Monthly Archives: May 2008

Theater of the Absurd

From the Post:

· Al Gore‘s “An Inconvenient Truth” is set to finally saturate all media: Officials with Milan’s La Scala announced they have commissioned composer Giorgio Battistelli to turn the global-warming book/lecture/movie into an opera for their 2011 season. We were hoping for interpretive dance, but whatever.

How? Why?

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Senator? John McCain

When asked to differentiate himself from George Bush the first thing that John McCain always cites is global warming and the environment. It’s his standby. So, he should have a pretty good score on the Republicans for Environmental Protection scorecard, right? Not quite:

Yesterday, Republicans for Environmental Protection issued their annual scorecard for 2007.

Party standard bearer Sen. John McCain missed every vote they scored. (For more on that, see here.)

So what did REP do? Give him a score of zero? No, they just didn’t score him at all.

Not one environmental vote in all of 2007? Thats pretty bad. Well I’m sure he’s doing better this year. I know I’ve heard something about him supporting the Lieberman-Warner bill that’s winding its way through the Senate right now. Oh, he’s not going to show up for the vote? Why?

“I have not been there for a number of votes. The same thing happened in the campaign of 2000,” he said. “The people of Arizona understand I’m running for president.”

We get real leadership from that John McCain, don’t we.

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The First

I’ve got to say that Dahlia Lithwick makes a good point about women and the Presidency:

We all know these double standards exist for females in public life—voters demand toughness but not bitchiness, confidence but not shrillness, authenticity but also glamour. If the Clinton candidacy has taught us anything, however, it’s that a woman can straddle all those irreconcilable demands and still win. She can win more than 16 million votes in the primaries and around 1,779 delegates. Clinton has shown that a woman can win huge at the ballot box and bring in huge money, and even if Obama ultimately secures the nomination, those facts will not change. Faced with all that evidence of success, how do the naysayers prove it can never be repeated?

Hillary Clinton has been just about the most successful non-winning primary contender in history. In a presidential nomination process dominated by spin, momentum and the media she has taken to race all the way to the finish line. She just ran into a candidate who designed and executed a near perfect campaign strategy and who hit the campaign finance motherload. Unlike Jesse Jackson in 1988 she didn’t lose because there were broad swaths of the primary electorate that wouldn’t vote for her. She lost because there was a candidate running who was, very marginally, more attractive. That she lost doesn’t say that no woman can ever do it again. It says that a woman has a great shot in any year where as talented a politician as Barack Obama isn’t running.

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How To Lose the War on Terror

The New York Times reports that the State Department has canceled the Fulbright Scholarships that were awarded Palestinians living in Gaza, because the Israelis won’t let them out.

How on earth is this possible? In the articles the Israelis blame the US, saying we never asked them to let the Gazans out, while the US blames the Israelis, saying the Israelis refused to discuss the issue. However, via Democracy Arsenal, “Given that 100 Gazan businesspeople were just permitted to go to Bethlehem for an investment conference the U.S. strongly supported, it seems that had the U.S. made this a priority, the Fulbright students would be able to leave Gaza.”

In the end this just boggles the mind. How on earth are we supposed to win hearts and minds when we treat the best and brightest of Palestinian society in such a heartless way. Basically, the US just made enemies for life, in not among the Fulbright recipients themselves but then among their friends and families.

“If we are talking about peace and mutual understanding, it means investing in people who will later contribute to Palestinian society,” he said. “I am against Hamas. Their acts and policies are wrong. Israel talks about a Palestinian state. But who will build that state if we can get no training?”

These people have all managed to go through the vetting process put in place by the US State Department to get a Fulbright. They would have been going to the top American Universities if we had only found a way to get them out of Gaza. Yet, somehow, we got 100 businessmen out when we wanted to. This is just an incredibly dumb move that will hurt the Palestinian students, hurt American interests and hurt Israel. Nobody wins. The mere fact that we let this happens proves that we have a long way to go in actually trying to win hearts and minds in the Middle East.

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The Lakers just finished up what has to be one of the most impressive runs to the NBA Finals I’ve ever seen. This year’s Western Conference was just about the best ever. LA started the season in an incredible amount of turmoil and lost their starting center in February. Their star, Kobe Bryant, has been playing since the All-Star break with a torn ligament in his finger. Yet they still managed to fight through and win the top seed in the playoffs.

Their first round opponent Denver won 50 games and was one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league. LA sped up, ran with them and just blew them out of the gym.

In the second round they faced what is probably the most physical team in the NBA bar Detroit, banged with them and took the series in a relatively easy 6 games, despite Utah’s home record, which was the best in the NBA.

Then they faced the defending champs, who had won 56 games.They fell behind by 20 in game 1. Then the Lakers, and Kobe in particular, just took over the series. Excepting the Spurs blowout in game 3, the Lakers were just plain better in every game. They were faster, more determined, played harder and were just in control.

Will the Lakers beat Boston or Detroit? It will be tough, I have to believe so. Neither of the Eastern Conference contenders have looked great in the playoffs, though both did have a better regular season record than the Laker. The difference in my mind will be that neither of them will have any way to guard Kobe. It could be a tough series, but LA has just been so good since they got Gasol in February that I can’t really imagine them losing.

One thing the playoffs have done thus far is to obliterate the thought that anyone other than Kobe is the best player in the NBA. Yes, he may no longer put up the best statistics in the league, but he is utterly unguardable when he wants to be. Throughout the playoffs Kobe has just gone off every time his team needed him to. With a torn ligament in his shooting hand. You can’t play off of him because he can hit the outside shot. You can’t crowd him because he will go right by you. You can’t double team him because he will invariably hit the open man. There hasn’t been an offensive juggernaut like this in the NBA since Michael Jordan. Lebron is good, don’t get me wrong. But the Celtics guarded him. Kobe can’t be stopped.

The truly frightening thing is how good this team is going to be the next couple of seasons. Kobe probably isn’t at his physical peak anymore, but it doesn’t matter. The Bulls didn’t win a title in any of Jordan’s best statistical seasons. Plus, Kobe is still only 29. Pau Gasol is 27. Lamar Odom is 28. Next season they’ll get Andrew Bynum, a 20 year old center who would easily be a 5 pick in the draft, back. That is easily the best core in the NBA. Beyond that Derek Fisher is the only LA role player who is over the age of 30. Twenty-Eight year old Luke Walton is the oldest of the rest of the contributors. Jordan Farmar is only 21.

The Lakers will easily have 5 more years to play together before anyone but Fisher begins to seriously decline. To put it in context, the 91-92 Chicago Bulls, Jordan’s first title team, had 4 key contributors who were at least 30 and only one under the age of 25.

Thats not to say these Lakers will walk away with the next several championships. They certainly have as good a shot as a team ever has, but at a minimum the Hornets, Jazz and Trail Blazers will be formidable competitors, as will the Cavaliers, Bulls and Celtics in the East. But these Lakers have a chance to be scary, scary good.

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Really? Doug Collins

So it looks like the Chicago Bulls picked Doug Collins to be their next head coach. This is a puzzling move. Not only did the Bulls fire Collins back in the 80s, but he’s been a coach who has been terrible at developing young talent, which is all the Bulls have. Plus, they’re going to be adding yet another talented young piece to the puzzle with the number one draft pick.

John Hollinger lays out the case against Collins here, and its pretty impressive. Hollinger’s argument is that Collins teams play at an incredibly slow pace, he hasn’t been able to develop young talent and his temperament is too similar to Scott Skiles’, the coach the Bulls quit on after just three years.

The pace issue seems to me to be the most damning. Next year’s Bulls team, whoever they draft, should be the most exciting in the league. They have an astounding collection of athletic, young talent and should be an offensive juggernaut. But Collins teams play like Jeff van Gundy teams. Slow down, grind it out, place great defense. While the Bulls should be a great defensive team (between Noah and Thomas they have shot blocking down and most of their perimeter players play good on the ball defense), the rest of the Collins formula is utterly alien to what the Bulls should be.

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Gee, You Think Tom Davis Might Be a Little Bitter?

Tom Davis, in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“A convention restricts you to talk to 5,000 party activists where they ask you, ‘OK, now if you’re raped by an in-law and the mother’s life was in danger, you would allow an abortion? Oh, well, you’re not good enough for me.’ That’s what it comes down to. It’s ridiculous,” Davis told the paper.

If I were Tom Davis I’d be pretty bitter too. Davis would have had a very decent chance in the Senate race against Mark Warner. He could have at least held Warner’s margin down in Northern Virginia and would have run stronger in other parts of the state. But fortunately the GOP decided that value ideological purity above winning. Hence, Jim Gilmore or Bob Marshall. Larry Sabato is right.

“The Virginia Republican Party would rather be right than be president, senator or governor, and I mean ‘right’ in an ideological sense,” Sabato said.

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Bob Marshall Just Doesn’t Get It

VA Blogger over at Too Conservative has a really good post up that just devastates Bob Marshall’s position on trade. But he leaves out one other important point. Marshall’s blathering about how Value Added Taxes hurt American exporters is simply incoherent.

A VAT tax is essentially a tax on the value added to a product at each step of the manufacturing process. It’s a lot like a sales tax.

Here’s what Bob Marshall has to say:

As of January 2007, the U.S. traded with 137 countries which use a “Value Added Tax” or VAT on imports from the U.S. into their country, yet goods and services from foreign countries sold in the U.S. are not subject to VAT, resulting in unequal trade conditions which hurt U.S. based producers.

Countries with VAT taxes often rebate the VAT when their manufactures sell products to the U.S. in effect subsidizing most imports into the U.S. although U.S. exports to VAT countries are not eligible for VAT rebates.  In 2005, 94% of U.S. exports and imports were traded with VAT nations.  Foreign manufacturers trading in the U.S. received $239 Billion from their governments for VAT rebates on exports to the U.S.

In 2007, European Union nations imposed an average tariff of 4.4% plus 19.4% VAT equivalent tax for a total levy of 23.8% on products imported from the U.S.  Under present World Trade Organization rules, imports into the U.S. are charged an average tax of 1.3% with no VAT penalty.

Now, that sounds pretty unfair, right? But here’s the gigantic problem with Bob Marshall’s logic. Domestic companies in VAT countries have to pay the VAT too. So there while there is a “total levy of 23.8% on products imported from the US,” there is a 19.4% levy on products that are made domestically. The VAT does increase the cost of US goods in other countries, but not relative to any other goods made there. It’s the 4.4% tariff that increases the cost of US good relatively. And while the tariff should ideally be zero, it’s pretty small, especially compared to the problem Marshall makes it out to be.

Marshall’s complaint that other counties rebate or exempt the VAT on exports is similarly illogical. The US doesn’t have a VAT. We have a sales tax instead. Foreign goods aren’t exempt from the sales tax, just like US goods aren’t exempt from foreign VAT taxes. The fact that countries exempt exports from the VAT tax doesn’t give them an advantage in trade, it just levels the playing field. US companies don’t get charged a sales tax on exports. If foreign companies were charged the VAT on exports they would be taxed twice before they got to US consumers, both at home with the VAT and here with the sales tax.

In short, both US and foreign companies pay the VAT tax in foreign markets. Neither US nor foreign companies pay the VAT tax in the US market, but they both pay the same sales taxes. That’s not an unfair barrier to trade, thats a level playing field. To suggest otherwise just betrays Marshall’s ignorance of the issues.

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Bowerbank Getting Better

So, I spoke way too soon on Jon Bowerbank’s issues page and campaign website in general. His issues page is already significantly longer and his section on energy is really quite good. His bio page is significantly improved as well, mentioning his work on the Russell County Board of Supervisors and adding the interesting fact that his family immigrated to the US when he was 11.

Still, it will be good for Bowerbank to get some campaign experience before he has to go head to head against Bolling.

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The Spurs Dynasty is Over

Now, you might think this post should have gone up last night, after the defending champs lost to the Lakers (ironically, because the guy taking the last shot refused to flop). But this is the news that will really put a nail in the Spurs coffin.

The NBA announced to its teams this week at its annual pre-draft camp that fines will be imposed on players starting next season for clear cases of “flopping,” has learned.

The league office has yet to determine exact fine amounts for offending flops and how fines might escalate for repeat offenders, but in-game arena observers and video reviewers will be instructed to report instances of theatrical flopping for potential punishment as part of postgame reports on officiating and other matters.

The league’s pledge to crack down on flopping was conveyed to team representatives at Tuesday’s competition committee meeting in Orlando.

NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson confirmed the new policy Wednesday night saying: “What was clearly expressed to the committee is that we would begin imposing fines next season for the most egregious type of flops. When players are taking a dive, for lack of a better term.”

Now, its not just the Spurs. The NBA is full of masters of the art of the flop. But the Spurs are at the head of the NBA’s flop-ternity. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are probably the worst offenders, but the team that invented the Duncan face are the current champs of flopping.

Will the penalties against flopping actually be enforced? Maybe not. A year and a half ago the NBA said it was going to crack down on flopping. That certainly hasn’t happened. Hopefully we’ll soon see a flop free NBA. But don’t get you hopes up too high.

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