Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Great cartoon

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A voice from our history

If you were listening to NPR this morning (doesn't everybody?) you might have heard this story about dangerous pesticides in use in the strawberry fields in California.

The story was interesting in itself, but what jumped out at me was this quote:

"This is very likely — because of its chemical structure — to be highly toxic," says John Froines, a chemist and professor of environmental health sciences at UCLA. "It is very worrisome, even frightening, to a chemist. And therefore it should be to the public as well."

Does the name sound familiar? I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't, but John Froines was one of the "forgotten" members of the Chicago Eight. He and Lee Weiner (I used to work with his daughter) were acquitted by the jury of all charges, and what they had in common was that unlike the other defendants, neither would have been considered a "professional" activist at the time.

His work is a good reminder that, regardless of how much attention our work may or may not get, we can continue doing good, socially constructive work, throughout our lives.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Now this is what I call PR!

After his disastrous performance in Congress earlier this week, British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward finally got his life back today.

How did he do it? By attending a yacht race.

I kid you not. He was watching his hired hands drive his yacht. I guess they must be some of the small people.

Even the Wall Street Journal didn't seem too crazy about it.

"Man, that ain't right,'' said Bobby Pitre, who runs a tattoo shop in Larose, La. "None of us can even go out fishing and he's at the yacht races. I wish we could get a day off from the oil too.''

Nice job, Tony.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Who's on what side?

Once again, we learn what side the Democrats are on and what side the Republicans are on.

The Democrats

That's right. $20 billion up front from British Petroleum to cover the astronomical costs of damages resulting from the oil spill. That's in comparison to a statutory $75 million cap.

The Republicans

Joe Barton: I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown. . .

Michelle Bachmann: "The president just called for creating a fund that would be administered by outsiders, which would be more of a redistribution-of-wealth fund,"

Rush Limbaugh, the intellectual head of the Republican Party: "Who's gonna get this money? Union activists? ACORN people? Who's gonna get this money. Let's keep a sharp eye on who Feinberg gives this money to. Because I'm telling you, this is just another bailout fund, called something else, and we'll see who gets it."

The Republican Study Committee: "BP's reported willingness to go along with the White House's new fund suggests that the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics. These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration's drive for greater power and control."

This squarely presents the issue. The Republicans have been pretending to be some kind of little-guy populists, fighting against the entrenched power in Washington. In fact, they're in bed with the wealthiest, most reprehensible corporations in the world.

We need to keep pounding on this theme right on through November.

Oh yeah, on other thing. Later today, Joe Barton apologized for his apology to BP. In fact, he said that if anyone misconstrued his earlier statement, he apologized.

Don't worry, Joe. We didn't misconstrue anything.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010


That's not the word they used, but it is the inescapable conclusion of the report released yesterday on the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry.

On January 30, 1972, civil rights marchers in Derry were confronted by the English army of occupation. Without provocation the army opened fire and thirteen Irish demonstrators lay dead on the ground; another later died of his injuries.

The dead have now been utterly vindicated. A report by Mark Saville, a justice of the English Supreme Court, which took twelve years and cost nearly $300 million, concludes that the killings were unprovoked and unjustified. The report finds that the victims were unarmed, that the army targeted unarmed civilians, that the army fired without warning, and that there was no justification for the killings.

I call that murder.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

More on Rand Paul

One might think we'd be done with Rand Paul and his support for discriminatory practices, but, sadly, he won't let it go. So I think it's worthwhile to look at the issues a little more closely.

First, a lot of the commentary from the Right has been to claim that in the current day and age, with discrimination a thing of the past, businesses wouldn't return to the use of discrimination even if the civil rights legislation we now have were repealed. They're overlooking, conveniently, perhaps, one crucial fact: discrimination never went away. We still have civil rights legislation, fair housing legislation, equal employment opportunity because we still need them. Take a look at the Justice Department's web page: they're still litigating claims in every area on behalf of the victims of discrimination. The laws didn't make the discrimination go away. What the law does is provide a remedy when discrimination does occur; it's not a magic wand that made discrimination disappear.

Second, Paul and his friends have argued that federal civil rights laws are unconstitutional because they are not among the powers enumerated to the federal government. What this overlooks is that the Supreme Court has held that the Thirteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to legislate to eliminate the badges and incidents of slavery, not just the legal form of slavery as it existed before the Civil War. ''Surely Congress has the power under the Thirteenth Amendment rationally to determine what are the badges and the incidents of slavery, and the authority to translate that determination into effective legislation. Nor can we say that the determination Congress has made is an irrational one. . . . Just as the Black Codes, enacted after the Civil War to restrict the free exercise of those rights, were substitutes for the slave system, so the exclusion of Negroes from white communities became a substitute for the Black Codes. And when racial discrimination herds men into ghettos and makes their ability to buy property turn on the color of their skin, then it too is a relic of slavery. . . . At the very least, the freedom that Congress is empowered to secure under the Thirteenth Amendment includes the freedom to buy whatever a white man can buy, the right to live wherever a white man can live. "

Denying the government the power to eradicate discrimination, the residue of the system of slavery carried forward into the Twentieth Century and beyond, is an endorsement of the continuation of the very practices devised to maintain the oppression of black people in the South and across the country.

Third, Paul and his supporters make a big deal of the distinction between private and public institutions. What they overlook is that every business in the country is imbued with state action. For instance, they would like to have the owners of every business permitted to exclude anyone they want, even based on race. If a black person were to somehow get into a whites-only establishment, who would enforce the prohibition? The police, right? If a white person wanted to prevent a black person from taking title to his property, where would that prohibition be memorialized? In the public, government-run, land records. If a customer of a whites-only establishment fell behind on his bills, how would that establishment collect its debts? By access to the government's court system. This is to say nothing of the public roads, public education system, police, and all the other aspects of government activities that make it possible for every business, large or small, to stay in business.

Finally, this latest kerfuffle seems to put to rest any thought that the Left and the Right could merge in some sort of grand coalition of liberaltarians. If you're not familiar with it, it’s a term meant to describe freedom-lovers who share common purpose with the left on social issues and have therefore made a couple of steps leftward, politically—perhaps even far enough to give hope and change a chance in the voting booth.

About those social issues: do you really think American liberals are going to line up with a movement that officially stands for the proposition that racial discrimination should be legal? Don't hold your breath.

Rand Paul claims he doesn't support racial discrimination, and that may be true. Still, it's hard not to be impressed with the patience and fortitude with which he endures the suffering of others.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

About Last Night

You've probably never heard me say this before, and I really don't like saying it at all, so I'm only going to say it once: Bud Selig was right.

You know what I'm talking about. It's the same thing everybody's talking about today.

Let's get a couple of things out front right away.

First, Joyce's call was wrong. No question about it. He said it, the runner said it, everybody knows it.

Second, it was a lot closer than anyone is letting on. Look at all the replays, from multiple angles, and it's clear that it was really pretty close, and the ball appears to be bouncing around in Galarraga's glove for a period, and he doesn't have control of the ball until he stops bobbling it. From Joyce's angle, in real time, I don't doubt that he looked safe.

Third, if you watch enough baseball, what you see is that the umpires are right almost all the time. It's small consolation on that one occasion when they blow a big one, but they almost always get the right answer at a very hard job under a lot of pressure.

So what should have happened? Is there some principled way that Selig could have done what almost the whole world wanted? I don't think so.

A philosophy professor I had once defined a game as an activity in which an arbitrarily selected goal is pursued by arbitrarily restricted means.

In other words, in a very real sense, the game is the rules.

From the Official Rules:

(a) The league president shall appoint one or more umpires to officiate at each league championship game. The umpires shall be responsible for the conduct of the game in accordance with these official rules and for maintaining discipline and order on the playing field during the game.

9.02 (a) Any umpire’s decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final.

Final. That's what the rule says, and that's what it means.

Even the most casual observer is familiar with the concept of playing a game under protest, but that doesn't offer an out here, because a somewhat less casual observer knows that a protest is not available for judgment calls:

4.19 PROTESTING GAMES. Each league shall adopt rules governing procedure for protesting a game, when a manager claims that an umpire’s decision is in violation of these rules. No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire. In all protested games, the decision of the League President shall be final.

Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.

But wait, some will say, what about the Pine Tar Incident? That was actually not at all a counterexample. The Pine Tar Incident was a routine protest of a call, in which the decision of the umpire under protest was not a judgment call (e.g. how high up the barrel of George Brett's bat the pine tar went) but what the consequence of that determination should have been.

So it's clear that a protest would have been unavailable to change the result. Is there any other basis to reverse Joyce's decision? Many commentators have referred to the "best interests clause" of baseball's Constitution as a panacea, but I think that this is misguided.

First off, it's very hard to find out what the best interests clause actually says. People who know it exists understand that it gives the commissioner broad power, but they don't really know what it says. I went to some effort to find it, and here's what it says:

Art. II, Sec. 2. The functions of the Commissioner shall include:

(b) To investigate, either upon complaint or upon the Commisioner's own initiative, any act, transaction or practice charged, alleged, or suspected to be not in the best interests of the national game of Baseball, with authrotiy to summon person and to order the production of documents, and, in case of refusal to appear or produce, to impose such penalties as are hereinafter provded.

(c) To determine, after investigation, what preventive, remedical or punitive action is appropriate in the premises, and to take such action either against Major League Clubs or individuals, as the case may be.

I haven't been able to find any instances where the commissioner has interfered with the outcome of a game or play call by an umpire using this provision, and it doesn't appear to me that such a step is contemplated by the Clause. It's ordinarily used to stop owners from doing things, like when they didn't let Charlie O. Finley from his wholesale giveaway of the Athletics. It has arguably been getting broader under Bud Lite, but I still don't see how it applies to forcing umpires to change their decisions, even an umpire who desperately wishes he could.

Any other ideas? I saw a suggestion earlier today that "In 1991, a panel headed by then-commissioner Fay Vincent took a look at the record book and decided to throw out 50 no-hitters for various reasons."

This is true. The records have been amended for various reasons at various times. For instance, I think (it may have been part of Vincent's review) they went through all the box scores and awarded Hack Wilson two additional RBI, bringing his season record to 192.

Still, this isn't the same thing. In 1991 the Committee on Statistical Accuracy decertified a number of no-hitters based on a rule change that the pitcher must pitch at least nine complete innings to be credited with a no-hitter. That change was based on the application of a new rule to the play on the field and the decisions made by the umpires on the field.

Like it or not, the game is governed by what happens on the field. From the perspective of a lifelong fan, I think it's very important that the games be conducted according to the rules. That's why Selig was way off base when he called the All-Star game a tie a few years back, and why he was right today. Joyce could have changed the call or asked one of the other umpires to tell him what he saw, but the call was his and I think that should be the end of it.

One other thing: people have been suggesting that in a situation like this every umpire would, and should, give the pitcher the "benefit of the doubt", by which I assume they mean they should have called the runner out even if they had some doubt, or just because it was a close play and it meant giving him a perfect game. I think this is completely wrong. Obviously he would, and should, have had a perfect game. On the other hand, the umpire's job, and obligation, is to call the game, and every play in the game, honestly. Once you say they should start shading their judgment because of how they want things to turn out you're on very shaky ground. It's exactly what the Supreme Court did in Bush v. Gore, and we saw how ugly that turned out.

The decision today, and the stoic acceptance of the decision both last night and this morning by Armando Galarraga, is a statement in favor of the Rule of Law, and I praise everyone involved in today's decision.

Even Bud Lite.

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