Sunday, April 30, 2006

Comedy at the Edge

The conventional journalism world is handling it very gingerly with kid gloves left over from last night's White House Press Corps soiree, but the blogosphere is having a jamboree over Stephen Colbert's uncompromising send-up of the Bush Administration and our National Stenographic Press Corps.

Firedog Lake has the low-down. Editor & Publisher has an excellent summary. Crooks & Liars has the video. Live Journal posted a transcript. Peter Daou surveys the reviews. City Pages has a collection of Colbert's best lines. [Add] The incomparable Billmon contrasts, compares, and explains how "Colbert used satire the way it's used in more openly authoritarian societies."

Whatever else you may hear about it, it was breathtakingly courageous. Comedy on the very edge: astute, irreverent, mordant -- and very funny.

It's an instant classic sure to have a long life in the collective memory of comedians everywhere; not, perhaps, for the keen wit Colbert displayed, but for the circumstances in which he fearlessly put it on display -- in a huge room crowded with self-satisfied beltway insiders and sycophantic journalists who have elevated to an artform the praxis of ignoring the fact the Emperor has no clothes.

The Emperor was there, too, and he didn't much like hearing someone say to his face that he's stark naked. As Shakespeare's Sister says, Bush "couldn't get out of that room fast enough."

Additional Reactions
Florida's Morning Martini observes: "To hear an American speak the cold truth in public was stunning and difficult for many to hear." The reason, she observes sagaciously, is "The last thing anyone expected in the president’s presence was the truth."

A fast-loading, easy-to-play video of Colbert's historic performance is now available on My DD. Elisabeth Bumiller ought to watch it. So should the newly-designated CBS Evening News anchor, Katie Couric.

added transcript and best lines link/ 4-30
added Additional Reactions 5-1

The Gang That Couldn't Write Straight

"There was more shaping to this book than we generally do."
-- Asya Muchnick, Little Brown editor
It's only been one week since the Harvard Crimson disclosed there were many suspiciously familiar passages in Kaavya Viswanathan's newly released teen-age chick-book, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life."

For Ms. Viswanathan, who is now a 19 year old college sophomore, it probably seems like a lifetime ago.

In the short span of just seven days she has been hailed as the youngest best-paid novelist in American history; accused of plagiarism; and heard her publisher unexpectedly promise to bring out a "new edition". She's been attacked by fellow students as a "cheater"; she was humiliated late Thursday when Little Brown circulated a book recall around the world; and the week ended with her publisher calling her "disingenuous," which is a polite word for "liar."

Sadly, the past week may turn out to be one of the better ones Ms. Viswanathan will experience for a long while to come. A Dream Works movie based on the book, which was already scripted and in pre-production, almost surely will be canceled next week. Because her impending success in negotiating a two-book contract seemingly played a large role in her admission to Harvard, Viswanathan's college career now looks to be in jeopardy, too.

Then, there's the matter of just who actually received the $500,000 book advance and how Little Brown is going to retrieve it; and who is first in line to reimburse Dream Works for its advance on the movie rights and production expenses to date.

Already, you can see flocks of lawyers circling high in the sky overhead.

If you're planning to join the Schedenfreude Brigade to condemn Viswanathan's plagiarism, be sure to save at least a little blame for her co-conspirators. The evidence is mounting that one or more corporations were in on the caper as "co-author."

The Gang That Couldn't Write Straight includes the once-venerable Little Brown, now reduced to a hapless subsidiary of Time Warner, Inc.; the William Morris Agency, large parts of which movie producer Jane Hamsher (now of Firedog Lake) more or less describes in her book "Killer Instinct" as ethically challenged; and a "packaging agent" by the name of 17th Street Productions, a wholly owned subsidiary of Alloy Entertainment, Inc.

For most news outlets the story is just another titillating tale of Good-Girl-Gone-Bad. But a handful of enterprising investigative reporters at the Boston Globe, the Harvard Crimson, and the New York Times sagaciously see it in a larger, more important context. They've been digging around to find out just how much Madison Avenue corporate conglomerates have corrupted the book publishing industry. What they've found suggests that, at least when it comes to the teenage book market, things have reached the point where book publishing looks more like a Three Card Monty game than an honest enterprise.

Two months ago, David Mehegan of the Boston Globe was the first to sense there was a larger story in what was then a feel-good feature about a new author. In "How Kaavya Viswanathan Got Noticed, Got An Agent, and Got A Monster Two-Novel Contract" he reported that Viswanathan exhibited interest and some skill at creative writing from an early age. But she hadn't written so much as a single sentence in a full-length novel when the geniuses at Little Brown (aka Time Warner) signed the 17-year old to a two-book half million dollar contract.

Back in February, Mehegan also uncovered evidence that casts doubt -- especially given last week's events -- over how much of Opal Metha Viswanathan actually wrote herself after the book deal was signed. Well before the scandal broke, the Globe reporter was pointing out that Viswanathan's book appeared to be largely the product of a corporate marketing team:
"She showed her short stories to Katherine Cohen... who was herself an author ... represented by New York agent Suzanne Gluck of the William Morris Agency. Cohen showed the samples to Gluck, who was impressed. Eventually the young writer was referred to Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, another Morris agent.

"Walsh said she knew right away that Viswanathan had the talent. What she didn't have was a ''commercially viable' work. Viswanathan's original idea for a novel was much darker than ''Opal.' The agency referred her to 17th Street Productions, a so-called book packager that specializes in developing projects in young-adult and middle-grade fiction. The editors there proposed that Viswanathan put her mind to something lighter, something closer to her own background.

''After lots of discussions about 'finding my voice,' " Viswanathan said, 'I sat down and wrote them a fun, chatty e-mail about myself, which is where the voice and idea for Opal came from.' She worked with 17th Street to flesh out the concept.

'''They sent it to me, and I flipped over it,' Walsh said. ''We all recognized that Kaavya had the craftsmanship, she's beautiful and charming, she just needed to find the right novel that would speak to her generation and to people beyond her years as well. We worked on it some more and sold it for oodles and boodles of money.'
An email message made them "flip" so high they sat down and wrote out a check for half million dollars? Samuel Beckett should have been so lucky.

If you'll notice, there are a lot of plural "we's" and "they's" involving the marketing corporations that "worked" on the book's voice, outline, plot, and narrative. It may seem unkind to say so, but based on the Globe article there were grounds for worry that Viswanathan contributed only two things to the project for certain: her 'beauty' and her 'charm.'

This past week, the New York Times lifted one corner of the fig leaf covering the book industry slightly higher. In an article aptly titled, "First, Plot and Character. Then, Find an Author" two other reporters explain that while the book is attributed to Viswanathan, "on the copyright page and the contracts there's an additional name: Alloy Entertainment."

Alloy, which owns 17th Street Productions, is described as "a behind-the-scenes creator of some of the hottest books in young-adult publishing." Alloy relies on writer's agents and groups of anonymous freelancers willing to ghost-write teenage girl books under someone else's name.

As the Times reporters correctly say --
"at the very least, the incident opens a window onto a powerful company with lucrative, if tangled, relationships within the publishing industry that might take fans of series like 'The It Girl' by surprise.

"In many cases, editors at Alloy known as a 'book packager' craft proposals for publishers and create plotlines and characters before handing them over to a writer (or a string of writers).

"The relationships between Alloy and the publishers are so intertwined that the same editor, Claudia Gabel, is thanked on the acknowledgments pages of both Ms. McCafferty's books and Ms. Viswanathan's 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.' Ms. Gabel had been an editorial assistant at Crown Publishing Group, then moved to Alloy, where she helped develop the idea for Ms. Viswanathan's book. She has recently become an editor at Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group, a sister imprint to Crown."
What tangled web does this incestuous practice weave? Here's one way of describing it:
"'In a way it's kind of like working on a television show,' said Cindy Eagan, editorial director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, a sister imprint of Ms. Viswanathan's publisher, and the publisher of the 'Clique,' 'A-List' and 'Gossip Girl' series. 'We all work together in shaping each novel.'"
Writing a book is like "working on a television show?" Oh, great. Just great. Television corrupts everything it touches, from football's "TV timeouts" and the designated hitter rule to all those congressional windbags who speechify on C-SPAN. And, now we learn Little Brown has adopted the methods and ethics of the television industry?

Here's the money quote from the Times: ''There was more shaping to this book than we generally do," said Asya Muchnick, senior editor at Little, Brown."

To this point, it appears the corporations who helped engineer the Opal Mehta caper are content to let Viswanathan take the plagiarism wrap all by herself. In fact, they're insisting on it:
"Little, Brown, for one, was not blaming Alloy. 'Our understanding is that Kaavya wrote the book herself, so any problems are entirely the result of her writing and not the result of the packager's involvement in the book,' said Michael Pietsch, the publisher."
As with other conspiracies, that could change. Especially if Viswanathan grows up fast, sheds her naivete, and realizes she's been used by three of the most experienced book marketing, editing, fact-checking, and publishing companies on the planet.

As the Harvard Independent newspaper was asking at week's end --
"If someone plagiarized Megan McCafferty's books, was it Viswanathan herself or was it one of 17th Street's unnamed freelancers, cracking under the pressure of six-week deadlines and reaching into the work of a successful competitor for a paragraph here and there?"
Now, that is a question that could inspire a new teenager novel: "How Opal Mehta Got Screwed, Got Smart, and Then Saved Her Life."

Dept. of Amplification
ADDED 4/30 pm

John Liu, writing for the estimable Harvard Independent, also is exploring the striking similarities between "packaging" a teenager book before an author-to-be has been found and "packaging" a teen who's applying for admission to an Ivy League school. Both are true to the root meaning of "plagiarism" which comes from the Greek word plagion, as identified by the OED: "a kidnapping."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Patriotic Reading

Glenn Greenwald, author of the forthcoming book "How Would A Patriot Act?," has posted an extended essay with reliable links brimming with details -- shocking details, even to skeptics who are not easily shocked -- about the Bush administration's aggressive secrecy campaign. It's called "Building the Secrecy Wall Higher and Higher."

Here's just one -- and far from the latest or worst -- in a string of outrages:
In November 2001 President Bush issued executive order 13233 that would permit former presidents to independently assert the state secrets privilege to bar disclosure of records generated during their tenure.

More than that, the Bush order would make the state secrets privilege hereditary, like some divine right of kings, enabling the heirs of deceased presidents to assert the privilege after their death.
How would a patriot act? He'd read the whole thing.

Hear America Singing

"I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear
* * *
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else
The day what belongs to the day
* * *
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs."

-- " I Hear America Singing" from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1860)
Among those "varied carols" Walt Whitman wrote of in another era one might include the many versions of our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner. The variations span virtually every musical genre that's arisen since 1814, when Francis Scott Key's words were put to the music of a "British drinking song" for the first time.

As the blog AWORKS: New American Classical Music observes, over the many years of its existence--
"the National Anthem has been translated into another language by ethnic and immigrant groups in the United States. In 1861, it was translated into German (and is also on that page in Latin). It has been translated into Yiddish by Jewish immigrants and into French by Acadians of Louisiana. It has also been translated into Samoan... ."
This week, British producer Adam Kidron borrowed the music back, you might say -- it did originate in his native England, after all -- and transposed the music into a slightly hip-hop version with lyrics in Spanish. A slimmed-down audio of Nuestro Himno, can be heard here.

The "Divider in Chief" doesn't like it. Apparently, he thinks our national anthem should be restricted to English-only.

It's hard to see how Homeland Security will enforce that, but you can make book on dozens of hypocritical congressmen, eager to pander to the worst instincts of their constituents, proposing new legislation to do just that. Given Mr. Bush's manifest eagerness to invent and then exploit "wedge issues," how many of these other avant guarde musical renditions do you suppose he'll propose banning, as well?
It hardly matters. A great majority of Americans know next to nothing about the Star Spangled Banner, its lyrics, music, or history. As a people, we censor ourselves these days by being stupid.

We dumb-down the school curriculum for our children, eliminate civics classes, and fill the school days with FCAT exams and test exercises that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with the political imperatives of our politicians, from the top on down.

According to one poll conducted a few years ago, less than two-thirds of [Americans] even know the name our national anthem is the "Star Spangled Banner." Two years ago, a Harris poll found nearly the same percentage -- 61 percent -- claimed to know all the song's words; but when asked to prove it, "fewer than 39 percent" actually could recite correctly any of the words that come after ".... and bright stars."

You probably didn't need a poll to tell you that. If you've been to a ball game lately or any other event where the audience is encouraged to sing the Star Spangled Banner, you know how our collective voices predictably trail off and miserably die away right about the time we're supposed to be singing, "...thro' the perilous fight/ O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming."

The coordinated efforts of right-wing nativists to generate public anger over Nuestro Himno is worse than absurd. As the Huffington Post's Robert Schlesinger says, those "up in arms" over the music "
would rather get people screaming about nonsense issues like a Spanish-language national anthem than, say, Iraq, or energy dependence, or congressional corruption, etc. etc."

But, hey! At least everybody knows the last two words of our national anthem, right? Play ball! "Juego béisbol!"

Additional Info Links

History, Trivia, and Lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner

Wikipedia: "The Star Spangled Banner - History"

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Star Mangled Banner

George W. Bush, Apr. 28:
"The national anthem ought to be sung in English. And I think people who want to be citizens of this country... ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."
Do you suppose that George knows the original tune to the Star Spangled Banner doesn't belong to America, either? It comes from a bawdy London lawyers' pub song titled "To Anacreon in Heaven."

Still, 'Incurious George' may be on to something here. Let's wipe the slate clean and start over. No one gets 'grandfathered'.

From now on, you can't be a U.S. citizen unless you can sing all of the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner in tune. Once we've deported the rest of you miserable shower-singers, it'll leave more gas for the rest of us.

Not Your Grandmother's Grandmas

File Photo

"The decision today says the First Amendment protects you to protest peacefully," Mr. Siegel said, addressing his clients outside the courthouse after the verdict. "So — go do it!"

And the grannies cheered.
A blog called Club Lefty has more of the hilarious details. Among them, this:
The details in the N.Y. Times about the trial are just hilarious. For instance each grandmother was called to testify in her own defense, and only one chose to plead the fifth. And that was in response to being asked her age!

Shocked Beach Reenacted

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Few deja-vu eighth hunt

Explosion of Colors

(Click picture for closeup)

Remember when Pensacola Beach homes were known for their understated, muted earth tones? "Drab," some said.

Well, check out the explosion of colors across the island as the beach comes back. Some even coordinate their house paint with what they're wearing -- or is it vice versa?

Abolishing FEMA?

"FEMA was independent — and highly regarded — until March 2003, after the Department of Homeland Security was created because of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Not quite. Clinton appointee James Witt transformed FEMA into a highly regarded agency, after George Bush I had ruined it.

In January, 2001, Bush II set about undermining the agency by appointing political hacks like Joseph Allbaugh to run it and 'privatizing' its most important functions. As Josh Marshall correctly recalled six months ago:
Bush demoted the agency’s status and put it in the hands of his chief political fixer, Joe Allbaugh, who went about dismantling much of what Witt had built. As he told Congress in May 2001: “Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management. Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level.”

Tapping Allbaugh, a political operative with no clear experience for the job, was the first clear sign of the importance the new administration attached to the agency’s responsibilities. And that attitude suffused hiring pretty much down the line. As his general counsel, Allbaugh picked his old college roommate Michael D. Brown, another political hire with no emergency-management experience whatsoever.
There's nothing wrong with FEMA that couldn't be fixed by a change at the very top of the U.S. government.

Dept. of Amplification

CT Blogger reminds us that the depths to which FEMA has sunk are not entirely the fault of the Bush Administration. Holy Joe Lieberman has a lot to do with it, too.

Then again, isn't Lieberman a member of the Bush administration? He sure votes like one.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Colbert Reports Schneider

We're mildly surprised today to see so little mention around the Sunshine State's political blogosphere about Florida congressional candidate Jan Schneider's triumphant appearance last night on the spoof show, The Colbert Report.

Schneider is running for Congress as a Democrat in the same district Katherine Harris plans to abandon so she can make a fool of herself wrecking trains. As Schneider's campaign web site explains:
In 2004, Jan Schneider held incumbent Katherine Harris to the smallest margin of any House of Representatives election in the State of Florida. In 2006, our former Florida Secretary of State has bowed out of the House race to challenge Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. On the basis of name recognition, qualifications for the job and independent thinking, Jan has the best chance of any Democrat of capturing the open seat in the Florida 13th Congressional District.
So, naturally, the Democratic Party establishment is actively opposing her. Additional proof, if any were needed, that this is a political party that truly has lost its soul.

Agreeing to be interviewed by a comedian takes both courage and smarts on the part of a politician. Comedians like Colbert play for laughs, even if they have to come at the expense of a guest. But Ms. Schneider, a Yale Law School grad, handled Colbert imitating the insufferable Bill Reilly about as well as anyone could.

She smiled at his clowning, cracked a couple of mild jokes of her own, and still managed to get across the seriousness of her cause: running for office on the basis of small campaign contributions from individuals against big-time funding organized by a Democratic Party gone corporate. She also got off the best line of the entire show:
"I'm pretty disgusted with both parties right now: the Republicans for what they stand for and the Democrats for what they don't."
Someone we know in our household was convinced. She stopped by Jan Schneider's campaign web site this morning and made a campaign contribution -- just on principle, since she doesn't live in Schneider's district.

What principle? Says the donor, "She's smart, she's courageous, and she can't be bought."

No wonder neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party wants anything to do with her.

Dept. of Amplification

Jan Schneider's Resume

  • B.A. - BROWN UNIVERSITY (Summa Cum Laude)
  • COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY (Masters Certificate, International Affairs)
  • J.D. - YALE LAW SCHOOL(Yale Law Journal)
  • Ph.D. - YALE UNIVERSITY (Political Science)
  • CERTIFICATE - UNIVERSITY of GENEVA (International Organizations)

Award-Winning Books and Dozens of Articles
on Environmental Protection


Florida - New York - Washington, DC

All Our Sons

"We used to shoot a man who acted like a dog, but honour was real there ...But here? This is the land of the great big dogs, you don't love a man here, you eat him. That's the principle; the only one we live by - it just happened to kill a few people this time, that's all. The world's that way."
-- Arthur Miller, All My Sons (1947)
Jane Hamsher says there's increasing talk of the need for a Truman Truth Commission on War Profiteering. Along the way, she mentions that documentary film-maker Robert Greenwald is raising money in small, individual donations for a documentary to be titled, "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers."

Individual contributors will be named (if they so desire) in the film's credits. Hughes for America has transcribed the details from a Greenwald message:
"Over the last few months we've recruited a core team, and with the help of our volunteer field producers, have uncovered some devastating and powerful material that hasn't been seen before. We need your help to make it, more about that in a minute.

"We can't tell you anything more specific about the film yet, but I can assure you it will have an enormous impact when it comes out shortly before the elections this November.

"War time is about sacrificing for the common good. So many soldiers and families have paid unimaginable sacrifices, and for some to profit obscenely from that sacrifice is one of the worst crimes possible. It's a crime against all of us, not just as Americans, but as human beings.

"'IRAQ FOR SALE: The War Profiteers' will hold these corporations accountable for crimes against humanity."
Greenwald is nearly half-way to his goal and the film is now in pre-production.

As taxpayers, our money already has been used to fund the war profiteers whose incompetence and greed are undermining our soldiers and endangering their safety. It's about time they were exposed. After all, as Arthur Miller's war profittering character, Joe Keller, comes to admit, "they are all our sons."

We support our troops. Won't you join us?

Gassy Appearance

The Appearance:

Bush Takes Steps to Ease Increase in Energy Prices
(New York Times)
In addressing energy prices in a speech here, Mr. Bush joined a chorus of lawmakers who have been advocating populist-sounding initiatives to respond to surges in gasoline and crude oil prices and the threat they pose to Republicans in this fall's Congressional elections. [emphasis added]
The Reality:

GOP Blocks Measures Boosting Taxes on Oil Company Profits
(Washington Post)
While Republican leaders sharply criticize soaring gasoline prices and energy industry profits, GOP negotiators have decided to knock out provisions in a major tax bill that would force the oil companies to pay billions of dollars more in taxes on their profits.

* * *
The actions of Republicans hashing out a tax bill behind closed doors indicate that, despite tough talk from the White House and Capitol Hill, the party is not ready to hit the oil companies hard -- even on measures that have broad support in the Senate. [emphasis added]

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Halliburton Holes

"Dick Cheney may be gone from the scene in 2008. But his legacy -- the occupation of Iraq, the outsourcing of vital government functions, and higher energy prices fueled in part by global instability and a refusal to commit to conservation -- will last long beyond that."
-- Saniel Gross, "Lament of the Profiteer," Slate, Apr. 25
A couple of technically unrelated articles today remind us how the entire 'Cheney administration', as Billmon persists in calling it, has dug our nation into a series of deep holes; and how administration principals, including Cheney, even now are trying to 'move past' that so they can dig us new, even deeper holes.

The first article appears in today's NYT, headlined "Rebuilding of Iraqi Pipeline as Disaster Waiting to Happen." It's all about how Dick Cheney's Halliburton Corporation and its subsidiary, KBR (formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root), completely wasted over $75 million dollars trying to repair an oil pipeline in Iraq with an engineering technique that experts warned in advance wouldn't work in the locally unstable subsoil.

"No driller in his right mind would have gone ahead" with the project had they paid attention to the expert reports, an outside analyst later concluded. Sure enough, however, Cheney's alma mater, Halliburton, ignored the warnings. Moreover, as it continued to carry out the ill-conceived scheme, the subsidiary aped many of the uglier tactics of the Administration: it produce a string of optimistic progress reports... restricted subcontractors from communicating the truth to anyone ... "swept under the rug" early signs the project was failing miserably ... and ran up $200 million in claimed expenses which auditors have questioned.

Halliburton's drilling project, just like nearly everything attempted by the Bush Administration, was a failure. But the Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, was paid the contract price, anyway, plus a 4% "bonus fee."

As reporter James Glanz writes, the pipeline disaster could be "a metaphor for the entire $45 billion rebuilding effort in Iraq."

For that matter, it could be a parable for the entire sweep of administration ignorance, disregard for reality, contempt for the public interest, and runaway corporate greed.

The second story comes via Slate, which reports that Halliburton's "near monopoly on Pentagon business in Iraq" caused the company's earnings to "explode... from $5.1 billion in 2002 to $10.1 billion in 2005 -- about half of all Halliburton revenues." Nearly all of the growth, we are told, was due to government contracts awarded by the administration over the past five years. "The Middle East alone accounted for $6 billion of [Brown & Root] 2005 revenues."

It's hardly news that Dick Cheney has been personally profiting from Halliburton at an astounding rate since becoming Bush's regent, even though he promised years ago to eliminate all conflicts of interest. As reported by Raw Story --
Cheney told "Meet the Press" in 2003 that he didn't have any financial ties to the firm.

“Since I left Halliburton to become George Bush's vice president, I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest," the Vice President said. "I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had, now, for over three years.”

Cheney continues to received a deferred salary from the company. According to financial disclosure forms, he was paid $205,298 in 2001; $162,392 in 2002; $178,437 in 2003; and $194,852 in 2004."
Dick Cheney, you should not be surprised to learn, was lying. In addition to his deferred salary, he continued to own over 1 million shares of Halliburton and at least another 435,000 in stock options through tax year 2005. Over that period, the value of his Halliburton options rose 3,281%. The options alone were worth $10 million in 2004.

What is news is that late last year Cheney exercised many of his current grab-bag of stock options. This just happens to come at a fortuitous time, when KBR is about to go public; that is, KBR stock soon will be available for the public to buy.

Lucky us.

Most of the proceeds from the Initial Public Offering, the prospectus tell us, actually will be turned over to Halliburton:
We intend to use the net proceeds we receive from this offering to repay (i) [blank] millions [of] indebtedness... that we owe to Halliburton Energy Services, Inc., a subsidiary of Halliburton, under a demand promissory note executed in connection with our cash management arrangement with Halliburton, and (ii) indebtedness ... aggregating [blank] million that we owe to Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. under a subordinated intercompany note.
"So, should you buy KBR's stock?" Slate's investment writer, Daniel Gross, asks rhetorically.

It's certainly true that the IPO statement of risks in the prospectus, as Gross puts it, "reads more like a John le Carré novel than a financial document." The 201-page document filed with the SEC acknowledges allegations of cost overruns, kickbacks, bribes, corruption, murder, and more.

Still, he says, the stock should prosper in the years ahead, thanks largely to Cheney's "legacy" of an Iraq war, expensive "outsourcing" of domestic government functions, escalating oil prices, global instability, and "a refusal to commit to conservation." KBR's stock, Gross concludes, is "a leveraged bet on the Bush administration's continued incompetence at dealing with the twin issues of energy security and the Middle East."

In other words, if you like the holes Cheney has dug for the nation over the last five years, put your money where your mouth is and buy KBR stock. You might get rich from the nation's misfortunes.

And why not? Cheney did.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Internet Intervention

As Josh Marshall says, "There's a very bad bill moving through Congress."

Florida's own Why Now? is on top of things. You should be, too.

Civics Brief

Florida Bar president and Pensacola lawyer Alan Bookman has an op-ed piece in today's PNJ that underscores the unconscionable depths to which "civics" education has sunk in Florida. His article is titled, "Get Back to Basics: Teach More Civics.

First the Facts:
[M]ost Floridians... are not required to take a civics course, and many would be unable to pass... .

According to the Florida Law Related Education Association, less than 10 percent of Florida counties require civics instruction in school. As a result, many children, like their parents, are in the dark when it comes to the light of democracy. They have only a vague and often inaccurate picture of our government.

* * *
A recent Harris poll by the Florida Bar found that while 90 percent of Floridians agreed the concept of checks and balances in government is important, only 59 percent could correctly identify the three branches of government involved in this democratic balancing act. For those keeping score, that is a failing grade.

While 59 percent correctly identified the branches of government as "executive, legislative and judicial," nearly 20 percent answered "local, state and federal." Another 16 percent said "Democrat, Republican, and independent."

Our collective score declines even further when quizzed about the definition of "separation of powers," an essential principle of our government. Only 46 percent correctly explained the concept.
Next, what lawyers call the "Issue":
If we cannot understand the basic doctrines of our government and the safeguards that protect our freedom, how will we know when they are being undermined?
And finally, the "Argument":
New governments around the globe, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan, are struggling to adopt and abide by democratic notions, and the challenges they face have received a great deal of attention. But established democracies face threats and challenges to their survival as well, although they might not be as easy to identify. Some threats come from outside. Others develop from within -- ignorance and error, or worse still, corruption.

Our schools have generated robust debate about the direction and components of a good curriculum, but there has been little debate about the lack of civics education. Our children, and the democracy they will inherit, deserve more. By supporting the effort to add mandatory civics instruction in Florida middle schools, and by urging all school districts to join the cause, we can ensure that today's students will be better citizens tomorrow.
Along the way, Bookman points out that almost 44,000 Florida immigrants to the U.S. "recently faced a challenging test of their knowledge about our government and its history, and they all passed."

When it comes to our constitutional history and democratic ideals of government, no lawful immigrant is left behind. Why, then, do we consign our own children to ignorance about their own country?

Related Posts

Civics Lesson

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Earth Day in Pensacola

Earth from Mars (JPL/NASA photo)

"Show a little respect," Why Now? sensibly says.

In Pensacola, celebrate our common home at Bayview Community Park.

"Smoke and Mirrors" Insurance

Less than 40 days before the start of the 2006 hurricane season, Florida state officials are busy covering up the true financial condition of three financially shaky insurance companies, Paige St. John reports in the Gannett-owned Tallahassee Democrat.

Regulators supposedly over-seeing the privately owned insurance companies in the public interest are using "smoke and mirrors" to hide the troubled companies' true financial condition, according to state senator J.D. Alexander (R-Lake Mills). The cover-up follows a surge of "169 new complaints filed against Poe's three insurance companies, Atlantic Preferred, Florida Preferred and Southern Family Insurance."

All three insurance companies are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Poe Financial Group. Together, they --
cover the second-largest number of homes in South Florida [and] had already racked up 3,045 complaints through April 5 related to Wilma, which smacked the region last October.

That's more than any other insurer operating in Florida, including Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run insurer that is the largest insurer of homes in Florida with more than 829,000 policies.

The complaints include issues with policy coverage, claims adjusters and settlements.
Poe Financial Group, the parent corporation, claims on its web site that its subsidiaries are rated "A-". Even so, reports St. John, as of the close of 2005 all three "failed to meet Florida's financial standards."

St. John also discloses that Florida regulators have placed the insurers "under capital management plans." However, officials "refuse to acknowledge" the special plans even exist.

The reason? Florida officials want "to prevent bad publicity from sinking the struggling insurers."

What about preventing bad insurance companies from "sinking" struggling families? Sorry. That's just not consistent with Jeb Bush's "privatization" ideology. In his world, good government protects corporations, not families.

We've said as much before, we'll be saying it again: Every community has certain high priority needs which are best met through a common pool run without regard to private profit. Police and fire protection, roads, armies, wars, veteran's benefits, Social Security for the elderly, etc. etc. Good government requires identifying which of those functions can be performed reliably, honestly, and efficiently by government itself and which can be safely left to the competitive market.

In some areas and in some time periods, common community needs may include a city owner water plant, or county run sanitation services, or beach renourishment, or even a state-owned railway to get grain to market, as for a time a very conservative South Dakota legislature realized.

In Florida, community needs for the forseeable future include reliable hurricane insurance policies covering homes and businesses.

It's past time for the Governor and the legislature to drop the dogma. Yes, Citizens Property Insurance is dysfunctional. And why not? From the outset, the legislature hobbled it with mandatory privatization policies that require it to charge more than private companies and to pay a cash premium to just about any private insurance corporation that asks, even if it exists only on paper and owns no more than the paper clip attached to its application.

In place of Citizens, the state should create a single agency to directly provide hurricane insurance coverage for all in the most cost-effective, prudent manner. It might not make private sector buddies of ambitious politicians and corrupt bureaucrats rich, but it's the most reliable and least expensive way of protecting Florida homeowners, businesses -- and taxpayers -- over the coming decade of hyperactive hurricane activity.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Harris Wrecks Train Again

You shouldn't miss Josh Marshall's news about the latest Katherine Harris train wreck. It seems she just can't make the Orlando Sentinel understand whether she did or didn't go dutch at a $2,800 dinner-for-two with convicted scalawag Mitch Wade, who needed congressional help to steal from the U.S. Treasury.

So, to make herself clear, Katherine is going to throw a hundred bucks away on some nutcase who claims to be raised from the dead.

Now do you understand what Katherine really means, Mr. Orlando Sentinel, huh?

No? Well, we don't either.

Amplification Dept.

Harris' campaign staff released a written statement Friday admitting "that she did not pay" for her share of the meal, after all. However, the statement did not explain why she had claimed otherwise earlier when the dinner was mentioned in the context of a plea agreement sending lobbyist Mitchell Wade to prison for bribery and illegal campaign contributions to Harris.

A Gift for Bush

"President Hu is expected to present US counterpart George W. Bush with a copy of Sun Tzu's The Art of War.
"The book, an ancient Chinese text on military strategy, is famed for insights such as: "Winning without fighting is the best strategy of all."
And another wisdom:
"There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."

The Chinese aren't all that inscrutable after all.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Deserved Attention

This is getting a lot of deserved attention.

Amplification Dept.

So is this, by Scott Ritter:
"The Bush administration does not have policy of disarmament vis-à-vis Iran. They do have a policy of regime change. If we had a policy of disarmament, we would have engaged in unilateral or bilateral discussions with the Iranians a long time ago. But we put that off the table because we have no desire to resolve the situation we use to facilitate the military intervention necessary to achieve regime change. It’s the exact replay of the game plan used for Iraq, where we didn’t care what Saddam did, what he said, what the weapons inspectors found. We created the perception of a noncompliant Iraq, and we stuck with that perception, selling that perception until we achieved our ultimate objective, which was invasion that got rid of Saddam. With Iran, we are creating the perception of a noncompliant Iran, a threatening Iran. It doesn’t matter what the facts are. Now that we have successfully created that perception, the Bush administration will move forward aggressively until it achieves its ultimate objective, which is regime change."

Arctic Irony

Photo courtesy of Canadian Ice Service

Scientists in the United Kingdom are organizing an "International Polar Year" to begin in 2007. The idea is to coordinate tens of thousands of scientists from 60 or more nations, along the same lines as the hugely successful International Geophysical Year in 1957-58.

As Scientific Activist remarks, the new Polar Year would, among other things --
"determine the present environmental status of the polar regions by quantifying their spatial and temporal variability" and... "quantify, and understand, past and present environmental and human change in the polar regions in order to improve predictions."
Guess who wants to horn in? The U.K. Guardian reported this week that the U.S. Geological Survey -- that's an arm of our government, folks -- "is lining up a project with BP and Statoil to find oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, under the auspices of a flagship scientific initiative intended to tackle global warming."

The oil companies make no bones about why they want to participate:
A Statoil spokesman said: "It is not unnatural that our kind of contribution is close to our activity, and that is finding and developing resources."
British scientists aren't pleased. The head of the British Antarctic Survey says, "I don't think that fits very comfortably within either the scientific guidelines or the ethical underpinning of the IPY."

SA says it directly: "Irony abounds."
So, here we have a project intended to predict the consequences of global warming, and one of its activities will be to find more of the stuff that’s filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases in the first place. * * * [T]his is a pretty dumb idea.

Understanding global warming won’t do us much good if we’re not willing to curb the activities that cause it.

Post-Ivan Civic Recovery

Photo courtesy of Canadian Ice Service

Enid Siskin's message earlier this week about MMS's suppression of public turn-out at the one-and-only Gulf of Mexico drilling meeting in Tallahassee mentions "Ivan fatigue" as one of the reasons why so many Pensacola area community groups seem to be comotose. It's hard working up enthusiasm for a night out to repair the foundations of participatory democracy when you're still suing your wind insurance company or staring at contractor estimates for elevating your home.

This, too, shall pass -- eventually. In the meantime, it will take imaginative leadership, creative ideas, and the help of ordinary people like you, dear reader, to help restore verve to our most important citizen volunteer organizations.

Here's one idea for kick-starting post-Ivan civic group recovery: The remnants of residents' and business groups on Pensacola Beach and affinity organizations like Gulf Coast Environmental Defense, Santa Rosa Sound Coalition, the League of Women Voters, and others could get together and buy a showing of Davis Guggenheim's forthcoming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

Invite the public to a "Free Movie Day." Maybe organize a "Volunteer Organization Marketplace" around the event. Talk your child's teacher into an educational field day trip to the movies.

The 90-minute movie is scheduled for release by Paramount Classics around May 24. The documentary is said to be "a cinematic version of the lecture that [Al] Gore has given for years warning of the dangers of global warming."

If that sounds boring, you haven't been paying attention to the new Al Gore. The movie is getting tremendous reviews in advance of its May 2006 release.

"Funny... riveting... personal... impassioned... provocative" are just some of the encomiums being heaped on the film by Sundance Film Festival reviewer Geraldine Bell, Paris-based U.S. journalist Tara Bradford, and others. As Richard Cohen wrote the other day in the Washington Post:
"You will be captivated, and then riveted and then scared out of your wits.

You will see the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps melting. You will see Greenland oozing into the sea. You will see the atmosphere polluted with greenhouse gases that block heat from escaping. You will see photos from space of what the ice caps looked like once and what they look like now and, in animation, you will see how high the oceans might rise. Shanghai and Calcutta swamped. Much of Florida, too. The water takes a hunk of New York. The fuss about what to do with Ground Zero will turn to naught. It will be underwater."
Don't think this isn't the sort of movie to lift the spirits of hurricane victims. The news actually is very good and Gore's outlook is optimistic, as the Hollywood Reporter review makes clear:
"What Gore strives to make crystal clear to anyone in opposition is that the tools and methods to reverse these calamitous changes are at hand -- no new inventions required -- and that the economic consequences of tackling the problem are positive rather than negative. The idea that responsible environmental protection is bad for the economy is exposed here through facts and science for what it is -- a Big Lie."
Locally, Cinema 4 in Gulf Breeze might be the perfect venue for a post-Ivan civic recovery "Free Movie Day."

Write, phone, or email the moviehouse manager and ask him how much it would take to rent the theater for a day and if he'll make arrangements to be one of the first to show "An Inconvenient Truth."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Decider Owl

Those "Decider" poems bring to mind an earlier, classic "Fable for Our Time" by James Thurber --

Once upon a starless midnight there was an owl who sat on the branch of an oak tree. Two ground moles tried to slip quietly by, unnoticed. "You!" said the owl. "Who?" they quavered, in fear and astonishment, for they could not believe it was possible for anyone to see them in that thick darkness. "You two!" said the owl. The moles hurried away and told the other creatures of the field and forest that the owl was the greatest and wisest of all animals because he could see in the dark and because he could answer any question. "I’ll see about that, "said a secretary bird, and he called on the owl one night when it was again very dark. "How many claws am I holding up?" said the secretary bird. "Two," said the owl, and that was right. "Can you give me another expression for ‘that is to say’ or ‘namely’?" asked the secretary bird. "To wit," said the owl. "Why does the lover call on his love?" "To woo," said the owl.

The secretary bird hastened back to the other creatures and reported that the owl indeed was the greatest and wisest animal in the world because he could see in the dark and because he could answer any question. "Can he see in the daytime, too?" asked a red fox? "Yes," answered a dormouse and a French poodle. "Can he see in the daytime, too?" All the other creatures laughed loudly at this silly question, and they set upon the red fox and his friends and drove them out of the region. They sent a messenger to the owl and asked him to be their leader.

When the owl appeared among the animals it was high noon and the sun was shining brightly. He walked very slowly, which gave him an appearance of great dignity, and he peered about him with large, staring eyes, which gave him an air of tremendous importance. "He’s God!" screamed a Plymouth rock hen. And the others took up the cry "He’s God!" So they followed him wherever he went and when he bumped into things they began to bump into things, too. Finally he came to a concrete highway and he started up the middle of it and all the other creatures followed him. Presently a hawk, who was acting as outrider, observed a truck coming toward them at fifty miles an hour, and he reported to the secretary bird and the secretary bird reported to the owl.

"There’s danger ahead," said the secretary bird. "To wit?" said the owl. The secretary bird told him. "Aren’t you afraid?" he asked. "Who?" said the owl calmly, for he could not see the truck. "He’s God!" cried all the creatures again, and they were still crying "He’s God" when the truck hit them and ran them down. Some of the animals were merely injured, but most of them, including the owl, were killed.

Moral: You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.

The "Decider" Poems

As Blake Fleetwood suggests over at the Huffington Post, George W. Bush's petulant insistence, yesterday, that he's "the decider" is "pathetic and embarrassing." That would be 'pathetic' as in pathological.

Whatever else we might make of it, it has inspired a couple of bloggers to pen some bitterly funny poetry. Here's a sampling:

By Roddy McCorley

I'm the decider
I pick and I choose.
I pick among whats.
And choose among whos.

And as I decide
Each particular day
The things I decide on
All turn out that way.

I decided on Freedom
For all of Iraq.
And now that we have it,
I'm not looking back.

I decided on tax cuts
That just help the wealthy.
And Medicare changes
That aren't really healthy.

Click here for the rest

Down by the Pentagon, where the crickle grass grows,
Where for years the insurgents have been in their "last throes"
Old Donald Rumsfeld relaxed and kicked back
And thought of the fine job he'd done in Iraq

But despite Rummy's feelings of omnipotent might
Lots of people were dying, with no end in sight
So several old generals rose up in rage
And their mad diatribes made it to the front page

All of them wanted poor Rummy to quit
Since 'twas under his watch that Iraq went to shit
But just as old Rummy was about to resign
Bush came along and said "You're doing just fine!"

He was tallish and oldish and grayish and chimpy
And his face looked cartoonish, like a Ren or a Stimpy
He rolled up his sleeves, slammed the floor with a "bang!"
And then bellowed out in his fake Texas twang:

Click here for the rest

Red Meat Food Fight

Northwest Florida's congressman Jeff Miller stage-managed a red meat food fight in Pensacola Tuesday night over the subject of immigration reform.

Why would a congressman who is already on record supporting punitive immigration legislation which has already passed the House of Representatives hold a "town meeting" to hear the views of constituents on the matter? Because he doesn't want them thinking about real issues that affect their lives, like the scandalous Medicare Prescription he voted for, which has seniors throughout his district upset, not to mention other House of Delay scandals.

Constituents in Molino didn't fall for it. Apparently, the nativists in Pensacola did.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Wrong Man

All those retired generals and Republican senators and syndicated columnists and Neocon editors demanding that Bush fire Rumsfeld are talking to the wrong man.

They should be asking this guy. He's the real "decider".

Question of the Day

Background: Easter Bunny Mall Brawl Shocks Bystanders.
"Dozens of people watched the brawl, including about 15 children who were still in line, witnesses said. Johansson said many children had the look of “shock” on their faces."

"She said she doesn’t know how to explain what happened with the Easter Bunny to her 3-year-old niece."
Question of the Day: What would you tell the 3-year-old?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Stealth Meeting, Gulf Drilling

"Ivan fatigue. Don't underestimate this. Most of the groups I work with have seen the attendance at meetings drop way down."
-- Enid Siskin, Gulf Coast Environmental Defense

Speaking of screwing up the Gulf environment, as we were earlier today, the "stealth hearing" on the Bush administration's latest Gulf Oil and Gas drilling strategy was brought off without a hitch by Mineral Management Services last week in Tallahassee.

By "stealth hearing" we mean the nearly invisible, last-minute opportunity for public comment about George W. Bush's proposal to allow drilling 100 miles off of -- and underwater gas lines headed landward running right by -- Pensacola Beach.

By "without a hitch" we mean to say that MMS cleverly advanced the administration's agenda of pressing ahead with plans to start drilling off shore of Pensacola Beach, the public be damned. Even if it means the ridiculous paper transfer of Florida coastal waters to the State of Louisiana.

Of the few local drilling opponents to show up at MMS's inconveniently-scheduled meeting, Tallahassee Democrat reporters Aaron Deslatte and Larry Wheeler quote only Enid Siskin of Gulf Breeze. Enid has long headed Gulf Coast Environmental Defense (GCED). In 1999, largely through GCED's efforts, she turned out thousands of locals to jam a similar hearing in downtown Pensacola.

But that was then, when we had a president who wasn't above the law. This is now, when we do.

Enid, bless her, was undaunted. She made the long trek to Tallahassee carpooling with others "in a hybrid-electric car" to tell MMS:
"In Pensacola, even people who don't live right by the water realize the importance of the waters to our economy. Continuing to drill just fuels our addiction."
Enid had a lot more to say about the low turnout in an email she sent us:
[T]here were probably about 100 people there, just 50 spoke. The reasons for the low turnout-
  • No publicity. The PNJ didn't cover it until after the fact. We (GCED) just went with email notices. MMS didn't try to get people there.
  • Timing. The fact it was scheduled in the middle of the day, in Tallahassee, during the week, during legislative session says to me and lots of other people that their (MMS) intention was to have only the industry folks show up. And they did.
  • The issue. 100 miles away in the newly configured Central Gulf doesn't draw the same crowds as 25 miles from Pensacola Beach. In spite of the probability of "creeping" leases, the fact that pollution can't read the maps, probability of spills, etc., this one didn't get people as excited.
  • Ivan fatigue. Don't underestimate this. Most of the groups I work with have seen the attendance at meetings drop way down. GCED is lucky to get 10 people, the League of Women Voters used to get 100 people routinely and now considers 30 a big turnout.
As for the hearing itself, Enid says --
[Drilling proponents] got there early and signed up first, so the first 20 or so were all for drilling, of those probably 12 were representing some trade group, the others were with a petroleum geologist (all sitting together) and airline pilot all parroting the same line -- we need [drilling] to drive the prices down and it's safe and there hasn't been a spill in 30 years.

In spite of the fact that none of that's true, it didn't stop them. Even after it was pointed out repeatedly, they had their talking points and they stuck to them.

This was advertised to us as a scoping session to decide on what should be in the EIS for the 5 year plan, not a public hearing on whether or not they should drill. In fact, up to the day of the session we were told that what was going to happen was that they'd go around the room and ask people round robin what they should include.

That's not what happened, of course, and the industry folks all had their speeches written.
Then, Enid adds in a postscript, "So did we."

Apparently, no one trusts MMS to tell them the truth.

Earth Day - Interrupted

Sad to say, the annual Earth Day activities at the Gulf Ecology Division ("GED") on Pensacola Beach are being canceled this year. An on-line announcement explains:
Since many of the GED volunteer staff involved in the Earth Day preparations, collection of specimens, and presentations are participating in the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Survey from April 4-18, 2006, the student visits for 2006 have been cancelled.
Skipping Earth Day at the GED on Pensacolsa Beach is worse than merely losing one field day trip for school children. Earth Day Week traditionally has been the one time every year when the Gulf Ecology Division opened its doors -- or at least, some of its doors -- to the general public. The GED not only uses the occasion to cleverly educate children about the important scientific work they do, but it goes a long way toward dispelling the faint whiff of mystery that many islanders think hangs over the facility.

The Gulf Environmental Division is one of only four pure scientific research centers in the nation established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (The others are in Rhode Island, Duluth, and Corvallis, Or.) In addition to a permanent staff of research scientists and support staff, GED hires on contract graduate students and post-grad researchers from around the world.

The division conducts pure scientific research into such matters as "ectotoxicology," the "ecological condition of estuaries and coastal waters," global temperature change, and "habitat alteration, nutrients, suspended and bedded sediments, pathogens and toxic chemicals that will support designated uses for aquatic systems." In other words, the biology and ecological environment of the entire Gulf of Mexico and its associated wetlands and waterways. Some of the scientists there also have been prominent research scientists studying the ecological effects of water-way disasters like the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.

It's a bit silly that island myths about the facility have grown up over the years. The "EPA," as islanders call it for short, is located on a small spit of land known as Sabine Point near the center of Pensacola Beach. It's out in the open for all to see as you cross the Bob Sikes toll bridge to the island. On closer inspection, however, it does look different from anything else on Pensacola Beach. The reason is it's --
"a man made island of sixteen and a half acres, formed from ballast brought by sailing ships during the late 1800's. It has the form of a basin which has been filled by an international mixture of rocks, coral, pottery and soil.

On the island, there is a deposit of black earth carried by barge from Louisiana which accounts for the luxuriant growth of oleander, fig trees and other flora in sharp contrast to the appearance of plant life in the glacial quartz deposits of "sugar white sand" on nearby Santa Rosa Island."

Almost no locals actually visit the EPA facility. And it wouldn't do much good to try. The general public is excluded without advance appointment and things haven't gotten any better since 9-11.
Once inside the grounds, even those who have business there are kept away from higher security buildings where ocean-related toxins and other dangerous chemicals are housed.

It may be true that GED as an institution, and many of its staff as individuals, haven't had a lot to do with the Pensacola Beach community. But the agency doesn't exactly keep itself hidden, either. The agency's web site offers detailed instructions for how to find it.

The simple truth is the EPA people are very busy taking the measure of how badly we're screwing up the environment. As the Earth Day announcement indicates, many of its personnel now have been assigned to a "Hypoxia Watch" a multi-year project which has been studying the effects of all that farmland fertilizer washing down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico.

This year, it's a good guess they will find Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma stirred the pot quite a bit. But what effect that has on the alarming trend in diminished oxygen content of Gulf waters and the so-called "Dead Zone" has yet to be determined.

Once this year's survey is done, it would be nice if GED officials could find it in their hearts to schedule a local do-over Earth Day visit for the children -- and those of us who are children at heart. There are few more interesting sites to visit on Pensacola Beach.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Nearer to the Madding Crowd

Photo courtesy of Barrier Island Girl

Economically, the PNJ's Fredie Carmichael reports today, things definitely are looking up at Pensacola Beach.

The metaphor he draws to beach resident and former boxing champ Roy Jones, Jr. is a little unfortunate. Jones, a true champion in his prime, hasn't looked too good in the ring, lately. Perhaps a riff off Thomas Hardy's uncharacteristically optimistic Far From the Madding Crowd would have been more suitable.

But the facts Carmichael reports, and others he alludes to, look solid enough:
  • Casino Beach in the commercial center was visibly crowded with Spring Breakers over the last month, and the 1,200 parking spaces there have been "full several weekends this year."
  • The main parking lot at Quietwater has been in full operation for some time;
  • The longest fishing pier on the Gulf Coast is open 24 hours a day;
  • Beach sand along all seven miles of Pensacola Beach has been sifted and cleared of most debris;
  • The Visitor Center claims "about" 5,000 people stopped by in February and March;
  • Half of the beach hotels are open, including the Hampton Inn, bringing available hotel-motel rooms to about 63% of pre-storm capacity;
  • 200 parking spaces have been cleared at the west-end Ft. Pickens Park;
  • Small impromptu parking nodes near Portofino offer 20 more spaces;
  • The pier at Quietwater Beach is expected to be fully repaired in June;
  • Escambia County's "East Park" facility is scheduled to open next month; and
  • "The Santa Rosa Island Authority took in $226,997 more in commercial revenue between October 2005 and February 2006 than it did during that same period a year ago."
Carmichael also does a creditable job of describing the rest of reality:
  • Fort Pickens Road won't be open this season, for sure, and quite possibly beyond;
  • For the nonce, the Fort itself is accessible only via boat or a 7-mile trek down the desolated part of the island west of Pensacola Beach;
  • Hundreds of homes, townhouses, and condo units are being rehabbed or have been torn down altogether;
  • "[T]he constant pounding of hammers is commonplace as many residents rebuild homes and rental properties;"
  • Quietwater Beach tourist businesses are still playing musical chairs -- and there are plenty of seats left to go around;
  • Temporary port-o-lets have had their service tours extended throughout the island, since most public bathrooms remain unusable;
Still, the reporter tells us, shop owners are enthusiastic. He quotes "Jeff Elbert" of the popular Island Styles souvenir shop as saying:
"There's a world of difference between the condition of the beach this year and this time last year."
We'd bet Jim Elbert of the popular Island Styles souvenir shop would agree.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Florida's Other Lottery

"Blue Liquor Store"
Courtesy of Chris Cook, southwestern artist

Everybody's rushing out today to throw away their money on the 14th largest lottery in Florida history. Meanwhile, a lesser-known Other Florida Lottery closed last night in Santa Rosa County.

We're speaking of the First Ever Santa Rosa County Liquor License Lottery in history. As of yesterday morning, 1,349 people, partnerships, and corporations had applied for 17 liquor store licenses to be awarded in a "double random drawing." According to the PNJ, "Most of the applicants for 17 'quota' licenses for stand-alone bars and/or package stores are from Santa Rosa, Escambia or Okaloosa counties." Some, however, have come in from as far away as Hawaii.

Friendly postal officials tell us quite a few more local applications went into the mail before last night's deadline. You can see the list as it grows right here, courtesy of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

The $100 application fee is steep and the associated expenses even higher:
"Licenses cost $10,750 plus an annual fee of $1,820 for a bar and $1,365 for a liquor store. A $23,300 penalty will be assessed if the license is sold within three years."
Still, as we perused the list of early applicants we recognized a number of retired friends, neighbors, ex-military officers, ne'er-do-wells, and other locals you wouldn't expect to be interested. Why?

Because the real game is to win the license lottery and then sell it for big bucks to someone who really wants to run a liquor store. Someone who's young, eager, and has the requisite attitude. Someone, perhaps, like this --

Sure, it's not $64 million. But 17 licenses will win, no matter what. Even if four times as many applicants wind up buying into the Other Lottery, the odds are a great deal better than winning tonight's record Florida Lotto.

According to the Florida Lottery Commission, every $1 lotto ticket you buy today has a one-in-22,957,480 chance of winning. That's only slightly worse than your odds of dying from a bite by a nonvenomous insect or other arthropod.

All in all, we'd rather win the liquor store lottery.