Friday, April 30, 2004

Badgering the Witless

Huh. I thought "Ask the White House" was a feature only of Apparently the "real" administration does it too... and today's guest is Doug Badger, the Medicare functionary who apparently was at the center of the Bush administration's effort to mislead Congress about the cost of the prescription drug benefit that passed last year by one vote after an unprecedented spree of rule-bending, intimidation, and bribery (and that was just with fellow Republicans). Badger has refused to testify to the House Ways and Means Committee about that missing $140 billion, but apparently he's happy to talk to all of us in webland today.

Anyone have a question they'd like to ask the nice Mr. Badger?
New on the Site

"Anger is an energy."
--Public Image Ltd.

Check out Today's Infuriational Reading, right there to your left. I'll be updating it regularly with columns from across the web that, well, enraged me... and hopefully can help energize and motivate folks to make things better. This first one comes from Salon and tells a tale of occupational humiliation and the downside--well, one downside--of the ongoing transformation of the economy.

Be warned: most of these will probably be political in nature (only fitting, in this historically rich time for public-sector outrage), though surely there will be the occasional stupid Larry Bowa quote to keep us in mind of what's really important. Apparently the Li'l Maniac never even considered bringing Wagner into yesterday's game to face Reggie Sanders (see below).

Question: Does Bo have some incentive clause in his contract based on Wagner's saves total?
The Tillman Tiff

That low thumping you hear this morning is the sound of a million fists beating against a million chests over a column published in the University of Massachusetts Daily Collegian, denigrating the combat death of NFL star-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan last week.

Now, it's a puerile and poorly thought out piece. But as is sadly typical with this stuff, one dumb idea broadly disseminated has loosed a tidal wave of intolerant reaction. People are circulating the e-mail address of the writer, which I won't reproduce here; the idea, I hope is just to criticize, but I don't have great faith that everyone will leave it there. We've come to a point in this country where every public disagreement has potentially dire consequences. The writer was foolish to throw a match on this highly flammable issue, but the punishment is pretty certain to go way beyond the crime.

Myself, I would have responded something like this: Tillman's sacrifice, whatever his motivations (and I think they were likely a lot more admirable than this Gonzalez seems to), is deeply moving. A lot of us have mouthed phrases like "9/11 changed me" (maybe, living in NYC and working so close to the site of the attack, I've heard it more than folks elsewhere in the country, but it seems like a fairly universal sentiment); Tillman lived that change and did what he considered best to make something positive of it--in this case, joining his brother in the military. Could the writer claim to have done as much?

By the way, the paper itself published an explanatory note this morning that managed to cover their collective tuckuses, but at least asserted the primacy of the First Amendment in this case: has become very obvious to us at The Collegian that Gonzalez's opinion has caused a lot of controversy and frustration. We cannot, however, compromise the mission of our publication for the sake of ensuring the constant happiness of our readership. Gonzalez has just as much right to the opinion he presented as anyone else does...

Good for them.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Squandered and Spent

The Phils' four-hour odyssey in St. Louis came to a somewhat merciful end with Jim Edmonds' leadoff homer in the bottom of the 13th giving the Redbirds a 5-4 win. "That's" Amaury Telemaco gave up the funk, but still gets an A for effort; the guy was in his fifth inning of work and his arm was likely about to fall off.

Bullpen goat horns go to Todd Worrell and Roberto Hernandez, who keyed the three-run 8th for St. Louis sandwiched around a big Cormier strikeout of Edmonds to turn a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 hole. With one out, Worrell gave up a single to Renteria, then a double to Pujols. Cormier came on K Edmonds, then intentionally walked Scott Rolen (thus probably sparing Scottso's legions of Philly-based haters potential nightmare material). On comes Hernandez to face certified Phillie-killer Reggie Sanders--who hit a Bondsian 10 homers in 61 at-bats against the Phils from 2001-2003 while playing, I think, for three different teams. Result: three-run triple.

But if Ed Wade's latest vet reliever fetish objects blew it on the field, it was our friend Larry Bowa who set them up to fail. Sitting quiet in the bullpen was Mr. Wagner, who has owned Sanders more entirely than any fantasy player out there: Reggie is 0 for 14 career against Billy Wags. But Wagner pitched in Tuesday night's 7-3 win, and then again in last night's 6-3 victory. What's more important, bringing him in to protect a four-run lead or having him available for bases loaded, stud hitter up, trying to hold onto the one-run edge?

Ledee at least sent a lot of St. Louis fans home pissed off with a game-tying two-run bomb in the ninth. But it would have been nice to break out the brooms in St. Louis. Meanwhile, I forswore lunch in order to listen to this marathon--and, um, do work--so I'm feeling about as tired as Amaury probably is right now.
Drippy Dick

With Kerry apparently having weathered the crapstorm of Bush attacks and--at least for now--his own limitations as a candidate, the attention of the chattering classes turns back to his vice-presidential pick. This Newsday story notes that "vetting" is underway for several possible candidates, including Usual Suspects Dick Gephardt and John Edwards as well as some governors (Vilsack of Iowa, Fast Eddie Rendell of PA) and others who, lamentably, are probably being floated only as window dressing. (More on this below).

Now, I like John Edwards. His "Two Americas" campaign theme was a little simplistic--though the first iteration of it, focusing on the Bush agenda of shifting the taxation burden "from wealth to work," was catnip for policy dweebs like me--but the guy could charm the birds out of the trees and, as an old co-worker of mine once put it, probably could sell oil to the Arabs. Maybe because he's not a career politician, he gave the odd impression of meaning what he said. (Even if he said it again and again. Probably that's a lawyer trick, but it's also the sign of a very disciplined campaigner.) Both Edwards and Wes Clark--my first choice for the Democratic nomination--showed how it might be cool to be a Democrat, something I've never seen in my lifetime. I'd love to see Clark as the VP--not only would he demolish Cheney's delusional geostrategic thinking in debate, but once in office he could handle a large chunk of foreign policy guidance. (Another post for another day: the modern presidency is now so big and complicated that you basically need a #2 who can help carry the load. We will never again see a Dan Quayle-type who just plays golf, goes to the odd funeral and mis-spells "Competitiveness". )But Edwards would be fine, too; he presents a great personal contrast with Cheney, would bring some sunlight to the generally dour Kerry message, and probably would play very well among both young voters and economically worried but socially conservative heartlanders.

Actually the very best choice would be Rep. John Lewis, D-GA. He's a hero of the civil rights movement, has been described as a virtual American saint, and as an African-American would spark unprecedented black turnout throughout the south and in the big cities of swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio. A Kerry-Lewis ticket could plausibly be said to represent the best of America: a hero in war, a hero in peace, and two dedicated public servants. (On the downside, it sounds too much like "Jerry Lewis," and nobody wants to be associated with that guy. Then again, the other side is running "Bush and Dick." So much for family values...) Sadly, Lewis--who is mentioned at the end of the Newsday article along with several women, including Govs. Shaheen of NH and Sibelius of KS, is probably being floated only to appease the constituencies. I suspect Kerry wouldn't have the courage or imagination to go this route.

And then there's Dick Gephardt, or as I like to call him, Drippy Dick. Robo-populist, two-time loser at the Democratic nomination, four-time loser in the battle to retake the House of Representatives. Bush's Rose Garden ass monkey on the war, presumably because some pollster told him it would help on the campaign trail this year. (How'd that work out?) The walking, talking symbol of Democratic failures in the last 20 years. Look closely and you can actually see the big red "L" stenciled indelibly on his forehead.

If you want to build a bridge back to the 20th century, Dick is your man. But let's briefly go through the arguments for his inclusion on the ticket.

"He'll help carry Missouri, and will sway labor and gay voters (his daughter is out)."

Let's start with Missouri, generally considered a swing state this year. What gives us any confidence that Gephardt will help win the state? He's a million-term congressman from a reliably Democratic district in St. Louis. He's never run for statewide office, to my knowledge. Do we even have statewide approve/disapprove numbers? I find it much easier to believe that this failed, tired symbol of wimpy pseudoliberalism is loathed throughout "Red America"--including those parts of Missouri beyond the Arch.

As for labor and gay votes, is this really a swing constituency in 2004? To say the least, it strains credibility to imagine that Dick would convince any union members or gays who aren't already committed to ousting the most rabidly anti-labor and homophobic administration in memory to pull a Donkey lever.

"He's a proven leader who knows how to move legislation."

Well, he knows how to see things die in committee. Granted, any Democrat finds it impossible to do business in the House of DeLay, but it can't be a good sign that on the campaign trail this year, Gephardt's go-to citation for his House service was casting the deciding vote for Clinton's economic plan... 11 years ago. Assuming Kerry wins but the House remains Republican (thanks, redistricting), what makes us think that Gephardt would be able to move anything through an opposition party leadership that loathes him? As for the Senate, where a VP Gephardt would have the power to cast tie-breaking votes, I've heard that they tend to react poorly to House veterans...

"He's been a good Democrat for so long."
This one is somewhat akin to people defending Phils manager Larry Bowa because "he wants to win so badly." Hey, so do I, and I'm even smart enough not to hit Abreu and Thome back-to-back every night. Similarly, Gephardt probably does bleed Democratic blue, but considering all the negative connotations that go with the late 20th century Democratic Party, is this such a good thing?

We want to broaden the appeal to independents and disaffected moderate Republicans; Gephardt plays only to the base (and not even that well with them). We want to run to Bush's right on fiscal conservatism and responsible economic stewardship; Gep is the embodiment of tax-and-spend liberal excess. We want to carry the standard of change and reform; a ticket with a combined half-century of Congressional experience pretty much suffocates that message. And we want to keep faith with young voters, former Deaniacs and people new to the process; trotting out a man who probably has his own dressing room at "Meet the Press" is not the way to do that.

I couldn't be more against a Gephardt pick. Only in a sewer of self-delusion and asinine "thinking" like Democratic DC could this possibly be seen as a good idea. What more could Kerry do to energize Nader-leaners than to pick the man who stood with Chimp-in-Chief to support the war? What more could he do to stick a middle finger in the face of Dean loyalists than tap the man who slimed Dean in Iowa?

Gephardt on the ticket would represent such a colossal failure of political courage and imagination that it would substantially justify the argument on the left--which I haven't shared to this point--that the Democratic Party is a spent force and needs to be replaced.

Please, please, please e-mail the Kerry campaign, talk to anyone you know who's remotely connected, call radio stations, write letters, and do everything you can to stop the nominee from making such a horrendous decision.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

All's Well That Ends Well

And the Phillies haven't had anyone who ends as well as Billy Wagner for most of the 25 years I've followed the team. (Maybe Tugger in '80, and Bedrosian the year he won the Cy Young, but those fond memories have been buried under so much Mesa and Mitch that I can't really vouch for them without a yearbook handy.) Billy Wags came in after a three-run top of the ninth to break the tie, and saved it for Madson who picked up his first big-league win with four innings of scoreless, one-hit relief.

More important, the Phils are drawing walks again, and even getting the occasional hit with RISP. A win tomorrow would finish the sweep in St. Louis and bring the team back to .500 for the first time since they were at 1-1. The pitching matchup looks favorable in theory, with Kevin Millwood facing Chris Carpenter, one of those bionic-man pitchers who's come back after a few years in the trainer's office.

Excellent Simpsons re-runs tonight: "Homer Loves Mindy" (with the incomparable Werner Klemperer as Col. Klink!) at 7, "Dancin' Homer" at 11:30. The owner of the Isotopes, "Tex," seems to be an early iteration of the "Rich Texan" character who showed up later in the series to own the world's fattest race horse (and attempt to buy the frozen Jasper from Apu's freezer), chop down Springfield's old-growth redwood trees, and hold a position of rank in the Springfield Republican Party...

Speaking of rich Texans and Republican evil, a new NY Times/CBS poll released tonight shows Kerry back in the lead--at least without Nader included--and public support for the Iraq war continuing to plummet. As the daily Rasmussen tracking poll reminds me every day, getting too jazzed or upset at any poll numbers is about as logical and constructive as cheering a sunny day or booing the rain; there's no more rhyme or reason, and one has no more influence over how things break. (Of course, I'm perfectly capable of bearing grudges against weather. So maybe this isn't the best analogy.)

It would be a historical irony worth savoring if Bush faced a presidential demise modeled not on his father's 1992 loss, but on the last "real" Texan in the White House: Lyndon Johnson, who was essentially driven from the race in 1968 when the public abandoned support for Vietnam. No historical parallel completely holds up, but those who dream of symmetry and order in the universe hopefully can be forgiven for wishing that the slow-motion erosion of American public life that began in 1968 could be reversed, or at least halted, by another Texas president hounded from office in the wake of another failed and foolish war.

Hey, the Phils have won four of five. Let me dream a little.
Scuffling in St. Louis

Brett Myers' struggles continue as he's lifted in the 5th with a run in, two on, none out and the game tied at 3. Granted it's against a very tough Cardinals lineup, but between his horrid spring performance and that 8-ish ERA in three starts, I wonder if this might not be turning into a lost season for the former can't-miss hurler. Is he hurt? Mechanics fouled up? Just Nuke LaLooshing? Stay tuned.

Update (6:58pm): Ryan Madson comes in to retire Edmonds, Rolen and Renteria without any damage! Myers might not be long for the rotation; Madson doesn't have Brett's heater or killer 12-6 curve, but his changeup is apparently lethal. Great job to preserve the 3-3 tie.
Recycled Thoughts on the PA Senate Primary

To my surprise, incumbent Senator Arlen Specter hung on last night, edging right-wing darling Pat Toomey for the Keystone State's Republican Senate nomination by about 16,000 votes out of a million or so cast. I've got mixed feelings about this one; any outcome that upsets the frothing market fundamentalists at the Club for Growth, would-be Christian Ayatollah Rev. James Dobson and other stalwarts of the right wing can't be all bad, and in some sense it's a good thing whenever you have Republicans who don't automatically assume any Democratic proposal or argument springs wholly formed from the mouth of Satan. But Specter's survival is arguably bad news for Democratic nominee Rep. Joe Hoeffel. Hoeffel's center-left approach contrasts much more effectively with a hard right winger like Toomey than a social moderate like Specter, whose seniority brings lotsa pork-product goodies to the state.

It's interesting to see all the ways this is being spun:

  • Bush's support for Specter won it

  • the fact that it was so close despite Bush's support speaks to right-wing frustration that could hurt Bush and Specter in November

  • Rove's GOTV pilot operation (anyone else see a historic parallel to German involvement in the Spanish Civil War?... okay, I didn't think so) won it for Specter

  • the fact that almost as many Dems voted for Kerry in a meaningless primary as voted in Specter/Toomey shows higher Democratic motivation

And so on. As we've seen again and again since last summer, none of these pundits really know anything. How do I get one of those gigs?

I was hoping for a super-close primary election that would leave enough blood on the floor that whoever lost would be pissed enough to sit out the general and clear a path for Hoeffel. It didn't quite happen, though 51-49 does seem to illustrate a strong cleavage among PA Republicans. In a non-presidential year, Toomey might have pulled it out. Of course, he's young enough that there's a good shot he'll be back contending for the seat in six years (when Specter is 80 and likely done). Hopefully by then, Hoeffel will be the state's senior Senator, with Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum banished to some right-wing Hades in 2006.

In the meantime, Specter's the favorite, but if Hoeffel can raise enough money and roll up a big enough margin in Philly--a major challenge, considering Specter's long ties to the city and strong support from the usually reliably Democratic constituencies of organized labor and the Jewish community--he could pull the upset in November. The only way I see Hoeffel doing that is to really link Specter with Bush, who's very unpopular in Philly. Tapping into the strong distaste moderate Philadelphians like my dad feel for Chimp-in-Chief could sufficiently dampen their fondness for Specter to give Hoeffel more votes in the city. Still, I think Specter probably will win enough ticket-splitting votes to hang onto his seat.
So here it is. The maiden voyage of the SS Fischerica comes hard on the heels of an encouraging Phillies win, a fascinating Pennsylvania Senate primary campaign, and the sad but fitting news that Guided by Voices will be calling it quits later this year.

For now, I don't think I can devote much time to this above and beyond amalgamating posts to other forums I regularly frequent--in particular, and Later, I'll be adding "Canonical," a section featuring great books, music, film and other offerings from the worlds of "entertainment" (a word that shouldn't have the pejorative connotation many snobbish folks attach to it... but that's another rambling for another day) as well as daily readings from my internet trawling and possibly some excerpts from other projects I'm working on.