Casey Jones, you’d better watch yo’ speed

April 30, 2009

It was on this date, April 30th, in 1900, the legendary John Luther “Casey” Jones perished when his passenger train collided with a freight in the small Mississippi town of Vaughn. Jones, a staunch union member, devoted family man, brave engineer (he once saved a young girl from being run over by a train), was also known as something of a risk-taker, which may or may not have had anything to do with his fatal accident.

Casey had taken over a train from a fellow engineer who had fallen ill. He was making up time, running at about 75 mph, when he came into Vaughn on a foggy early morning. Too late, he spotted the freight train. Yelling at his fireman to jump, he vainly tried to stop his locomotive. He was able to slow its speed to 35 mph, but it still rammed the back of the freight. Jones was killed, but his passengers escaped serious injury.

Jones was immortalized in a ballad written by a friend, Wallace Saunders. Versions have been sung by Mississippi John Hurt, Pete Seeger (who turns 90 this coming Sunday), Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson. Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, folk/bluegrass buddies who would later be part of the nucleus of the Grateful Dead, wrote a song, “Casey Jones” recorded by the Dead on their album, “Workingman’s Dead.”

Also on this date:

1812 – The Pelican State, Louisiana, joins the Union.
1885 – The Boston Pops is formed
1904 – The ice cream cone is introduced to an appreciative public at the St. Louis World’s Fair.
1939 – Lou Gehrig plays his final game for the Yankees, and FDR becomes the first president to go on television
1940 – One Belle Martell becomes the first woman to be licensed as a prize-fight referee
1945 – Arthur Godfrey’s radio program debuts; he would broadcast daily until April 30th, 1972
1975 – Saigon falls

If today’s your birthday, many happy returns. You celebrate with actors Eve Arden, Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster), Cloris Leachman, Jill Clayburgh, and Perry King, as well as with the great Willie Nelson, Percy Heath, bassist for the Modern Jazz Quartet, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Vermont Royster (no, he wasn’t from here), filmmaker Jane Campion, basketball player Isiah Thomas, and singer/songwriter Mimi Farina.

In the news, the Brits formally ended combat operations in Iraq today.

Chrysler’s going into bankruptcy, but the feds are going to be there to hold the company’s financial hands until they reach an agreement with Fiat (which worries me; I owned a Fiat in the 1970s. Car was junk.) NY Times has an interesting piece on how the collapse of America’s auto industry may end up being good for the UAW, as it now owns big chunks of Chrysler and GM stock. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll see some workplace democracy, similar to Europe’s, out of all this.

My friend, columnist Marie Cocco, has a great piece on this at http://www.postwritersgroup.com.

Meanwhile, 631,000 new unemployment claims. Consumer spending was down in March, as well.

Swine flu is now an all-but-declared pandemic. CDC is reporting 100 cases in 11 states. Huffington Post reminds us that Maine Republican Susan Collins, normally referred-to as a moderate in the Senate, argued for scratching funding for this sort of thing in this year’s stimulus package:

“Does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill? No, we should not.”

In fairness, she might argue that she didn’t oppose the funding per se, but just didn’t want it in that bill. As a former Senate staffer, I get the procedural point, but it’s still not persuasive, at least not to me.

Slate has a piece on the US Supreme Court’s hearing arguments on whether to nullify the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Apparently, there’s a 4/4 split, with Justice Kennedy appearing to be the crucial swing vote. It’s worth noting the Chief Justice Roberts, working for the Reagan administration in the 1980s, tried to gut the Act. NPR had a good story on it last night. Nina Totenberg is really a terrific reporter, and Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, who wrote today’s piece, is no slouch, if a trifle less objective in her tone (not that that’s a criticism).

My favorite headline of the day, from Al Jazeera (English): “UN Says Egypt Pig Cull Real Mistake.”

Otherwise, much is Right With the World. My Cardinals, at 15-7, own the best record in Major League Baseball going into a weekend series against the Nationals. Much of this is due to their offense, which is tops in the NL in batting average and runs scored and second in Slugging Percentage. Defense is still a problem, with 20 (or more) errors in 22 games. Not acceptable. Pitching has largely stepped up in the wake of the loss of Chris Carpenter to the DL, although last night’s winner, Adam Wainwright, was a bit wild.

The last time the Redbirds got off to this good a start was 2006, when they just missed a monumental collapse in September, reminiscent of the Phillies in 1964, and made it to the Series, which they won in five over the Tigers.

Oh, and if you’re in Burlington, VT, this Sunday, take in – or join! – the COTS Walk, the big spring fundraiser for the Committee on Temporary Shelter, Vermont’s largest homeless provider. Details at http://www.cotsonline.org.

Later,

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Take the A Train, my Satin Doll

April 29, 2009

Yes, today is the birthday of the great 20th-Century composer and orchestra leader, Duke Ellington. Another example of a life that made all of ours richer.

Today is also the day the Maid of Orleans led her people to victory in 1429. Some thanks she got for that.

For wordfreaks, this is a notable day – the first edition of Roget’s Thesaurus was published on this day in 1852. It’s the day in 1945 when the Dachau concentration camp was liberated, and, in 1961, when ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” premiered. It was also on this day that Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin, released the single of her version of “Respect” in 1967, and, a year later, the musical “Hair,” made the jump from Greenwich Village to Broadway. And on this day in 1975, the catastrophe that was America’s war in Vietnam came to a chaotic and humiliating close as people swarmed to board helicopters to escape after the fall of Saigon.

If this is also the day of your nativity, you share it with many notables besides the aforementioned Duke, including, yellow publisher William Randolph Hearst; Hirohito, the longest-reigning Emperor of Japan; Academy-Award-winning director Fred Zinneman (“High Noon,” “From Here to Eternity,” “A Man for All Seasons”); actors Celeste Holm, Richard Carlson, Tom Ewell, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Uma Thurman; Hall-of-Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio; conductor Zubin Mehta; Carl Gardner, of the Coasters; Tommy James, of the Shondells; stock-car-legend Dale Earnhardt, and tennis bad-boy Andre Agassi.

The news seems largely dominated by swine flu and Arlen Specter. Swine flu cases have now been reported in nine countries, with several deaths in Mexico and the first death – a 23-month-old toddler – in the U.S. reported yesterday. Rightwingnut Congresswoman Michele Bachmann blames Democratic presidents, mis-calling it “an interesting coincidence” that swine flu broke out during the Carter and Obama adminstrations. What she didn’t apparently know, though, was that the 1970s swine flu outbreak occurred under President Ford. There was a pretty well-known (except to Rep. Bachmann) photo of Ford getting his swine flu shot, the shot that actually made lots of people sick.

As for Pennsylvania Senator Specter’s party switch, once we get past the spin, I’m not sure if this comes down on the win column for Dems. Party-switchers are often driven more by opportunism, in my view, than principle. Much has been made that he – along with the still-to-be-seated Al Franken in Minnesota – could bring the Dems to the magic, filibuster-killing, 60 votes in the Senate. But he has made it clear that doesn’t mean the Dems have a reliable vote on every issue. He opposes Obama’s pick for the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen. He opposes including health care reform rules in the budget reconciliation (no biggie, since that can’t be filibustered), and he opposes card-check, although he has a decent labor record. True, he’s pro-choice and supported Obama’s stimulus package, but Dems should hope there will be a lot more coming, especially given that Obama is reported to have assured him he will support him in a Dem primary in PA. Considering Specter was trailing by 20 points or more in polls against his announced R opponent, Pat Toomey, the political math was pretty easy for him to do.

There is also the little matter of seniority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to honor Specter’s seniority, but the question becomes, does that mean he could bump a current Dem from the chair of a committee, such as Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs Environment and Public Works? She has less seniority than the Gentleman from Pennsylvania.

BTW, Specter criticized VT Sen. Jim Jeffords for his switch from R to Independent (but after he voted for Bush’s first tax cuts) in 2001.

Interesting wingnut sidelight – Sen. Jim DeMint (SC) says “forced unionization” drove many Pennsylvanian Republican workers to the South, where wages and benefits are so much better, and created a Dem majority in the Keystone State. Okay, noted . . . .

And . . . yesterday, 41 people were killed by car bombs in Baghdad’s Sadr City. It ain’t over yet.

Also in the news – yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a ceremony in the Capitol for the unveiling of a bust of the legendary abolitionist Sojourner Truth, whose “Ain’t I A Woman” speech at a women’s convention in 1851 is still regarded as one of the great public statements in our history.

Here in Vermont, a coalition of affordable housing organizations released the 2009 edition of their annual report, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Housing and Wages in Vermont.” The report tracks the gap between what Vermonters earn and what it costs to keep a roof over their heads. That gap’s pretty wide. You can read a copy of the report at http://www.vhfa.org.

I have also stumbled across a thought-provoking report (kudo to Shay Totten, of Seven Days, for pointing us to this in his column) from the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute (no, it’s not focused on stuffed animals) entitled “Valuing Common Assets in Vermont,” and it looks at the public benefit of charging royalties to private companies that make money from using public resources, like bottling Vermont water. When I worked in the Senate, there was a similar issue about how public resources were practically given away to business (mining and forestry companies, for example), with barely a farthing returned to the public coffers.

Here’s the link: http://www.uvm.edu/giee/research/greentax/documents/Valuing_Common_Assets_3_20_final.pdf

Interesting, if short, meditation on two major threads of American society, the cowboy myth versus the Ellis Island reality, in this month’s Smithsonian. The author, Lance Morrow, doesn’t have the space to dig deeply into the mythos that has gripped America’s psyche for more than a century, the hard-eyed, straight-shootin’ cowboy who doesn’t take anything – including help – from anybody, but he sets up the comparison between the two American histories and briefly discusses the social and political ramifications. Ironically, this comes out as we are marking the first 100 days of the presidency of a man who, while not being its direct descendant, represents for millions the reaching of the summit by someone who came from a third American history – slavery.

Oh, and I have a movie to recommend – “Ever After.” Made in 1998, it’s a very clever and inventive re-telling of Cinderella with Drew Barrymore (one spunky Cinder), Anjelica Houston (delicious as the evil stepmother), and Dougray Scott (the prince). Acting’s solid, and there’s some good swordplay (not quite as thrilling as in one of my faves, Richard Lester’s “The Three Musketeers,” but good), cool gypsies, but no fairy godmother.

Hoping to see “The Soloist” this weekend. I’ll have a report . . . .

Later,


Genius, thy name is Albert Pujols

April 26, 2009

There will be the usual material this evening – this day in history, some news tidbits, and the like – but I want, first, to meditate on the excellence that is Albert Pujols.

If you’re not a baseball fan, the name may well mean nothing. But since I was raised by a mother who attended her first Cardinals game in 1926, baseball in general, and Cardinal baseball in particular, mean a lot to me.

Albert Pujols plays first base for the Cardinals. He broke into the majors in 2001. Since then, he has, through hard work harnessing remarkable talent, become the best position player in major league baseball. His manager, Tony LaRussa, calls him “a perfect player.” He is well on his way to the Hall of Fame.

He hit a the first pitch he saw in the seventh inning of this afternoon’s game against the rival Chicago Cubs an estimated 441 feet for a grand-slam home run, helping the Cardinals beat the Cubs, 8-2. His stats are more than merely impressive (more on that in a moment), but a lot of very selfish players pile up impressive performance numbers without doing much to help their teams win, which is the whole point of the sport. Pujols is different. He approaches his play as any craftsman approaches her or his work. He looks at every aspect, seeking to improve it. He is never satisfied, never coasting on his talent. He leads his team; he works through his play and the example he sets, to make everyone around him better, to win.

To the numbers, though:

In eight years plus, Pujols has played 1,257 games and come to bat 4,640 times. He has collected 1,553 hits and scored 967 runs. He has 326 home runs and 1,002 RBIs. He has a career .335 batting average, a .426 on-base percentage, and a .625 slugging percentage. He is the only player in major league baseball’s history – more than a century – to hit at least 30 home runs, drive in at least 100 RBIs, score 99 runs, and hit .300 or better in each of his first eight seasons.

Alex Rodriguez, most recently of the Yankees, who gets a lot more attention by virtue of his playing in New York, media central, rather than St. Louis, has played 13 full seasons and parts of two others, 2,042 games in all. He has come to bat 7,860 times. He has 2,404 hits, 1,605 runs, 553 home runs, and 1,606 RBIs. His career batting average is .306; his on-base percentage is .389, and his slugging percentage is .578.

Assume Pujols plays 16 years at more-or-less the same level of consistency (likely, given his current performance). That means he would end his career with about 3,100 hits, 650 home runs, and 2,000 RBIs while maintaining a batting average that puts him well above the majority of players and close to the very best. (The record for career batting average is held by former Cardinal Rogers Hornsby, at .358)

By comparison:

Games At-Bats Hits Runs HR RBIs BA OBA SP

Pujols (est) 2,514 9,280 3,106 1,934 652 2,004 .335 .426 .625

Babe Ruth 2,503 8,399 2,873 2,174 714 2,213 .342 .474 .690
Ted Williams 2,292 7,706 2,654 1,798 521 1,839 .344 .482 .634
Joe DiMaggio 1,736 6,821 2,214 1,390 361 1,537 .325 .398 .579
Willie Mays 2,992 10,881 3,282 2,062 660 1,903 .302 .384 .557
Stan Musial 3,026 10,972 3,630 1,949 475 1,951 .331 .417 .559
Mickey Mantle 2,401 8,102 2,415 1,677 536 1,509 .298 .482 .557
Hank Aaron 3,298 12,364 3,771 2,174 755 2,297 .304 .374 .555
Ernie Banks 2,528 9,421 2,583 1,305 512 1,636 .274 .330 .500
Roberto Clemente 2,433 9,454 3,000 1,416 240 1,305 .317 .359 .475
Mike Schmidt 2,404 8,352 2,234 1,506 548 1,595 .267 .380 .527
Barry Bonds 2,986 9,874 2,935 2,227 762 1,996 .298 .444 .607

It is a thing of great beauty for a baseball fan, watching Albert Pujols.

As for the rest . . . .

It was on this day in 1507 that a German cartographer, one Martin Wadseemuller, published a book entitled Cosmographic Introductio, in which he declared he would include in his maps a land he called “Amerige,” after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci. It referred to what we now call South America, but it was the first reference to an “America,” and has stayed with us for 402 years. Imagine what we might have been named if someone else had done this first. Leifland?

Also on this date, in 1928, Buddy, the first seeing-eye dog, began his duties. In 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened, allowing ships and lampreys to come inland from the Atlantic. In 1970, the Jackson 5 went Number 1 with “ABC.”

If you were born on this date, raise your glass to some of your illustrious mates, including Guglielmo Marconi, father of radio, former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, journalism giant Edward R. Murrow, the First Lady of American Song Ella Fitzgerald, the great blues guitarist Albert King, journalist J. Anthony Lukas, actor Al Pacino, director Paul Mazursky, actress Talia Shire, writer/producer Jerry Leiber, of Leiber and Stoller fame, and saxophonist Willis “Gator” Jackson.

Today, we bid farewell to a great actress and comedienne, Bea Arthur, who passed away at 86. A Tony and Emmy winner, she was perhaps best-known for her roles in “Mame,” “Maude,” and “Golden Girls.” She was tart and funny and wonderful to watch in performance.

Today the World Health Organization is warning that swine flu could become a pandemic. It’s hitting Mexico hard, and cases have shown up in Kansas and New York City.

I mentioned yesterday the Rs hit the “eek/argh” button over the Dems’ move in Congress to attach a template for health care reform to the budget reconciliation bill, so the Rs in the Senate can’t filibuster it. R leadership is crying foul and using some apocalyptic language about the terrible damage the Dems are doing to the legislative process and the integrity of Congress. They don’t mention they did the same thing in order to pass Bush’s first two rounds of tax cuts, in 2001 and 2003, and to savage Medicare, Medicaid and student loans in 2005. For a good look at how the budget reconciliation process has been manipulated in the past, see the post on the Brookings Institute site, http://www.brookings.edu/articles/2009/0420_budget_mann.aspx.

Also in the news, Roxani Saberi, the American/Iranian journalist who’s been sentenced to eight years behind bars for espionage by the Iranian government, has gone on a hunger strike, pledging to continue until she’s released.

And if you’re interested in supporting good journalism, surf over to the firedoglake blog. They’re trying to raise $150K to hire Marcy Wheeler, who recently got a story in the NYT about the waterboarding of Khalil Sheik Mohammed. 183 times in a month. Dick Cheney should try it. They’ve raised about $55K so far, and if you’re interested in helping, go there after you read me.

Finally, here in Vermont, the state’s finances, as many other states are experiencing, are getting worse by the day. A report by two economists, Jeff Carr and Tom Kavet (both friends of mine, in the interests of full disclosure), states that tax revenues will fall about $43M more than expected this year. Budget writers had already accounted for about $9M, but they’re now facing a $34M-bigger hole. Our Governor keeps saying we must cut spending and absolutely refuses to even discuss raising taxes. Problem is, with jobs being lost left and right, this is a time when we need the labor-intensive public services and assistance programs to help keep people from suffering. The Governor and others who abhor taxes say it’s time for “tough decisions,” but in my book, frankly, it’s easy to cut people adrift by cutting spending. Protecting programs, and, if necessary, raising taxes, takes much more political and personal courage.

Later,


C’mon baby, let’s play . . . .

April 24, 2009

“The Game of Love,” by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders went Number 1 this week in 1965.

April 24th is also the day when . . .

In 1833, the soda fountain was patented
In 1897, the first reporter – William Price, of the Washington Star – began working from the White House
In 1898, Spain declared war on the U.S.
In 1916, the Easter Rebellion began in Ireland
In 1923, the Schick razor was patented
In 1934, Hammond patented the pipeless organ
In 1968, students – doubtless trying to ward off spring finals – took over offices at Columbia University
In 1969, Paul McCartney followed Mark Twain’s lead and declared that rumors of his death had been greatly exaggerated

Born this day – many happys if you should be on this list – were:

Robert Bailey Thomas, founder of The Farmer’s Almanac, novelist Robert Penn Warren, critic Stanley Kauffmann, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (the second), Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, diva Barbra Streisand, expressionist Willem deKooning, and actors Shirley MacLaine, Jill Ireland, and Eric Bogosian.

I myself am “happy;” because the Cardinals, despite some sloppy defense and still-uncertain relief pitching, just swept the Mets in St. Louis. They now have the Cubs, at home, this weekend, with ace Adam Wainwright on the mound for Game 1.

Torture is still the topic-du-jour in much of the news nationally, but there are other things going on.

In the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson has a good column on how the law of diminishing returns – the more we put in, the less we get back – is working with TARP funding.

There appears to be a big – but winnable by the Dems – fight coming over the federal budget reconciliation bill. The bill, which is supposed to be passed in April, is one of the steps in the budget process and needs only a simple majority to pass. The White House and Dem Congressional leaders want to attach health care reform to it, an unusual and controversial, but not unheard-of, maneuver. The Rs are said to be livid:

“The GOP might first go after White House nominations. Republicans could require each appointee to get a separate hearing and a separate roll call vote. They could stop attending committee hearings, and decline to provide “unanimous consent” to move forward on even the most benign issues or routine Senate business. Republicans could also demand that the text of bills, which are often hundreds of pages long, be read aloud.” (courtesy the Open Left blog)

Not that they’ve been particularly compliant in regards to nominations. They – and perhaps one conservative Dem, Ben Nelson of Nebraska – have their knives out for Obama’s Office of Legal Counsel pick, Dawn Johnsen. Her pro-choice views (former NARAL attorney) and critiques of the Bush administration’s stance that “president” equals “dictator” (she also worked at the ACLU) apparently upset them. Nelson has not said if he would support the inevitable filibuster of her nomination, only that he opposes her. Fine, but important, line there.

Several reviews are praising “The Soloist” with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Opens tonight. I finally got to see the French film “The Class” last night and enjoyed it fully. The documentary style adds power, and it’s always refreshing to sit through a movie that does not have music (as much as I, a former disc jockey, love music) playing all the time, trying to cue your reactions.

And Bloomberg is reporting the GM bailout effort may mean the end of the Pontiac brand (sigh)

LITTLE G.T.O.
(John Wilkin)
Ronnie & The Daytonas – 1964

Little GTO, you’re really lookin’ fine
Three deuces and a four-speed and a 389
Listen to her tachin’ up now, listen to her why-ee-eye-ine
C’mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO

Wa-wa, (Yeah, yeah, little GTO)
Wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa (Yeah, yeah, little GTO)
Wa-wa, (Yeah, yeah, little GTO)
Wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa (Yeah, yeah, little GTO)
Wa-wa (Ahhh, little GTO)
Wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa

You oughta see her on a road course or a quarter mile
This little modified Pon-Pon has got plenty of style
She beats the gassers and the rail jobs,
really drives ’em why-ee-eye-ild
C’mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO

Wa-wa, (Yeah, yeah, little GT”)
wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa (Yeah, yeah, little GTO)
Wa-wa, (Yeah, yeah, little GTO)
Wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa (Yeah, yeah, little GTO)
Wa-wa (Ahhh, little GTO)
Wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa

Gonna save all my money (turnin’ it on, blowin’ it out)
and buy a GTO (turnin’ it on, blowin’ it out)
Get a helmet and a roll bar (turnin’ it on, blowin’ it out)
and I’ll be ready to go (turnin’ it on, blowin’ it out)
Take it out to Pomona (turnin’ it on, blowin’ it out)
and let ’em know (turnin’ it on, blowin’ it out), yeah, yeah
That I’m the coolest thing around
Little buddy, gonna shut you down
When I turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO

Wa-wa, (Yeah, yeah, little GTO)
Wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa (Yeah, yeah, little GTO)
Wa-wa, (Yeah, yeah, little GT)
Wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa (Yeah, yeah, little GT)
Wa-wa (Ahhh, little GT)
Wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa

Later,


What a piece of work is a man . . . .

April 23, 2009

. . . how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? (Hamlet)

And what a piece of work was William Shakespeare, born on this day, which is also St. George’s Feast Day in England, in 1564.

This was also the day, in 1772, that one Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle wrote one of the world’s most familiar, and stirring, national anthems, La Marseillaise. On this day in 1872, Charlotte Ray was sworn in as the first African-American woman attorney, in Washington, D.C.

Major day for the major leagues, this day. Hank Aaron hit his first home run in 1954. Pete Rose got his first hit in 1963. And in 1964, Ken Johnson, a pitcher for the Astros, got the majors’ first no-hit loss.

A momentous day in pop culture in 1985, the 23rd of April – Liberace guested as a veejay on MTV, and the Coca-Cola company made what turned out to be the most embarrassing announcement in corporate history, unveiling New Coke.

Along with Shakespeare, born this day were former President James Buchanan, Illinois politician Stephen Douglas, who famously debated Abraham Lincoln. Composer Sergei Prokofiev was born today, as were college football coach Bud Wilkinson, actress and UN Ambassador Shirley Temple (Black), the designer Halston, who gave us the pillbox hat, rock legend Roy Orbison, pop singer Sandra Dee, hockey Hall-of-Famer Tony Esposito, actress Valerie Bertinelli, and Irish civil rights leader Bernadette Devlin.

Torture still leads much of the national news, and, as with any big political story, we learn more about the quiet, nasty little intrigues that permeate The Nation’s Capitol with each new shovelful turned by a reporter. For example, CQ reports (thanks to Talking Points Memo for this) “that, after Alberto Gonzales quashed the FBI probe into Rep. Harman for political reasons, intelligence officials, angry about Gonzo’s move, told Nancy Pelosi about the wiretap that had picked up Harman talking to a suspected Israeli agent — defying the AG’s order that Pelosi not be informed.

That was how Pelosi learned about the wiretap — not through an official briefing, as she implied yesterday in comments to reporters.

`She knew. We made sure she knew,’ one of the former intel officials told Stein, chuckling.

It’s unclear how informing Pelosi — then the House minority leader — would have served the interests of the intel officials who wanted to investigate Harman. Perhaps they felt that, if they couldn’t continue the probe, they could at least make sure Harman paid a political price.”

She did; she did not get the Chair of the Intelligence Committee. CQ also reported that Speaker Pelosi “went ballistic” when presented with the threat by the California fundraiser (see Tuesday’s post) to cut her off.

Oh, and there’s an interesting oped in today’s NYT from Ali Soufan, an F.B.I. supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, on the supposed effectiveness of torture to extract information.

National Geographic News has a story – also making the wires – on a “giant space blob” astronomers have discovered about 12.9 billion light years away. It’s so far away, scientists are “seeing” it as it was hundreds of millions of years ago, since it takes awhile for light to travel that far. They’re not sure what it is – perhaps a baby galaxy – but there’s a cluster of stars surrounded by “a mysterious cloud of electrically charged hydrogen.” Reminds me of Fred Hoyle’s 1957 science fiction novel, “The Black Cloud.”

And as we “speak,” the Cardinals and Mets are knotted at 1-1 in the top of the third. Cardinals looking to sweep at home.

Later,


Earth Day, 2009

April 22, 2009

Marking 39 years of fighting against greed, arrogance and, often, violence in order to keep our home planet livable.

It’s also the birthday of the National League, to which I’m so partial, if for no other reason than it has existed for 133 years without succumbing to that abomination before God, the designated hitter. It feels particularly good today; because my beloved Cardinals finally got what they needed from their bullpen and beat the Mets last night.

Today’s also the day roller skates were patented, in 1823, and the day Babe Ruth pitched his first game for Baltimore in 1914, shutting out Buffalo 6-0. And on this day Elvis first appeared in Las Vegas, in 1956, and Richard Nixon died, in 1994.

If you celebrate your birthday today, it’s with Queen Isabella of Spain, novelists Henry Fielding, Kingsley Amis, and Vladimir Nabokov, the belle-lettrist Anne Louise Germaine de Stael, philosopher Immanuel Kant, Soviet leader Nikolai Lenin, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, jazz legend Charles Mingus, actor Jack Nicholson, composer Jack Nitzsche (same year as the other Jack), director John Waters

Warm up here for a VT Earth Day – 61 degrees. It has snowed in the past . . . .

News is full of the findings of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report on torture. The nauseating fact of it is that Bush & Co wanted a war, and while they were lying to the public and smearing any opposition, they were pushing harder every moment to find justification for their war, and that included ordering interrogators to grind out screaming confessions from those who’d been captured. They weren’t looking for the truth; they were looking to justify their lies. They wanted to be able to say Saddam and Osama were in cahoots, and they didn’t care what they had to do to get that. If it comes to light, as has been suggested many times, that some interrogation victims died as a result, then it’s clear they didn’t stop at murder.

Later,


April showers

April 21, 2009

Are passing through on this Tuesday, the 21st. It’s been a T.S. Eliot kind of month, but Spring moves relentlessly on.

On this date in 1509, Henry VIII was crowned King of England, and how many events had such far-reaching ramifications?

It’s also the day, in 1948, the first Polaroid camera was sold, and in 1963, the Beatles played the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey, England. The opening act was the Club’s house band, a motley outfit who called themselves the Rolling Stones.

If today’s your birthday, many happy returns. You share it with two other members of royalty, Catharine the Great, Empress of Russia, and Queen Elizabeth II of England, namesake of Henry’s most famous and successful descendant. Also born on this day were Friedrich Froebel, the author, teacher and toymaker who came up with the idea of kindergarten, novelist Charlotte Bronte, conservation pioneer John Muir, legendary baseball manager Joe McCarthy, actress/writer/comedienne Elaine May, rocker Iggy Pop, and actors Anthony Quinn, Charles Grodin, Patti Lupone, and Andie MacDowell.

News that catches my eye today:

President Obama isn’t enjoying happy returns right now, it seems. News reports are describing the Obama administration as being in a bit of a scramble to figure out what they’re going to do in the wake of the release of the Bush torture memos. Everyone at 1600 Pennsylvania, and a lot of other people besides, knew they could easily get their whole program bogged down and put the oft-investigated national security apparatus at some political and operational risk if they pursued the people who ordered or condoned the use of torture. But at the same time, how could they, in good conscience, allow said people, who’re really nothing more than criminals, to get off scott free? They’ve tried treading a middle course, which, like most middle courses, pleases no one.

[UPDATE – Obama has asked Attorney General Holder to look into the matter, a move that is being interpreted as a first step towards a more formal investigation.]

[`NOTHER UPDATE – My former boss, Russ Feingold, on this, (courtesy of the Huffington Post blog):

Senator Russ Feingold, one of the harshest critics of the Bush administration’s nation security policies, says he can not bring himself to support President Obama’s apparent decision not to investigate or prosecute illegalities from those years.

“Part of what troubles me are the lawyers — we should see their law school degrees — who consciously wrote these memos justifying and explaining full well those outrageous arguments,” the Wisconsin Democrat said on Tuesday in reference to the Bush-era torture memos released last week. “I cannot join the president, or his spokesman, or [chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel, who said we aren’t going [to prosecute these people]. I can’t. I just disagree with them.”

Later, the Senator took a swipe at some of the rationalizations for avoiding prosecution that have been voiced by Washington lawmakers and pundits.

“If you want to see just how outrageous this is, I refer you to the remarks made by Peggy Noonan this Sunday,” he said, referring to the longtime conservative columnist’s appearance on ABC’s This Week. “I frankly have never heard anything quite as disturbing as her remark that was something to the affect of: ‘well sometimes you just have to move on.'”

“Some things in life need to be mysterious,” Noonan said on Sunday about the release of the torture memos. “Sometimes you need to just keep walking. … It’s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, oh, much good will come of that.”

Feingold’s remarks, delivered before the Religious Action Center convention, represent some of the most forceful pushback against the line coming out of the White House to date. Emanuel and senior adviser David Axelrod have suggested that prosecution of Bush officials is likely off the table due to the political sensitivities that would accompany such retroactive action. On Tuesday morning, however, the New York Times reported that White House “aides did not rule out legal sanctions for the Bush lawyers who developed the legal basis for the use of the techniques.”

A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a long-time critic of torture, Feingold viewed investigations and, perhaps, prosecutions as a key tool to restoring America’s moral standing.

“It is truly horrifying and unforgivable that anybody operating under the auspices of the United States of America had involvement in any of this,” he said. “So I’m not even completely ready to [cede the argument] that people who devised these techniques should be off the hook. I understand the argument. I also remember when people said that they were just following orders. So that troubles me and I am thinking about it.”]

One of the threads of this story reaches a federal judge, Jay Bybee, who sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and was the author of one of the memos. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-NY, is calling for Bybee’s impeachment.

Coincidentally, the powerful (perhaps now “once-powerful”) Member of Congress from California, Jane Harman, finds herself embroiled in a similar mess, worthy of a LeCarre thriller.

According to a story in Congressional Quarterly, Rep. Harman “was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.” In exchange, according to CQ, said suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby then-Minority Leader and now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to give Rep. Harman the chair of the Intelligence Committee. According to a NY Times piece, that lobbying wasn’t going to be subtle: “In return, the caller promised her that a wealthy California donor would threaten to withhold campaign contributions to [Pelosi] if she did not select Ms. Harman for the intelligence post. (Harman didn’t get the job.)

Justice Department attorneys, the CQ story says, decided there was sufficient evidence to open a case against her, but then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stepped in and stopped it; because (your Irony Detector is going to go crazy here) Gonzales needed Harman, a ferocious defender of the NSA wiretapping program, to help him defend it.

Harman denies doing anything wrong. Nonetheless, the rancid stain of the Iraq war, and everything associated with it, continues to spread and will likely do so for years to come.

Speaking of investigations, the LA Times has a story, to wit: “[F]ederal investigators said Monday they have opened 20 criminal probes into possible securities fraud, tax violations, insider trading and other crimes. The cases represent only the first wave of investigations, and the total fraud could ultimately reach into the tens of billions of dollars, according to Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general overseeing the bailout program.”

Remember? We had to get that $750B bailout approved RIGHT NOW, without any strings, or all was lost. Well, they got what they wanted, with the help of a compliant Congress, and a lot has been lost just the same while a handful of people are walking away with billions of taxpayers’ dollars.

Later,