December 19, 2014

Public wants alternatives to current juvenile justice approach

Pew Trust Survey

Voters believe that juveniles are fundamentally different from adults and want policymakers to invest in programs that help prevent youth from reoffending.

Voters support diverting lower-level juvenile offenders from corrections facilities and investing the savings into probation and other alternatives.

Support for juvenile justice reform is strong across political parties, regions, and age, gender, and racial-ethnic groups.

The hidden CIA screwup

Jane Mayer, New Yorker - The NBC News investigative reporter Matthew Cole has pieced together a remarkable story revealing that a single senior officer, who is still in a position of high authority over counter-terrorism at the C.I.A.—a woman who he does not name—appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment, with tragic consequences for the United States. Her story runs through the entire report. She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.


Great moments in newsper marketing


In the fine print (made larger here):


Via Jim Romenesko

PS: That comes out to a hidden extra cost of $36.92  a year

Secret CIA study: Drone strikes are counterproductive

Sidney Morning Heald, Australia - Drone strikes and other "targeted killings" of terrorist and insurgent leaders favored by the US and supported by Australia can strengthen extremist groups and be counterproductive, according to a secret CIA report published by WikiLeaks.

According to a leaked document by the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence, "high value targeting"  involving air strikes and special forces operations against insurgent leaders can be effective, but can also have negative effects including increasing violence and greater popular support for extremist groups.

The leaked document is classified secret and "No Forn" (meaning not to be distributed to non-US nationals) and reviews attacks by the United States and other countries engaged in counter-insurgency operations over the past 50 years.

The 2009 CIA study lends support to critics of US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen by warning that such operations "may increase support for the insurgents, particularly if these strikes enhance insurgent leaders' lore, if non-combatants are killed in the attacks, if legitimate or semi-legitimate politicians aligned with the insurgents are targeted, or if the government is already seen as overly repressive or violent".

An Obamacare counsellor tells what it's like

In These Times - The ACA took the healthcare system, which is messed up already, and then it added an application and an online shopping system on top of it, and then more layers of tax law and immigration law on top of that. It didn’t actually make the health system itself better.

A lot of people I see struggle with literacy, and I feel good when I can help them get through this process. But sometimes I’m basically a screen-reader, asking questions which are sometimes awkward to ask: “Hey, are you or your 17-year-old daughter pregnant?”

A lot of what I’m doing is figuring out what’s going on, and then telling people I can’t help them.

The rise of the Harvard Republicans

Daily Beast - Many of fastest rising stars in the Republican Party, including Senators-elect Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Dan Sullivan (Ak.) and Rep.-elect Elise Stefanik, all graduated from Harvard. Along with Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Pat Toomey (Penn.), David Vitter (La.) and Mike Crapo (Wyo.), the Republican Harvard contingent will outnumber Harvard Democrats in the U.S. Senate for the first time in recent memory.

Tom Cotton credits Harvard as the place where he “discovered political philosophy as a way of life.” Elise Stefanik, who will be the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress, was an editor and writer at the Harvard Crimson and served as the vice chair of Harvard’s Institute of Politics. Like Cotton and Stefanik, Sasse was a government major before going on to Oxford and Yale and becoming a college president himself.

Despite its reputation as “Kremlin on the Charles,” and the “People’s Republic of Cambridge,” current and former students at Harvard describe the campus as both overtly liberal in its politics and an ideal place for conservative thought to develop and thrive. 

In fact, Harvard is not a liberal campus, something that most recently Barack Obama has well illustrated, as did the Vietnam War, which was propelled in no small part by Harvard advisors to Lyndon Johnson. - TPR

Green candidate for House gets ten percent

Independent Political Report - On November 4, 2014, Green Party nominee Matt Funiciello polled 11.02% for U.S. House, New York district 21. The race had a close contest between a Democrat and a Republican. This is the highest percentage of the vote any Green Party nominee for U.S. House has ever received, in a race with both a Republican and a Democrat. Until 2014, the best U.S. House showing for a Green Party nominee in races with both major parties also in the race had been in Alaska in 1994, when Jonni Whitmore polled 10.23%.

Twice, Green Party nominees for U.S. Senate have polled over 10% in races with a Democrat and Republican also in the race. Those instances were in Hawaii in 1992, when Linda Martin polled 13.73%, and in Alaska in 1996, when Ted Whittaker polled 12.58%.

The only two Green gubernatorial nominees who have polled as much as 10% are Roberto Mondragon in New Mexico in 1994, who got 10.26%, and Richard Whitney in Illinois in 2006, who got 10.36%.

Stupid White House reporter tricks

Washington Examiner  - Politico's chief White House reporter Mike Allen apologized to Bill Clinton and his staff after asking the former president "unexpected questions," according to the New York Times.

"I had misunderstood the parameters, and I’m very sorry about that," Allen told the Times in a story posted Thursday.

The Times story centers on presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the mistakes she and her staff plan to avoid repeating from her last run for the White House in 2008.

"For example, last month in Little Rock, Ark., a Politico reporter, Mike Allen, lobbed a couple of unexpected questions at Mr. Clinton after he delivered prepared remarks at the 'Playbook Cocktails with Bill Clinton' event," reads the report. "Mr. Clinton made news by questioning whether Mr. Obama’s delay on an immigration overhaul affected the weak turnout of Latinos in the midterm elections. Mr. Clinton’s team appeared livid with the organizers about the unanticipated questions."

Then comes Allen's apology. It isn't unusual for journalists to agree to reasonable conditions set by an interview subject's staff ahead of time. But it is extraordinarily rare to see a respected, high-profile journalist apologize for asking unexpected questions in an interview with a former president, one who also happens to be married to a potential 2016 candidate.

Libertarians did better in 2014 than any alternative party in 100 years

Independent Political Report - The Libertarian Party won more votes in top-of-ticket races in the November 2014 election than any alternative party in the United States in the last 100 years and the second-highest in the nation’s history.

Top-of-ballot office is defined to mean Governor. If a state didn’t have a gubernatorial election, it is U.S. Senate. For the five states that had neither office up, it is the office actually at the top of the ballot: U.S. House in North Dakota and Washington, Attorney General for Utah, Secretary of State for Indiana, Auditor for Missouri. The calculation also includes the Mayoral vote for Washington, D.C.

Republican: 40,934,236, down 5.9% from the party’s 2010 total of 43,507,666.

Democratic: 36,887,850, down 10.1% from the party’s 2010 total of 41,043,721.

Libertarian: 1,471,101, up 44.9% from the party’s 2010 total of 1,015,009.

Green: 416,303, down 18.1% from the party’s 2010 total of 508,041.

The 2014 Libertarian total is the second highest number of votes ever for a non-Democratic, non-Republican party, for a midterm year top-of-the-ballot races. The highest was the 1914 Progressive Party’s total of 1,489,151. The third highest is now the Reform Party’s 1998 total, which was 1,407,005.

The chief reason the Green total declined between 2010 and 2014 is that in 2010, the Green Party was on the ballot for Governor of California, and it polled 129,231 votes. In 2014 the California top-two system kept all alternative party candidates off the ballot for Governor.

In 2010 the Libertarian Party also had a candidate on the ballot for Governor of California, who polled 150,895 votes. So despite the fact that California’s top-two system kept the Libertarian Party’s candidate for Governor off the ballot in 2014, costing the LP a comparable number of votes this year, the Libertarian Party’s overall nationwide vote total still increased sharply rather than declined.

Race to the bottom

Boycott targets

The spooks don't like a free media either

Washington Times - In the secretive special operations community, officials are debating whether to tweak tactics for daring and risky missions involving hostage rescue and terrorist targeting that have been compromised by years of detailed news accounts and Hollywood portrayals.

Some believe Islamic extremists have gone to school on special operations forces. The classroom is the U.S. media.

Special operations forces’ three most recent attempts to rescue American hostages failed. Last year, SEALs attempted a beach insertion to capture a terrorist leader in Somalia but were spotted and repelled. There was also the horrific loss of SEALs in a helicopter shoot-down that some family members believe was an ambush.

As one veteran of the special operations community said, “We’ve got one way of doing things, and the enemy is on to it because they’ve published these news reports and movies and all the rest of it. It’s time for some new tactics because the old ones are not working anymore.”

Vermont governor backs off of single payer

Vox - Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin told reportersthe "time is not right" to move forward on single-payer health care. Shumlin has been a huge single-payer advocate, and his administration has spent years trying to set up a public insurance plan to cover all Vermonters. If Vermont does not move forward on single-payer, it will be seen as a large set back for other states interested in testing out the model.

Vermont has long had a two-pronged approach to building a single-payer health care system. First, they would figure out what they would want the system to look like. Then, they would figure out how to pay for it.

The state passed legislation outlining how the single-payer system would work in 2011. And ever since, the state has been trying to figure out how to pay for a system that covers everybody. Most estimates suggest that the single payer system would cost $2 billion each year. For a state that only collects $2.7 billion in revenue, that is a large sum of money.

Dr. Andrew D. Coates, president of Physicians for a National Health Program - Governor Peter Shumlin, in his press conference, stated that “now is not the right time” for single payer.

I disagree.

The time for a single-payer system is now. Our patients in every state urgently need it.

Indeed, the people of Vermont, including the state’s physicians, nurses and other care giving professionals, have repeatedly affirmed their support for single-payer reform.

Vermonters throughout the state understand that an equitable health care system must be truly universal and must remove all financial barriers to medically necessary care. They recognize that a public single payer is an essential incremental step toward these goals.

The people of Vermont have said health care should be regarded as a public good, much like fire protection, and not as a commodity you buy on the market. Gov. Shumlin was elected to office in considerable part because of his championing of this view.

Single-payer activists in Vermont have pointed out that by eliminating the unnecessary and wasteful role of private insurance companies – middlemen who put their profits above the interests of our patients — resources will be liberated to improve the health of all.

Dr. William Hsiao, the Harvard health economist who Gov. Shumlin recruited to study the impact of single payer in Vermont, estimated that a single-payer-like reform (not a true single payer, since there would still be multiple plans, including private plans) would achieve an overall savings of over 25 percent on health care spending (10 percent delivery system savings, 8.5 percent overhead savings, 5 percent reduction in fraud and 2 percent saved through lower malpractice costs.)

Gov. Shumlin today stated that the costs of his proposed reform would be too great, saying, “The taxes required to replace health care premiums with a publicly financed plan that would best serve Vermont are, in a word, enormous.” (The governor’s finance proposal would have instituted an 11.5 payroll tax on employers and a progressive income tax of zero to 9.5 percent, depending on income.) The governor did not dwell upon the fact that the taxes he cited would be less, on average, than the exorbitant and burdensome premiums and out-of-pocket costs that presently weigh heavily upon households as well as employers.

Gov. Shumlin also invoked “risk of economic shock” as a reason to turn away from single payer — the idea that the transition to a Vermont without private health insurance, a Vermont without profiteers lining up to make a buck off the suffering of the sick, would prove too threatening to the social order.

Gov. Shumlin has made many speeches about the need to liberate Vermont, and indeed the United States, from the corrupting and corrosive influence of profit-seeking in health care. Yet from its inception, the enabling legislation for reform in Vermont – Act 48 – allowed a continuing role for private insurers alongside public payers. Lawmakers therefore dropped the term “single payer” from its text.

The continued presence of multiple payers in the proposed Vermont reform necessarily canceled out many of the administrative savings that would be attained by a true single-payer system and opened the door to multi-tiered care along the lines of what the Affordable Care Act currently represents.

Today’s announcement by Gov. Shumlin, a leading light in the Democratic Party, thus shows the difficulty that individual states face in trying to disentangle themselves from these private corporate interests. It shows why physicians and Americans as a whole need to step up the demand for a deep-going, national reform – an improved Medicare for all.

Pocket paradigms

With the election of Reagan, this country began to turn its back on values that had sustained it throughout its first two centuries - values that included balancing power and wealth with concern for, cooperation with, and compassion towards others in the community we called America. In their place came a psychotic faith in the ubiquitous virtue of the market, a faith almost creationist in its absence of objective foundation, intellectually barren when not actually dishonest, and as monomaniacal as the creed of the religious fundamentalist. Every other aspect of existence - religion, family, morality, creativity, politics, community, tradition, ethnicity - was declared merely a byproduct of the marketplace. For the first time in our history, the self-serving delusions of the privileged few became the standard for the whole nation, propagated in politics, on campuses and in the media. - Sam Smith


We are here on earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don't know -- WH Auden

Letter to a publisher

From 50 years of our overstocked archives

[In 1989, I was invited to a community meeting called by Donald Graham, publisher of the Washington Post. I was unable to attend, but I wrote Graham a letter, part of which follows – Sam Smith]:

Dear Don: I imagine that you could write down today a list of the major concerns that will be brought up at the meeting. These concerns haven’t changed much over the years; they need not so much discovery as response. I am of two minds on this matter. On the one hand I have come to accept the wisdom that one should never try to teach a pig to sing — it doesn’t work and it annoys the pig. On the other hand, I have sensed enough wistful desire on your part and enough frustration on the part of members of your staff to cling to the hope that there remains potential of change.

Let me suggest a slightly different way of looking at the problem that might help to free that potential:

The Post controls the opening minutes of each day in the lives of over a million Washingtonians. Barely removed from our sleep, we pick up our cup of coffee to read the Post. Spousal conversation at that point in the diurnal cycle is in no small part determined by the Post. Our children soon catch the spirit. My younger son, for example, has come to believe that asking for the sports pages is an adequate substitute for saying good morning to his parents. And what are we doing as we sit there glazing our fingers with your ink? At one level we believe we are educating ourselves. But at another, and very important level, we are developing an impression of the day and of our city that will affect our mood, our conversation and our actions for the hours to come.

And how does the Post serve us at this critical juncture? What sort of day and city does it prepare us for? Basically it says to the reader: you are about to go out in a city which has a wealth of problems that you can’t solve, pleasures which you’re not important enough to partake of, and people who, when they are not just being dull, are deceitful, avaricious or mean.

Some years ago I subscribed to the Philadelphia Daily News in order to select a column by Chuck Stone for reprinting. I discovered a curious thing happening to me. I began reading the paper for pleasure. It dawned on me that here was what I was missing in Washington as filtered by the Post: a real city with terrible, wonderful, funny and contentious things happening to real people. The obituarist ran long obituaries of ordinary but interesting people. The columnists fought with each other. The editorials displayed human emotion rather than the bureaucratic consensus of an editorial committee. Most of all, people in Philadelphia, one gathered from the Daily News, were meant to have fun. Further, they had rights that were not to be intruded upon by crime, bureaucratic idiocy or other forms of venality. In short, the paper, written from the reader’s perspective, projected a city that was worth facing, enjoying and fighting for.

In contrast, the Post seems at times almost maniacally determined to drain the life out of the city. What remains is a bureaucratic memo on the last 24 hours from the perspective of that small minority of people who wield power in this town.

So if I had been able to come to your meeting I would have accused you of being a wet blanket on my mornings and, by consequence, of the rest of the day. To my mind, this is as serious a charge as one can make against a daily newspaper.

I think this is so not because Post writers and editors are inherently dull, indifferent, or lack humor or emotion. Many, I have found, consider themselves more prisoners than collaborators. I think the problem stems from the fashion in which the Post attempts to rule, benignly and with noblesse oblige, from its monopoly position. Its methods, as I understand them, are not strikingly different from those of McDonald’s, that is to say they depend in no small part on quality control. This control, aimed at preventing bad things from happening, has the inevitable result of preventing a lot of good things from happening as well. You end up with a product not unlike Muzak, in which both the low and high pitches are removed leaving the listener with the bland middle range.

This may strike you as inevitable, but I would suggest a way out of the dilemma. Give up some control. If you insist on acting like gods, your task will inevitably be futile, contentious and ultimately unrewarding. The community will come periodically and dump magazines on your doorstep or plead earnestly and vainly at your dinners. And nothing will happen. You will remain read and disliked.

Imagine, however, a Post which did not take upon itself the god-like task of blending and compromising all the different views, currents and spirits of the city. A Post that decided instead to be a stage upon which the city acted out its own play. A Post in which columnists did not have to go running to Benjamin Bradlee to defend their right to say something controversial. A Post that found Style in people who earned less than six figures, or in people we could emulate rather than scorn. A Post in which politics was theater as well as process. A Post in which what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the little felicities of every day were reported as well as the great strokes of the mighty. A Post that did not wait for the downfall of a mayor to report the other voices and other ideas in the city. A Post in which one could expect to find both the joy and danger that awaited when one left the house in the morning.

You could not describe such a Post in a memo because its direction would not come from management or editorial decisions but from the vitality of the city itself. The same million stories that were out there in Front Page days are still out there waiting for the Post to cover them.

It would not be orderly. But there is no objectivity in creating journalistic order out of the anarchy of a city. No fun or wisdom either.

In short, my advice would be to abdicate as priest, broker, mediator and civic Cuisinart. Just be in the news business. It’s a fine trade and all too few people practice it these days.

December 18, 2014

What's happening

Democrats name Sanders to budget committee

Bush hopes we'll forget he worked for Barclays

What's happening

Rahm Emanuel cuts workers' pensions

The number of uninsured Americans fell by 6.8 million over the first two quarters of 2014, preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey show. Some 12.2 percent of Americans were uninsured in the first six months of 2014, the CDC data show, a 2.2 percentage-point decline from 2013 and the lowest rate since the CDC first collected these data in 1997.  The uninsured rate has fallen by nearly a quarter since peaking at 16.0 percent in 2010.

The Islamic State has published it own penal code, which harshly penalizes actions such as sodomy and blasphemy with punishments including execution, crucifixion, lashing, and the severing of limbs, among other penalties.  . . . . At least 150 women who refused to marry militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, were executed in the western Iraqi province of Al-Anbar,

How the poor get cut out of welfare

Baseball officials, team executives, scouts, agents and fans began to speculate about how soon major league teams might be able to sign players in Cuba. Some even wondered whether Major League Baseball might be tempted to relocate a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, which has a feeble fan base, to Havana, where it would most likely be a sensation. Others questioned how rich the Cuban talent pool really was. At one point , Major League Baseball became so concerned about the reaction to Obama’s announcement that it sent a directive to its 30 teams pointing out that it remained illegal to scout players in Cuba or to sign them, because the U.S. embargo of the island remained in effect.

Cuomo bans fracking in New York state

US dramatically increased military attacks after Cold War

Popular Resistance - The United States has been one of the most aggressive military countries throughout our history. Now we know, based on research from the Congressional Research Service, that a dramatic escalation of military actions, “notable deployments of U.S. military forces overseas,”  has occurred since the end of the Cold War. Many US foreign policy “leaders” began to talk about a new American Century or a PAX America where US hegemony dominated the world. This dream has turned into two and a half decades of extreme militarism, a nightmare for thousands of people killed and displaced throughout the world.

Since Cold War the U.S. has deployed military force
5 times more often than prior 193 years

From time to time the Congressional Research Service publishes a report listing “notable deployments of U.S. military forces overseas.” CRS updates this list as circumstance warrant.  The latest report covers 216  years,  1798 through August of 2014. It does not include the new bombing campaigns in Syia and Iraq.

Dividing this data by ‘eras’ we find:

Post Cold War (August 1990 – 14 August 2014):   146 deployments (averaging 6.1 per year.)   Bush 1: 9, Clinton: 65, Bush 2:  39, and Obama: 33.

Cold War (24 June 1948 – August 1990): 47 deployments (averaging 1.5 per year)

Interwar and World War II (1918 – 1948):  34 deployments (averaging 1.1 per year)

Imperial Era and World War I (1866 – 1917):  69 deployments (averaging 1.4 per year)

Nation’s Founding through Civil War (1798 to 1865):  65 deployments (averaging 1.0 per year)

Did CIA torture violate Nuremberg ban on human experimentation?

McClatchy -  CIA health professionals may have committed war crimes by collecting and analyzing data on brutally interrogated detainees in potential violation of U.S. and international bans on research on human subjects without their consent, a human rights organization said Tuesday. Physicians for Human Rights called on President Barack Obama and Congress to establish a commission of inquiry to examine the participation of CIA and private medical personnel in the interrogation program, including possible breaches of domestic and international laws. "The CIA relied upon health professionals at every step to commit and conceal the brutal and systematic torture of national security detainees," the organization said in an analysis of a four-year study of the agency's interrogation program released last week by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The head of the Cleveland police union actually said this

Talking Points Memo - The head of the Cleveland Police Patrolman Union on Monday got into a tense on-air debate, calling the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice "justified" and arguing the child was "absolutely" a threat to the officer who shot him.

In an interview with MSNBC's Ari Melber, the union president Jeffrey Follmer criticized Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins for wearing a T-shirt calling for justice in the killing. The union previously described the football player as "pathetic" in a statement.

But soon the conversation became heated. Follmer referred to the slain 12-year-old as "the male" throughout the interview and defended the officer.

"The video clearly shows, and by the officer's statement, that they were justified in the deadly force," Follmer said.

“You’re saying that the video clearly shows that the 12-year-old boy was an imminent lethal threat to the officers?” Melber asked.

“Oh, absolutely. I don’t know if you didn’t see it, but yeah absolutely," the officer replied.

Melber stated that many have disagreed with Follmer's characterization of the video, which shows a police car pull up to Rice — who was carrying a non-lethal pellet gun — and shoot the boy dead within seconds.

Eventually, Follmer dismissed Melber's questions about excessive force and wrapped up the debate with a message to Americans.

"How about this: Listen to police officers' commands. Listen to what we tell you, and just stop," he said. "I think that eliminates a lot of problems."

"I think the nation needs to realize that when we tell you to do something, do it," he added.

The latinoization of American politics

Sam Smith - The population chart above, from the University of Southern California, gives one reason why Barack Obama may have become so interested in latino issues. Latinos (dark gray, upper right) are on their way to becoming major players on the American political scene as the historic major minority - blacks - lag behind.

While the immigration issue is obvious, what may not be so clear is that Cubans make up only a small percent of American latinos and even within that group, things are changing.

As Daily Kos reported:
    The only people left supporting failure are the crusty old fucks who can't get past having lost the war half a century ago...

        A large majority favors diplomatic relations with Cuba (68%), with younger respondents strongly backing the policy shift (90%). Support for re-establishing diplomatic ties maintains a solid majority among all age groups up to age 70, after which it drops to a third of the population supporting the policy.

    A slight majority of the Cuban-American community in Miami-Dade County opposes continuing the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Countywide, 52% of the respondents oppose continuing the embargo. This percentage rises among Cuban Americans ages 18-29, 62% of whom oppose continuing the embargo. Similarly, 58% of those arriving since 1995 oppose continuing the embargo.
Which leaves Marco Rubio not only out of touch with his ethnicity and his Pope, but with his age cohort as well. 

Race to the bottom:Policies

The worst, based on actions, stats & statements over the past year
  • Mid East policies
  • NSA spying
  • Common Core
  • Corporate personhood
  • War on drugs
  • Austerity budgeting

War crimes enthusiast of the day

Bill Kristol told Newsmax TV host Steve Malzberg  that Republicans should emulate Dick Cheney’s recent media tour in defense of the agency’s treatment of detainees. According to Kristol, CIA detainees didn’t experience “real torture” and merely endured “unpleasant” interrogation that “you recover from and seems to have no lasting effects at all.”

"Interview" to arrive in North Korea by balloon


Hollywood Reporter - Whether or not North Korea is behind the Sony hack, Kim Jong Un better brace himself because The Interview is headed to his country. Human rights activists are planning to airlift DVDs of the Seth Rogen comedy into the country via hydrogen balloons.

Fighters for a Free North Korea, run by Park Sang Hak, a former government propagandist who escaped to South Korea, has for years used balloons to get transistor radios, DVDs and other items into North Korea — not to entertain the deprived masses, but to introduce them to the outside world.

In the past two years, the Human Rights Foundation in New York, created by Thor Halvorssen, has been helping bankroll the balloon drops, with the next one set for January. The Interview likely won't be out on DVD then, but Halvorssen says he'll add copies as soon as possible. Halvorssen, whose group also finances the smuggling of DVD players into North Korea, says that the past dozen or so drops have included copies of movies and TV shows like Braveheart, Battlestar Galactica and Desperate Housewives. Anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone is also popular.

"Viewing any one of these is a subversive act that could get you executed, and North Koreans know this, given the public nature of the punishments meted out to those who dare watch entertainment from abroad," Halvorssen says.

"Despite all of that there is a huge thirst for knowledge and information from the outside world," he says. "North Koreans risk their lives to watch Hollywood films ... and The Interview is tremendously threatening to the Kims. They cannot abide by anything that portrays them as anything other than a god. This movie destroys the narrative."

Executions in US hit 20 year low

McClatchy - The number of executions in the United States hit a 20-year low in 2014, according to a report issued Thursday.

The 35 executions this year, the fewest since 1994, marked a continued decline in the ultimate sanction. The 72 new death sentences in 2014 were likewise the lowest number in the modern era of the death penalty, dating back to 1974.

Death sentence have declined by 77 percent since 1996, when there were 315, according to the tally by the Death Penalty Information Center.


Study; Slower population growth would reduce climate change

A new research paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research  offers more evidence that slower population growth could significantly reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. The paper, “The Consequences of Increased Population Growth for Climate Change” by economist David Rosnick, finds that that an additional 1 percentage point of population growth through the end of the century would coincide with about an additional 2 degrees Fahrenheit in average global temperatures. “Over time,” the paper concludes, “the temperature change is greater and becomes increasingly sensitive to population growth.”

More evidence that ranked choice voting works

Fair Vote - This year, Virginia’s Arlington County Democratic Committee successfully implemented ranked choice voting (which they refer to as instant runoff voting), to select nominees for three special elections.

The ACDC decided to make the switch for two primary reasons  - to ensure the nomination of a consensus winner and to encourage positive campaigning.  All three primary contests had strong turnout with thousands of voters participating, and one contest served to nominate a candidate for state legislature who now is serving in the Virginia Assembly.

Like many nomination contests in Virginia, Arlington Democrats do not have a taxpayer-financed primary. Instead, the party runs its own contest. Some parties will nominate candidates at a convention, but that can limit participation to those able to spend hours on a nomination. More frequently, parties are using what is called “firehouse primaries” – that is, privately administered nomination contests.

Fair Vote conducted an exit survey of participants to gauge how voters understood and perceived the use of IRV in this contest. Fair Vote staff and volunteers were were able to speak to over 1,000 voters as they were leaving the polls. Here are some highlights from our findings:

Voters Understanding of IRV

    85% of respondents found ranking candidates easy and 11% of respondent said that ranking was neither easy nor difficult.
    70% of respondents said that they understood IRV very well, 23% of respondents said they understood IRV somewhat well.
    88% of respondents found the instructions on the ballot very easy to understand.
    88% of respondents said that they ranked at least 2 candidates on their ballot.
    97% of the voters who participated in the caucus had their vote continue into the final round out counting.

Perceptions of IRV

    49% of respondents said that there was less criticism in this race, compared to only 2% that thought there was more criticism.
    26% of respondents said that they were more inclined to vote for their most preferred candidate as opposed to 3% who said they were less likely to vote for their favorite candidate.
    60% of respondents support using IRV for nominations, 32% of respondents had no opinion.
    73% of respondents would favor using IRV for state and congressional primaries.

Pocket paradigms

I thought the truth would set us free. Instead it just seems to have made us lethargic.- Sam Smith


Life is not being dealt a good hand but playing a poor hand well -- Robert Lewis Stevenson

What's happening

New York cops shoot and kill many fewer people than cops in the rest of the country. And fatal shootings by the NYPD have fallen significantly over the years.

The Urban Death Project, a nonprofit group founded in 2011 by architect Katrina Spade, proposes human composting as an alternative to human burial, which requires overcrowded, unsustainable cemeteries. UDP’s plan is to build a large concrete composting facility in Seattle for human remains, peppered with places of reflection for visitors. Following a ceremony, bodies would be laid in the composting structure, and several weeks later, the remains would be enough to plant a tree or a bed of flowers.

Three Republican governors endorse Medicaid for their states

Lots of facts about Christmas habits

Four-fifths of  Briitsh public want Green party in TV leaders’ debates 

The median wealth for high-income families was $639,400 last year — up 7% from three years earlier on an inflation-adjusted basis. For middle-income families, the median wealth — that is, assets minus debts — stood at $96,500 last year, unchanged from 2010. The result is that the typical wealth of the nation's upper-income households last year was nearly seven times that of middle-class ones. By Pew's calculations, that is the biggest gap in the 30 years that the Fed has been collecting statistics from its Survey of Consumer Finances.

DC's jump out, stop and frisk

The Dead Hubcap Society

From 50 years of our overstocked archives


Sam Smith, 2007 -Your editor welcomes readers to join him in forming the Dead Hubcap Society, open to anyone whose lifetime fleet of personal vehicles has included at least half made by brands no longer in existence. With the passing of Oldsmobile, I barely fall into the category – having owned two Olds, two Plymouths, two Chryslers, one Volvo, and a Honda. My wife came to our marriage with a VW Bug, which disappeared from production and then returned, so we’ll consider that a wash. The first Olds – a 1941 model – was bought in 1961 while in the Coast Guard - literally from a little old lady who only drove it on Sundays. It had 26,000 miles on it, still smelled new, and featured a hydromatic drive. Unfortunately the final attribute lasted only about six months and I sold the car to a engineman first class who managed to convert it into a semi-automatic. The second Olds, a station wagon, was in an accident that necessitated a complete paint job. Unfortunately, I did not make my intentions adequately clear and the whole vehicle was repainted red, including the grillwork. It was thereafter known as the “Outboard Apple.” The Volvo didn’t run when it was cold, hot, or wet and was quickly replaced. The Chrysler was called Gloria because it was sick transit. The Honda was stolen twice. The first time it disappeared from a parking lot right next to the Brookings Institution. The DC constabulary thought we would not see it again but at 11:30 that night I was awoken by the Prince Georges County police with word that it had been located at a public housing project recently in the news for the frequency of its murders. We were invited to retrieve it promptly or it would be taken as evidence in a drug bust. Which is why, at 1 AM, my wife and I found ourselves in a parking lot in the most dangerous locale in the Washington region. The second time, no one found the Honda . . . One month later our Plymouth mini-van was totally demolished by a cow.

My parents could easily have joined the Dead Hubcap Society having had at one point in the mid-fifties a 1952 DeSoto station wagon (the first new car my father had purchased since 1936), a 1948 Chrysler New Yorker, a 1946 wooden Plymouth station wagon, its 1941 forerunner, a 1946 six-wheeled Dodge Army personnel carrier, a 1939 Plymouth laundry van, a 1938 Cadillac four-door convertible, and my mother’s 1936 Plymouth. In 1955 I drove to college in the then 14-year-old Plymouth wagon and little concern or surprise was expressed when the front hood flew up at 60 mph on the New Hampshire Turnpike. The mangled hood was secured with a jury rig and the car continued in service.

Once, when I was in France with my parents, the accelerator rod on our rented Simca disconnected and my father had me open the hood, stand on the front bumper and adjust the speed as he drove with his head out the window to the next town.

There were, however, limits. When the 1952 DeSoto, with more than 100,000 miles on it, lost its front wheel on the Maine Turnpike, it was reluctantly retired.

December 17, 2014

A guide to how we helped create ISIS and other terror groups

Flotsam & Jetsam: Before we hated Cuba

Sam Smith

My first job in 1959 was as a newsman at Washington’s radio station WWDC, which had just introduced the Top 40 format to the area, would start the first Washington news service for independent stations, and would later be the first station to play the Beatles in America.

The station had also hired Steve Allison, a Philly talk show host known as “the man who owned midnight” for his late night program and who helped launch modern talk radio.

The other day, while working on an article I stumbled upon an amazing tape of the Steve Allison show.

One night in April 1959 he was conducting his program as usual – sometime between ten thirty and one am – at Cores Restaurant, 1305 E St NW, when the recently victorious Fidel Castro and his aides came into the restaurant looking for something to eat without any idea a radio program was underway. Castro had come to Washington to speak at the National Press Club, right around the corner from the restaurant.

Castro in Washington, 1959
 Here is the tape of what happened next as reported on the program that followed. It is extraordinary:

At the time I was finishing my senior year at Harvard College. I had worked at WWDC a couple of summers earlier, had been promised a job when I graduated, and in two months would join the staff full time.

Then, eleven days after this tape, Castro showed up in Cambridge. Here’s how I described it later:
The most noteworthy figure to appear at Harvard during my tenure was the newly victorious Fidel Castro, who spoke to 8,000 enthusiastic faculty and students (including one from Brandeis named Abbie Hoffman) at Dillon Field House. Castro was still considered a hero by many Americans for having overthrown the egregious Batista. While those of us who had taken Soc Sci 2 knew that not all revolutions were for the better, there was about this one a romance that took my thoughts far from Harvard Square as a top Castro lieutenant, sitting in front of my little recorder in the Hayes Bickford coffee shop, told me of his days with Fidel in the mountains. Castro was booed only once according to my broadcast report later that evening, when he "attempted to defend the execution of Cuban war criminals after the revolution. Castro asked his listeners, 'you want something else?' and proceed to give them a fifteen minute further explanation."
My story for Harvard’s WHRB, where I was news director, also noted:
Some of Castro's aides expressed a feeling of relaxation during the Harvard tour in comparison with the formal diplomatic visit to Washington. Leaving the faculty club, Castro's air attaché was cheered for his snappy uniform by the students who surrounded the area. . . WHRB will rebroadcast Dr. Castro's speech on Monday at midnight. WHRB's recording of the event will also be broadcast by the Voice of America and Station CMQ in Havana.

A year later, Castro would return to the United States:

The Militant, 1995 - In September 1960 Fidel Castro traveled to the United States to address the United Nations General Assembly. . . Castro did not receive a warm welcome from the U.S. government during his visit to New York City in 1960. The Cuban delegation moved to Harlem after being kicked out of the Shelburne Hotel amid a racist slander campaign in the press that included baseless charges - repeated to this day by the Associated Press - of plucking live chickens at the hotel.

Ralph Mathews, New York Citizen Call, 1960 - To see Premier Fidel Castro after his arrival at Harlem's Hotel Theresa meant getting past a small army of New York City policemen guarding the building, past security officers, U.S. and Cuban. But one hour after the Cuban leader's arrival, Jimmy Booker of the Amsterdam News, photographer Carl Nesfield, and myself were huddled in the stormy petrel of the Caribbean's room listening to him trade ideas with Muslim leader Malcolm X.

Dr. Castro did not want to be bothered with reporters from the daily newspapers, but he did consent to see two representatives from the Negro press. . .

We followed Malcolm and his aides, Joseph and John X, down the ninth-floor corridor. It was lined with photographers disgruntled because they had no glimpse of the bearded Castro, with writers vexed because security men kept pushing them back.

We brushed by them and, one by one, were admitted to Dr. Castro's suite. He rose and shook hands with each one of us in turn. He seemed in a fine mood. The rousing Harlem welcome still seemed to ring in his ears. . .

After introductions, he sat on the edge of the bed, bade Malcolm X sit beside him, and spoke in his curious brand of broken English. His first words were lost to us assembled around him. But Malcolm heard him and answered: "Downtown for you it was ice. Uptown it is warm." The premier smiled appreciatively. "Aahh yes. We feel here very warm."

Then the Muslim leader, ever a militant, said, "I think you will find the people in Harlem are not so addicted to the propaganda they put out downtown."

In halting English, Dr. Castro said, "I admire this. I have seen how it is possible for propaganda to make changes in people. Your people live here and they are faced with this propaganda all the time and yet they understand. This is very interesting."

"There are twenty million of us," said Malcolm X, "and we always understand." . . .

On his troubles with the Hotel Shelburne, Dr. Castro said: "They have our money. Fourteen thousand dollars. They didn't want us to come here. When they knew we were coming here, they wanted to come along." (He did not clarify who "they" was in this instance.) . . .

On U.S.-Cuban relations: In answer to Malcolm's statement that "As long as Uncle Sam is against you, you know you're a good man," Dr. Castro replied, "Not Uncle Sam, but those here who control magazines, newspapers..."

Dr. Castro tapered the conversation off with an attempted quote of Lincoln. "You can fool some of the people some of the time,..." but his English faltered and he threw up his hands as if to say, "You know what I mean."

America finally talking with Cuba

BBC  US and Cuba are to start talks to normalise diplomatic ties in a historic shift in relations between the two countries, media reports say.

American officials have told US media the US is looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months.

The moves are part of a deal that saw the release of American Alan Gross by Cuba and includes the release of three Cubans jailed in Florida for spying.

US President Barack Obama is making a statement later.

Mr Gross, 65, has spent five years behind bars after being accused of subversion, for trying to bring internet services to communities in Cuba.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court hits Walmart with $188 million payment to workers

Popular Resistance - A week after a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that a Walmart manager in California could not legally threaten to “shoot the union,” a Pennsylvania court handed down another decision against the mega-retailer. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Walmart must pony up $188 million to employees whom it failed to compensate properly during breaks and total hours worked.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a 2007 judgment in favor of the workers. It affects roughly 187,000 people who were employed at Walmart between 1998 and 2006, and is expected to take a chunk out of Walmart’s earnings for the current quarter, according to Reuters

Back when even the right didn't like torture

Teach for America flopping

Valerie Strauss, Washington Post - Growing criticism about Teach For America and a polarized education reform debate is affecting recruitment of new corps members and the organization “could fall short of our partners’ overall needs by more than 25 percent” next year, TFA officials say.

A note that co-Chief Executive Officers Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard are sending out to the organization’s partner organizations  cites several reasons for the decline, including “polarization around TFA” as well less interest in teaching and public service by college graduates. It says in part:
    Today’s education climate is tough—fewer Americans rate education as a “top 2” national issue today, and teacher satisfaction has dipped precipitously in recent years—down from 62% in 2008 to 39% in 2012. Additionally, an increasingly polarized public conversation around education, coupled with shaky district budgets, is challenging the perception of teaching as a stable, fulfilling profession; in turn, we’re seeing decreased interest in entering the field nationwide.We’ve felt some of this same polarization around TFA. At the same time, the broader economy is improving and young people have more job options than in recent years. Having experienced the national recession through much of their adolescence, college graduates today are placing a greater premium on what they see as financially sustainable professions. Teaching and public service have receded as primary options.
Critics of TFA are likely to read that paragraph and say that TFA itself is partly responsible for a perception that teaching is not a stable profession. TFA, which has received millions of dollars from the Obama administration, has come under increasing criticism in the last few years for its longtime practice of recruiting new college graduates, giving them only five weeks of summer training and then placing them in classrooms in some of America’s most needy schools. Furthermore, TFA only  requires a two-year commitment from its corps members to stay in the classroom — which some corps members don’t meet — creating a great deal of turnover in classrooms with students who most need stability. TFA says it has filled an important need by placing teachers in hard-t0-fill positions, though critics note that in many cases TFA corps members have replaced veteran teachers. TFA has successfully lobbied Congress to define a “highly qualified teacher” — as required by the No Child Left Behind law — as a student teacher which, of course, covers its own corps members.

The serious warming of the Gulf of Maine

NY Times -  In the vast gulf that arcs from Massachusetts’s shores to Canada’s Bay of Fundy, cod was once king. It paid for fishermen’s boats, fed their families and put their children through college. In one halcyon year in the mid-1980s, the codfish catch reached 25,000 tons.

Today, the cod population has collapsed. Last month, regulators effectively banned fishing for six months while they pondered what to do, and next year, fishermen will be allowed to catch just a quarter of what they could before the ban.

But a fix may not be easy. The Gulf of Maine’s waters are warming — faster than almost any ocean waters on earth, scientists say — and fish are voting with their fins for cooler places to live. That is upending an ecosystem and the fishing industry that depends on it.

Regulators this month canceled the Maine shrimp catch for the second straight year, in no small part because shrimp are fleeing for colder climes. Maine lobsters are booming, but even so, the most productive lobster fishery has shifted as much as 50 miles up the coast in the last 40 years. Black sea bass, southerly fish seldom seen here before, have become so common that this year, Maine officials moved to regulate their catch. Blue crab, a signature species in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, are turning up off Portland.

In decades past, the gulf had warmed on average by about one degree every 21 years. In the last decade, the average has been one degree every two years. “What we’re experiencing is a warming that very few ocean ecosystems have ever experienced,” said Andrew J. Pershing, the chief scientific officer for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute here.

Department of Good Stuff: Best states

Based on ratings, incidents & practices in past year
  • Minnesota
  • Vermont
  • New Hanpshire
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Oregon
  • North Dakota
  • Washington
  • Hawaii


Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is 100% - R.D. Laing

Pocket paradigms

Lying often has little to do with court-defined perjury. It more typically involves hyperbolic hoodwinking, unsubstantiated analogy, cynical incitement of fear, deceitful distortion, slippery untruths, gossamer falsehoods, disingenuous anecdote, artful agitprop, and the relentless repetition of all the foregoing in an atmosphere in which facts are trampled underfoot by a mendacious mob and their semantic weapons. One does not have to analyze such language legally to understand its evil. One need only have enough understanding of the manner of the honest, the sincere and the candid to know almost instinctively when their opposite is in command.. - Sam Smith

Morning Line

Based on our moving average of polls:

Romney has a 7 point lead over Jeb Bush, the only other Republican with double digits. Third place goes to Christie with 9 points.

Clinton has a nine point lead over Romney, Bush and Christie. The rest are double digits behind.

Clinton is still 49 points ahead of Warren.


America in the twilight

Sam Smith

Beyond the despicable behavior of CIA agents, the repugnant falsehoods of those like Michael Hayden and the false justifications for it all by politicians and major media, lies a less obvious but even more bitter truth: America’s inability to be shocked by it all. When, as polls indicate, over half of all Americans believe that Nuremberg level crimes such as committed by the CIA are “justifiable” the country has a problem far more damaging than just ISIL. In an unprecedented manner, we are surrendering values and integrity that – even if we failed to achieve them – were still a part of our aspirations. Now, after more than a decade of false claims, counterproductive strategies and an absence of reason, we find ourselves adopting a logic frighteningly similar to that of those we detest

And for what? For one war in Iraq costing $1.7 trillion, launched by presidential deceit. For another in Afghanistan of unknown goals for which we have already dumped, according to the Financial Times, nearly one trillion dollars to achieve practically nothing. And now, a befuddled battle with grim gangs of guerrillas created in no small part in reaction to our own brutal failures. In all our wars, we have never spent so much money to achieve so little with such unclear objectives and with such counterproductive results.

The Financial Times gives a sense of the current situation:
[Around 80 per cent of] spending on the Afghanistan conflict has taken place during the presidency of Barack Obama, who sharply increased the US military presence in the country after taking office in 2009.

John Sopko, the government’s special inspector-general for Afghanistan, whose organization monitors the more than $100bn that has been spent on reconstruction projects in the country, said that “billions of dollars” of those funds had been wasted or stolen on projects that often made little sense for the conditions in Afghanistan. “Time and again, I am running into people from USAID, State and the Pentagon who think they are in Kansas [not Afghanistan],” he said. “My auditors tell me things [about spending plans] and I say, ‘you have to be making this up, this is Alice in Wonderland’.”
On top of that there are medical costs already incurred for soldiers who have left the military. Linda Bilmes, a Harvard economist who has done extensive research on the war costs, estimates that medical spending on veterans from both Iraq and Afghanistan has so far reached $134bn.

And why does the public accept this? In no small part because of a mass media that from the start has too willingly served as an embedded propaganda machine for the mad men masquerading as leaders of a democracy.

Never has America been so badly misled at such a cost.

In my 1997 book, The Great Political Repair Manual, I cited some of the ways in which America was already losing its democracy, adding that:

About the most important job of a democracy — next to serving its people — is to make sure it stays a democracy. This is a lot harder than many people think. Forms of government don’t have tenure, and governments that rely on the consent of the governed — rather than, say, on tanks and prisons — particularly require constant tending. Unfortunately, many Americans either don’t understand or have come to ignore this basic principle. As things now stand, we could easily become the first people in history to lose democracy and its constitutional freedoms simply because we have forgotten what they are about.

How could it happen? Here’s how a college professor, in another country and in another time, described it:
What happened was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to be governed by surprise, to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believe that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security.

The crises and reforms (real reforms too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

To live in the process is absolutely not to notice it — please try to believe me — unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted.’

Believe me this is true. Each act, each occasion is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we did nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

This quote is from a remarkable book about Nazi Germany written by Milton Mayer in the 1950s. They Thought They Were Free examined not the horrific perversions but the horrible normalcies of the times. Mayer summed up his own experience this way:
Now I see a little better how Nazism overcame Germany – It was what most Germans wanted — or, under pressure of combined reality and illusion, came to want. They wanted it; they got it; and they liked it. I came back home a little afraid for my country, afraid of what it might want, and get, and like, under pressure of combined reality and illusions. I felt — and feel — that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man. He happened to be in Germany under certain conditions. He might be here, under certain conditions. He might, under certain conditions, be I.
Justice William O. Douglas made a similar point:
As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything seems seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we must be most aware of change in the air — however slight — lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.

Elian comes to the 'hood

From 50 years of our overstocked archives

[In 1999, a six year old Cuban boy, Elian Gonzales, was found off the Florida coast in an inner tube. Conservative relatives in Florida fought for custody of the boy in a seven month standoff until the Supreme Court ruled he could go home with his father. In the meantime, he found exile in your editor's neighborhood.]

Sam Smith 2000
  - Readers may recall that early in the Elian caper, your editor was asked whether he and his wife would be willing to rent their house to provide shelter for the Cuban tike and as many of his nuclear family, classmates, physicians and so forth as could squeeze in. My keen journalistic nose sniffed a possible story and besides the suggested rent intrigued me.

But I had married the virtue, good sense and neighborly consideration that I lacked and so the notion was soon deflated. I did, however, suggest to my cut-out that Elian consider Rosedale, a farm house on a nearby estate owned by Youth for Understanding. It was, I suggested, ideal for the purpose since it was probably already well wired to the Central Intelligence Agency.

In Washington, you develop a sense for such things. In individuals it is suggested by a certain vague and antiseptic charm, in organizations by a certain vague and antiseptic languor about matters of normal concern, such as public relations and fund-raising. Youth for Understanding, a well-endowed student exchange program, was started in the early 1950s during a time when the agency was being especially solicitous towards the young, co-opting the National Student Association, dragooning Europe-bound Ivy Leaguers and so forth. Among the rogue influences it presumably wished to counter was that of the Experiment in International Living, a progressive exchange program favored by students not all that interested in joining the establishment. YFU became an establishment alternative to the Experiment.

So why would your editor, of all people, propose such a locale? The story goes back 25 years when Rosedale was owned by the National Cathedral. It had been used as a boarding campus for wealthy southern Episcopalian girls attending the National Cathedral School. The DC riots of 1968, however, had dampened white southern enthusiasm for Washington and the Cathedral found itself with, so to speak, a very white elephant.

At the time, I was one of 300 advisory neighborhood commissioners elected for the first time in the city. Since the commissioner idea had been one of my pet projects, I took my responsibilities seriously, never more so than when word came that the National Cathedral planned to sell beautiful Rosedale to the Bulgarians for an embassy and chancery. The neighbors were beside themselves, their favorite position, and I was more than willing to join the fray.

We set about with vigor to block the Cathedral's plan. A member of the family that had formerly owned the land spoke wistfully of it having been passed to the church "in Christian trust." Terry Lenzner's father-in-law provided counsel not only on commercial, but canonical, law. For my part, as a recovering Episcopalian turned navipasqua (one who goes to church only on Christmas and Easter), I was more than happy to take on the bishop. His was, after all, a religion that included among its sins acts of supererogation -- which is to say doing more good works than the Lord demands of you -- clearly not a faith to be trusted in a planning dispute.

We finally bearded Bishop William Creighton in a crowded meeting at St. Alban's school. Noting that the bishop was seated between his treasurer, a CIA official, and the head of his foundation, another agency man, I prefaced my remarks by remarking that it looked as if the score was Caesar 2, God 0. Creighton did not flinch but when it was his turn to speak, he pulled out the stops, suggesting an anti-Eastern European tenor to the community's opposition. I'd been mau-maued by a few black militants but never by a whole Bishop of the Episcopal Church. When it was my turn, I looked Creighton right in the eye and told him what I thought of the charge, concluding that "on the whole, I have been treated far better by Bulgarians than by Episcopalians."

And I wasn't the most vociferous. Still, the Cathedral held its ground until someone uncovered an ancient written agreement that the Cathedral would not act except upon consultation with the neighborhood. And so, after another commissioner and I wrote the bishop accusing him of "bad faith," the moral hand passed to our side and it was not long before Ambassador Popov and his embassy were gone and Youth For Understanding was making an offer, encouraged -- I did not doubt -- by the two agency men at the head table, Robert Amory and Richard Drain, the latter one of the brains behind the Bay of Pigs disaster.

I considered myself a practical pol and had no objections to replacing high-rise diplomats with low-rise spooks. All we now wanted was the historic right of residents and their dogs to wander across the grounds. The easements were eventually signed and the neighborhood enjoyed 25 years of what amounted to a private park. It was the scene of touch football games and amorous assignments and floating Frisbees. And the dogs could run at will.

With so much happy use, it would be wrong to begrudge Elian an opportunity to enjoy it as well. But he will not come alone, he will be accompanied by men in black vans, big guns, and bland faces whom we will be paying (for reasons that remain uncertain) to protect a Cuban kid the way they protect, say, a vice president or a cabinet official. They will undoubtedly tell the neighbors that they can no longer use Rosedale as they have in the past. And the same rules will apply to dogs. The day-glo green tennis balls will thus remain unmasticated behind bushes and in crevices until the administration and the courts figure out finally what to do about Elian.

I have already apologized to one neighbor for having ever suggesting Rosedale, although it was probably far from a unique idea. As former commissioner of District 7C, however, I also strongly suggested a review by a dog-owning attorney of the relevant easements, particularly those sections relating to the rights of canines. Perhaps the park could be divided in two -- a dog walk and an Elian walk [which is what the Secret Service eventually did with the longest yellow police tape I have ever seen] In any event, it is only fair that Elian share Rosedale with the neighbors and their dogs. No issue is so important that it justifies denying a dog's place in the sun.