Archive for June, 2010

On Labor, Primaries, and Pressure

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I wasn’t really planning on writing on this silly spat between the White House and organized labor over the Democratic primary in Arkansas, but there’s a few different angles I want to address. For starters, while I’ll agree that this never should have been said publicly, and if the White House finds out who the source is they probably ought to relieve them of their duties, let’s get one thing straight; the White House official is right.Labor has every right to do what it wants with its money, but it definitely wasted its resources in this race. For one thing, Halter was hardly a progressive lion, and likely wouldn’t vote much differently than Lincoln in the Senate. For another thing, Arkansas just isn’t a state where labor has a lot of clout, making their backing somewhat less valuable than it might have been elsewhere. Indeed, much of Lincoln’s campaign was premised around attacking Halter for being pushed by national labor unions.

On the other hand, there’s the argument that the message was sent anyway; that incumbents better not cross labor less they make your life miserable. Perhaps, but I think the people pushing this line the hardest are looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. The bottom line is that incumbent re-election rates are very high in the U.S., and they’re downright astronomical for sitting Senators in primaries. And, of course, Blanche Lincoln is now a mark in favor of re-election. So even if we assume that labor or other factions of the party can give an incumbent a headache in the primary, the simple fact remains that the incumbent is overwhelmingly likely to win the primary, and much more likely to get beaten in a general election (especially if they’re in a conservative state) than in a primary. For someone who’s only concerned about getting re-elected, this isn’t really a tough call to make at all.

On the other hand, there’s the notion of the White House’s ability to pressure Senators, which Greenwald raises again in typically dense fashion. Yglesias and Bernstein dispose of the nonsense in good fashion, but I’d simply add that, again, there’s a very simple balance of power here; while troubled incumbents may want White House backing in elections, it’s at least technically possible for them to win without it. On the other hand, the White House can’t get its agenda through Congress without sufficient votes from members. With 40 Repuplicans lined up to oppose his agenda no matter what, Obama had to keep every Democrat on board for healthcare reform. If Blanche Lincoln refused to support the bill, that was it. There was no clever way out of things; it was get Blanche Lincoln to support the effort or give up on comprehensive reform. Period. The leverage between individual Senators at the tipping point of votes and the White House is always going to tilt in favor of the Senators (at least in domestic policy) because they have votes in the Senate, and you have to get votes in the Senate to pass bills. The question is how do you get those votes. Greenwald wants to imagine a world where you get them by beating marginal Senators with sticks until they’re cowed like powerless children into doing what you want them to, but that world quite simply doesn’t exist. Senators just aren’t powerless, and thanks to the filibuster, they’re holding the trump card more often than not. The national party or various factions of the party might be able to make life difficult for them, hell they may even be able to slay the dragon, but that vote in the Senate means that the Senator is going to be able to return the favor and then some as long as they have it.

And losing primary challenges does nothing to alter that balance.

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MLB Umpires

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Is it just me, or does it seem like someone took a nasty piss in the collective corn flakes of Major League Baseball umpires. First Balking Bob Davidson gets in an argument with Carl Crawford and Joe Maddon that would embarrass even the most belligerent drunk buffoon at a bar, then the embarrassing and pathetic Joe West tossed Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen after calling Buehrle for two balks and generally making a spectacle of himself, and now Bill Hohn has gone looking for a fight, tossing out Astros ace Roy Oswalt in yesterday’s game. What is going on? I’m somewhat tempted to think this all started when West took the liberty to call the Yankees and Red Sox “embarrassing and pathetic” for their slow pace of play at the beginning of the year, something that’s just completely indefensible coming from an official, but the truth is, all of these guys have long track records with this sort of thing, particularly for Hohn and West, and nothing has ever happened to them before. Indeed, West is President of the world umpire’s union. So really, why shouldn’t they do this sort of thing? They know good and well nothing is going to happen to them. If Hohn can survive brazenly antagonizing the Braves, including calling time-out himself to go argue with a manager in the dugout, what can’t he survive?

Baseball umpires get a lot of flak for blown calls and odd missing balls and strikes. God knows I’ve criticized them for that multiple times. There are varying degrees of thought as to how bad the problem is, and that’s fine. But this isn’t about blown calls or idiosyncratic strike zones, it’s about the professional conduct of officials. That ought to be non-negotiable. Can you imagine an NFL official criticizing a team for passing too much, causing more clock stoppages than a team who runs the ball 30 times a game? Or an NBA official calling a time-out to stop and argue a foul call with a coach sitting on his bench? Of course not, because these officials would be fired immediately afterwards. And they should, because this sort of thing damages the integrity of the game. And not just because it calls into question the official’s credibility (and it does), but because it can have actual effects on the game. Roy Oswalt getting ejected forces the Astros to go to an inferior reliever, and makes them over-tax their bullpen as well, something that will affect their game-management for a week or more. Let me repeat that, a decision made by an umpire will have effects on games played for the next week.

Officials wield a lot of power on a baseball field, they need to wield that power judiciously. Games, to say nothing of seasons, should not turn on the bad attitude of an umpire on a power trip. Additionally, this isn’t good for the umpires either. Baseball umpires get enough criticism for missed calls, and several people probably aren’t giving them enough credit for doing the difficult job their taxed with. And nothing is hurting the umpire who maybe makes an honest mistake on a call, but nonetheless conducts himself with professionalism and integrity at all times than the Hohns and Wests of the world carrying on like arrogant buffoons. More than just baseball, those umpires, as well as the umpires union, need to speak out and marginalize these bad apples, for the good of the game, as well as their own.

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Flotilla Attack Only a Small Measure of Israeli Barbarism

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Well would you look at that; the bastion of liberal democracy and respect for human right in the Middle East has caused a ruckus by having their military board a humanitarian mission’s boat (flying the flag of a NATO country), killing at least 10 peace activists on board and injuring dozens more. There’s a lot of things worth saying about how stupid the attack on the relief flotilla was. I don’t think Israel has done this much damage to their (already shoddy) reputation in decades, and there’s basically no way to spin this as benefitting them. Egypt is rescinding their assistance of the Gaza blockade in response, and even the United States is an a bit of a jam here, because Turkey is a NATO ally. If they decide to make a major fuss about it, reflexive, unlimited defense of Israel by the United States could threaten the foundation of the most important defense agreement of the 20th century, and further isolate the US from the rest of the West.

The real story here, however, should be the blockade of Gaza itself. Israel has asserted that they offered to let the flotilla send materials through Israel to be inspected, but this is absurd for a couple of reasons. The first is the casual assumption that the blockade is legal, and that Israel has a ght in the first place to decide what does and doesn’t get sent to Gaza from other countries. The second is that Israel knows good and well that the entire point of the flotilla was to take banned  materials into Gaza, namely building materials Israel has refused to allow in even after they destroyed most of the territory in 2008. Because of this, Gaza remains largely un-rebuilt after the violence, a situation compounding the already miserable existence of the people living in the territory.

It’s very difficult to comprehend the amount of suffering Gazans deal with everyday. You’re talking about the most densely populated piece of land in the world, an urban landscape with 1.5 million people living on it. And it’s basically been demolished. There’s food shortages, lack of electricity, lack of running water, disease, hunger, oppression, and just general misery. And yes, much of that is compounded by the harsh rule of Hamas as well. But this is one of the weakest, most devastated populations on Earth, and the Israeli blockade is just indescribably cruel. Israeli representatives are arguing today that this wasn’t a humanitarian effort, but rather an attempt to end the blockade, and to that I say; I certainly hope so. This blockade needs to be ended, and if Israel won’t do it of its own volition, then the world needs to make it clear to Israel that they won’t respect it. It’s not as if there isn’t precedent. And if it’s that important to Israel, let them face the choice of confronting British, French, German, and, yes, American boats and planes in the effort to physically enforce their brutal oppression.

The world has been jarred to its senses by the brazen umbrage of Israel’s actions yesterday, hopefully it winds up shining some light on the brutal policy those killed were seeking to end, and prompts some action from the west to alleviate the intolerable suffering of over a million Palestinians in Gaza.

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