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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The judge who saved baseball

Tuesday, several people asked me about Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. I replied that I knew very little -- only that she was the judge who saved baseball in the 1994 labor dispute. Later that day, I saw Obama describe her in exactly those words.

As part of the negotiation for a new labor deal in 1994, the union went out on strike to prevent implementation of a salary cap. Owners had built a large strike fund and refused withdraw this demand. Owners also skipped an August 1 pension payment to the players. The dispute forced the end of the season in August, leading the owners to cancel the playoffs and World Series.

The next spring, owners fielded replacement players and threatened to market inferior baseball. The National Labor Relations Board rejected owners' negotiating strategies. From Doug Grabiner's FAQ:
The NLRB first threatened to issue a complaint that the owners had not negotiated in good faith on February 3, 1995; the owners settled by withdrawing the cap. However, they then responded to the players' ending their signing freeze by initiating their own signing freeze, and unilaterally renewing contracts by changing the language to deny players the right to arbitration and free agency.

On March 15, the NLRB issued a new complaint over this charge. On March 26, it asked Judge Sotomayor to grant an injunction restoring the old work rules. She granted this injunction on March 31, and the MLBPA then terminated the strike. When the owners decided not to lock the players out, spring training began, with Opening Day postponed to April 25.

The owners appealed this decision, and asked for a stay of the injunction. The stay was denied by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on September 29. This upholds Judge Sotomayor's ruling that the owners may not declare an impasse without her approval. The injunction also restored the old work rules pending a hearing on the full charges. This hearing was postponed at least eleven times as negotiations continued, was never held, and became moot with the new agreement.

The complaint over the August 1, 1994 pension payment was settled on May 19, 1995. The owners agreed to make this payment with interest by June 1, 1995, and agreed to make another payment on August 1, 1995, following the All-Star game.
Conservative columnist George Will apparently distorted this history to portray Sotomayor as an activist judge, but it is easy to find a corrective online. Indeed, even owner lawyers say she issued a fair ruling:
Sotomayor’s ruling restored the terms of the previous labor agreement so the season could go forward. Randy Levine, who became the owners’ chief labor negotiator five months after Sotomayor’s injunction, said her decision “gave both sides an opportunity to take a breath, to take stock of where they were.” Levine, now the Yankees’ president, added, “It led to the good-faith bargaining that produced revenue sharing, the luxury tax and interleague play.”

Sotomayor couldn’t will the owners and players to come to a quick agreement or prevent some old tensions from rising. But an agreement was finally reached more than a year later, in late November 1996. And there have been no work stoppages since.
What kind of red-blooded American could oppose the judge who saved baseball?


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Monday, May 25, 2009

RIP: Jay Bennett

As anyone who saw "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" knows, Jay Bennett was booted out of Wilco just as they were about to explode into the pop mainstream with "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."

For my tastes, Bennett was an integral part of two far more entertaining Wilco projects -- "Being There" and "Mermaid Avenue" (in collaboration with Billy Bragg).

Those are two of my favorite recordings of the 1990s.

Jay Bennett, 45, died in his sleep this past weekend. I learned of it while watching the Chicago Cubs versus Pittsburgh Pirates on WGN tonight. To honor Bennett, the team played some Wilco songs between innings.

Sad news, but great tunes.


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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Best Hitchcock?

Last night, my wife and I watched "Family Plot" with our teenage daughters. Alfred Hitchcock's last film is OK, but far from his greatest. Back in 1988-1989, when my wife and I lived briefly in California with a brand new VCR (we bought the floor model to save money), we watched a lot of Hitchcock movies.

Here's how I'd rank the top 10 Hitchcock films:

1. Rear Window (1954): Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly co-star in an excellent thriller.

2. North by Northwest (1959): this is one of my favorite films starring Cary Grant. The crop dusting scene is a bit of a stretch, keeping it from the top spot.

3. Psycho (1960): This would rank higher for many viewers, but I prefer suspense to horror and this one is closer to the latter.

4. Dial M for Murder (1954): the premise is odd. Who could be unhappily married to Grace Kelly?

5. Notorious (1946): Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and subterfuge.

6. Rope (1948): It's creepy. You knew Jimmy Stewart would be terrific -- but Farley Granger?

7. The Lady Vanishes (1938): Some parts are dated, to be sure, but it has mystery and comedic elements. We saw this film recently on local public television.

8. Lifeboat (1944): I watched this alone recently and enjoyed it a great deal. Tallulah Bankhead was perfect as someone you wouldn't want on a lifeboat.

9. Strangers on a Train (1951): I haven't seen this in a long time, or it would probably rank higher. I also want to read the book, which was strongly recommended to me by a friend.

10. Vertigo (1958): To me, this is the most overrated Hitchcock film. The first half is strong, but the movie loses me towards the end.

Honorable mention:

To Catch a Thief (1955): this is lightweight, but I really like Cary Grant and Grace Kelly -- even when they play familiar (and somewhat unbelievable) characters.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943): It might belong on the top 10 list, but I haven't seen it in many years. To be sure, Joseph Cotton made some terrific movies ("The Third Man" and "Citizen Kane," for example).


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Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama v. Cheney

Yesterday, both President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney gave speeches about terrorism, torture and national security. If you didn't watch them and don't have time or inclination to read them -- I'd advise watching this 100 second video mashup courtesy of the people at Talking Points Memo:



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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ducking in

Today, at the Duck of Minerva group international relations blog, I posted "Ire of Newt." Former Speaker of the House Gingrich is calling for the head of successor Nancy Pelosi because of her accusing the CIA of lying about what they told her about waterboarding in 2002. I reveal the frequent occasions when Newt himself has called out the CIA and State Department during wartime.

Yesterday, I posted "KSM: NIMBY?" which is about the hullabaloo surrounding the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. KSM is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. NIMBY = "not in my backyard."

Wednesday, April 29, I posted "Neorealists as Critial Theorists: Film Edition." I examined the favorite IR films of Harvard academic (and blogger) Stephen Walt in light of my film class (and work on "comedy of global politics").

Tuesday, April 28, I posted "The flu: context," which discussed the broad human security implications of the flu in an ordinary year (without swine flu).


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Supreme Court

Who will be the next Supreme Court justice? I do not know the answer to that question, but I do know that President Obama will soon name someone to replace the outgoing Justice David Souter. Meanwhile, read this to remind yourself why these decisions are so important:
In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, [John] Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than [Justice Antonin] Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.
That line is from Jeffrey Toobin's excellent profile of Roberts in the May 25 issue of The New Yorker. Check it out.

By the way, the "crowd" at Intrade seems to think the next Justice is likely to be Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayer, or Diane Pamela Wood.


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Monday, May 18, 2009

Primary objective? Oil security

Here's another item that I forgot to blog in 2008. From Naomi Klein's piece in The Nation, July 21/28, 2008:
Several of the architects of the Iraq War no longer even bother to deny that oil was a major motivator. On National Public Radio's To the Point, Fadhil Chalabi, an Iraqi advisor to the State Department in the lead-up to the invasion, recently described the war as "a strategic move on the part of the United States of America and the UK to have a military presence in the Gulf in order to secure [oil] supplies in the future." Chalabi, who served as Iraq's oil under secretary, described this as "a primary objective."
You can hear Chalabi say these things yourself yourself at the KCRW website. I can confirm Klein's account.

To provide an up-to-date take on this issue, consider that declining oil prices reduce Iraq's ability to defend itself. That's fairly important since the U.S. certainly wants to leave Iraq in the hands of a stable and secure government.

Additionally, oil remains a potential major area of dispute among Iraq's sectarian communities. Recently, as Reuters reported, the Oil Ministry denied efforts by the "largely autonomous Kurdish region" to export petroleum from oil fields in northern Iraq. Optimists want you to believe that this problem can be resolved peacefully, though licenses granted to private oil companies to develop new oil fields are being called "illegal."


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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Princeton Project

In The Nation May 4, David Milne argued that the recent report prepared by the Princeton Project on National Security may one day have tremendous influence on foreign policy in the new Democratic administration --comparable to the influence often attributed to the 1997 neoconservative report by the Project for a New American Century.
future historians may identify [the Princeton Project] as a blueprint for President Obama's foreign policy--in the same way that the 1997 Project for the New American Century foretold the direction of the Bush administration.
I'm not sure that's true, but it's something to think about when preparing a new course on U.S. foreign policy.

Here's a good press synopsis of the report's view of US grand strategy:
The new strategy seeks to absorb the rising powers like China, India, Brazil and others into a law-based global economic and diplomatic structure that avoids open conflict by making them stakeholders within the system, and thus encouraged in their own interests to play by the rules...

The strategy they have devised, titled 'Liberty Under Law," seeks to chart of long-term course in the way that George F. Kennan in 1946 drafted the concept of "containment" that broadly defined U.S. policy in the Cold War for the next 45 years.

"The difference is that we soon came to realize that there is now no single threat as there was in 1946, so there can be no single theme like "containment," Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson school of public and international affairs and one of the directors of the project, and a former president of the American Society for International Law.

"There are now a series of threats, including global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, pandemics, the rise of Asia, the energy crisis and threats emanating from the Middle East becoming too numerous to count," Slaughter added.
Slaughter is now the Director of Policy Planning at the State Department.

The elite press noted Obama's link to the Princeton Project some 18 months ago.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

File under "political hack"

Last Saturday, May 9, Senator Mitch McConnell gave the convocation address at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. It created a small stir locally -- probably because the Senator did not shy away from controversial political subjects. And his take was purely partisan.

Of course, McConnell was also dead wrong on several key facts. For example, McConnell wants to pretend that the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been unique evil-doers:
the current Administration has announced a deadline to close the secure detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within nine months—without having any kind of plan to contain these deadly killers.

“I hope it does not take that step without a plan to make America safer as a result. And I certainly hope it does not transfer these terrorists to American soil. Such a move will likely raise more legal questions than it settles. And it will increase the risk to the American people.

“The men housed at Guantanamo are ruthless killers.
Yet, as Ken Ballen and Peter Bergen reported last October, this is factually incorrect:
...according to the Pentagon itself, only 5 percent of detainees at the prison were ever apprehended by U.S. forces to begin with. And only another 4 percent were ever alleged to have actually been fighting at all.

Why is that? Almost all of the detainees were turned over to U.S. forces by foreigners, either with an ax to grind or, more often, for a hefty bounty or reward. After U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, they doled out rewards of about $5,000 or more to Pakistanis and Afghans for each detainee turned over. Contrary to standard law enforcement practice, the U.S. military accepted the uncorroborated allegations of the award claimants with little independent investigation.

Now, under much pressure, the Pentagon has released more than 500 detainees over the past three years ...new statistics provided to us by the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, zero of the 121 Guantánamo detainees received by the Saudis were deemed dangerous and ineligible for release.

It gets worse. Of those detainees returned to Saudi Arabia from Guantánamo, more than half have been released and are now free, most after spending a period of time in a halfway house designed to promote a smooth return to society. Only six former Guantánamo detainees have been rearrested in Saudi Arabia for any reason—an astonishingly low recidivism rate of less than 9 percent among those released.

Although the Saudi efforts to reintegrate these prisoners into society are certainly commendable, the only reasonable explanation for such a low recidivism rate is that the detainees were never guilty of terrorist acts in the first place.
Don't want to take the word of the Saudis? Consider this:
Information released in May by the Department of Defense further buttresses the Saudi findings of a very low recidivism rate. The department’s list of named released detainees who have subsequently engaged in militant or terrorist activities anywhere in the world shows that 12 have done so, a recidivism rate of just 2 percent. In fact, the Pentagon can cite only six instances in which an inmate released from Guantánamo actually took up arms against the United States.

...new statistics from the Saudi Ministry of Interior, corroborated by the Pentagon’s own findings, show that the overwhelming majority of individuals detained at Guantánamo not only were not terrorists, but were likely innocent of any crime.
McConnell also played fast and loose with the facts about the interrogation memos recently declassified by the Obama administration:
It was a mistake for the administration to reveal to al Qaeda terrorists the interrogation methods they can expect to face if captured. Releasing those memos has made America less safe.
As I've blogged before, scholars have been studying American torture techniques for years. They are well-known already.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel pointed out that the Bush administration had already disclosed most of the techniques:
Let me say this, one of the reasons the president was willing to let this information out was that much of the information was already out. So if they're saying that you've basically exposed something, it's been written . Go get the New York Review of books. It's there. So the notion that somehow we're exposing something -- it's already out. In fact President Bush let a lot, a lot of this information out. So the notion that somehow this is all of a sudden a game-changer, doesn't take cognizance that its already in the system and in the public domain. Therefore, it's not new.
If you don't believe Emanuel, look at this article in the October 4, 2007, NY Times. Or this piece from June 2004 in the NY Review of Books.

Numerous Bush officials were questioned about waterboarding by Congress over the past few years, especially after the November 2006 Democratic victory. John Kerry opposed Bush Attorney General Mike Mukasey over this issue in 2007.


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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Republican Fratricide

For months, Kentuckians have been hearing rumors that Republican Senator Mitch Mcconnell wants his colleague Jim Bunning to retire and abandon his quest for reelection. McConnell apparently worries that Bunning will lose the seat to a Democrat in the next home state election.

This week, Bunning popped off about McConnell:
"Do you realize that under our dynamic leadership of our leader (McConnell), we have gone from 55 and probably to 40 (seats) in two election cycles," Bunning said in a conference call with reporters. "And if the tea leaves that I read are correct, we will wind up with about 36 after this election cycle.

"So if leadership means anything, it means you don't lose … approximately 19 seats in three election cycles with good leadership."
Apparently, McConnell forgot that Hall of Famer Bunning was once notorious for hitting opposing players with pitches.


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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Profiling the Terrorist Identity

Are you traveling to Europe this summer? Do you think you could spot a terrorist if you saw one? Bet against that.

In June 2007 (I'm still cleaning out my home office), The Atlantic Monthly ran a short piece based on the research of Edwin Bakker of Netherlands Institute of International Relations:
The author profiled 242 European Muslim terrorists nabbed since September 2001: 40 percent of them had been born in Europe; many were poor and had criminal records; almost all were single (or divorced) men; and they ranged widely in age, from their teens to near retirement. But none of these factors distinguished them in any significant way from the broader population of European Muslims.
Basically, as the magazine reported, profiling efforts in Europe are doomed to round up lots of innocent people.

You can read Bakker's latest publication on this topic here (that's a pdf):
"Muslims in the Netherlands: Tensions and Violent Conflict," Tinka Veldhuis & Edwin Bakker, in: Ethno-religious Conflict in Europe: Typologies of Radicalisation in Europe’s Muslim Communities, Michael Emmerson ed. 1 May 2009, pp. 87-114.



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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Don't love that dirty water

I turned in the last of my grades yesterday and have spent part of today sorting out my home office. It didn't take long to find a stack of clippings torn from newspapers and magazines -- mostly articles I intended to blog about over the past year or so. Oops.

From June 2008, for example, I had pulled a Maude Barlow piece in The American Prospect on water-borne disease:
Every day more and more people are living without access to clean water. As the ecological crisis deepens, so too does the human crisis. More children are killed by dirty water than by war, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and traffic accidents combined.

...the World Health Organization reports that environmental factors, including contaminated water, are implicated in 80 percent of all sickness and disease worldwide. In the last decade, the number of children killed by diarrhea exceeded the number of people killed in all armed conflicts since World War II. Every eight seconds, a child dies from drinking dirty water.
Barlow is head of the Council of Canadians and her article was part of a special insert on the global fresh water crisis.

A sidebar piece a few pages after Barlow's article (adapted from her book Blue Covenant) noted that "The annual death toll from water-related diseases is estimated at more than 5 million."


Title apologies to the Standells, who played a terrific guitar riff in their song "Dirty Water."

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