Friday, August 31, 2007

Monsoon Thunderstorms

sat imageThis is a satellite image of Southern California, with state and county borders shown in color. Courtesy of the NOAA weather site. The image was taken at 6:16PDT, not long before sunset.

It’s monsoon season in the desert southwest. We have here a scattered buildup of thunderstorms, with quite a large one over San Diego County; I can hear the thunder booming as I write this but it’s far enough away that I don’t need to turn the computer off.

Note that the clouds are mostly gray but the centers are white. That’s because they are building up to differing heights. Most of the clouds are low enough that the sun is no longer hitting them, but the centers of the storms have built up to higher altitudes and the sunlight is still lighting them up at the time this image was taken.

Nothing all that significant, I just thought the image was cool.

Fine Lines

One of my favorite blogs, the Middle American Progressive, has gone dormant. He used to publish his favorite current quotes from other blogs under the title I’ve used here and, since he isn’t doing it any more, I’m going to steal his title. I hope he’s still a NFL fan, my Chargers open the season against his Bears nine days from now. Anyway, here’s the current edition of my version of Fine Lines.

From Ian Welsh, in Why Japan From Is Eating America's Lunch On Broadband at The Huffington Post,

The modern "conservative" fallacy is that free markets means lack of government regulation. That isn't even close to what it means -- what it means is a market with many actors, relatively transparent information, and no one actor or group with pricing power, whether through collusion or monopoly.

From The Maha, in The Big Picture Aug 1, 2003 at The Mahablog,

As Grover Norquist’s dream of drowning the government in a bathtub becomes so much closer to reality through the actions of the Bush Corporation, we might want to wonder the larger scheme.

What would take the place of a ‘drowned’ US government but a confederation of corporate states regulated not by the consent of the governed but by the edicts of the privileged and moneyed few. Indeed, that looks to be the goal of the Bush tax cuts – the substitution of rule by law with rule by corporations.

From D.R. Scott in White Noise at Brilliant at Breakfast,

Uh-uh, "nigger" isn't just a word in the African-American community, It's a burglar alarm. It's telling me that somebody who hates me is knocking down my front door.

And finally from Glen Greenwald in an update to Warrantless surveillance and the new Coretta Scott King disclosures at,

Congressional Democrats actually seem to become weaker and more accommodating with every day that passes. Even when you think that they cannot get any weaker or more accommodating, they always manage to prove you wrong.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Politics or Leadership

I’m going to do more quoting than usual in today’s post again today, and again it’s because my reference, Cenk Uygur in A Test of Leadership on The Huffington Post today says it better than I would have put it. Go there and read his entire post.

That being said, it is no excuse for the candidates to cower behind the system and say they couldn't lead because the media wouldn't let them. Not exactly a profile in courage. [snip]

Leadership is not casting a vote in the middle of the night and then running away. Leadership is not waiting to the last moment to see how the other candidates vote. Leadership is not polling to see how issues are going to play in the primaries and the general election.

That ”casting a vote in the middle of the night” refers, of course, to the last Iraq war funding bill where both Obama and Clinton waited until the bill has received enough votes to pass and it was late at night when no one was likely to be watching on Cspan before quietly casting votes against the bill. They were against the bill but made no actual effort to prevent its passage.

So will the vaunted leader and front-runner Senator Hillary Clinton be able to lead the fight against Bush's war stance in September? Will she even try? Does she even know what it means to lead others? Has she ever tried?

Screeching invective at the current executive is not leadership, it’s politics.

Making promises about what you will do if elected is not leadership, that too is politics. Especially since most of what you are promising is not within the power of the office you are seeking, and even that portion which could be done you almost certainly allow to be blocked by the moneyed interests who have funded your campaign.

The one place that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been in a position to demonstrate leadership is a seat in the U.S. Senate, and how have they used that opportunity? John McCain led a fight against the torture bill, albeit an abortive one. Ungyar mentions Senator Feingold, who is indeed a leader in the Senate, leading a fight against the Patriot Act and the FISA Bill. When has Clinton or Obama stood up in the Senate and actually tried to influence any action the Senate was about to take?

Leadership is not blaming or seeking power. Leadership is taking a position in which you believe and acting in a manner to influence others to join you in that position. Acting. Leading not just with words but with actions. To be a leader it is not sufficient to talk about principles and beliefs, one must be those principles and beliefs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Slanting Income

The "traditional" media is making much of the report that poverty declined in this country last year by 0.3% and that "household income" rose last year by 0.7% as well. A few are admitting that the number of people without medical insurance increased by 0.5% in the same year.

They are leaving something out. (Of course.)

Individual real income of full-time year-round workers dropped by 1.1% for men and 1.2% for women last year. Listen up. Individual income of full-time workers decreased during an economic recovery with low unemployment, it decreased by a rather significant amount, and it decreased for the third year in a row.

(Note that "household income" rose while individual income fell. This is not a healthy societal trend; it means more families with multiple people working in order to make ends meet.)

This is during a time period that large corporations are busting Congress' chaps, saying they need more H1B visas because they cannot find workers in the US. This during a time period that a Senator from California is claiming that if the government enforces laws against hiring illegal immigrants there are no American workers to replace them.

"Supply and demand" would seem to dictate that when workers are in short supply then wages would go up as companies compete with each other to hire the workers who are available, but that is not happening.

Productivity has improved steadily every year, corporate profits are booming, hedge funds and money markets are growing like weeds, the stock market is shaky at the moment but has been gaining by leaps and bounds, but workers wages are falling for the third year in a row.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, "Something is rotten in the state of America."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Stratification is, basically, the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” in our society. Not just the rich and the poor, but the gap between those who have more wealth than they can waste, let alone use, and those who can not even put a well rounded diet on the table for their families on a daily basis without borrowing against the equity in their house, false money which puts them at risk of losing their home merely to feed their children.

This is a problem that America faces today which is far worse than the war in Iraq, or the threat of a terrorist attack, or whether or not Iran is developing a bomb, and it’s even bigger than the healthcare crisis, free trade or taxes. The latter three issues are part of stratification.

The sociologist Doug Masseyhas published a new book Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System (Russell Sage, 2007), and Eric Alterman quoted an excerpt from it in Altercation today. I’m going to excerpt from his excerpt. I don’t usually do this much quoting in my blog posts, but this is really powerful stuff.

Since the mid-1970s, the United States has become a vastly more stratified society. Among the world's developed nations, it has by far the highest inequalities of income and wealth. The rise in inequality has been attributed to a variety of factors, including globalization, technological change, and market segmentation. Nonetheless, all countries compete in the same global economy and face the same technological and market conditions, yet the United States is unique among advanced nations in the degree to which it allows these large, macro-level forces to generate inequality.


The decision by the Democratic Party to embrace civil rights in the 1960s promoted a mass exodus of Southerners from the party and the estrangement of blue collar voters in the North, putting an end to the New Deal coalition.

On the heels of this realignment, the rules of the American political economy were rewritten to favor the rich at the expense of the middle and lower classes. Unions were weakened, entry level wages reduced, access to social protections curtailed, anti-poverty spending cut back, and taxes on lower income families were raised while those on upper income families were reduced, yielding a sharp reduction in the size of the welfare state and a significant decline in the social well-being of most Americans. As millions of Americans resorted to borrowing in a vain attempt to maintain living standards, the real interest on credit card debt was increased and bankruptcy laws tightened.

The new choreography of rising income inequality and increasing political polarization was reinforced by the emergence of a new geography of inequality characterized by greater class segregation and the spatial concentration of both affluence and poverty. Increasingly the poor have come to live apart from the affluent in communities and neighborhoods inhabited primarily by other poor people, while affluent families have come to separate themselves from the poor within communities and neighborhoods inhabited by other affluent people.

That there is nothing inevitable about the high level of inequality prevailing in the United States is suggested by a cross-national comparison of income inequality before and after taxes. Before taxes, U.S. income inequality is by no means exceptional compared with other developed nations. Indeed, it is roughly the same as in Sweden and Germany and considerably less than in Belgium and France.

Taxation works to redistribute income in all countries, but the extent of the redistribution is much less in the United States. After taxes and transfers, income inequality in Belgium, France, Germany, and Sweden drops to low levels. It drops in the United States too -- just not nearly as much. It is only after taxes that America emerges as the most unequal of all developed nations, with a level of income inequality that is 50% greater than in Belgium and 33% greater than in France. Thus inequality in the United States is not an axiomatic result of globalization or technological change. It is a result of specific political choices that we, as a society, have made.

Emphasis was added by me.

I would point out only that “we, as a society,” have not made these choices and, I firmly believe, would not do so. Our government, as a result of the corrupting influence of moneyed interests in our political system, has made these choices for us.

Monday, August 27, 2007

After Gonzales

Bush will appoint someone who will speak nicely to the Senate, promise to investigate like crazy and not merely be an appendage of George W. Bush. The Senate will fall for his bullshit and will confirm him.

The House and Senate will breathe a collective sigh of relief and stop investigating anything related to the (now) former Attorney General on the basis that he is gone and it is all now academic. They may also drop all other investigations in the pollyanna belief that the new Attorney General is a "good guy" and will do all of the investigating that needs to be done.

Congress will feel horribly "betrayed" when it turns out that new Attorney General lied to them during the confirmation hearings, and that he is a mere appendage of George W. Bush after all.

Business as usual. Mark my words.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Today's Generals

Some time ago I had an interesting discussion with my nephew, a career Army officer, about the differences between our two services. We seemed to arrive at the conclusion that there exists, or at least did when I served, a rather fundamental difference in the cultural relationship between officer and enlisted in the two services that is a result of the nature of the functionality of the service itself. Please do not jump to the conclusion that the following descriptions are intended to be in any way judgmental or that I think they are more than superficial.

In the Army the officer has a basic familiarity with the duties of the enlisted man, and in operation (combat) the difference between activities of the two ranks is a bit blurred. Both are running and firing weapons, for instance, albeit probably different weapons. Although the enlisted man may be more skilled at what he is doing due to more training and practice, he is for the most part not performing any activity that his officers cannot also perform.

In the Navy the situation is far different. The enlisted men are performing technical operations related to operation of the ship, while the officers stand physically idle and coordinate those activities. Officers have a basic comprehension of what their men are doing, but they could no more step in and do it themselves than they could walk on water. (Actually, the better officers could step in to at least some degree, and nuclear power engineering officers are a whole different breed of cat, but the principle remains valid in terms of it’s effect on culture.)

It seemed like in the Navy there is more distance between the ranks than in the Army. I often felt like the officers and I lived on different planets. Officers were always friendly enough to us, certainly never rude or discourteous even when dressing us down, but there was always a distance between us. I get the impression that that is not so much the case in the Army, and maybe it is not so much the case in today’s Navy.

But all of that is prelude to what came to mind when reading an article in the New York Times Magazine today, Challenging the Generals.

One of the things that really struck me was this,

Harvard’s merits aside, some junior officers agree that the promotion system discourages breadth. Capt. Kip Kowalski, an infantry officer in the Captains Career Course at Fort Knox, is a proud soldier in the can-do tradition. He is impatient with critiques of superiors; he prefers to stay focused on his job. “But I am worried,” he said, “that generals these days are forced to be narrow.” Kowalski would like to spend a few years in a different branch of the Army — say, as a foreign area officer — and then come back to combat operations. He says he thinks the switch would broaden his skills, give him new perspectives and make him a better officer. But the rules don’t allow switching back and forth among specialties.

That just shocked me. It seems to me that exactly the opposite should be true; that before being promoted to general an officer should have the broadest possible range of experience.

Distance or not, I had absolute confidence in my officers, and the higher their rank the more I trusted them. One of the reasons that I relied upon the Captain of my ship was that I knew he had served a tour of duty as Weapons Officer, a tour as Engineering Officer, a tour as Exec… To qualify for command at sea an officer had to serve in every officer’s function aboard the ship. My Captain might not be able to man the main electrical distribution panel, as I could, but he certainly could perform the duties of every officer aboard that ship, and could do it as well or better as the officers presently serving those duties.

It is simply amazing to me that we have generals in the Army today who have officers serving under their command whose duties they have never performed. How, precisely, do these generals evaluate those officers’ performance? How do these generals make decisions when they do not know if the advice and information they are receiving upon which to base those decisions is delivered by a valuable subordinate or an incompetent?

More importantly, how do these generals competently command functions and departments in which they have no direct experience? It seems to me they have to rely upon those departments then being run by subordinate officers whom they cannot evaluate, and trusting that the department is functioning successfully based on that officer's word alone. That strikes me as a recipe for disaster.

The equivalent would be placing an admiral in command of a submarine squadron who had never commanded a submarine or even served aboard one. I cannot imagine the Navy doing something like that, but apparently the Army has less compunction.

No wonder we find ourselves taking the Army into one quagmire after another. We don’t need a long war in Iraq to break our Army, the Army broke itself before we went in.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tabloidism Abounds

See that picture at the left? Is that a US nuclear submarine? Yes. I cannot tell you which one it is, but it is a nuclear submarine. Dark days: according to the tag line by the raw story, The US Navy Submarine Service has sunken (pun intended) to the level of using its ships for drug running.

We smuggled booze aboard when I served in submarines, and in quite considerable quantity, but probably not as much as 5.5 tons at a time. It was for personal consumption, however, and was usually gone before we reached port again. But I digress.

The image and tag line link to a story in USA Today that begins as follows,

A submarine-like vessel filled with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine was seized off the Guatemalan coast, U.S. officials said.

Four suspected smugglers were operating the self-propelled, semi-submersible vessel when it was located and seized on Sunday evening by officials from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border Patrol said in a news release Wednesday.

I check this website from time to time, have a link to it in my "bookmarks," but it’s more for amusement than to keep myself informed. I also have links to other comic sites. One of my favorites is about kitties, mostly, and is even funnier than "the raw story." This site uses all capitals in its name, which sort of balances “the raw story” failing to use any at all.


If you click on the raw story link now, you will see that they have changed the picture. Good for them, but I'm not taking down the post.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Deification of Generals

I have viewed with a jaundiced eye the parade of generals in Iraq, each presented as the modern personification of Patton, MacArthur and Eisenhower rolled into one body, each lauded and simultaneously ignored by the administration and each cast onto the slagheap of ignominy after failing to pacify our military occupation of Iraq.

Even as General Petraeus was being initially being elevated to the status of Saint David I was having misgivings. I vaguely recalled his claims of pacification in Northern Iraq going awry pretty promptly after his rotation out, but that could have been due to the poor performance of his successor. I clearly recalled his claims of success in training the Iraqi Army ringing terribly hollow, however, and I distrusted a general who would inject himself into an election as he did with his op-ed piece on Iraq in September of 2004.

Brent Budowsky sums up Saint David’s performance and tendencies very well in his post yesterday on the Huffington Post.

Our current commander, General Petraeus, is a great military thinker from a great military organization, the 101st Airborne, with a near perfect record of failure in Iraq. His original efforts early in the war led to ultimate sectarian conflict within his regional command. His next mission for training Iraqis to "step up so we step down" was terribly failed, obviously. He allowed American weapons to fall into the hands of our enemies through mismanagement during his tenure.

Shortly before the 2004 presidential election, General Petraeus injected himself into the campaign on behalf of the President through a pre-election op-ed in the Washington Post that exactly three years ago this September. He gave glowing reports about the Iraqi military, Iraqi police and Iraqi leadership that look ridiculous now, three years later.

Petraeus is a good man and great military thinker with a record in Iraq that was so failed and flawed that only in the George Bush era would such a record be deified, and only with such incoherence from the Democratic national security establishment and such insiderism and laziness from the major media could such a deification of past failures be accepted.

He goes on to say,

Now we learn: the "Petraeus report" will not be the "Petraeus report" but will be the White House report. We learn he will not testify about his report but before the White House rewrite of the report.

With the latest maneuvering the Administration will try to time his pre-report testimony with, you guessed it, the anniversary of September 11, 2001. Is there no shame left in Washington?

So I will wait with bated breath for 9/11/07 to hear what Petraeus the White House has to say, even though, like 300 million other people, I know pretty much word-for-word what it will be. And I know that everything he will have to say will be utter crap.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Pair of Speeches

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both spoke, among other panderers politicians, at the convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars the other day. These speeches are always interesting, if somewhat disgusting, since the audience is ex-military and the speaker dares not be the least bit dovish.

I have found transcripts of both speeches in their entirety. Try not to let the initial commentary influence you as you read what Hillary Clinton had to say, and then read Barack Obama’s speech.

Lots of posts are attacking Clinton for “supporting the surge,” but to me that is an inconsequential aspect of her speech even if it is an accurate assessment. This speech is Clinton at her worst, pure pander festival, filled with “I talked with a young mother in Kansas” and “I talked with 50 soldiers at Fort…” These phrases sound heartwarming, but mean absolutely nothing. They are designed to tell the audience “Look how in touch I am with the common people” which is, of course, total bullfeathers.

Clinton blathers on about her accomplishments in a Congress that has an 18% approval rating. She reminds her audience how much she has contributed to a veterans’ healthcare system that is widely touted as all but totally dysfunctional.

Clinton describes her leadership plans for the military forces with such high-sounding phrases as “We must be prepared to fight the new war.” The problem with Rumsfeld was that he focused on preparing the Army for some kind of war that he imagined and left it unequipped to fight today's war.

This is the core of Hillary Clinton: empty rhetoric carefully designed to pander to the audience of the day. Sounding brass. In bragging about how she has “been fighting these people for 35 years” (itself an exaggeration, at best) she reminds us that she is a long-time part of the political machine that is failing this country.

Barack Obama begins with some rhetoric, telling of a grandfather who fought in World War Two, but in short order his speech evolves into “That's why earlier this month, I laid out a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.”

If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, not only will I vote for the Republican, I will campaign Republican regardless of who that candidate is.

Better to have our government be stalemated by being of two parties than to have this wolf in sheep’s clothing as president abetted by a legislature of the same party. We’ve had a one-party government led by a dishonest, corporatist, warmongering president and the result was disaster.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Iraq: Cut & Run

doonesburyIn case you don't get Doonesbury in your paper, this one had me pretty much rolling on the floor yesterday. You can click on the image above for a full-sized image, and go here to read today's strip wich follows up on the theme and is also a side-splitter.

"I wasn't sure where it was."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Practicing Democracy

Question: Why are we trying to install democracy in the Middle East at the point of a gun when we are not practicing democracy here at home?

Taking bribes and legislating for the benefit of those who provided you with those bribes is not democracy. That remains true even when you call those who tender the bribes “lobbyists” and the bribes “campaign contributions.”

Why are none of the presidential candidates, Republican or Democrat, talking about a national, universal, single payer healthcare system to put us on a par with the rest of the developed world? Because Hillary Clinton has accepted more money from the health insurance and healthcare provider business in the form of bribes campaign contributions than the average working man or woman will ever see in his/her lifetime.

Why are mine safety reforms and safety enforcement stalled by government while mine workers are dying in the course of providing for the nation’s energy needs? Because George Bush has accepted more money from mine owners in the form of bribes campaign contributions than the average mine worker will earn total in his/her lifetime.

Why can the wage earner no longer find financial relief in bankruptcy when devastated by a medical crisis, while a deliberately mismanaged business can still bail out of their illicit debt? Because Nancy Pelosi has accepted more money from banks and credit card companies in the form of bribes campaign contributions than the average wage earner can imagine.

Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California, is objecting to enforcement of laws against hiring of illegal immigrants. She claims that doing so will be harmful to the food and farming industry. Why is she really against enforcement? Because she has accepted huge amounts money from producing farms in the form of bribes campaign contributions and such enforcement would force those producers to pay wages sufficient to make those jobs attractive to legal workers.

The Democratic Congress bloviates about ethics reform, about how it is magnanimously surrendering the free dinners and trips which are worth pennies, while they are keeping the right to continue receiving bribes campaign contributions which amount to millions of dollars.

The Democratic Congress investigates Republican corruption ad nausuem, but calls no one to actual account and mitigates the corruption to no discernible degree. They are careful not to interfere with their ability to feed from the same trough.

To listen to the presidential “debates” is to know for sure that democracy is well and truly dead in this country, that the noble experiment of our founding fathers has failed. A pallid collection of untruthful parrots stands before us and mouths platitudes that are notable only in the degree to which they are unresponsive to the question asked. They lie to us unabashedly, and insult us with their preening, posing and posturing. “I’m your girl.”

Hillary Clinton even has the brass to state that “a presidential candidate ought not to say everything that they think.”  How can we reasonably choose a leader if they have not said what they think?

To say that switching our government from Republican to Democrat is like putting lipstick on a pig is to insult a beast that has far more value than a government gone rotten and corrupt to its core.

When both Democrat and Republican candidates espouse causes that you find repugnant, when both are openly corrupt, bought by moneyed interests, and the two parties of power have forced all others off the ballot, how is one supposed to vote one’s conscience?

Whatever that is, democracy it is not.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Second Chance

In today’s San Diego Union-Tribune Jim Trotter argues that Michael Vick should be given a second chance at playing in the NFL after serving time for his role in the dogfighting scheme at his home in Virginia, a role of which he is most certainly guilty.

I could not disagree more. I respect Jim Trotter and his football acumen, but on this issue I believe he is absolutely, dead wrong.

He cites examples of other NFL players who have been given second chances and made good, but the offenses of those players are almost trivial compared to the role played by Michael Vick, and they are lesser both in kind and in degree.

The transgressions of those players were momentary lapses of judgement, impulsive actions. Vick’s actions were cold-blooded, long term, calculated, inhumane acts committed for personal financial gain.

The moral turpitude of the acts committed by Vick defy imagination. Personal drug use or the rash use of a firearm can be understood, forgiven. How can we forgive the repeated, cold-blooded murder of helpless animals?

The gambling engaged in by the examples that Jim Trotter cites is players placing bets. Vick didn’t merely place a few bets, he organized, funded and was the central figure of a major gambling ring.

Second chances are for people who make mistakes. What Michael Vick did was no mistake.

Chargers Saturday night

Yeah, on the good end of a 30-13 score. But the first string offense played
a full half and wound up with 118 yards and 7 points. That's a long way from being a stellar performance, but they looked better than the defense did. Defense featured lots of missed tackles, blown coverages... Sigh.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Feline Physics

lego maniaThe third law of cat physics reads:

The temperature of a room can be measured by the length of a sleeping cat.

I'm thinking we may need to turn the air conditioning on.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Combat Stress

I’ve read many articles about the highest suicide rate in decades in our volunteer military, and about the underlying causes of it. It seems that combat stress is not the basic issue, really, but the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are without doubt the proximate cause. As you might suspect, the issue is complex, variable and difficult but overwhelmingly goes something like this:

You are young, haven’t been married very long and have a couple of kids. You’ve been moved to a strange town far from family and childhood friends. Your job involves long hours and doesn’t pay very well, so your wife works, and even with that you still need food stamps to get by.

Financial issues cause stress in your marriage. Separation stresses your marriage even more, and when you return it isn’t over as another separation looms. Your wife is angry and upset and your children are growing up without you. The military cannot tell you when, or if, it will end.

Add to that picture 15 months at a time, fifteen months, of being all but constantly in a free fire zone. Of being in a place where you can walk nowhere without weapons, body armor and constant vigilance.

The British Army has a standard of six months in combat being followed by two years at home base, a 1:4 ratio. We are currently using 15 months of combat followed by one year home based, a 5:4 ratio, and the one year home based is frequently cut short.

This is the way that our government “supports our troops.”

Thursday, August 16, 2007

On Assignment

Don't worry about the lack of posting, I'm fine. A dormant client needs a website redesign, so I'm actually (more or less) working for a little while. Resources are limited, so blogging will have to wait until I get that done. Don't go away, I will be back pretty soon.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

They're Baaaack (updated)

boltsWell, only time will really tell if they are back, but "the game is on." Live and on television. Oh boy. It's only a preseason game, but...

It starts in about seven hours, so about six hours from now you will find me in the living room with television remote in one hand and my left wrist cocked so I can stare at my wrist watch. Panting.

Update: after the game

One does not expect the team to be at midseason form, playing like the proverbial "well oiled machine" for the first game of preseason. Still, neither does one expect a perfromance resembling F Troop. Remember the scene where the bugle blows and the horses take off in all different directions with troopers falling off or holding the saddle horn with both hands and screaming for help? That was us against Seattle.

That's okay. They may be clowns, but they're my clowns.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Risking the Dynasty

Kevin Drum, always interesting reading, posted Friday about the kind of thinking that led to Congress giving the Bush Administration increased surveillance powers in the FISA update.

Note the way the incentives work here. If you pass the bill, the results are ambiguous. Sure, a lot of people will be angry, but they'll probably get over it eventually (or so the thinking goes). But if you stall the bill and a terrorist strikes, you are firmly and completely screwed. Goodbye political career. So which choice do you think a risk-averse politicians is likely to make?

He doesn’t engage in a lot of discussion regarding what he thinks about this rationale, other than,

Nobody wants to risk being proved wrong in a way that's so crystal clear there's simply no chance of talking your way out of it. It's this fear that gives national security hawks the upper hand in any terror-related debate. Still.

I know I posted about this just a few days ago, but the constitutional crisis we face in this country is not the one that everybody is talking about. There is a far worse crisis than the confrontation between the Bush Administration and Congress, a crisis that is corroding the fabric of democracy in a far worse manner than the criminality of Bush and Company, and that is the effect of moneyed interest on, the control that it has established over, the political process in this country at all levels.

What is the risk to which Kevin Drum refers? It’s the risk to reelection. It’s the risk of prematurely ending a political dynasty.

We are governed now by political dynasties; Kennedys, Bushes, Clintons, et al. No doubt Jeb Bush will be the next president after eight years of Hillary Clinton, and after eight years of him it will be time for, perhaps, Chelsea. Congressmen and Senators, short of copulating with a goat on the steps of the capitol building, serve for life and then their children run for office based on name recognition.

One article after another speaks to waste and fraud in government and finishes with the fond hope that in just over a year things will get better when the Democrats take over. If things get better at all, the difference will be marginal, because the waste and fraud are prompted by the moneyed interests who profit from it and they have purchased both parties equally. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican you cannot perpetuate your dynasty without the large amounts of cash provided by corporate sponsors.

On the rare occasion the someone does “screw the goat” and get replaced, in very short order we find that, rather than installing a fresh viewpoint and different behavior, we have merely started a new dynasty.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lego Mania

lego maniaFor those of you who don’t know it, LegoLand is located here in San Diego County, and many members of my family are just enormously enamored of that place. Most especially in that category are two rather rowdy and thoroughly delightful great-neices (that is daughters of a niece), but no few adults fall into that group as well.

You can click on the image above for a larger view, and I will leave it up to Kim to decide if her two daughters should see this or not. I thought it was kind of fun.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Military and Politics

There was an episode at the YearlyKos convention that has me sort of mumbling to myself. It’s hard to sort out what actually happened since every report I’ve read has been clearly slanted one way or the other.

The gist of it is that an Army sergeant, in uniform, attempted to address a panel at the convention. The panel was being moderated by Jon Stoltz, who is an Iraq veteran, remains a captain in the Army Reserve, and is head of a political organization called VoteVets. As far as I can tell the sergeant's address was an effort to support the “surge” and to claim that it was working, although in the flim clip he is reading from some sort of manual about the effects of adversity. Anyway, Stoltz not only cut off the sergeant, he commanded the rest of the panel the “stand down” and proceeded to dress down the sergeant for breaking a regulation against political activity while in uniform.

You can watch a video of the episode here and read an account of it here. It should be noted that the account is written by a person is a member of the organisation headed by Jon Stoltz. Another account regarding this sergeant is here, written by a right-leaning journalist who was also there.

Some of the accounts cite the regulation regarding participation in political activity while in uniform, so there’s no question that the sergeant was in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Since he was actually defending the actions of the Army, claiming that the surge was working and that the Army is actually a bunch of good guys, I question how much harm that violation was creating; that is to say, just how serious was the breach that was being committed.

Judging by the actions and demeanor of Jon Stoltz, the breach was very serious indeed, something on the order of high treason or possibly serial murder. A former general, Wesley Clark, seemed much less upset by the “crime” than did this reserve captain.

The writer of several accounts seemed to think that Stoltz would somehow be complicit in the “crime” if he did not step in to prevent it. I have to question the accuracy of that since Stoltz was not in uniform, is not a presently serving officer (this is, he is not on active duty), and he is not in the sergeant’s chain of command.

Perhaps the latter issue does not matter in today’s military, but when I served in the Navy it did. If an officer of another ship, or a shore-based officer, ever chose to treat me in the manner that I saw on that film clip, my Captain would have been outraged. He would have gone to that officer and told him to, “keep your damned hands off of my crew.” (Actually, I can’t imagine that an officer in those days would ever be that rude to an enlisted man. I refer to the “behavior modification” efforts, no matter what method was employed.)

I left the Navy more than 40 years ago, so perhaps things have changed. Perhaps things are done differently in the Army than in the Navy. Maybe both.

I do know from what I saw in that film clip that I’m glad I never had to serve under Jon Stoltz, because he came across as being an arrogant overbearing, um, jerk. (Gotta remember I’m not still in the Navy.)

If that is typical of Army leadership and dicipline, then I am certainly glad I’m not serving in today’s Army.

If that is the nature of VoteVets then I will put my support elsewhere. Jon Stoltz may have been completely right and that sergeant may have been completely wrong, but Stoltz treated both the panel, commanding them to “stand down,” and that sergeant with a complete lack of respect. That is arrogance, not leadership.

The reason the episode has been made so much of in the blogosphere is that right wing media has used it to accuse Yearly Kos of stifling dissent. The sergeant was saying something that the panel did not want to hear, they claim, so he was told to shut up. I don’t see that anything of the sort was afoot based on what I’ve read and seen. What I do see is that a reserve captain has formed an organization and likes to use it as a platform to throw his weight around and act like a thug. In so doing, he reflects discredit on the service that he claims to be protecting.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Terror Freakout Redux

I am, perhaps, merely being cynical, but…

Bush uses the fear card to stampede Congress into trampling all over civil liberties. News items are headlined to the effect that Bush and Company are committing another abuse of power, while others praise the executive for protecting us from certain death and destruction. But too many headlines are of the former variety to suit Rove and Company, so you know what comes next, right?

Yes indeed, it’s time for another terror scare.

Well, no, we don’t have a new terror scare handy at the moment, so here comes ABC News with headlines on an old one which has already been laughed out of town. Plot Would Have Killed Thousands screams the headlines, but the plot was, of course, a full year ago. Their definition of news is, um… "We’re releasing this now because, um, the Department of Homeland Stupidity gave it to us now and we’re gullible enough to salute smartly and run it for them."

The big bang shown that they claim was a liquid explosive triggered by a “tiny charge of electricity?” They don’t say how much liquid was involved, what temperature it needed to be maintained at, how carefully it needed to be handled, and whether or not a detonator was required. Perhaps there were just two wires from a battery dipped into the liquid?

That plane that gets blown in half? It was a test having to do with Flight 803 and had nothing whatever to do with liquid explosives.

They don’t of course, mention that the terrorists had no passports, airline reservations or tickets and they do not say whether or not they had any of the actual liquids in their possession.

“If the plot had succeeded,” Chertoff bleats, “it would have rivaled 9/11.” Blah, blah, blah terrorist blah blah blah explosion blah blah 9/11 blah blah blah killed. Yeah, we get it

It’s kind of fun to parse the statements. “We evaluated the amount of liquid needed for the explosion. That’s why the limit is three ounces.” Is that the same as saying “Four ounces of liquid can blow an airplane in half.” (?)
No, not quite. Are they expecting us to believe that four ounces of liquid purchased in a drugstore created the explosion we saw at the beginning of the news item? Well, yes, actually they are. And if you do believe that, I have some land in Florida with an ocean view I'd like to talk to you about.

Further, the three ounce limit was set just a few hours after the plot was interrupted. They “evaluated the amount” in those few hours? Not quite. That three ounce limit was, and is, purely arbitrary and was set completely without rational basis.

ABC News advised us that the liquids “can be bought in any drugstore,” dramatically blurring the image of the drugstore rack so we won’t get any ideas about what those liquids might be, and just in passing adds, “there is some question whether the potential terrorists would have had the skill to properly mix and detonate their explosive cocktails in-flight.”

Yeah, there were some questions about the skillset of the baggage handler that planned to blow up the fuel system at JFK airport, too. And the guys in Miami that were planning to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago using combat boots. And the guy planning to drop the Mackinac Bridge with cell phones. And…

But you get the point.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Congressional... what?

Before the 2006 elections I warned myself (and my readers) not to be too optimistic about change if the Democrats won one or both houses because, despite their promises of reform and Pelosi’s promise of “draining the swamp” that Washington has become, the Democratic Party has its hand as deep in the pocket of corporate sponsors as does the Republican Party.

Sure enough, not only does Bush continue to rain death and destruction upon Iraq unimpeded, he is still able to issue orders to Congress and have them obeyed.

As the minority party Democrats made no attempt to block passage of the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act or the appointment of Alito or Roberts. As the majority party Democrats whine about Republican obstructionism and lie supine under the demands and transgressions of the worst president in the history of this country.

At the end of last week Bush demanded a bill for warrantless spying and Congress saluted smartly and passed the bill that his political hacks had written for them to pass. There are three schools of thought as to why Congress would commit this travesty.

The most common theory is that the Democratic Party has become spineless, weak and utterly without any trace of courage. Glenn Greenwald, one of my very favorite bloggers, is a proponent of this theory, as he writes in his post today on Unclaimed Territory at Salon. His post from Saturday is even more eloquent, Greenwald at his best.

Second is the theory that suggests that the Democrats believe that it is unnecessary to curb Bush or “take on” the Republicans, since the elections of 2008 are going to put them so firmly into control that they can “fix” everything without having to fight for it. A large part of the electorate seems to go along with this theory, not caring much about what government is doing right now in the fond belief that soon Democrats will take over and everything will be okay.

The third theory is that all of the Democratic promises to change things are lies since the parties are but two faces on the same coin. This theory is espoused by Arthur Silber and spelled out in his Saturday post on Once Upon a Time… I actually don’t follow this blog much, as Silber is a little “dark” for my taste and his discussions tend to be a bit convoluted, but he sometimes does make an interesting point.

My thoughts are, as my thoughts tend to be in my old age, a bit divided. One thing stands out though, and that is that all three theories are a bit nonsensical in that they address “Democrats” as one monolithic entity. I suspect that there are about as many reasons why Democrats do things as there are Democrats, so applying a single theory is probably pointless.

At the heart of the matter, though, I believe the problem lies neither with Republicans or Democrats so much as with our basic electoral system of government. It is broken, and perhaps irretrievably so. Politicians of both parties govern not in the interests of the country or its people, but in their own interest, to assure their own reelection. They have sold out to the corporate sponsors and political machine that provide the money to assure their reelection. Correction of the problem will require that the very people who are benefiting from it create and pass legislation to eliminate it, and that is unlikely in the extreme.

I do know that the problem is not magically going to go away just because we elect a Democrat as president and a bigger Democratic majority in Congress. The 2006 election did not change what we looked for it to change, and neither will the 2008 election, because moneyed interests will still be in control of our government.

So what can we, the people, do about it?

Well, to begin with, vote. Vote knowledgeably and in every election. Too many people do not vote, or they vote strictly by party affiliation, or they vote because they recognize the incumbent’s name on the ballot.

Pay attention to how your Representative and your Senators vote in Washington, and if they are not voting in your best interest and in the best interest of your country, vote them out of office. Know where their campaign funds are coming from, and watch to see if their voting record (or their “earmarks”) favors those contributors. If it does, vote them out of office.

One blogger asked rhetorically, “If you’re angry with Democrats, what do you want to do? Give it back to Republicans?” My response would be, “If I find a Republican whose hand isn’t in the pocket of moneyed interests, yes.”

Congress is doing what they are doing because politicians know that they can piss off the people and still get reelected. If they piss off the “political machine” their access to money will get cut off, so they do what is politically expedient. They know that whoever has the most money wins. It isn't about political party, it's about a process that has been corrupted. The most money wins.

So change that. Quit voting for the one with the most money.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Quakes and Bridges

When I moved to California from Arizona many of my friends wanted to know why in the world I would want to live in a state that had all of those earthquakes. Well, after the news from Minneapolis, because of all of those earthquakes, that’s why.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, which cost 62 lives, quite a few of those in a collapsed double-deck freeway in Oakland, the state embarked on a massive program of “retrofitting” our bridges to withstand quakes. Different methods were used on different bridges and, while it was costly and took quite a few years, it did provide a goodly number of rather high paying jobs and boosted the economy a bit. More on that later.

As a result of that program, even after the I-35W bridge collapse, I can be pretty sure than when I’m driving across a bridge here in California the damned thing is not going to fall down.

After reading about infrastructure in this country in general, though, in articles prompted by the I-35W bridge event, I’m sort of freaking out. Has this country become completely and irretrievably incompetent?

That bridge scored 50 of a possible 100 two years ago on a safety check, which apparently means, “This bridge is okay, don’t worry about it.” If my car scores 50 out of a possible 100 on a safety check, I park that sucker. I do not drive that piece of junk down the freeway at 75 mph in the blissful opinion that it is perfectly safe. If my car scores less than 100 out of 100 on a safety check, I make repairs to it until it scores 100. If finances are really tight I might drive it with a 90 score, but I would slow down. But driving it full speed with a 50 score?

Of bridges that are as heavily traveled as the I-35W bridge, carrying 190,000 vehicles per day or more, 40 bridges had a score lower than 50, lower than the bridge that just collapsed, and are still open to traffic as I write this.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has produced a report card for our nation’s infrastructure which is horrifying in its detailed descriptions of just how badly this nation is crumbling and the degree to which we are degrading and polluting our environment in the process. Since we’re on the subject of bridges at the moment, ASCE reports that 27% of our bridges are rated as poorly as the I-35W bridge or worse, and that it will require $9.4 Billion per year for 20 years to repair them. That’s $188 Billion total.

But there’s worse news. Bridges aren’t our worst grade. In fact, they are second best. (Other than an “incomplete” for Security.) ASCE gives us a C+ for solid waste disposal, a C for bridges, C- for rail and parks/recreation and D or worse for everything else.

Not only are the grades failing, they are dropping. The report card provides grades for 2001 and 2005, and in virtually every case the grade for 2005 is lower. The relationship between crumbling infrastructure and low tax rates at all levels of government is, of course, inescapable.

It remains unproven to me that the people in this nation are actually all that averse to taxation. Clearly politicians are, with one party advocating lower taxes because that is their ideology, and the other because they lack the courage to refute the ideology of the opponent. But when both parties are advocating lower taxes the actual will of the people is, I believe, unclear.

The purpose of government is, among other things, to provide for the common welfare. A small government cannot provide for a large nation, and I suspect that the public at large is willing to accept that. I keep coming back to the one poll which has actually offered that choice, one which showed that a sizeable majority favored universal healthcare even if it meant higher taxes.

California, home of nuts and crackpots, tends to lead the way and sometimes the rest of the country sees that what we are doing here actually makes good sense. Maybe they will this time.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake California recognized an infrastructure need. State government and the people of this state worked together with bonds and taxes to get that need met. In the process the necessary higher taxes got passed back to the people in the form of high paying jobs and a vibrant economy boosted, in part, by those jobs.

And we have bridges we can drive across in safety.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Rest of the Story

Eric Alterman had a terrifically well-written piece in Media Matters on Monday regarding income inequality. The role that government, of both parties, has played in that growing problem is horrifying.

…Harry Truman, would use the phrase "economic freedom" in his 1950 State of the Union address to mean "a fundamental economic freedom for labor." But by the time of Ronald Reagan's second inaugural, the same phrase had come to imply not the right to organize or achieve economic security and independence, but deregulation, tax cuts, and an attack on unions on behalf of powerful corporations and their wealthy owners and investors.

Politicians and “powerful corporations and their wealthy owners” will tell you that the collective bargaining power held by labor unions drives up costs and raises the prices you pay for goods and services.

In the immortal words of Paul Harvey, here’s “The Rest of the Story.”

The grocery workers union and the three major grocery stores in San Diego recently signed a new contract after six months of negotiations. Unions hailed it as a big victory, as it included significant wage gains and health care benefits, and I was happy for them and for the community that there was no strike.

There was an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune a week or so later that confirmed that the new agreement would mean price increases, but that they would probably not occur for several months and that the impact would be very small, likely pretty much not even noticeable.

I talked with the manager of the store where I shop who, as the media is fond of saying, requested anonymity since he is not authorized to speak on the subject. I like to cook with fresh stuff and I’m retired, so I go to the store several times a week, and this manager and I are to some degree acquainted. He was, by the way, as happy with the new agreement as his workers were. He confirmed that selling prices would be very minor, doubted that they would exceed 1% or so.

So how can a new contract that has a major effect for the workers have such a minor effect on the consumer? Because there are 65,000 workers, but there are millions of customers. The dollar amount that is being divided between a handful of workers, where it has a major effect, is being spread out over a vast pool of consumers, where it is barely a ripple.

That’s what the “powerful corporations and their wealthy owners and investors” don’t mention, because the part that can't be passed on to the consumer affects an even smaller pool that is them. And the effect on their profit looks to them like a tidal wave.

What I see, though, as the outcome of labor union accomplishment is that I will pay a small premium for my groceries; one that I probably won’t even notice. In return for that 65,000 grocery workers will be able to maintain a better standard of living and be able to provide healthcare for themselves and their children. I can definitely live with that.

And now you know the rest of the story.