Friday, April 11, 2003


In the city of Najaf, a mob of outraged Shiite Muslims killed two rival Shiite clerics whom U.S. officials had brought together Thursday at the city's revered Mosque of Ali for a ceremonial reconciliation and a step toward restoration of Iraqi civilian administration. Similarly, a tribal notable picked to help lead the reconstitution of civilian administration in Basra was denounced by an angry, stone-throwing crowd that accused the British military occupying Iraq's second-largest city of trying to impose a leadership tainted by association with Hussein.

That's from Daniel Williams' worrisome article in The Washington Post, most of which focuses on the tensions and outright hostilities between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens in northern Iraq:

Hard feelings among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens have long been a subplot to northern Iraqi politics. The Kurds have long resisted Arab rule, and Arab governments have severely repressed them. Hussein's government expelled tens of thousands of Kurds from Kirkuk and its rolling environs over the last two decades. Turkmens and Kurds have also contested control of Kirkuk; Turkey considers the city Turkish.

And yes, Turkey has made it clear that it is ready/willing to move Turkish troops into this "Turkish" city, "and has threatened to send in troops to repress the Kurds if necessary."

That's troubling talk that threatens the longterm stability of the region. But don't worry -- Colin Powell is on the job:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in an urgent telephone call, promised his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, that the Kurdish guerrilla forces will be persuaded to leave, Turkish officials said in Ankara.

But as usual, the Pentagon is working overtime to undermine everything Colin Powell does, says or is:

The Kurds, who were poised for attack a few miles north, entered [Kirkuk] against U.S. wishes -- at least those voiced by Powell.

A Pentagon official smiled wryly, for instance, when asked about Powell's statement that the Kurds would be kicked out. "We'll probably ask the Kurds to leave at some point," the official said.

posted by Fred Clark 2:54 PM


Under-the-cap games have gotten to be like homework

I am a fairly regular purchaser and consumer of 20 oz. Cokes and other beverages in the convenience-store-standard 20 oz. plastic bottle. I doubt my buying and imbibing habits have ever been altered even slightly by the chance to win -- or rather "WIN!!!" -- one of the frequent under-the-cap sweepstakes periodically offered in such bottles. Particularly since the prizes are often less than universally appealing ("Win two free tickets to the 2008 Amateur Billiards Championships in Fresno, California!").

Still, over the years I've won a decent number of free 20 oz. Cokes. Which is something, anyway.

But lately, I couldn't tell you whether I've won or lost any of these games, they've gotten so multi-layered and complicated. Look under the cap these days and you won't find a straightforward "Sorry, play again" or "Free 20 oz. Coke" -- you're more likely to find a secret code which you're supposed to type in at the special Web site, the URL to which will be flashed on the screen after the 200th lap of last Saturday's Busch Series truck race on Fox Sports.

Do people actually do this? Do they actually wend their way through this cross-promotional multimedia maze of homework just to arrive back where they started from: "Sorry, play again"?

Memo to Coke: games of chance are supposed to be fun. That's why we call them "games."

posted by Fred Clark 4:57 AM


Or give up your right to criticize public officials.

Dale Petroskey is a ridiculous little man. Therefore, it is the duty of all honest people to ridicule him.

In brief, the Baseball Hall of Fame had scheduled a 15-year anniversary celebration of Bull Durham, one of the greatest baseball movies ever. But Dale Petroskey, a former Reagan official who cozied his way into a post as president of the people's great museum, has cancelled the celebration because of the anti-war views of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, two of the film's stars.

The AP's Ben Walker has a nice summary, which includes snippets of the letter Robbins wrote in response. "You belong with the cowards and ideologues in a hall of infamy and shame," he told the little bureaucrat:

"I am sorry that you have chosen to use baseball and your position at the Hall of Fame to make a political statement," Robbins wrote. "I know there are many baseball fans that disagree with you, and even more that will react with disgust to realize baseball is being politicized.

"To suggest that my criticism of the president put the troops in danger is absurd. ... I wish you had, in your letter, saved me the rhetoric and talked honestly about your ties to the Bush and Reagan administrations.

"You invoke patriotism and use words like 'freedom' in an attempt to intimidate and bully. In doing so, you dishonor the words 'patriotism' and 'freedom' and dishonor the men and women who have fought wars to keep this nation a place where one can freely express their opinions without fear of reprisal or punishment."

Robbins signed his letter with a reference to an old World Series champion.

"Long live democracy, free speech and the '69 Mets -- all improbable, glorious miracles that I have always believed in," he wrote.

Thanks to Atrios, I've got the contact information for the Hall of Fame:
Toll-free number (888) HALL-OF-FAME or 888-425-5633
FAX 607-547-2044

(Doesn't HALL-OF-FAME have, like, several extra letters?)

So anyway, below is the text of the (too long) letter I sent to the Hall of Fame:

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Dear Friends:

I write with sadness and disappointment to inform you that I will not be visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, or ever again, due to Mr. Petroskey's disgraceful politicization of this great shrine.

Cooperstown has been a regular vacation destination for me because the Hall was a symbol of the great American game. But McCarthyite censorship is not American. Political litmus tests should have no place in Cooperstown. Mr. Petroskey has betrayed the trust of the American people and the national pasttime.

One need not read the entire U.S. Constitution to understand why Mr. Petroskey's misuse of his position is anti-American: one need only read the first word.

Criticizing the president is a great American tradition. And criticizing owners is a great tradition for baseball fans. But Mr. Petroskey has sided with a president and former owner against the stars of a film that has delighted true baseball fans for 15 years simply because they have exercised their right to criticize President George W. Bush.

This is not in the best interests of baseball. Mr. Petroskey's attempt to equate the great game with his own conservative politics does the sport more damage than anabolic steroids, astroturf and Darryl Strawberry combined.

The Hall of Fame, like America itself, has a history of allowing individuals to hold and express a wide range of political views without imposing a litmus test of correctness. How else to explain the Hall's willing embrace of the first player ever inducted -- Ty Cobb.

Mr. Petroskey has created an absurd version of Cooperstown -- a place where Cobb is celebrated for his politics instead of for his .366 lifetime batting average. A place that welcomes Bob Roberts, but not Nuke LaLoosh. An alleged shrine to baseball that would yet snub Annie Savoy, high priestess of the Church of Baseball.

And what of other religious leaders? Pope John Paul II, strictly applying the Christian just-war tradition, has been extremely critical of the Bush administration's determined march to war. One assumes that John Paul II would also not be welcome in Mr. Petroskey's private museum. Nor, I suppose, would other devout Christians, like myself, who agreed with him. Mr. Petroskey's political chauvinism is also religious bigotry.

McCarthyism. Chauvinism. Bigotry. No, I will not be returning to Dale Petroskey's Cooperstown. And I will loudly, widely and repeatedly discourage others from going there as well.

With a portion of the money I will be saving by not traveling to Cooperstown I plan to enrich my library of great baseball movies. I'll be buying a copy of Bull Durham, of course, as well as of The Natural (starring Robert Redford), Eight Men Out (featuring Martin Sheen's son Charlie, and John Cusack, star of Robbins' The Cradle Will Rock -- a parable about political censorship), A League of Their Own (with Rosie O'Donnell), The Babe (with James Cromwell), Take Me Out to the Ballgame (with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, of Hollywood's Committee for the First Amendment), and Ken Burns' magnificent documentary Baseball (featuring Ed Harris, John Cusack, Jesse Jackson, Garrison Keillor, John Sayles, Studs Terkel and many, many others of whom Mr. Petroskey would disapprove).

Fred Clark
Media, Pa.

posted by Fred Clark 4:39 AM

Tuesday, April 08, 2003


Journalists embedded with America's working poor report heavy casualties.

Bob Herbert, in The New York Times, points out the heavy toll paid by low-income and working class families due to the federal budget being considered by the Republican-controlled Congress:

The House plan offers the well-to-do $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, while demanding billions of dollars in cuts from programs that provide food stamps, school lunches, health care for the poor and the disabled, temporary assistance to needy families — even veterans' benefits and student loans.

An analysis of the House budget by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that its proposed cuts in child nutrition programs threaten to eliminate school lunches for 2.4 million low-income children.

Under the House plan, Congress would be required to cut $265 billion from entitlement programs over 10 years. About $165 billion would come from programs that assist low-income Americans.

This assault on society's weakest elements has been almost totally camouflaged by the war, which has an iron grip on the nation's attention.

Some of the grim statistics, from the CBPP report Herbert cites:

* The cut in the Food Stamp Program, if achieved by lowering the maximum benefit, would lead to a reduction in the aver-age benefit from an already lean 91 cents per meal to 84 cents.

* The cut in the Supplemental Security Income program, if achieved by reducing the number of SSI recipients, would lead to the elimination of SSI benefits for 476,000 low-income elderly individuals and people with disabilities.

* The cut in child care funding, if achieved by reducing the number of children assisted, would lead to the elimination of child care assistance for 268,000 low-income children.

* The cut in Medicaid, if achieved entirely by reducing the number of children covered, would lead to the elimination of health coverage for 13.6 million children.

* The cut in TANF, if achieved by reducing the number of slots in welfare-to-work programs, would require the elimination of about 340,000 such slots.

* The cut in child nutrition programs, if achieved by reducing the number of children eligible for free school lunches, would eliminate lunches for 2.4 million low-income children.

* The cut in foster care and adoption programs, if achieved by reducing the number of children eligible for foster care assistance payments, would lead to the elimination of benefits for 65,000 abused and neglected children.

Your letters, phone calls or e-mail to your Representative should contain pointed questions, such as:

"Why do you support eliminating benefits for 476,000 seniors and disabled people?"

"What long-term costs do you think will result from your support for eliminating health coverage for 13.6 million children?"

"Why do you think it's a good idea to cut benefits for 65,000 abused and neglected children? Why would anybody think that was a good idea?"

posted by Fred Clark 4:21 PM

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