December 17, 2018

Should the Cardinals just say no to Bryce Harper?

Let's assume the final contract numbers in the Bryce Harper free agency derby are 10/$350.

Do you look at the guy with the 10-WAR year and say, yeah, we hope we get even close to that?

Or do you look at the guy with the THREE sub-2 WAR years (and only one of those due primarily to injury) and say "Too much risk factor"?

I am hoping the Cardinals, John Mozeliak and Mike Girsch do the latter.

Especially with the recent trade for Paul Goldschmidt, of which I approve, meaning the Birds have less of a need for Bryce and can focus on their pitching.

So ...

Let's compare Harper to a big contract the Cards were willing to take on in trade just 12 months ago, namely, Giancarlo Stanton, as I've already done this on Twitter in exchange with Bill James.

The 10 years left on his contract, at $285 million, are actually "just" $28.5 million AAV. (Take away his option year, and 9/$260 is approximately $29M AAV.) But, you'd pay him 10/$350 if Bryce is getting that, right? Even if Bryce is 3 years younger?

So, let's look at WAR.

Harper, seven years, 27.4 WAR is 3.9 per year. Stanton, nine years at 39.2, is 4.35 per year.

Let's throw out best and worst years of both and check that.

Harper? 16.3/5=3.26. Stanton? 27/7=3.85.

You've still got that one-half WAR per year difference.

Add in that Harper has, in the past, been valued more highly on defense than Stanton and B-Ref putting him at -3.0 on dWAR in 2018 should be of some concern.

Besides Stanton, the Cards have shown that they're not always cheapskates.

They offered Jason Heyward the highest AAV of any bidder, but lost in part (thanks for bailing us out, Cubs) due to no opt-out. They pursued David Price hard. They offered Phat Albert Pujols 8/$198 (thanks Arte for bailing us out). Just a friendly reminder on that: The Cards could still have him on the books for one more year had the Angels not stepped in.

So, Mo will pay. And overpay. IF he decides to pay.

Hey overpaid for Dexter Fowler, not taking into account how having Heyward next to him inflated his defensive stats. He had a lesser overpay for Mike Leake. He had an overpay in trade for Marcell Ozuna, rather than waiting out Derek Jeter, offering additional players, or whatever was needed, for NL MVP Christian Yelich, who, if he was in St. Louis, would mean we wouldn't be talking about Bryce Harper. And, I thought it was the wrong trade even before Yelich won the MVP, and thought it was wrong WELL before knowing Mo willingly traded for a player with a known bum shoulder. (And, Derek Goold, who I consider a team fluffer even more than Bernie Miklasz was when he was still at the Post-Dispatch, has never given me a convincing background story on that.)

What I am getting at is that Mo could be dumb enough to overpay for Bryce Harper, and that kind of worries me.

Yeah, Mo's made a few decent deals in free agency. Kyle Lohse tops the list, followed by Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran. And he did trade for Matt Holliday. But, he's not a genius (no GM really is) but he's not in the top tier. He's not in the bottom tier, either, but still ...

I probably will have no need to worry. I think the team pivots to pitching with the Goldschmidt signing. I just wanted to add that, given Mo's track record, my reasons for worry are legit.

Otherwise, if the Cards are looking for a relatively low-cost lefty OF to give more left-right lineup balance, Michael Brantley and Nick Markakis are both still out there.  I think Markakis had an Indian summer year last year, so I would be leery of a lower-level overpay. Brantley is younger, and assuming 2018 showed he is past injuries, I'd give him a straight 3/$50 with some incentive money and a fourth-year option. The injuries is a judgment call. I would give Markakis no more than, say, 2/$30 plus an option year. If that.

December 14, 2018

Andrew Sullivan hits new pseudointellectual low

In what I see as possibly his greatest feat of anti-intellectualism since denoting an entire issue of The New Republic to touting the pseudoscientific insights of The Bell Curve, Sully is now hoisting high the old canard that atheists are really religious, too.

I have myself said that Gnu Atheists, in some sociology-type ways, show a mindset similar to fundamentalist-type Christians, and have thus called them atheist fundamentalists. But, I've never claimed that they, let alone non-Gnus, are religious.

He then followed with teh stupidz of claiming religion is in our genes.

Neither one is close to true, in reality. The fact that Sully is arguably a very good representative of the Peter Principle in mainstream media, especially thought and opinion media, on the other hand, is almost ironclad as an argument now.

But, I couldn't let such arrogant, arrant nonsense go unchecked.

Here's a few thoughts I posted on Twitter, with interspersed comment:
In short, per his Bell Curve love, on B, Sully seems to be doubling down on the pseudoscience of Ev Psych. A Scott Atran or Pascal Boyer will easily steer clear of this while offering much more plausible theories about the origins of what eventually became religious belief mindsets.
From there, it's off to the land of false analogies, refuted by this:
The real problem is Sully's willful ignorance on a fair amount of philosophy. I note that here
and here:
Finally, Sullivan shows his misunderstanding of the political movement he claims to represent.
Tosh. Both here and in Europe (and the Anglosphere across the world), many politicians and political thinkers are both classical liberals and irreligious.

December 13, 2018

Beto2020 — the Kool-Aid is poured
and many are chugging it

The amount of Kool-Aid that's already being poured for a presidential run for ConservaDem Beto O'Rourke is mind-boggling. So is the amount of people — including Texans who I thought were either better thinkers than that or better informed than that — who are willfully drinking.

A few thoughts:

1. Were I voting in the 2020 primary (let's assume I am still in Tex-ass and that I figure Greens have no chance of a successful ballot access petition) while Bernie Sanders' age (if he runs again) would concern me, I would vote him over Beto in a heartbeat. Per what I have seen on Effbook, Beto as a younger, if not totally progressive, than allegedly not ConservaDem, option to Bernie, is nonsense.

2. Among the national neoliberal chattering class (Neera Tanden at Center for American Progress et al) Beto is clearly taking more shape as a stop-Bernie possibility.

2A. Both the 1 and 2 camps tout "winnability." In other words, "lesser evilism." Currently, that's more a lesser evilism from ignorance than willfulness in Camp 1, but it's willfulness more than ignorance in Camp 2.

3. It is true that, because of his near success against Havana Ted Cruz, that wingers and fellow travelers fear him. As I've noted, two such fellow travelers have lied in claiming that Beto is a single-payer guy as part of claiming he ran a bad campaign. The lie is obviously a placeholder to extend nationally Havana Ted's smear. The bad campaign claim is shown to be untrue by the fact that, while he lost, Beto finished closer to Havana Ted than the best poll predictions. (Per Real Clear Politics, only one outlying Emerson poll showed a race closer than 3 percentage points and none ever showed O'Rourke with a lead.)

4. In light of Group 2, while Beto will face a few "takedown" pieces if he leans more toward running, he'll also get plenty of national media puff pieces like he did this year. After all, John Nichols at The Nation showed his hackery by writing a puff piece on someone who not only is not a DSA rose, but actually was non-endorsed by some local chapters of Our Revolution. Anne Helen Peterson's gushing for BuzzFeed is a bit more forgivable on account of biased laziness; Nichols knows better, or at a minimum, he has a history and body of work that shows he should know better.

Meanwhile, Beto, obviously taking a page from Sanders getting a bad rap, has already met with both Dear Leader and Al Sharpton.

That said, there's other Kool-Aid already out there besides Beto.

Kamela Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand are both being image-buffed. Donut Twitter will probably throw both out as women along with complaints that Bernie is anti-woman. Women's issues will remain important, though the rough edges of MeToo will fade in a year.

Anyway, I vote based on foreign as well as domestic policy.

Who is, say, under 65, or better yet, under 60, three-quarters or more as progressive on domestic policy in Dem ranks as Bernie, and even close to him on foreign policy? No Democrat that I see. Elizabeth Warren is over 65, self-damaged goods in some ways, and already criticizing of BDS.

That said, no "name," presidential-aspirant Democrats are great on foreign policy. Bernie's the best of a bad lot. Beyond being iffy himself on BDS, he's dabbled in the collusion Kool-Aid, speaking of that beverage. And, an alleged Texas socialist at Splinter claims its best he should step aside and try to nudge Warren leftward. Jacobin just torpedoed that. And, don't claim Tulsi Gabbard, who remains an Islamophobe as well as a friend of India's semi-fascist BJP.

==

Riffing on David's comment:

Dan Derozier, Houston DSA elections committee chair, in a Chronicle-run retrospective, notes clearly that Beto stood for Beto and little else. So true. Even worse than Obama, he left little "apparatus" to build on. (Derozier dodges Beto's stance, or lack thereof, on specific positions, though. Beto is just criticized as a values-free campaigner without noting WHAT values he was free of. I.e., his dodges on single-payer aren't specifically mentioned. Per that, I wonder if he's trying to work intra-DSA factions on Betomania.)

December 10, 2018

TX Progressives talk cooperation, vote turnout, more




The Texas Progressive Alliance knows the value of cooperation as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff made two last attempts to find a relationship between straight ticket voting and Democratic likeliness to "drop off" from long ballots.

As winter meetings arrive, SocraticGadfly switches from politics to baseball to applaud the Cardinals for the Paul Goldschmidt trade.

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Texas Monthly introduces its 31 power brokers.

At the Dallas Observer, Jim Schutze says the latest Trinity River plan is “Six Flags for rich people.”

Stephen Young notes that, despite Betomania, Texas voting turnout, at least in midterms, STILL sux.

Texas Observer runs the syndicated Jim Hightower column that his syndicator, Creators, wouldn’t.

Better Texas Blog warns of the dangers of short term health insurance plans.

Paradise in Hell wants to see that Confederate plaque in the Capitol banished.

Texas Vox takes a first look an environmental bills for the 86th Lege.

The TSTA Blog reminds us that funding schools is the state's responsibility.

Juanita always takes the time to marvel at the wonder of Louie Gohmert.

The Lunch Tray explains the latest USDA announcement on school mean nutrition policy.

David Bruce Collins takes aim at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders.

Two possible Cardinals trades?

The first is pretty straightforward. The Indians have indicated that Cory Kluber and possibly Trevor Bauer might be available via trade. Carlos Carrasco had also been mentioned earlier but he's now off the market with a contract extension. Also, the Bauer possibility seemed more speculation by other teams than anything hard from the Tribe as he still has two years of arbitration control. The resigning of Carrasco, fairly cheaply, means that the team might move Kluber, though.

The Cardinals, with their own Paul Goldschmidt trade, discussed by me here, have some room to deal now.

Jedd Gyorko is superfluous with the presumed move of Matt Carpenter to third. Jose Martinez has a great bat plus a stone glove and so is ideally an AL DH guy, and the rise of Tyler O'Neill means outfield room is needed, at least if he's ready for a full-time role. I'm not saying Gyorko plus Martinez swing the deal by themselves, but, it's a start.

This lets the Cards have another arm to help move beyond Adam Wainwright, unless he has a major rebound in 2019, and to decide more how much to pay Miles Mikolas and Michael Wacha a year from now. (Any contract the Cards give Wacha should be cash-low and incentive-high based on his injury history.)

I don't know who besides Gyorko and Martinez would make a package, but it's worth further thought. I would be willing to include a pitcher back as long as its not Mikolas, Carlos Martinez or Alex Reyes, and not the hottest of minors prospects.

For Cleveland, they could use Jose Martinez this year as a corner outfielder, since Melky Cabrera's a free agent not likely to be resigned unless as a cheap fourth OF, and Michael Brantley (who may be resigned?) is also a free agent. Martinez could mix this with first baseman and DH. They could then, a year from now, buy out Edwin Encarnacion's option for 2020 and let him walk, while rebuilding their outfield.

(Update, Dec. 17: Brantley has reportedly inked a deal with the Astros.)

Should a trade like this come off, or even if not, I don't think Derrick Goold has the correct Cardinals lineup by batting order.

Assuming Kolten Wong is injury-free and mentally rejuvenated on a full year free of Mike Matheny micromanaging him, I put him at the top of the lineup. Harrison Bader (if he cuts his strikeouts) second. Carp, another lefty, is third. And he needs to get a mindset. Goldy is in cleanup. Yadi fifth. That gets you L-R-L-R through the first four spots. Of course, it's righty-heavy after that. (Yes, a certain Bryce Harper would fix that, but I don't see that happening. Michael Brantley would also fix it. So would Nick Markakis, but I think he had an Indian Summer year last year.) Another option is shoving all the above people up a spot and dropping Marcell Ozuna somewhere in 2-5, but then slotting Wong no lower than sixth. Or dropping him to eighth and if Dexter Fowler is still here, putting him in one of the top three slots as a switch hitter IF he reverts to 2017 or earlier.

Speaking of ...

==

The second trade, that I've seen suggested elsewhere? A salary dump swap. Fowler goes back to the Rockies for Wade Davis. Salaries are just about dead even. Both might benefit from change of scenery, and the Cards are still in the look for a closer.

Rockies might have a hole to fill. Would be tough for Dex to move past Gerardo Parra and Charlie Blackmon, but the free agency of Carlos Gonzales leaves right field open. David Dahl has looked decent for them in cups of coffee in 2016 and a partial season in 2018, but they might still want another outfielder.

That said, if that trade happens? Geez, we're a righty-heavy team at the plate.

And, it very well could not happen. Mo says he's OK with Fowler as his starting right fielder.

December 07, 2018

Mesa Verde — one last trip?

Mesa Verde of today illustrates well several of the issues that face today's National Park Service as a whole, and individual parks, including some that Southwestern parks face in an era of advances in science and in worries about climate change effects.

From the area of the fire tower on Mesa Verde, looking north-northwest.
Nearly a decade ago, I almost swore that the visit I made then to Mesa Verde might be my last ever.

That was about a year or two after the National Park Service and park staff required people wanting to see Cliff Palace and, I believe, Balcony House to queue up for guided tours. No more individual trail walking.

I understood why. It was a mix of the site being loved to death with carelessness as part of that, along with theft and probably vandalism (name-graffiti) too. Didn't mean I had to like what this made the park, as well as the obscene criminality or the carelessness from casual visitors. I did the tours, or at least Cliff Palace, because it was the first time in many years, and only the second time as an adult, I'd visited. But I didn't like it.

And I almost swore it off.

But not quite.

And, I decided to spend part of a day there while doing some down time at my brother's in Farmington.

Statue at new visitor center
I got there and saw a nice artistic statue outside a nice spiffy new visitor center.

And found out that you now have to buy tickets for tours to those two ruins at that spiffy new visitor center. Nope.

I get the idea there, too. If theft and vandalism are still happening, you have a record of who visited, with contact and ID information. But, I don't need to pay, or I shouldn't need to pay. In any case, I was short on time and had other parts of the park to visit. (I still have yet to visit Wetherill Mesa, at least as an adult. Maybe I will and maybe I won't make another trip; if I do, it likely will be just to there.)

Anyway, the theft and vandalism are happening. The trail to Spruce Tree House, closed because of rockfall damage, was "posted" to be under video surveillance. (The trail remained closed as of the time I wrote this, so one can still only see at a distance.)

Megalithic House kiva vandalism. (All the shiny silver
in the sipapu and near it are dimes or other coins.)
And, at a partially excavated site, the Megalithic House site, people had thrown money inside the kiva. That, too, is vandalism, folks.

So, with the possible exception of taking the separate road to Wetherill Mesa, consider this to indeed be swearing off further Mesa Verde visits. (That said, the Long House site there also requires a ticket now.)

It's also "interesting" that Mesa Verde has gone to "frequency pricing." A year ago, the Park Service proposed peak-season fees at 17 other sites, but they're already in place at Mesa Verde. That said, on-season and off-season only differ by $5 at Mesa Verde, not $30 or more.

Meanwhile, parts of Mesa Verde feel frozen in time. Not frozen in time of 700 years ago, but of 70-100 years ago.

Mesa Verde's old, original Chapin Mesa Visitor Center is a repository for
Anasazi artifacts, but is the information presented along with them up to date?
Most the dioramas at the Chapin Mesa Visitor Center were made in the Depression, by CCC laborers. I'm not looking for Mark Zuckerberg to offer Oculus Rift virtual reality. However, there's been a lot of Anasazi study in the past 70-80 years (setting aside whether any information on any of the dioramas was starting to go out of date even at the time they were created). Tastefully more modern displays with up-to-date information would be welcomed.

With appropriate money, a park staffer to lead guided tours through the museum and updated exhibits once or twice a day would also be welcomed by many, I would think.

That's if money for that becomes available from new and additional funding for the Park Service in general. Sorry, Democrats, including a few alleged progressives who actually aren't, but using part of BLM's oil and gas fee money to fund the Park Service is NOT the answer and I really don't know why you think, or ever thought, it is. See below for more on that.

And, the dioramas would take a definite back seat to more urgent needs, even more urgent than reopening the trail to Spruce Tree House.

Out of service on Chapin Mesa
Oh, like fixing a fire hydrant that would be the only salvation for those visitor center dioramas should a fire sweep through the heart of the park. Given this summer's wildfire season, which was bad enough in the Four Corners before California knocked it off the front page, this is simply inexcusable. Per the cutline, this is right next door to the Chapin Mesa Visitors Center and buildings complex.

We know that climate change is only going to make the Southwest hotter and drier. Fire hydrants like this need to be fixed immediately. Not tomorrow or six months later, but immediately.

I don't know if that's the only one broken. Probably not. And, I don't know why it's out of order. Old water lines would be one guess, though. In other words, the out-of-service hydrant is a symbol and stand-in for larger infrastructure problems at the park, and the park, in a mountain-desert transition area, is at a juncture of climate change environments.

(Update: I have been informed [which I hoped] that this is not the only hydrant on the mesa. I will be getting further information on the status of it, others, and the why, probably in a week or so.)

And, that is not all that needs to be fixed, either.


NPS facility or private inholding remnant? Either way, it's ugly and unsafe.
Although Mesa Verde does not have the degree of problems of some national parks, it does have, or had, two private inholdings. (I don't know how recent the link is, but it appears to date to the 1970s. From what I can tell, the Sheek inholding was bought in the 1980s, but I still don't see that having happened on the Hindmarsh.) And the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund remains at the mercy of Congressional wingnuts. I don't know if the facility pictured at right is part of a private inholding or not; it looks like an oil tank battery, but could be something for wastewater from the nearby Far View Lodge. I don't recall that sign on the fence explicitly saying it's private property.

That said, let's say it is for the hotel, and it's government-owned. It's a fricking eyesore. The standard chain-link fencing doesn't help. Find the money and the labor — maybe through one of the student conservation programs — to build something like an inexpensive adobe wall. Said wall would also have containment value should either one of those tanks burst, as well. Water, sewage or whatever is in them, as it stands, that's a safety issue as well as an eyesore.

And, no, Raul Grijalva, taking a Ryan Zinke idea and turd-polishing it, of using BLM oil and gas funds to help pay for additional Park Service money, is not the answer. Ethically at least, especially on the issue of Southwestern parks facing climate change, your "answer" is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Personally, I would go back to the old Parks Pass at, say, $75 a year. Bump the All Access Pass to $100 — and make clear it covers ALL normal USFS fee areas. (Along with that, revising the 1872 mining act and other things would be part of the ideal plan.) I would be OK with some "peak pricing," as long as not too steep from off-peak times.

As for the paid tours, or the tours in general, and vandalism likely still happening there, as well as sites like Megalithic House? There's always the Ed Abbey answer — put it all under the equivalent of shrink wrap and close access entirely.

December 06, 2018

Goldy to the Cards? I approve of this trade

The St. Louis Cardinals have gotten slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, prospect Andy Young and a comp balance draft pick in the second round.

Even for "just" a one-year rental, it's not bad. If the Cards can resign him, it's great. If not, they'll get back at least the lost draft pick and then some with a first-round choice.

The rise of Andrew Knizner was deemed quick enough that Mo must have considered Kelly expendible as a backup catcher and still not likely to be No. 1 as long as Yadier Molina was around.

Luke Weaver probably doesn't have too much higher of a ceiling than he's already shown in St. Louis.

Andy Young has some positional versatility, but hadn't made it to Memphis yet at age 24. He likely would have been the next Greg Garcia or Yairo Munoz, and the Cards already have both of those.

Matt Carpenter is obviously moving now, but where? Second, or third? And, what happens then to either Kolten Wong or Jedd Gyorko? If you're going to move one or the other, I move Gyorko. Two years older, more expensive contract on the one year that's left, and if he did want to walk a year from now, the Cards wouldn't tender him and so would get nothing back. (OTOH, this reduces his trade value now.)

Beyond that, I expect Wong to make a jump forward with a full year free of the double-guessing of Matheny as manager.

That said the Cards could make Gyorko a supersub again. Or if Paul DeJong struggles again, put Jedd at short. Or Munoz, of course. (Unlike what still seems to be a majority of Cards fans, and Cards ownership, I am not a DeJong fan. Weirdly, a guy like Mark Townsend at Yahoo calls him a "proven producer" when he's not.)

This would seem to rule out Manny Machado, if he was on the Cards' radar in the first place. It does NOT rule out Bryce Harper, or a free agent pitcher, or a trade for a starter.

As for the possibility of resigning Goldy? His current $14.5M plus the $13M of Gyorko add up to $27.5M. That's enough money to resign Goldy without a payroll increase. Six years at that AAV, front-loaded a modest amount?

December 05, 2018

American exceptionalism and presidential mourning

That's what's behind this picture at the George H.W. Bush funeral.



And, the mainstream media, insisting it is part of this ruling class as the Fourth Estate, insists we mourn. Because without such mourning, especially when based on the mythos of American exceptionalism, both that mythos and the American empire associated with it are hard to maintain.

So, with both George H.W. Bush and John McCain, the Fifth Estate insists we mourn — for the mythos of these individuals to prop up the mythos of American exceptionalism and American imperium.

Of course, there are exceptions. The media exceptions are usually from the left, with the exception of a few paleoconservative and libertarian sites that will object to the foreign policy of the likes of Poppy Bush and the Schmuck Talk Express.

What needs to be mourned, instead, is the tenacity of this mythos, and the tenacity of the subservience to it of the 99 percent of American media.

December 04, 2018

TX Progressives roundup:
George H.W. Bush death, cult of Buc-ee's, CNN, more


You — yes, you — are Individual One in the hearts of the Texas Progressive Alliance and this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff did a deep dive into straight ticket voting.

SocraticGadfly first takes a critical look at the public service of George H.W. Bush; he then describes his visit to Tsarskoe Selo, where an ex-spook told him a conspiracy theory about why Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, eventually triggering Bush's Gulf War.

 ======

 And here are some posts of interest from other sites.

Speaking at Rice, Barack Obama congratulated himself for helping exacerbate climate change while James Baker congratulated himself for not needing a Poppy Bush Iran-Contra pardon.

At the Texas Observer, Gus Bova says climate change is a major factor driving the Central American immigrant caravan to Texas and other border spots.

Raise Your Hand Texas lists the five things needed in any school finance plan.

Robert Rivard laments San Antonio's 20th century mindset for urban planning and design.

David Bruce Collins talks about two-siderism being behind CNN’s firing Mark Lamont Hill.

Therese Odell is all over the 60 Minutes report on the damage caused by family separations.

Julien Gomez implores allies of the trans and nonbinary community to speak out.

Jim Schutze observes that the anniversary of JFK's assassination is more of a reminiscence these days.

Sarah Martinez has important Buc-ee's restroom news.

Black Agenda Report notes that Jill Stein's recount has forced Pennsylvania to agree to paper trails and audits on future ballots.

Rumya S. Putcha says yoga centers are the new country clubs — with all the baggage of Eisenhower-era country clubs.

Jeff Miller discusses what all is involved with small school districts downsizing to six-man football.

Creators wouldn't pass out Hightower's latest column, because he criticized Dead Fricking Media and Slavehouse Media.

December 02, 2018

Me, Poppy Bush, the Gulf War, a conspiracy theory
and a vacation trip to Tsarskoe Selo

Betcha didn't know I visited the Romanov summer palace, did you?

Well, per Paul Harvey, with the death of George H.W. Bush, here's the rest of the story.

===

It was the late summer of 1998. I was the editor of my first own weekly newspaper. (Not in that I owned it, but I was the managing editor of a paper for my first time.)

I was living in southeastern New Mexico at the time. I got a bit of time off around Labor Day, including the holiday itself, and took a vacation.

No, not to St. Petersburg, Russia, sadly. But, I did visit Tsarskoe Selo. While there, I heard some very interesting claims about the Gulf War. Let this column I wrote after my return tell the details.

The old mining community of Mogollon, practically a ghost town, may seem innocent enough to the average hiker or other tourist.

Like many abandoned mining towns, some of its buildings have been reclaimed in recent years, mainly by people who are considered to be, or consider themselves to be, outside the normal bounds of society. In short, you may see men and women who appear to be hippies, or the children of hippies, living in old houses, general stores, and so forth, not only in Mogollon, but in Jerome, Arizona (another place I visited during a short Labor Day vacation) and elsewhere across the west.

But there is one difference in Mogollon, an old mining town about 70 miles northwest of Silver City, located in some of the most rugged country in our state.

It begins with the first, and only, business in the dozen or so buildings in Mogollon.
This business, located in one of the first buildings on your right as you enter Mogollon, immediately stands out due to its name: “The Tsarskoe Selo.”

To those unfamiliar with history, this was the name of a summer palace of the Russian Tsars (hence the name), just outside St. Petersburg, Russia.

Inside is a store selling collectibles one would never expect to see in the middle of nowhere, and possibly not even in a city as big as Albuquerque.

Owner Dan Ostler specializes is selling Faberge products. By this, I don’t mean cosmetics such as Brut cologne.

Ostler sells the high-dollar ceramic eggs, porcelains, and other collectibles made in Tsarist Russia by the French-founded company of Faberge. These are the fine items that you hear announcements about their traveling display in museums in Dallas, Phoenix, or Los Angeles, and nowhere lower on the American cities’ status pole.

Right there, as Ostler showed me some of the sample eggs he had (starting at $70 a pop, and rapidly moving upward). I realized that I was in a world just a little bit different than what I had expected when I opened the door to his shop asking directions to the famous Catwalk (at Glenwood, just south).

The next thing that caught my eye was one of several business cards of his that he had on his counter. The only readable things on the card were his name, in Roman letters, and a telephone number, in our normal Arabic numerals. The rest of the card, though, was also Middle Eastern, written in the Arabic language.

As I was interested enough to want to talk, and he seemed to welcome a little conversation, I stayed around beyond asking directions, and heard more than I was prepared for.

I first learned the “why” behind the Arabic business card. Dan Ostler said he is a former CIA agent with more than a decade of time spent in the Middle East. He then showed me some of the other business cards he had, noting that with connections such as this, he could run a high-dollar business such as his from his small shop and his modemed computer in the backwoods of western New Mexico.

As he showed me some of the cards he had been given by friends, perhaps ex-CIA contacts in some cases, I realized that he truly was a connected person.

The business cards included one from an Army Lt. Col. who is also a United Nations weapons inspector, and a reported “Friend of Bill” from Mt. Ida, Arkansas.

Ostler asked if I knew where Mt. Ida was, and I said, “I believe that’s near Mena,” which earned my first kudos from him.

Mena, if you did not read or hear about the exposé series last year by the San Jose Mercury News, is where the CIA has, for over a decade, reportedly flown in on its own airline, Air America, or at least turned a blind eye to CIA-connected smugglers such as Nicaraguan contras flying in, massive amounts of cocaine stemming from Columbia. By the way, this began in Reagan’s presidency, and so is not just tar on Clinton’s hands.

We talked more about the CIA in this regard, and Ostler soon revealed himself to be a man who definitely did not run the CIA up the flagpole and salute it every morning. He confirmed, from what he had heard and knew during his years in the agency,  that the CIA had been involved, or at least connected with drug smuggling, for at least 15 years before Nicaragua. The latest issue of the magazine The Progressive confirms this, noting that the CIA, in the name of supporting anti-Communist governments, helped smuggle heroin out of Pakistan in the 1960s and Laos in the 1970s. (CIA top brass, both past and present, of course refused to comment to the magazine for that article.)

He also told me what sounded like a conspiracy theory, but one that is halfway believable, for how the Gulf War got started.

Supposedly a well-connected older-money New Englander, a month or two before Iraq invaded Kuwait, gave undercover Iraqi defense officials a special tour of some of Kuwait’s defense installations?

Why? According to Ostler, Kuwait was at this time one of the biggest producers of pirated computer software, music recordings, and so forth, and so some of this businessman’s friends decided there was a simple way to teach Kuwait a lesson. This also, according to Ostler, is why Bush’s State Department never came clean to Congress and the public what they may have known in advance about Iraqi intentions.

I did an Internet search for the gentleman in question, but other than finding someone with a name to match in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, electronic telephone directory, could find no further information. To me, that doesn’t mean Ostler’s story is not true; rather, it may testify to the low radar profile of the man in question, whose name I have obviously omitted from this story.

In any case, for anybody traveling in the Silver City area, consider a trip to Mogollon. You might find a whole lot more than you expected, as well as some nice Christmas or anniversary gifts for special loved ones. (Ostler also sells Lionel trains, and ceramic displays for under the tree.)

===

I went back there in 2010. Tsarskoe Selo was still there (and remains listed today on some business information websites and even Yelp), but, sadly, unoccupied. I did a teh Google, well, actually, a DuckDuckGo for the site plus Ostler's name. Got an email address on one hit. No idea if it's live as of the time I write this piece or not, but we'll find out, won't we?

December 01, 2018

Poppy Bush, opportunist president, is dead

For those who cry "Too Soon" or like their hagiography sunny side up, no, it's not. It's never too soon to note the reality of a life of a recently deceased famous person.

In the world of modern conservative politics, that's as true of George H.W. Bush as of John McCain. And, facts are stubborn things.

"Opportunism" could be described as a byword, even a one-word summary, for Bush's political career. Yes, a certain degree of opportunism is part and parcel of democratic politics, but it doesn't have to be, and shouldn't be, the central theme.

Besides, the mainstream media which insists we must mourn has American Exceptionalism reasons for saying that.

Let's start with this Tweet from Corey Robin:
This will lead to Bush's opportunism.

Behind that was the whole schmeer of Bush's 1988 presidential run, which was a parade of opportunism.

That included an oversolemnized Pledge of Allegiance, part of Bush's attacks on and mocking of Mike Dukakis for defending the First Amendment. That was followed by the Willie Horton ad, which attacked an early release program for Massachusetts felons.

Before that, Bush's GOP convention was itself laden with opportunism and pandering. That's where he said "Read my lips, no new taxes." That's where he nominated airhead Dan Quayle as his Veep. And speaking of the Schmuck Talk Express, McCain said of him:
"I can't believe a guy that handsome wouldn't have some impact."
Well, there you go. The balloon of McCain gets further punctured with that.

Back to the main thread.

Bush hired the Lee Atwater who ran that ad, who pushed him into the Pledge of Allegiance dust-up. I have no doubt that Atwater was behind some of the rumors about Kitty Dukakis, claiming that she was involved in flag-burning years back.

Speaking of? Don't forget Bush's weaseling on the Flag Protection Act of 1989, written in response to Gregory Johnson's flag-burning outside the the 1984 Republican National Convention. Bush let the bill become law without his signature.

This and the Pledge fracas — and their campaign success — led to further coarsening of national politics by Republican candidates and consultants, above all, to politically weaponizing patriotism and the flag. Arguably, it led ultimately to "birther" claims against Barack Obama.

His opportunism had started decades before that.

He became pro-life to get Reagan's nomination as Veep. He also swallowed the previous truth of calling Reagan's pee-down "voodoo economics."

But, as TruthOut reminds and I had forgotten, he so ingratiated himself with Reagan to be part of his October Surprise against Carter. Consortium News has more.

He eventually showed that he thought deficits did matter when he told us to "read his hips" as he raised taxes.

He was right. But, he never called out his Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, when Darth said years later that "deficits don't matter."

He did resign from the NRA, some time after it started going wingnut but well before it got as wingnut as today. And, he didn't speak out in the 20-plus years after that 1995 resignation. Plus, back to 1988. He was opportunistic in accepting an NRA life membership that year.

Even in foreign policy, Bush was an opportunist of sorts. Not only was he slow in the pivot from Gorbachev to Yeltsin, he was slow to recognize the new de facto independence of the Baltic States. (The U.S. continued to recognize their de jure independence from 1940 on.) This led to my writing a letter to the White House.

I will give him credit, overall, for how he handled the end of the Cold War. And, if he had been re-elected, he might have actually given us a better Cold War dividend than Slick Willie Clinton did. Among other things, Bush might have honored the NATO pledge to Gorbachev to not expand eastward.

That said, what he gave Gorby with the right hand, he took away with the left.

But, I digress.

On the original Iraq War, he may not have deceived the public as much as his son a dozen years or so later, but deceive he did. We still don't know just what April Glaspie told Saddam Hussein about invading Kuwait, and on what authority, before she was recalled. Nor do we know ow much Bush himself knew about the incubator babies lying campaign Hill and Knowlton cooked up for the Emir of Kuwait.

I will give Poppy credit for one seemingly non-opportunist move in foreign policy. He threatened to cut off loan guarantees to Israel over Palestine/West Bank settlement housing, then stood by that threat. Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss offers more, and how it may have cost Bush re-election.

And, I haven't even mentioned Jennifer Fitzgerald yet. Who doesn't even have a Wiki entry.

Nor have I mentioned all the Iran-Contra pardons. Robin starts a mini-thread with this:
Others have commented as well.

I noted on Twitter this was a major step in the loss of backbone, and drift rightward, of national Democrats, in that they refused to discuss impeachment of Reagan, or even discuss discussing it, instead accepting the whitewash by Reagan's new chief of staff, Howard Baker. 

Baker, in turn, while knowing it would eliminate him from the 1988 prez race, indicated his work was for the good of the country, which was itself a lie. Add to it all of Bush's pardons as he left the White House, and you have further whitewashing.

I had forgotten, in his slot between Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" and Bill and Hillary Clinton's superpredators, Bush's role in ramping up the War on Drugs. Which again, like most posturing on that, and on "getting tough on crime" in general, is opportunism. And with Bush, the opportunism was rank:
That's from this thread.

Speaking of the War on Drugs, there was also Bush throwing Noriega under the bus when expedient, and the unnecessarily civilian and military deaths in Panama as a result.

Nor did I originally mention the assassination of Orlando Letelier in DC in 76 when Bush was running the CIA, and our Pinochet-befriending cover-up. (And, surely, by this time, Bush knew the truth about the assassination of Allende.)

Nor him being the president who launched the trend of post-presidential speechifying for big bucks.

George H.W. Bush was a man who liked to give the appearance of decency, as part of New England Eastern Establishment noblesse oblige. Whether he went beyond appearances is on the table.

Beyond his leaving the NRA, there's no indication that Bush apologized for the Willie Horton ad, the First Amendment attacks via the Pledge, or for inflicting Clarence Thomas on the U.S., and Bush's "most qualified at the time" whopper.

Finally, he or whatever staffer ran his Twitter, supported Kavanaugh in what is reportedly his last Tweet.

==

Bonus: I had forgotten about my long-ago trip to Tsarskoe Selo, where an ex-spook gave me a very interesting conspiracy theory tale about Bush green-lighting Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Here's the details.

November 30, 2018

Grants, New Mexico: A story of a town's
promise and peril, uranium booms and busts

For the first time, I think, since I moved away from Gallup, New Mexico decades and decades ago as a teenager, I actually drove through all of Grants on old Route 66, rather than driving by on I-40. I had planned on driving up to the Mount Taylor trail and climbing to the peak, but time just got cramped.

Grants-old Uranium Cafe
The old former Uranium Cafe.
For those who don't know, Grants once billed itself as the Uranium Capital of the World. The "world" part was hyperbole, but it was, staying ahead of southeast Utah where Canyonlands National Park now is, definitely the Uranium Capital of the U.S.

That picture at left? The Uranium Cafe was the original name, and was when I was a kid in Gallup.

That being the Uranium Capital of the U.S., if not quite the world, ended the same year I moved out of Gallup, and for two reasons.

One is well-known to the general public: Three Mile Island.

The other, far less known, is a rupture of a tailings pond at the Church Rock Mine, near Gallup and west of Grants, that summer. It actually, it is believed, released more radiation than Three Mile Island, and per the link, the laggard response to it may indeed have had racism behind it. The mine employed mainly Navajos, who had already suffered from two decades of bigotry in uranium mine and milling safety. And, the tailings pond, when ruptured, eventually flowed into the Rio Puerco of the West, through "checkerboard" Navajo land and then through Gallup, often known at that time as "Drunk City."

Had Three Mile Island and the tailings pond rupture happen two years later? Not such a big deal. Sure, nuclear power plant building had already slowed down. But, this would have been in 1981, during the regulations-lightening Reagan Administration. And, after the Iranian oil embargo, which would have further pushed places like New England to move from fuel oil to electricity for heat if locales there hadn't yet done that.

But, that's not the way it happened.

Grants: The down side.
So, Grants kind of imploded. Fair chunks of the town still look like the site pictured at right.

And, I do mean fair chunks. I ran out of time to drive very far on the Forest Service roads, but I took NM 547 up to the first mile of FS road on the route to the Mount Taylor trailhead. There's more of Grants that looks like what I have here. Maybe 20 percent?

After I left Gallup, I used to joke that it and Española were the two armpits of the state. Maybe they're not alone.

Looking for tenants in Grants.
The city's still trying to recruit people and businesses to live there. Just a block away from the old Uranium Cafe building you have that fairly new business building I have at left.

Free rent on a relatively new business. Doesn't sound like a bad deal, does it? But, nobody's buying. That's with the city still growing, albeit tenuously, ever since losing one-quarter of its population, almost 3,000 people, in the 1980s. But, the growth is nothing more than natural population increase.

The lack of business interest shows in other ways.

Long before the current implosion in the newspaper industry, the old Grants Beacon, sometime after becoming the Cibola Beacon but long before today, went from five-day daily to semiweekly circulation. It then shut its doors two years ago, but was quickly replaced by the Cibola Journal.

Speaking of Journals, the Albuquerque Journal, at least on newspaper coin racks, appears to have deserted Grants. I grabbed some food at the Mickey D's there and saw two newspapers. One was the Cibola Journal, and the other was NOT the Albuquerque Journal.

It was the Gallup Independent.

Yes, Gallup is 15 miles closer than Albuquerque. But, seriously, if you're doing shopping outside of Grants, you're headed to Duke City, not Drunk City. This is to me another sign of how much the Albuquerque Journal is imploding in recent years. It's become more predictably wingnut on its op-ed pages, even as Albuquerque as a city becomes more liberal, and tightened its horns otherwise.

Part of Grants' River Walk Park area.
Anyway, Grants is trying. Gallup bills itself as The Indian Capital of the World, but Grants is nearer to Laguna, Acoma and the Rio Grande pueblos, and almost as close to the Ramah Navajos as Gallup is to the Big Rez. So, part of the city park, as shown at left, rightly ties in with this.

You can see three "bowls" here, all about the size of a large satellite dish. The block to the west has three more, on the same side of the street. This is all about in the center of town, next to city hall and the mining museum, which is pretty small. (It is closed on Sundays, so I couldn't check out it.

So, people are trying.

And, there's other "hooks."

Lava and life juxtapose at El Malpais National Monument.
Since I moved away, the core of El Malpais is now a national monument — with a nice visitors center on the east end exit off I-40. Bonus: It's a Park Service national monument, not a BLM one, though there is a BLM-run national conservation area flanking it.

It's still the main gateway to El Morro.

Both Acoma and Laguna have casinos, for people into that stuff. Albuquerque has plenty of arts and cultural life, museums, shopping and dining.

But yet, Cibola County's only grown 2,000 in the past 15-plus years, the same as Grants.

So, besides Grants' booms and busts, maybe it's the post-2000 history of New Mexico in a nutshell in some ways.

Get your kicks on Route 66? Well, maybe.
I don't know how well it markets itself not only for tourism, but as a retirement town. Yeah, snow on I-40 to Albuquerque can be bad at times, and those spring crosswinds are a mutha; I know both from experience.

Still, Grants isn't THAT isolated, and with all the nature stuff to do, and the history as well, you'd think it could draw more retirees who want a small town atmosphere while being relatively close to a big city.

On the other hand, the US as a whole was whiter 20 years ago, let alone 50 or 70 years ago, than today. A lot of retirees, even without the "bombed-out" buildings, would be leery of Grants.

And, we'll leave it all right there.


November 29, 2018

Does UCF have a shot at the College Football Playoff? Yes, I say

With Michigan losing to Ohio State last Saturday, after the three still-undefeated locks of Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame, per ESPN, the rest of college football's power rankings is kind of unsteady.

Forget the Ohio State vs Oklahoma debate for the fourth playoff spot, assuming Bama thumps Georgia in the SEC title game.

Let's say Oklahoma and Ohio State, both known for not really having defenses, lose THEIR Big 12 and Big 10 title games to Texas and Northwestern, respectively.

Neither is at all outside the realm of probability.

Texas already trimmed the Sooners in the Red River Shootout. Northwestern and Ohio State haven't played, but the Wildcats could certainly take the Buckeyes.

So, what if all that happens and the Knights win the AAC title game against Memphis?

Will the CFP voters jump them into that No. 4 slot?

Personally, I would love to see this whole scenario play out. It reminds me a bit of BYU in 1984, finally hauling in a national title for a non-"major" conference, including being confronted by nobody more powerful than a 6-6 Michigan team wanting to play them in the Holiday Bowl. The playoff scenario was created to avoid this. If Oklahoma and Ohio State both lose, this is what should happen.

November 27, 2018

Why the Guardian's Manafort-Assange story likely isn't true
and is a nothingburger even if (largely) true

The Resistance and allies are breathless over the idea, as reported by The Guardian, that Paul Manafort met Julian Assange at least three times in his Ecuadorean embassy exile.

(Update, Dec. 12: A former consul at the embassy is officially calling it — and previous Guardian reportage on Assange — fake news and demanding a public apology. It's clear by now this is most likely lies; that said, Assange isn't going to sue because at some point, he would have to leave the embassy as part of legal pleadings, would he not? I highly doubt the British government would let a third party represent him.)

Although Glenn Greenwald first cautioned to "let things play out," and as the Idries Shah I've often mentioned notes there are more than two sides to an issue (more on that below) in all likelihood, as Glenn himself later writes, it ain't true.

Why?

1. The Assange-hating reputation of Luke Harding. (Yes, a second byline is on that piece, but that may just be camouflage, because of ...

2. The Assange-hating reputation of The Guardian. But, let's backtrack to ...

1A. The plagiarism reputation of Harding, along with his #TheResistance, British division, reputation, over unfounded collusion claims.

3. The skeeziness of alleged evidence:
That's the best the Guardian can do? And, there's no PDF of said document with the story.

4. The vagueness of timeframes, including the 2016 visit, that Manafort met sometime "around" becoming Trump's campaign manager. (Harding will of course say he can't be more precise because Manfor(d) wasn't logged in.

5. The claims that Senain would be so meticulous to keep an off-the-books record yet misspell Manafort's name. (Is this to make it look more authentic?)

6. The claim of "Russians" also coming to the embassy, but miraculously, Harding, Guardian and Senain have no names for any of said Russians.

On the other hand, there could BE a third side.

First, why would Manafort visit Assange in 2013 and 2015? He would seem to have nothing to offer "Paulie" at this time, unless Assange had hacked some Ukrainian government emails that he never publicly dumped, which is theoretically possible, I suppose

But, Manafort could indeed have then visited Assange in 2016.

Carl Bernstein says that Robert Mueller IS investigating a 2017 meeting between Manafort and Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno and asking if Assange was discussed.

The fourth side?

It's unclear if Harding and/or others put a bug in Mueller's ear before the Guardian finished up its story. (Most of the political Twitterverse has already assumed that Mueller's claim Manafort lied to him is related in some way or another to Assange.)

The fifth side?

Even if ALL the visits Harding claimed happened actually happened, no collusion has been proven. In fact, because of the vagueness of "Russians" in Harding's story, and zero timeline for when they allegedly dropped in the embassy, Harding has no way of tying any such Russians, should they actually exist, to Manafort and/or Assange anyway. (So, no, Emptywheel, along with Bmaz and other Kossacks, your wet dreams remain unfounded. They also remain unfounded in light of Thursday's Michael Cohen plea deal stipulations.)

I'd say it means Harding shot himself in the foot over nothing, even though Kossacks like Emptywheel and Bmaz are creaming their undies over this.

Harding probably claims that this just means he's waiting for his sources to tell him Part 2.

As for the Guardian? At one time, it was left-liberal, with vague tints of leftness for the UK and definitely for the US. Now, speaking of nothingburgers, that's exactly what it's become, and over far more issues than this.

That said, if Julian Assange could have kept his pants on in Sweden, or put them back on, in one of the countries in Europe where "no means no" is legally true, he'd never be in this state of trouble in the first place. Given both him and the American bipartisan foreign policy establishment, there'd be some other trouble instead, in all likelihood.

And, another that said — there is no "deep state" in the darkest sense of the phrase machinating all of this. Nobody put a gun to Trump's head and told him to hire Mike Pompeo to run first CIA then State or John Bolton to be NSA. He did that on his own. (That's despite a new nutbar book by David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski, which I noted because The Mooch himself, Anthony Scaramucci, is now following me on Twitter.)

Update:

The sixth side? Mueller allegedly believes Jerome Corsi tipped off Roger Stone in advance of WikiLeaks' actual leaks. And, while that story is on the Guardian website, it's an AP story.

And, lead Brexiteer Nigel Farange did visit the embassy in March 2017, while an ally of his, Ted Malloch, supposedly was asked by Stone, at Corsi's request, to get advance copies of the emails in July 2016.

The seventh side? July 2016 is three months after Manafort's alleged last visit. And, neither the AP nor the Guardian's newest say that Manafort talked to either Corsi or Stone.

So, this update only confirms for me what I thought a week ago: Jerome Corsi is in definite trouble, and Roger Stone could well be next. As for Randy Credico? Stone may just be trying to drag him down and hide behind him, or he could actually have been dumb enough to get mixed up in this.

I still see no proof of a Manafort-Assange meeting. I still don't see Manafort doing that in 2016, especially if he knew about the Corsi-Stone approach. No need to get personally involved. And, Assange doesn't benefit him in 2013 or 2015. People on the ground in Russia, or eastern Ukraine, take care of his needs.

The eighth side? Harding was fed some fake news. Would be poetic justice, if true. (This is setting aside the issue of Politico running a piece under a pseudonym that forwards the ball on CIA claims about Putin while ignoring its own long history of media interference.)

Further update: The Beeb notes the Guardian weakening its story line, beyond what Wikileaks first noted. At the same time, it notes Assange has lied before on this issue, namely, about contacts with Stone.

===

As for a timeframe for action?

I say by Friday afternoon we see further "movement" from somewhere. The Guardian softened its initial story just a few hours after publishing to put a few indicative verbs in subjunctive mood. Whether more comes, or whether Assange and/or Manafort file their threatened suits remains to be seen.

There was no budging by Friday evening, but ... this new revelation means that the Guardian better do something close to a retraction soon. If not a full retraction.

Manafort's meeting in Ecuador with Lenin? He reportedly was working on a deal TO GET MANAFORT BOOTED from the embassy in exchange for aid to Ecuador. Kind of undercuts that whole collusion angle, doesn't it?

With that said, any Guardian-Harding backdooring of Mueller didn't happen. Now, maybe, somebody on Mueller's staff gave Harding a backdoor tip to undermine the findings of boss-man Mueller. Stay tuned.

And, this just gets worse yet.

First, the Guardian used a third byline on the print edition. A skeezix connected to the National Endowment for Democracies. Hit this Twitter thread. And Bezos Post is now officially calling out Harding and the Guardian.


===

This is inevitably going to get confounded with the Michael Cohen plea deal stipulations.

So, let us note that:
1. Cohen, or even Trump family members, talking to Putin grandees about Trump building projects in Moscow has nothing to do with election collusion
2. Re Manafort, there's no evidence he talked with Cohen about these issues
3. The newly-announced German investigation of Deutsche Bank is about the Panama Papers. Last I checked, there were lots of rich people in America and abroad, or rich companies thereunto, with connections to Democrats as well as to Trumpistas.
4. As for anybody meeting with Dmitry Peskov, surely, some foreign real estate magnate has met in the past with a White House press secretary.
5. Again, Putin is too smart, if he's this all-powerful, to use Trump as a deliberately chosen tool. For those who say, "his goal was sowing confusion," Putin could do that by other means, like the Facebook ads, without relying on someone who would be windsock even on confusion.