prospective tax cuts enacted last year, cuts that redound almost exclusively to the benefit of the very wealthy. Thanks to the influence of the DLC, a number of Democrats support the egregious bankruptcy bill that, in a time of economic slowdown, would greatly favor the large banks that bombard consumers with solicitations for cards carrying usurious interest rates. And thanks to the influence of the DLC and the Democrats' ties to the entertainment industry, Democrats are supporting dramatic expansions of copyright law that would significantly complicate the creation, dissemination, and use of content for all but the big media players. These actions on behalf of the powerful over the people, combined with the failure to articulate and advance a coherent agenda in the one branch of the federal government in which they exercise control, means that Democrats, especially Senate Democrats, are ill-suited to seize the opportunity that, according to Judis and Teixeira, presently exists.

Indeed, the person best positioned to articulate a coherent Democratic position at this point is Al Gore, whose populist rhetoric in the 2000 campaign failed to carry the day in good economic times but would resonate more powerfully in our present circumstances. This week Gore rather pointedly avoided the DLC's gathering in Manhattan, and he is not tied directly to the questionable Democratic positions in Congress. This too, though, works to the Democrats' disadvantage. Despite his popular-vote victory, Gore emerged from the 2000 campaign a badly damaged figure, his credibility in tatters after relentless (and frequently untruthful) Republican attacks, his demeanor off-putting to many voters. Republicans champ at the bit at the thought of opposing Gore a second time. In the meantime, the Democrats' weakness in Congress allows the president to co-opt the more popular elements of the Democratic platform with his own window-dressing versions of those elements (no permalinks; scroll to the July 29 entry).

The Democrats' present failures do not mean that Ralph Nader was correct and that there is essentially no difference between Democrats and Republicans (one look at the president's judicial nominees should dispel that notion). But the Democrats' weaknesses threaten their ability to take advantage of an historic opportunity. And if they squander it, new political forces are emerging with an eye toward seizing the political center (again, scroll to July 29) and breaking the political status quo—a development that may ultimately cost the Democratic party its very existence. The next serious third-party candidate to emerge from the center will not necessarily be a crackpot like Ross Perot. The new economy voters are watching.

Wednesday, July 31

Ann Coulter Sides With Palestinian Suicide Bombers

Okay, she hasn't said so directly, as far as I know, but it seems a natural conclusion based on a statement she made at the University of Washington last November:

Coulter was asked why she condemns the terrorists so strongly, but not those who kill abortion doctors. She said that the latter have been extremely frustrated by the fact that they can’t vote on this issue, thanks to Roe vs. Wade, and that they worked within the system for twenty years without success before turning to murder. She said that those individuals believe they had been left with no other routes for dissent in the face of an ongoing atrocity. Coulter further suggested that although she would not take it upon herself to take extreme actions on the abortion issue, she will not condemn those who do.

No doubt the Palestinians are "extremely frustrated by the fact that they can’t vote on" Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza over the past 35 years. So, by Ann's logic, bombs away!

I'd like to see her try this line of reasoning with the families of the students who perished or were seriously wounded in today's bombing in Jerusalem. Why, again, are we paying attention to this person?

(Link via Lean Left and Armed Liberal).

Update: Atrios had this Coulter link last night. I don't know how I missed it.

Copywrongs

Joe Katzman's Winds of Change Daily Round-Up notes Major League Baseball Properties' decision to shut down the fan site Mets Online (which I discussed on Monday) and ties that action to the growing wave of copyright legislation currently pending on Capitol Hill and other actions by and for powerful commercial copyright holders that threaten not only to overwhelm the doctrine of fair use but also to impose significant restrictions on our freedom of speech and our ability to make productive use of emerging technologies. Among the posts noted is a powerful one by Glenn Reynolds, in which he suggests that "[t]hese legislative initiatives aren't just about copyright. They're about building a regime that's hostile to content that comes from anyone other than Big Media suppliers."

Many of the leading supporters of the legislative initiatives are Democrats, a fact that is much to the party's discredit. This reality ties into a long post that I'm currently writing and that I hope to finish by this evening.

Tuesday, July 30

Gray Days

Ann Salisbury offers a spirited defense of California's embattled Gov. Gray Davis, offering an extensive list of Davis's accomplishments. It's an impressive list, although the extent to which it outweighs Davis's negatives (of which Matt Welch offers but one example, of 1,328 in his estimation, here) is debatable. Davis has been blessed with weak opposition, though, so barring something unforeseen, he is highly likely to secure another term. That being the case, I sincerely hope that in four years Ann will be able to compile a similar list for Davis's second term. Just please don't let him run for president (or if he does, let him exit the race as quickly as former governor Pete Wilson did).

More Links

I'm adding links to three more sharp, left-leaning weblogs to the blogroll: Kevin Raybould's Lean Left, Chris Nelson's Weblog, and David Yaseen's brand-new A Level Gaze, All three were kind enough to link to this site.

Wine Note

To whomever it was that found my site through a Google search for "Dellinger pinot noir": I suspect you meant Dehlinger (this site produced a hit because I've discussed both pinot noir and former acting solicitor general Walter Dellinger). Their pinot noir is delicious. Their syrah is superb. And even though I'm not much of a chardonnay drinker, Dehlinger's chard is pretty good too. But good luck finding these wines. I get them through a friend who is on the winery's distribution list, and his allocation is pretty small. Outside of California, I've only ever seen them on restaurant wine lists.

Claiming the Miners

The Rittenhouse Review picks apart NRO columnist Michael Novak's attempt to claim the Pennsylvania mine rescue operation for the conservative cause. And rightly so. Bravery, hard work, integrity, dedication—these things are neither inherently conservative nor inherently liberal. Those who claim otherwise deserve the ridicule they get.

Angry White Baseball Fans

Todd Weiner offers the intriguing suggestion that a prolonged baseball work stoppage, causing the cancellation of the World Series as in 1994, might trigger another backlash at the polls by angry white men in the fall elections, this time targeting Republicans.

Canine Protection

Dave Trowbridge (owner of a german shepherd) examines how livestock-guarding dogs successfully fend off larger and stronger preditors. The secret of their success, he suggests, isn't bravery or ferocity; it's, well, goofiness:

This odd behavior works because dogs are neotenous wolves (just as we are neotenous primates), and they are acting like puppies while smelling like adults. Since predators in particular have hard-wired instincts to tolerate outrageous behavior from animals too young to know how to behave, the "cognitive dissonance" induced by this odd behavior is enough to make them look elsewhere.

So, if you still insist on being anthropomorphic, the proper image is not a brave policeman putting his life on the line to protect and serve, but a drunken security guard scaring off intruders by wearing a tinfoil hat and diapers while talking about how space aliens impregnated him with Elvis's baby.

Sure sounds like my dog.

Monday, July 29

Cease and Desist

As a follower of the New York Mets, I've been visiting Mets Online for several years. Tomorrow, barring unforeseen developments, that will change: lawyers for Major League Baseball and the Mets have written to Mets Online's proprietor, Bryan Hoch, demanding that he cease and desist all use of Mets trademarks effective July 30 and surrender his domain name to Major League Baseball.

Bryan Hoch is a 20-year-old college student at SUNY-Rockland; he has been running Mets Online since the spring of 1996. Those were still the early days of the web, when the inmates were running the asylum (my own 1997 site dedicated to curly-coated retrievers, inspired by the arrival of my curly puppy, Pippin, still lingers more than four years after its last update), and the web hadn't yet been taken over by commercialism; Hoch's site predated the Mets' official site by a year. Since that time, Hoch's site has flourished, with no small assistance from the Mets themselves. The Mets' official fan newspaper, New York Mets Inside Pitch, has mentioned Mets Online on numerous occasions over the course of several years, and in 2001 and 2002 Hoch has received press credentials from the Mets to cover games for his site. In 2000 the Mets, apparently impressed by Hoch's work at Mets Online, employed Hoch for a time to lend his expertise to an updating of the Mets' own website. The Mets' current demand that Hoch cease and desist thus would seem to place the team in an awkward position.

The Lanham Act (the federal trademark statute) operates in many respects on principles of equity. There is no statute of limitations written into the Act; instead, the courts apply the equitable equivalent, the doctrine of laches. In cases arising in New York, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has held (analogizing trademark infringement to fraud, which in New York has a six-year statute of limitations) that a case is presumed timely if it is brought within six years of the plaintiff's discovery of the infringement. Assuming that the Mets were unaware of Mets Online during its first few months, they are in all likelihood still within the presumptive six-year period. Remember, though, that it's just a presumption. Because laches is an equitable doctrine, the period can be shortened if doing so seems fair—if, for example, the trademark holder has engaged in action that seemed to acquiesce in the infringer's use of the mark; alternatively, it can be lengthened indefinitely if the infringer wrongfully profts from the infringement, on the grounds that such an entity should not be heard to argue that equity weighs in the wrongdoer's favor. The result of a litigated case between the Mets and Hoch therefore would be difficult to predict—although Hoch's infringement is clear (he uses a trademarked term in his site address, in apparent violation of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, he does not make it immediately obvious that the site is not affiliated with the Mets, and the site makes use of the Mets' trademarked logos), each side appears to have some strong arguments in its favor.

The case almost certainly won't be litigated, though, because there's no way a 20-year-old college student running a fan site can stand up to the high-powered lawyers employed by the Mets and Major League Baseball. The timing, moreover, is terrible: with baseball struggling to retain its fan base and seemingly headed toward a disastrous work stoppage, the game can ill afford to take actions so obviously calculated to alienate its most loyal fans. Although Hoch's readership isn't enormous (it's significantly smaller than Instapundit's, for example), and he claims not to profit from running the site, his work does generate a positive benefit for the Mets, and thousands of Mets fans find their enjoyment of the team enriched by his work. While the Mets' need to protect their trademarks is understandable, there really ought to be some way to reach an accommodation in this case. The next couple of days will give a good indication of how much the Mets and Major League Baseball really value the enthusiasm of their fans. I suspect I know the answer.

Update and clarification: The enemy stands revealed, and it's not the Mets, who, according to an official with whom Hoch spoke, "really appreciate our fan sites, because they promote the game and our product." It's Major League Baseball Properties, which refuses to be appeased by Hoch's placement of a disclaimer on his site and offer to cease use of all Mets and MLB logos. As the clock continues to tick, Mets Online looks to be on its last legs.

Days of Futures Past

N.Z. Bear has an astonishing series of posts written from the perspective of a 2014 in which the war on terrorism has not gone at all well. As this has been linked far and wide, I assume most people have seen it already; those that haven't should take a look. Now.

Sunday, July 28

Wines of the Week
Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County) 1997
Brancott Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand) 2001

As I've mentioned before, sauvignon blanc is my preferred summer white wine—its acidity, clean finish, and slightly lighter weight make it preferable to the vast majority of chardonnays, which tend to be comparatively heavy and oaky (sure, there are exceptions, but in general the rule holds). Matanzas Creek is one of the more serious California producers of sauvignon blanc; its 1997 (which I picked up at the winery on my honeymoon two years ago) might be just a touch past peak, but it's still drinking very nicely. Its fig and citrus aromas lead into clean lemon, melon, and fig flavors with a minerally note; the finish is long and clean, with the lemon coming to the fore. Yummy, and just right for the season.

New Zealand has become a better and better source for sauvignon blanc over the past few years, with the added bonus that the wines generally are a few dollars less expensive than California wines of comparable quality. Really excellent ones can be had for $13-15, even in a state like Indiana where prices tend to be higher than I'm used to from my days shopping in New York. Even cheaper, at $10, is the 2001 offering from Brancott Vineyards. This isn't a wine worth mulling over, but it has zippy acidity, nice lemon and melon flavors, and just a hint of sauvignon blanc grassiness. Chill it down, pour it, take it out on the porch with some grilled chicken or fish, and you're set for a pleasant evening.

While discussing sauvignon blanc, I should mention that I adore Sancerre, which is sauvignon blanc from a commune in France's Loire Valley. I had an excellent 2000 Sancerre last week with my dad in New York; unfortunately, I forgot to write down the producer's name. Regrettably, Sancerre tends to be a bit more expensive than its California counterpart, so, much as I enjoy it, I tend to stick to sauvignon blancs from California and New Zealand.