Friday, November 12, 2010

The Deficit Reduction Commission - A Total Failure

This week, Alan Simpson finally realized the real resistance would be on the Left, so he trotted out the public option (!) as a talking point, but it's too late - no Democrat can possibly dignify these despicable proposals with even a discussion:
So how, exactly, did a deficit-cutting commission become a commission whose first priority is cutting tax rates, with deficit reduction literally at the bottom of the list?

Actually, though, what the co-chairmen are proposing is a mixture of tax cuts and tax increases — tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class. They suggest eliminating tax breaks that, whatever you think of them, matter a lot to middle-class Americans — the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest — and using much of the revenue gained thereby, not to reduce the deficit, but to allow sharp reductions in both the top marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate.

It will take time to crunch the numbers here, but this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans. And what does any of this have to do with deficit reduction?

Let’s turn next to Social Security. There were rumors beforehand that the commission would recommend a rise in the retirement age, and sure enough, that’s what Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson do. They want the age at which Social Security becomes available to rise along with average life expectancy. Is that reasonable?

The answer is no, for a number of reasons — including the point that working until you’re 69, which may sound doable for people with desk jobs, is a lot harder for the many Americans who still do physical labor.

But beyond that, the proposal seemingly ignores a crucial point: while average life expectancy is indeed rising, it’s doing so mainly for high earners, precisely the people who need Social Security least. Life expectancy in the bottom half of the income distribution has barely inched up over the past three decades. So the Bowles-Simpson proposal is basically saying that janitors should be forced to work longer because these days corporate lawyers live to a ripe old age.

Deborah Has An Interesting Book For Sale

Deborah McMillion-Nering has a book for sale: "The Carnivorous Flower Dines" - a tale about a radioactive desert flower's upbringing and education, and about the general endurance of plants.

I am intrigued by the cover - this may be the only time - ever, or at least for a very long time - that Deborah has painted a man's face. Usually she substitutes a flower, or a coin, or any other vaguely-round object in its place.

I ordered one copy. Order a bunch of copies for your Retro-50's friends!

Disco & Atomic War Trailer

This looks like a thoroughly-charming film:
Winner of the Best Documentary prize at the Warsaw International Film Festival, this witty, charming, and provocative film recounts how in the mid 1980's, the nation of Estonia still lay firmly in the grip of the Soviet Union, and the repressive authorities controlled virtually all aspects of Estonian life. ... But one day everything changed. Just a few miles across the border in Finland, a huge new television antenna was built that broadcast western signals in all directions--including directly into the heart of the Talinn, the capital of Estonia.

Filmmakers Jaak Kilmi and Kiur Aarma grew up in Talinn in the 80's, and in DISCO AND ATOMIC WAR they make use of wonderfully playful but credible recreations to set their true personal coming of age story against the backdrop of the rapid collapse of the Soviet government in Estonia. As illicit television antennas sprung up in Northern Estonia, rumors about the attempted murder of J.R. Ewing spread by word of mouth to the rural south, and the nation of Estonia was as gripped by the saga as the USA had ever been.

Teenagers went to their school dances and imitated the disco moves they saw on television, clothing and hairstyles began to change radically, and things would never be the same. The government controlled media scrambled to create western-style soap operas and disco-saturated television programming that vaguely reinforced communist values, but it was far too little, and much too late.

Aussies In The Mood To Travel And Shop

All things are possible Down Under:
While the Australian dollar reaching parity with the United States dollar was a long-awaited moment, it appears to have left consumers a little jaded toward spending their money here.

There is talk of holidays to America and online shopping at American sites, but Mr Timbrell believes manufacturers have come to the party to save our Aussie Christmas 2010.

The effects of lower import prices will start to be seen in coming months especially on TVs, home theatre, DVD and Blu-ray players.

Matter Eater Lad

My favorite of the Top 20 Worst Superhero Names.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Currency Rap - China Vs. USA

Teamsters feat Errol Reid - Feels Like Love

Belligerent Raccoons

Five raccoons may be the threshold for the animals to feel brave enough to take on a person with a dog. I remember once walking Sparky late at night in Sacramento, and coming across four raccoons in a driveway. They struck me as awfully insolent, and on the verge of an attack - but uncertain about our resources, they held off. One more raccoon, though, and that might have been enough to trigger a gang attack:
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- An Alameda woman was receiving rabies shots as a precaution after being attacked by five raccoons over the weekend during an ordeal she described as like something out of a horror movie.

The Sunday night raccoon attack in Alameda’s Washington Park was not the first such incident, according to wildlife officials.

...Campos said she felt lucky that she escaped with just one bite and that her terrier Doogie wasn't hurt. It was the dog’s barking that brought on first one raccoon and then an entire pack.

“The other four dropped out of these trees somewhere and all started to run after us,” said Campos. “And then I tripped. Once I fell down, I was worried I wouldn't be able to get them off me, and I was screaming at the top of my lungs.”

County officials know thousands of raccoons are in trees and storm drains, emerging at night to search for food which is plentiful in garbage cans and pet dishes.

Surveillance cameras and calls for service in the area reveal an exploding population. Raccoons are getting more territorial and less afraid of people.

“It's Bay Area wide, but Alameda is a unique situation because it's landlocked,” said Daniel Wilson of Alameda County Vector Control. “So when their population increases, they can't expand out.”

In the attacks that have happened across Alameda since June, nine people have been bitten, usually while trying to save their pets.

Greyhound Bus Catches Fire

This story reminds me of the good ol', pre 9/11 days.

In 1978, I boarded a Greyhound bus in Philadelphia for a trip to Albuquerque. Somewhere on I-40 in Missouri, one of the passengers realized his wallet was missing, so somewhere in Oklahoma the highway patrol stopped us, and we were all searched.

Since the trip had been partly a camping trip, I was carrying a gallon of camp stove fuel in my luggage. I thought: "Oh, this is going to be awkward!" But they were looking for a wallet, not any obvious hazards to health and safety, so they let me keep the fuel (I still have it, I think....):
Three passengers have been treated for smoke inhalation after a Greyhound bus en route to Dallas from Los Angeles caught fire on a freeway northwest of Tucson.

Northwest Fire Department paramedics say the driver and 37 other passengers aboard the bus escaped injury. They say the three passengers were treated at the scene for minor smoke inhalation and released.

Investigators have determined that the fire was accidental and resulted from a mechanical problem within the engine compartment.

I Very Much Like Fark's Headline

The Fark Headline on this story is: "We will launch on time and under budget, no matter how long it takes or how much it costs":
Work on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) - intended to be the Hubble's replacement - is behind schedule and over budget, according to a Wednesday report.

...But it's not the design or build of the telescope that is causing the problems. JWST is in "very good technical shape," according to a Friday letter John Casani from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab wrote to NASA chief Charles Bolden. Instead, the root causes of the cost and scheduling issues are due to a "badly flawed" budget and the inability of those involved to adequately assess what is needed, Casani wrote.

DMTC - "Annie" - Wednesday Night Rehearsal

Civic Theatre West Closes

The Sacramento theater community was rocked this evening by news that Civic Theatre West (CTW) was abruptly closing.

I had thought that, moneywise, CTW was the strongest musical theater in the local area. Looks deceive, I guess....

According to the Bee:
Stevens said the theater's continuing debt of $500,000 had become untenable, and the board decided the responsible course of action was to close its doors.

"We had continuing unpaid obligations, but no operational buffer," Stevens said. "The responsible thing to do is to stop operations rather than keeping the wheels turning and hoping against hope when it really can't be done."

...Last year, the theater company's annual operating budget was $1.1 million. Civic Theatre West also has one the largest children's theater workshops in the state, and had more than 1,200 subscribers for its season last year.
Let's see, if they were paying banks for these loans they had to be paying $2,500.00 per month, interest alone, minimum. If they were paying principal too, the amounts would be considerably greater, of course. That's a heavy burden, but not insurmountable - except that they were paying salaries too. And who knows how many other costs they had?

Sometimes, with community theater, it comes down to a will to live: the urge for survival. The 'responsible' businessmanlike thing to do may be to close the doors, but it's sometimes better to be the artist, stridently and willfully deny reality, and keep thrashing on nonetheless. Like that Elvis-loving Chilean miner who kept up his running regimen, when most people would have sunk into depressed torpor.

I knew this Malthusian moment was coming for the community theaters. Over the last fifteen years, the number of groups have proliferated, so that now the many groups are starved for audiences, talent, and money. And now we have the recession too. The weak, halt, and sick will start falling.

But it's hard to tell who the weak, halt, and sick are. It's like spotting the weakest person in a Haitiian cholera ward - truth be told, no one looks all that strong. As I say, I thought CTW was the strongest in the local area. Maybe it is, technically. But maybe it has the weakest will to live.

Steve Got His Knee Replaced Today

I hope it all works out OK....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Best Laid Plans Of Mice And Men

Smokestack demolition goes terribly awry:
The former Ohio Edison Mad River Power Plant's 275-foot tower in Springfield came down on Wed., Nov. 10, but the blast knocked it the wrong direction. The tower was supposed to fall to the northeast, but ended up falling to the south — knocking down several nearby powerlines.

Record Gold Myth

The myth, she is sturdy. The inflation hawks won't correct for inflation if it helps them sell gold bars:
“Gold sets record high amid economic fears,” say The Associated Press and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “Gold surges to record high,” says CNN. Gold closed Monday “at a record $1,402.80 per troy ounce,” reports the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal.

It’s a good story. Unfortunately, it’s not true, at least not in any meaningful sense.

Gold is at a record only if you fail to adjust for inflation. ... The actual record was set 30 years ago, when the price of gold, in today’s dollars, hit $2,318 — or 71 percent higher than it closed on Tuesday.

Bipartisan Claptrap Rolls Into Town

A complete non-starter. Toxic for anyone to embrace! Reduce taxes on the rich and make the middle class pay more and reduce services? Nice! :
WASHINGTON — A draft proposal released Wednesday by the chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan commission on reducing the federal debt calls for deep cuts in domestic and military spending starting in 2012, and an overhaul of the tax code to raise revenue. Those changes and others would erase nearly $4 trillion from projected deficits through 2020, the proposal says.

The plan would reduce Social Security benefits to most future retirees — low-income people would get a higher benefit — and it would subject higher levels of income to payroll taxes to ensure Social Security’s solvency for at least the next 75 years.

But the plan would not count any savings from Social Security toward meeting the overall deficit-reduction goal set by Mr. Obama, reflecting the chairmen’s sensitivity to liberal critics who have complained that Social Security should be fixed only for its own sake, not to balance the nation’s books.

The proposed simplification of the tax code would repeal or modify a number of popular tax breaks — including the deductibility of mortgage interest payments — so that income tax rates could be reduced across the board. Under the plan, individual income tax rates would decline to as low as 8 percent on the lowest income bracket (now 10 percent) and to 23 percent on the highest bracket (now 35 percent). The corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, would also be reduced, to as low as 26 percent.

Even after reducing the rates, the overhaul of the tax code would still yield additional revenue to reduce annual deficits — a projected $80 billion in 2015.

But how low the rates are set would depend on how many tax breaks are reduced or eliminated. Some of them, including the mortgage interest deduction and the exemption from taxes for employees’ health benefits, are political sacred cows.

Mystery Launch

Interesting article and video regarding the Southern California mystery launch.

There's got to be a military angle here somewhere, but what it is, who can say?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Weak Holiday Season Indicator?

Diesel fuel use usually peaks in October, but not this year:
The Ceridian-UCLA Pulse of Commerce Index™ (PCI), a real-time measure of the flow of goods to U.S. factories, retailers, and consumers, fell 0.6 percent in October following a decline of 0.5 percent in September and a decline of 1.0 percent in August. The three consecutive month decline is the first since January 2009, when the U.S. was still deep in recession. The negative month-over-month trajectory for October, typically a peak month for America’s trucking industry, may also prelude a disappointing holiday season, indicating retailer wariness about future sales prospects.

Tony Tormenta Goes Down

Tony Tormenta, the brother of the leader of Mexico's Gulf Cartel, was killed on Saturday. This event aggravates a highly-dangerous situation:
MEXICO CITY — Mexican security forces killed reputed Gulf cartel leader Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, one of Mexico's most-wanted drug lords, in a spectacular, hours-long gunbattle Friday in the northern border city of Matamoros.

Cardenas Guillen, also known as "Tony Tormenta” or "Tony the Storm,” is the brother of imprisoned former leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen and is believed to have run the powerful cartel along with Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez.

He is the latest in a growing number of high-profile cartel leaders who have been captured or killed by the armed forces since President Felipe Calderon stationed them across the country to battle drug traffickers.

...Gunfire first broke out about 11 a.m. at an upscale residential area in Matamoros and shoot-outs ensued throughout the city after that for about eight hours, said a resident who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

A video posted on YouTube shows a string of sport utility vehicles and pickups racing through a street while continuous shooting is heard in the background.

Men wearing ski masks get out of a car and use it to block the street.
I don't know if this is the YouTube video referred to in the news story, but it's interesting nonetheless. This fellow tries to get close to the action. Below is an approximate translation of the accompanying text:

About 20 late model trucks belonging to the Gulf cartel are shown making defensive maneuvers to stop the incursion of Mexican sailors that were aimed at stopping Ezequiel Cardenas, alias "Tony Tormenta", one of the most powerful drug traffickers and sought after Mexico and the United States.

This video shows the organizational and tactical maneuvers used by the assassins who tried to encircle and neutralize the actions of sailors and soldiers, showing the level of danger to the civilian population who have to live here every day and the high risk to Special Forces.

Status Of That Enormous Chicken Coming Home To Roost

The mortgage securitization machine was supposed to run only in one direction (mortgage > security > investor). Only now that many foreclosures are forcing the machine to run in the opposite direction are people discovering just how badly the machine ran in the forward direction. In physics, this nonreversibility is akin to the phenomenon called "hysteresis", but with regard to the banks, the proper term is "hysteria."

In order for the housing market to bottom out and start recovering, someone somewhere is going to have to lose an awful lot of money. The courts are necessarily inefficient, so this process will be slow, with both homeowners and banks victims. Nevertheless, we have to get through the process first, because there is no housing recovery until then.

Denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance. We are at the 'anger' phase:
EAST PATCHOGUE, N.Y. - A year ago, Long Island Judge Jeffrey Spinner concluded that a mortgage company's paperwork in a foreclosure case was so flawed and its behavior in negotiations with the borrower so "repugnant" that he erased the family's $292,500 debt and gave the house back for free.

The judgment in favor of the homeowner, Diane Yano-Horoski, which is being appealed, has alarmed the nation's biggest lenders, who say it could establish a dramatic new legal precedent and roil the nation's foreclosure system.

It is not the only case that has big banks worried. Spinner and some of colleagues in the New York City area estimate they are dismissing 20 to 50 percent of foreclosure cases on the basis of sloppy or fraudulent paperwork filed by lenders.

Their decisions illustrate the central role lower court judges will have in resolving the country's foreclosure debacle. The mess came to light after lawsuits and media reports showed lenders were routinely filing shoddy or fraudulent papers to seize the homes of borrowers who had missed payments.

In millions of cases across the United States, local judges have wide latitude to impose sanctions on banks, free homeowners from their mortgage debts or allow the companies to proceed with flawed foreclosures. Ultimately, the industry is likely to face a messy scenario - different resolutions by courts in all 50 states.

..."We believe the Yano-Horoski ruling, if allowed to stand, has sweeping and dangerous implications for the entire mortgage lending industry," said OneWest Bank, the family's mortgage servicer.

...Judge Dana Winslow of Nassau County says he's thought a lot about why judges in his area are more apt to question filings. He said it comes down to one thing: Lack of trust for Wall Street. In this region, judges have seen a lot of inaccurate filings from the financial sector.

Trust "of the lending institutions and Wall Street has eroded in some areas of the country more than others," Winslow said.

...On Sept. 21, Judge Peter Mayer of Suffolk County delayed a foreclosure by Ally Financial's GMAC mortgage unit after noticing that the paperwork transferring the mortgage to the bank was dated two days after the foreclosure was initiated.

And on Oct. 21, Judge Arthur Schack of Kings County dismissed a OneWest foreclosure motion because the bank had not adequately documented how the mortgage had been sold and resold to investors. He also questioned why the employee who signed many of the documents claimed to be a vice president of several different mortgage companies at the same time.

...In his November 2009 ruling, Judge Spinner of Suffolk County blasted OneWest for negotiating with an "opprobrious demeanor and condescending attitude." He also cited the bank's "duplicity" in offering a forbearance agreement with a deadline that had already passed and for presenting contradictory paperwork claiming different amounts for what the family owed.

...Nonetheless, Horoski remains optimistic.

"People thought people who didn't pay their mortgages were automatically deadbeats," he said. "People are educated now. They are realizing all of a sudden how many hundreds of thousands of these homes that were foreclosed may have been done so with fraudulent documents."

Brother-In-Law Lashes Out; I Lash Back

Yes, indeed, this will be a long, long decade!:
What your boys did to health care pisses me off. My premium is up 68.1% Good job.
That’s not our boys; that’s your boys! Delaying implementation till 2014, and not having a public option for cost containment, will ruin us all.
No R voted for this. It's your boys.
Health care delivery, like electricity delivery, forms imperfect markets, which means that customers are not free to shop (heart patients do not shop when they need surgeons; neither do customers put out bids for electricity providers). In markets, shopping is the primary cost-control mechanism.

Imperfect markets with few providers immediately degrade into cartels, where providers collude to keep rates high, unless they are forced to compete with an entity that has different priorities – generally a publicly-owned provider answerable not just to shareholders, but taxpayers too.

Sometimes all you need is proximity to keep prices under control. For example, in Sacramento, the simple existence of the publicly-owned SMUD electricity utility is enough to keep the privately-owned PG&E’s utility rates under control, because they exist side-by-side, and SMUD can poach on PG&E’s turf if disparities get too great. But if SMUD didn’t exist, PG&E could double rates overnight and hardly anyone could stop them.

All that liberals want is a public option – a public provider of health insurance, just like every industrialized country in the world has (except the USA) – which would force private insurers to stop colluding and start competing, and keep rates down. Without the public option, the health insurance cartel can raise prices to any level they want.

So, the R’s got what they wanted – no public option – which means the sky’s the limit on rates. I’m sorry you are so heavily-impacted, but you are hardly alone (rates are up 40% in CA).

So, this disaster has the R’s fingerprints all over it. They just don’t care. D’s are trying to fix the mess, but if R’s keep acting as the health insurance cartel’s stooges, it won’t happen.
Any ideas on how I will get my healthcare?

Parameters: I'm a 62 year old white guy, an R, not in a union, retired. Comments on how it will happen?

(As you listen to this, ask yourself, "What Country Do We Live In"????)
Well, your health care will be rationed, according to your ability to pay – same as it has always been.

Interesting Facts Regarding The Sept. 4th Earthquake Near Christchurch

A selection, from a new fact sheet:
  • The fault that caused the earthquake on 4 September 2010 has been named the Greendale Fault. It is a previously unknown fault under the Canterbury Plains.
  • The rupture on the fault broke through to the ground surface from many kilometres below and created a 29 km long east-west running scarp in the land between the Hororata River and Railway Road near Rolleston.
  • Up to 4.6 metres horizontal and 1.5 metres of vertical of permanent offset has been recorded across the fault at the ground surface. This is thought to be the first time that this fault has moved in several thousand years. It is highly unlikely that it will move again, producing another large earthquake, within the next few thousand years.
  • Movement on the Greendale Fault that caused the earthquake on 4 September also placed stress on the rocks around the fault, and particularly at the ends of the fault. Aftershocks are happening as the rock readjusts to this movement. This readjustment takes some time, so aftershocks generally continue for a few months after a big earthquake. However, they do tend to become less frequent and tend to generally get a little smaller as well.
  • It is unclear at this stage how this earthquake has affected other faults in the region. The chance of another major earthquake in the central South Island is not likely to have changed. Earthquake activity in Canterbury and elsewhere in New Zealand following the earthquake appears to be normal.
  • Cracks seen in the ground in areas of Waimakariri district, Christchurch city and lower Selwyn district are not faults. They are where the ground has cracked, often because of liquefaction, during the earthquakes. These cracks only go down to a depth of up to several metres. The Greendale Fault itself continues down kilometres into the earth’s crust.
  • Parts of the Waimakariri River stopbank system downstream of State Highway 1 were damaged during the earthquake. At present there is approximately 1 in 20 year protection for this area. A programme of repairs is now being undertaken by Environment Canterbury staff, and 1 in 30 year protection is expected within two months. Flood protection upstream of State Highway 1 has not been compromised and remains at 1 in 500 years.
  • Liquefaction and lateral spreading within the Halswell catchment has affected the capacity of the Halswell river and drainage system, and water levels are raised. Environment Canterbury staff are currently dredging the Halswell River channel and digging out side drains, and will move on to stabilising river banks. This work will take several months.
  • The level of flood protection on the Avon River has not been significantly affected by the earthquake.Christchurch City Council investigations show that the risk of flooding from the Avon and Heathcote rivers is no greater than before the earthquake. However, heavy rainfall could cause localised surface flooding in areas affected by liquefaction because of damage to stormwater systems.
  • Banks Peninsula is an extinct volcano and the earthquake activity is not related to it. Volcanic earthquakes are very different in style to the 4 September earthquake and subsequent aftershocks. Measurement of warm springs in the Lyttelton Harbour basin show an increase in flow, but no significant increase in temperature after the earthquake.

Let The Bush Tax Cuts Expire

Let the Bush tax cuts expire. They aren't worth saving. And it's way to send an important signal that tax cut policy by intimidation won't work:
The Obama administration’s hopes of reaching a tax deal with Republicans that would decouple rates on the rich from the middle class appear dead.

House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) threw cold water on the proposed plan, which would temporarily extend tax cuts for the wealthy while permanently extending tax cuts for the middle class. “Taxes shouldn't be going up on anybody right now,” Cantor said.

Cantor’s comments Monday evening on Fox News follow similar remarks from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the incoming senior Republican on the Senate’s tax-writing committee. While Hatch expressed an open mind to extending tax cuts past the 2012 election rather than permanently extending the rates, he also ruled out the decoupling proposal.

Hatch said he would be open to a compromise with the White House that would extend all of the Bush tax rates for at least two years.

Republicans do not want to separate the timelines for extending the rates because doing so would make it easier in the future to let tax breaks on upper-income people expire. Cantor on Monday also said the decoupling proposal would send a signal to small businesses that their taxes will rise, which he said would hurt the economy.

Cruise Line Update

That's actually quite amusing: they are sending bread and canned milk. I'm sure they have ridiculous amounts of food on board, probably in danger of spoiling; so much they can't possibly eat it all. But they are sending bread and canned milk.:

Tugboats assigned to bring a dead-in-the-water cruise ship into Ensenada will not reach the ship until midday at the earliest, the cruise company said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy plans to deliver 70,000 pounds of bread, canned milk and other food to the ship. The supplies are being flown from North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado to the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. The carrier's helicopters will then transfer the supplies to the cruise ship.

...While air-conditioning, hot-food and telephone services remain inoperable, the flush toilets have been restored to service, the company said.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Teevee Weather Is Hyping The Possibility Of Rain

But NOGAPS says little, if any, in the valley near Sacramento.

Post-Mortem On The Nevada Senate Race

But the plan worked. The Reid organization’s Terminator-like single-mindedness, relentlessness and discipline turned preparation into the most satisfying victory of Reid’s career, a resurrection unthinkable most of the year by the Beltway cognoscenti.

...In 2009, the team dedicated itself to one goal — raising enough money to scare off Rep. Dean Heller or Porter, considered their most formidable opponents. June 16, 2009, helped — the day Sen. John Ensign cast a pall over the Nevada GOP with his stunning revelation of an affair, which left him crippled and Heller frozen in place, perhaps seeing an easier path to a Senate seat in 2012 or if Ensign resigned. Porter received a cushy offer from a lobbying firm; Reid’s letter of recommendation will never be found.

...With the team assembled, the campaign began to prepare at the beginning of 2010 to face Sue Lowden, the deep-pocketed, telegenic former anchorwoman and state senator. She was the person, as one insider put it via e-mail, “we were least interested in facing so we set out to make sure that she either 1) came out of the primary bruised and battered or 2) didn’t come out of the primary at all so we would face Sharron Angle or Danny Tarkanian.”

...(One other preparation note: Democrats had lobbied for the primary to be moved back to June from August, thus giving Reid more time to pound whoever won and Republicans less time to rally behind one person. Thus, a dozen candidates caused the entropy that helped Angle emerge.)

As Republicans raised each other’s negatives, the Reid folks weren’t napping. They were hiring more staff, honing the turnout model that would prove the only accurate one this cycle (kudos to pollster Mark Mellman) and targeting Hispanics. “We knew that increasing the share of the electorate who were Hispanic was a key to winning so we invested heavily and ran an aggressive Hispanic program,” a Reid operative told me.

...In the end, Team Angle didn’t know what hit it. Despite the internal tension between the local yokels and the political pros, despite a campaign manager (Terry Campbell) who chose elective knee surgery during the middle of the biggest race in the country and despite having a thrown-together get-out-the-vote operation, they thought they were crushing Reid among independents. They thought they had the race won, as one insider informed me after I predicted Reid would win the Sunday before the balloting. They believed the public polls that drove the “Angle will win” narrative; they believed their own surveys.

They had no idea.

Cruise Ship Fire

Is this an omen? Different cruise line, but same port of calls!:
A luxury cruise ship on its way to Puerto Vallarta from Long Beach will instead be taken by tugboats to Ensenada after an engine fire that knocked out its air conditioning, hot food service, flush toilets and telephones, company officials said Monday night.

The Carnival Splendor, with 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members, was on the first day of a seven-day trip to the Mexican Riviera when a fire broke out in the aft engine room. No one was hurt but the fire disabled several systems.

In late afternoon, the tugboats were said to be en route to the 952-foot ship.

..."Conditions on board the ship are very challenging and we sincerely apologize for the discomfort and inconvenience our guests are currently enduring," said Gerry Cahill, president and chief executive officer of Carnival Cruise Lines.

The ship's scheduled itinerary was to include stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas.

Crybaby Big Ag

This opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee hit home:
I've been a California commercial fisherman for almost three decades. For most of that time, Chinook salmon constituted 70 percent or more of my business.

...Then in the past few years, everything changed. California's 2008 and 2009 salmon seasons were closed following a catastrophic crash in the stocks.

...What caused this disaster? Lack of water. Diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta south to corporate farms have deprived salmon of water they need in their spawning streams. Further, huge government-run Delta pumps that send taxpayer-subsidized water south destroy great numbers of young salmon trying to migrate downriver to the ocean.

The biological facts are bad enough. Even worse are the power plays of Big Agribusiness. Faced with modest restrictions on subsidized water deliveries to protect fish, Big Ag bleated like an old sheep, claiming economic ruin. Politicians rewarded their calculated hysteria, augmenting their supplies with "emergency" deliveries.

...From all the wailing, you'd have thought Westlands was in worse shape than the salmon fishing ports. But – surprise! Westlands not only had enough water for their crops – they had leftovers. In fact, they had a 2010 surplus of about 450,000 acre-feet, enough water to supply 1.8 million urbanites for one year. So, they decided to trade 150,000 acre-feet to the Metropolitan Water District and generate $30 million of benefit for themselves.

...Salmon are resilient, but they can't live on sunlight alone. They need water, and we should give it to them. Salmon fishing is one of America's most regulated industries. Fishermen understand the necessity for resource protection – but we demand a level playing field. The regulations that apply to us must also apply to the westside's water buccaneers. It's a matter of law and fairness.

Latinos Growing In Electoral Importance

It's taken awhile, partly because so many recent immigrants are young, partly because so many are recent citizens, and partly because so many older Latinos have been on the fringes on mainstream American life for so long. But it looks like Latinos are finally voting at levels that can truly influence elections, at least in the Southwest. That should have the salutory effect of making xenophobic pitches that still work in the South all but inoperative in the Southwest, the same way that the Voting Rights Act, and heavier black voting, greatly-modified the campaign behavior of Southern politicians:
One reason California didn't follow national trends on Tuesday? Latinos.
Driving much of the success — and distancing the state from the national GOP tide, according to exit polls — was a surge in Latino voters. They made up 22% of the California voter pool, a record tally that mortally wounded many Republicans.

...Jerry Brown won Latinos 73-18 in the governor's race.
In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet survived his first election by less than 10,000 votes. And the state's growing Latino population (now at 12 percent of all voters) provided the margin.

...In Nevada, Sen. Harry Reid was much maligned by critics for starkly stating that "I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican." Yet by starkly laying out the stakes, Reid cleaned up with Latinos. First of all, he kept their turnout stead -- Latinos were 15 percent of the electorate in 2008 and in 2010. That in itself was a remarkable achievement, given that in most of the country, non-whites saw steep dropoffs in turnout. Perhaps Sharrrrron Angle's openly racist campaign wasn't a great idea, as Jon Ralston notes:
So many Hispanics turned out that the numbers defied the most optimistic estimates of the Reid folks. Even the Asian-looking ones must have gone to the polls. Hispanics made up about the same percentage of the electorate as they did in 2008, according to preliminary analysis and exit polls — 15 percent. Angle took a calculated — and, yes, shameful — risk by airing ads that were decried as racist and set off waves of revulsion in the Hispanic community. She hoped to get independent votes, but she never counted on dramatically improving Hispanic turnout. A fitting reward, I’d say.
Even in Arizona, Latinos are wising up. In 2004, John McCain got 74 percent of the Latino vote against marginal opposition. In 2010, McCain got 40 percent, against equally marginal opposition. In the governor's race, Latinos gave victorious GOP governor Jan Brewer just 28 percent of the vote. All of that after consistently giving Arizona Republicans 40% of the vote over the years.

...The sleeping giant is awake

Slowly, The Gloves Start Coming Off

Congresspeople wield their elected status as a birthright, and have always felt free, as part of their mission to serve the American people, to ignore history, custom, and plain facts. New efforts by scientists to rein them in in regards to climate science should prove interesting, particularly as the scientists depend on funding from the federal government. Congressional tyranny is one direction we could head; an enlightened Congress seems less likely, but you never know!:
Hundreds of US scientists are joining a mass effort to speak out on climate change, experts said Monday after skeptics gained political ground with last week's Republican gains in Congress.

The moves signals a bold approach by scientists, typically reluctant to get involved in policy debates, as US President Barack Obama's efforts to set stricter penalties for polluters face near-certain defeat in the legislature.

..."I think it is important for scientists to assure that the public and policy makers have a clear view of what scientific findings are and what the implications of those findings are," said Princeton University scientist Michael Oppenheimer.

"To the extent that some members of the new majority in the House have exhibited a contrarianism to science, I think it is a good way to have a scientific community there to help keep its facts clear."

One group of about 40 scientists has been mobilized as a "rapid response team" to dive into the often hostile media environment and try to correct misinformation about global warming, said organizer John Abraham.

"We did not form this to take a stance against climate change skeptics. However if a skeptical argument is put forward that doesn't agree with science, we will refute that," said Abraham, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota.

...Big oil and coal companies invest millions of dollars each year lobbying Washington that strict regulations on polluters would slash jobs and cause energy prices to spike, vastly outspending environmental groups.

As many as half of the 100 new Republican members of Congress "deny the existence of man-made climatechange" while 86 percent oppose any climate change legislation that would boost government revenue, according to a recent post on ThinkProgress, a blog by left-wing think-tank the Center for American Progress.

Duffy - Syrup And Honey

Squeaky wheel gets the grease, I presume!

I published this post in May, 2008, and for my troubles, last month I was presented with a DMCA takedown order. All I did was post a YouTube video: no music-sharing, no music files, not even any commentary. And the video, uploaded by Polydor Records, is still there on YouTube, still embeddable, and has logged nearly 3 million views in three years. Did they just over-react? Or are they just hassling people?

I protested with a counter-letter, and today Blogger is letting me post it again.

I'm posting it an additional time, for good measure.


RJ Mitte Regarding "Breaking Bad", Season 4

The perfect ominous tone:
Mitte says he's looking forward to starting the fourth season of "Breaking Bad." "I like to work," he says, but he can't reveal much about what to expect there, either.

"I have a feeling it's going to be a rough year for the White family."

How much rougher can it get?

"Wait till you see," he says with a smile. "Wait till you see."

Sunday, November 07, 2010

"The Wiz" - Runaway Stage Productions

Cast members from RSP's "The Wiz" pose for photos Friday night after the show with friends and well-wishers.

Gabe Is Aghast

Last week here at work, I approached Gabe to say something, and he recoiled.

"Oh, that's just awful," he said. I replied: "What's awful?" With a grimace he said: "Your shirt!"

"Oh, this is one of the shirts I inherited from my father," I replied. "I rather like the turquoise color. It reminds me of New Mexico."

Gabe replied: "Maybe that explains it - it fairly screams 'old man'! It hurts the eyes! That color!"

I dunno. I rather like it, but if I have trangressed against the clothing gods (and it's so easy for a geek like me to do) then I must make amends. It's time - yes, it's past time - to go to the mall!

George W. Bush Deserves Prison

Waterboarding is torture, which is banned under international treaty. There is no excuse for this reprehensible conduct (the 'ticking time bomb' scenario rarely happens in real life, and certainly wasn't happening here - 'saving lives' isn't a good enough excuse, particularly when far more lives have been jeopardized as a direct result).

It's past time for George W. Bush to be treated as the criminal he is. Lawbreakers should not be cosseted and coddled the way the past administration has been:
In his book, titled "Decision Points," Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was "Damn right" and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives, according to a someone close to Bush who has read the book.

Bush previously had acknowledged endorsing what he described as the CIA's "enhanced" interrogation techniques - a term meant to encompass irregular, coercive methods - after Justice Department officials and other top aides assured him they were legal. "I was a big supporter of waterboarding," Vice President Richard B. Cheney acknowledged in a television interview in February.

The Justice Department later repudiated some of the underlying legal analysis for the CIA effort. But Bush told an interviewer a week before leaving the White House that "I firmly reject the word 'torture,' " and he reiterates that view in the book. Reuters and the New York Times first published accounts of the book's contents Tuesday evening.

...The 26-year-old United Nations Convention Against Torture requires that all parties to it seek to enforce its provisions, even for acts committed elsewhere. That provision, known as universal jurisdiction, has been cited in the past by prosecutors in Spain and Belgium to justify investigations of acts by foreign officials. But no such trials have occurred in foreign courts.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said, "Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting."

He's B-a-a-a-a-c-k!

Two work days off is not much more than a 'weekend'. So, what does it mean?:
In a statement released late Sunday, MSNBC President Phil Griffin said: "After several days of deliberation and discussion, I have determined that suspending Keith through and including Monday night's program is an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy. We look forward to having him back on the air Tuesday night."

Sacto Rainfall

About 0.45 inches at Sacramento Executive Airport. Nice!

Haiti Mops Up

Apparently things went as well as could be expected in the big cities of Haiti as Tomas passed nearby. That is a relief!:
The storm’s western track caused widespread floods and wind damage along the far edge of Haiti’s coast and is blamed for the deaths of at least eight people. It was a serious blow, but far better than had been feared in a nation where storms have been known to kill thousands, and more than 1 million quake survivors are living under tarpaulins and in tents.

“It really didn’t dump a lot of rain on us, so we got very lucky,’’ said Steve McAndrew, Haiti earthquake relief coordinator for the American Red Cross.

...Floodwaters covered streets in Leogane, the town closest to the epicenter of the Jan. 12 quake, and about a foot of water stood on a thoroughfare of the flood-prone northwestern city of Gonaives. Mountain towns were cut off by flooded roads and landslides, including one reported by UN peacekeepers near the southern port of Jacmel.

But it was clear that the most-feared catastrophes were averted: Earthquake camps were not torn apart by wind; storm surge did not drown the ocean-side slums; and the La Quinte River — which has twice drowned Gonaives above the first stories of its buildings since 2004 — stayed in its bed.

...Despite official instructions to abandon earthquake camps in the capital, the vast majority of people remained in their tarps, leaving evacuation buses to drive away empty. Many were concerned that the storm was a pretext to evict them, or that bandits would steal their belongings while they were away.

In camps that did flood in Leogane, most people left only at the last minute. Others remained, surrounded by rising waters and yelling for help.

At the government’s flagship relocation camp, Corail-Cesselesse, chaos reigned long into the night. Disorganization between various aid groups and confusion among the nearly 8,000 residents sparked a near-riot as the evacuation got underway.

The residents had moved to the remote location with the promise that it would protect them from storms, but the government-selected, internationally approved site turned out to be a dangerous floodplain.

Once the evacuation got underway, several thousand people were packed into an abandoned hospital named .... A loud crash at the back of the building around midnight sparked shouts of “Earthquake!’’ and panic ensued. Three people were injured and had to be sent to a hospital.