Saturday, October 01, 2005

Defining the privilege

Full disclosure: I am not a lawyer. I never trained as a lawyer, never studied the law, and, in fact, know practically nothing about the law except what I have picked up on street corners and back alleyways. (That last statement could be pressed into service about just about any and all subjects under the sun, about which I know practically little or nothing at all.) So, it's all IMHO and YMMMV and PDNTTAH and so on and so forth.

Under our legal system, we have extended to several groups specific privileges to be exempted from some of the normal workings of the law, and we do this not because the people or professions involved are peculiar in their importance, nor to make the lives and work of the people involved easier, but because we recognize in each of these privileges a definite and specific benefit to society as a whole.

We speculate that society is benefitted by not forcing spouses to testify against each other, because stable families are one of the basic building blocks of a stable civil society, and allowing the state to pit one spouse against another would undermine that institution.

We believe that the overall health of our society is improved if individuals can speak franky and forthrightly to their doctors without fear that their conversations will be revealed, and that our mental health is supported by a similar privilege for psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists.

Similarly, we extend the same privilege to spiritual advisors and clerics, on the assumption that our collective spiritual well-being is served by protecting some of their specific conversations.

With journalists, the theory is, I believe, that our civic health depends to some extent on having an open and transparent society in which information that is important to all citizens is not suppressed or destroyed by those in positions of power, whether inside our various governments, or in the corporations that control so many aspects of our lives. The journalistic privilege, incomplete and patchy as it is, is in place not to make the lives of journalists easier, or to help them honor promises to their sources (because those promises may or may not be serving the public interest), but to help maximize the flow of information from inside organizations and bureaucracies that tend to want to be closed.

In short, a journalist should have the privilege of protecting his or her source of information, when that information is coming from a whistleblower and serves to provide greater transparency for the groups that rule our lives.

It's quite a different matter when the information being leaked is coming not from whistleblowers who hope to facilitate the uncovering of wrong-doing, but from those people who actually sit at or very near the apex of power, and its release is not promoting openness and transparency, but being used as a cudgel to punish whistleblowers by discrediting them or wrecking their lives. This is even more the case when the leakage of information is, in and of itself, a crime, an act of wrongdoing serving a selfish and insular purpose.

In those circumstances, journalists should most definitely not be extended any privilege to withhold their sources from official investigations of wrongdoing, because doing so does not in any well benefit society at large. Journalists who refuse to reveal those sources, once the true nature and purpose of the leak is clear, are not acting honorably or as good citizens, because by doing so they become pawns for the bad guys and facilitators of their despicable acts.

If journalists invoke such a privilege under those circumstances without knowing that they are helping those involved in wrongdoing, they are simply tools, useful idiots, but if they know, and go ahead and stand on "principle" anyway, they are plainly nothing but prostitutes.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/01/2005 03:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, September 30, 2005

Honor and integrity

Digby (right up there with Billmon, in my estimation):
So, we have a federal probe implicating the president's number one political advisor and the vice president's chief of staff in the violation of laws protecting CIA agents and possibly lying to federal investigators.

We have a multi-pronged investigation into a lobbyist who happens to be a very close associate of Tom DeLay,Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Karl Rove and the entire Republican leadership going back to their youth as members of the College republicans. This lobbyist is now implicated in a mafia murder plot and has been arrested on charges affiliated with that crime.

A member of the Bush administration who is a good friend and associate of all of the above was arrested this week for lying to the Feds about his good friend the lobbyist.

The majority leader of the Senate is now officially under investigation by the SEC and federal prosecutors for insider trading involving potentially many millions of dollars.

The majority leader of the House was just indicted by a Texas Grand jury for violating laws prohibiting the use of corporate money in campaigns.

I am so relieved that the Republicans restored honor and integrity to Washington. There hasn't been even one blow job in that town since they took power.

Hunter at dKos blasts back at a wingnut who warns Democrats they're playing with fire by indicting DeLay:

Your party has set aflame the entire political landscape, and now, once burned, you warn sternly from the branches of a burnt-out tree about "playing with fire". You used the ashes of one of the great liberal cities of America, New York City, as war paint for your own sick, racist dreams. You shudder at a burning flag, yet are willing to snip-and-cut basic tenets of the Constitution as needed or convenient.

And now, you're outraged, not by any of the rest of it, not by anything that has come before, but because a few prominent Republican faces have -- shock of shocks -- been indicted in probes that have spanned years of investigation, and interrogation, and deposition. That, you say, represents the underpinnings of a civil war.

You poor, hollow, blood-painted clowns. Cheering the trials and failures of your country with the same pennants and giant foam hands that you wave at your favorite sports teams. Willing to accept the most outrageous of lies, if they are spoken from your favorite talking heads, and soothe your own notions of America for you, and only for you.

And as for the audacity of Democrats speaking up during this process... the redfaced, flatulent fury with which you declare Republicans off-limits to that which you so gleefully hurl yourself...

Welcome to the world of the politics of personal destruction, you tubthumping, chin-jutting, Bush humping gits. Welcome to the nasty and partisan world that Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and a legion of insignificant lowest-rung toadies like yourselves nurtured into fruition daily with eager, grubby hands, and now look upon with dull-faced faux horror.


So don't give me chest-thumping crap about civil wars, if your politicians are indicted. Don't give me visions of a lake of fire, if all those who find you loathsome refuse to suck at your teats of scientific ignorance in the name of religion, racism in the name of freedom, and corruption in the name of the New World Order.

Get used to the world you have created, and the stench your worshipped heroes have unleashed.

I guess they had to destroy our country in order to save it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/30/2005 05:05:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Testing, testing

Via my friend at A Rational Being, here's a link to a political test similar to the older Political Compass, in that your responses are rated on a two-dimensional grid, where one axis is greater or lesser Social Permissiveness, and the other is greater or lesser Economic Permissiveness.

I've taken the Political Compass test four times over the past couple of years, and my score has varied to a small extent -- the variation being explained, I think, by changes in the questions and the addition of new questions relevant to current events. I always end up in the same quadrant, though, the lower left, representing the Left-Libertarian segment (which I share with Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama -- not bad company).

On this new test, my results were similar:
You are a Social Liberal (80% permissive) and an Economic Liberal (16% permissive). You are best described as a: Socialist. You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness. loc: (112, -125) modscore: (10, 48)

That the results are similar is hardly a surprise, since the new test is clearly very strongly modeled after Political Compass -- somewhat of a rip-off of it would not be putting it too strongly.

But these tests are only for fun, anyway, they're not exactly a incisive diagnostic tool, so take a moment and give it a try.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/30/2005 01:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Comment on comments

A note to my semi-score of faithful readers:

Haloscan informs me that the volume of comments on this blog is so enormous that it's eating up their bandwidth at an alarming rate. So far, they aren't going to insist that I do anything to reign in the unfutz commentariat, but I guess we're on notice -- so make sure those comments count!

P.S. A big hello to Debbie and Kelsey in Orange County!

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/30/2005 01:05:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The media chooses the story line

I caught Rush Limbaugh's girlfriend, Daryn Kagan, the CNN anchorperson, the other day, talking with a Time magazine correspondant about their recent story detailing Bush's rampant cronyism. Kagan, of course, immediately went for the "they all do it" spin, the first defense of the guilty. She asked the Time guy about past administrations which had hired friends of the President for official positions. Strangely, the two presidents she picked as examples were both Democrats, Bill Clinton (as of course she would, since a prime watchword of the media is "Never blame Bush for anything without implicating Clinton as well") and ... Jack Kennedy.

So Kagan is comparing the crooks, bunglers and ideologues of the incompetent, uncaring and corrupt Bush administration with the Best and Brightest who flocked to Kennedy's administration? Amazing.

Also incredible is that she didn't even mention another previous administraton shot through with incompetence at the highest levels: the Reagan administration. But, again, the media works with another dictum: "Never blame anything on the God Reagan, because if you do, piles and piles of shit will rain down upon you."

And now, with the indictment of DeLay, we'll be seeing almost continuously for the near future clips and summaries of all the Democratic Congressional wrong-doing of the past 25 years, with nary a thought given to questions of scale. DeLay's political reach is vast, and his control of it iron-fisted. He is one of the prime Republican Godfathers, doing favors, calling in chits, and punishing those who stray from the party-line. The corruption is wide-spread, and the perversion of proper democratic government function is broad and deep. The damage he's done, and others of the right-wing mafia, like Grover Norquist, is inestimable, and the media only compounds that with their preference for the easy, but socially debilitating, "They're all guilty" story line.

Compared to that, anything done by any Democrat in the past is mere chicken-feed, much more a matter of personal malfeasance than institutional prostitution, and certainly less damaging to our society.

The thing to look out for now is, who takes over the DeLay machine, because putting him out of business (if that's what indeed happens) doesn't necessarily insure the death of the system he created. Here in New York, after years of trying, we were finally able to get rid of Sleazy Al D'Amato, but his machine was taken over lock, stock and barrel by George Pataki, which is why he's still in office, despite his ineffectiveness and lack of any discernable accomplishment (not to mention charisma).

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/28/2005 05:26:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


How it was done

In a piece largely about conditions in New Orleans after Katrina, David Remnick tells how another president dealt with an earlier hurricane there, back in the days before FEMA was formed to plan and coordinate disaster response:
On September 10, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson had lunch in the Roosevelt Room—the “Fish Room,” as F.D.R. called it—with several aides and half a dozen ambassadors of modest-sized countries. Then he returned to the Oval Office for a routine round of meetings and telephone calls—a fairly ordinary, crowded day amid the growing crisis of the war in Vietnam. At 2:36 p.m., according to copies of Johnson’s daily diaries, the President took a call from Senator Russell Long, of Louisiana. The day before, Hurricane Betsy had made landfall on the Gulf Coast. Storm gusts were up to a hundred and sixty miles an hour, and in New Orleans levees had been breached, causing much of the city to flood overnight, especially the neighborhoods of Bywater, Pontchartrain Park, and the largely black and impoverished Ninth Ward. The Army Corps of Engineers later reported as many as eighty-one deaths, a quarter-million people evacuated, and water levels of up to nine feet. Hurricane Betsy was the worst disaster to strike New Orleans since the cholera epidemic of 1849 and the yellow-fever epidemic of 1905.

Russell Long, the son of Huey Long and an old friend of Johnson’s in the Senate, had a simple goal. He wanted to convince the President of the urgency of the crisis and have him come immediately to Louisiana. Their conversation is rich with emotional and political manipulation. Long made it clear to Johnson that to delay, or to send a subordinate, could easily have consequences in the 1968 election...


Johnson hung up. He met with Bill Moyers, Larry O’Brien, J. Edgar Hoover, and others. He accepted an award from the leaders of the World Convention of Churches of Christ. Then, at 5:03 p.m., he boarded a helicopter on the South Lawn, and it ferried him to Andrews Air Force Base. From there the President—along with Russell Long and Representative Hale Boggs, the key congressional powers in Louisiana, and officials from the Red Cross and the Army Corps of Engineers—flew to New Orleans on Air Force One. “The President spent a good deal of the time talking w/ Senator Long and Cong. Hale Boggs during the flight,” the diary says. “Also worked in his bedroom w/ [his assistants] on mail that had been taken on the flight. Afterwards, the President napped for about 30 minutes before arrival in New Orleans.”

Even at the airport, Johnson began to get a sense of the damage wrought by Betsy. “Parts of the roofing of the terminal were torn away and several of the large windows were broken,” the diary reads. “The members of the Presidential party had seen from the air a preview of the city—water over 3/4 of the city up to the eaves of the homes, etc.” At the urging of the mayor of New Orleans—a diminutive conservative Democrat named Victor Hugo Schiro, whom Johnson referred to as “Little Mayor”—the President decided to tour the flooded areas. His motorcade stopped on a bridge spanning the Industrial Canal, in the eastern part of the city, and from there the Presidential party saw whole neighborhoods engulfed by floods. They could see, according to the diary, that “people were walking along the bridge where they had disembarked from the boats that had brought them to dry land. Many of them were carrying the barest of their possessions and many of them had been sitting on top of their houses waiting for rescue squads to retrieve the families and carry them to dry land.” Johnson talked with a seventy-four-year-old black man named William Marshall and asked about what had happened and how he was getting along. As the conversation ended, Marshall said, “God bless you, Mr. President. God ever bless you.”

In the Ninth Ward, Johnson visited the George Washington Elementary School, on St. Claude Avenue, which was being used as a shelter. “Most of the people inside and outside of the building were Negro,” the diary reads. “At first, they did not believe that it was actually the President.” Johnson entered the crowded shelter in near-total darkness; there were only a couple of flashlights to lead the way.

“This is your President!” Johnson announced. “I’m here to help you!”

The diary describes the shelter as a “mass of human suffering,” with people calling out for help “in terribly emotional wails from voices of all ages. . . . It was a most pitiful sight of human and material destruction.” According to an article by the historian Edward F. Haas, published fifteen years ago in the Gulf Coast Historical Review, Johnson was deeply moved as people approached and asked him for food and water; one woman asked Johnson for a boat so that she could look for her two sons, who had been lost in the flood.

“Little Mayor, this is horrible,” Johnson said to Schiro. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.” Johnson assured Schiro that the resources of the federal government were at his disposal and that “all red tape [will] be cut.”

The President flew back to Washington and the next day sent Schiro a sixteen-page telegram outlining plans for aid and the revival of New Orleans. “Please know,” Johnson wrote, “that my thoughts and prayers are with you and the thousands of Louisiana citizens who have suffered so heavily.”

So, direct personal and immediate action in a situation where disaster response was not yet formalized. What a stark contrast to Bush's personal lack of response to Katrina, and his administration's ideologically-determined disinclination to help and then their incompetent bungling when they finally tried to do so.


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/28/2005 04:55:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Rebuilding roundtable

Salon has a roundtable discussion on the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Update (9/29): From that roundtable, here's PolicyLink's "Ten Points to Guide Rebuilding in the Gulf Coast Region":
  1. Rebuild New Orleans, and other devastated areas, so that all communities are mixed income communities. Everyone who was evacuated from the region should be able to return and to have a decent living. Focus on rezoning the city to allow a mix of housing types; targeting low income housing tax credits to spread affordable housing broadly across the city and surrounding region, and setting up a guiding entity to help families find housing in economically integrated neighborhoods.

  2. Equitably distribute the amenities and infrastructure investments that make all communities livable. For example, parks should be spread throughout the city; attractive, modern school buildings should be placed to serve every neighborhood; a transit system should be built or enhanced to serve all the residents of New Orleans. Equitable investment in infrastructure can attract and sustain mixed income communities.

  3. Prioritize health and safety concerns. Rebuilding efforts should not expose residents to potential hazards like residual toxins, air and groundwater pollution, or future flooding.

  4. Ensure responsible resettlement or relocation for displaced Gulf Coast residents. Adequate relocation support must be provided for New Orleans residents who wish to return to the city (but cannot and should not return to their former neighborhoods), as well as evacuees who choose not to return or cannot return to the Gulf Coast for an extended period of time. Make sure that residents are not relocated multiple times; whenever possible, provide families with choices; provide counseling for those being relocated; ensure appropriate support and transition assistance; and safeguard against exploitation by predatory lenders.

  5. Restore and build the capacity of community based organizations in the Gulf Coast region and beyond. Federal, state, and local government—in partnership with the philanthropic community—must dedicate resources to enable New Orleans and Gulf Coast community based organizations to reestablish operations, actively participate in rebuilding efforts, and connect with returning residents in need of critical support. Additionally, in Houston, Baton Rouge, and other areas welcoming substantial numbers of evacuees, government resources must enhance the capacity of local community and social service organizations to provide assistance to newcomers, so that already underfunded support networks for the poor are not further diminished.

  6. Create wealth-building opportunities to effectively address poverty. In addition to not concentrating poverty, the rebuilding effort should increase wealth and assets of residents through jobs that pay wages sufficient to lift people out of poverty, home ownership opportunities, personal savings, and small business development.

  7. Strengthen the political voice of dispersed residents. Specifically, every effort should be made to ensure that everyone can continue to engage in the voting process. Residents of color, whether returning to the Gulf Coast or settling permanently in other regions, must continue to have representation that serves their interests and needs.

  8. Create a system for meaningful, sustained resident oversight of the $200 billion investment that will be implemented by private development corporations. Community benefits agreements and local oversight policies can ensure “double bottom line” investments that offer financial return to investors while also building social capital and healthy, vibrant, mixed income communities.

  9. Leverage rebuilding expenditures to create jobs with livable wages that go first to local residents. Make investment in massive job training for those who need such assistance to qualify for jobs. Rebuilding efforts should also build assets for residents and small businesses—not simply siphon opportunities to non-local corporate interests.

  10. Develop a communications and technology infrastructure that provides residents with the means to receive and share information related to community building, support services, and access to jobs, transportation, and temporary and permanent housing, and that strengthens public will for the changes that will be required for short-term and long-term efforts to rebuild Gulf communities and lives. Online communications systems can supplement and fill gaps in mainstream media coverage of the equity implications of rebuilding New Orleans and serve simultaneously to inform and engage by providing evacuees and advocacy networks dispersed across the country, as well as the general public, opportunities to organize and take action online.

There were two ideas presented in the roundtable which I thought were interesting and should be further investigated.

The first was to empower the former residents of New Orleans themselves as agents to determine how (and whether) the city would be rebuilt, by using some portion of the earmarked money (half of the $200 billion intially estimated overall cost was the initial suggestion) to make direct payments to them. They could then decide what they wanted to do with it, move back to the city or go elsewhere. Of course such a plan would have to be accompanied by a right to return if they desired and by realistic reconstruction policies which would make it feasble, and desirable, for them to come back if they wished to.

The other intrigung suggestion was to deliberately not rebuild in the most easily flooded of the low-lying areas, to allow them to become flood retention basins to help ease future flooding. The neighborhoods that existed in these places could be relocated to higher ground, and the repurposed land could, for instance, be made over into urban park lands.

Addenda: I should also note one idea that I found totally resistable: that if New Orleans is to be rebuilt with tourism as its core industry, it should go to what was called "high road tourism," on the model of -- gulp -- Las Vegas. While the economic advantages to doing so, both to the city and to the workers in the tourism industry, seem clear, taking the "high road" would undoubtedly "preserve" New Orleans culture in an artificial, stagnant, Disneyfied way which would kill it. The mounted and stuffed carcass would be available for the delectation of the tourists, but such taxidermy cannot be performed on a living, vital culture without destroying what it was.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/28/2005 10:29:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Precision blaming

David Sipress in The New Yorker:

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/27/2005 11:43:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


What hath godliness wrought?

The Times of London:
Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.


It's worth remembering that correlation does not necessarly imply causation. It could well be that some aspect of American society is responsible for both our elevated levels of religiousness, compared to other industrialized Western countries, and for our elevated levels of social problems (as detailed in the part of the article I didn't quote), so I don't I really buy that religousness causes those problems, although I can certainly believe they're in some way related.

In general religion has been in the past a method for people to determine (or attempt to determine) how the universe works, but that aspect of it has been entirely, and rightfully, supplanted by science, the most powerful engine for uncovering facts about the natural world that we've ever invented. In The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994), Francis Crick wrote:

[H]ow did [religious beliefs] originate in the first place, and why do they so often turn out to be incorrect?

One factor is our basic need for overall explanations of the nature of the world and of ourselves. The various religions provide such explanations and in terms the average person finds easy to relate to. It should always be remembered that our brains largely developed during the period when humans were hunter-gatherers. There was strong selective pressure for cooperation within small groups of people and also for hostility to neighboring, competing tribes. ... Under such circumstances a shared set of overall beliefs strengthens the bond between tribal members. It is more than likely that the need for them was built into our brains by evolution. Our highly developed brains, after all, were not evolved under the pressure of discovering scientific truths but to enable us to be clever enough to survive and leave descendants.

From this point of view there is no need for these shared beliefs to be completely correct, provided people can believe in them. ... The very nature of our brains -- evolved to guess the most plausible interpretation of the limited evidence available -- makes it almost inevitable that, without the discipline of scientific research, we shall often jump to wrong conclusions, especially about rather abstract matters.

Religion has also been, and continues to be, a powerful force for spreading the basic moral values upon which society is based, and without which (encoded either in religious behavioral strictures, like the Ten Commandments, or in our system of laws) we couldn't continue to hold together.

Unfortunately, religion is also a powerful force in another way -- it encourages (and indeed, demands) faith, which is antithetical to rational thinking.

Richard Dawkins:

Another member of the religious meme complex is called faith. It means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the face of evidence. The story of Doubting Thomas is told, not so that we may admire Thomas, but so that we can admire the other apostles in comparison. Thomas demanded evidence. Nothing is more lethal for certain kinds of meme than a tendency to look for evidence. The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation. The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.


Faith is such a successful brainwasher in its own favour, especially a brainwasher of children, that it is hard to break its hold. But what, after all, is faith? It is a state of mind that leads people to believe something -- it doesn't matter what -- in the total absence of supporting evidence. If there were good supporting evidence then faith would be superfluous, for the evidence would compel us to believe it anyway. It is this that makes the often-parroted claim that 'evolution itself is a matter of faith' so silly. People believe in evolution not because they arbitrarily want to believe it but because of overwhelming, publicly available evidence.


Faith cannot move mountains (though generations of children are solemnly told the contrary and believe it.) But it is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness. It leads people to believe in whatever so strongly that in extreme cases they are prepared to kill and to die for it without the need for further justification ... You see lots of these people on the evening news from such places as Belfast or Beirut. Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr's death will send them straight to heaven. What a weapon! Religious faith deserves a chapter to itself in the annals of war technology, on an even footing with the longbow, the warhorse, the tank, and the hydrogen bomb. [The Selfish Gene (1989)]

I think the overall equation is perhaps a bit more complicated than indicated in the Times piece. After all, the European countries that the U.S. is being compared to also have their basis in Christianity, and are still, to some extent, less than totally secular in their governance and social structure -- so how do you separate out the effect that religiosity has (and has had) on the stability and qualities of those societies from the negative effect it has in, for instance, discouraging rational thought?

I don't doubt that religion can be a destructive and negative force, but I also don't believe that determining its influence is such a black and white matter.

[Thanks to Shirley for the pointer to the Times piece]

Update (10/4): Matt Yglesias comments on this as well, with reference to the "fallacy of composition."

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/27/2005 10:04:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The short-timers

New York Times:
With fears mounting that high energy costs will crimp economic growth, President Bush called on Americans yesterday to conserve gasoline by driving less. He also issued a directive for all federal agencies to cut their own energy use and to encourage employees to use public transportation.

"We can all pitch in," Mr. Bush said. "People just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption," he added, and that if Americans are able to avoid going "on a trip that's not essential, that would be helpful."

Mr. Bush promised to dip further into the government's petroleum reserve, if necessary, and to continue relaxing environmental and transportation rules in an effort to get more gasoline flowing.

On Capitol Hill, senior Republicans called for new legislation that they said would lower energy costs by increasing supply and expanding oil refining capacity over the long run.

Even though Hurricane Rita caused much less damage to the oil industry than feared, the two recent hurricanes have disrupted production in the Gulf of Mexico enough to ensure that Americans are facing a winter of sharply higher energy costs. The price of natural gas, which most families use to heat their homes, has climbed even more than the price of gasoline recently.

Households are on pace to spend an average of $4,500 on energy this year, up about $500 from last year and $900 more than in 2003, according to Global Insight, a research firm.

Mr. Bush's comments, while similar to remarks he made shortly after the disruption from Hurricane Katrina pushed gasoline prices sharply higher, were particularly notable because the administration has long emphasized new production over conservation. It has also opted not to impose higher mileage standards on automakers.

In 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it cannot be the basis of a sound energy policy." Also that year, Ari Fleischer, then Mr. Bush's press secretary, responded to a question about reducing American energy consumption by saying "that's a big no."

"The president believes that it's an American way of life," Mr. Fleischer said. [Emphasis added -- Ed]

In a post on TPM Cafe, Mark Schmitt writes about Senator Frist's insider trading, which he says is emblematic not only of the contemporary American attitude toward doing business, but also of the way today's Republican party governs:

The central constituency of the modern Republican machine is, broadly speaking, business. Yet there are dozens of policies, passive as well as active, large and small, that are going to be a disaster for American business in the medium- and long-term. Some are disasters for specific companies and sectors, others for business generally: the fiscal debacle, the burden and unpredictability of health care costs, climate change, income inequality, short-sighted energy policies designed only to boost supply, chaos in the Middle East, hostility to the U.S. everywhere, lack of access to higher ed, collapsing infrastructure, etc. Somehow, in a way that would not have been the case in previous decades, business leaders and many investors seem bizarrely unconcerned about these trends.

And why is that? I suspect it's integrally related to the "pump and dump" culture that has infiltrated business, a mutation of the cult of "shareholder value." (Pump and dump refers to the practice of talking up a stock or making earnings appear high, then selling just before the inherent weaknesses in the company become apparent. On the Yahoo! Finance message board discussing HCA, Frist is referred to lovingly as the "Pump and Dump Drama Queen.") Investors as well as executives don't look at a company as something to build for the long term; they need to beat their numbers in the current quarter. And for the most part they assume that by the time things get tough, they'll be out. The insiders will bail out before the suckers; the CEO will move on to some other company. Or, if worst comes to worst, he'll retire with a nice package guaranteeing health care, use of the company plane for life, and a nice package of stock to sell when someone else turns the company around.


And what is our political culture except another version of pump and dump? Everything from war to tax policy to energy policy to the Medicare bill is a short-term effort to boost the president's political stock, with the long-term costs left to some bigger sucker.

I don't consider myself anti-business or anti-corporate. But there's much that's sick about much of American business now, even after the crash, a short-term, short-sighted culture of irresponsibility, exemplified by insiders dumping the stock of their own company and their own family just ahead of bad news. And if that's the culture of business that most strongly influences our politics, then we do need an anti-business politics. But I wish we could find a way to infuse both business and politics with more of a culture of long-term responsibility and honesty.

Clearly, this attitude is related to (or perhaps its better to say a manifestation of) the long standing American get-rich-quick fantasy which pervades our culture, but under the current regime, the counter-vailing forces of hard work, thrift and planning for the future have been radically de-emphasized in favor of short-term benefits.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that conservation of resources and reducing reliance on fossil fuels (foreign and domestic) is, in the long run, not only the best course for the country but, more importantly, the only one that's actually available to us -- if we want our civilization to survive in some semblence of its current form, of course. Every other option is only a short-term fix, which will temporarily maintain the status quo and keep money pouring into the coffers of the Energy Industrial Complex and the providers of raw fossil fuels, but cannot guarantee their long-term health, or even their continued existence.

It certainly didn't take an Einstein to see that continuing to rely on selling gas-guzzling SUVs as the mainstay of the American automobile industry was an extremely risky strategy when oil production is barely keeping ahead of oil demand, meaning that any disruption along the supply line, from the oil fields to the refineries to the pump, was going to send the price of gas upward, perhaps permanently so, which will lead to reduced demand for inefficient cars, which will seriously undermine the economic basis of the industry. It didn't have to be two major hurricanes striking the Gulf -- there are any number of other events which could have had a similar effect, because the delicacy of the current balance makes the entire system inherently unstable.

At this point, visionaries aren't needed, because they've already done their work and presented us with the facts of the situation and the requisite long-term solutions. All it takes is people willing to deal with those facts and those solutions in a "reality-based" manner, and other people willing to look more than two inches past their own noses to do the right thing, to make decisions not on the basis of what will provide the most immediate gain, but on what will be best, for everyone, in the long term.

P.S. The Short-Timers, by Gustav Hasford, is the book that Stanley Kubrick used as the basis for Full Metal Jacket.

Update: Related, from Kevin Drum.

And: From Billmon.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/27/2005 03:23:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sidebar on "vermilion"

I've been writing it as Vermillion, with two L's, and then I saw CNN was using Vermilion, with one L -- so I did a Google search and found the official Vermilion (one L) Parish website (which is here), so I figured I was wrong and CNN was right.

When I went to the Vermilion Parish website, I saw the welcome was "Bienvenue a Vermilion," which lit up a light bulp over my head (just like in a Looney Tune or a Merrie Melodie), and I realized that Vermilion Parish must be using the French spelling of vermillion for its name, due to its Cajun heritage. But when I checked it out I found out that in English either vermilion (one L) or vermillion was acceptable as a spelling, and, in fact, one L was preferred. Not only that, but the word comes from the Middle English vermelion (with an E and one L) which is derived from Old French vermeillon (with an E and two L's), which comes from vermeil which, to my surprise, is also an English word (meaning vermilion or a similar bright red color), and which derives from vermail (with an A), from Old French vermeil, from Late Latin vermiculus, a kind of red worm, from Latin meaning grub, diminutive of vermis, worm.

And in French? The word is vermillon, with an E, two L's and no A.

Anyway the Vermilion Parish Tourist Commission says that the Census Bureau says that Vermilion Parish is "The Most Cajun Place on Earth," but that hardly sounds like something the Census Bureau would say, even after hours over drinks at Bennigans, and no matter how many L's are used.
Vermilion is a unique blend of prairie lands, wandering bayous and magnificent marshes with farm lands and unique, friendly towns connecting it all. Over 150 years in the making, this bilingual, coastal parish is a multicultural blend steeped in history with a dash of "joie de vivre" or, love of life, finishing the perfectly seasoned mix.

Today, things are a bit different:

"We used to call this sportsman's paradise," said [Army Lt. Gen Russell] Honore, a Louisiana native. "But sometimes Mother Nature will come back and remind us that it has power over the land. That's what this storm did."

While residents of the Texas refinery towns of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange were blocked from returning to their homes because of the danger of debris-choked streets and downed power lines, authorities in Louisiana were unable to keep bayou residents from venturing in on their own by boat to see if Rita wrecked their homes.

"Knowing these people, most of them are hunters, trappers, farmers. They're not going to wait on FEMA or anyone else," said Robert LeBlanc, director of emergency preparedness in Vermilion Parish. "They're going to do what they need to do. They're used to primitive conditions."

As of tonight, search and rescue missions in southwestern Louisiana are believed to be complete.

[More Rita posts here.]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/26/2005 11:44:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Brown not bagged (completely)

From the CBS News Hurricane Katrina weblog (via Raw Story):
6:44 p.m.
(CBS) — CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger reports that Michael Brown, who recently resigned as the head of the FEMA, has been rehired by the agency as a consultant to evaluate it's response following Hurricane Katrina.

9:05 p.m.
(CBS) — Later this evening, CBS News correspondent Gloria Borger spoke with a spokesman for FEMA, Russ Knocke, who confirmed that Brown remains on the FEMA payroll. He also said that technically Brown remains at FEMA as a "contractor" and he is "transitioning out of his job." The reason he will remain at FEMA about a month after his resignation, said the spokesman, is that the agency wants to get the "proper download of his experience."

[Thanks to Trish]

Now, in the abstract, this is not a bad idea, making sure you get the value of an employee's experience before they leave to go elsewhere. In this particular instance, though, one has to think What experience? Brown didn't do anything, that was the entire problem. Clearly, the first pass at an solution for that is to do something.

I assume that the reality is this is a way to keep paying Brown so that Rove can maintain some sort of control over him, until he can find somewhere to dump the guy. Brown showed quite clearly that he has the potential to be a loose cannon who can hurt Bush, and this is a way to keep him under the Rovian thumb.

Update (9/29): I was questioned about what useful purpose Brown could possibly serve to Bush. My response:

His most obvious use to Bush is as the officially designated scapegoat, diverting attention from Bush himself, and Bush's neglect of the DHS. True, Brown is not falling on his sword, but he is still taking a lot of pain to point the finger of blame at the Democratic Governor of Louisiana and Mayor of New Orleans.

I admit I could easily be wrong about it -- it would be better for Rove & Bush if Brown just shut up and went away very, very quietly, and then turned up with a 6 figure position with some GOP lobbyist, but that probably wasn't at all possible under the circumstances, with the public calling for independent inquiry, and the Republicans in Congress feeling like they needed to quell the storm and avoid having any blame turn THEIR way. Some sort of inquiry was needed, some scapegoat HAD to be presented to the public, and Brown is the obvious choice. By continuing to pay him, Rove is able to maintain some semblence of influence over him.

The great Billmon (gee, I really love that guy -- is there anyone out there who's better?) partially agrees, but adds some family history:

Bashing Brownie is the whitewash. Mr. Horse Butt Inspector is now the designated fall guy -- a human biowaste container for disposing of all the Cheney administration's post-Katrina failures. Yesterday's inquisition was about as serious a fact-finding exercise as a Stalinist show trial. Only in a real show trial, a shabbily dressed and unshaven Brownie would have played his role a little better -- groveling and weeping and professing his undying love for the Great Vacationer, even as he confessed to screw ups he hadn't even been accused of.

Maybe they're saving that bit for when Chertoff testifies.

There is precedent for this. Despite the Bush family's feudal reputation for blood loyalty given in exchange for blood loyalty pledged, the clan has been known to sacrifice a retainer or two when it feels it has no choice but to appease the angry mob.

George I, for example, offered the head of his chief of staff, John Sununu, amid the bread riots of 1991. (Supposedly, the future George II was given the job of making sure the head was separated from the shoulders.) In 2002, the son and heir sent SEC Commissioner Harvey Pitt to the guillotine, when it became clear that even in the post-9/11 era, somebody had to take the blame for the looting and pillaging of corporate America.

And when Bushes do betray a faithful (if incompetent) servant, they don't go half way. Once they'd been discarded, Sununu and Pitt were both savaged without pity by the usual unnamed White House sources and their journalistic messenger boys -- although at least they were spared the humiliation of being trashed by their own party hacks in a public show trial. But then Brownie isn't really in the same league. He's only a pawn, and pawns rarely get the same consideration as castles and bishops.

The only real surprise here is that Brownie is putting up such a squawk about it. As a good party man, he should understand how the system works...

Some years back Robert Redford made a great little movie about the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, when Congress was shocked (shocked!) to discover that the contests were rigged, with the winners instructed to lose as soon as their audience appeal started to slip. Near the end of the movie, there's a scene where a bemused network executive explains to the cynical -- but actually quite naive -- chief investigator why a couple of his flunkies went before a House committee and publicly took the fall for the scandal.

I wish I could find the script on line, because it's a wonderful piece of dialogue, but the gist of the network exec's speech is that his flunkies are team players and understand what's expected of them. They'll take some time off, maybe go down to Mexico and relax on the beach for a while, and when enough time has passed and the whole thing's blown over, they'll come back and be quietly rehired -- probably with a higher salary and a nice bonus. No big deal.

If Brownie just put things in the proper longer-term perspective, I think he'd realize his best bet would be to do likewise. Shrub isn't going down over this, and the party, like the network in Quiz Show, won't forget who was a team player when it counted and who wasn't. Elliot Abrams understood how the system works. So did Admiral Poindexter.

Well, one does get the impression that Brown isn't the sharpest arrow in the quiver.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/26/2005 09:46:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Jeter threatened

Last December, husband and wife actors Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel received hate mail containing sick and vicious threats. Now, it's the Yankees' star shortstop, Derek Jeter:
Yankees star Derek Jeter has received a threatening letter reportedly warning him to stop dating white women or "he'll be shot or set on fire."

FBI special agent Scott Wilson, speaking by phone from Cleveland, confirmed the bureau's probe Monday, saying "we have an ongoing open investigation into racially threatening letters to Jeter and others across the country." He declined to comment further.

The New York Police Department has also investigated the matter.

The Daily News reported Monday that the hate mail to the Yankees' 31-year-old captain called him a "traitor to his race" for dating white women. It warned him "to stop or he'll be shot or set on fire," the News said.

The Daily News reported that others received similar threats, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Jason Taylor, and the parents of tennis star James Blake, of Fairfield, Conn.

Jeter, picked by People magazine as one of the world's most eligible bachelors, has been linked with models, singers, actresses and athletes of various racial and ethnic backgrounds in New York's gossip columns. His mother is white and his father is black.

The NYPD's hate crimes unit recently completed a four-month investigation into the letter to Jeter -- mailed to Yankee Stadium earlier this season, according to Detective Brian Sessa. The department has not made public the investigation's outcome.

Yankee spokesman Jason Zillo declined to comment.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes," Jeter said that he and his sister were taunted for being bi-racial while growing up in Michigan. But the soft-spoken, cool-headed Yankee said that he has never heard any racial epithets from the fans at Yankee Stadium in his 11 seasons as a Yankee.

The threats have been traced to the Cleveland area.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the reports of the letter to Jeter show that racism can target anyone.

"Celebrity status does not immunize anyone from the poisonous arrows of hate," Foxman said. [AP]

I would hope that with all the evidence they have, all the letters sent to these celebrities, the FBI would be able to find this bastard and lock him up. (I believe that profilers have said that the writer is a man, probably a white man, masquerading as a black woman.) But then I remember that we still don't know who sent the anthrax letters.

It's hard to know with celebrities what they are like behind their public personas. Taye and Idina I've done a show with, and I can vouch for their characters. With Jeter, all I can say is that in 10 years of watching him play and seeing him interviewed and profiled in the media (most recently on 60 Minutes on Sunday), I've never seen even the slightest hint that he isn't exactly what he appears to be: a gentlemen and a very decent person. If that's true, it's a testament to his character, because it's got to be difficult to maintain that under the kind of pressure he lives and performs under.

Addenda: For Yankee fans, like myself, I've added an MLB standings box on the sidebar on the right, to follow the end of the regular season. The links in the box should work.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/26/2005 08:51:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Republican Governor responsible for 23 deaths?

Interesting revelations about the bus that caught fire near Dallas during the evacuation of Houston:
The bus, run by Global Limo of McAllen, Texas, was taken out of service in July after its registration expired. It was allowed back on the road because of a waiver signed last week by Gov. Rick Perry intended to make available as many commercial vehicles as possible for the hurricane evacuation.

Authorities on Sunday said 23 people perished in the fire, down from earlier estimates that 24 passengers died.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Dallas over the weekend to begin sifting through the wreckage. NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the cause of the accident might not be known for a year or longer.

According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, drivers for Global had been ordered to stop driving five times in the last three years, mostly for infractions regarding bus logs. In 2004, the company was rated as "satisfactory," with no evidence of major safety problems in recent years, records show.

Johnny Ray Partain, a former Global investor who has fought a legal battle with its owner for several years, said he has driven four of the company's buses and warned a court in May that the vehicles were poorly maintained and dangerous.

"I was complaining about the brakes," Partain said Sunday. "My attorney asked me if those buses are dangerous, and I said, 'Yes, somebody's going to get killed."'

Partain said Global has lost its business charter twice within the past 16 months for failing to pay state franchise taxes and does not pay its drivers very much. The company also filed for bankruptcy in February.

A man who answered the phone at Global's offices denied that Partain ever worked for the company. He referred all other questions to San Antonio attorney Mark Cooper, who declined to comment on the company's finances or bus-safety records.

The company had contracts with schools to drive students to athletic events but made most of its money driving seniors to gambling spots such as Las Vegas, Partain said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid Global Limo $48,000 to evacuate people last month from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, he said. [AP]

Seems like Republican officials are so eager to get rid of any and all aspects of our network of protections and safety measures, that they'll jump at any chance to set them aside. One of the first things the Bush administration did in the aftermath of Katrina was to loosen safety regulations pertaining to petroleum. Then Bush waved away the requirement that Federal laborers be paid prevailing wages in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Now we find out that 23 people died thanks to Governor Rick Perry's willingness to sign away regulations that protect the public from bad buses.

[More Rita posts here.]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/26/2005 04:10:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rita posts

Here are the posts I've put up concerning Hurricane Rita and its aftermath:

Not again!? (Sat Sept 17 11pm - Thurs Sept 22 12:15am)
Houston, we have a problem (Wed Sept 21 5:00pm)
Rita watch, continued (Thurs Sept 22 12:30pm - Fri Sept 23 10:00am)
A tale of two cities (Fri Sept 23 6:30am)
Rita comes ashore (Fri Sept 23 10:15am - Sun Sept 25 2:30pm)
Post-Rita ranting (Sun Sept 25 1:30am)
Republican Governor responsible for 23 deaths? (Mon Sept 26 4:10am)
Sidebar on "vermilion" (Mon Sept 26 11:44pm)

A list of posts about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath can be found here.


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/25/2005 11:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A look at Gulf Coast culture

Peter J. Boyer has an interesting personal look at the culture of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Gone With the Surge:

In a place where hurricanes are the local calamity, one might expect history to have a tenuous grip. On the coast of Faulkner’s Mississippi, the past was a treasured, if superficial, asset—an adornment more than a way of life. The coastline was strikingly beautiful, not only for its stark white beaches but also for its fine old houses, many of them painstakingly maintained antebellum structures, situated along the twenty-five miles of beachfront between Pass Christian and Biloxi. These were summer homes, built by Delta planters and wealthy New Orleans merchants and their successors, and they lent the coastal Highway 90 an aspect of elegance, like a grand esplanade. The best known of them was Beauvoir, a building in the raised cottage style, which was the final residence of Jefferson Davis. After Davis’s death, it was operated as a home for Confederate veterans, and in the nineteen-fifties it became a museum.

Beneath the coast’s moonlight-and-magnolias veneer was a restive spirit that reflected both a heterogeneous population and the fevered ambition that occasionally seizes small-time tourist centers. By the fate of geography, the coast had its own sociology, unbound by the feudal arrangements that locked much of the rest of Mississippi into its melancholy past. The alluvial soil of the Mississippi Delta fostered an agrarian culture of fabulous wealth and aristocratic conceits, which depended upon the labor of slaves and, later, of freed blacks effectively consigned to indenture. The soil in the southern portion of the state, from the piney woods down to the coastal plain, was sandy, meagre stuff, incapable of growing much more than scrub. Nor were there vast marshes, like those which sustain the rice plantations of lowland Carolina, or cane fields, as in Louisiana. Although Mississippi has been a black-majority state through most of its history, blacks are distinctly a minority in the south, particularly along the Gulf Coast.

The people of the coast were formed by the maritime influences of the Gulf: first, when the French made Biloxi the capital of eighteenth-century French Louisiana (before New Orleans); and, later, when the seafood industry attracted an ethnic mix that was sharply distinct from the Mississippi norm. The warm waters of the Gulf, rich in oysters, shrimp, and marketable fish—snapper, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout—supplied a seafood industry based in Biloxi that boomed in the early part of the last century, with the arrival of railroad refrigeration. Canneries and seafood factories sprang up all along Biloxi’s waterfront, and the demand for labor was met by Slavonian immigrants, dislocated by the First World War, and by Cajuns, forced from Louisiana by failures of the sugarcane crop. The new workers inhabited a world that was more Steinbeck than Faulkner. They lived in shotgun houses provided by the companies that owned both the boats, which were crewed by the men, and the canneries, which were worked by the women and children. These Biloxians lived in neighborhoods like Point Cadet, the edge of land that curled into the Back Bay, and developed a culture, and even a manner of speech—a clipped sort of Cajunized Southern English—that was unique.

The coast’s fishing industry, along with its tourism ambitions, shaped a population that was diverse, and ever open to the next big prospect. A new development boom or foolproof tourism strategy was always on the way, and in the meantime the impulses of the present were generously indulged. The Mississippi coast of my youth was constantly being “cleaned up” by crusading authorities, politicians (backed by church groups) who would raid the night clubs and underground casinos and make a show of dumping slots and pinball machines into the Back Bay. Yet eventually the gracious highway would once again bear the interested back to the Peacock Club and other vice and clip joints. Our psychic tides were pulled equally by New Orleans and the Bible Belt. We had Catholics and revellers, and a Mardi Gras celebration that was older than the one in New Orleans, but we inhabited a state that was ruled by Southern Baptist mores.


The last once-in-a-lifetime storm to strike the Mississippi coast was Hurricane Camille, which came ashore at Pass Christian the night of August 17, 1969—Woodstock weekend for the rest of America. Camille, still the strongest recorded hurricane to strike the continental United States, bore hundred-and-ninety-mile-per-hour winds and dropped swarms of tornados all along the coast and for miles inland. Camille was, for anyone who lived through it, the gauge by which all other storms are measured. [...] The Federal Emergency Management Administration did not yet exist, although I’m fairly certain that Senators John Stennis and James Eastland managed to direct a decent portion of the federal budget Mississippi’s way. President Nixon came to town for what seemed like five minutes, and, the next thing I knew, it was New Year’s Day and Ole Miss was playing Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl (Archie Manning’s Rebels 27, Razorbacks 22). What I mainly remember is an overriding sense that we were a community that lived in hurricane alley, and that Camille was an extreme example of an indigenous feature.

Communities briefly halted new beachfront construction, until more rigorous codes were adopted, and then the coast leaned into reconstruction and, eventually, recovered, actually living up to the local boosters’ vow to raise up a community that was “better than ever!” The annual hurricane seasons came and went, bringing some minor storms and a few frights, but, like coastal people everywhere, locals mostly chose to stay put and ride the storm out.


The casinos were built after Camille, and were made possible, in part, by a slump in one of the principal local industries, shrimping. Beginning in the late nineteen-seventies, there had been an influx of Vietnamese, mostly boat people and other refugees. The area was naturally suited to the newcomers, who found a familiar climate and familiar work—fishing. They took jobs in the seafood factories that many of the traditional Biloxians had abandoned, but when they began to run their own boats they were seen as unwelcome competition. The Vietnamese worked unheard-of hours at an astonishing pace, many living with their families on their boats, and they employed fishing methods that caused locals to worry that the shrimp beds were being overharvested. Most of the Vietnamese also received some government assistance as part of a federal resettlement program, fuelling the notion that they were being granted an unfair advantage. There were some confrontations, and a few incidents (though nothing like the violence that erupted among fishermen on the Texas coast), but by the end of the eighties the Vietnamese had become an accepted part of the community. They moved into the shotgun homes of the Point and Back Bay, and opened restaurants along Howard Avenue on the east end of town, and the shrimp industry remained central to the coast’s identity. In the late eighties, however, competition from shrimp farms in Asia depressed market prices, and the local economy clearly needed a boost.

The casinos that followed were an unmistakable indication of the coast’s willingness to distinguish its particular character from the state’s Bible Belt mores. In the past decade and a half, gambling has transformed the area, mainly through the seemingly quixotic efforts of a man named Rick Carter, who is a client of Billy’s and was a schoolmate of mine in Gulfport. After an early career in the clothing business, Carter and two partners, Terry Green and William (Si) Redd, a Nevada slot-machine tycoon, bought a small forty-year-old cruise ship and renamed it the Pride of Mississippi, in the hope of conducting “cruises to nowhere”—gambling excursions into international waters beyond the Mississippi Sound. In 1989, the men persuaded the Mississippi legislature to allow gambling on boats cruising along the shore. It had been an audacious quest, given that Mississippi’s politics were (and are) so deeply influenced by religious conservatives. (Mississippi was the last state to vote to repeal Prohibition, in 1966, and some counties are still dry.) Lottery initiatives were regularly defeated. In the late eighties, though, the unemployment rate was high, and prospects for a turnaround in shrimping and the other principal industry, timber, were low.

The following year, a Natchez legislator proposed a bill that would allow gambling cruises on riverboats along the Mississippi. Then began one of the legendary episodes in Mississippi back-room politics. Sonny Meredith, a state representative who was a powerful committee chairman, concluded that, if gambling cruises would be an economic benefit to river towns, then gambling boats that operated while docked in a town—his own Delta city of Greenville, for example—would be even better. Meredith changed the language in the bill, secured its passage by obscuring the changes, and sent the legislation on to the state senate. Gambling opponents had more than enough votes to kill the bill. But State Senator Tommy Gollott, an old up-from-the-Point Biloxi pol, reportedly persuaded ten Delta senators to absent themselves from the vote (most of them claiming a sudden stomach ailment), and the measure passed. Within months, dockside gambling had found its way to the coast as well.


[More Katrina posts]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/25/2005 04:01:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Post-Rita ranting

(Sun Sept 25 1:30am): It looks like Rita countered some expectations by not stalling over northeastern Texas, moving away into Louisiana and Arkansas, avoiding the problem of dumping 30+ inches of rain in the same limited area. It was still a very wet storm, though -- all the reporters covering it commented on it being different that way from other hurricanes, the rain being so continuous -- so I'm a little concerned about the amount of rain that's being introduced into the Mississippi watershed, and what that might mean for New Orleans. Still, I assume that the Army Corps of Engineer can shunt off a lot of that into the Achafalaya via the Old River Control Structure, so I'm not dwelling on it too much.

I did catch a whiff of what could be another potential scapegoat being readied to be trotted out, in the implied criticism of the National Hurricane Center for not providing their watches and warnings sooner, so that local officials could make their determinations of whether to evacuate or not. (This was raised in connection with the botched evacuation of Houston.) I have to say, I'm not impressed at all by this piece of opportunistic buck-passing. I was watching the NHC's forecasts and tracking models as closely as any non-meteorologist citizen (professional or amateur), and I can't see where they made any mistakes. They didn't say they were sure until they were sure, and they provided the probabilities of what might happen until then. You really can't ask for anything more -- it's scientific forecasting, not witchcraft. Politicians can pretend to be certain and have all the answers, but scientsist don't generally have the privilege of pretending such certainty, they have to report instead what they know, and what they don't know, they can only make educated guesses about.

It's been fun today watching politicans, weathermen and reporters all tap dance around one brutal fact: Rita hit in a prtty good place, because it missed major population areas. Yeah, people in Lake Charles and Port Arthur and Beaumont and Vermillion Parish suffered and will continue to bear the brunt, but that's a hell of a lot better that Houston. Of course, no one wanted to come out and say that, out of delicacy and concern for the sensibilities of those who lifes have been turned inside out by Rita, but I can say it.

Oh, and will someone at CNN please put Larry King out to pasture? I'm not going to make nice and talk about his long and distinguished career, because I've never liked him as an interviewer, and I never understood how he fit into CNN's programming philosophy (except that he was popular and brought in advertising revenue), so let me just say this: he used to stink, but now he's just atrocious. Watching him trying to anchor the Jet Blue emergency LAX landing story the other day was painful. If they're going to keep him on as an interviewer, they should make hm throw to someone else for any breaking story.

One more thing: Did anyone else find Anderson Cooper's "reporting" from Beaumont, Texas when Rita was approaching landfall really, really embarrassing? I mean, I was embarrassed for him, he seemed so fragile and about to crack at any second. And what did I learn from his "reporting"? I learned that it's hard to stand up in a very very very very strong wind, that it's scary to be in the dark during a hurricane, and that Cooper is comforted by the sound of other people's voices in his earpiece -- it makes him feel less lonely.

If Anderson was the weaker sister of the team, none of CNN's reporters really provided much information from their various scenes. We got feelings, impressions, demonstrations that it's really really really hard to stand in the wind, amazement that a tree branch can fall and just miss the vehicle ("If we had come by just a second later...") and other bits of not very interesting factoids. At some point, they all turned into local cub reporters, chasing after fires and reporting on the rescue of dogs and cats (OK, and people too) from various predicaments -- not exactly the overarching coverage I expect from a major news organization.

In truth, these hurricane stand-ups are pretty damn useless -- if occasionally entertaining.

Perhaps CNN was working so hard because they really didn't have a New Orleans-sized story to report, once the storm missed Galveston (which would have provided plenty of tasty comparisons to 1900) and Houston ("Windows are breaking in a building around the corner, Aaron"). They would be better off giving all those reporters the night off to get some rest so they can attack the next day with a little more energy.

One final point -- recently, someone made the point that journalists are, as a group, more hostile to the military today than the had been in the recent past, because most of them have never served, and they have no feeling for what it means to be in the military, what it stands for and the importance of the job it's asked to do. The scuttling of the draft and the institution of the "all-volunteer army" (ignoring the bald fact that much of the fighting is done by reservists and the National Guard) assured that most people will never know what the military is all about, and that lack of understanding and empathy (and sympathy) shows up in the media's reporting. (Full disclosure: I never served in the military.)

Well, I want to make a similar point about science. It's clear to me that many, if not all, anchors and star reporters in the electronic media have no feel at all for science, don't have a clue how it's done, can't hold their own in a conversation about even vaguely scientific topics, and certainly don't know how to interview a scientist, because they don't understand the scientific method or the thought processes at work. I assume these folks all took "Geology for Poets" in college or journalism school, and don't know beans from bacon about what it all means -- and, boy, does it show.

This is not an inconsequential subject, by the way. The media's ignorance about science (which it tends to think of as soothsaying or to confuse with the wonders of technology) mirrors the public's, and it's the public's ignorance about basic matters of science methodology and thinking -- not to mention the actual content of scientific knowledge -- that allows the Bush administration to get away with warping and misusing science for its own purposes, substituting science-lite and pseduoscience for the real thing whenever it suits its agenda or that of its corporate clients (which is basically the same, anyway).

The media cannot serve as a watchdog (if it even has the desire to do so) over something it doesn't understand and isn't, apparently, willing to stretch out to try to understand. Having allowed itself to be sucked into the relativistic world of contemporary power politics -- where he who spins the best creates the reality he wants -- and having let go of any notion of truth in the process (if it ever had any), the press can't conceive of a circumstance in which in most cases there is something more to a story than "he said, she said" -- there's actual, indisputable, provable (or at least evidentiarily supportable) fact.

Until the media gets a little science-savvy, we're going to continue to be vulnerable to mendacious partisans and misguided zealots who will use science, or the aappearance of science, to further their aims.

(More full disclosure: I am not a scientist, but I did attend MIT for about 15 minutes in the 70s, before changing my subject to theatre.)

(Sun 2:30am): Just a word in defense of David Paulison, the acting head of FEMA, who came in to replace the unqualified bungler Michael Brown. Paulison has been widely derided for his recommendation that households should stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting in case of terrorist emergencies -- he's been called "Mr. Duct Tape" and worse.

In truth, Paulison's suggestion was a good and appropriate one -- duct tape and plastic sheeting is very useful to have around, and it would come in handy in an emergency. What was wrong was not the content of Paulison's suggestion, but the weight that was put on it by the administration, because they weren't providing any other concrete suggestions as to what we, as citizens, could do to help in the fight against terrorists. In the absence of anything remotely helpful, they offered the duct-tape-and-plastic-sheeting package, and it was hooted down, not because it was wrong, but because it was so little so late. I'm going to give Paulison the advantage of the doubt, and assume that he was responsible for the content of the suggestion, and not for the absence of any other functional advice.

Until he screws up, of course.

[More Rita posts here.]


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/25/2005 01:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right,
Here I am...
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(Alex Gregory - The New Yorker)
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& progressive religiosity
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Democrats 230 (+27) - Republicans 205

Democrats 233 (+30) - Republicans 201 - TBD 1 [FL-13]

Democrats 50 (+5) - Republicans 50

Democrats 51 (+6) - Republicans 49

netroots candidates
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Never a bridesmaid...

...and never a bride, either!!

what I've been reading
Martin van Creveld - The Transformation of War

Jay Feldman - When the Mississippi Ran Backwards

Martin van Creveld - The Rise and Decline of the State

Alfred W. Crosby - America's Forgotten Pandemic (1989)
bush & company are...
class warriors
con artists
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
not candid
not "reality-based"
not trustworthy
out of control
without integrity

Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
recently seen
Island in the Sky (1952)

Robot Chicken

The Family Guy

House M.D. (2004-7)
i've got a little list...
Elliott Abrams
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
David Addington
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
John Ashcroft
Bob Bennett
William Bennett
Joe Biden
John Bolton
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Pat Buchanan
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Saxby Chambliss
Bruce Chapman (DI)
Dick Cheney
Lynne Cheney
Richard Cohen
The Coors Family
Ann Coulter
Michael Crichton
Lanny Davis
Tom DeLay
William A. Dembski
James Dobson
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
Dinesh D’Souza
Gregg Easterbrook
Jerry Falwell
Douglas Feith
Arthur Finkelstein
Bill Frist
George Gilder
Newt Gingrich
John Gibson (FNC)
Alberto Gonzalez
Rudolph Giuliani
Sean Hannity
Katherine Harris
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
Christopher Hitchens
David Horowitz
Don Imus
James F. Inhofe
Jesse Jackson
Philip E. Johnson
Daryn Kagan
Joe Klein
Phil Kline
Ron Klink
William Kristol
Ken Lay
Joe Lieberman
Rush Limbaugh
Trent Lott
Frank Luntz

"American Fundamentalists"
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)

Chris Matthews
Mitch McConnell
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Zell Miller
Tom Monaghan
Sun Myung Moon
Roy Moore
Dick Morris
Rupert Murdoch
Ralph Nader
John Negroponte
Grover Norquist
Robert Novak
Ted Olson
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Bill O'Reilly
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Perle
Ramesh Ponnuru
Ralph Reed
Pat Robertson
Karl Rove
Tim Russert
Rick Santorum
Richard Mellon Scaife
Antonin Scalia
Joe Scarborough
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
Bill Schneider
Al Sharpton
Ron Silver
John Solomon (WaPo)
Margaret Spellings
Kenneth Starr
Randall Terry
Clarence Thomas
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Donald Trump
Richard Viguere
Donald Wildmon
Paul Wolfowitz
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
John Yoo
All the fine sites I've
guest-blogged for:

Be sure to visit them all!!
recent listening
Smash Mouth - Summer Girl

Poulenc - Piano Music

Pop Ambient 2007
John Adams
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Stephen Jay Gould
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"The Harder They Come"
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Monty Python
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Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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