April 08, 2006

Four years ago...this blog was founded.

April 07, 2006

Two Ships Passing in the Night:
But as I look back at December 2001, and prepare to hang up the blogging fun of Reason’s Hit & Run for the stodgier print pages of the L.A. Times, I can’t shake the feeling of nostalgia for a promising cross-partisan moment that just fizzled away. Americans are always much more interesting than their political parties or ideological labels, and for a few months there it was possible for readers and writers alike to feel the unfamiliar slap of collisions with worlds they’d previously sealed off from themselves. You couldn’t predict what anyone would say, especially yourself.
--Matt Welch
Well, as it turns out, Frist didn't have the backing from his own caucus for the immigration compromise yesterday...Lord, what a putz....

UPDATE (4/8): It now appears to have been Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid's fault for the scuttlement, not Frist's. From a partisan perspective, it may not be a bad idea to have an untrustworthy, unprincipled Machiavellian as your leader, but if you actually care about government being an instrument for good, we can do better than Reid.

So my apologies for calling Dr. Frist a putz, at least in this instance. Republican readers may not be so generous: being unable to pass anything, or passing only palliative measures, won't satisfy the nativists in their ranks, and will demoralize their base for November. If this sounds familiar, it's because it was the GOP strategy against Bill Clinton, circa 1994. Then, the issue was universal health care, which Clinton had to press forward because he had already outraged the base with NAFTA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Not getting a bill passed sounded a death knell to Democratic control of Congress, since it alerted the party base that the Democrats couldn't get anything done, even with comfortable majorities, while signalling to swing voters that Clinton, Foley, Rostenkowski, et al., were incompetent.

So not being able to pass any grand initiative should be a good thing for Democrats, no? Well, I think it's safe to say that there were Republican voters in 1994 who are dead today, because Congress didn't pass a healthcare bill. There were a lot of people who filed bankruptcy in the intervening years, unable to maintain a staggering health care burden, who probably wished Congress hadn't dicked around on the issue back when it was in the public forefront. If there's an opportunity to pass a good bill, then do it, no matter who gets the partisan credit in the end.

April 06, 2006

This might be as good a time as any to chide the bloggers who persist in calling the outing of a CIA agent by the White House, "Treason Gate". Or for that matter, any of its related affiliates. Besides being hackneyed and cliched, and redolent of McCarthyism to boot, its usage contradicts the essential point of using the "-gate" suffix everytime there's a scandal afoot: tying a banal, otherwise inoffensive word or name to the dark conspiracy that's gotten you all riled up in the first place (ie., "Watergate"), thereby giving the scandal a colorful name. Back in 1974, no one needed to call the events that led to the resignation of a President, "Break-in Gate" or "Nixongate".

If you believe that the sheer act of publicly disclosing the name of a spook is "treason", then say so. You're alleging a crime, it's easy to understand, and you don't look like a routine partisan thug in the process. More importantly, it shows your outrage is to be taken seriously. If you must, call the matter, "PlameGate", or even "LibbyGate", if you so lack originality that you have to return to the old chestnut. But "Treason Gate" is so Ann Coulter....
Is Peace At Hand? Concerning the immigration debate, possibly. Frist has capitulated, the Democrats are on board, and it looks like the Senate will pass a version enabling all but a few of the immigrants now in the country a path to citizenship. The House bill favored by the bedsheet crowd is dead, and with DeLay out of the picture, and Bush and Rove tacitly supporting the Senate bill, there's no enforcer to keep House Republicans in line. There's no political momentum, either; the wingnuts have no where else to go, and someone like Rove can always rile them up over some other issue that doesn't piss off a swing segment of the electorate.

April 05, 2006

Consider this hypothetical: Congressman X, from Orange County, is notorious for his pierced eyelids and his shaved head, bald everywhere except for the spiked red mohawk atop. He's also had several previous run-ins with the authorities, who often confuse him for one of the riff-raff at various Capitol Hill check-points. Don't you think that someone in the upper hierarchy of the Capitol Police would point out to his minions that Mr. X is, in fact, a Congressman, and should be given all the privileges and benefits of same, regardless of whether he's wearing his lacquered I.D. when he walks through checkpoints?

Well, if he was a white Republican from Orange County, of course that message would go out. There are only 535 faces to remember, and if the principal component of your job is to spot a face, that shouldn't be too hard. This isn't to excuse the bizarre antics of the Congresswoman from Georgia, but it seems to me that it wouldn't have been very hard for someone in authority to put the word out that one of the members of Congress has a rather, shall I say, distinctive hairstyle, she's black, and she's cross-eyed, but that she's not a terrorist, and in fact she's a sitting member of the House and can be presumed to be not carrying a bomb with her when she's traversing the Capitol Steps.

And a bit of advice to Representative McKinney: if you want respect, try showing some to the nation you serve, starting with your constituents. They deserve better than someone whose personal appearance is shoddy and bagladyish, and whose sense of entitlement would outrage Jennifer Lopez or Barry Bonds. You're a U.S. Congresswoman, and serve in the People's House, so act the part, damnit.
Mickey Kaus, on the Senate debate on immigration, and in particular the issue of amnesty:
The actual sight of millions of illegals having to leave the country might have a deterrent, they-mean-business effect that could counterbalance the inevitable incentive effect (on potential future illegals) of the deal's partial semi-amnesty.


To get a disincentive we-mean-business effect, potential immigrants would need to see large numbers of recent immigrants actually leaving the country.
Lord, is there anything that would trigger the Law of Unintended Consequences faster than the sight of millions of our friends and neighbors being booted out of the country, many of them unwillingly...has Kaus ever seen the mass deportation of refugees, of what the "actual sight of millions of illegals having to leave the country" would look like? Neighbors ratting out neighbors, jackbooted INS thugs arresting people (sorry, "illegals") in the middle of the night, entire sections of our cities evacuated, current citizens being compelled to carry national I.D. cards to stave off being deported on a whim; if there is anything less consistent with showing "we mean business" than the voters two or three years from now, deciding that Bosnia or Kosovo, circa 1994, isn't what we really wanted, and demanding that the law be changed yet again to undo such a policy?

And think about how such images would stain the image of the United States overseas. As if Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and our other torture camps aren't bad enough, we would now have on our collective souls the sight of people being uprooted from their homes, involuntarily, to return to a life of destitution, unemployment and political repression in their native countries. Of course, this assumes that we even have the will to show "we mean business"; more likely, who ever is in charge of Homeland Security will be satisfied not with the mass eviction of illegal immigrants, but a few token arrests, enough to show the Tancredos and Malkins of the world that the House version of the proposed law is being enforced, but not enough to actually send any deterrent to future immigrants. In short, it would be like the current legal regime, where immigration is treated with the same rigor as laws illegalizing pot.

In the long run, the more draconian the law Congress passes, the less likely it would have any long-term impact on immigration, other than to alert potential immigrants as to who their real friends in the halls of government are. Needless to say, it would be a half-century before the GOP gets anything more than 5-10% of the Latino and Asian-American vote. Florida would become as blue as California, and Texas would become competitive again. We can't pretend that crossing a national boundary for the purpose of finding work and supporting your family is inherently wrong, and passing a law making it a felony on par with carjacking and selling crack to schoolchildren isn't going to make anyone respect the rule of law.

April 03, 2006

That Lynn Swann was an overrated player, undeserving of Hall-of-Fame stature, is something that has become such conventional wisdom for so long that I hadn't paid it much mind until I read this piece, by Chris Bowers at MyDD, attacking his election to the Hall in 2001. Having now looked at the numbers used to discredit Swann, who is running for the governorship of Pennsylvania, I was surprised to find that, in fact, his credentials for the Hall were as strong as they were.

Bowers makes three basic arguments: that Swann's career numbers are unspectacular, that he was not a dominant receiver even in his prime, and that he doesn't compare well with John Stallworth, a teammate of his with Pittsburgh who was also elected to the Hall. None of his arguments holds water.

First, not being from Pennsylvania, I can't attest to how much of his current campaign is based on his Hall-of-Fame membership, but as far as whether someone should be in, in spite of low career numbers, well, that ship sailed a long time ago. Gale Sayers is perhaps the best example of someone with low career totals being a HOF member, but Joe Namath is also a member of the Hall, notwithstanding the fact that his career totals as a quarterback were, shall we say, not spectacular. Among the QB's ranked ahead of Joe Willy for most yards passing are Norm Snead, Mark Brunell, Joe Ferguson and Rich Gannon, none of whom are even plausible Hall-of-Famers. Wisely, the voters ignored that, as well as the fact that most of the prime of his career was spent playing in a minor league, and gave more weight instead to who won Super Bowl III.

Like Namath, Swann compiled unimpressive career numbers because he played a short career (only nine seasons), and played hurt during most of it (he was particularly susceptible to concussions). Moreover, the Steelers had the best running game in the sport for most of the decade, and more frequently than not, had the lead entering the fourth quarter, so they were near the bottom most of the time in pass attempts. In fact, during his career, the Steelers ran the ball on almost 60% of their offensive plays. And there was far less passing in the game than there would be in the 1980's and 1990's, when most of the all-time statistical leaders played. Any opportunity for Swann to pad his stats in order to be among the league-leaders was almost nil.

As for him being a mediocre receiver in his prime, who conned his contemporaries into idolizing him because of a few, endlessly-replayed catches, he was selected to the Pro Bowl three times, and was the best reciever on one of the all-time greatest teams in the sport's history. In any event, claiming that Swann was elected because of the voters were "endlessly subjected to watching replays of two or three of his most spectacular catches", is silly; the catches being referred to were in the freaking Super Bowl (two of them, to be exact, against the hated Dallas Cowboys). Of course those plays are going to carry a little more weight than what John Jefferson might have done against the Chiefs in a mid-season game in 1978. When it counted, Swann came up big.

The fact of the matter is, the Steelers were not a Super Bowl team before Swann arrived, even with Bradshaw, Harris and the Steel Curtain, and immediately fell out of contention for a decade after he retired. But while he played, they won the biggest prize in American sports four times in six years.

Lastly, comparing Swann with Stallworth, who is also a HOF receiver, is a bit foolish, since both were exact contemporaries from 1974 to 1982, and Swann's numbers were superior in each category save yardage-per-catch. If Swann played on the same team with another HOF player, at the same position, for nine seasons, and had better numbers, isn't that clear evidence that he was a Hall-of-Fame caliber player? Or at least, not the worst player at his position in the Hall?

Bowers' real point, though, is to attack Lynn Swann, gubernatorial candidate from Pennsylvania. The Democratic incumbent, Ed Rendell, endorsed the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito, and is basically a Gentile version of Joe Lieberman (or the Gray Davis of the East, if you prefer). In short, he is not the sort of Democrat that any liberal should go to bat for, the marginal HOF credentials of his opponent notwithstanding.