Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

Still more photos from Seattle. These were taken from the plaza in front of the Federal Building. We saw the plaza beside the building two weeks ago.
Image credit: Cujo359

That discontinuity in the Wells Fargo building is an artifact of the software that I used to stitch the panorama together. It wasn't damaged in an earthquake...

That tall black building is the Columbia Center, the tallest building in the Northwest. This picture shows more of the tower, along with the Seattle Municipal Tower, just to its left:
Image credit: Cujo359
This is a picture of Pike Place, with the market on the left, and the WaMu Center rising in the background:
Image credit: Cujo359

Sadly, while I was at the Pike Place Market I wasn't able to photograph any fish being tossed around by vendors. Here's one of the places they do that, though:
Image credit: Cujo359

You can almost feel the salmon as they fly by...

As always, click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Friday, May 28, 2010

No Longer Scratching My Head

Caption: South Korean corvette ROKS Sinseong. The sinking of her sister ship, ROKS Cheonan by a North Korean submarine this year had me scratching my head. No longer.

Image credit: Wikimedia/U.S. Navy

Someplace or another recently, I wrote a comment stating that I didn't understand what was going on in the minds of North Korea when they sank a South Korean corvette in March. Turns out, as is so often the case, our news forgot to provide historical perspective. This is what was on the minds of North Korea, in all likelihood:

The Battle of Daecheong was a skirmish between the South Korean and North Korean navies near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) on 10 November 2009 off Daecheong Island. A patrol boat from North Korea was seriously damaged while the navy of South Korea sustained no casualties.

The incident began around 11:27 am when a North Korean navy patrol boat crossed down through the NLL even though boats from the South Korean navy warned them twice. After one more warning announcement, one of the South Korean patrol boats fired a warning shot. In response, the North Korean boat began firing upon the South Korean ship. This resulted in a short exchange of fire between the sides. The North Korea vessel expended approximately 50 rounds, and the South Korean craft returned fire with 200 rounds.

Wikipedia: Battle of Daecheong

I know this now thanks to an excellent diary by scrowder at FireDogLake. If you want to get some more historical perspective, I recommend going there and reading it.

And the next time you hear of something like this coming seemingly out of the blue, keep in mind it's as likely that the people talking about it don't know, or don't want to know, what the explanation is behind it as that it's really something completely crazy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Glenn Greenwald, referring to a report that says that terrorist activity directed at America has increased in 2010:

Maybe, one day, we might want to ask: "why"? Is it because they Hate Us For Our Freedoms more than ever before? Are we Extra Free now, thus increasing their Hatred to brand new levels? Or are they still angry about George Bush's cowboy swagger even though he's been gone for a-year-and-a-half? Or is it that those Crazy Primitive Hateful Muslim Fanatics are being pumped full of more unfair anti-American conspiracy theories than before? Or does something else explain this? Is there perhaps anything we're doing to cause it? Asking all that may not be as fun or as profitable as picking out all the new rights we're going to restrict and renounce and the shiny new powers we're going to vest in our leaders each time there is another attempted Terrorist attack, but it's probably still a good idea to do it anyway.

The Unasked Question

For the life of me, I cannot understand why, when he was elected as much as anything to end them, President Obama has continued the same failed policies of the Bush Administration toward the Muslim world and terrorism. Yet here we are, trying to avoid losing any more rights and knowing full well that we'll be stuck in both Iraq and Afghanistan for the remainder of his term of office.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rand Paul Is Not A Libertarian

According to the Libertarian Party of Kentucky, Rand Paul is not a libertarian:

Rand Paul is not a libertarian. There are clear differences between the Libertarian Party, including the philosophy upon which is it based, and the philosophy and campaign rhetoric of Rand Paul. While the Libertarian Party shares some stances traditionally associated with the Republican Party, the LP also shares common ground on positions traditionally associated with the Democratic Party, and not always for the same reasons. We are an alternative to the two party system, not constrained by the model that defines both major parties.

Libertarians want a complete repeal of the PATRIOT Act, closure of Guantanamo Bay, and an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rand Paul has stated that he wants to continue military detentions at Guantanamo Bay, a retroactive official declaration of war by Congress, and has denied that he seeks to overturn the PATRIOT Act.

In further contrast, libertarians want to provide a mechanism by which non-traditional couples can receive equal protection under the law. Rand Paul has voiced his support of the discriminatory “one man, one woman” definition of marriage and his opposition to any other civil contract option.

The Libertarian Party of Kentucky Speaks About Ron Paul

Paul's stance on immigration doesn't strike me as all that congruent with libertarian thinking, either, but that's neither here nor there. The main reason I put this here was the next time someone states that Paul is a libertarian, I have proof that his own state's Libertarian Party doesn't agree.

(h/t Jillian Rayfield of Talking Points Memo.)

Crazy Animal Video Of The Day

In case you haven't seen this yet:

If it's a fake, it's a good one. (h/t Watertiger).

Quote Of The Day

There have been many good posts on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by current and former oil workers. I just want to highlight this one, by a Daily Kos diarist named Fishgrease, about how oil booms should be deployed to catch on oil spill such as this one:

Not only is Oil Spill Booming a large industry in the USA, teaching Oil Spill Booming is a large industry in the USA. Most of BP's production and pipeline employees in the USA have attended at least one booming school. Many have attended two or three. Most oil and gas production employees in the USA have attended booming school. Some of us have attended really good, really extensive, week or two-week booming schools. BP's production employees have attended the best booming schools. I know this. I've seen them there.

BP's drilling folks have mostly not attended booming school. They're sometimes sent to booming school, but they fuck off in the bar and their bosses sign off on that being okay. Because for Drilling Hands, booming is for pussies. This is a generalization. Not all drilling hands think that, but most of them do and I guarantee BP's drilling executives think that booming is for pussies -- and that's if they think about booming at all or even know what it is. That's not so shocking. In the major oil companies, there are likely a few drilling executives that don't even know what drilling is. I'm not kidding.

Fishgrease: DKos Booming School

As Fishgrease goes on to point out, BP was clearly not prepared for this event. It's also clear that they weren't interested in properly doing quality assurance on, or testing, the blow out preventer (BOP) that failed to operate.

Here's the problem: drilling creates profits, at least if the drilling ends up finding oil. Things like quality assurance, testing, and disaster preparedness are overhead. They eat into profits. Few company executives, in any business, are going to voluntarily do more of those things than they deem absolutely necessary. I've worked in the aerospace, and defense industries, and I've followed the computer industry enough to feel like I worked there. I have yet to see an example of this not being true.

This is why the libertarian philosophy that allowing huge court settlements and otherwise let the markets run free is, to put it mildly, exactly the opposite of what is going to prevent something like this. To put it more accurately, thinking that such a policy will prevent or minimize these sorts of catastrophes is batshit crazy. Executives will always take current profit over preventing a possible disaster later. They know that they can hire good lawyers, and with a little prior planning, they can get the sort of federal judges appointed who will look favorably on their shenanigans. We're seeing that at work right now.

Nor do I think that the threat of putting a company out of business that fails to prevent or handle such disasters is likely to change things. Arthur Andersen's departure from the world of accounting didn't prevent the sort of abuses we've seen with the finance industry since Enron. There are several reasons for that, I think. First of all, unless there's gross incompetence, disasters of this sort are an unlikely event. We can argue about whether that situation applies here, but I'd bet real money that BP executives didn't think that either they or their employees were unusually incompetent. Besides, disasters like this always happen to the competition, who are inevitably less competent, and less gifted with fashion sense, than they are. Executives usually have huge egos. Disasters don't happen to them, they happen to stupid people.

Executives of publicly held corporations are also required by law to maximize return on investment. Profligate spending on overhead items doesn't get you there, at least not in the short term.

The only thing, in my opinion, that is ever likely to prevent things like this in the future is to make sure that the proper safeguards and procedures are in place before the companies responsible see a dime of profit. Any approach that doesn't do that effectively will make the current attempts to corral all that oil look like a smooth operation in comparison.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Quote Of The Day

David Sirota, in his syndicated newspaper column today, wrote this about the progressive movement in early 21st Century America:

I'm always amused by popular references to the allegedly all-powerful American "Left." The term suggests that progressives today possess the same kind of robust, ideologically driven political apparatus as the Right — a machine putting principles before party affiliation.

This notion is hilarious because it is so absurd.

Yes, there are certainly well-funded groups in Washington that call themselves "progressive," that get media billing as "The Left," and that purport to advocate liberal causes regardless of party. But unlike the Right's network, which has sometimes ideologically opposed Republicans on court nominations and legislation, many "progressive" institutions are not principled at all — sadly, lots of them are just propagandists for Democrats, regardless of what Democrats do.

Laying Bare the Myth of "The Left"

Readers of this blog may recognize this theme. Progressive pundits and organizations are as compromised as the politicians they support.

We are now confronted with a Democratic Party that clearly supports unilateral grabs for executive power that include the power to kill, watch, or imprison American citizens without trial or hearing, won't stop the country's large financial firms from destroying the economy for their own gain, and will clearly do nothing of use to guarantee that Americans have health care. The silence on these issues from progressive organizations has been deafening.

As long as progressives are willing to settle for this, it will continue. Anyone stupid enough to send his money to these organizations, or credulously trusts what they say, deserves the government he's getting.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

I haven't had much time to get to this during the week, but here are a couple of more photos of Seattle in mid-May. They were taken at the Victor Steinbruek Park, which overlooks the waterfront and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This is a panorama of the view from due South thru North-Northwest:
Image credit: Cujo359

On the left is Elliot Bay and the Duwamish cut, which is where the Port of Seattle container facility is located. Toward center is Alki Point and West Seattle, and on the right is a view of the Olympic Mountains.

This is the view in the opposite direction, toward downtown Seattle. That's the Pike Place Market in the center.
Image credit: Cujo359

That will have to do for now. Hopefully, more later. Hope you had a good Sunday.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Quote Of The Day

I recently asked someone who still thinks that the Obama Administration is way better than the last one to explain why. The first thing she came up with was their response to emergencies is much better. I think Lambert of Correntwire would have a thing or two to say about that:

A month? And now they're putting together a "crack team"? To determine a flow rate we should have been able to figure out from Day One, if BP were sharing their data, instead of acting like a sovereign state?

Oil FAIL: Oil flow rate not 5,000 barrels a day, but -- sweet Jeebus -- 95,00 barrels a day

This thing should be capped and we should be moving on to the recriminations phase. Instead, these guys are still floundering around, trying to figure out how much of a problem we really have.

Jeebus Crispies.

Meanwhile, the dome idea failed twice, the blow out preventer (BOP) design was inadequate and it wasn't built correctly anyway, and now they're going to try to stuff old rubber into the BOP to stop the flow.

John F. Kennedy once said that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. I'd like to see what congressman, Senator, or Administration official (Obama or Bush) didn't contribute some DNA to this monstrosity.

How About Some Better Guesses?

Caption: Kirk and Spock discuss time travel in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. If Spock's guesses had been as wildly inaccurate as those of our politicians and the chattering classes, they and the humpbacks would have been devoured by a passing Megaladon.

Image credit: Screenshot of Matt's Trailers STIVTVH trailer by Cujo359. (See NOTE below.)

Spock: Mr. Scott cannot give me exact figures, Admiral, so... I will make a guess.
Kirk: A guess? You, Spock? That's extraordinary.
Spock: [to McCoy] I don't think he understands.
McCoy: No, Spock. He means that he feels safer about your guesses than most other people's facts.
Spock: Then you're saying... it is a compliment?
McCoy: It is.
Spock: Ah. Then I will try to make the best guess I can.

This quote from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is one of my favorite exchanges between the three main characters. One of the reasons that Kirk trusted Spock's guesses is that Spock was smart enough to know when he was guessing and when he wasn't. Another is that Spock would admit when he was guessing. In the utopian Star Trek future where even a cowboy like Kirk values knowledge and rational thought, Spock's ability to learn and to understand is valued as it should be. Spock, in turn, can be motivated by that appreciation to do the best he can.

If only that were true in our world.

A case in point is provided by a quick look at what the pundits are saying this morning about the results of yesterday's primaries. As one might imagine, there is a consistent strain that this is the triumph of the extremes over the moderates. Conventional wisdom, as usual is more conventional than wise, as Donna Brazile illustrates in The New York Times' Room For Debate column today:

The far right and far left are ascendant in both parties. The extremes of the spectrum made gains in each party’s primaries against the “all things to all people” incumbents. That includes Arkansas where liberal Lt. Gov. Bill Halter won a run-off with middle-of-the-road Senator Blanche Lincoln.

Not Anti-incumbents, Anti-phonies

As the title says, she thinks that we're not anti-incumbent. We decided to be anti-phony this year, for some reason. I say "this year", because it's pretty clear that if we were anti-phony all along few of the people who run this country would be there. We vote for phonies all the time. Ms. Brazile never explains why we got this sudden urge, but that's as true of the people who offer the argument she's trying to rebut, as we'll see.

Meanwhile, here is more conventional "the extremes are winning" reasoning from other pundits in that forum:

The relative centrists — Lincoln, Specter and Grayson, for starters — took a beating. The candidates who played more brazenly to their base, left or right, outperformed expectations. Moderation, thinking about the good of the party in November — forget about it.

Fertile Ground for Libertarians

This guy, Bob Moser, needs to learn to read a poll. Joe Sestak was doing better than Arlen Specter was in most polls on a potential matchup between either of them and Pat Toomey, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seat. Bill Halter, Blanche Lincoln's primary opponent, is doing about as well as she is against the Republican candidate.

Susan Sullivan Lagon opines:

As usual, primary voters gravitated toward the extremes of their parties — those who pay attention before the general election are by definition the more ideological activists. So while a clearly angry electorate calls for an end to partisan bickering in Washington, primary voters tend to reject precisely those moderates who could broker compromises on Capitol Hill. The problem for insurgents, it seems, is that they eventually become incumbents.

Mixed Results for Moderates

Ms. Lagon is apparently the ultimate voice of conventional wisdom. Certainly, what she says makes less sense than just about any other columnist. Here's another example:

In Arkansas, $6 million spent against Blanche Lincoln by the service employees union, (S.E.I.U.) and strong opposition from was not enough to topple her. But backing from both Obama and Clinton wasn’t enough to give Senator Lincoln an outright victory, either.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, running on Senator Lincoln’s left, will face her in a runoff on June 8. (For the record, “outsider” Halter worked at the Social Security Administration under President Clinton.) Polls indicate both of them currently running behind Republican victor Rep. John Boozman, who won in very a crowded field.

Mixed Results for Moderates

Lincoln had the backing not only of the Democratic establishment and President Obama, she also had some well-heeled backers of her own, like the pharmaceutical and financial companies she supported during the health care "reform" effort. To portray this as outside money against the Democratic insiders is absurd. It's more like progressives and some unions against Democratic insiders who have all the money they could possibly need. Yet the challenger fought the incumbent to a virtual draw.

The only point she is right about is that the general election will be an uphill battle for either Democratic candidate.

In addition to our need to go to the extremes of the political spectrum, nearly all of these pundits, except for Donna Brazile, felt that this was a year when people were fed up with incumbents. Howard Dean said the same thing in an interview with Talking Points Memo:

"This is a big night for people who really want Washington to be a change agent," Dean said, adding the results show a "backlash" against both parties in official Washington. Dean, also former governor of Vermont and a 2004 presidential candidate, said he views Jack Conway as the progressive choice in Kentucky and said Lt. Gov. Bill Halter's forcing of a runoff in Arkansas proves that candidates on the left can prevail.

Howard Dean Tells TPMDC: 'Big Night' For Progressives

None of these folks, however, ventured a guess about what we're all upset about. It's as if, as I wrote yesterday they think we're just having a hissy fit or something. Glenn Greenwald beat me to this point today, so I'll save myself a little typing:

Virtually every media account dutifully recites the same storyline -- that these results reflect an "anti-incumbent" mood -- but virtually none of these stories examines the reasons for that "mood." Why do Americans, seemingly regardless of party affiliation or geographic location, despise the political establishment?

One reason why media mavens seem reluctant, even unable, to grapple with this question is because it so plainly falls outside their familiar, comfortable narratives. Contrary to efforts earlier this year to depict the problem as one aimed at Democratic incumbents due to the unpopular health care plan and the growing "tea party" movement, Republican voters -- as demonstrated in Florida, Utah, and last night in Kentucky -- clearly hate their own party's leadership at least as much as the animosity directed toward Democratic incumbents. The trend is plainly trans-partisan and trans-ideological, and the establishment political media has a very difficult time understanding or explaining dynamics about which that is true.

Why do voters hate incumbents?

Another reason, I suspect, is that they really don't understand how the economy feels to people who aren't working in the DC area. They aren't worried about that 20 percent unemployment rate (the real one, not the one that only counts the people who haven't given up looking for a job). If they lose the job they have now thanks to an election, they'll find another one. Many are already so well off that they don't even have to work. I don't know if that group includes all of these pundits, but it assuredly includes some of them.

One of the first things any American citizen learns about election trends is that a bad economy is nearly always a motivation for throwing the bums out. I've been saying that the Democrats needed to come up with some reason for people to either be optimistic about the economy, or at least have hope that the basic needs of most of us won't be in jeopardy. Right now, no one who takes a serious look at what's going on with the financial sector and the continued loss of manufacturing could be optimistic about the near future.

Face it - most of the people who are in Congress now were there ten years ago when our current situation could have been alleviated. They sat through the Enron, Tycho, and banking scandals and didn't do a damn thing to help ordinary Americans. The stimulus package was pathetically small. Now their solution to the crisis is for the middle class and the poor to do with less, while they continue to look after the rich.

Of course, that's what the Democrats have done. At least, it's what they've done since they regained power in 2006. What have the Republicans done? They've obstructed the government whenever they could, simply so that they could gain back power by showing the Democrats to be ineffectual. Personally, I don't think the Democrats needed any help there, but the point remains that the only party that is less qualified to run the government than the one that's running it now is the only other one that has a chance of doing it.

This, I think, is why there's such an anti-incumbent mood these days.

Of course, all this could be projection. That's what people seem to do the most when they're talking about why things happen in politics. But if my evaluation of the two major political parties' performance is at all widespread, then both of them are in trouble right now. That's particularly true if they're relying on people like these pundits for advice on how to govern.

Which means that the rest of us are in trouble, too.

NOTE: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a copyrighted work of Paramount Studios, or whoever owns them these days. Neither Paramount, nor anyone else connected with the movie, approved of, commented on, or endorsed the content of this article.

UPDATE: Wait, there's one guy who gets it. Robert Reich writes:

It’s the economy, stupid. American politics is turning anti-establishment because so many Americans feel screwed by the economy and they blame the establishment. If there’s a trend here, it’s not left-wing Democrats versus right-wing Republicans. It’s the “Mad-As-Hell” Party against both.

Unemployment continues to haunt the middle class – the anxious class of America. There are still more than five jobless workers for every job opening.
The real lesson from today’s political races is the economy still stinks for most people. And the real lesson from the economy’s first quarter is the recovery is so weak that the anxious class is likely to remain anxious through November. Incumbents beware.

The “Mad-As-Hell” Party Scores as the Anxious Class Stews

I don't think anyone important is listening to him, though.

Some Good News

It's not much, but I guess we'll take it:

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania's longest-serving senator, lost his bid to run for re-election as a Democrat to Rep. Joe Sestak, the Associated Press reports.

With 79 percent of precincts reporting, Sestak received 53 percent of the votes, AP reports; Specter received about 47 percent.

Sestak's victory marks a striking triumph over the establishment candidate, who just last month had a more than 20-point lead in polls.

Arlen Specter Loses Pennsylvania Democratic Senate Primary to Joe Sestak

As an aside, I don't recall any serious polls that had Specter that far in front. Sestak was closer than that last year, when much of Pennsylvania didn't know who he was. There was a time when the trends seemed to be going the wrong way in the first part of this year, but that stopped a couple of months ago, and Sestak's been overtaking Specter ever since.

Anyone who thinks that either the Pennsylvania Democrats or the Obama Administration are going to wise up because they lost this primary is mistaken, though. Here's a quote from Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell that should serve as proof:

His campaign blamed the defeat on the fervent anti-incumbent mood that is sweeping the country, in both parties, as demonstrated by the defeat this month of three-term Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) at his party's nominating convention and last week's primary defeat of veteran Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W. Va.).

"It's everywhere," Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa.), Specter's longtime friend and close political adviser, said after Specter's concession speech.

Rendell said that the opponent did not matter, and that the only thing Sestak did right was picking a "great ad" company, a reference to the Sestak consultants who previously worked for Rendell.

Arlen Specter's party switch and subsequent fall

There's no fear of a progressive resurgence in those words. Right or wrong, Rendell doesn't think this is due to a sudden desire among voters for progressive government. He thinks it's a hissy fit by voters. For all I know he's right, but it's his attitude that's important here.

The problem, I think, was that Specter was starting to look like a guy who was more interested in helping himself than he was in making the country better. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a retrospective about Specter's career today, which said this among other things:

As a Republican, Specter was often an irritant to his party, especially on social issues such as abortion rights and stem-cell research. He voted with the GOP position 58 percent of the time over his career, according to Congressional Quarterly. That's a high degree of dissent by today's Senate standards.

Specter made his biggest mark as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chaired from 2005 to 2007, and he has helped shape the Supreme Court and the entire federal judiciary.

Conservatives still loathe him for killing Reagan's 1987 nomination of appellate Judge Robert Bork for the high court. Specter thought Bork held too narrow a view of civil rights, and he was the most prominent Republican to come out against the nominee.

The end of the Specter era

Unfortunately, Specter's days as a maverick were over a decade ago. He voted for the stimulus bill last year, and bucked his party a few other times when he clearly would have been punished for not doing so at the polls, but on the whole he was a party loyalist. Switching parties at the last minute certainly didn't help him any, since he could have done that at any time in the last six years. You'd think a real moderate would have tired of this Republican Party a long time ago.

The other good bit of news was that Bill Halter has earned a runoff with Blanche Lincoln. Neither appears to have gotten the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff:

With 62% of precincts reporting, Lincoln and Halter are tied at 43% each, though Lincoln is leading the popular vote. Conservative alternative D.C. Morrison has a surprising 14%.

Progressives Fight Lincoln To A Draw In Arkansas

As of this moment, Talking Points Memo shows Lincoln up 45-43, with conservative Democrat D.C. Morrison getting about 13 percent.

As Josh Marshall observed yesterday, that's an impressive thing against an incumbent Senator, particularly one who has ingratiated herself with big lobbies as much as Lincoln has.

This may turn out to be a small victory for progressive politics. It's not much to build on, though. The DC progressives are almost universally unreliable, and neither challenger is a solid progressive. They're just more progressive, and seemingly less corrupted, than the people they're running against.

It's not much, but it's something. If it were happening lots of places, instead of just a couple, I'd be more optimistic. Unfortunately, this trend isn't nearly powerful enough to change things that matter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Elections And Other Disasters

Image credit: Dana Hunter

It's the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most important events in the Pacific Northwest's history, as Dana Hunter reminds us:

30 years ago today, I was a five year-old child watching as reporters somberly announced that Mount St. Helens had blown herself apart. It looked painful, so I made her a get well card. Kids, eh? She was my introduction to the power of volcanoes. Horrifying and enthralling, really, when you live with a volcano rather like her framed in your back window. She's responsible for both my fear and fascination. And she continues to teach me about the vagaries of plate tectonics, the power of subduction zones to create as they destroy, and that one must seize the opportunity to enjoy what's there today because it might blow the hell up tomorrow.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Mount Saint Helens

If you're interested in seeing how the Mt. St. Helens area looks today, check out Dana's excellent article on the eruption and its aftermath.

My most vivid memory of that eruption, as someone who was in his mid twenties at the time, was watching a video produced by a reporter who was trapped in the dust cloud. He was trying to find a safe place until the air cleared up. I was in what was then the Southcenter Mall, perhaps a hundred miles away, when I saw that video. Because the prevailing winds were headed eastward that day, I could go about my life as usual. People 100 miles to the east of the volcano, meanwhile, were trying to get enough dust out of their cars' air cleaners so they could get home.

What Mt. St. Helens taught me is that you can't assume you're safe because you live in a particular location. That's a subject I've written about before, so there's no need to belabor that point. That's true no matter where you live. Be as prepared as you can, and make your governments be prepared as well.

With that in mind, there are some very important elections today in Pennsylvania and Arkansas. In Pennsylvania, Rep. Joe Sestak (PA07) is running to unseat Sen. Arlen Specter, who recently jumped from the Republican Party to the Democratic. Perhaps nowhere is there a race more symbolic of the rightward drift of our politics than this one. Specter has been a loyal functionary for his former party for as long as I can remember. Yet he couldn't win a primary challenge by the even more right-leaning Pat Toomey. So now he's a Democrat, with the full support of both the Pennsylvania Democratic machine, and the White House Democratic machine, which demonstrates how little either of those institutions care for the average person. Specter has made a career of voting in the interests of the rich and powerful and against the interests of the voting public. Maybe that choice will finally catch up with him today. While Sestak isn't as progressive as I'd like, he's bound to be better than the guy he's trying to replace.

Meanwhile, Arkansas has a similarly symbolic race for the Democratic Senate candidate between incumbent corporate prostitute Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Governor Bill Halter. Unlike Specter, Lincoln has been a Democrat for her entire Senate career. That's about where the dissimilarities end, however. She was a special friend of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries during the health care "reform" effort, and was handsomely rewarded by them for her troubles. Like Specter, she has the full-throated support of both the local and national party establishment. I think it's time she was retired.

This can be a time when voters send a clear message to the Democratic Party that the same old crap is no longer satisfactory. Let's hope they do.

UPDATE: Jon Walker put the choice facing PA and AR Democrats pretty well today:

Neither Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania nor Bill Halter is a hard-core progressive. They are simply Democrats who believe in the general principles of the party. They don’t have a history of saying anything and doing anything to hold on to office.

Both Lincoln and Specter are bad choices in this anti-Washington, anti-establishment election environment. Sestak and Halter poll as substantially better candidates against the likely Republican opponents. They both have a better chance of keeping seats in Democratic hands. They’re slightly more in line with Democratic beliefs, and they increase the odds of a Democrat winning.

Dem Senate Upsets: Voting Out the Weak Links?

As Walker noted, if Sestak and Halter both prevail today, then the narrative is likely to be about how the Democratic progressives are purging the "moderates". What would actually happen in that case is that people who would have run as Republicans in a more sane era have been replaced with somewhat more progressive newcomers.

But that's a far less interesting narrative, at least to the people who own the news business these days, and the half-wits who are inclined to believe them.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

This week's photos are from last week's trip to downtown Seattle. I haven't had much time to sort through the photos, but here are a few.

This first one is of the courtyard near the Federal Building. Believe it or not, it was made out of the remains of the Burke Building, which used to stand in that spot.
Image credit: Cujo359

Here's the sign for the old building, which is now built into a wall of the courtyard:
Image credit: Cujo359

A little further on is this building, which is the downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library:
Image credit: Cujo359

Some folks think this building is stylish. To me, it's an acquired taste.

In the same general area, we happened to spot this halo around one of the skyscrapers:
Image credit: Cujo359

Believe it or not, that's a panorama of two different photos. I'm amazed it came out so well.

That's all I had time to do this week. Hopefully, I'll have the rest done in the next couple of weeks. As always, click on the images to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Heavy Sigh

Image credit: Cujo359

Steve Benen writes:

That was odd, wasn't it? The disconnect makes it seem as if GOP talking points are lacking in flexibility, unable to adapt to changing circumstances. When the economy was losing jobs every month, Boehner would say, "Where are the jobs?" Now that the economy has added more than 200,000 jobs in two consecutive months for the first time in four years, Boehner is still saying, "Where are the jobs?" It suggests the would-be Speaker isn't paying attention to current events very well.

When The Economy Interferes With An Election Strategy

While I agree that Boehner's point was specious, I think that he'll only need to wait a few months for it to be timely again. The stimulus was never big enough to produce real growth in the economy. Analysts like Ian Welsh expected an employment surge in the Spring, and it looks like we're getting it. Soon, the lack of any real fundamental change in the problems this economy faces will catch up with us, though, and we'll return to the downward progress we've been used to.

The only question is whether it will happen in time for the elections.

On the whole, Boehner's rhetorical approach isn't any more ridiculous than the Democratic Party calling itself "the party of results". Unless, of course, failure to fix the problems with the economy, our descent into government lawlessness, the wars we're in, and health care when they had an overwhelming majority is a result the Democrats feel proud of.

These days, party loyalty is demonstrated on the basis of which fantasy you're willing to embrace.

Quote Of The Day

Ian Welsh, on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court:

If the left had any balls at all, it would attempt to sink Kagan, insisting on the left wing equivalent, ideologically, or Scalia or Roberts—someone whose legal philosophy we don’t have to guess about. But it’s true that Kagan isn’t like Miers, because the left isn’t like the right—its leaders have no guts.

Which is to say, all hail Justice Kagan.

Oh Bullshit, Gay is not “something you call yourself”

Unfortunately, the left has no leaders, and very few followers, who will take a risk. Progressives these days are all about not wanting to "destroy the country" by letting The Other Guys gain power. They'll completely ignore the painfully obvious reality that the Democrats intend to destroy the country the same way Republicans would have. They'll happily ignore the obvious fact that the Democrats are openly hostile to progressives, and avoid confrontation at all costs. What's more, lots of the shitheads will speak out in support of that destruction, as though it were a wonderful idea they just thought of, instead of an idea the supposed opposition thought up decades ago.

As hipparchia wrote in a comment to Ian's article, if progressives had any courage they'd insist on someone like Dawn Johnsen to be the nominee. Sadly, they don't, and that won't happen.

Progressives won't stand for anything, and as the great philosopher John Mellencamp once observed, if you won't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

All hail Justice Kagan.

UPDATE: Lawguy does a good job of describing my frustration with our "leaders":

The incredibly frustrating part of public life discourse right now is the number of people and organizations that I thought were liberal or progressive (not radical, not ultra liberal, whatever that means) just kind of liberal that are unwilling to pressure the prez or his people. Hell I am watching people I thought were truly liberal maybe even ultra liberal (see Sanders, Bernie) cave at pressure from the WH and back most any corporate position Obama wants. No single payer, no Medicare for all, no complete audit of the Fed. In return for backing these positions they turn on those who refuse to be buffaloed and eviscerate them and attack them for being "unreasonable and for demanding purity" few of us really demand.

Welcome To Weimar

That's it in a nutshell. Like David Obey lecturing the parent of a service member who was in Iraq how hard it is to end the war even though his party had a majority in both houses of Congress, these politicians seem to have utterly forgotten what it's like to be the rest of us.

UPDATE 2: Nate Silver has an interestingly analytical view of Kagan's potential value. I have to wonder how she'll vote with runners in scoring position, though.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

As promised last week, here are a few shots of flowers from the Rhododendron Species Garden. Here, Dana demonstrates the rather impressive size rhodies can achieve:
Image credit: Cujo359

They come in many colors, too:
Image credit: Cujo359

Did I mention that they come in different colors?
Image credit: Cujo359

Sad to say, I don't know what particular species these bushes are, because in many cases there were no signs evident. Here's an exception:
Image credit: Cujo359

The reddish one in the foreground is Rhododendron kesangiea, according to the sign. I don't know what the big purple one is, but it appears to be Rhododendron augustinii in a later photo.

Well, that's enough for now. Guess it's time to head to the garden. Enjoy your Sunday.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

David Obey Retires

I wasn't looking for this, so yes, it surprised me:

Representative David Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the Appropriations Committee and one of the most powerful and longest-serving Democrats in Congress, announced today that he will not seek re-election and will step down after 41 years.

“There is a time to stay and a time to go. And this is my time to go,” Mr. Obey told reporters and colleagues cramming into the hearing room of the House Appropriations Committee, the panel he has led since January 2007. “I hate to do it. There is so much that needs to be done, but, frankly, I’m bone tired.”

Obey Won’t Run for Re-election

Like most observers, I was wondering what might really be the reason he's leaving. It looks like Politico may be onto something here:

Despite poor poll numbers at home, he insisted that he could win reelection in November but admitted he feared another reapportionment fight in the next Congress and a shift in the public mood against the aggressive public investments which have been his trademark.

“I do not want to be in the position as chairman of the Appropriations Committee of producing and defending lowest common denominator legislation that is inadequate to that task,” Obey said, “And given the mood of the country, that is what I would have to do if I stayed.”

David Obey won't seek reelection

What public mood? I think if you really asked people what they wanted right now, employment and a better safety net would top the list. The people who worry about the deficit and spending on things not related to the defense industry and the useless wars we have it occupied with are, quite frankly, people who are either too comfortable or too stupid to worry about anything serious.

So, consider Obey another victim of the insane rightward drift of DC politics. It's probably the best explanation that fits the facts.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Everything Looks So Complete"

It's been a day of watching videos - on deep water oil drilling, launching rockets, and music. One of those videos reminded me of one of my favorite music videos, "Wild Night", as sung by John Mellencamp and Me'Shell Ndegeocello:

The song is the soundtrack for a story about a taxi driver who just happens to resemble a gorgeous fashion model. Still, it's lots of fun - one of the best examples of the MTV style of fast video edits synchronized to the music. Mellencamp and Ndegeocello manage to not make me yearn to hear Van Morrison singing this song, which in itself is a major artistic accomplishment. And it has a good looking chick in it.

What could be better?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Quote Of The Day

From Paul Krugman's Friday op-ed in The New York Times, who was writing about the potential financial meltdown in Europe:

Meanwhile, what are the lessons for the rest of us?

The deficit hawks are already trying to appropriate the European crisis, presenting it as an object lesson in the evils of government red ink. What the crisis really demonstrates, however, is the dangers of putting yourself in a policy straitjacket. When they joined the euro, the governments of Greece, Portugal and Spain denied themselves the ability to do some bad things, like printing too much money; but they also denied themselves the ability to respond flexibly to events.

And when crisis strikes, governments need to be able to act. That’s what the architects of the euro forgot — and the rest of us need to remember.

The Euro Trap

The Obama Administration clearly means to tie itself up with useless preconditions for any economic action to stave off the next leg of the recession. They bleat about the debt and the deficit, as if they haven't been blowing money hand over fist both in the two useless wars we're still fighting, and the expansion of the military budget. Yet they just can't seem to find the money to put people back to work, or to fund Medicare. Forget about the manufactured crisis with Social Security.

The irony is that I suspect Krugman will be apologizing for much of this in the coming months. I hope for once he proves me wrong.

Sunday Photo(s)

Yes, I promised more flowers. Sadly, I got hung up on a different set of photos from the Rhodendron Species Garden. Here is a view of the path back from the entrance to the garden, which does have flowers:
Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

The most interesting of the early set of photos, though, turned out to be of the Pond Garden:

From that distance, I assumed that this was a pond full of algae. This sign set me straight, though:

Yep, it's a pond full of little ferns, as this close up shows:

That black patch next to the green is barrier material that lines the pond. It's a garden, after all, not a nature preserve. Here's a view from the other end of the pond:

Even in the Pacific Northwest, all that green is striking.

That's enough fern-based pond scum for one week. Next week, hopefully I'll have more photos of flowers. Meanwhile, have a good Sunday.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy May Day

It's May Day, which in many parts of the world signifies the real start of warm weather and the approach of summer. Of course, the warm weather has been arriving earlier lately, but this is still a day to ponder questions like "what do I put in the back flower bed?" For inspiration on that account, here's a photo I took at the Rhododendron Species Garden in Federal Way, Washington:
Image credit: Cujo359

To me, rhodies are synonymous with spring. Most bloom anywhere from mid-April through June. This photo was taken a week ago. It is, according to the little sign, rhododendron concinnum, from southwest China.

If that doesn't satisfy your lust for spring flowers, there are more at Dana Hunter's blog, and there will be more tomorrow.

Have a good May Day.

UPDATE: It's also Boukman70's birthday.