Friday, August 31, 2007

Support Our Lawyers: Bring 'Em Home from Iraq

Wall Street Journal, Aug. 31:
In the past few years, U.S. attorneys' offices around the country have been unable to fill vacancies. Lawyers sometimes can't travel to interview witnesses. Even funds for basic office needs such as photocopying documents and obtaining deposition transcripts have been cut, according to current and former officials.
* * *
Department of Justice data show the impact. Prosecutions are down overall, with large drops in categories such as drugs, violent crime and white-collar offenses.
* * *
Adding to the staffing pressure, more than 100 lawyers and administrative personnel from U.S. attorneys' offices have gone to Iraq to help the fledgling government there. The offices generally pay the salaries of the seconded attorneys, which would typically be about $120,000 a year plus an additional 25% in combat pay.

"I understand that if you wage a war overseas that's going to affect your budget," says Chris Steskal, a veteran prosecutor who left the San Francisco U.S. attorney's office in January 2007 to go into private practice. "But I'd rather spend the money protecting society within your borders."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Playing Footsie as Usual

Michael Stewart of the Pensacola News Journal drives another dart in county administrator George Tuart's ample rear end today.
Less than a week after promising "full disclosure" of all his personal business ties George Touart has acknowledged a business relationship with a company that does millions of dollars of work for the county.

Touart is a partner in Global Employment Services Inc., an employee-staffing firm which has provided labor for R.W. Beck Group Inc.

After Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005, R.W. Beck was paid by Escambia County and reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to monitor debris removal.

The company also was the top pick to manage a pending cleanup of Escambia's coastal waterways. A decision on that matter will come before the Escambia County Commission for a vote on Sept. 6.
* * *
Touart, who has been county administrator since 2002, did not inform commissioners that his outside company had begun work with the Beck subsidiary.
The short of it is that George Tuart as county administrator, is overseeing county business that bring profits to a company owned in part by George Tuart, the county administrator. And he didn't tell anyone until investigative journalist Stewart confronted him with the proof.

What's more, it now appears that as recently as two years ago Tuart was business partners with a sitting county commissioner (presumably one of his own bosses) as well as others who had business before the county. Stewart identifies these 'others' as including such notable land developers as Cliff Mowe and the late Alan Levin.

George Tuart's response to these new allegations strangely echoes the bizarre complaint of that Idaho senator who was caught playing footsie with a male undercover policeman in Minneapolis: blame the newspaper. Tuart claims that he's "done nothing improper" and resents "the News Journal's queries into his financial dealings."
"I've tried to be cooperative," he said. "Enough is enough."
No, George. It will never be enough until you come completely clean and divest yourself of all business relationships that could compromise your alleged integrity.

Today's news follows last week's disclosure that Tuart enjoys a private business relationship with businessmen who are about to sell land to the county for $1.4 million. Tuart didn't disclose that relationship, either, until confronted by reporter Stewart. (Today's News Journal editorial page throws up its hands and says let's cancel the land deal. It smells too awful. Sunday's editorial called on Tuart to resign and retire.)

Tuart says he sees " nothing wrong in going into business with local developers and a county commissioner." That view of a public official's duty might be called the W.D. Childers syndrome.
It's usually discussed around a cooking pot filled with cash.

Former commissioner and Tuart business partner Bill Dickson has standards only slightly broader. He told Stewart that when he was in office "he did not feel it was a conflict of interest to invest in out-of-state property with developers who do business in Escambia County and may have business before the commission."

That crabbed view of public official propriety is the core of the problem. Tuart and too many of his county commissioner bosses give the appearance of being in public office for their private gain, and not for the public good. Prominent businessmen and county commissioners invite top administrators like Tuart into their financial bed and -- Joila! Suddenly the administrator is in a position to scratch their financial backs and play financial footsie with them, under the covers as it were. Tuart knows they'll keep tickling his toes so long as he continues to reciprocate.

One commissioner left mostly in the dark about these goings-on , Grover Robinson (who represents District 4 including Pensacola Beach) says it creates at a minimum "the appearance of misconduct."

Local yokels like Tuart and Dickson may not be aware of it, and they probably wouldn't care much anyway, but it's this kind of stuff that has long given Escambia County government its terrible reputation beyond the county borders. Self-dealing, undisclosed partnerships, government property purchases that channel profits into closely-connected hands, and similar shady shenanigans are fuel for the good ol' boy system.

But it's all the fault of the media, don'cha know.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Mandate of Heaven

The always erudite and well informed Scott Horton more or less asks if Bush has forfeited the "Mandate of Heaven?" Read this to understand the question.

Then read this to recall the facts. Contrast those facts with Bush's treatment of reliably red-state Mississippi, as the New Orleans Times-Picayune does today.

Then, you can supply your own answer to Horton's question.

Bathroom Danger for Republican Party

Jon Swift:
I think my fellow conservatives should not be too quick to turn on Craig. If everyone who just seems gay is drummed out of the Republican party or the conservative movement anyone could be next. Every effete mama's boy with precise speech patterns, every hawk with a physical inability to perform military experience, every unmarried man with an awkwardness around women, every admirer of Fred Thompson and President Bush who gushes over how manly they are, every aging adolescent fan of comic books, Star Trek, World of Warcraft, Star Wars action figures and the movie 300 will come under suspicion. If we start going after every conservative who seems kind of gay, the only conservatives left will be Fred Thompson, President Bush and Rudolph Giuliani. Well, maybe not Giuliani.

Advice for TV Journalists

There are lessons to be learned from Republican U.S. Senator Larry Craig's adventures in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. There also are lessons to be learned, apparently, about television news coverage of this bizarre business.

One of them is strictly fashion advice: When dressing for work never, ever, wear a dark suit and tie with open-toed sandals. You never know when your co-anchor will hit on you.

Stalling Around

Frank Cerabino, in the Palm Beach Post:
This has been the summer of bathroom misunderstandings.

Especially if you happen to be a conservative Republican with a stellar track record against the gay agenda - whatever that is.

One minute, you're railing against gay marriage ruining the moral fabric of our great nation, and the next, you're being hustled out of a public restroom by a guy who turns out to be an undercover cop.
* * *
Lesson No. 1: If a guy is in an adjoining stall, it's probably not a good idea to knock and then step into the guy's stall.
* * *
Lesson No. 4: Don't stick your hand under the divider and wiggle your fingers at the stranger in the next stall.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Senator Craig's Defense

Let's not rush to judgment over Larry Craig's alleged footsie affair in a public bathroom. The reprehensible Republican hypocrite might have had a defense, if only he had hired a lawyer.

The charge:
"At 1216 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. While this was occurring, the male in the stall to my right was still present. I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area,” the report states.
Plea of defendant:

"After the report became public, Craig issued a statement in which he said police misconstrued his actions. Craig said he regretted he handled the matter without the advice of an attorney, and said he should not have pled guilty."
The Evidence:

Quote of the Week

"I've been in this business 27 years in the public eye here. I don't go around anywhere hitting on men, and by God, if I did, I wouldn't do it in Boise, Idaho! Jiminy!"

Jiminy? You betcha! There's nothing to do in Boise.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ghost Writing


Everyone's been waiting for the report of Gen. David Patraeus. Then we learn this:
Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.
So, the Bush White House plans to ghost-write the much-ballyhooed Patraeus Report. The only real surprise, we suppose, is that this news is so deeply buried you have to read down to the 28th paragraph to find it.

On second thought, that shouldn't have surprised us, either. How many times has Brad Delong asked this question that goes unanswered?


Greg Sargent was wondering "whether the big news orgs would continue describing the imminent September Iraq progress report as representing solely the word of General Petraeus... ." Now he knows:
Well, we now have our first major failure of that test, and fittingly, it's The Washington Post's editorial page, which at this point is devoting its powerful opinion-shaping real estate to little more than a rearguard effort to salvage what's left of the reputations of Beltway war supporters. And not only does WaPo's editorial page today not acknowledge that "bait and switch," it actually continues to try and maintain the fiction that the September report will represent the sole word of Petraeus.
Read Fred Hiatt's fiction for yourself, if you have the stomach.

Dean Now a Hurricane

T.S. Dean reached Cat 1 hurricane strength early Thursday morning. The NHC discussion reports:

T.S. Dean ... Yucutan A Target?

Jeff Masters' WunderBlog reports, "All of the computer models forecast that Dean will hit the Lesser Antilles, Islands," it's likely to strengthen to as much as a Cat 2, Martinique, Dominica, and Guadaloupe are "in the bulls-eye."

The good news for us: "None of the models show Dean moving northwards into Florida. Landfall in the Yucatan or western Cuba are the preferred solutions."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dean To Be 'Major Hurricane' Monday

Today's Miami Herald reports NHC forecasters expect Tropical Storm Dean "to reach the outer Caribbean islands by Friday evening and continue heading west or west-northwest, possibly endangering the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba early next week." By Monday, "it is expected to become a major hurricane, with winds of 115 mph."

While a separate storm in the Gulf is likely to strengthen enough today to be give the name Erin, it threatens only the far south coast of Texas and northeastern Mexico.

Pensacola Beach residents will remember the last Erin. August 6, 1995. It came ashore just 61 days before Hurricane Opal.

And so the season has begun at last.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

T.S. Dean Expected to Strengthen

Tropical Storm Dean, currently well out in the Atlantic, is expected to "become a major hurricane as it approaches the Lesser Antilles by the weekend," according to Caribbean, which has become the go-to place for Caribbean news.
The weather service in Puerto Rico has said that Dean should become a hurricane by Saturday as it approaches the islands and it has urged interests "across the region" to monitor the evolution of the system.
For what little it's worth at this point, with the storm still about 2500 miles away, a few of the many computer forecast models currently foresee a substantial chance that it will strike somewhere along the Gulf Coast after passing Hispanola and Cuba. Oil prices are rising in anticipation of rig shut-downs, of course.

Locally, the storm can be expected to begin attracting serious attention by late this weekend if it survives that long.

Friday, August 10, 2007

About Those Hurricane Forecasts

We've said it before: issuing seasonal hurricane predictions is a mug's game. They're about as useful as reading tarot cards.

The whole world learned a few days ago that Phil Klotzbach (NEE: Dr. William Gray) has lowered Colorado State University's annual hurricane forecast. Open up (or click on) any newspaper, like the Dayton Beach News-Journal, and you can read all about it.

Yesterday, NOAA's Hurricane Research Division did the same, as the Miami Herald reports:
On Thursday, government forecasters slightly narrowed their full-season prediction of activity.

NOAA forecasters now expect 13 to 16 named storms that grow into seven to nine hurricanes, including three to five that become intense, with winds above 110 mph.

Before the six-month season began June 1, they predicted 13 to 17 named storms that become seven to 10 hurricanes, three to five intense.

To be sure, the most intense part of the tropical storm season is only now beginning. Vigilance and advance preparations are always the order of the day for coastal dwellers. But can we not appreciate this without media-hungry meteorologists demeaning themselves every few months by pretending to be fortune tellers instead of scientists?

Others are sufficiently embarrassed by "the Dr. Gray School of Hurricane Analysis and Tea Leaf Reading" that they've started to put some distance between themselves and the charlatans:
Experts note that full-season predictions tend to be less accurate than real-time ''operational'' forecasts of an actual storm, which are produced by a different team of scientists.
It's obvious to anyone with a memory longer than 12 months that specific storm warnings are more reliable than fortune telling. What's interesting about that sentence is the care taken to point out real-time storm forecasts "are produced by a different team of scientists."

Also, lucky for NASA, astrologers don't launch the space shuttle.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

So Long, Lipotes Vexillifer

The BBC is reporting that researchers believe the Yangtze river dolphin is now extinct. If that news doesn't seem immediate to you, consider this:
"This extinction represents the disappearance of a complete branch of the evolutionary tree of life and emphasizes that we have yet to take full responsibility in our role as guardians of the planet."

If confirmed, it would be the first extinction of a large vertebrate for over 50 years.
"Unlike most historical-era extinctions of large bodied animals, the baiji was the victim not of active persecution but incidental mortality resulting from massive-scale human environmental impacts - primarily uncontrolled and unselective fishing," the researchers concluded.
If it can happen in China, it can happen here in Florida, where "incidental mortality" from "human activities" has placed 56 animals on the endangered species list.

Miller in a Muddle

Local county commissioner congressman Jeff Miller (R-Chumukla) is still deluded. If he really met with "with four leaders representing the country's... minority Sunni tribes" it must have been just as they were pulling out of the government.

Nevertheless, he claims, "
the surge is accomplishing what coalition forces in the United States wanted... ." Of course, Miller offers no facts -- just opinion, informed no doubt by the Pentagon's five-color PR talking points booklet in front of him.

Want facts? Read Patrick Cockburn, whom David Corn correctly describes as a war correspondent who "
knows the Arab world far better than any of the neocon armchair warrior/columnists."

Writes Cockburn on the same day Miller was doing his Pollyanna act:
Six months after the surge was actually launched, in mid- February, it has failed as dismally as so many First World War offensives. The US Defense Department says that, this June, the average number of attacks on US and Iraqi forces, civilian forces and infrastructure peaked at 177.8 per day, higher than in any month since the end of May 2003. The US has failed to gain control of Baghdad. The harvest of bodies picked up every morning first fell and then rose again. This may be because the Mehdi Army militia, who provided most of the Shia death squads, was stood down by Sadr. Nobody in Baghdad has much doubt that they could be back in business any time they want. Whatever Bush might say, the US military commanders in Iraq clearly did not want to take on the Mehdi Army and the Shia community when they were barely holding their own against the Sunni.

The surge is now joining a host of discredited formulae for success and fake turning-points that the US (with the UK tripping along behind) has promoted in Iraq over the past 52 months.
US commanders are often cheery believers in their own propaganda, even as the ground is giving way beneath their feet.
More lies have been told about casualties in Iraq and the general level of violence there than at almost any time since the First World War. In that conflict, a British minister remarked sourly that he suspected the military authorities of keeping three sets of casualty figures: "One to deceive the Cabinet, a second to deceive the people and a third to achieve themselves."

So, who're you gonna believe? The county commissioner from Chumuckla, Florida, or the hardened war correspondent who's been stationed in the Middle East for a quarter century?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Picturing the Future

Over the weekend, George W. Bush labored to shred the Constitution, the Republicans in Congress willingly assisted him, and congressional Democrats, although in a nominal majority, couldn't do a damn thing to stop them, thanks to defections from 16 mostly Dixiecrats, including Florida's own Bill Nelson.

Scott Horton has the most succinct analysis:
Those who expected the Democrats to stand up to this may have gotten a shock. I wasn’t shocked at all. Many see a Democrat-Republican divide over the rise of the National Surveillance State, but that’s foolish. * * * What we’re witnessing is another demonstration of Lord Acton’s famous maxim: those who hold power tend to seek to extend it.

At this point, Democrats are nearly giddy with the prospects of recapturing the White House and resuming rule with a solid power base in the Executive and the Legislature. And with this prospect, suddenly the specter of intrusive big government seems somehow far more palatable to them, and America’s constitutional system and the rights of the individual citizens are less of a concern.
There was a time in America, within the memory of most of us, when voting to violate the Bill of Rights and blurring the U.S. Constitution's fundamental principle of Separation of Powers would have meant political ruination. Today, it happens with regularity and goes unremarked by most voters.

It must be true that we get the government we deserve. This Fall, Bush will be asking that same Congress to write new laws granting legal immunity to everyone in the administration for the crimes they've been committing. No doubt, congressmen and senators will strongly object to this anti-law-and-order measure -- until they get included in the deal.

Glenn Greenwald, writing for Salon, has it right about what divides we, the people, from the Bush administration and its many congressional enablers such as Nelson:
The common, defining political principle here -- what resonates far more powerfully than any other idea -- is a fervent and passionate belief in our country's constitutional framework, the core liberties it secures, and the checks and balances it offers as a safeguard against tyrannical power. Those who fail to defend that framework, or worse, those who are passively or actively complicit in its further erosion, are all equally culpable.

With each day that passes, the radicalism and extremism originally spawned in secret by the Bush presidency becomes less and less his fault and more and more the fault of those who -- having discovered what they have been doing and having been given the power to stop it -- instead acquiesce to it and, worse, enable and endorse it.
In his despair for our Republic, Scott Horton writes, "Today, our civil liberties state is withering away and the National Surveillance State surges without control. Retrenchment will be impossible. Resistance is essential, especially by those within."

Then, he offers this quote from George Orwell's 1984, a novel no less prescient for having come true some thirty years late. O'Brien from the Ministry of Love:
There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always -- do not forget this, Winston -- always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Gone Goose Story That Would Not Die

That gross goose story about the fowl slaughter at Tiger Point Golf Course & Bird Mausoleum just won't die. Nowhere near as fast as the geese did, anyway.

A web site called The Canada Goose Hall of Shame has reprinted a local news story about the whole thing, and then followed it up with a "Note" to local journalists and club members.

To Tom McLaughlin and other Pensacola area reporters who covered the story using the word "euthanasia" to describe the ultimate fate of the geese, the Goose Hall of Shame says:
We strongly object to the use of the word "euthanasia." Euthanasia is defined as the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.

The geese murdered in Gulf Breeze were not hopelessly sick or injured, nor was their death relatively painless. Being poisoned by carbon dioxide gas is an extremely cruel method of killing the healthy geese who hurt no one. Please CLICK HERE to see how geese are gassed.
To Tiger Point club members, the Hall of Shame adds:
Those of you who golf at this club and oppose their cruel and barbaric method of removing the geese should stop golfing there. Send the management a message that their cruel methods will not be condoned!
From all we hear about management-member relations at Tiger Point, if the members 'stopped golfing ' there, management would be delighted.