Monday, May 31, 2010

Defensive Driving

Much of the argument regarding the Israeli action of stopping the Gaza relief ships seems to be centering around whether or not it was piracy, or was a "legal" act in terms of enforcing a blockade. That reminds me of a lesson when I was learning to drive a car, regarding the rules of the road,

"He was right, dead right, as he sped along,
but he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong."

I don't know if Israel's action is legal or not, but even if it is, it is proving to be deeply unpopular. It is going to make that nation a lot of new enemies, and is going to make old enemies even more hostile toward them. As such, it strikes me as a stupid move.

A Personal Connection

heroIn loving memory of my own personal hero, and his comrades, and one of my favorite lines,        [Click the picture for larger inage.]

"They go to war, these young men, not to die for their country, but to place themselves, their precious lives, between their homes and loved ones and the forces of destruction."

Kenneth Roberts, Rebels in Arms (The American Revolution)

Blockade Relief Policy

I'm going to have to tread a bit carefully, here, to avoid becoming shrill.

Back when Israel was using phosphorous weapons in Lebanon, and destroying civilian infrastructure in the country such as bridges and water treatment facilities, the entire world was calling for a cease fire while our president was calmly saying that Israel "has a right to defend itself."

Now Israel is attacking ships sailing in relief of a blockade that Israel is imposing in direct contravention of international convention, killing unarmed members of that convoy and seizing the relief supplies. Israel's leader is scheduled to meet with President Obama tomorrow, and so far Obama is about the only world leader who has not condemned Israel's actions. I am waiting to see what he will do.

Update: Netanyahu cancelled, so we'll see what Obama does with that.

A Couple of Records

I just realized that in the post On "Keeping Us Safe" yesterday I managed to be critical of both Republicans and the Obama Administration in a single piece, which I think is something of an accomplishment. Not everyone would view it that way, of course, but I have to admit I'm rather taken with it. I have criticized each separately quite often, but felling both of them with a single swoop is rather neat.

I've also reached 68 posts in a single month, which is a new record.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Top Kill" Failed

You will know by now that the "top kill" attempt at staunching the blowout failed. There are a couple of long shot interim plans, but the ultimate solution being held out is still the "relief well" solution which we are told will come in August. I don't want to seem like a prophet of doom, but maybe we should recall that, like all of the failed methods to date, that also has never been done at such great depth.

On "Keeping Us Safe"

Republicans are missing a really good opportunity to portray Obama as “failing to keep us safe” by using the wrong arguments regarding the right terrorist incident.

They have been making that case since he took office, of course, and I have yet to see them use a reason, excuse or rationale that came even close to making sense. They tried that he was threatening to close Guantanamo, that he wasn’t spying on Americans sufficiently, that he’s trying terrorists improperly and, of course, the ludicrous canard that he was cutting overall defense spending.

Now, with this attempted bombing of Times Square, they are presented with a chance to make some logical arguments, and they walk right past the logical arguments to make the usual illogical and ridiculous claims of manners in which it represents Obama making us less safe. First that he is making us less safe by giving the guy Miranda rights and not torturing him, and then that he is making us less safe by bringing the guy to trial in a civilian court of law.

The Obama Administration’s best defense of their actions seems to be, “Well, Bush did it too,” rather than saying that it is the right thing to do because we are a nation of laws and that this is what our constitution requires that we do. But that’s another issue.

If the Republicans have a working brain cell and wanted to damage Obama, they would be screaming at the top of their lungs about two things; the guy is Pakistani, and he was trained for the plot by the Taliban.

In all the years under Bush we had plots against us fomented by Iraqis, Saudis, Afghans, Yemenis, and Americans, but Pakistan was an ally and we never had a plot against our homeland plotted by a Pakistani and planned in Pakistan. Now Obama comes into office and widens the war into Pakistan, and look what happens.

Secondly, in all the years under Bush, the enemy was al Queda and all of the attacks against our homeland were planned by al Queda. The Taliban were local forces who were not interested in foreign adventures. Now Obama has made the war in Afghanistan specifically a war against the Taliban, and now the Taliban are planning attacks against our homeland.

I know, I’ve never used the term “our homeland” before, and I promise I won’t do so again. I was speaking as a surrogate for Republicans.

The problem for Republicans, of course, is that if they use these lines of attack they will be criticizing Obama for widening the war, and that would never do. They would love to attack Obama, that goes without saying, but to do so on the grounds that he widened a war would just stick in their collective craw. The Republican Party is the party of war, and they could no more be critical of increasing the scope or intensity of a war than they could advocate widening abortion rights.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

NatGeo on Oil Spill

I watched the National Geographic Channel's one-hour special on the Gulf oil spill, and that may be the least informative hour of television watching I have ever indulged in. Judge Judy is more educational than that thing was.

Half of the time slot was devoted to artistic film clips, things like the driver's eyes in the rear view mirror, of the salvage crew making ready to leave on their mission. Things like packing their suitcases at home, loading trucks, and semi's driving on the freeway. After all of this disconnected set of film clips, it turned out that the salvage company's ship never left port because Deepwater Horizon sank before they could do so.

They showed about four minutes of Deepwater Horizon burning, and a rather dramatic scene lasting twenty seconds or so of the rig sinking, but otherwise there was nothing to learn that the major three networks had not provided more than a month ago. Total waste of an hour.

Reassuring the Troops

I am constantly amazed. I guess that is one of the joys of getting old; watching with astonishment the antics of the younger generation. I served in the Navy, but I’m not sure that today’s generation would have survived the conditions we served in.

For one thing we served with some gay guys, although we didn’t call them that at the time. While they didn’t openly announce it or wear signs, it was never any big secret. It didn’t adversely affect our “unit cohesion" or "readiness” or, if it did, we would have been awesomely effective indeed without those guys, because we were damned good with them.

Did it cause some friction? Sure it did. So did that idiot who kept flapping his mouth about what an awesome Italian he was, and how many women his Italianness allowed him to… Never mind.

Our superiors never asked us our opinions about much of anything. I don’t recall the ship ever leaving port and the Captain asking us where we wanted to go; he just said things like, “Left ten degrees rudder, all ahead standard.” He always had his own plan in mind, and never much shared it with us. Sometimes when we got back we didn’t know where we’d been; submarines don’t have windows.

But today Congress passes a bill about gays serving in the military and the Secretary of Defense freaks out and has to reassure the military that he has their back, so to speak, and that he won’t let anything happen until every member of the military has had a chance to provide an opinion about military policy regarding serving with gays.

"Every man and woman in uniform is a vitally important part of this review. We need to hear from you and your families so that we can make these judgments in the most informed and effective manner," Gates said. "So please let us know how to do this right."

"Please let us know how to do this right." If I had ever gone to my division officer and said “let me tell how to do military policy right,” he would have called for a straight jacket. He certainly valued my knowledge of the inner workings of an electrical switchboard, but the idea of me providing input to the command structure as to military policy would pretty much have sent him into hysterics.

The posturing seems to be about willingness to serve alongside gays.

This “finest military in the world” must be a bunch of real candy asses if they are afraid of a few gay guys and women, and they also must be stupid as hell if they don’t realize that gays are already serving in the military. The question isn’t about gays serving, you morons, they are already doing that, as the present law allows them to do. The issue is about whether or not gay people who are presently serving legally in the military will be allowed to admit they are gay.

Perhaps the issue is that our troops are willing to serve alongside gays if they don't know that they are gay, but are not willing to if they do know that they are gay. What? This is going to be difficult to say without sounding homophobic, which I’m actually not, but how does that make any sense?

If I were worried about having someone “checking me out” in the shower, I would want to be sure that gays are serving openly in the military and not concealing their gayness, because I would want to know who they are so that I can be sure not to shower with them. As long as they are “in the closet” and I’m showering with a bunch of guys, I have no idea who might be checking out my, you know, whatever, and I’m never going to know when it is safe to pick up the soap that I just dropped.

If the military is so concerned regarding the effect on morale created by the policies they implement, why did they never conduct a “peer review” on the “stop loss” policy; the policy that says that the military can keep you in service after your enlistment period expires?

Pakistan Policy

The New York Times has a real dilly of a piece today, titled Dealing With Pakistan.” A few months ago we were wooing Pakistan and making veiled threats against Afghanistan’s Karzai, then we went to making open threats against Pakistan and hosting Karzai at a state dinner in Washington, and now we are wooing Pakistan again. The piece contains this little treasure,

The United States still does not have a good enough strategy for winning over Pakistan’s people, who are fed a relentless diet of anti-American propaganda.

Part of the “propaganda” is, of course, American-operated Predator drones firing Hellfire missiles into their villages. Are we actually surprised by that program having an anti-American effect? The least we could do, it seems to me, is use names for them other than things like “Predator” and “Hellfire.”

The piece goes on to say that, “The Obama administration came in determined to change that narrative.” Really. By increasing the pace of the predator drone strikes?

The piece says that Congress has approved $1.5 billion in aid to Pakistan for the improvement of relations with the country, but that the State Department hasn’t yet figured out how to spend it. I don’t know which to comment on first, a government agency that can’t figure out how to spend money, or that State couldn’t decide who to bribe. Or that we are spending money to build things in a country that we are simultaneously bombing with Hellfire missiles.

The piece finishes with, “Changing Pakistani attitudes about the United States will take generations.” It might take longer than that if we keep using Hellfire missiles.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Who Has Been In Charge?

From the transcript of President Obama’s press conference yesterday,

But make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction. Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance.
They do so under our supervision, and any major decision that they make has to be done under the approval of Thad Allen, the National Incident Coordinator. So this notion that somehow the federal government is sitting on the sidelines and for the three or four or five weeks we've just been letting BP make a whole bunch of decisions is simply not true.

That is completely inconsistent with the evidence that we have been looking at for the past five weeks. The Coast Guard command has been saying that everything was up to BP and that BP could not be replaced to deal with the crisis, Napalitano has been talking about how we would “push BP aside” if they did not produce results, and every press release has been issued by BP or has been made quoting BP officials. Every decision has been announced as being a BP decision. Prior to Wednesday not once has there been any reference to a decision being made or an action being authorized by any agency of the government.

This is the first reference to the Coast Guard’s Thad Allen as National Incident Coordinator that I have seen, although on Hardball he referred to himself as "National Incident Commander," and I have been paying very close attention to this disaster. On Thursday's Hardball interview he made reference to actions he has authorized, and that was the first time that he has used that kind of language in any interview I have seen him particiate in.

I am not prepared to say that President Obama is lying, but if he is telling the truth then the government has been doing a masterful job of concealing its role in the management of this crisis, and I cannot for the life of me imagine why they would want to do that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Law of War

Has anyone noticed that we are fighting a war and yet we do not have any “prisoners of war” who are subject to the Geneva Convention? We have captured terrorists who are criminals, but despite fighting wars against thousands of people in their own lands, the only people we have captured are criminals, and the only people we have killed are “terrorist criminals.”

So, is it that only criminals fight back against us when we invade their homeland? (And I use the word “homeland” advisedly.) Or is it that we have defined the act of fighting back against us to be a criminal act?

Actually, it’s the latter. Those fighting against us are not part of a “military organization” and, as such, become criminals when they attack anyone for any reason. So even if we begin the firefight, if they fire back at us they become criminals, even though it is their homeland and we are the military invaders. The organized military of that nation is, after all, on our side. That is what we call “the law of war.” In order to fight legally, you must be a member of a formal military organization.

As a brief aside, it seems the Sadr Brigade does not meet that definition. Apparently they don’t hold the proper form of close order drill or something, but despite their uniforms, organization and structure, they are criminals.

One of the guys at Quantanamo being tried by a military tibunal is charged with throwing a grenade at American soldiers during a firefight on the battlefield, killing one American and wounding another.

There is a bit of a double standard at work here. When Germany invaded France and the French military began cooperating with the Germans, the cooperating French were despised and called “Quislings,” and the non-military civilians who took up arms and fought against the Germans were regarded as heroes. Well, okay, not by the Germans of course, who regarded them as criminals and executed them without a trial when they were captured.

Oh, wait, I’m treading on thin ice here, because we're regarding those fighting against us as criminals and we are... But we’re not the Germans, who invaded France for all of the wrong reasons, and… Oh shit, that didn’t quite bail me out.

We’re not the Nazis, which does bail me out. We’re not the Nazis and we’re not anything like them. But if we are trying people in military tribunals and, even worse, holding them in prison indefinitely without trial at all, simply because they defended their homes against an invader, then we’re not Americans either.

Democrats = Republicans

Somebody needs to explain to me how we made things better by electing Democrats to control Congress, because we sure as hell didn’t make Congress any smarter in the process. We probably could have improved the average intelligence of Congress by electing a bunch of house cats to office, even the kind that attack themselves in the mirror.

From the New York Times today,
The emergence of the escalating federal debt and government spending as a defining political issue is complicating Democratic efforts this week to push through a major package of tax breaks and unemployment aid over the reluctance of Democrats wary of being painted as budget busters.

Notice that they are not worried about the actual federal deficit, they are worried about “being painted as budget busters” and how that will affect them in the elections. That, however is only to be expected; the only matter that ever concerns any politician is his/her own reelection. Bringing home “pork” to the district is a good thing, as it helps assure reelection. National interest is irrelevant, except to the degree that it can be used in campaign speeches. So that aspect of this issue is not stupid, it’s merely venal.

What’s stupid is the way they “reduced the cost” of the bill in question.

They shorten the period for which the extension of unemployment benefits is being made in this bill by one month, making it run through November of this year rather than through December. That means that unemployment benefits paid in December are not part of the cost of this bill. Does anyone think that unemployment benefits will not be paid in December? Of course not. They haven’t reduced cost, they’ve just reduced the cost of this bill, and shoved the cost onto some other bill.

If a homeowner cannot afford cable television, he makes it affordable by not signing a contract and only paying for it one month at a time at the same rate. Makes perfect sense to me.

Plus, obviously any voter who is concerned about the deficit (which, with respect to stimulus, would not include me) is going to be so thrilled that Congress is increasing it by a mere $90 billion with this magic bullet, which is the exact same kind of magic that the Republicans used when they were in control.

Extent of Oil

Here is a link to the clearest map of the extent of the oil disaster in the Gulf that I have seen yet. Remarkably little has come onshore, which will not surprise those who are very familiar with the Gulf. Not remarked upon in anything I've read is that all ships entering the Mississippi River are having to travel through that oil.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Calling for Criminal Charges

The number of liberal bloggers calling for criminal charges against BP and remarking that, "Isn't a corporation supposed to be just like a person?" absolutely blows my mind. How, precisely, are you going to put a corporation in prison?

Incorporation does involve limitation of financial liability, but is has been established that it does not absolve corporate management from the criminal liability for their actions when they deliberately circumvent established safety procedures and put lives at risk for the purpose of economy. Criminal charges against persons who made decisions leading to the loss of life are appropriate, but against the corporation based on its "personhood"? Get real.

Failure of Leadership

Let’s assume that the Administration is telling us the truth; that every oil company in existence is contributing to capping the oil blowout, that scientists from a vast multitude of institutions are working on solutions, and that this has been going on for three weeks and more.

Then why is every statement about progress issued by BP or accompanied by the phrase “BP says” or “BP plans” to do whatever? Why is every single image provided by BP itself? Why do we not get images from equipment provided by Scripps, Woods Hole or Shell Oil? Why do we not get statements of plans and conclusions arrived at by the scientists of any of the multitude of institutes which are contributing to solving this disaster, or from any of the other oil companies who are supposedly participating?

At best, this is a monstrous public relations failure, giving no credit to the hundreds of organizations and individuals who are working so hard for the public good. At worst it is a massive untruth, claiming a large scale rescue effort that does not exist.

In any case it is a failure of leadership, as the nation watches destruction
of our public waters. The voice we hear conducting rescue is the voice we associate with damage, death and destruction. We hear the voice of the corporation that murdered eleven good men and despoiled our ocean.

We don’t want to hear that voice, we want that voice silenced. We want to hear a voice that we can associate with the solution rather than with the problem.

Oops, Getting Closer

closing inI've lived in Southern California long enough that I don't freak out when the earth moves, but I haven't yet reached the, "Yawn, just another little quake," stage. So last night when we felt the 3.6 which was almost inside San Diego Bay and, about five minutes later, the 4.3 that was 50 miles away my reaction was more along the lines of, "Hey! That was a damn quake."

Maybe I need to rethink that thing about this being a nice place to live.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Doing More With Less

The San Diego Police Department gets too little credit for what it has been doing for quite a few years. Our city is famous for its climate and beaches, but we have always enjoyed a low crime rate for a city our size. Last year we ranked 3rd best in violent crime for cities over a half-million in population, and 4th best in property crime. And we do it with fewer cops on the street; 1.59 officers for each 1,000 people as opposed to a national average of 2.3 officers. Not stated in the Union-Tribune article is that San Diego has one of the highest crime solution rates in the nation. Kudos to SDPD.

There many reasons, not all obvious, why this is a nice place to live.

Repealing DADT

Our Congress consists of a bunch of weenies; evidenced by their solution to the military’s terror of accepting repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They are in the process of passing a bill that will allow gays to serve openly in the military provided that “top military leaders certify that the repeal wouldn't threaten the military's readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.” Oh, give me a break.

So Congress passes a bill which tells the military that it must allow gays to serve openly, if it decides that it wants to. These guys would write the Sixth Commandment as, “Thou shalt not murder, unless the subject really pisses you off and you really badly want to, in which case you may advance the expiration date of his life.”

Do they realize that “readiness, effectiveness and unit cohesion” are the exact same arguments that were used against allowing African-Americans to serve with whites in the military? The other two issues would have been used, except that we had the draft at that time. How much has racial integration damaged the effectiveness of the armed forces? How badly has open service of gays damaged the effectiveness of the armed forces of Britain, Canada, Holland and all the other nations which allow it?

We can’t tell about Iceland, of course, since they only contribute one troop at a time to the “Coalition of the Willing.”

The top leaders of the military have spoken out in favor of open service, though, except for the Marine Corps, so I think things are going to work out in the end. Congress will get credit for repealing the law, even though it only halfway did so, and gays in the military will be allowed to admit who they are.

With the possible exception of the Marine Corps which has always been sort of out of touch with reality. The Corps will implement the new law, of course, Marines are always law abiding, but I think I would suggest that if you are gay the Marines might not be for you, at least until Gen. James Conway retires.

Axelrod Sings Kumbaya

Add Chris Matthews to the list of commentators who do not know the name of the company he is attacking, referring to the well blowout in the Gulf as being a product of “British Petroleum,” although that particular comment seems to have been edited out of the online version of last night’s show.

David Axelrod was on to tell us all about the Administration’s participation in controlling this disaster, assuring us that Dr. Chu was intimately involved and that equipment from all of the oil companies was being marshaled to the scene, as were opinions and expertise from oil companies and research institutions worldwide. It was all very heartwarming and it sounded a lot more like damage control than it did truthful.

It would have been considerably more credible coming about thirty days earlier, coming before the media began being critical of the Administration, and coming from someone other than the former campaign manager and current political advisor. As it was, it seemed to me that if the Administration shoveled as much bullshit onto the oil well blowout as they are shoveling at the media, the oil leakage would probably be stopped.

Note that we still have nothing but BP's estimates of the amount of oil being released by the blown out well, along with some "guesses" by other parties based on data released by BP, and the only images we have from the sea floor are those released by BP. The updates from parties other than BP are accompanied by "BP says," which has to make one question the actual degree of the government's involvement.

To suggest that the government lacked authority to take command of the scene is utter nonsense. Either the EPA or the Coast Guard could easily have managed to come up with five or six rationales each under which they could take charge of the scene of such a disaster. The government merely wanted to be able to keep blaming BP for the fecklessness of the efforts.

The claim that the government lacked the equipment to deal with the disaster is equally nonsensical. An art critic does not need to have painting materials and need to know how to make paintings himself in order to provide expertise on the subject of art. The government needed to take charge, not to be doing the rescue effort, but to be directing the marshalling of resources and coordination of efforts. To believe that such marshalling and coordination is being done to the best effect by one party with a vested financial interest requires a staggering degree of credulity.

No, it requires mind-boggling stupidity, which apparently the Administration possesses in large measure. While Axelrod is assuring us that BP is doing a superb job, Napolitano is making threats about “pushing them aside” and the Coast Guard is saying that such a move is impossible. What we called in the Navy, pardon the language but no other term adequately describes it, a clusterfuck.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Take Charge, Part 2

President Obama has erred badly by leaving BP in charge. It may have been necessary to maintain them on site and performing part, or even all, of the work in resolving the disaster, but they should not have been left in command at the scene. Someone of national authority, be it Coast Guard, EPA or other, should have taken the command authority away from them the day that Deepwater Horizon sank.

Instead, BP continues to be in charge of its own disaster, and is still the only entity which is able to even look at the scene of the calamity. The Coast Guard, nominally in charge of protecting our coastal waters, is standing by in a role that appears not even to be advisory. From CNN,

“I've got [BP CEO] Tony Hayward's personal cell phone number. If I have a problem, I call him. Some of the problems we have had that we've worked through are more logistics and coordination issues,"
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen says, adding that he trusts Hayward: "When I talk to him, I get an answer."

Meanwhile, the only timelines for capping the leak, the only estimates for flow rates of the leak, the only information as to future action on the leak, all come from BP, not from any of our government agencies who are supposed to be protecting our coast. These agencies are all standing around asking questions of BP and, apparently, getting answers which satisfy them while oil continues gushing into our coastal waters.

Salazar admits that we do not have any equipment with which to address the issue which, not withstanding the inane ranting of Chris Matthews that we send our fleet of nuclear submarines to the scene, doesn’t surprise me. We are very well equipped for fighting wars, somewhat less well prepared for dealing with the environment.

That does not mean that we cannot, or should not, take charge of the situation. By doing so we could bring more forces to bear in the form of scientific expertise, and by using people and equipment from companies other than BP on scene. Not to mention that the public would have more confidence in the rescue operation if we were getting information about it from our own people rather than from the people who caused the disaster to begin with, and who have a vested interest in spending a minimum amount of money in resolution of it.

In the New York Times today we have our government at cross purposes about who even should be in charge. Ken Salazar, who has been at best a weak leader of his department, says that he will kick BP out only if they fail to perform, as if they had been doing a sterling job with disaster control so far, saying that “If we find they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately.”

While Admiral Allen is still saying that, “They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved,” because, apparently, you can only be in charge of something if you own and can actually operate the equipment with your own hands.

And just to complete the perfect picture of utter fecklessness, a couple of cabinet members are going to fly over the oil spill sometime today.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

American Racing

Memorial Day is next weekend, a big weekend for racing fans what with the Indianapolis 500 for open wheel fans and the Charlotte 600 for those who like stock cars. There is a tradition of having a big buildup the weekend before with Indianapolis qualifying and an “All Star” race at Charlotte, and the buildup has gone more and more hyper as the years have gone by. This year they added a “shootout” to Indy qualifying.

I tuned in and waited through the first round of qualifying, thinking that the “shootout” would be a race. Silly me. It was not a race, it was merely 90 minutes of making the top nine cars repeat their qualifying runs again, and again, and again. Who dreamed up that piece of idiocy? Each of the nine cars could make as many tries as they wanted to for a shot at the pole, and apparently they wanted to a lot. Why they wanted to is unclear, because once you are in the top nine, why does it matter where you are within that first nine at the beginning of a race that runs for 500 miles and takes more than three hours?

If you thought it was boring watching 50 or so cars making attempts at getting into the race, try watching the same nine cars doing it over and over. Add some really shrewd and penetrating commentary, like "Oh, look, he's going really fast," and the day is complete. I was strongly inclined, at first, to shoot the television, but by the time it was over I was having to resist the temptation to shoot myself.

Danica Patrick qualified 23rd. There were 24 positions filled on the day, so it would be understating the case to say that she did not do well. Needless to say, it was all the car's fault. The car was so bad that she was actually frightened to drive it.

Then came the NASCAR fiasco. There was a preliminary "showdown" race, which was 20 laps in which nothing happened. The race itself was the traditional silly segmented affair. Segment one was 50 laps in which nothing happened. Segment two was 20 laps in which nothing happened. Segment three was a repeat of segment two. Segment four was 10 laps in which everybody wrecked, some of them several times. No racing occurred at any time, and the drivers were all total idiots, which doubly begs the question of why they called it the "All Star Race."

I may just go to Disneyland or the beach next weekend.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Still Shaking

shakingAnother 5.3 this morning, followed almost immediately by a 4.8, both of them felt clearly in San Diego. Our cat is decidedly disapproving of this. Need I say that Obama needs to put a stop to this also?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Take Charge

Why isn't Obama on the deck of a ship in the Gulf of Mexico with his sleeves rolled up, kicking somebody's ass? Why are we getting information exclusively from the criminals who committed this atrocity, when we know that the "information" we are getting is almost entirely lies? Why do we not have current satellite images of this catastrophe available to the public?

Why is the government, why are all government agencies standing by idle while the perpetrators of this environmental crime remain "in charge" of the remedy? Why are our scientific agencies not on site right this day providing measurement, advice and assistance?

The Gulf of Mexico is dying. For God's sake, do something.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Is Good News For...

Democrats are all charged up by the Democratic victory in PA-12, with the win over the Republican for Jack Murtha's vacant seat in the House in a district which John McCain carried in 2008. This means they will thrive in November and the Republicans are doomed. Doomed, I tell you.

Note, however the word "vacant" in the above. The Republican was running against a Democrat, but not against an incumbent Democrat.

Why is Who In Charge?

Chris Matthews is in a state of righteous and indignant anger over the oil disaster in the Gulf and wants to know why it is being dealt with in such a casual manner, and for once I am in pretty much the same place he is. Like him, I do not think that every effort possible is being expended and, like him, I simply do not understand why not.

When a company creates a natural disaster, why does the government stand back and allow that company to be in complete charge of managing the corrective action for that disaster? They don’t do that when an airplane crashes; they don’t stand by with their hands in their pockets and wait for the airline company to perform rescue and restore the runway to operation. They don’t do that when there is a multi-car crash on the highway, waiting for the car and truck owners to sort things out on their own; the police step in and take charge, directing traffic and organizing rescue and tow trucks.

So why, here, are they taking a hands off approach and letting BP remain in charge of corrective action of the problem which BP caused? There might be reason to allow BP to participate under government direction, but why are they left in complete and absolute control of the scene of the disaster?

When Woods Hole said they wanted to bring their undersea equipment to help evaluate the scope of this problem, why was BP allowed to tell them to stay away? Why are we left relying on BP’s estimates for the flow rate of the leaking oil, when others are saying that it could be, and appears to be, much larger but are not allowed on scene to evaluate it? The only information we and the scientific community are allowed to have is that provided by the criminals who caused the disaster.

Why did it take three weeks before the flagship of our nation’s oceanic research fleet was even turned toward this disaster? Ronald H Brown could have been on station for some time and helping us to know the scope of this disaster, and instead she is still on her way from the coast of Africa, where she idled for three weeks while the Gulf of Mexico was dying.

Why are we still guessing about the size of the leak, a full month after it began, and why is it that the only estimated number being used is the number provided by the company that created that leak to begin with and which is concealing that leak from the view of anyone else who could evaluate it?

We have the technology and the scientific ability to know exactly how large the leak is and the precise extent to which the spilled oil is spreading, and the government is allowing BP to deliberately conceal that information from us to prevent us from knowing just how bad this problem really is.

As an aside, not everyone believes this disaster is all that bad. The weatherman at our local independent television station, who is also an ardent advocate of climate change denial and believes that his credentials as a tv weatherman makes him an expert on global climate, showed a satellite image of the Gulf oil spill and observed that “it hasn’t done significant damage at this point, and this image shows that it isn’t likely to.”

Apparently he thinks his credentials as a tv weatherman qualifies him as an expert oceanographer as well. Something certainly qualifies him as an idiot and a buffoon.

Seals Are Back in Court

San Diego people are truly attached to our beaches, of which we have some thirty miles, so when a bunch of seals (no not the Navy, the animal kind) take over about sixty feet of our beach, of course we sue the hell out of them. Well, we sue somebody, but I don’t think the seals were ever actually in court. They are pretty much the only ones who have not been in court.

The story goes back to the 1990’s when a bunch of seals began hanging out at a La Jolla beach known as “Children’s Pool” beach, a small piece of sand protected by a sea wall. The seals were hanging out, sleeping and pooping, which polluted the water badly enough that the people of La Jolla wanted them booted off the beach. Do I need to tell you that one does not buy a house in La Jolla by saving up S&H Green Stamps?

Getting rid of seals turns out to be very difficult. Not only are they protected by federal law (it’s illegal even to touch them), but they are about the most imperturbable creatures on the face of the earth. They make rocks seem excitable. So, of course, the beach was closed and a rope was put up to keep people from messing with the seals.

Long story made short, the issue has been in courts at various levels for more than fifteen years, costing untold millions of dollars of mostly taxpayer money. The seals are still there, that sixty feet of beach is still closed, the remaining thirty miles of beach is still open, and the people who want the seals gone are still pissed off.

Finally last year the state Legislature turned the whole thing over to the San Diego City Council to decide, which strikes me as a bit weird, and the council decided that as soon as the seals were finished having their babies the beach would, after all these years, be opened to both people and seals once more. So last week down came the rope.

As you might guess, disaster ensued. People are touching the seals. The seals are still pooping in the water and on the beach and children are picking up the poop and eating it. La Jollans want the rope replaced to keep kids from mingling with the seals and eating seal poop. Mostly they still want the seals gone, of course, but failing that they want the rope back.

It may be archaic or something, but I know of a mechanism that would be effective in keeping kids from eating seal poop, it’s called “parents.”

But now we come to the point of this story. The City Council is considering restoring the rope, but it cannot simply act willy nilly. Putting the rope in place will require an environmental impact study. Really. Replacing a ½” nylon rope which has been stretched across sixty feet of beach above the high water line for fifteen years and was removed a week ago is an act which requires an environmental impact study.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flailing Wars

Some might say that I am being extreme, but to me Obama’s reasons and strategies for the war in Afghanistan are becoming as numerous and feckless as were Bush’s for the war in Iraq. They change from day to day, and none of them make any sense if given any real thought.

As Tom Engelhardt points out in Obama’s Flailing Wars,” which strikes me as a particularly apt title, just two months ago we were cozying up to Pakistan and making veiled threats against the government of Afghanistan, and today we are making open threats against the government of Pakistan and giving the Agfhan president the red carpet treatment in Washington. Talk about a bizarre flip flop.

Yesterday we were fighting in Afghanistan to “deny al Queda space in which to plan their attacks,” and today we say that al Queda is not in Afghanistan but is doing its attack planning in Pakistan. Yet we are still at war in Afghanistan and are building a $1 billion embassy in Pakistan.

Obama is talking about negotiating with the Taliban, but not right now. We have to make military gains against them first so that we can “negotiate from a position of strength.” Given a moment of thought, that means we are not going to negotiate with them until after we have defeated them, in which case why do we need to negotiate with them?

The enemy is al Queda in Pakistan so we are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and when we make an offensive push in the South the Taliban attacks us in the North. That is happening now for the third time by my count, and we are still surprised by it. The Taliban call it “go where the enemy’s strength is not,” we call it “whack-a-mole,” I call it an exercise in futility. Which of those phrases sounds more intelligent?

Which brings us to the Times Square bombing attempt, which the Obama Administration says was fomented by the Taliban in Pakistan. Pakistan claims that is not the case, but the Obama Administration says that Pakistan is lying. If so, then Obama is treading very dangerous ground.

First, the group attacking us has always been al Queda. If we are now being attacked here at home by the Taliban, as Obama claims is the case, then the war on terror has widened considerably, and that has occurred on Obama’s watch.

Secondly, we have been at war for more than eight long years and have lost 1000 lives in Afghanistan because an attack on New York City was planned there. If this attack on New York City was planned in Pakistan, as Obama claims it was, then how does he avoid going to war in Pakistan? Failing that, how does he continue to justify the war in Afghanistan?

Blaming the Taliban in Pakistan is just more flailing around in a feckless effort to justify the unjustifiable.

Keystone State Primary, Part 2

Oh, yes. Not only made my day, that made my whole week. It turns out that the Democratic voters in Pennsylvania actually prefer to have a Democrat represent them in the Senate rather than a Republican, despite the instructions from the Democratic machinery to the contrary. I simply cannot wait to watch Hardball this afternoon and watch Chris Matthews choking on the crow he will have to be eating.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Asteroid Protection

I have to take back some of my snark about the National Geographic cable channel, having watched a fascinating hour last night. Seems this scientist spotted something in space, some 600,000 miles away from Earth, and promptly determined that it was going to hit the Earth.

He sent the data to another scientist who confirmed not only that it was going to hit us, but that it was travelling at 28,000 miles per hour and would hit us at precisely 5:14am the following morning. A few more keystrokes on his computer and he determined that it was about the size of a truck, so it would be a pretty big bang but not any kind of "extinction event," and it would hit Africa, specifically in northern Sudan. He didn’t give us the name of the camel it was going to hit.

The thing hit exactly on time and on target, and exploded some seven miles high. These scientists then went to Sudan to try and find the pieces, and were very excited when they succeeded. So was I; that was very cool. They were very confused, though, because the meteor (which was an asteroid before it became a meteor) appeared to have been almost a mile south of where NASA had forecast.

Well, OMG! After it went 600,000 miles, NASA was off by almost a mile? We can’t have that. How dare they miss by one thousandth of a percent?

Actually, they didn’t. Turns out, from studying the pieces, the meteor blew up in stages and the first explosion knocked it off course. Our faith in the NASA scientists is restored.

National Geographic could not resist their fascination with cosmic disaster entirely though, because the whole thing about finding the pieces revolved about being able to evaluate the thing in able to protect ourselves from bigger asteroids, and what had been an exciting scientific piece turned into a “space war drama” complete with spooky music.

Besides, everybody knows it’s Obama’s job to protect us from asteroids, and clearly he’s failing. Case in point; we saw this one coming and it hit us anyway.

Keystone State Primary

I have a strong interest in the Democratic Senate primary today in Pennsylvania. Part one is that Joe Sestak is a Navy veteran. Part two is that I want to see as many incumbents dumped as possible. Part three is that I want to see Chris Matthews disappointed. Part four is that Arlen Specter is a sleazy, duplicitous, opportunistic, lying bag of garbage.

Monday, May 17, 2010

GM Makes a Profit

So, GM made a profit in the first quarter of this year, which is very good news indeed. It would be even better news if I entirely believed it.

Remember the "GM pays off its debt ahead of schedule" bit a month or so ago? That was good news too, until we found out that it was not actually all of its debt; that most of its debt had merely been restructured into taxpayer "ownership" of the company. We also found out that the small portion of debt that they "paid off" was paid using money borrowed from a government (taxpayer) funded credit line. In other words, they borrowed money from the taxpayer to pay off the taxpayer.

That's not borrowing money from Peter to pay Paul, that's borrowing from Paul to pay Paul. So about this first quarter profit...

Kagan "Broke The Law"

Elena Kagan "broke the law" by denying the Army access to Harvard for recruiting during "time of war," according to Senator Jeff Sessions. He went on to rant about how her doing so put this nation at risk.

Oh, good God. When less than 1% of the people in this nation are serving in uniform, the lack of the people who might have signed up at Harvard (Harvard!) is an issue? All the Harvard graduates who wanted to enlist in the Army please stand up... Oh, wait, you did sign up?

What, they were there recruiting, you say? Elena Kagan barred them from using one particular office for the purpose, but they were there and they signed you up to serve in the Army. Fancy that.

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out on "This Week," it's not the Army that is discriminating against gays, in any case, it is the US Congress. The Army is following a law passed by Congress and voted for by many sitting Democratic Congressmen and Senators.

Senator Jeff Sessions is an idiot.

Courage of Conviction

I occasionally read a blog with the name The Agonist whose subtitle is “Thoughtful.Global.Timely” and has posts on a variety of subjects. Yesterday one contributor wrote a “authoritative” piece on the Gulf oil debacle, the accuracy of which might be suggested by the continuous reference to the British Petroleum company. There is no such company, of course, and has not been for quite a few years; he was referring to BP.

I knew that one had to be registered to comment on that blog, and since no one had yet commented on his error I thought it might be worth registering for that purpose, only to discover that the blog is not accepting new registrations. Well, I thought, maybe I can send the contributor an email; but no contact information of any sort for any of the contributors is provided on the blog.

So these bloggers have the courage to put their opinions out there on the Internet, but only in a manner that assures that those opinions cannot be challenged. Gutsy.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Fickle Finger of Blame

President Obama has finally had it with all of the pointing of fingers and placing blame on the Gulf oil debacle, and unleashed one of his now-famous scoldings on the subject.

"I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter," he said. "You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn't."

“I will not tolerate any more finger-pointing or irresponsibility,” he continued. “This is a responsibility that all of us share.”

On the economy, he and his Democrats sing a different tune. They actually are doing something about the economy, even though they have allowed the Republicans to dilute that effort rather badly. Their efforts are showing some results, albeit not large results and not ones which are easily identified in sound bites, which is the only way in which politicians can communicate.

Nonetheless, he and his Democrats are identifying the campaign for the fall election as a theme of blaming the Republicans for the economic poor times, hoping that voters won’t stop to realize that Democrats have been in control of Congress for three full years.

"So after Republicans drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back," Obama said on Wednesday.

“Yet over the course of the past 10 years, the previous administration and previous Congresses created an expensive new drug program, passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy and funded two wars without paying for any of it — all of which was compounded by recession and by rising health care costs,” he said recently.

...not mentioning that for, three years now, it is a Democratic Congress that has been funding those wars without paying for them, and that he and a Democratic Congress passed a massive tax cut just last year. He’s also hoping no one will notice that we are still in a recession, at least on Main Street, and that health care costs are still rising.

So when it comes to despoiling nature by pumping oil in deepwater ocean, something he advocated less than a month ago, it is time to stop blaming and “share responsibility.”

But come the elections it is time to blame Republicans for the economy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Voter Enthusiasm Gap

As primaries ramp up and the election in November draws closer, the Democrats are raising the drumbeat ever louder about how the Republicans got us into this economic crisis, and the oil spill in the Gulf is due to Republican lack of regulation, etc. They want me to vote for them again this year, and cannot figure out where the enthusiasm of the Democratic voters of the past two elections has gone.

I’ll tell you where mine has gone. I am sick and tired of hearing about everything being the fault of the Republicans and about how Democrats “inherited this mess and are working hard to fix it.”

I’m sick and tired of hearing how Obama has only been in office for a year.

Democrats have controlled Congress for three full years, and have spent the entire three years blaming Republicans for everything. They chose to be Bush’s poodle for two of those years, which is not of Republican making. They then passed, with the “help” of a Democratic President, anemic stimulus and health insurance bills which are so having little visible effect that they are having to “sell” them to the public after passing them, mostly by using contrast with Republicans who opposed them rather than by illustrating actual tangible effects.

Obama keeps yammering that the Republicans drove the car into the ditch, but I don’t see him being any kind of big red, white and blue tow truck. He’s just standing beside the ditched car bitching at the Republicans for having ditched it, like some sort of nagging housewife, while Congress stands on the sideline fecklessly flapping its hands.

Obama was incensed, and properly so, at the “ridiculous spectacle” of the oil company executives pointing the finger of blame at each other in front of Congress, but then he stands in front of the American people and bleats about the problems that they face being the fault of the Republican party.

I don’t see anybody here to be enthusiastic about voting for.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Watch Battery Snafu

Some time ago I let the jeweler talk me into a "lifetime" battery for my wife's wristwatch, which was not the most astute thing I have ever done. The most recent replacement required a full week and four trips to the mall, which would have been more annoying if it had not afforded four opportunities to spend $3.03 for a Wetzel's pretzel. Warm, with butter and salt. Yum.

Plus, it is pretty much summer now. I will leave it to your imagination to figure out what it is that I like about summer and the mall in San Diego.
No, I am not referring to the flowerbeds.

The Three Stooges

Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Rachel Maddow have all made a big deal out of this quote, spoken by Sarah Palin at a speech in Rosemont, IL,

A gal looked up and asked him where he was from, and he said, "Alaska," and then, all of a sudden, the clerk, she turns beet red and the veins pop out of her neck, kind of like Rachel Maddow does sometimes. Now watch, that clip’s going to be on air for her, doggone it. Get her some ratings.

That may be a modestly funny remark, but Palin said it to get herself, Palin, some ratings and of course the blockheads at MSNBC are obliging her. Maddow, who I don’t actually watch, apparently went on about it at great length. They claim that Palin is inconsequential, and then spend a great deal of time covering her blather and proving mostly how inconsequential their own shows are.

It also displays how little imagination any of them have, since all three of them are using the same material. That is, actually, by no means unusual.

Just to add to the hilarity, all three of them made quite a big deal out of the fact that Palin was speaking at a rally sponsored by a manufacturer of sump pumps. Olbermann even went to great length to point out that they do not make primary sump pumps, they make backup sump pumps. Why that is significant was not explained by any of the three of them, nor can I shed any light on that issue.

And if Arlen Specter doesn't win in Pennsylvania, it won't be for the lack of Chris Matthews trying to promote him. He gave Specter fifteen minutes on his show Wednesday to make campaign speeches, fawning over him the whole time, and he repeatedly criticized Sestak's advertising yesterday. He is doing everything short of wearing "Vote for Specter" campaign buttons on his lapel.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Peoples Right To Vote Act

Proposition 16 is a particularly nasty example of California’s initiative process. The name is typical of the genre, designed to deceive people into voting against their interest and for the interest of major corporations. The initiative is sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric.

At present, if corporate utilities are not serving a community well, the local government in the form of City Council or whatever can organize an electrical cooperative to serve the community as a utility provider. This proposition would require a popular vote to permit that, and would require a two-thirds majority to approve the process. Since Californians cannot secure a two-thirds majority vote on anything, passage of this initiative would assure major corporations like PG&E a complete lock on utility provision in the state.

"Oh hell no" is not on the ballot, so just vote "No" on Prop 16.

The Constitution and Rights

One of the good aspects of being politically involved is that it can lead one to study, and give serious thought to, the really fascinating document which is our own constitution.

Someone in some discussion of the Kagan nomination quoted her as saying that the constitution, “generally specifies limits on government rather than affirmatively granting individual rights,” which that person found “rather alarming” about her.

My initial reaction was to agree with the speaker but on reflection I am more inclined to agree with Kagan, assuming that she did say it, and to see it as a positive for her rather than a negative. It is entirely consistent with earlier things I have said about my belief that the constitution is the document which defines what our government is.

Consider the second amendment, which reads “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” It does not grant the right to bear arms, it assumes it to be an existing right preceding the creation of the constitution. It says that the government shall not interfere with that right.

The only place I can find where it might seem to grant an individual right is the sixth amendment, where it says that in criminal matters, “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.” Even there, however, it seems to refer to a speedy and public trial as an existing right.

In the very next clause, the seventh amendment, it is clearly back to regulating the government’s behavior with respect to assumed rights when it says that in common law, “the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.”

There is a scene in “An American President” where the President is giving his daughter a book on the constitution and she is rolling her eyes, and he says enthusiastically, “This is exciting stuff.” You know what? It actually is. This document defines who we are, and we are botching it really badly right now because we are not defining ourselves by this document.

Instead, we are using the constitution as a list of privileges to which we, as American citizens, are entitled.

That document was written to define the “land of the free” where freedom is the nature of the government, is part and parcel of the definition of its government, is woven into the fabric of its being. We are redefining this nation to be the “home of the privileged,” whose citizens enjoy rights, privileges, entitlements and freedoms which we do not extend to those outside our borders.

Shame on us.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

About That Miranda Thing

Anyone with more than two functioning brain cells is going to realize that a guy who perpetrates a half-witted attempt to set off a bomb in Times Square is insane, so why do they think that they are going to get any kind of useful information from him, Miranda warning or not? The guy claims he was trained by the Taliban in Pakistan, so the Obama Administration starts screaming about how we are being attacked by the Taliban, but it appears that he was merely making that up in some sort of delusion of grandeur.

Here we go again, but with Taliban replacing Al Queda.

The Bush gang would capture a bunch of guys in Miami asking for combat boots so that they could practice their close order drill in preparation for blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago, or stop some guy who was bootlegging cell phones in Michigan, and would trumpet their victory over impending disaster fomented by Al Queda.

Now we have this halfwit who visits his family in Pakistan, comes back and tries something he read on the Internet, claims he learned it from the Pakistan Taliban, and the Obama crowd goes all Bushian about needing to stop the Taliban Menace in its tracks.

Pakistan officials say that they tracked the guy’s movements in Pakistan and he never came within a country mile of any Taliban. The Obama bunch will undoubtedly claim they are lying. Clinton has already repeatedly accused the Pakistan government of knowing precisely where Osama Bin Laden is hiding and refusing to turn him over to us, and no matter how brutally the Pakistan Army attacks its own territories we insist that they have not killed enough of their own people and that they need to go kill more of them, like we are doing.

I still don’t know why they call it an “intelligence” questioning operation.

Courage of Conviction

You’ve probably figured out that I’m not going to write one huge post on Kagan, but am going to post odds and ends at they occur to me. You may also think at this point that I am basically inclining in favor, but that I have some reservations, and you would be right.

One question I have is why our side is so bashful about embracing its principles, assuming that it actually has any. Bush named people like Roberts and Alito to the Court, and Obama is naming people who we cannot figure out. Olbermann addressed that on his show last night,

Olbermann: Lawrence, that does beg a significant point—as Senator Harkin pointed out, why does it that seem—and this is a great frustration of progressives particularly at the moment—why does it seem as if—as he put it—the conservatives get conservative nominees to this court and liberals or progressives get question marks?

O‘Donnell: Well, the conservatives have often been fooled—as often as they have been satisfied by what they got. And they were fooled by Justice Stevens. They were fooled by Souter. And it is true the liberal moving through the confirmation process is politically considered more risky than the conservative. And that is the—that is the accepted wisdom, the conventional wisdom within the Senate on getting these confirmations done.

So, Elena Kagan has, I think, very deliberately through her career kept her own counsel on anything that would be controversial in this hearing. When we first discussed this vacancy, Keith, when it first opened up, I said at that time that there are these Manchurian candidates out there now who have very deliberately hid what they think so that they can build a career that allows them to get through this very tortured and very modern confirmation process that we did not used to have as recently as the pre-television age.

He didn’t really answer the question, did he? He tried to make it sound like he did, something to the effect of the confirmation process being such that nominees must be careful not to actually express any ideology, but that does not answer the question. The records of conservative candidates are clear and unequivocal, whereas Obama’s picks are either very middle-of-the-road or are complete enigmas. Roberts and Alito were anything but “Manchurian candidates,” and yet Bush had no fear of nominating them, and was willing to do battle for their confirmation.

Why are Democrats so focused on being “centrist?”

Makup of the Supreme Court

Bruce pointed out in a comment that confirmation of Kagan would result in there being no Protestants on the Supreme Court, something I was planning to cover today in any case. Our constitution says that there shall be no test of religion for any office in our government, so that takes care of that.

Except that we do have such a test, of course, for the office of President. It is necessary that candidates for that office pass a Q&A administered by the "pastor" of the "flavor of the year" right wing Christianist sect, and that such interrogation be carried out publicly and in front of an audience of that "pastor's" faithful. In 2008 that interrogation was held on national television by a particularly slimy buffoon named Rick Warren, and it was one of the most humiliating moments in our nation's history.

I still have not figured out why either candidate was willing to submit himself to that interrogation, and it is my opinion that such willingness rendered both of them unfit for the office they were seeking.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

She Worked For Goldman

Oh, for God's sake. Everybody in Washington and New York has worked for Goldman. If somebody paid me $10K per year for three years as a consultant, a year later I would not even remember their name. Get over it.

Funniest Post Ever

John Cole at Balloon Juice blog has hit my funny bone more than once, but today he hit one over the fence and out of the parking lot. Don't just read the post, the comments will have you rolling on the floor.

No Experience Needed

It has been pointed out that Elena Kagan has never been a judge, which supposedly mitigates against her as a nominee for the Supreme Court. I would point out that William Rehnquist had never been a judge either, and he turned out pretty well.

I actually worked for his brother, whose first name was Alden and was in sales management for a large steel company. He had a stratospheric IQ, was as nutty as a tree full of squirrels, never carried a dime’s worth of cash in his pockets, and was an absolute delight to work for. He was proud of his brother but never made a point of being related to him, avoided the subject as much as possible, and he was an interesting and fun person to be around. He could sell ice to Eskimos.

Defense of Rights

I guess it’s not surprising that Chris Matthews doesn’t know how to be a liberal, given that many real live liberals don’t know how to be liberals. The sentiment that he expressed in a conversation with Ernest Istook of the Heritage Foundation regarding the Elena Kagan nomination, is one that is quite widely held; that the courts are supposed to “defend the rights of minorities” and “protect unpopular opinion.”

Istook: If you look at one of the few things that Ms. Kagan has written, she said that the role of the Supreme Court is to benefit the despised and the disadvantaged. Actually, the reason the statues of justice wear the blindfold is because they‘re not supposed to take sides on whether you‘re liked, disliked, whether you‘re advantaged or disadvantaged. That‘s all supposed to be disregarded. And statements like that certainly make her appear to be in the— cast in the mold of a very activist judge.

Matthews: Yes, I—maybe I agree with you, maybe not. It seems to me one place I do—I think you want to correct yourself, Congressman. The courts—the 1st Amendment is to protect unpopular opinion, right?

Istook: It‘s to protect all opinion.

Matthews: No, unpopular. Let‘s face it. You don‘t need...

Istook: Unpopular included.

Matthews: ... to protect popular. You don‘t need to say, I love apple pie—you don‘t need to protect it, or, I love the flag. You have to protect people who may burn the flag and do things you really, really hate seeing them do, right? Isn‘t that what the 1st Amendment‘s about?

Matthews: You‘re denying—let me ask you this. You don‘t think it‘s the job of the Supreme Court to protect the rights of minorities?

Istook: I think it‘s the right to protect—I think their job it to protect the rights of minorities, but that is not their sole job. The job is also to protect the rights of everyone.

I’m not sure I agree with Istook that she is “cast in the mold of a very activist judge,” but I very much agree with his concept of blind justice. Matthews keeps harping on the idea that the rights of majorities and popular causes do not need defending, and I think he has it all wrong. I believe that all rights and all causes need defending, whether they are popular, unpopular, minority or majority. I would argue that the Supreme Court should protect the rights of all people, equally, including minorities.

Kagan’s statement could actually be taken in a completely non-activist sense, in that a Supreme Court that treated all persons equally, one which truly leveled the playing field, would have the ultimate effect of “benefit [to] the despised and the disadvantaged” without any activism at all. Is that the way she meant it?

Ah, I Did Get It

Yesterday I asked if the solution for excess debt was borrowing more money, as the Euro went from $1.25 to $1.31.

Today we get the answer (no) as the Euro goes from $1.31 to $1.26.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I Don't Get It

Europe has announced that it is solving its debt problem by obtaining a massive loan, much of which will be provided by the US which is, itself, running a deficit. The soluntion for too much debt is to borrow more money? And we are in a position to lend money to Europe? Fannie Mae is broke again and needs for the taxpayers to lend (give?) it another $8.4 billion.

And the DOW is up 384 points. Up? As in, increased?

Update: Oh yes, I forgot the "homeowner theory" of debt management.

Rational Voters

Well, no, certainly not in California, that would be a little much to expect, but Sestak is now leading Specter in Pennsylvania. Fancy that.

A Democrat is leading a Republican in the Democratic primary election, even though the Republican is endorsed and strongly supported by the Democratic leadership. It may be that the people in the Democratic Party actually want a Democrat to represent them.

Volcano Special

I have subscribed to National Geographic for many years, and it lives up to its reputation month after month; informative and delightful. Admittedly, it is at times a little “preachy,” but it gets that way on subjects that have my sympathy for the most part, so I don’t find that particularly jarring.

There is also a National Geographic channel on my cable television lineup and, while it uses the same logo, I find it hard to believe that it is the same organization. This one is notable, really, only for being just plain silly. They show ancient historical pieces featuring “reenactments” depicting a bunch of guys wearing leopard skins, grunting at each other and rather fecklessly throwing spears at saber toothed tigers. If those were accurate, Earth would be the planet of the apes today.

The National Geographic channel listed a feature on the Iceland volcano yesterday, so I tuned in because I have a fascination with volcanoes. Knowing the channel’s proclivities, I didn’t expect great depth, but I thought I might get to see some cool volcano pictures, and I love pictures of volcanoes erupting, especially the big ash cloud kind. At least I figured I wouldn’t have to watch ancients grunting and chucking spears.

Well, one-fourth of it wasn’t about the volcano at all; it was about the “team” trying to drive across the glacier to look at the volcano. They failed, of course; the idea was stupid to begin with, and they planned it so poorly that they almost got killed in the attempt. I found myself wondering why they would even admit to having conceived such an idiotic plan, let alone devote a quarter of the show to depicting their feckless attempts at executing it.

Later in the show the narrator intones, “The lee side of the island presents a serene picture of beauty, but the downwind side is a different matter.” Most of us know, of course, that the “the lee side” and “the downwind side” are the same side, so conjoining them with “but” tends to lend a certain incoherence to the thought. Actually, that was rather fitting, since the whole piece was pretty incoherent.

The same narrator also said that “contact with the cold of the glacier causes the magma to explode into a cloud of ash.” Um, no; that would leave Pinatubo and Mount Saint Helens, among others, unexplained. It explodes into ash because it is a different type of magma than the type that pours out as a liquid. The magma hitting the glacier affects the glacier quite a lot, of course, but the magma is already exploding into ash because that is what it does, not because it hit somebody’s oversized Martini.

There is a school of thought, not mentioned by the geniuses doing this piece, that major glaciers melting allows the Earth’s crust to lift slightly, and that such lifting may trigger the eruption of some volcanoes that were lurking where the glaciers melted. That, I suspect, is something that the people of Iceland prefer not to think about.

There were, however, a few very nice volcano pictures.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bill of Privileges

I was relieved when Hillary Clinton lost the primary election, and am becoming more so now as she pursues her hawkish stance against Iran and in her stand regarding the “war on terror.” To see her standing with Lieberman on this idiotic thing about stripping people of their citizenship based on assumptions that they are conspiring with terrorists takes my relief to yet another level.

“United States citizenship is a privilege,” the New York Times quotes her. “It is not a right. People who are serving foreign powers — or in this case, foreign terrorists — are clearly in violation, in my personal opinion, of that oath which they swore when they became citizens.”

Presumably, then, she would regard the first ten amendments to our constitution as the "Bill of Privileges" rather than the "Bill of Rights."

And to think, this person actually graduated from law school.

That she is talking about “that oath which they swore when they became citizens,” suggests that she may be referring to naturalized citizens rather than to citizens generally, although she does not say that. The idea, however, that there are classes of citizenship, or that she might think there are, rather appalls me. Citizenship is a right if you are born here, she would be saying, but it is merely a privilege if you are not.

What bothers me even more is that the Democratic leadership generally seems to be supporting this ridiculous idea. The same article quotes Nancy Pelosi as supporting the “spirit” of the measure, whatever the hell that means. It doesn’t mean anything good, that’s for sure.

Once again Democrats are proving that they are utterly clueless when it comes to the meaning of “strength on national security,” that they have even less idea of how to deal with that issue than Republicans do, and that they will pander and fear monger with the worst of the Republicans to serve their own interests.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Circular Reasoning

The guy who tried to set off the bomb in Times Square gave as one of his principle reasons for doing so his anger at our use of drones to bomb Pakistan, which happens to be his country of origin. He claims he is upset by the death of innocent civilians that we are causing with that practice.

Critics of Obama claim, “Oh, pish tush, the guy is just using that as an excuse.” Or maybe it’s supporters of Obama who claim that, given that it is currently Obama who is ordering the drone attacks. It was Bush doing it, and everything that he did was “a bad thing,” so it all gets a little confusing.

But couldn’t it be said that our original invasion of Afghanistan, based on our upset over civilians being killed on 9/11, was a case of, “Oh, pish tush, that was just our excuse,” as well?

I mean, if we say that we are going to go blow someone else’s stuff up because they blew our stuff up, how do we cry foul when someone else says they are going to come blow our stuff up because we are over there blowing their stuff up?

I realize that I am spiraling ever more deeply into circular reasoning here, but if the media can do it, why can’t I? I’m trying to see if I can actually screw myself into my own… Never mind.

Pot Calling Kettle Black

Olbermann endlessly criticizes the right wing for using inflammatory language, for stretching the truth, and for preaching divisiveness, and then
in his segment last night on the Arizona law he referred to the state as “America’s hateland.” He should reflect that it was the legislature of that state which passed the law in question, not the people. He should also consider that, while some people in that state support the law, others do not, and his use of that term is vile and inaccurate.

He goes on to say in that segment that McCain, “supports the new state law that requires police to stop anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant and demand to see their papers.” This is hyperbole and untruth that is fully worthy of Limbaugh.

The law not only does not “require” police to stop anyone; it specifically prohibits police from stopping anyone for the specific purpose of checking the legitimacy of their presence in this country. Such checks may be made only in the process of a stop made for other legitimate reasons, and they are permitted by the new law, not required.

If Olbermann wants to sanctimoniously demand that the right wing stop preaching the “politics of hate,” he needs to stop doing so himself.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Chris Matthews is an Idiot

In another chapter of "I watch him so that you don't have to," Chris Matthews finished yesterday's edition of Hardball with another of his silly little poetic "Let Me Finish" segments. Whoever writes these things has the vocabulary of Christopher Hitchens and the intellect of Christopher Robin. This one was waxing rhapsodic about the British election system.

Let me finish tonight with the excitement of this election in the United Kingdom. I love British elections for a handful of reasons. First, you get to see precisely how the people feel right now. They tell you which party the people want running the country, for the simple reason people over in Britain only get to vote for party. There‘s none of the confusion you get in this country. No voting for one party for president, the other for Congress, the other for the Senate. In British elections, you vote for a candidate for parliament from one party, and you‘re saying you want that party to pick the prime minister.

The third advantage is the winner of the election in Britain completely controls the government. The prime minister party, his party sets the agenda. Parliament carries it into law. And the government itself acts on it. One party does it all. You know who to blame. I like it simple. You can‘t be simpler than that.

Fourth advantage of the British election, the government elected today will take office immediately. There will be no lame duck, no long intermission between one government and the next. Winners take office. The losers pick up their papers, shove them into their bags and head out the door. It‘s neat. And most people like it neat.

Let‘s watch the Brits. Maybe we can learn something.

Well, the outcome of this particular election is summed up in a headline on Google, "An Uncertain and Difficult Road Ahead in London."

So much for, “It's neat.” It looks really messy to me.

The most likely outcome, it seems, is a “coalition” government. So much for, “One party does it all,” in that eventuality. Or a minority government which is about as stable as the chemical element Hassium.

You watch the Brits, Chris, I’ve got better lessons to learn.

Why Mirandize?

The usual argument is being raised over whether or not to “Mirandize” Faisal Shahzad, the man who attempted to set the car bomb in Times Square. Some, of course, say not; others proclaim that he is entitled to that protection because he is an American citizen.

Liebermann has even gone so far into bizarroland, in an effort to counter that latter argument, as to suggest that a suspected terrorist be stripped of his citizenship in order to deal with him outside of our system of justice.

Time after time I’ve heard something to the effect of, “He is a citizen of this country, he has rights under the constitution.” That argument implies that justice is a right of citizenship, granted by our constitution, but it suggests that the speaker does not really know the meaning of our constitution.

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: The Constitution of the United States is fundamental law of the U.S. federal system of government…

US History Encyclopedia: The Constitution, which has served since 1789 as the basic frame of government of the republic of the United States…

Columbia Encyclopedia: Constitution of the United States, document embodying the fundamental principles upon which the American republic is conducted.

Law Encyclopedia: Constitution of the United States; a written document … the absolute rule of action and decision for all branches and officers of the government,

This document does not define or describe what the citizens of America get, it defines what the government of America is. It describes what the government may or may not do, and what it must do. When it describes the interaction between the government and persons, it does not say “citizens of the country,” it does not say “governed person,” it merely says “person.”

They way that we treat those suspected of a crime, as defined in our constitution, is not about those suspects, it is about our form of government, it is about what kind of nation we have defined ourselves to be.

To say that we administer law differently because it is a time of war is to say that we define ourselves differently, chameleonlike, depending on circumstance. To say that someone is not deserving of the principle of our law because he is evil is to prejudge him; which is an abandonment of our principle of law. To say that someone is not entitled to our principle of law because he is not a citizen is insufferable arrogance.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

In Search of Accuracy

Just a quick note to all of the "newscasters" who keep talking about what "British Petroleum" is doing in the Gulf of Mexico. It isn't doing anything, anywhere. Several companies, including Amoco and Castrol, merged with British Petrolem quite some years ago to form a new company called BP, which is drilling in the Gulf. Sheesh.

And digby refers to people from Louisiana, tongue in cheek, as "those dumb, swamp-dwelling, gumbo-eating hicks." Um, I hate to tell you this, digby; calling Louisianans dumb might be a bit rude, but "gumbo-eating" is definitely not an insult, and I'm not sure that "swamp-dwelling" is either.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Why I Watch Olbermann...

With all of the Olbermann-bashing I do here I sometimes get asked why I watch him, usually by my wife, who doesn't watch him, and last night was an example of why I do. The following misses something when not read in his inimitable voice, but,

"From Times Square to arrested in 53 hours and 30 minutes and a president is not crowing and is not trying to terrify the citizens for whom he works."

I actually backed that up and replayed it. He then spent the segment crowing on the president, the FBI and the NYPD for bringing off what was a pretty spectacular piece of law enforcement work. Well, Obama had little to do with it actually, and Olbermann never really claimed that he did. He just sort of tossed some of the general glow his direction. It is also true that the perp was no intellectual giant, master's degree or not, and that he did get on an airplane when that should not really have been allowed. Nonetheless, in about two days, two days, they have his scrawny ass in a box.

One way you prevent a nation from becoming terrified by things like this is to track down the perpetrator in a heartbeat and slap cuffs on him. You have then portrayed an image of a government that knows what the hell it is doing, and people calm down. Whatever else you want to fling at Obama, he is pretty good at calming people down; so good at it that he sometimes just bores the shit out of them.

Obama did get this right and, for once, most of the media is cherry picking the right sound bites. "The purpose of these efforts is to cause us to live in terror," the President said, "and as a nation we will not be terrified."

Damn right.

...And I Read Krugman Less...

Back on April 26th he posted this regarding immigration reform,

Democrats are torn individually (a state I share). On one side, they favor helping those in need, which inclines them to look sympathetically on immigrants; plus they’re relatively open to a multicultural, multiracial society. I know that when I look at today’s Mexicans and Central Americans, they seem to me fundamentally the same as my grandparents seeking a better life in America.

On the other side, however, open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.

So Democrats have mixed feelings about immigration; in fact, it’s an agonizing issue.

Republicans, on the other hand, either love immigration or hate it. The business-friendly wing of the party likes inexpensive workers (and would really enjoy a huge guest-worker program that would both provide such workers and ensure that they can neither vote nor, in practice, unionize). But the cultural/nativist/tribal conservatives hate having these alien-looking, alien-sounding people on American soil.

Have you ever read anything so smug and fatuous? Maybe thinking that would be one thing, that person might be in need of some counselling on the virtue of humility, but actually saying it in public? I wanted to go slap
his damn face.

...And I Don't Read Time At All

I was at the doctor's office yesterday and picked up a copy of Time which contained "The 100 Most Important People" listing for this year. Not sure who chose the list, but it included Glen Beck, for God's sake.

Each description of the person was written, not by the Time staff, but by some person who is an inveterate cheerleader for that person. The one for Glen Beck, for instance, was written by Sarah Palin. The one for Barack Obama was written by, as I recall, David Axelrod.

Is there any better way to render the whole damned thing irrelevant?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Propane, Gasoline, Firecrackers

But the guy had visited Pakistan so, mark my words, he will be charged with, "attempting to deploy weapons of mass destruction."

Update: 6:30pm. Well, that didn't take long; I told you so.

Monday, May 03, 2010

AP on Truck Racing

This article, credited to the Associated Press, was in today’s San Diego Union-Tribune, but I cannot find it in the online edition, and I can find no reference to it on the Internet. You will just have to take my word that the quotes are accurate, and that I saw what I will tell you I saw when I watched the race on Sunday.

Driving four wide, the lead on the line, Ron Hornady Jr. bumped Johnny Sauter, sending their trucks into tire-smoking slides.

Well, they had been four wide at one point, but not for several seconds leading up to the accident. When Hornady lost his truck they were two wide, and he slid up and drove sideways into Sauter. I’m not sure what constitutes a “bump” but...

At nearly 45-degree angles, going over 150 mph, both drivers white-knuckled their steering wheels. Somehow, miraculously they both straightened out.

Actually, it was close to 90-degree angles, and AP rather understates the drama here. It was a very spectacular moment.

Sauter stayed in front after his improbable save, holding off the hard charging Hornady to win a wild, rain-delayed…

It was a pretty good race overall, and was actually delayed by a hailstorm, but the only really wild part of the race was that one moment, and the “hard charging” part is beyond hyperbole. Hornady burned up his rear tires saving his truck and was never within a couple hundred yards of Sauter after that incident. Sauter was pretty much on cruise control to finalize the win.

The article refers to Hornady making several charges to the front despite,
“a troublesome fender problem that had his left rear tire billowing smoke.” Well, actually emitting a few rather worrisome puffs of smoke. If there were any “billows” neither I nor any of the announcers saw them.

“Me and Ron always have animosity,” it quotes Sauter as saying. “We have animosity sitting around drinking beers.”

Except after this race, when Hornady ran from his truck to Winner’s Circle to congratulate Sauter on the win and both of them were laughing their rear ends off together. It was an enjoyable moment of sportsmanship which AP didn’t seem to feel was worth mentioning.