Monday, October 29, 2007

Kitty Wake-up

H/t to Brilliant at Breakfast.

Reality in the Face of "Feel Good"

The Chargers won 35-10 over Houston yesterday, and they did so here at home in Qualcomm Stadium; a stadium which days earlier had been harboring evacuees from wildfires. There's "joy in Mudville" and great glee about how wonderful a victory it was.

Apparently no one quite wants to look at the nature of that "blowout."

The score was 35-3 at the half, and 35-10 at the end. Did anyone notice that the Chargers were outscored 0-7 in the second half? Or that the Chargers "powerhouse" offense actually only scored 21 points against a team that is best described as feckless?

Two of Philip Rivers' touchdown passes were somewhat less than works of art. One of them, in fact, stunk so badly that you could have smelled it had he thrown it in the middle of Miramar Landfill. His rationale for that clunker was that he "was so shocked by how far open Gates was that the ball didn't come out of my hand right." That may be the most lame excuse for a badly thrown pass that I've ever heard.

Did anyone care that we had a receiver open for a touchdown, no defender within five yards of him, in the second half and the Philips Rivers pass missed him by a country mile when Rivers was not pressured?

Champions do not quit playing when they have a lead. I had a football coach once who said repeatedly, "If you are leading by fifty points, you'd better be trying to lead by fifty-six." The purpose of the offensive squad is to score points, and when they are on the field for an entire half without even trying to do that... It wasn't the play calling, the offensive squad went to sleep.

I'm beginning to have serious doubts about our quarterback. He never had an opportunity to make a bad decision under pressure yesterday, because he was never under any pressure, and yet he still missed open receivers and threw balls that receivers had to stop running in order to catch. When questioned about errors, this week and in weeks past, he breezily blows them off as inconsequential.

I enjoyed the game, and I'm happy with the win, but if the Chargers play next week like they did yesterday, they will not put up another win.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Majorities in Government

Steve Soto in a Friday post over at The Left Coaster posits a choice between,

a) Having a Democrat win the White House but maintain only a shaky hold in Congress;
b) Losing the White House but adding another 20 in the House and 10 in the Senate;

A fairly lively and interesting discussion followed in the comments, but are those the only two choices? Actually, two scenarios pose themselves to me as being somewhat more likely;

a) A Democrat win in the White House and adding to the majority in Congress;
b) A Republican in the White House but adding to the Democratic majority in Congress

The mood of the country is really weird right now, and I’m not suggesting that Steve’s choices are really off base. The popularity of Congress is, what, 11% at this point to the president’s 24%, so it certainly doesn’t look like the public is all that thrilled with the Democratic majority that was elected in 2006. Are we likely to build on what is clearly not working? Maybe not, but I still suspect that the voters will blame Republicans more than Democrats and I have little doubt that the Democratic majority will increase.

I don’t think it will help anything, you understand, but I think it will happen.

That leaves the question of president. As Jill put it in her post at Brilliant at Breakfast on Friday,

…that fix is that we will have a choice between a president who will continue to expand the U.S.-initiated conflagration in the Middle East, and a president who will continue to expand the U.S.-initiated conflagration in the Middle East.

Some choice.

That choice is caused by the issue that Hillary Clinton is already the Democratic nominee. Chosen as such not by the voters, not by the people of this country, but by the pundits and the media as directed by the money in campaign coffers provided by corporate sponsors.

So looking back up at the two choices that I have posited, which would you prefer? While you’re thinking about that, recall six years of having a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress, and how nicely that worked out for the country. [end snark]

No, I don’t think a Democrat/Democrat combination would be as disastrous as the Republican/Republican one was. Relationships between Democratic presidents and Democratic Congresses in the past have been quite contentious, and I have no reason to believe a future Democratic Congress would fail to properly perform its oversight of a Democratic president.

There are some good things about Hillary Clinton and she has supported some good causes. She certainly is no George Bush. But she equally certainly is a corporatist and a militarist, and she is far too capable of bending a Congress of her same party to her will.

I read constantly that electing Democrats, any Democrats, will be the salvation of democracy and of Democracy for this country and I am convinced that such a belief is a very slippery slope.

Politicians of the Democratic Party spend as much money campaigning as Republicans do, and they obtain that money in precisely the same fashion. Democrats will pass populist legislation, but only to the extent that it is accompanied by benefits for their corporate sponsors. Witness that they could not pass a minimum wage bill until they accompanied it with tax breaks for business.

Electing Democrats will help, and I encourage doing it, but it will not solve the problem. The problem will not be solved until we take the money out of the election process.

In the meantime, the more that government is paralyzed by partisan politics the fewer bad bills it can enact.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blackwater and Taxes (updated)

The latest outrage against Blackwater is that the outfit is dodging taxes by paying its employees as if they were independent contractors instead of employees, thereby avoiding having to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on their behalf. Well, I hope that they get convicted and that it costs them dearly, but I sort of fail to see what all the fuss is about. I know the IRS follows this issue, but I'm not sure I understand why.

I know that the employee pays half of these taxes and the employer the other half. If the employer doesn't pay its half it is a tax cheat and the government is deprived of money that is owed to it. But nowadays a private contractor pays the full amount of the employer's share, so I can't see what difference it makes to the government whether Blackwater's thugs are classified as employees or not. If they are then the taxes are paid half and half, if not then the thugs pay all of the taxes themselves, but in either event the amount of taxes paid is the same.

There was a time that a private contractor only paid one half of the employer's share, but that got changed quite a few years ago. So I'm just not quite sure what everybody is getting so breathless about.

I'm not a tax accountant, though, so maybe I'm missing something.

Update: 10/27/07 10:00 AM

It has been pointed out to me that independent contractors get to use the employer's share of Social Security and Medicare taxes as a deduction of income.

So while Blackwater's scurrilous policy does not result in less Social Security or Medicare tax income to the government, it does result in less Income Tax income, because the independent contractor's income tax is reduced. That's why the IRS polices the process.

That's why every year I give my shoebox full of receipts to a guy named Steve. In due course he has me sign a form and either tells me I'm getting a refund or directs me how much to write the check for.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fog in the Forecast

What clears the smoke and ash out of the air better than anything else? Fog. Works even better than rain. What's in our forecast? Fog. I just took a bag of garbage out at about 10:00PM, and there was already dew settling on the lid of the can. That means the humidity is increasing. Good news.

Fires are coming under control and people are going home. That is those who have homes to go to. The firefighters will still be on the lines for some time, though; probably for as much as another month. Another Santa Ana is forecast for next week, but only a very mild one; just enough to warm us up a little with some offshore flow, but not enough to kick up any winds.

One thing that my elder sister pointed out after one of my earlier posts. My grandmother was born in upstate Louisiana and grew up on a plantation near Millikens Bend. She lived in New Orleans after she was married and both my mother and my elder sister were born in New Orleans. I actually knew that; one of my fondest childhood memories is listening to Grandma telling stories about growing up on Right Bower Plantation. She had her own carriage horse named Blackberry.

For whatever it's worth, I was born in Florida. Someone once commented that he thought only eleven-year-olds and Seminole Indians were born in Florida. Nope, kids of the U. S. Army Air Corps were born there too.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jumping to Conclusions

The blog Brilliant at Breakfast is one of my favorites, but Jill and Melina have a couple of posts today that were way off target and jumped to just stunningly silly conclusions.

First, Jill accuses the Bush Administration of having treated the refugees of Katrina badly and then lavishing luxury on the evacuees of the wildfires at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The comparison is wrong on several levels.

As I said in an earlier post, Katrina was an evacuation and devastation of an entire city, while this fire actually affected only a portion of San Diego. Those who were not affected pitched in to help those who were. The federal government had little or nothing to do with it. This was local government and, much more to the point, local people and businesses pitching in as volunteers.

The feds provided a few cots and blankets. The rest of it was San Diego taking care if its own, and New Orleans would have done the same in similar circumstances. But the circumstances were vastly different.

My grandmother grew up in the New Orleans area, my father obtained his medical degree at Tulane University. I know New Orleans and its people. In New Orleans there were no people to help those who were affected; everyone was either gone or they were in the gun sight. There were no local supplies to be volunteered and no people to volunteer them. In circumstances akin to what San Diego experienced these past few days, the Superdome would have looked pretty much exactly like Qualcomm Stadium did.

Qualcomm Stadium was not a festive site of people partying and feasting. It was thousands of people choking in bad air and worried sick about whether or not they would have a home to go back to. It was people who work for a living, often working two jobs, and who expend two-thirds of their income to own just a basic home and are in fear that they may have lost it all in a single night.

And local people and business flock to help, and offer their goods and services to relieve the burden and lift the fear. And people back east make snide remarks about how much better the “wealthy Californians” are treated.

In a related post, Melina says that, ”tragically, many of the neediest people wont go to the stadium and shelters, because they are illegal and living in the hills.” I don’t know what her authority is for that, but I know of no reports that any of the shelters were asking for green cards. It sounds like rhetorical nonsense to me, and I have heard nothing like it from any source that is local to the area.

Nor do I know what her source is for the concept that ”thousands are living in the hills around San Diego”, because illegal immigrants actually have no problems renting apartments here. Some do live in the hills, but I would seriously question the “thousands” bit.

Jill suggests that many of these thousands will be ”casualties of the fires” and will remain unknown. Well, no. Even in the barbaric wilds of rural San Diego, we do notice charred corpses. But it takes someone who knows absolutely nothing about us to suggest that we will let anyone die in the wildfires.

I’m all in favor of attacks on the Bush Administration, even irrational attacks on the Bush Administration. But I’m not crazy about my city being used as a basis for those irrational attacks.

Communicating In Crisis

To say that the fire department(s) have done a poor job of communicating with the public during the course of this fire would be an understatement of considerable proportions. My family from other parts of the country is asking some questions that I cannot answer.

Where precisely within San Diego area are the fires located?
What’s the status of the fires inside the San Diego City limits?

To both questions this morning I have to respond that I don’t really know. There have been statements from fire officials, all of whom have stood at the podium looking like robots and blathered about “resources” and “behaviors” but have told us almost nothing in terms of actual progress, either of the fires or of the efforts in containing them. They have not one time displayed a map, with or without any markings on it.

The San Diego City fire chief told us this morning that quite a few fire crews had been “returned to their home stations,” which sounds like they have been stood down. This seems a bit odd when fires are being described as (at best) 10% contained, but no explanation was offered.

It may be that the fire departments are not telling us what the fires are doing because they simply don’t know what the fires are doing. That is a rather frightening thought, but there is nothing in the behavior of the officials speaking to the public that would contradict such an impression.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has a map with burn areas outlined on it, but they are clearly only approximate since the boundaries are all straight lines, and they have not changed since early Tuesday morning. They also do not indicate what parts of the fire areas are active so their usefulness is limited at best, but they are all we have. TV stations are all using that same map.

One television station showed an infrared satellite image recently, and all of the area within the city was light in color, which would indicate that the actively burning area no longer includes the inner city area. Statements by city officials other than fire departments imply that such is the case, so I’ll go with that and assume that the city itself is “out of the woods” now.

Communication from city and county officials other than fire departments has been excellent for the first few days. As I posted earlier, they did not use the event for political posturing (with a very few exceptions), and announcements of what to do and how to do it were frequent and clearly made. As soon as our governor showed up, however, things went downhill fast; all the local politicians signed on and the political posturing went full bore. Listening to the press conferences now is a very tedious process now, separating the “wheat from the chaff” of political blather.

Our City Attorney has gone off the deep end, issuing a statement that the entire city should be evacuated after the fires are out. Sometimes one of the “fruits and nuts” that I referenced in an earlier post seems to get elected to public office. I think this one has a serious mental problem.

The television stations are now showing clips that were taken when the fires were raging as background while doing interviews. Sometimes they have a small label in an upper corner that reads “earlier,” but sometimes they do not. I wish they would not do that, as when one sees it (even with the label) one has to speculate as to whether a new fire has broken out or not. I guess they feel the need to be showing some sort of sensational visual.

They were just reporting factual information earlier, now they’ve “reverted to type.” So I guess, in a way, that’s a good thing, in that we’re getting back to the way things were, where the media needs to provide sensation rather than mere news.

The real problem has been information and leadership from fire officials.

During a major wildfire near my home town, Tucson AZ, a few years ago I was able to follow the course of events from here because the fire department there provided a map which showed the boundaries of the fire area and indicated the active areas and where the department was putting its efforts. As I recall, that map was updated every six hours and sometimes more frequently.

I wish that San Diego’s fire department had that level of expertise and concern for providing information to its public. Under the leadership of Chief Bowman it did; he reassured and informed us with great effect during the Cedar Fire in 2003. It seems the choice of his replacement was poorly made.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Governments That Learn

For the past few days I’ve found it difficult to care much about national politics. The fires have never come close to where I live and I have not even been affected by smoke or ash. But this is my community and these are my neighbors.

California may be the home of fruits and nuts, but those fruits and nuts don’t buckle under pressure. You set their city on fire and they suck it up. When the government handles a situation badly, as in the Cedar Fire of 2003, the fruits and nuts grab it by the necktie and demand changes.

Everyone knows, of course, about the city that had its signature building bombed in 1993 and learned nothing from the event – placed it’s command center next door, didn’t correct it’s radio problems, etc.

Well, after the Cedar Fire the citizens spoke up about what went wrong, and San Diego local governments did a little bit better than that.

A "reverse 911" system is in place to notify people in danger that it is time to evacuate their home for safety.

For the past three days city and county police and more than a dozen fire departments have been talking to each other on radios that share a common radio frequency. When emergency services have come from afar to help, if their radios do not use that frequency there are spare radios to give to them.

All firemen have been supplied with plenty of spare batteries for their radios, and the command centers are equipped to recharge the batteries and are able to replace radios that are damaged or lost in service.

The helicopters battling the fires have included the U.S. Navy. The fruits and nuts pronounced that the pilots who had been plucking space capsules from the sea were almost certainly qualified to drop water on fires, and they didn’t want their officials turning down any more help. Message heard.

I read one national news item that commented on the difference between the Superdome during the Katrina event and Qualcomm Stadium during this fire, and the item asked if the difference was because the people in San Diego are not Black. The bit about “gourmet meals” at Qualcomm was pure hype, but the question was not by any means ridiculous. I think the answer, however, is that race had nothing to do with it.

For one thing, Katrina was an evacuation and devastation of an entire city, while this fire actually affected only a portion of San Diego. Those who were not affected pitched in to help those who were. In New Orleans there were no people to help those who were affected; everyone was either gone or they were in the gun sight.

More importantly, California has governments that know how to ask its citizens to help and know how to utilize that help when it is offered. That’s what happened at Qualcomm. Almost at once it was being announced that no more volunteers were needed, and by Tuesday afternoon the television stations were telling the public to stop bringing donations, that no more food or supplies were needed. What government provided was organization and coordination.

The Santa Ana winds are dying down, a day earlier than predicted but none too early to suit any of us in San Diego. The fires are still feeding on ultra-dry brush and trees, though, and will remain dangerous for several more days. We cannot yet count the homes that have been lost, but it has been many, many.

And the fruits and nuts will rebuild exactly where the lost homes stood. Because this is home and we will not be driven away.

And this government is our government. Responsible to us.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Santa Ana (fires update)

Yuma, AZ has a forecast high temp of 82 today. The part of San Diego where I live has a forecast high of 90. Humidities are projected to be in single digits.

Santa Ana has come to visit. Supposed to be with us 3-4 days.

Nice weather for going to the beach, but Oct 13th is when the infamous Cedar Fire of 2003 started, and it was in conditions much like these, only this Santa Ana is forecast to be significantly more windy that it was then. Do I need to tell you the significance of that?

We had two aerial tankers here as of last week, and the Fire Service just moved in three more. Fire crews are on stand by and firemen are not sleeping. The fuel (plants that have died and dried out, stuff that burns) has built up a lot in four years, and the few hundredths of rain we had recently dried up in half a day of these conditions.

They say that the dry Santa Ana winds causes people to become irritable. That's not the case with me, as I like the heat and the dryness, and I love the clear blue skies. But the fire danger to me and my neighbors makes me nervous.

Update: 10/22/07 8:20 AM

san diego

Just as 2003, a fire started in East County yesterday and we awoke this morning to hear that it had spread into the metropolitan San Diego area. There are now 7 fires in the county, all 0% contained, three of them within the city limits, and evacuations are being ordered all the way to the coast.

This is far worse than the Cedar Fire of 2003, and the winds driving it are predicted to continue for at least two more days. No aerial firefighting can be done until the winds die down.

On the up side, the emergency agencies are talking to each other on radios that all use the same frequency. Fire departments, although unable to fight the fires at the moment due to wind conditions, are able to coordinate positions between departments very well. The "reverse 911" phone system is working well and is making a huge difference in the evacuation process.

So we did learn from that last catastrophe, and made the changes that were needed. Kudos to the agencies and politicians that brought that off.

Update: 10/23/07 9:00 AM

There's an entry on the Huffington Post this morning by one Kristen Reeves (I'm not going to link to that particular piece of drivel) who is upset because the fires in Malibu, where she lives, were supplanted on the news by nine other fires in Southern California, including those in San Diego County. She is one of the reasons that I regard the Huffington Post as mostly nonsense.

Some observations from San Diego, where several fires are ongoing, but where none have come anywhere near as close to my home as did the Cedar Fire of 2003.

It's refreshing how non-political the news conferences have been. The County Supervisor, Mayor and law enforcement officials have come to the podium, made the necessary announcements, and left without the usual stump speeches. There has been one female County Supervisor who had been getting "face time" at first, but someone seems to have talked her into ceasing the practice after the first day. Duncan Hunter has decided his tv presence is essential, and no one can persuade him to desist, of course.

The San Diego citizenry seems to have a great deal of class. Evacuation orders, despite one national news item which hyped to the contrary, have been followed quickly and pretty much totally. The fire officials report that people refusing to leave has been very much the exception rather than the rule. There has not been one single report of looting in evacuated areas. At the evacuation areas there have been times that volunteers outnumber evacuees. Hotels have been making exceptions to their "no pets" policies. It's all really quite heartening.

The tv stations on all channels have been very factual in their coverage. I have not seen a single episode of reporter or anchor presenting the fires in a manner that could be considered even remotely alarmist. On the contrary, they have collectively presented a calm and reassuring presence to the public. Of course, I never tuned in to the FOX channel, so...

I do miss the presence of Fire Chief Bowman, who presided over the Cedar event. He was a master at reassuring the public that he was "in charge" of the situation and he did a fine job of communicating what was being done in terms of on what fronts the fire was being fought. In this event we are getting rather vague technical presentations about "resources" and "events" from several different people in fire uniforms, none of whom are decent speakers.

Where I am, in Mission Valley near downtown, the sky is a clear blue and there is no trace of smoke or ash. Looking north, however, the ghastly brown smoke cloud is not far away and it looks really awful.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Light in the Darkness (updated)

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) has placed a "hold" on the FISA bill in the Senate that would immunize the telecoms in accordance with the wishes of President Bush. That should mean that the bill will be dead until Sen. Dodd releases his hold, which he says he won't.

Out of 100 senators, precisely one has the courage and the leadership to stand up for the constitution. There is hope, after all, however little. This man is running for president. Could he, maybe...? Nah. Hillary Clinton is our next president, already anointed by the media. Too bad.

Sen. Chris Dodd, "a still small voice crying in the wilderness." Sen. Dodd cares about the constitution. This is a quote from him in an interview with Glenn Greenwald,

"I carry every day, and have for 26 years, a copy of the U.S. Constitution given to me by Robert Byrd. And to me, what could be more fundamental? With all due respect, I care about health care, education, global warming. But if you get this wrong -- what do you got? A trade association. Who wants to be president of a trade association?"

But wait, Harry Reid is threatening to bring the bill up for a vote over his fellow Senator's hold, in a particularly heinous display of, of, of...
Hell, I don't even know what it's a display of.

Update: 9:50 AM

Senator Dodd is now saying that if Reid overrides his hold he will go to the floor and filibuster this bill. The longer he rides this horse, the more he gains my support. Call, write, email. Support Dodd.

Update 2: 10/20/07 5:30 PM

So far all I can find regarding Hillary Clinton is from Daily Kos:

And Hillary? Well, apparently her position on retroactive immunity for law-breaking phone companies is still being focus group tested, so it'll be a while before we know where she stands on the issue.

So where Dodd leads, she does not have the courage to follow.

Government "Did Not Hear Their Cry"

I'm no fan of Al Sharpton, as he has more than one time embraced causes for race that were transparently fraudulent. But bigotry is still alive in this country, and this Administration and this Congrass are far too complicit in the continuation of that blot on the honor of our nation. Sharpton makes that point well here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Big Fish Eat Little Fish

Geico Insurance formed a new model of car insurance some years ago: no agents, no agencies, direct sales, top notch service and lots of advertising. They have been very successful with their approach, and I have been pleased with the customer service I have received from them for the several years that I have been insured by them. I rather enjoy most of their ads, too.

One of their advertising venues has been to sponsor a race car in the NASCAR feeder series heretofore known as the Busch Series. The Geico car has been a fixture in that series for years, and has been piloted by some very popular drivers. The money provided by sponsors is essential to these teams, and without it they cannot survive.

This year Busch decided that the amount that NASCAR was demanding from them to sponsor the series was excessive and they dropped out. The new sponsor of the series is now Nationwide Insurance and, as a result of that new agreement with NASCAR, Geico will be banned from sponsoring a car in the series. So the team now sponsored by Geico is without a sponsor for next year, thanks to the sanctioning body of its sport.

This follows the action in the current season where NASCAR fought a series of court battles to prevent one of the Nextel Cup teams from carrying the AT&T logo on it’s car after Cingular was bought by that company and the Cingular brand was discontinued.

All in line with the great American policy of big fish eat the little fish. Which is fine, if you’re one of the big fish.

One of several reasons why I’ve lost interest in stock car racing.

The Power of Money

In another dazzling display of the power of money over proper governance, the Democratic-controlled Congress has reached agreement on immunizing the telecoms against their role in assisting Bush in spying on America. This means that lawsuits against the telecoms, some of which have already been won and which are in under appeal by the telecoms, will now be halted and found in favor of the guilty, as the law is being changed to retroactively legalize their actions.

This is bribery in action. The players have been given huge sums of money in the form of campaign contributions by the telecoms, and that money has purchased the telecoms their immunity retroactively, from improprieties of which they have already been convicted.

This bribery also protects Bush, who has tried claims of executive privilege and states secrets to protect himself from the exposure of his illegalities, in this case without success, and now has resorted to the frantic protection of his co-conspirators.

This is not what we put Democrats in control of Congress to do.

But we should not be surprised. Our system of government is broken, perhaps beyond repair, but certainly broken. It is corrupted by money, utterly lawless and rotten to its core. Its members are a moneyed and elite group who serve themselves and their moneyed financiers. They mouth platitudes and lies to the voting public to get themselves elected and then retire to their offices and enact laws that serve themselves and big money and ignore the concerns of the voting public until the next election.

The problem isn’t the party, it’s the process.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mind Boggling Cheek

The Catholic Church in San Diego was recently faced with many lawsuits for child sex abuse by priests and a massive subsequent coverup. They attempted to declare bankruptcy and force a cheaper settlement but there was a problem with the court because the Church concealed assets in the filing. The judge found the the concealment, many millions of dollars, was deliberate and the bankruptcy was thrown out.

They finally did settle and the Church is getting stuck with something like $200 Million of the cost, with the rest being borne by insurers. The bishop has now asked that priests, all priests, presumably including the ones who did not contribute to the crime, each contribute one month salary toward that lawsuit settlement payment and is reportedly now writing an episcopal missive asking that all parishoners contribute toward it as well.

It's not often that I'm left speechless, but...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Reaching for Humanity

Jonathan Rauch has a column in last Friday’s National Journal which, unlike his usual commentary, I see mostly as pretty much total tripe. Rauch is usually a rather profound thinker, and it’s difficult to imagine how he can come up with the same nonsense that former war supporters seem to use to justify themselves. It’s a variation on the ”The war was a good idea but Bush screwed it up. theme. Rauch's column is in the ”I was wrong because I trusted Bush” meme.

George W. Bush had more than his share of bad luck in Iraq. He bet that Saddam would have an active nuclear or at least biological-weapons program; that Iraq's social and physical infrastructure would be functional; that the war would be short. None of those bets was crazy, but he lost all three.

Oh, barf. None of that was bad luck. None of those were bets, and had they been they would have been utterly insane.

A good many people knew that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, nuclear or otherwise. The IAEA told the world that it had been given free access and had found none of any description and no facilities for making any. Saddam admitted the inspectors, it was George Bush who told them to leave Iraq because we were about to start bombing. I knew this before the war, why did not Rauch know it?

Why would Bush think that Saddam’s physical infrastructure would be intact when, as the first phase of this ill-advised invasion, we bombed it into oblivion in a campaign proudly advertised as “Shock and Awe"? Why would he expect the social infrastructure to be intact when Paul Bremer fired it in it’s entirety?

Just as a point of information, bombing electric generation and water treatment plants which serve civilian populations is a war crime. The United States and Israel do it routinely.

Finally, the war was short. It is the ongoing occupation that has dragged on and proven costly. No one forecast any problem with the war itself, but there were many warnings, including from within the administration itself, that the occupation would be horribly problematic. Those warnings were ignored, in many cases the people giving them fired, and all of the worst predictions have come to pass.

It just amazes me the lengths to which people will go, people who are otherwise intelligent and insightful, to justify themselves in having supported the beating of war drums five years ago. They cannot simply say that they did not listen to reason because they were afraid or that they got caught up in the demagoguery of a petty tyrant. They have to come up with some pseudo-intellectual rationale to justify behavior that was actually driven by the lizard brain, that was the triumph of fear, anger and revenge over humanity.

And now they want their souls back.

Monday, October 15, 2007

In The Valley of Elah

Every person who has the privilege, and the responsibility, of voting in this country needs to see this movie.

Do not go to be entertained; you won’t be, although this may be Tommy Lee Jones’ best role ever. Susan Sarandon’s role is not long, but it has great power.

From the beginning of this movie you suspect that something is terribly wrong. By the end of it you know that something is indeed terribly wrong, but it isn’t in the movie, it’s real. And it is terribly, terribly wrong.

Go see this movie, and then raise your voice and demand that your government remove our sons and daughters from the horror of war, now.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What's wrong with this picture?

Well, nothing is intrinsically wrong with this picture except that I believe those are, um, Air Force planes.

And what, you ask, is wrong with Air Force planes? Well, again, nothing except that this is San Diego. There are, like, probably six Air Force people in San Diego, forlornly manning the recruiting office, drinking coffee and telling flying stories to each other while they watch the lines at the Marine and Navy recruiting offices. There are about six zillion sailors and Marines here.

The Air Force Thunderbirds are performing at the Miramar Air Show. That’s the Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar Air Show. Not the Blue Angels, who have been performing at that show ever since their planes had propellers, the Thunderbirds. And the sun is going to rise in the West any day now, followed by San Diego Bay becoming ice-bound.

The Blue Angels purpose is to make people think about the Navy, they said, and San Diego already thinks about the Navy quite a lot so they felt that their energies could be of more value elsewhere. Somewhere, for instance, that didn’t have twenty or so Navy and Marine bases. That actually makes pretty good sense, if you think about it. Does the Navy really need publicity in the city where it has it’s largest base in the world?

I’ve seen both teams perform and I can’t say which is better. I really don’t think either one is. As a Navy veteran and living in San Diego, I’d like to claim the Blue Angels outfly the Thunderbirds, but… There is no question that the crowds at Miramar are loving those white jets.

Odd Views on Diplomacy

Barack Obama criticized Clinton for her vote on the Kyl/Liebermann Amendment, saying that she was once again giving Bush a blank check for war, this time against Iran. I dislike her vote for this act, but I’m not sure I agree with Obama’s accusation. Clinton claims that the vote does not authorize military action and cannot be so construed, and I think I actually agree with her on that.

But her justification comes across to me as extraordinarily flimsy. For one thing she gives more than one reason, and in my experience multiple excuses are usually only given when the real reason is being concealed.

First she reminded the audience that she voted against an amendment that actually did authorize the use of military instruments.

So you vote for a bad bill only because it is less bad than another, worse, bill? That makes no sense to me. If Bush asked for a bill that would build internment camps and imprison all non-Christians she would vote against it. Then if he changed and said he would only imprison all Muslims she would vote for it because that’s bad, but it’s better than the original?

Then she said she voted for it because it supports diplomacy. She wants to negotiate, but she wants to do so from a “position of strength.”

This strikes me as a very strange perception of diplomacy. How exactly does labeling the ones you want to negotiate with as terrorists put you into a position of strength? Before you negotiate with someone you first publicly call them bad names and place nasty labels on them, and only then do you sit down with them and ask them to make nice.

Let me put this another way. If you publicly call me a liar and a thief, and then you come to me and ask me to discuss being good neighbors, I can tell you that my reaction is going to be to tell you to take a long walk on a short pier. We are not going to be good neighbors.

Based on what she has said about that vote I can’t really make out why she did it, because I don’t really believe that her diplomatic acumen is that lacking. Based on my assessment of her character, I believe she cast that vote because it was politically expedient. It was designed to make her “look tough on national security” and to strengthen her relationship with the military. All of the rhetoric afterward is just that; rhetoric to satisfy her liberal base.

Politicians in general say and do whatever they think will get them elected. That’s why our system is failing as badly as it is. There is no systematic method of ensuring that, once elected, they will actually do what they promised to do during their campaigns and few of them do. Hillary Clinton is particularly facile in shifting rhetoric and action to pursue her goals. I don’t for one second believe that she will actually keep any of her promises.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Weekend Football

Female eye rolling is reaching epic proportions, as the Raiders are coming to San Diego this weekend. Yeah, the despicable silver and black is coming to pollute Qualcomm Stadium. Now we just have to worry about which Chargers team will show up: the one that thrashed Denver last week, or the one with its collective head firmly up its collective ass. There's also the question of which Raiders team will show up. Talk about unpredictability. I'm guessing one team or the other will win and the margin will be either large or small. How's that for expert reckless prognostication?

I probably should set up some sort of bet with the Utah branch of my family, as San Diego State plays Utah at noon Saturday in Salt Lake City. SDSU is less than a mile from where I live; in fact, there is a mini-dorm across the street from me. SDSU students, happily, are rather quiet. At least these are. Anyway, much the same conditions apply to this game as the one above, and my fearless prediction is the same. One team will win, by a few points or many. Am I good, or what?

On a parting note, I have to say that Faith Hill really does it for me singing the intro to Sunday Night Football. When it was MNF the singer was something to be suffered through, but Ms. Hill is an extraordinarily pretty lady with a lovely voice. She can spend as much time singing that intro as she likes.

And is there any better pair than Al Michaels and John Madden?

Politics of Attack

As much as I dislike Hillary Clinton, there comes a time to display just how slimy the media can get when they dislike her. She was asked whether or not she would sanction the use of torture and the Washington Post referenced her reply thusly,

Clinton was similarly vague about how she would handle special interrogation methods used by the CIA. She said that while she does not condone torture, so much has been kept secret that she would not know unless elected what other extreme measures interrogators are using, and therefore could not say whether she would change or continue existing policies.

"It is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn't doing. We're getting all kinds of mixed messages," Clinton said. "I don't think we'll know the truth until we have a new president. I think [until] you can get in there and actually bore into what's been going on, you're not going to know."

Doesn’t sound very definitive, does she? Here’s what she actually said.

Well I think I’ve been very clear about that too, we should not conduct or condone torture and it is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn’t doing, we’re getting all kinds of mixed messages. I don’t think we’ll know the truth until we have a new President. I think once you can get in there and actually bore into what’s been going on, you’re not going to know. I was very touched by the story you guys had on the front page the other day about the WWII interrogators. I mean it's not the same situation but it was a very clear rejection of what we think we know about what is going on right now but I want to know everything, and so I think we have to draw a bright line and say ‘No torture – abide by the Geneva conventions, abide by the laws we have passed,' and then try to make sure we implement that.

Considerably different than the ”Clinton was similarly vague” as reported by the Post, isn’t it.

But notice that she devoted 53 words to answering the question and 111 words attacking a sitting president against whom she is not and will not be running. The only answer that was needed was the first 17 words. The final 36 words were also on point, but the rest of it was in no way responsive to the question that she was asked.

This is her style, though: attack politics. Never open your mouth without attacking someone. She criticizes “the right” for their attacks on the S-CHIP representative, but no one in politics is more ruthlessly and continuously on the attack than Hillary Clinton. Asked what she will do, she spends more time attacking the sitting president than she does telling us what she will do, and then there are complaints when her answer about her projected action gets lost in the din of her attack politics.

Had she answered that question with nothing more than the initial 17 words it would have been difficult to misquote or twist her words against her later.

It’s by no means unusual that her answers do not, in fact, answer the question at all but actually consist of nothing other than her attack politics methodology. If she doesn’t like the question, she will attack the person who asked it, as the guy in the audience found out not too long ago.

Who else do we know as an attacker, who accuses lack of patriotism if one disagrees with him?

Hillary supporters have accused me of disliking her because of the machinations of the “right wing smear machine” but such is not the case. I dislike her because I have heard her speak. I fear her because I have heard her speak.

She is not only an attacker, coldly calculating and ruthlessly ambitious in her lust for power, she is relentlessly vindictive. We had one of those in the White House, manipulating the president, for more than six years.

We do not need one of those being the president for the next four years.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Saying it Again

I will keep it short today, as I have several appointments. I have said this before. I believe and feel it deeply, and I will say it again.

If having my country commit the crime of torturing prisoners is the price of keeping me from being killed by terrorists, then let me die.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Water Woes

San Diego is in a bit of a panic because we've had less than ten inches of rain in the last two and a half years. That's really not as bad as it sounds, as our normal rainfall is only ten inches per year, but things are really dry and the fire danger is up there. After the Cedar Fire of 2003 burned about half the county, we are a bit nervous about fire. A lot of our water comes from the Colorado River, which is now so heavily used that it no longer reaches the sea. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are at record low levels.

I lived in Atlanta, Georgia for about ten years and I loved the city. It is a great city with wonderful people and the best places to eat in the world outside of New Orleans. Only two things kept it from being ideal: traffic and rain. Growing up in the Desert Southwest may have heightened my perceptions, of course, but as I recall it rained a heck of a lot.

Well, not so much now.

Atlanta now has a total ban on all outdoor water use. Yikes. No lawn watering, filling swimming pools, water fountains... None. Large fines and phone numbers so you can turn in neighbors who violate the ban.

Predictions are that unless they get rainfall "on the order of a slow-moving hurricane" that by next summer they will have to begin a water rationing program of a nature that will even regulate when their residents can take showers and wash clothes.

Now that's a water shortage. And it is in a major US city. And it's now, not in some distant future.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Nobel Prize Life

Mario Capecchi was awarded a Nobel, or a share of one, for his work in molecular biology. In reality, he might ought to have been awarded such a prize merely for living such a life as he has lived, just for being who he is.

You can read more detail about him in this item in The Independent.

He was born in Nazi Europe and when he was four his mother was taken to Dachau. He lived on his own, as a "feral child" in war-torn Europe then until he was eight when his mother, having survived the concentration camp, found him and brought him to America. He grew up in a commune and went to Harvard. His first grant requests to the NIH were declined as "not worth pursuit." He was later told by the NIH that they were "glad you didn't take our advice."

Click on the link and go read his whole story.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Minus the Sack Dances

Oh yeah, 41-3. This is what the Chargers look like when they aren't focused on their "sack dances."


Back in the 60's the Packers had maybe eight plays in their playbook. They lined up and pretty much announced what they were going to do, and then executed it so well that the opponent could not stop them. They won the first two Superbowls doing that. (Tho they weren't yet called Superbowls.)

Norv Turner simplified the game plan yesterday, and the players looked like they knew precisely what their assignments were at all times. Complex doesn't win games, execution wins games. You don't need all that sophistication in your playbook, you just need for your players to know what they are supposed to do on each play and have them motivated to do it crisply and with enthusiasm.

The defense, by the way, still looked a bit shaky to me. Not enough pressure on the qb much of the time, and the secondary still tends to play far too loose. Still, they tightened up when it counted, and they forced turnovers. They were hitting like demons, too.

And the result was 41-3 on the road. Nice work. We just need to be sure it becomes a habit.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Titles, and Titles

George Bush is so in love with his title of “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States” (the title conferred by Article 2, Section 2 of our constitution) that he uses it in almost every address he makes to the nation, usually several times and always in its abbreviated form as simply “Commander in Chief.”

He has beaten on that drum so often that he has persuaded even newscasters who are highly critical of him, such as Keith Olbermann, to refer to him by that erroneous title. Olbermann should know better.

George Bush is not this nation’s Commander in Chief.

He is the nation’s Chief Executive, if you like, or its President.

He is Commander in Chief of the nation’s military.

He is not our Commander in Chief, and the distinction is not trivial.

The term “public servant” has lost favor because those in Washington do not want to think of themselves using that term. They want to think of themselves as being “in power” and they use that term freely. But the intent of our form of government is that officials are elected to serve the people of this country, not to rule them.

Our president is elected to serve the people of the country, not to command them. He commands the military forces. By taking their oath to serve in the military, soldiers agree to obey the chain of command up to and including the Commander in Chief. Such obedience is proper and necessary for the conduct of the military.

An ordinary citizen has not and need not take any such oath. The expectation of that kind of obedience from an ordinary citizen would be an abomination. This nation cast off the “divine right of kings” with its obligation of citizens to obey. As a private citizen, no one "commands" me.

Our military forces have a Commander in Chief.

Our nation is led by a public servant.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Deaf Karaoke Live

This just “wowed” me.

Crocodile Tears

Much is being said about the “graceful” admissions of Marion Jones-Thompson as to her steroid use and sympathy is flying through the airwaves like doves at a peace rally. Many “oohs” and “aahs” as she stands at the microphone weeping.

Oh, please. Spare me the tears.

She wanted to beat her competitors so badly that she was willing to use foul means to do so. When that effort was successful she waved her arms over her head and accepted the medals and gloried in the plaudits of the masses as if she actually deserved them.

When accused of cheating she righteously and angrily denounced the accusers and claimed to have achieved all her success by means of her “God-given ability” alone.

Now she’s “retiring from the sport I love so much” and tearfully asking us to forgive her.

Retiring from the sport is a good way to avoid being thrown out of it. If she truly loved the sport she would not have dishonored it with her cheating, would not have dishonored it by lying for many years about the foul means she used for winning the medals and honors it bestowed upon her. If she truly loved the sport she would not wait for those medals to be stripped from her but would surrender them voluntarily, admitting that she does not deserve them.

Forgiveness is for people who genuinely repent of undiscovered, or at least recently revealed transgressions not for those who, after years of lying about misdemeanors which are known to all, can no longer sustain their lies.

Slink off into the anonymity you deserve, Ms. Jones-Thompson. Slither off into obscurity, where you would have been if you had not cheated your way into the limelight.

Update: 9:00 AM

Particularly odious is, "I have let down myself." Oh, barf.

Friday, October 05, 2007


A fellow blogger yesterday, posting about the latest discovery of presidential authorizations of torture, made a statement to the effect of “We have war criminals in the White House. What are we going to do about it?” I replied that we would do, “Nothing, absolutely nothing.”

White House criminality has been out in the open for almost two years now, and the only method of dealing with it has been to say that we should wait it out, that in less than two years Bush will be out of office and the corruption, violations of the law and raping of our constitution will come to an end.

Perhaps they will, but only perhaps, and that is not the point.

By discovering these crimes, by being made aware of them, and taking no action to punish the wrongdoer we have become complicit. Over the past two years we, the American people, have said in masse that we do not really care what the holder of our highest office does. While some people have spoken out, the nation as a whole has stood mute and Congress, whose responsibility it is under our constitution to prevent these wrongs, has been at best ineffective and at worst actively complicit.

Glenn Greenwald has an outstanding post on the subject here. He writes with great passion, and clarity. This post is in no small part about the responsibility of citizenship in addition to that of Congress, and should be required reading for every citizen of this country.

As a country, we've known undeniably for almost two years now that we have a lawless government and a President who routinely orders our laws to be violated. His top officials have been repeatedly caught lying outright to Congress on the most critical questions we face. They have argued out in the open that the "constitutional duty" to defend the country means that nothing -- including our "laws" -- can limit what the President does.

It has long been known that we are torturing, holding detainees in secret prisons beyond the reach of law and civilization, sending detainees to the worst human rights abusers to be tortured, and subjecting them ourselves to all sorts of treatment which both our own laws and the treaties to which we are a party plainly prohibit. None of this is new.

And we have decided, collectively as a country, to do nothing about that. Quite the contrary, with regard to most of the revelations of lawbreaking and abuse, our political elite almost in unison has declared that such behavior is understandable, if not justifiable. And our elected representatives have chosen to remain largely in the dark about what was done and, when forced by court rulings or media revelations to act at all, they have endorsed and legalized this behavior -- not investigated, outlawed or punished it.

And we keep reelecting those Congressional lawmakers.

We as a country are failing our collective responsibility as citizens. We fulminate on the Internet about how horrible Bush is, but it is Congress, the media and we the people who have allowed him to get away with his criminality for the past two years.

Sure, we elected Democrats in 2006, but there were signs even then that we were not really electing any real change. Pelosi had already taken impeachment “off the table” in what amounted to a statement that no real course correction was actually possible. We elected them to not impeach the criminals and they have fully lived up to the pledge of no impeachment.

The moment she pledged not to impeach, we should have voted her and her crowd out of office. Better the criminals themselves than the smoothtalkers who pretend virtue and practice corruption.

Because what are we getting now? Endless “investigations” that hold no one to account, that do not reverse the course of a corrupted White House, and that hold no promise of proper governmental process for the future. Investigations that are “show trials” that serve no purpose other than to gain political points for the party presently in power.

Nick Bicanic had high hopes for the Blackwater investigations, but his post at the Huffington Post reveals how long that illusion lasted.

Rep. Waxman (D) started out promisingly by imploring that "facts -- not ideology -- need to guide us here" yet the hearing quickly degenerated into a political game of brinkmanship. Both sides of the house seemed more interested in scoring points and getting outrageous statements on the record than they were in getting to the truth of the matter.

… the hearing was full of polemic inaccuracies and simplifications.

Yes, Nick, that’s what congressional investigations are. Sounding brass, filled with noise and fury, signifying nothing.

The blogosphere is filled with how all that is going to change when the Democrats are in power. How much changed when we put them in charge of Congress ten months ago? To what degree did Congress become “of and for the people” at that point, and to what degree has it remained a body of self-serving politicians concerned only with their own reelections?

How many fewer troops are there in harm’s way in Iraq?

Electing Democrats is not the solution.

The solution is to elect those who are running against whoever is presently in office regardless of party, and to do so in large enough numbers so as to create a new Congress in actuality and not merely in name. A handful of newcomers cannot survive in the swamp of corruption, cynicism and monetary pollution that is Washington. What is required is a sufficiency of newcomers to actually create a new Washington.

We need a revolution. Preferably a revolution at the polls.

Until then we will continue to be ruled rather than governed. Ruled by an elite wealthy upper class that does not concern itself with our well-being and that is corrupt to the core and utterly lawless.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Makes You Go "Hmmm"

I'm not sure that I'm sold on Barack Obama, but here's what he said today,

"I'm running for President of the United States. The people of America are entitled to know what I stand for and where I would lead this country."

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand,

"I don't think I should be having to speculate on what I would do if I were president."

Need I say more?

Numbers Game

According to a source that is usually reliable, we had 1,664,014 people in the uniformed armed forces in 2006. I doubt it is any smaller this year, in fact I believe it is a bit larger.

About 160,000 are in Iraq. I can't find a number for those in Afghanistan, but I'm going to use 35,000. That's a total of 195,000 of our troops.

Where are the other 1,469,014?

Seriously. Where are they? That's not a rhetorical question. With under 12% of our military deployed in Iraq we are overstressed and have no reserve forces. Why? What are the other 88% doing?

No, they aren't the famous "tail" that is washing dishes, cooking meals and painting the barracks. That's now done by civilian contractors. Part of the answer is that another 8% is getting ready to return to Iraq.

So 20% of our troops are making multiple deployments into combat in Iraq while the other 80% do what?

Why is that 20% deployment rate "breaking" our military?

No, this is not to denigrate the military. Far from it. It is to suggest that there is a huge, ongoing military mission that is being concealed from the American people. Or that isn't being talked about anyway. What that 80% is doing is manning more than 725 foreign bases. 725. Most Americans don't know that. They think that our forces are heavily involved in Iraq.

What we don't know can hurt us.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sack Dancing

The “Lights Out” sack dance is back. Believe me, this is not a plus, as evidenced by it being performed on the short end of a 30-16 score.

Merriman performs the dance to celebrate having done what he is paid to do, namely pressuring the opposing quarterback. He is less eager to call attention to himself the other twenty times that he rushed the opposing quarterback and imposed no pressure whatever. You fail at your assigned task twenty times, succeed once, and you want to crow about it? Not in the world that I live in. In my world that success rate gets you fired.

If you talk to the left offensive tackle of the New England Patriots he will say, “I am part of a unit that protects my quarterback.” If you talk to the offensive tackle of the San Diego Chargers he will say, “I am the best tackle in the NFL.” Both statements will be quite possibly true, but…
That pretty much sums up the problem that faces the Chargers.

Sack dances and big egos don’t win the important games.