Monthly Archives: March 2010

M’s offer isn’t enough to tempt Washburn into a return

    PEORIA, Ariz. – The Mariners don’t seem to be any closer to adding left-handed starting pitcher Jarrod Washburn to their roster.

    The club has made Washburn an offer, AOL FanHouse first reported Wednesday, but Washburn hasn’t accepted their bid.

    The deal was for less than the package offered to another veteran lefty starter, Erik Bedard – $8.5 million, including about $7 million in possible incentives. Bedard, who was coming off surgery when the deal was struck, will begin the 2010 season on the disabled list.

    The Mariners are looking for a starter because yet another lefty, Cliff Lee, will start the season on the disabled list because of abdominal muscle strains that will see him miss a minimum of a couple of weeks of April.

    Other than the team’s ace, Felix Hernandez, the team’s other four starting pitchers – Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas – are just 61-73 combined over the course of their careers.

    Washburn was a Mariner until the last week of July, when he was traded to Detroit, with the Tigers looking for help down the stretch. During his fourth Seattle season, Washburn was 8-6 record, and his 2.64 ERA ranked in the American League’s top 10.

    After a hiatus between the two sides, Mariner general manager Jack Zduriencik and Washburn’s agent, Scott Boras, talks have taken place recently, sources said, and the current offer came out of those talks.

    Washburn has said repeatedly he wants to pitch again in Seattle, but it seems unlikely that he would accept less money than Bedard, whose contribution in 2009 was less.


John Hickey is a national baseball writer for AOL FanHouse ( Twitter: @JHickey3


Mariners having trouble knowing what to do with Cliff Lee

    PEORIA, Ariz. – Cliff Lee won’t be in the Seattle rotation to start the season.

    Where the left-handed Lee will be, however, is a matter of some speculation.

    He could be on the disabled list. Because he’s battling an abdominal strain, that would make sense. But there is a scenario in which he starts the season on the active roster and the Mariners are forced to carry six starting pitchers.

    The wild card in all this is a five-game suspension hanging over Lee from an incident March 15 when he was judged to have thrown at the head of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chris Snyder.

    Lee has appealed the suspension, but the hearing on the appeal has been pushed back to the second week of April, which is no help to the Mariners, who are opening the season Monday and who must make their roster final. To do that, they need to know Lee’s status.

    They don’t. And they won’t, not by this weekend when decisions will be completed, so some decisions will be made blind.

    Felix Hernandez, Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas will be the starting five as the season begins. If Lee has to be carried, too, then designated hitter Mike Sweeney, who is averaging .559 this spring, or outfielder Ryan Langerhans might well get bumped off the roster, and Seattle wants to keep both.

    Medically, Lee’s abdominal strain has him out until at least mid-April. He can’t just serve the suspension during his time on the DL, so the problem for the Mariners is how to balance the suspension, the appeal and the needed time on the DL.

    If Lee drops his appeal, the Mariners could have him start the season with them, serve his five days, then go on the DL. That might cost either Sweeney or Langerhans a job, however. Or Seattle could start him on the DL, then have him serve the suspension when he’s healthy. That will force the club to play with just 24 players with the season already well under way.

    If the appeal isn’t dropped, the club might have no choice but to put him on the DL while waiting to see if the suspension is reduced. Again, that could bump either Sweeney or Langerhans.

    Lee threw on flat ground for the first time in more than two weeks Wednesday and reported he felt no pain.

    “I’m really pleased with how it went, and it was definitely a step forward.”

    But he doesn’t know much about his status. Asked about where his appeal stands, he said simply, “I don’t know.”

    “I’m focusing on what I can do today to prepare for tomorrow,” Lee said. “I don’t want to look that far down the road. I can take care of today. That’s really all I can take care of right now, and that’s where my focus is.”

    NOTES: Opening-day starter Felix Hernandez threw in a minor league game Wednesday as a way to avoid facing Texas, the team he will see in his second start of the season. “I feel great, and I’m excited to get going,” Hernandez said after throwing 86 pitches in six-plus innings. … The Mariners made four cuts to get the roster down to 33 players – 27 roster players and six nonroster invitees. Starter Erik Bedard and infielder Jack Hannahan went on the 15-day disabled list. Starter Luke French was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma, and reliever Chad Cordero was reassigned to the minor league camp. … The Mariners beat Texas 7-6 in Surprise, Ariz., thanks to Mike Sweeney’s RBI double in the ninth inning. It was the fourth hit of the day for Sweeney, who is hitting .559 this spring. … Milton Bradley went 3-for-3 in the game, with a double and a steal. … Jose Lopez had two hits, including a game-tying, two-run homer in the eighth inning. … Seattle got five scoreless innings of relief from its bullpen – Jesus Colome, Brandon League, Mark Lowe, David Aardsma and Steven Bray. … Nonroster player Corey Patterson has opted out of his contract. The outfielder is now a free agent, eligible to sign with any team.

 John Hickey is a national baseball writer for AOL FanHouse ( PostGlobe relies on donations.

“Magic” webcast on climate change for kids

Climate change affects us all, but kids have the biggest stake in the outcome. They also hold the promise of new ideas to get our planet through the crisis. So who better to lead the discussion than Ms. Frizzle of “Magic School Bus” fame?

Classroom students can catch the Friz — and her real-life creators, author Joanna Cole and illustrator Bruce Degen — at 10 a.m. (PDT) April 20 in a live webcast from the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ. The webcast is designed to celebrate Earth Day and the duo’s new book, The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge. (more)



More here at Cover to Cover kids

Report: Time to rethink public education and begin at age 3

Improving the U.S. education system does not require more reforms, but fundamentally rethinking how we educate the nation’s kids, and that thinking includes starting public education at age three, the Early Education Initiative stated today in a social contract for public education.

The report is a big step beyond simply reforming the K-12 system. It proposes redrawing the lines to include preschool and pre-kindergarten, arguing that future academic and professional success relies on a higher quality and more seamlessly integrated early education stage that runs from age three through third grade. As importantly, it holds up this PreK-3rd education system as a powerful tool to narrow the achievement gap.

Full blog post here at Birth to Thrive


In other news:

White House tackles workplace flexibility; child care key piece of the puzzle

Bungling at Washington State Arts Commission

After losing this court case  on its attempt to redefine the standards by which artists are included in its rosters, the Washington State Arts Commission emailed me a list of its current standards:

High artistic standard · Conceptually enduring · High technical standard · Cohesive body of work · Ability to work at scale appropriate to public art · Demonstrates experience · Site and/or context responsive · Potential or ability to work in media appropriate for public art · Good image quality · Current work, 1995 to present · Potential to successfully create a commissioned artwork with a minimum budget of $25,000 · Not commercial

As long as they apply to new candidates instead of being retroactively applied to artists accepted under different rules, these criteria sound reasonable until the last item. Not commercial. Not commercial? If the commission is going to avoid losing future lawsuits, it’s going to have to define its terms more precisely. (more)



More here at Another Bouncing Ball

Strange alliance at Supreme Court: Pro-Israel lobby defends alleged Somali war criminal

      Mohammed Ali Samantar is the only living vestige of the Barre regime, the last government in two decades to exercise central control over Somalia and, not coincidentally, the last that was impudent enough to try.  When Siad Barre was finally overthrown in 1991, Samantar, who had served as defense minister and prime minister, fled, in a storm of bullets, to Italy.  He eventually made his way to Fairfax, Virginia, where he lived in suburban obscurity until a group of Somali nationals discovered him, hired a lawyer, and sued for damages. 

    According to his accusers, the Barre regime committed unforgivable acts of violence against them and their families, offenses spanning a range of brutality from arbitrary detention, to torture, rape and extrajudicial killing. Samantar was allegedly aware of the crimes being perpetrated against civilians and yet failed to stop them.

    The suit was dismissed by a federal district court and then reinstated by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  It is now pending before the Supreme Court, where a peculiar coalition of defenders is urging reversal. Among them, to the confusion of some observers, are five prominent pro-Israel organizations, each with a professed interest in keeping Samantar out of court.  In joint amicus briefs, the groups insist that as a former government official, Samantar should be immune from suit.  To hold otherwise, they warn, would violate international law and set an inviting precedent for Israel’s enemies and their supporters in the human rights community.

    The arrival of the Israel lobby adds geopolitical intrigue to a case that already read like a Ludlum thriller.  And because it speaks to real and immediate consequences, it lends concreteness to a discussion that would have otherwise carried on in the abstract.  It is one thing for a lawyer to appeal to legal authority for the proposition that the courts of one nation ought not sit in judgment of the acts of another; it is quite another for five groups purporting to represent the interests of the Israeli government to advise that doing so in this case would be to declare open season on Israeli officials in US courts. 

     It is not without some irony that organizations claiming to represent Israel, a state conceived in the wake of unprecedented state-sponsored violence, find their wagon hitched to the cause of an alleged war criminal.  Nor does the position square, at least not at first glance, with less expansive interpretations of sovereign immunity advanced by the lobby’s constituents in the past.  Just this year, Israeli victims of rocket fire on the Lebanese border sued the Iranian government, by way of its central banks, on the theory that it provided material support to Hezbollah, the source of the rockets. 

     Last December, a pro-Israel group in Europe sued leaders of Hamas in a Belgium court, invoking what it described as the court’s “universal” jurisdiction over cases arising from war crimes.  In both cases, sovereign immunity was an obstacle standing between Israeli interests and a favorable judgment; here, in Samantar’s case, supporters of Israel invoke it as a shield.

      In fact, Israel is far more likely to find itself on the receiving end of a human rights suit.  According to one report, nearly 1,000 suits have been filed globally against Israeli officials and military personnel alleging war crimes and other abuses.  The defense ministry expects some 1,500 more will follow, many stemming from military operations in the coastal territories, but also some taking aim at the less violent aspects of Israeli anti-terror strategy, including one suit describing the security fence as a “crime against humanity.”

    An Israeli newspaper published a “wanted” list of current and former officials who are among the common named defendants.  The list, which was republished in briefs to the Court, reads like a who’s who in Israeli political and military history. The forums for these suits vary, but they commonly feature developed Western countries that have lowered the drawbridge for human rights litigants.  Steering many of the cases are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), some based in the Middle East with ties to the Palestinian government, others based in the West and backed by the likes of the Center for Constitutional Rights and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.

     In these suits supporters of Israel see pretext.  They describe a more sinister objective, a coordinated effort to bring Israeli officials into federal courtrooms.  The idea is to delegitimize Israel, but not before dragging officials through an invasive and costly discovery process.  Do it enough and Israeli officials will start thinking twice before traveling to the United States, or, worse yet, before assuming roles that could expose them to suit.  Defense experts believe the strategy fits the definition of “lawfare,” think-tank speak for the use of legal methods to achieve military goals.

      In the immediate term, the briefs warn, relations between the US and Israel will suffer.  Like any partnership, the US/Israeli alliance benefits from a rich and ongoing exchange of people and ideas.  For the exchange to thrive, current and former Israeli officials must be able to travel to and within the United States without fear of being served with a lawsuit.

     By way of illustration, the American Jewish Congress recounts the story of Moshe Ya’alon, a retired Israeli general who was recently summoned to court upon arriving in Washington, D.C. for a think tank forum.  The complaint, which sought damages for civilian deaths resulting from a battle on the Lebanese border between Israel and Hezbollah, was perfunctory.  With respect to Ya’alon, it alleged only that he served in the army chain-of-command during the relevant period.  The district court dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds and the D.C. Circuit affirmed, concluding that the immunity of a foreign state extends to its former officials.  Ya’alon never had to step foot in a courtroom.  Now suppose that instead of Washington, he had been served with the suit 15 minutes away, in Arlington, Virginia.  In that event the dismissal of his suit would have been appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which, as we learned in Samantar’s case, does not share the D.C. Circuit’s view on official immunity.  In other words, had Ya’alon booked a hotel across the river, he might well still be there today.     

    A Statutory Nightmare

      Naturally, US-Israeli relations didn’t figure into the Supreme Court’s questioning at oral arguments. The justices had assembled to resolve a disagreement among the federal circuit courts over whether sovereign immunity extends to officials. Accordingly, they trained their focus on Samantar and his theory of the case, which rests on the off-stated maxim that one equal has no dominion over another equal.  That this saying, which encapsulates the principle of sovereign immunity, is most commonly recited in Latin suggests something about its vintage. It is as close to a truism as a proposition can come in a foggy discipline like international law, and it is an animating principle of the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA). That law changed the way US courts process suits against foreign governments.  Before 1976, a court needed the go-ahead from the State Department before docketing such cases.  When this approach proved unwieldy, Congress vested gate-keeping authority in the federal courts and then cabined it by stripping them of jurisdiction over suits against foreign states that don’t fit within a narrow set of exceptions.

     Until recently it was generally accepted that these same protections applied to foreign officials. After all, a suit against a foreign official acting on behalf of a state is effectively a suit against the state. True, the caption may list the Minister of Defense rather than the Ministry of Defense, and the plaintiff may have his sights set on a personal bank account rather than the national treasury, but in either case the court is sitting in judgment of the state’s actions. It has intuitive appeal, this idea.  It also has the support of the majority of the federal circuits.

      But as the Fourth Circuit pointed out below, the argument is without support in the one place it needs it most–the text of the FSIA. FSIA extends sovereign immunity to “foreign states” as well as their “agencies and instrumentalities”, but it remains conspicuously silent on the matter of foreign officials. For supporters of broad immunity, this omission is proof that the identity of interests between a foreign sovereign and its officials is self-evident. Congress, they argue, had no reason to split hairs, to try to distinguish the indistinguishable. Opponents, who harbor a less attenuated view, insist that if Congress wanted to extend immunity to foreign officials, it would have said so.

      The theory that foreign officials are immune from suit encounters an more mystifying problem in the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), a federal law that permits victims of state-sponsored torture to bring suit in the United States against culpable foreign officials.  The TVPA is one of the statutes supplying the cause of action in the suit against Samantar, but that’s not why it’s important. Rather, as Justice Kennedy pointed out during oral arguments, the text of the TVPA appears to make a mockery of the proposition that foreign officials are never amenable to suit in U.S courts.  To read the law any other way would be to watch it evaporate, an entire congressional enactment rendered useless, leaving torture victims a right without a remedy. The Court, Justice Kennedy reminds, is not in the business of reading entire statutes out of existence.

      Supporters of immunity for foreign officials counter that allowing the case to proceed against Samantar would be just as devastating for FSIA.  As a preoccupation of Justice Breyer’s, this argument soaked up a fair amount of the Court’s time. The consensus is that opening officials to suit would allow litigants to undermine the intent of the FSIA without actually violating it. In Ya’alon’s case, instead of suing the Ministry of Defense, a lawyer with his wits about him would simply name Ya’alon, the former head of army intelligence, and the suit would survive. “What you are saying,” Breyer concluded, “is that FSIA is only good against a bad lawyer.”

      Hedging, counsel for the plaintiffs reminded the Court that jurisdiction is not the only hurdle between a foreign official and liability. Once a plaintiff establishes jurisdiction, there are other age-old immunity doctrines that shield foreign officials from suit.  There is the head of state doctrine, for instance, which protects current and former leaders from prosecution and civil liability, or the doctrine of diplomatic immunity, a similar, if more controversial, safeguard for diplomats and their staff.  But there is no small difference between immunity from suit and immunity from liability.  To have the former without the latter is to have comfort without convenience; it is, so to speak, the difference between putting up and showing up.

      The Supreme Court is thus left to choose between two seemingly impossible outcomes. Extend sovereign immunity to foreign officials and the Torture Victim Protection Act is gutted, along with U.S. credibility in the human rights community. Expose them to suit and make hash of one of the core objectives of the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act—saving key allies the expense and embarrassment of defending national security decisions in US courts.  To the extent possible, courts generally try to read conflicting statutes in a way that gives effect to both.  But even with so much hanging in the balance, coexistence between the TVPA and the FSIA appears impossible.  Unimpressed and evidently undecided, the justices took the case under advisement.   


Sam Singer is a 2009 graduate of Emory Law School and a Staff Law Clerk for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. His commentaries on law and politics have appeared in various publications, including The Beachwood Reporter and  He has also reported and written articles for The Chicago Tribune and Market News International.

Robots as journalists

From the blog of former Seattle P-I reporter Brad Wong,

Perhaps if journalists, content producers or information brokers – or whatever label you use – really want to get a jump on things in 2010, one logical step might be to enter the robot industry.


Well, robots might have the ability to do what human journalists do these days – at least, according to this blog entry from Singularity Hub, which the Knight Foundation also noted.

 Life is rich. Isn’t it?

Researchers at Tokyo University apparently have come up with a robot that as blogger Aaron Saenz writes:

…can autonomously explore its environment and report what it finds. The robot detects changes in its surroundings, decides if they are relevant, and then takes pictures with its on board camera. It can query nearby people for information, and it uses internet searches to further round out its understanding. If something appears newsworthy, the robot will even write a short article and publish it to the web.

Just to think that people in what is now China once used bamboo as the medium to record words and thoughts.

Now this.

As a former newspaper journalist, who has watched the industry change rapidly in the past few years, I suppose the rise of the robotic content producer is possible.

If you thought the Internet – and its inexpensive entry for people to have their own online platform – opened up the world to citizen journalists, bloggers and commenters, it remains plausible that, well, robots would join the fray.

The information pool, well, just made room for bots.

If bots ever come to actually collecting and distributing news and information, would humans notice the difference?

Would we even care?

I mean, if a photo of a news or sports event was captured and distributed broadly after the event happened and there was little weight on how artistic or composed that image was, it could work (I suppose).

The same could be said for written copy or video or audio.

Since humans could operate an army of journobots, news subjects (meaning humans) would have to contend with a new way to ask for corrections.

And talk about journobots seriously never stopping until they received an answer to a specific question from a reluctant news subject (meaning humans).

I can already see what public relations officials for government agencies and companies would say: “Let’s just put our own bot out there with the journobot, sort of in a head-to-head standoff.”

ASIMO, Honda’s robot, already has led the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

And search bots are helping Google and other companies scour the Internet for key words, topics and images – so they can be categorized in search results.

What I think would be ideal, though, and I’m speaking as a human who still types on a keyboard and presses the button of a digital camera, would be an aerial drone-like robot that also can do the work as a human journalist.

If it can go underwater (and in space), that would be quite impressive.

As you might realize, I find robots to be pretty fascinating.

In this Honda-produced documentary, the topic of robots centered around the fact that humans are the ones that are programming them – and that they are, in a sense, a reflection of ourselves.

Months ago, I wrote a headline about robots and mapo tofu and jokingly referred to whether a machine could really make one of my favorite tofu dishes, which is from Sichuan province.

I think I might have typed that headline too soon.

In Japan, giant robotic arms have made noodles for customers. (more)

Read full story here at Brad Wong’s



Further reading:

‘Newsonomics’ shows how the network of reporters who provide you news is being dismantled

One year ago: Shutting down the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Seattle radio veterans Marty Riemer and Jodi Brothers make podcast debut

How cool is this? The Marty Riemer Show returns at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow (April 1) with a new daily podcast and webcast.

Get all the details here.

How appropriate that the comedic duo is returning on April Fools’ Day. But this is no prank. (more)


More here at

Canadians, Europeans taking the lead in boycott of Israeli goods

From Larry Johnson’s blog: Looking for Trouble.

I’ve been posting a lot about Gaza and Israel lately, and, yes, I do know there are many more issues out there worthy of consideration. But I just can’t seem to help myself. It is, after all, one of the most important conflicts the United States is involved in, along with Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, if you don’t think we are up to our necks into this conflict, then I can’t tell you much. You shouldn’t even be here. Israel receives around $3 billion in direct foreign assistance every year from the United States, about one-fifth of our foreign aid budget.


That said, I do plan to write about some other countries – right after this.

There has been a growing movement in Canada and Europe, mostly, to boycott goods made in Israel in an effort to get the Israeli government to restart serious negotiations toward a lasting peace in the Middle East. So far, efforts by some groups here in the United States haven’t gained the momentum seen elsewhere.

Click here to view the site for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. It has links to boycott sites around the world.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA), a Canadian group, staged some creative nonviolent, and sometimes very entertaining, demonstrations to focus public attention on a couple of companies who deal in Israeli products.

Here is a video of those demos:

While I’m posting, I should mention the International Campaign in Support of Palestinian Political Prisoners. Addameer and other human rights and activist groups are calling for “days of action” during the week of April 11 – 17 in support of Palestinian political prisoners.

April 17, 2010 marks the 34th anniversary of Palestinian Political Prisoners Day. Several Palestinian organizations and solidarity groups feel it is a critical time to focus on these sometimes forgotten “heroes” of the struggle to liberate Palestine.

There are a total of 7,300 Palestinian prisoners, including 33 women and 300 children.

For more information visit:

Health-care bill makes huge strides; helps small business quite a lot — and immediately

Akbar and Teresa, a husband and wife team, run the coffee shop across the street. They make good coffee and sandwiches for the workday crowd. We go there a lot, so we have gotten to know each other. We’ve learned about their health insurance costs, about Teresa’s cancer, about their kids’ college tuition, about their drop in customers in this great recession.

Akbar and Teresa don’t smoke. They walk regularly. They take good care of their health. And they don’t have a choice about health insurance. They have to have it, and as a small business they pay on the barrelhead for it. So what does the new health care law offer them? Actually, quite a lot, and immediately.

As a small business, with average wages under $50,000, they will receive up to a 35 percent tax credit for their health insurance, retroactive to Jan. 1. For Akbar and Teresa, that means several thousands of dollars in savings. It means that they will be able to keep their shop going, while also knowing they have health coverage.

That’s important for them and for the little business community that gathers on and off for coffee, lunch, and Akbar’s observations about the day. It means the economic survival of one more retail business providing good services (and coffee). Multiply this by the quarter of million small businesses in our state, and we can begin to understand the impact of health care reform for both good health and economic stability.

My colleague’s mom is in her 80s. Three years ago she was diagnosed with cancer. With good treatment, she has recovered and her cancer is in remission. To help keep it that way, she takes a pill every day. This costs her about $250 a month. So that means that to pay for this one drug, she finds herself right in the center of the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, where Medicare doesn’t pay for any prescription costs between $2,700 and $6,000. What does health care reform offer her? An immediate $250 check from the federal government to help pay for her “donut hole” costs.

There are about 200,000 seniors in our own state who fall into this donut hole. They will all get this reimbursement. The federal government will track when seniors enter the donut hole, quarter by quarter. When they do, they will receive a check in the mail automatically for $250 in the following quarter.

Add it up, and that is $50 million of added disposable income for seniors in our state, money that will be spent in our local economies. That helps to keep jobs in this great recession. Health care reform will also shrink that donut hole down to nothing over the next 10 years, so seniors won’t have this cost hanging over their heads as they deal with the aches and pains and illnesses of being old.

When he was 12 years old, my son was diagnosed with a particularly unpleasant disease, a chronic lifelong condition requiring several expensive surgeries. Our health care provider — Group Health — provided and continues to provide this treatment. We always knew that if we lost our employer coverage, we might not be able to purchase coverage for him. Now that’s not a worry, children can’t be excluded from coverage because of pre-existing conditions. And with health care reform, we can keep our son on our coverage until age 26, which is a good thing given today’s job market.

All of us know some family member or friend or neighbor who have some underlying “pre-existing” condition and fear losing their health coverage. With health care reform, that fear is banished, for good.

The package that Congress passed and the president signed last week has a lot more details and benefits. It raises new issues and new questions. It is a start, not a conclusion. It makes some important, fundamental and humane changes in how we provide health coverage. It shows that public policy debate in a democracy is not necessarily pretty, but we can get the job done.

My son, and the business owners across the street, and my colleague’s mother can only appreciate that.

John Burbank is executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle ( His e-mail address is