Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's Banned Books Week

September 27 through October 4 is banned books week. Here's a short list of the books most requested to be banned last year, according to the American Library Association:

  1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

  2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

  3. Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes

  4. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

  6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

  7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle

  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

  9. It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris

  10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

That's quite a list of books, including some classics. Why anyone with a functioning mind would want to ban these books is beyond me. Thankfully, I've never heard of such a person. Generally, the books in that list have been opposed by one narrow-minded religious group or another. While I don't think anyone should have this power, this is the last group of people I'd want banning books.

So, if you can, read a banned book this week. For instance, there's this heartwarming tale of a dog and his human friends. As the ALA points out, there are other ways you can help. Not the least of them is to report attempts to ban books.

When it's OK to ban books, any book can be banned. The marketplace of ideas is where the worth of books should be determined, not in the minds of people who fear ideas that differ from their own.

(h/t NP at The Coffee Stained Writer, from whom I borrowed several links.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Another Elitist Cruise Begins

NP, who blogs at The Coffee-Stained Writer, is hosting this month's cruise of the Carnival of Elitist Bastards. Once again, Yours Truly was impressed into service on the promenade deck and the dining hall of the "300,000-ton cruise ship" for several days of discussion in the Caribbean.

If that is to be my lot, so be it. You might as well come along.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Washington Voter Registration Easier Until Oct. 4

If you're a recent resident of the state of Washington, there's a deadline coming if you want to vote this fall. Over at Evergreen Politics, Lynn Allen writes:

Oct. 4th. That's the deadline for doing it the easy way - either online or by mail. Getting as many people as possible out to vote is critical in this election. The easy way is online - and works both for new registrations and change of address.

If you miss that deadline and still want to vote, you can still register in person at your county elections department for another 15 days, Oct. 19th, in this case. More information on rules and regs here.

It's important and, despite the time and effort, it's personally rewarding. I was out talking with undecided voters in Puyallup yesterday and it feels like a win each time an unregistered voter takes a registration form, better yet when you help them fill it out and take it to the mail for them.

Last Call for Voter Registration

[links from original]

I have nothing to do with this. I'm just passing the message along. For those of you who don't live in our state, the League of Women Voters has a state by state rundown of who can register to vote and how. Check it out if you're not registered. Voting is one of the few ways you can change your community or your country to be the way you want it to be. Don't give up that right.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Congratulations, Ichiro

Image credit: McClatchy, reduced by Cujo359

There haven't been very many bright spots in the Seattle Mariners' season this year. One of the few occurred yesterday:

KANSAS CITY. Mo. — Ichiro's 200th hit this season came in fitting fashion Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium. He beat out a ground ball to Royals shortstop Mike Aviles in the top of the eighth inning.

Ichiro makes 200th hit in 5-2 loss to Royals

What's so special about this? It's because it's the eighth time in a row that he's accomplished this feat. It's the first time this has happened in what is usually thought of as the modern baseball era:

[Seattle manager Jim Riggelman said:] "When you are talking about Ichiro you are talking about one of the greatest players in the game. To get 200 hits eight years in a row is unheard of."

Indeed. Eight straight seasons with 200 hits tied a major-league record with Wee Willie Keeler, who did it from 1894 to 1901.

Ichiro makes 200th hit in 5-2 loss to Royals

The game has changed considerably since Keeler played. The equipment is much better, as are the fielders and pitchers. Getting 200 hits a season is more of an accomplishment now than it was back then, in many ways.

Fittingly, this occurred during another losing effort for the Mariners. If they play really well the rest of the way, the Mariners might eke out sixty wins this season.

Congratulations, Ichiro. Hopefully, your next 200 hit season will get you into the World Series.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Of Foxes And Hen Houses

Image credit: Composite image by Cujo359 (see NOTE)

You'd think from things John McCain has said recently that he's now ready to take the economy seriously:

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), a longtime critic of excessive government intervention, vowed on Sept. 16 to "put an end…to running Wall Street like a casino." At an Orlando rally Sept. 16, McCain called for a high-level commission to investigate the securities industry, and for ending "multimillion-dollar payouts to CEOs that have broken the public trust."

Wall Street Crashes the 2008 Election

Is anyone taking this seriously? I sure hope not. It's McCain's sort of laissez faire philosophy that got us into this mess. In an interview with Keith Olbermann Monday, Princeton University economist Paul Krugman remarked on the likelihood of McCain being the economy's savior:

OLBERMANN: The senator and the Republican campaign obviously selling themselves throughout the campaign as a break from the Bush administration on the subject of the economy and this sub-subject gigantic, disastrous black holes opening up in the middle of the economy. Is McCain actually a difference from Bush?

KRUGMAN: No, if he had said, at any point, look, you know, we need some regulation, we need some policing, if there was—I‘ve actually been trying to see if I can come up with anyone sort of on the Republican side who has said anything, who said anything about the housing bubble, who warned about subprime. You know, I can‘t see it. The fact of the matter is he‘s—and you know, what he says is, well, we‘re going to clean up Washington, and then I‘ll clean the markets. I don‘t understand.

Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, September 15

Of course, the people Krugman refers to include John McCain. In short, not bloody likely. Here's what Phil Gramm, McCain's principle advisor on economic matters, did as a Senator:

In June 2000, Senator Gramm co-sponsored the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, a measure aimed at deregulating certain kinds of futures trading, but not energy futures. That bill never made it to the floor, and thus quietly died. Six months later, on December 15, Gramm curiously turned up as co-sponsor of a bill with the same name, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which did deregulate energy futures and which, without undergoing the usual committee hearings and preliminary votes, was immediately attached as a rider to an 11,000-page appropriations bill. It passed and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton six days later. Few lawmakers had likely perused the rider carefully, if they even knew it was there. And at any rate, Enron had given to the campaigns of over 200 legislators.

Phil Gramm’s Enron Favor

In short, he helped set up the conditions that Enron could exploit to screw both its customers and its stockholders.

Gramm set up many of the financial conditions we're facing now:

Gramm's long been a handmaiden to Big Finance. In the 1990s, as chairman of the Senate banking committee, he routinely turned down Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt's requests for more money to police Wall Street; during this period, the sec's workload shot up 80 percent, but its staff grew only 20 percent. Gramm also opposed an sec rule that would have prohibited accounting firms from getting too close to the companies they audited—at one point, according to Levitt's memoir, he warned the sec chairman that if the commission adopted the rule, its funding would be cut. And in 1999, Gramm pushed through a historic banking deregulation bill that decimated Depression-era firewalls between commercial banks, investment banks, insurance companies, and securities firms—setting off a wave of merger mania.

Foreclosure Phil

Needless to say, there's much more:

The general co-chairman of John McCain’s presidential campaign, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), led the charge in 1999 to repeal a Depression-era banking regulation law that Democrat Barack Obama claimed on Thursday contributed significantly to today’s economic turmoil.

“A regulatory structure set up for banks in the 1930s needed to change because the nature of business had changed,” the Illinois senator running for president said in a New York economic speech. “But by the time [it] was repealed in 1999, the $300 million lobbying effort that drove deregulation was more about facilitating mergers than creating an efficient regulatory framework.”

Gramm’s role in the swift and dramatic recent restructuring of the nation’s investment houses and practices didn’t stop there.

A year after the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the old regulations, Swiss Bank UBS gobbled up brokerage house Paine Weber. Two years later, Gramm settled in as a vice chairman of UBS’s new investment banking arm.

McCain guru linked to subprime crisis

But wait, it gets even better:

Later, he became a major player in its government affairs operation. According to federal lobbying disclosure records, Gramm lobbied Congress, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department about banking and mortgage issues in 2005 and 2006.

During those years, the mortgage industry pressed Congress to roll back strong state rules that sought to stem the rise of predatory tactics used by lenders and brokers to place homeowners in high-cost mortgages.

For his work, Gramm and two other lobbyists collected $750,000 in fees from UBS’s American subsidiary. In the past year, UBS has written down more than $18 billion in exposure to subprime loans and other risky securities and is considering cutting as many as 8,000 jobs.

McCain guru linked to subprime crisis

Not only did Gramm screw consumers and the economy, he even managed to fuck up the company he worked for. What's more, he was paid handsomely to do so. While he wasn't a CEO, Gramm is just the sort of person McCain was railing about in the lead quote of this article.

The Politico article I just quoted, which was written in March, is well worth a read if you want to know everything a voter ought to know about Phil Gramm. It's a sobering read. This is the guy McCain trusts to run the economy. Paul Krugman put it best, in a quote that's been widely cited around the Net:

KRUGMAN: Yes. I mean, if you‘re going to ask who is responsible for the, you know, which people in official capacity would bear the most responsibility for getting us into this mess it would be, number one, Alan Greenspan, and then, number two, Phil Gramm. He‘s at the core of this. I mean, it‘s—and by the way, whatever they may say officially, everybody knows that if McCain becomes president, Phil Gramm is, the odds [are] in favor (ph) for him to be the treasury secretary.

OLBERMANN: What would that do to the American economy, do you think?

KRUGMAN: Oh, boy. Well, you know, under current management, Hank Paulson, I have some sympathy for, the (INAUDIBLE) works for the czar, he can only do so much given the guy he works for. But boy, Phil Gramm, you know, Ben Bernanke, I think Hank Paulson understand that we could manage to have another Great Depression if we work at it hard enough. I think Phil Gramm might be just the guy to do it.

Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, September 15

Barack Obama summed up his differences with McCain on the economy thus:

"This March, in the wake of the Bear Stearns bailout, I called for a new, 21st century regulatory framework to restore accountability, transparency, and trust in our financial markets. Just a few weeks earlier, Senator McCain made it clear where he stands: 'I'm always for less regulation,' he said, and referred to himself as 'fundamentally a deregulator.' This is what happens when you confuse the free market with a free license to let special interests take whatever they can get, however they can get it."

Obama Seizes Opportunity, Hammers McCain On Economy

We've been letting the foxes guard the hen houses for the last decade, and what we have to show for it is generally lousy growth followed by a financial system that seems to be on the verge of collapse. We've tried that strategy before, and each time it ended up either the same, or worse.

On this issue, Obama is clearly headed in the right direction, and McCain just as clearly can't be trusted to do anything but more of the same.

NOTE: The image on the left is an official image of the McCain for President campaign. The image on the right is Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, a photo of a Depression era migrant worker and her children. It is one of the more iconic images of that era.

Afterword: It doesn't fit in with the narrative above, so I offer this last quote from the Wikipedia as further example of the Republicans' inability to understand how to manage an economy:

Marriner S. Eccles, who served as Franklin D. Roosevelt's Chairman of the Federal Reserve from November 1934 to February 1948, detailed what he believed caused the Depression in his memoirs, Beckoning Frontiers (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1951)[21]:

As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of wealth -- not of existing wealth, but of wealth as it is currently produced -- to provide men with buying power equal to the amount of goods and services offered by the nation's economic machinery. [Emphasis in original.] Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump had by 1929-30 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth.

Wikipedia entry: The Great Depression

The tax changes brought about by the Bush Administration, coupled with the sort of "tort reform" Republicans have been pushing lately, rampant deregulation, and general lack of interest in helping out the working stiffs of this country are creating this same structural problem. McCain and Gramm gave these changes their full-throated support.

People are having to choose between the basics, like food or medicine, food or heat, or housing or health care for their children. People who can't afford to buy things aren't going to drive the economy out of a recession. The Republicans, with the help of far too many Democrats, have set up these conditions.

They've had their fun. It's time for adults to be in charge again.

UPDATE: Over at his blog, Bustednuckles had this to say about the financial meltdown we're watching:

That is what is what has been bothering me, with 24 hour a day coverage of this carnage, Billions and Billions of dollars in damages and the legal and economic Tow trucks hauling off the burnt out carcasses of Financial business left and right, The New York Times, WAPO, the LA Times, pick a news source, I have yet to see anyone point a finger at ANYONE as to just who is responsible for this disaster.

Oh, there is the vague reference to this or that but I don't see any names.
I call Bullshit!

I want names.

I Am Not Going To Ask Politely

You can start with the two I mentioned, Bustednuckles.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ninja Cat

Freezing when they're being observed is an instinct most large mammals, including human beings, seem to have. That doesn't mean it can't be a funny instinct, as this YouTube demonstrates.

Thanks to Adobe's non-support of Linux, Flashmedia sound doesn't work on my computer. For this video, it didn't have to.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Firefox Takes The Lead At SnS

Image credit: Screenshot of Sitemeter page by Cujo359

The viewers of this site are, almost by definition, an example of a small, self-selecting population. Even so, I thought this chart was interesting. It shows that the Firefox web browser, along with its Netscape and Mozilla (now Seamonkey) brethren, account for 50 percent of the traffic here. Microsoft's Internet Explorer makes up about 44 percent of the views, with the rest being mostly Apple's Safari.

Two years ago, I think those numbers would have been very different. Back then, IE was accounting for something like two-thirds of page views.

I've been encouraging people to use Firefox for some time. It's available for Windows, for the Mac, as well as for POSIX systems. It's more secure, and it blocks most of the annoying popups that make browsing with IE hell. While it's not what I'd call a lightweight application, it is way ahead of IE. Its extensions, which are mostly contributed by users, make it much more customizable and useful.

Best of all, it's free.

While it's probably not much of an improvement for Safari users, I'd recommend that anyone who is using Internet Explorer give Firefox a try. If you do, I'd recommend that you also load these two extensions:

  • NoScript - an extension that blocks Javascript unless you specifically allow it. It also has sophisticated checks for cross-site script attacks.

  • AdBlock - an extension that blocks most ads and other spam that appear just about everywhere these days.

I never surf the Internet without these two extensions. There are other extensions, of course, like Google Toolbar and the various search tools, that add functionality or make it easier to get where you want to be.

If you're an IE user, I suspect you'll wonder how you ever got along without Firefox.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Bad Morning

[Satellite image of Hurricane Ike at 1 PM CDT today Image credit: The Weather Underground]

Eastern Texas had a really bad morning today. Bloomberg elaborates:

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Ike plowed into Texas early today, driving the Gulf of Mexico's waters into Galveston Island, blowing out office-building windows and cutting power to at least 4.5 million people in the Houston area.

The storm flooded roads, shut oil refineries and prompted panicked calls from residents who didn't join the 1 million- strong exodus from its path. Winds blew pine trees sideways in Houston, the nation's fourth-biggest city, where electrical transformers sparked and residents waited out the hurricane in their homes last night under a citywide curfew.

Hurricane Ike Batters Texas, 4.5 Million Lose Power

That link is from the original article, by the way. Bloomberg seems to get the Internet more than the other wire services, and quite a few online newspapers.

In Killeen, Texs, which is a hundred miles or so inland, the Killeen Daily Herald has submitted no storm-related stories since early this morning. It's a small paper, though. The link they point to for the Killeen preparedness agency redirects to a non-existent domain. So much for preparedness.

The Austin Statesman, meanwhile, which is about 50 miles south of Killeen, is up and running, it appears. They filed this a little while ago:

Chris Lippincott of TxDOT said crews from as far away as the Panhandle are heading to the Houston area and Southeast Texas to begin debris removal and to make decisions about opening bridges and roads.

“We’re just now getting out and about,” Lippincott said about 10 a.m.

UPDATE: The agency later stressed that flash flooding is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in Texas.

“Many roadways in the affected areas are still not safe for travel due to flooding, power outages and debris,” TxDOT said. “Travel in the area affected by Hurricane Ike is strongly discouraged.

TxDOT, Texas National Guard gear for recovery actions

If you live in that part of Texas and you don't need to go anywhere today, it looks like staying at home would be a good idea.

Galveston may have been the worst hit. According to Bloomberg and the Austin Statesman, many people there did not evacuate:

About 40 percent of Galveston's 57,400 people decided to stay and ride out the storm, Steve LeBlanc, the city manager, said in a televised press conference yesterday.

Hurricane Ike Batters Texas, 4.5 Million Lose Power

Thankfully, the storm surge was lower than expected.

I wish Texas well, and hope that everyone's OK down there.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Price Of Freedom, Revisited

Image credit: Laredo Firefighters

I've hit on this theme before, but Dana Hunter wrote a good essay yesterday from the perspective of someone who hasn't always been interested in politics:

I get you. I used to be you. I called myself an Independent, but I really belonged to the Apathy Party. I didn't follow politics because it just seemed to be a big fucking charade. Both parties disgusted me. The political infighting seemed like much ado about nothing. I didn't give a rat's ass about which ass got planted in the Oval Office chair because they all struck me as grandiose assclowns who placed party before country. And who was I to change that? One little peon who couldn't bother to be politically informed enough to make a serious choice for President.
But I am going to tell you something you won't want to hear: you're being played for a fool.

You're sitting there bitching and moaning about the state of your bank account, and the fact that you hate the war in Iraq, can't afford health care, your wallet sobs every time it's hauled to the gas station, and your mortgage is murdering you. And yet, you're not doing a damned thing about it, because you believe that nothing you do politically is going to make an iota of difference. Neither party has the answer to your woes. They're all lying crooks. Your vote won't do a fucking thing to get you out of the mess you're in.

An Open Letter to Politically Disinterested Americans

OK, I've never been one of you. I've always been interested in politics. I've always realized that I have an effect on the world and my own government, even if it's only a small one that takes far too long to assert itself. But this is my country as much as it is theirs. I honestly believe that their job is to run this country for us, not for themselves. Why? Because I've seen it work that way.

In my lifetime, I've seen black Americans go from being second-class citizens who weren't allowed to use the same facilities white people did, to being equals. I saw in an unnecessary war ended when the government would have let it go on for years rather than admit it was a mistake.

Neither thing happened merely because the government wanted it to. They both happened because this country's citizens demanded change. They did it on the streets, they did it on the job, and they did it in the voting booth. Even when the politicians didn't seem to listen, they heard us.

The only vote that doesn't count is the one you don't cast. I get so tired of people lamenting how politicians are all the same, which inevitably means that they are all corrupt and uninterested in their country.

The great thing about telling yourself that is that it relieves you of all responsibility to do any of the research and thinking required to find the politicians who will vote in your best interests. And that's just what the corrupt ones want! If that's all you expect, you'll never demand better. They want you to have low expectations, so they have nothing more to live up to.

As Dana put it, you're being played for a fool.

There is real power in numbers. The few of us who seem to care about the future of our country aren't enough. The corrupt and indolent in our governments can safely ignore us, as long as you continue to ignore them. That's the secret. Like I said before, it takes work. It takes learning things, and it takes making your voices heard.

That's what that vote is for. There are all sorts of ways to find out what your legislators and executives have been up to on the issues you care about. There are special interest groups that rate politicians on particular issues. There are blogs and publications that cover those things, too. This blog, and many, many others, are here to try to make sense of issues, and explain what's going on in a way that you can check for yourself. Find the ones that are interested in what affects you, and keep checking them.

If you don't like what is going on in your country, you have some power to change it. If you continue to do nothing, don't complain to me. I've already said I'm not interested in your complaints, and I meant it.

Juan Cole On Al Qaeda

Image credit: Screenshot of this YouTube taken by Cujo359

Juan Cole, one of the more astute observers of the Middle East, had this to say today about Al Qaeda:

The original al-Qaeda is defeated.

It is a dangerous thing for an analyst to say, because obviously radical Muslim extremists may at some point set off some more bombs and then everyone will point fingers and say how wrong I was.

So let me be very clear that I do not mean that radical Muslim extremism has ceased to exist or that there will never be another bombing at their hands.

I mean the original al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda as a historical, concrete movement centered on Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, with the mujahideen who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s at their core. Al-Qaeda, the 55th Brigade of the Army of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under the Taliban. That al-Qaeda. The 5,000 fighters and operatives or whatever number they amounted to.

That original al-Qaeda has been defeated.

On the Seventh Anniversary of September 11: Time to Declare the original al-Qaeda Defeated

Of this, at least, I think there is little doubt. Al Qaeda have not mounted a major terrorist act in the world outside their own countries in several years. The bombings in Britain seem to be related to Al Qaeda only loosely. As others have observed, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri are still on the loose, but as Cole points out, they are both diminished in influence and effectiveness.

Prof. Cole goes on to make an interesting point about Afghanistan:

The Bush administration over-reacted to September 11, misunderstanding it as the action of a traditional state rather than of a small asymmetrical terrorist group. Its occupation of Iraq lengthened al-Qaeda's shelf life. But poor strategy by the Sunni radicals themselvesf brought the full wrath of Iran, the Iraqi Shiites, Jordanian intelligence, and the United States military down on their heads.

"Al-Qaeda in Iraq" is not a reason for the US to extend its occupation of that country, but is rather an epiphenomenon created by the occupation and the political mistakes it made.

On the Seventh Anniversary of September 11: Time to Declare the original al-Qaeda Defeated

I've learned that I disagree with Juan Cole at the risk of being wrong, but I think the original invasion did serve a purpose. At least, it could have if its message, which is that if a government supports terrorism it will lose, had not been diminished by our actions in Iraq and in regard to Pakistan. Whether the initial invasion was an overreaction is at best a nebulous point - the invasion changed a great deal, including the fact that Al Qaeda no longer had its training ground and a strong alliance with a nation's government. What it has in Pakistan is a safe haven, but it is far from the reach of the country's real government, and that government, despite its support of terrorism in India's Kashmir province, doesn't want any more to do with Al Qaeda than Saddam Hussein did.

Our invasion of Iraq, and the growing hatred in our own country for people different from ourselves are both fallout from this war on terrorism. Iraq never should have been invaded - that much is clear to all but the most deluded. The hatred of Muslims and others who don't share the majority view of things in this country is something we need to get over before it destroys us. The fear that countenances the destruction of our freedoms has to end, too.

So it's time to declare the "War On Terror" over, not that it was ever legitimately a war. The enemy, such as they were, are gone. It's time to move on.

In short, it's time for September to end. We have lots to do right here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Another Addition To The Blogroll

Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

The latest addition to the blogroll is I Can Has Cheezburger, also known as "Lolcats". I felt driven to add this blog after I had to search for it yet again. The accompanying picture is a sample of what's there - lots of photos of cats with humorous, if somewhat ungrammatical, captions. It's been around long enough to have developed its own mythology. There are the "invisible" jokes, where one imagines the cat is playing with some invisible object. That's not hard to do if you've been around cats very much. I've always figured that they had fantasy lives nearly as rich as their humans'. There is also a small pantheon, which consists of "Ceiling Cat", the good cat god, and "Basement Cat", who ... I'm sure you get that one.

In short, if you need a good laugh of a non-political nature, it's a good bet.

Monday, September 8, 2008

TNT Reducing Staff

Image credit: Shrinking effect added to Tacoma News Tribune logo by Cujo359

The Tacoma News Tribune, which is probably the closest thing we have to a local paper where I live, apparently intends to reduce its staff soon:

The News Tribune on Monday offered voluntary buyout deals to 189 of its 350 full-time staffers although the publisher said the newspaper doesn't intend to accept anywhere near that number as it works to bring its expenses in line with reduced advertising income.

"The first order of business is any expense reduction that doesn't involve people," Publisher David Zeeck said in a telephone interview, adding the paper is looking at other, unspecified things in terms of both revenues and expenses.

Tacoma Paper Offers Buyout to 189 of 350 Staffers

The Seattle Times reduced staff recently, so I suppose this isn't a surprise. It's the latest in a wave of such reductions across the country.

What's particularly unsettling about these reductions is that in many cases they involve journalists of one sort or another. Along with the consolidation of news companies in this country, this means that, at least when it comes to traditional news sources, there will be fewer voices and fewer investigative journalists watching both our governments and the other things in our society that need watching.

While I've certainly been critical of the state of journalism in this country, it's a job that most blogs are not yet able to do. Considering that the consolidation that's been happening is mostly into the hands of conservatives, that's particularly bad for the rest of us.

No Place Is Truly Safe

Image credit: Weather Underground

[Click on the image to see it full size.]

With Hurricane Ike crossing Cuba on its way toward the Gulf Coast, Elizabeth Walters' guest essay at Pacific Views seems especially timely today:

To live now in St. Bernard Parish, or New Orleans, or any other Gulf Coast community that has been destroyed over the past few years requires the ability to simultaneously acknowledge the past and believe in your heart that history cannot repeat itself so cruelly. If someone truly thinks that another storm will bring destruction on the scale of Katrina, then south Louisiana is just not a place it is possible to live.

The people here elevate their houses, urge the government to strengthen the levees and do everything they can to prepare themselves for the next time a storm comes. But ultimately, this place is at the mercy of wind and water, and its future is left to forces beyond our control—to fate, to luck, to God, to global warming, to probability. Although we dodged a bullet with Gustav, the storm succeeded in shaking that faith.

Close Call:A Brush With A New Storm Revives Fears From Katrina

Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

Of course, we in the Pacific Northwest know about the forces of nature. If we don't when we arrive, there is an earthquake or a volcano every few years to remind us. The truth is that no matter what part of the country you live in, there are hazards like this. We can talk about how foolish people are to live in a flood plain or along a fault, but the fact is that there are disasters everywhere. I've lived through floods on the East Coast, tornado watches in the Midwest, and earthquakes and volcanoes on the West Coast. On two separate occasions, I've avoided hurricanes by a matter of hours while visiting Florida.

That's why we need to remember that even though it's New Orleans today that is suffering, it could be your community or mine tomorrow. No place is really safe. Get used to that idea, and learn to plan for it. And remember that a government's competence at planning for disasters, and dealing with them in a humane and timely manner, is more important than just about any other function it can perform.

Check out Elizabeth Walters' essay. It's a good one.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Love This Cartoon

If you ever wondered "Creationism, Young Earth-ism, where's the harm?" consider where it will lead:

Courtesy Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Click on the comic to see the full-size version in its native habitat.

OK, Maybe It's Not Always OK If You're A Republican

Just after I explained that it's OK to break the law if you're a Republican politician, this bit of good news came along:

Former GOP super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced Thursday to an additional 48 months in prison for conspiring to corrupt public officials and tax evasion. Combined with a sentence Abramoff is already serving for a Florida fraud conviction, the new sentence means he'll be in prison until September 2012, minus time off for good behavior.

Abramoff Sentenced To Four More Years

Apparently, the judge tacked on an additional nine months:

While acknowledging that Abramoff's assistance had helped unwind a wide-ranging corruption scandal, Huvelle said that his criminal actions "impacted seriously the public's confidence in the government," and hat he must be punished for them.

Abramoff Sentenced To Four More Years

If that was a crime, Abramoff would have quite a few colleagues to visit during exercise periods. Still, he deserves all the bad karma that comes his way for his part in corrupting our government.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin Smackdown By Obama Campaign

Apparently, the Obama campaign has been busy. They've parsed Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican Convention last night and compared it to reality. As you might imagine, there's some gold there. Here's a sample:

PALIN: “Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown.”


  • Total Government Expenditures Increased 63 Percent Under Palin. In fiscal 2003—the last fiscal year Palin approved the budget—the total government expenditures of Wasilla, excluding capital outlays, were $7,046,325. In fiscal 1996—the year before Palin took control of the budget—the expenditures were $4,317,947. The increase was 63 percent. [Wasilla Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 2003, Table 1]

  • Palin Supported Increasing Wasilla Sales Tax From 2 to 2.5 Percent to Build $14.7 Million Sports Center. “Wasilla residents have given the go ahead to building a new multiuse sports center in town and to raising the city sales tax to pay for it. With the final votes counted Friday, residents voted 306 to 286 in favor of a measure to raise the city sales tax from 2 percent to 2.5 percent to pay the estimated $14.7 million cost of building the center…Mayor Sarah Palin, who supported the measure, said the tight vote will motivate city officials to keep a close eye on the budget for the center.” [Anchorage Daily News, 3/9/02]

  • Palin Left Behind Almost $19 Million In Long-Term Debt, Compared to None Before She Was Mayor. In fiscal 2003—the last fiscal year Palin approved the budget—the bonded long-term debt was $18,635,000. In fiscal 1996—the year before Palin took control of the budget—there was no general obligation debt. [Wasilla Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 2003, Table 10]

FACT CHECK: Sarah Palin’s Speech

I just loves me those fiscal conservatives, don't you? As I pointed out before, this boondoggle came to about $3,000 per person in Wasilla.

Unfortunately, none of these sources appear to be online. The Anchorage Daily News seems to have only recently discovered the Internet. The city of Wasilla didn't start putting financial reports online until 2004. Little wonder.

UPDATE: Apparently, the rock group Heart is going to sue the GOP:

[T]he Heart women are upset that the GOP has used their classic "Barracuda" as a theme song for Sarah Palin. TMZ obtained a statement from Heart's rep, who says "The Republican campaign did not ask for permission to use the song, nor would they have been granted that permission."

Republicans Lack Heart!

Ladies, I hate to tell you, but they can do this. They're Republicans, so it's OK. Only Democrats and little people aren't allowed to break the law these days.

(h/t Jane Hamsher)

What Does This Say About Us?, Part 2

Who knew clowns voted? Anyone who's seen the results of our elections recently.

Image credit: This Is London

Glenn Greenwald made some astute observations this morning:

Ever since Ronald Reagan's election, this is what the Republicans do every four years. They render issues irrelevant and convert campaigns into cultural wars and personality referenda. They converted our elections into tawdry reality shows long before networks realized their entertainment value. And every four years, Democrats seems shocked and paralyzed by all of this and desperately delude themselves into believing that mean-spirited "negativity" and nastiness will alienate voters, while the media swoons at the potency of these attacks.

The derisive attacks on Obama's character last night were exactly what Democrats decided -- yet again -- that they would studiously avoid at their own convention when discussing John McCain.

The GOP's Cheerful Viciousness

OK, I admit it, I didn't watch either convention this year. Part of the reason, though, is that I've seen this sad story too many times already. Glenn's right, this is the way it's been since the Reagan era. Little has changed, beyond the vastly greater power of the Republican noise machine, thanks to its consolidation of the news business under its ownership.

Personally, I don't have a problem with the Democrats not being negative at the start. I go by John Sheridan's father's advice: never start a fight, but always finish it. If the Democrats get back up and fight this time, though, I'm all for that, too. Just remember the second clause of that advice. So far, they've shown little sign of having heard that part.

Glenn goes on to observe:

None of this is to say that the GOP attacks will enable them to win the election. It is quite possible that enough Americans this year are so alienated from the GOP brand that they are now largely immune from these kinds of substance-free personality assaults, that they won't be blinded by cultural tribalism and personality appeals into handing this political party an additional four years of power. But these tactics have worked in the past because cultural tribalism, resentment and alienation are very powerful influences in how people think -- in general, they're more powerful than rational assessments of policy positions or even one's self-interest -- and the Democrats' gamble that they can win this election without really engaging those issues, while allowing that war to be waged in a one-sided manner yet again, is a true gamble.

The GOP's Cheerful Viciousness

He's right. These tactics work. If they didn't work, George W. Bush wouldn't have been re-elected. It's pretty clear that a substantial portion of the voting public is persuaded by this nonsense. Will the average American voter's skills at critical thinking remain so low that these tactics will always work? They probably will.

It's not as though I haven't written about this before. Specifically, I wrote this:

People didn't want to take the time to understand what each candidate stood for, if anything, and what his record really was. They either trusted their opinionated friends, or the cool guys on radio or TV, or they just figured they could determine whom to vote for based on how they looked or how they shook hands.

I often wonder just how stupid you have to be to think that's a good way to choose a leader. I suppose it's better than the way chimpanzees do it, but it sure doesn't say much for our intelligence, does it? For anyone who might feel that they can read a person this way let me tell you something.

You're an idiot.

The Price Of Freedom

It's not as though we haven't noted already that a large portion of this population is shockingly uninterested in learning about the world they live in. The problem, as I've also mentioned before, is that what this means is that we will be doomed to the sort of leadership we've had until these people finally wise up.

How long that process will take is anyone's guess. My own guess is that it will take a disaster of the kind we last saw in the Great Depression. It will take that much upheaval and pain for these frothing idiots to realize that no nation is so powerful or comfortable that it can't be laid low by disasters of its own making. As I wrote before:

I'm not resigned to this situation we're in by any means, but there are times when I really wonder whether we're a society that's worth saving. Well, we're going to have to save ourselves this time, and if we can't do it because not enough people cared, I guess I have my answer.

The Price Of Freedom

Ignorance, and even stupidity, can be cured. It's not easy, and the lessons are often expensive. I keep hoping we can do it on the cheap, but lately I really have my doubts.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sound And Fury, Signifying Nothing

Image credit: UC San Diego [The first paragraph of the accompanying text reads:

There are more than 200 different species of Jellyfish. Jellyfish are invertebrates and they come in different shapes and sizes.

Seems appropriate somehow...]

It's more than a little ironic, I think, that I first spotted Nancy Pelosi's new memoir Know Your Power, in a bookstore last week, and now I read this:

New details in a high profile case of politics and prosecution. Democrat Don Siegelman has good news from last week's Democratic National Convention. Be sure to see the accompanying photo from Denver. You can see Governor Siegelman on the left, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the right, and Democratic activist Pam Miles in the middle.

Miles tells NewsChannel 19, about the time the picture was snapped, Pelosi promised Governor Siegelman, "We will hold rove in contempt".

Pelosi's Promise to Siegelman at Democratic Convention

I can hear them laughing in the White House right now. Go ahead, Rep. Pelosi, I can hear them saying in between bouts of hysterical giggling, we'll throw that warrant right in the same burn bag where we have all the others.

Pelosi took impeachment off the table. When she did that, she gave up the one power she had to enforce the laws of this country if the President decides not to follow them. How fucking hypocritical can someone be before they simply collapse in on themselves and blow away in a puff of smudgy smoke? Apparently, it takes quite a lot.

Ms. Pelosi isn't imploding yet.

(h/t to FireDogLake reader CTuttle for pointing out the WHNT article)

UPDATE: Jane Hamsher had a quote a while back that applies as much here as it did to FISA:

"I'm very upset with my party right now," Hamsher says. "They were given the majority, and they have a 9 percent approval rating right now for a reason."

Angry Bloggers On Left And Right Unite Over FISA

If they're after better approval ratings, they're going about it all wrong, that's for sure.

A Transplanted Alaskan's Views On Sarah Palin

A recent arrival in Alaska, David Noon, who is a professor of history at the University of Alaska, has some interesting and entertaining observations about Sarah Palin. The essay starts out:

The nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate is perhaps the most bizarre thing I’ve witnessed since moving to Alaska six years ago, arguably surpassing the time a bald eagle dropped a flounder into my hot tub.

The Thrilla from Wasilla: An Alaskan recounts the reign of Gov. Sarah Palin

I've written about everything I'm going to on this subject, at least until something interesting emerges, but in the meantime, this article is both fun and informative.

Monday, September 1, 2008

New Orleans OK So Far

Image credit: Enhanced infra-red image by NOAA. Reduced and captioned by Cujo359

That's a satellite infra-red image of New Orleans from a couple of hours ago. If a 100 mile-wide storm can be said to miss a city, then Gustav just missed New Orleans. According to Reuters, it hit the coast as a Category 2 storm.

Hurricane Gustav slammed ashore on the U.S. Gulf Coast just west of New Orleans on Monday, hammering the city devastated by Katrina in 2005 with surging floodwaters that threatened its rebuilt levees.

The storm was weaker than had been feared. But waves splashed over floodwalls containing the New Orleans Industrial Canal, triggering a tense watch over the barrier system that failed three years ago, flooding 80 percent of the city and stranding thousands of people.

Hurricane Gustav tests New Orleans levees

That's a good thing, because as Dana Hunter points out, some of those levees weren't rebuilt very well:

“That should be criminal,” [St. Bernard parish president Craig] Taffaro continues.

What he's talking about was witnessed by a St. Bernard Parish resident who didn't want to be identified, but did have sharp criticism of the work done by a contractor hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“It's like putting a Band-Aid on the hole of a gas tank of an airplane,” the resident said.

Instead of an airplane, it's a floodwall, and instead of a Band-Aid, the witness says two years ago, he saw the contractor filling the expansion joint or opening between the floodwalls with newspaper.

4 Investigates: Floodwalls stuffed with newspaper?

Expansion joints are necessary in any large masonry structure, like some of the floodwalls around New Orleans. Their function is to allow the large pieces of masonry to expand and contract in the heat and cold without cracking. They have to be filled with something - preferably something that is strong, flexible, and isn't water soluble. This is an Army Corps of Engineers photo of one such joint, which is located in the St. Charles Floodwall. Over the short term, newspaper was an adequate expedient, but these newsprint expansion joints weren't a short-term solution, as it turned out:

But during a recent trip to the area, two years later, it was apparent [a replacement with proper materials] didn't happen. Much of the newspaper had deteriorated or been eaten by bugs, but some still remained. In fact WWL cameras even captured the date May 21, 2006, on a page of the Parade magazine from the Times-Picayune.

4 Investigates: Floodwalls stuffed with newspaper?

What would proper materials be? According to the news story:

[T]he Army Corps of Engineers says it is confident the floodwall will sufficiently defend residents of St. Bernard and the Ninth Ward.

“If you look at the repairs we made to the joints, there's not really a safety issue with the joints at all,” said Kevin Wagner with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps also says it’s satisfied with the quality of work done by its contractor. When asked by WWL if there was any shoddy work involved, Wagner said, “I don't think so at all.”

But days before that interview, after a request by Eyewitness News , another Corps employee e-mailed the Corps’ standards for expansion joint construction and in that e-mail, the Corps employee describes the specific materials needed as "sponge rubber" that goes next to the waterstop. That’s the same spot where a witness saw a contractor stuffing newspaper back in 2006.

4 Investigates: Floodwalls stuffed with newspaper?

[emphasis mine]
I'm not a civil engineer, but that's the sort of material I was imagining they should have used. It's flexible and waterproof. If it's the right sort of rubber, it should last for a long time.

If I hadn't spent the last eight years in George W. Bush's America, I'd have said this was unbelievable. As it is, it sounds par for the course.

Anyhow, so far the floodwalls and levees seem to be holding:

In the end, it was just a glancing blow. And for that, the Big Easy let out a big sigh of relief.

A weakened Hurricane Gustav blew into southern Louisiana Monday morning as a less-fearsome Category 2 storm, bearing 110 mile-per-hour winds that cracked tree branches, knocked out power to a million homes and triggered localized flooding, but apparently spared the vulnerable New Orleans levee system.

Gustav hits, but New Orleans escapes worst

It's a bit early to know for sure that NOLA will be OK this time. Recall that it wasn't until hours after the storm had passed that the levees began failing. As the Chicago Tribune article points out, there wasn't the same sort of deluge after Gustav that followed Katrina. Still, soggy ground takes some time to dry out, and that's where the problems will be if they happen.

Meanwhile, we'll just have to hope that the city can survive another bout with Bush Administration incompetence.

UPDATE (Sep. 2): I did something I probably should have done before, which is check for followup stories on the expansion joints being filled with newspapers. Turns out that there was a followup story about a month later, explaining that the Corps had inspected the joints in question, and claimed to have fixed them:

Corps officials told Eyewitness News that in the three expansion joints they inspected earlier this week, five of the six spots had newspaper instead of the proper backing material. Corps officials say it took about four hours to remove the newspaper, install the rubber material, then seal the joint.

So, while it was sloppy to have not followed up on this earlier, apparently the ACE took the story seriously and did correct the problem.

On a related note, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announced today that citizens would be able to re-enter the city in a matter of days.

Kinsley On Sarah Palin

[Another illustration courtesy Bobby G. Full size image.]

Over at the Washington Post, Michael Kinsley has a column about John McCain and his running mate:

The official response to the question of experience emerged within hours and is only slightly more plausible: She may not have foreign policy experience, but -- unlike Obama, Joe Biden or even McCain -- she has executive experience. Why, before her stint as governor of Alaska, population 670,000, she was mayor of a town of 9,000. Remember when the Republicans mocked Bill Clinton for being governor of a "small state"? That would be Arkansas, population 2.8 million. As it happens, 670,000 is the population of metropolitan Little Rock.
[T]he important point about Palin's lack of experience isn't about Palin. It's about McCain. And the question is not how his choice of Palin might complicate his ability to use the "experience" issue or whether he will have to drop experience as an issue. It's not about the proper role of experience as an issue. It's not about experience at all. It's about honesty. The question should be whether McCain -- and all the other Republicans who have been going on for months about Obama's dangerous lack of foreign policy experience -- ever meant a word of it. And the answer is apparently not.

Experience? Never Mind

One of a political campaign's legitimate rhetorical approaches is to point out weaknesses in the opponent's views or resume. That's part of campaigning. What they have to do is avoid getting caught like this in such an obvious predicament created by their own talking points. The Republicans have done just that. In a country that had a truly free press, McCain would be skewered for this, but in America, he quite probably will get away with it.

Palin probably isn't any less qualified, on paper, to be President than Barack Obama. The difference as I see it, is that Palin's demonstrated lack of interest in learning about the rest of the world is what makes her disqualified. Her own family is a living testament to how wrong her views on family planning are. In that regard, she's a stark contrast to both Obama and Joe Biden.

I find it rather frightening that at a time when knowledge and the opportunities to obtain that knowledge are so plentiful that we produce and elect leaders like Sarah Palin. She makes the current President look like a Rhodes Scholar. We're in for troubling times when the people who run our country can't be bothered to understand how it, or the rest of the world, work.

And John McCain has done his country a serious disservice to have named someone so disqualified as the next in line for the Presidency.