Saturday, December 14

I See Dead People

Andrew G. Clem sees Trent Lott and is reminded of The Sixth Sense.

The blogs on my blogroll are filled with commentary on Lott, up to and including his press conference yesterday evening, and the overall assessment, from Democrats and Republicans alike, is virtually uniform: Lott must go. And certainly the press has detected blood in the water, as indicated by the numerous anti-Lott editorials that have appeared in the last couple of days. Given the way the story has exploded, I have trouble believing that the Senate Republicans would allow Lott to continue as their leader. But I have trouble believing a lot of what happens on the American political scene.

Friday, December 13

No Time

Noah-care has me scrambling today. Posting will resume tomorrow.

Thursday, December 12

How Appalling

No, not Howard Bashman’s consistently terrific How Appealing, but one of the stories Howard notes. Oklahoma today is scheduled to execute convicted murderer Jay Wesley Neill, who killed four people in gruesome fashion during a bank robbery in 1984. Neill's crime was a heinous act, the kind of thing that gives pause even to those, like me, who are uncomfortable about the death penalty, and there is no question of guilt or innocence here—there were witnesses, and Neill confessed. Neill's execution therefore would pass unremarked by any but the staunchest death penalty opponents, were it not for one thing: an argument presented by the prosecutor at the sentencing phase of the trial. The prosecutor told the jury:

I'd like to go through some things and I'd like to do it in as generic a form as I can. If I could ask each of you to disregard Jay Neill and take him out of the person but consider these things in a generic way. I want you to think briefly about the man you're setting [sic] in judgment on and determining what the appropriate punishment should be, and believe me, ladies and gentlemen, you have every thing [sic] in this case, the good, the bad, everything that the law allows to aid you in this decision. But just generic, just put in the back of your mind what if I was sitting in judgment on this person without relating it to Jay Neill, and I'd like to go through some things that to me depict the true person, what kind of person he is. He is a homosexual. The person you're sitting in judgment on--disregard Jay Neill. You're deciding life or death on a person that's a vowed [sic] homosexual.

There it is: he's gay, and that's something you should take into account in deciding whether to sentence him to death. It's hard to imagine a more naked appeal to homophobia. And while the Tenth Circuit panel reviewing Neill's habeas petition unanimously agreed that the argument was improper, the majority found, for procedural reasons, that the error was insufficient to sustain the petition.

I know a lot of excellent prosecutors. I'm married to one. None that I know would even contemplate making an argument like the one made against Jay Wesley Neill. But it can't be denied that there are a small but significant number of prosecutors out there who will abuse their positions and do whatever it takes to achieve the results they desire. When I see stories like this, I want to cry with rage.

Recount

The tight race for the seat in the Indiana 86th House District, which saw a reversal in result during the twenty-four hours after the polls closed, is now over. The State Recount Commission, consisting of two Republicans and one Democrat, rejected two votes that had been awarded to Democratic candidate David Orentlicher in the first phase of the recount, reducing his margin of victory from 38 to 36 votes, but otherwise left the result unchanged.* Orentlicher, who was sworn into office three weeks ago, will now have the asterisk removed from next to his name, and the Democrats will keep their narrow 51-49 edge in the House, counterbalancing the Republican majority in the Indiana Senate.

My long-promised (if perhaps not long-awaited) analysis of why this race was as close as it was will run tomorrow. For today: congratulations, David! * The two articles linked from the Indianapolis Star offer conflicting information about the final margin of victory: one suggests a 36-vote difference, while the other puts the final margin at 37.

Wednesday, December 11

More Lott

Trent Lott has made another apology for his comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party:

I wanted to honor Strom Thurmond, the man, who was turning 100 years old. He certainly has been a legend in the Senate both in terms of his service and the length of his service. It was certainly not intended to endorse his segregationist policies that he might have been advocating or was advocating 54 years ago. But obviously, I am sorry for my words, they were poorly chosen and insensitive and I regret the way it has been interpreted…. This was a mistake of the head, not of the heart because I don't accept those policies of the past at all.

Had Lott made this apology over the weekend, there's little question the matter would have ended there. Now that the story has finally taken hold in the mainstream media, though, things are less certain.

Before Lott's apology today, Daily Kos expressed hope that Lott would remain as majority leader, arguing that his presence in that role would help Democrats by weakening Republicans, and early indications are that his hope will be fulfilled. But I think Atrios has this right:

There are times when principle should come first, and this is one of them. It's been outrageous from the beginning that he had his leadership position - his segregationist links are NOT new or newly discovered, no matter what some bloggers like to think. Hoping to keep him around to exploit the situation politically is is a bit too cynical even for this cynic. A message should be sent that Such a Person Should Not Be Majority Leader. It's up to the Republicans to do that, of course, but to hope for anything else is to hope for the continued legitimization of his views. It's time for him to go. If that somehow helps Republicans, fine, because it will be the right thing to do and they should get credit for doing it (even if their motives aren't pure - no one's ever are in this business.)

While the tendency to rally around a leader under fire from the other side is understandable, I hope that Republicans will do the right thing.

Bayh for Governor?

In the wake of Lt. Governor Joe Kernan’s announcement that he will not run for governor when the term-limited incumbent Frank O’Bannon’s term expires in 2004, as the Democrats have begun casting about for potential replacement, an intriguing name has been suggested: Evan Bayh. Bayh, who was governor from 1988 until 1996, is far and away the best known and most popular Democrat in the state, and he would be a formidable candidate even if the local economy remained stagnant into the 2004 election cycle.

Bayh is, of course, currently Indiana’s junior senator, and he is up for re-election to his Senate seat in 2004. It’s no secret that he has higher political aspirations, though, and with opportunities for leadership within the Senate now relatively limited, Bayh might reasonably conclude that being governor would provide a better launching pad than the Senate for the inevitable presidential bid.

Bayh’s office is being coy so far in response to media inquiries. I know that some Indiana Democrats are hoping that he will decide to run for governor—he presents the best hope of retaining the office that the Democrats have held since Bayh’s first election in 1988. But national Democrats should be hoping that he opts out of the governor’s race. Bayh is a shoo-in for re-election to the Senate, but if he runs for governor the Democrats’ vulnerability will be transferred to the Senate race—which would complicate Democratic hopes for regaining the Senate majority in 2004.

Tuesday, December 10

Ted's Back

Just when I was about to give up hope, Ted Barlow has returned from one heck of a long week off. Welcome back, Ted! And thanks from a grateful reader to Charles Kuffner for helping to persuade Ted to return, and to Tom Spencer, on whose site I learned the joyous news.

Sportsman

I was pleased to learn, via Off Wing Opinion, that Sports Illustrated has chosen four-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong as its Sportsman of the Year. As Eric says, it's about time.

Gee, I wonder what Ron Borges thinks of the selection?

Lott's Apology

Trent Lott has apologized for his poisonous comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party (and the New York Times has finally taken note of the story, five days late). But it's not much of an apology. As Kevin Raybould writes:

Instead of saying, "I repudiate the racism of the dixiecrat ticket", he says "the failed policies of the past". Instead of saying "I am sorry I ever implied otherwise", placing the fault on him, he says "I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.", placing the onus on the listeners. Those are weasel words, nothing more.

Given the clear implication of Lott's statement that if Thurmond had been elected in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years," and his long history of cozying up to segregationists, Lott needs to do better than his fuzzy apology.

Iraqi Weapons

US and UN officials are digging through the massive Iraqi weapons declaration, which apparently takes 12,000 or so pages to say, in essence, "We have nothing." That being the case, I'm puzzled that more hasn't been made of the apparent discovery, noted by Rob Lyman last week, of a number of artillery shells loaded with chemical weapons at a former chemical weapons production site:

[UN team leader Demetrius] Perricos later said the arms experts had located "between 10 and 20" artillery shells, loaded with the chemical weapons agent mustard, which had been recorded at the site but had not been destroyed because of the abrupt collapse of inspections in 1998. His team secured the shells in their storage place and planned to destroy them, he said.

I'm not sure what to make of this. In a sense, if inspectors in 1998 had identified and tagged a stock of chemical weapons but had left Iraq before seeing the weapons destroyed, it's a relief to find the weapons, still tagged—it means that the Iraqis haven't moved and hidden them. And it's possible that, somewhere in the 12,000 pages, the Iraqis acknowledge the continued existence of weapons found but not destroyed by the 1998 inspectors (a quick perusal of the Iraqi report's table of contents, available as a pdf here, shows a reference to the facility in question, but nothing more that I can see). But in light of the stakes involved, I find it very curious that a report of chemical weapons found at an Iraqi facility should receive so little comment and so little follow-up.

Monday, December 9

Moving Day

Eric McErlain has taken his terrific sports blog, Off-Wing Opinion, off Blogger and Blogspot; his new, Movable Type-based site can be found here. First up at the new site: an interesting story about Marnie "Peanut" Johnson, apparently the only woman ever to play in a men's professional baseball league. Johnson pitched for the Indianapolis Clowns for two years in the 1950s, as the Negro Leagues were winding down.

Eric is right: her story would make a terrific movie.

Treasury

Josh Marshall captures what I suspect a lot of us were thinking when the president announced his new choice to head the Treasury:

Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before the Bush administration realized that it had made a mistake in filling the Treasury Secretary post with a bland, unknown, Ford administration retread, who made his name as the CEO of an Old Economy stalwart. They sure won't make that mistake again.

Oh wait ...

The Washington Post offers an introduction to John Snow here.

Indiana Politics

The race for the Indiana House seat for the 86th District took another step toward resolution last week, when a recount increased Democrat David Orentlicher's margin of victory over Republican Jim Atterholt from 36 to 38 votes. The Republicans are appealing the result to the State Recount Commission; while the 38-vote margin is large enough that reversal is unlikely, it remains a possibility. And a reversal would not necessarily end the matter, because the House of Representatives—currently 50 Democrats and 49 Republicans—has final say as to whom to seat. While a measure of uncertainty remains, new House Speaker Pat Bauer is sufficiently confident of holding the post that he has begun renovations of the speaker's office—perhaps not the most politically astute move, given the state's budget crisis.

I remain of the view that the race for the 86th should not have been as close as it was, and I'll explain why soon. Because David is a friend, though, I want to wait until the result is finalized.

In the meantime, the 2004 race for governor—an office Democrats have held since Evan Bayh's election in 1988—has been thrown into disarray by Lieutenant Governor Joe Kernan's announcement that he will not seek the post. Kernan is not a particularly magnetic figure, and he would have faced a difficult battle, given the budget problems the state has encountered under current Governor Frank O'Bannon. But his withdrawal, and the shortage of other Democrats with statewide profiles, gives a significant boost to Republican hopes of capturing the office in two years.

I mention all of this today in part to promote the Political State Report*, a new collaborative blog organized by Markos of the Daily Kos. Markos is putting together a strong lineup of contributors, including Ann Salisbury, Archpundit, Kevin Raybould, Tom Spencer, Charles Kuffner, and Jason Rylander, among others. Many states still lack contributors, though. In addition, the list is currently heavy with Democrats, and Markos is determined that this be a bipartisan (or multi-partisan) site. Anyone interested in contributing should drop him a line.

* The site is currently in testing phase, so no link yet.

Sunday, December 8

Wine of the Week
Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone 1989

In the past year, since Noah was born, I've done very little real cooking, and I've missed it. So last week, when I stumbled across a recipe for bistro chicken in Cooking Light, I saw something I had to try. I love bistro cooking for its robust flavors as well as for the apprearance, at least, of simplicity, and this dish looked like a winner.

The question then became what wine to pair with it. Something rustic, French, and not too expensive seemed about right, so I immediately thought of a Cotes-du-Rhone. Unfortunately, I don't have much Cotes-du-Rhone on hand these days, so I wound up going a bit more upmarket than I originally intended. But it paid off in a big way.

The Cotes-du-Rhone I chose was Coudoulet de Beaucastel, the second wine of Chateauneuf-du-Pape mainstay Chateau de Beaucastel. The Coudoulet vineyards are across the road from the main Beaucastel vineyards, just outside the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, and Beaucastel sometimes adds juice from young vines in the main vineyards. Most Cotes-du-Rhone is relatively light (though flavorful) and meant to be drunk young. Although the Coudoulet vineyards' location means that the wine has to be sold as a Cotes-du-Rhone, however, it's really appropriate to think of Coudoulet as a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and to give it some time to develop in the bottle. Not as much time as with Beaucastel, perhaps—I've had some magnificent older Beaucastels, and I doubt that Coudoulet would hold up for multiple decades as Beaucastel can. But time does help.

The 1989 Coudolet reveals considerable ambering, suggesting that it's probably not likely to improve much more. But that's okay—this is spectacularly good wine. The aroma is of black fruit and rubrum lilies, showing the influence of the mourvedre in the blend. It's quite distinctive and very inviting. The flavors are powerful without being overwhelming, with blackberry and plum fruit married to leather, lilies, licorice, spice, and black pepper. There is still significant tannin, but there's nothing astringent; the tannins simply provide a sense of structure.

This is a wine to scare neophytes and small children—its flavors are unusual and vaguely savage, not at all like the pure fruit flavors that frequently emerge from California. But it's really fantastic stuff, and it complemented the chicken's flavors perfectly. When I bought it, the Coudolet cost a little more than half what the Beaucastel cost, about $17 to the Beaucastel's $30. Having now tasted the Coudolet at maturity, I really wish I'd bought more of it and less of the Beaucastel (which, though wonderful, isn't twice as wonderful).

I heartily endorse the bistro chicken recipe, by the way. It's quite simple, but there was still sufficient chopping and so forth to give me the sense that I was actually participating in the process, not just dumping a whole bunch of ingredients together. Prep time from start to finish was about ninety minutes, the last 45 of which required little work. Next time I'll tinker with it a bit, but as far as I'm concerned, when you're working with tomatoes, olives, and capers, it's hard to go wrong. Unless you're making cheesecake, of course.

Trent Lott

I noted with disgust Trent Lott's suggestion on Friday that America somehow would have been better off if a strict segregationist had been elected president in 1948, but I haven't had time to write about it until now. And at this point, frankly, doing so seems redundant. The left-leaning portion of the political blogosphere has already come out in full force, with notable posts by Ampersand, Avedon Carol, Mark A. R. Kleiman, Sam Heldman, Kevin Raybould, Kevin Drum, Daily Kos, and Atrios, among others. More heartening in some ways are the strong denunciations of Lott by bloggers from the other side of the political spectrum, including Virginia Postrel, R. Alex Whitlock, Jane Galt, Rob Lyman, Daniel W. Drezner, Josh Chafetz, and the blogosphere's 800-pound gorilla, Glenn Reynolds.

Curiously, though, the story has been largely absent from the mainstream media (Atrios has noted, for example, the continued silence of the New York Times), and while the audience that heard Lott's remarks reportedly "gasped," so far there has been no comment from other Republican senators. This is important. In a few weeks, the Senate will reorganize under a Republican majority, and at present Lott is slated to resume his position as majority leader. If his comments are allowed to pass unremarked, and Lott is re-elected to his leadership post, it will go a long way toward rebutting the suggestion of some Republicans that the racist "paleo-conservatives" have been banished from the mainstream of the party.