Friday, June 29, 2007

Exxon Muscles The Yes Men

The Yes Men struck oil two weeks ago. Now, Big Oil has struck back.

Posing as Exxon-Mobil executive Florian Osenberg and National Petroleum Council (NPC) representative S.K. Wolff, two Yes Men pranksters in mid-June gave the featured presentation to 300 oilmen at "GO-EXPO," Canada's largest annual oil conference. The topic was "Vivoleum," a new alternative fuel source made from the remains of people who become "victims of climate change."

To demonstrate how oil companies can "keep fuel flowing" and prosper even as billions die from the effects of global warming, candles made from the cadaver of a deceased Exxon-Mobil janitor were handed out to the audience. It was only at that late point that understanding dawned for Simon Mellor, a director of the company putting on the event. Scoop.com reports he "strode up and physically forced the Yes Men from the stage."

Here, you can see a part of the spoof speech and Mellor's reaction as reported by Ashley Hargrave from the convention center and broadcast on BNet News:


The story doesn't end there, however. In angry reaction, Exxon-Mobil -- the largest corporation in the world -- allegedly hacked the Yes Men's web site, disabled their email service, and forced their web host to censor all references to the oil company. Only yesterday, bloggers and other fans of the Yes Men began receiving news of this extraordinary corporate thuggery.

Infoshop, among too many others for even Exxon-Mobil to silence, has the story -- along with a reprint of the Yes Men's new email message describing the hack:
One day after the Yes Men made a joke announcement that ExxonMobil plans to turn billions of climate-change victims into a brand-new fuel called Vivoleum, the Yes Men's upstream internet service provider shut down Vivoleum.com, the Yes Men's spoof website, and cut off the Yes Men's email service, in reaction to a complaint whose source they will not identify. The provider, Broadview Networks, also made the Yes Men remove all mention of Exxon from TheYesMen.org
before they'd restore the Yes Men's email service.
This is so typical of the chronically short-term vision of the oil industry. Until Exxon hacked the Yes Men, almost no one outside Calgary, Canada, even knew about the June 15 prank. Now, the story is circulating throughout the world wide web.

Way to go, Exxon! Is this what you mean by "high ethical standards, operations integrity, and flawless execution?"

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Goose Truth

With help from a number of witnesses and readers, including a Wall Street lawyer who lives at Tiger Point, we've finally managed to pin down the gory goose truth about los desaparecidos.

Rumors have been swirling at Tiger Point Golf & Country Club for over a week after a dozen or more residents witnessed the abduction by parties unknown of a gaggle of Canadian geese who inhabited the East Course.

Murder Most Fowl?

Were the geese killed? Even eaten? Or, were they simply "removed and relocated" as some Tiger Point managers have been telling their angry members?

Was it "wrong, wrong, wrong," as one reader commented here earlier this week? Or, was the "taking" of annoying waterfowl from a semi-public golf course in Gulf Breeze an ecologically responsible action that has been badly misunderstood by emotional or misinformed residents?

Some claim that in the gathering darkness last Wednesday evening as many as a hundred birds were lured by a food trail laced with drugs into a fenced temporary corral near the fifteenth green and then trucked away. Others say they saw several men, identity unknown, trap and remove ducks as well as geese. At least one witness said she saw a recalcitrant goose killed on the spot when it tried to make its escape.

No one has been sure about the facts or the fate of the birds. Club management told concerned residents they were "removed and relocated." Skeptics asked, "To where? "

No one offered a convincing answer.

Obfuscation

Others asked, "Removed by whom?" Neither club management nor state game and fish officials contacted by outraged residents could -- or would -- say. Even a few residents, as it turns out, were complicit in the widespread obfuscation. One husband we know actually told his wife the geese were taken to "an animal refuge." Later, when we were alone, we asked him where that refuge might be.

"Goose Heaven," he said somewhat sheepishly. The husband explained that his wife was so upset he didn't want to tell her what he really thinks happened to them.

More than one state official told us the only way to know for sure the fowls' fate was to track down every licensed trapper in Northwest Florida and ask him if he had anything to do with it and, if so, what happened to the birds. That, of course, would have been a fool's errand. It's difficult not to believe this was advice calculated to take citizens so long to complete that public anger might exhaust itself in the meantime.

Using more direct methods, we and a couple of our correspondents were able to track down the answers from an authoritative source: the very government official who approved and undertook the action. We've reviewed the permits he provided and sorted through the evidence.

The truth can now be revealed.

The Great Goose-capade

"Fifty-two Canada geese were taken," John Dunlap, district supervisor of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Wildlife Services office in Gainsville, told us. Dunlap describes himself as a biologist who earned a bachelor's degree in 1999 from a Tennessee university.

"We made sure that only resident Canada geese were removed, " he said. "No ducks or other waterfowl were taken."

He explained that the action was necessary because the birds "were causing problems." They were "resident" geese, he said, who "no longer will migrate north."

That's a complaint we've heard before, from both golf course personnel and State Fish and Game officials. Those who make it seem unaware (or unwilling to admit) that the Canada geese in Santa Rosa County are descendants of a species-population experiment to seed the state with native Canadian geese which was initiated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the late 1960's and early 1970's:
In 1967 and 1968 868 Canada Geese of the subspecies maxima (called moffitti by Palmer [1976]) were released in the Tallahassee area by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission [editor: now Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]. In 1974 160 birds were released in northwestern Florida and 76 in the central peninsula south to Lake County. According to Spillan (1978 in Stevenson and Anderson 1994), a total of 1,450 nonmigratory Canada Geese were released in Florida, mostly in Jackson, Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Alachua, and Duval counties.

By 1987 they had established breeding populations in Santa Rosa County, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Ocala, and Daytona Beach (J. McDaniel, pers. commun. in Stevenson and Anderson 1994). Atlas records in counties south of these locations were established for Manatee in 1986, Seminole in 1987, Pasco in 1988, and Dade in 1991. Although some of these records refer to birds recently released (B. Loftin, VRF 1987; L. McCullagh, VRF 1990), most birds are probably the offspring of those released in the 1970s and are extending their breeding range southward.
[emphasis added]
Like many golf courses in Florida, Dunlap says, Tiger Point has "highly fertilized grass. The geese feed on the grass seed and leave feces on the greens. Management tried to clean it off every day, but the problem just got worse and worse."

Dunlap's description of the annoyances the Canada geese can cause is closely matched by descriptions one can find all over the Internet. For example the University of Michigan's Zoology Museum states in part:
Canada geese can become a nuisance, especially when normally migratory birds become resident. They can overgraze lawns and crops, leading to erosion. On lawns, their feces can annoy humans. Build-up of fecal matter can lead to reduced water quality, by fostering bacteria and adding much nitrogen and phosphorus. Canada geese can be an exceptional annoyance in Atlantic flyway states by crowding in on golf courses, beaches, parks, playing fields, and yards.
For another example, a Wikipedia entry states:
Through different areas of North America, non-migratory Canada Goose populations have been on the increase. They frequent golf courses, parking lots and urban parks, which would have previously hosted only migratory geese on rare occasions. Their adaptability to human-altered areas has made this the most common waterfowlNorth America. In many areas, these non-migratory Canada Geese are now regarded as "pests". They are suspected of being a cause of an increase in high fecal coliforms at beaches. An extended hunting season and the use of noise makers have been used in an attempt to disrupt suspect flocks over the course of several years.
Asked what, if any, steps short of "taking" the birds were tried, as is required by federal regulations, Dunlap was less convincing. He told us he was first contacted last year by Meadowbrook Golf company officials, who own the Tiger Point Golf & Country Club. "I think they tried a spray and used dogs," he said somewhat tentatively.

The "spray" may have been Methiocarb. The University of Michigan describes it, somewhat ominously, as a pesticide "the toxic effects" of which "are still being researched."

No one we know can attest to any use of "dogs" by course management to reduce the population of Canada geese who have been breeding on the Tiger Point golf course for the past decade or more. As far as that goes, someone is trying to pull the fur over our eyes.

"Standing" Permit

Eventually, golf course officials "contracted" with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to have the birds "taken," as Dunlap delicately puts it. Acting under what he termed a "standing permit to take Canada geese in the State of Florida," Dunlap organized and oversaw last Wednesday's event. He emphasized that the permit was issued in compliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and a dozen or more other international conventions and federal statutes.

The particular standing permit in this instance is designated "Permit No. WX04137A." It was issued on June 15, 2004 "by the State of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission" to "Bernice Constanine" [sic -- the correct spelling is Constantin]. Constantin is director of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service - Wildlife Service office. The permit expires the last day of this year.

Essentially, that permit authorizes Constantin's office "to take and possess mallard ducks and Canada geese in Florida" subject to several conditions which can be summarized easily:
  • "Canada Geese, nests, and eggs may be taken between March 1 and September 30 when such taking is also federally permitted or authorized. Taking should be done discreetly and in such a manner as to avoid conflicts with the public, and in adherence with Florida Statute 828.12 regarding animal cruelty."
  • Permission to enter private property must first be secured from the owner.
  • The federal authorities also must issue a permit and both state and federal permits "must be readily available for inspection at all times while engaging in the permitted activities... ."
  • When "other qualified personnel" assist in the "permitted work," there must be a USDA authorization letter provided to the property owner and "other personnel" engaged in the "taking;" and
  • "A detailed report of all activities engaged in pursuant to this permit must be submitted with 90 days subsequent to the permit expiration ... ."
What Really Happened to the Geese?

In the permit itself, and in multiple conversations with Florida state fish and game officials who surely knew more than they were admitting, and throughout Mr. Dunlap's narrative as well, the euphemistic word "taking" was used repeatedly to describe the fate of the Tiger Point geese. Like the husband we mentioned above, it's as if they were unable to bring themselves to utter the truth for fear we couldn't handle it.

When we realized that after almost twenty minutes of conversation with Mr. Dunlap he still hadn't told us what happened to the geese after they were "taken," we asked him point-blank, "What do you mean 'taken'? Were they relocated or killed?"

After a short pause, Dunlap adopted the reticent tone of a funeral director and said unctuously, "They were euthanized."

"It's okay," we assured him. "We can take it. You mean they were killed?"

"Yes. I'm afraid so."

Lessons Learned


Probably there are some lessons to be learned from all of this. We hope one of them has been learned by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: be more careful when you mess with Mother Nature. It doesn't make much sense to import Canada geese to North Florida and encourage them to breed, then start killing them off by the scores because they "no longer are migrating birds."

For another, it shouldn't have taken a full-bore investigation by several private citizens to find out what their government really is doing in our own neighborhood. It's impossible to avoid the conclusion that State game and fish personnel, as well as Tiger Point management, deliberately hid the truth from residents. Government, especially, should make its actions transparent to the people it serves, even at the risk of offending their sensibilities. We're all adults, for goodness' sake. We ought to be able to take the truth.

Public Education

Indeed, we need to know the truth about the world around us, even when it comes to the little things such as cute Canadian geese waddling across the fairways in front of their golf course homes. As an oft-cited "draft" research paper by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on the problem of "Management of Canadian Geese in Suburban Areas" states [pdf format]:
Public attitudes toward geese often conflict, juxtaposing environmental needs with personal belief systems regarding wildlife protection and welfare. Suburban areas contain increased populations, and different groups will define ‘nuisance’ from geese differently. * * * Any method [of wildlife management] that involves destruction of birds, eggs, or nests will often create a highly emotionally charged atmosphere. * * * Usually, the first step in reducing these types of conflicts is education.
Both Tiger Point and, sad to say, the Government of Florida hasn't been forthright or candid with Gulf Breeze residents and users of the Tiger Point golf course. By contrast, John Dunlap deserves praise for 'fessing up. (You can email him here.)

Next time, if there is one, all could learn from this experience: join the Reality Community. Educate the public about your intentions and the reasons behind them. Enlist golf club members to serve on a "citizen task force," as the New Jersey paper recommends. Prominently post the permit under which you propose to act.

Above all, treat citizens like rational, intelligent adults -- not mere children to be manipulated with magical thinking, superstition, false assurances, and fantasies about "goose heaven." In big things as well as little ones like this goose caper, stop the assault on reason and, as Al Gore puts it, "trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gassing Geese on the Green

A curmudgeon we know writes privately:
"Why it is comfortable middle class retirees can get so upset over a gaggle of geese disappearing but say and do nothing about hundreds of thousands of Iraqis being killed by our own Government with bombs bought with their tax dollars?"
When we passed that same question along to a friend, this was the reply:
"Maybe if people lived in Iraq and saw people disappearing instead of geese they would care. Or, if our Government came in and took people randomly out of their homes on the golf course and gassed them on the greens they would care."
Good point, but don't tell the Cheney Administration. They might think that's a great idea.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wild Goose Chase

As one of our private correspondents tells us today, trying to pin down what happened in Gulf Breeze last Wednesday evening when over a hundred Canadian geese and ducks were 'disappeared' is as tough as finding out who really has been running the country over the past six years. (Hint: It's Dick Cheney.)

Following up yesterday's post, we can report today that according to one Tiger Point Golf Course manager, the 'disappearance' of the geese and ducks was the work of "the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services." It should be emphasized that this claim, for the moment, is unconfirmed. We aren't even sure there is an agency called "Wildlife Services," much less than it was responsible for "everything that happened out there," as club manager Aaron Williams told our informant. Just as likely, he may have meant the U.S.D.A. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

In any event, Williams apparently says that the club called the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that federal agency sent a "biologist" to inspect fowl inhabitants of the course. The problem, as perceived by Tiger Point Golf & Country Club, was that the birds "were defecating on the course and the greens."

The club manager did confirm that los desaparidos were "migratory birds" -- Canadian geese and migratory ducks. However, he said, human residents living adjacent to the course in recent months had taken to feeding the birds. "They wouldn't leave like they're supposed to," Williams complained of the birds. "They aren't really migratory anymore."

If the disappearance was engineered by the feds, and if there is a U.S.D.A agency known as "Agriculture Wildlife Services," and if that agency reclassified the Tiger Point Golf Club geese and ducks as non-migratory, there is no known record of such a federal action. Which is no more reassuring than the state system in Florida which, as we learned yesterday, licenses trappers and then doesn't haven't a clue what they do.

There were quite a few eye witnesses to the mass 'disappearance' of the geese and ducks, many of them living along Hole 15 of the Tiger Point's East Course. This much is confirmed by multiple sources: the fatal action began Wednesday evening, June 20, around 5:30 pm and lasted until dark. Two trucks predominantly white in color rolled up. One or more men laid a trail of doped-up food for the birds. (Some say they had been doing this for a week or more as a way to condition them.) The birds followed the food trail to a temporary corral set up near the 15th green. The tranquilized geese and ducks offered no resistance as they then were herded into the corral and, later, a truck.

Many suspect that inside one of the trucks the geese were gassed, not "relocated" as the club has been telling angry residents. Some among the eye witnesses claim to have seen at least one goose killed outright as it tried to escape. At least one resident reportedly took photos of the episode as it happened.

According to one official we spoke with today at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Panama City, killing migratory birds is not lawful. "But what if someone in the U.S.D.A reclassified the birds as "defacating" or "lazy" birds who were "retired" from migrating?" we asked.

"There is no such classification," was the reply. "A migratory bird is a migratory bird. They don't have to keep to a flight schedule."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Duck Duck, Goose Goose - Gone!

Residents and golfers in suburban Gulf Breeze, across the Sound from Pensacola Beach, are buzzing about the sudden disappearance of scores of geese and ducks who long have inhabited the fairways, creeks , and ponds of Tiger Point Golf and Country Club. Indeed, some of los desaparecidos are featured on the front page of the "scenic" golf course's own web site, where they appear to be guarding against any golfer's vicious slice into a pond -- Poof! Last week, all the ducks and geese just disappeared. By some counts, as many as 100 adult loons, ducks, and their offspring are simply gone. A common rumor among residents is that they were all "caught and gassed."

A dispatcher at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission denied that today. He told us the wildlife was "relocated" -- although he couldn't say where or when and didn't know who would know other than the trapper who caught them. No one else at the agency knows, either.

As it turns out, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission doesn't keep records on specific wildlife removal activities and doesn't require reports. All the agency does is issue annual permits to qualifying trappers. Then it turns a blind eye while the trappers have at it.

"It's private enterprise," another Fish & Wildlife commission worker said. "You'd have to ask the trapper and we don't know who that might have been."

Not exactly a license to kill, but pretty close.

One local trapper we spoke with, Mark Hughes, has been called out to Tiger Point on other occasions involving wounded birds. Hughes had nothing to do with last week's episode and was surprised to learn of it.

"Those birds weren't harming anyone," he said. "I can't see why anybody would have them removed."

Asked if some licensed trapper could lawfully collect geese and ducks at the golf course's request, Hughes told us, "Not really. Federal rules about migratory birds make it almost impossible to touch 'em. You can't kill 'em and there ain't hardly any place to take 'em, neither."

There are a number of federal and state laws and regulations protecting migratory bird populations. The Extension Service at the University of Florida conveniently summarizes those laws in plain-speak:
Resolutions to conflict between humans and wild animals shall first be attempted using non-lethal means, except under extreme and immediate circumstances where human safety or the safety of a companion animal is imminently threatened.

Wildlife control, including non-lethal actions, shall not be conducted simply because a homeowner considers the mere presence of a wild animal to be a "pest" or "nuisance."

The approach to wildlife conflict resolution shall follow a series of steps.

  • To promote an understanding of how connected humans are to wildlife and to the surrounding environment

  • To foster tolerance, respect, and understanding of all living things

  • To provide opportunities for Harmony residents to view, hear, and interact with local flora and fauna in an ecologically and environmentally friendly way

  • To create and provide educational activities which will foster a community-wide land ethic and promote future land stewardship.
Many area residents at Tiger Point took an interest in watching the birds raise their young. A few golfers possibly blamed them for an errant tee shot or a putt gone awry -- not a "nuisance" but in the view of some a capital offense.

But almost all folk at Tiger Point are taken aback at the weirdness of the apparent mass exodus -- or extinction. They say it's eerie to see the course suddenly denuded of all waterfowl. Florida Fish & Wildlife workers confirm they've been fielding a lot of complaint calls about the disappearance.

Our calls to golf course managers seeking more information about the trapper's identity and the fate of the flock have not yet been returned.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

When Is Al Qaeda Not?

When is Al Qaeda not Al Queda? According to Glenn Greenwald whenever the press unquestionably transcribes military propaganda and dresses it up as news:
That the Bush administration, and specifically its military commanders, decided to begin using the term "Al Qaeda" to designate "anyone and everyeone we fight against or kill in Iraq" is obvious. All of a sudden, every time one of the top military commanders describes our latest operations or quantifies how many we killed, the enemy is referred to, almost exclusively now, as "Al Qaeda."

But what is even more notable is that the establishment press has followed right along, just as enthusiastically. I don't think the New York Times has published a story about Iraq in the last two weeks without stating that we are killing "Al Qaeda fighters," capturing "Al Qaeda leaders," and every new operation is against "Al Qaeda."

The Times -- typically in the form of the gullible and always-government-trusting "reporting" of Michael Gordon, though not only -- makes this claim over and over, as prominently as possible, often without the slightest questioning, qualification, or doubt. If your only news about Iraq came from The New York Times, you would think that the war in Iraq is now indistinguishable from the initial stage of the war in Afghanistan -- that we are there fighting against the people who hijacked those planes and flew them into our buildings: "Al Qaeda."

What is so amazing about this new rhetorical development -- not only from our military, but also from our "journalists" -- is that, for years, it was too shameless and false even for the Bush administration to use. Even at the height of their propaganda offensives about the war, the furthest Bush officials were willing to go was to use the generic term "terrorists" for everyone we are fighting in Iraq, as in: "we cannot surrender to the terrorists by withdrawing" and "we must stay on the offensive against terrorists."

But after his 2004 re-election was secure, even the President acknowledged that "Al Qaeda" was the smallest component of the "enemies" we are fighting in Iraq:

A clear strategy begins with a clear understanding of the enemy we face. The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein -- and they reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group. . . .

The second group that makes up the enemy in Iraq is smaller, but more determined. It contains former regime loyalists who held positions of power under Saddam Hussein -- people who still harbor dreams of returning to power. These hard-core Saddamists are trying to foment anti-democratic sentiment amongst the larger Sunni community. . . .

The third group is the smallest, but the most lethal: the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda.
And note that even for the "smallest" group among those we are fighting in Iraq, the president described them not as "Al Qaeda," but as those "affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda." Claiming that our enemy in Iraq was comprised primarily or largely of "Al Qaeda" was too patently false even for the President to invoke in defense of his war.
Once again, as Prof. Brad Delong often laments, "Why, oh, why can't we have a better press corps?"

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rubber Stamp Ed

Even as Escambia County commissioners were deciding to postpone until next month the "condo-tel" vote, commissioner Gene Valentino was announcing his new choice for appointee to the Santa Rosa Island Authority's governing board. It's Elwyn "Ed" Guernsey, a Pensacola insurance agent.

Perfect. Who better for the role of Gene Valentino's rubber stamp than someone whose career is selling policies written by other folk rather than himself?

Just one suggestion: Guernsey could save taxpayers the $400 monthly SRIA board member honorarium if he just mails in his votes.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Beach Occupiers

UPDATED BELOW
"Gene Valentino has hopped into bed with developers who are angling to evade the residential cap on Pensacola Beach and he wants Robertson to hold his underwear."
The ugly, dark side of Escambia County's continued political occupation of Pensacola Beach was revealed yesterday when District 2 commissioner Gene M. Valentino abruptly demanded the resignation of SRIA board member Kelly Robertson. According to PNJ reporter Derek Pivnick, if Robertson doesn't resign today Valentino has informed him he will be "automatically terminated."

Technically, that can't be right. So far as we recall, state law governing the appointment and removal of county commission-appointed members of the SRIA requires affirmative action of all commissioners. But it's certainly true that local custom allows each commissioner to name and remove "his own" appointee. It's not "automatic" though -- Valentino will have to wield the knife but his fellow commissioners will have to hand it to him. That's unlikely to bother Valentino. He knows what he wants -- total county commissioner control of Pensacola Beach.

The simple truth is that Gene Valentino has hopped into bed with developers who are angling to evade the residential cap on Pensacola Beach and he wants Robertson to hold his underwear. Robertson isn't enthusiastic about that.

What was Robertson's sin? Voting with the Santa Rosa Island Authority board majority late last week in a 5 to 1 SRIA board decision "to establish its own policies in defining what a hotel is on Pensacola Beach." It's not that this SRIA vote was anti-developer, particularly; it's that a vote in favor of the SRIA continuing to do its lawful duty of managing the beach in the public interest (as the SRIA's own attorney has advised the board it must do) is a vote against Escambia County commissioners pillaging the joint.

Valentino, being a county commissioner, couldn't abide that.

There's a subplot even more disturbing. Under the county's Comprehensive Plan, which was updated just before County Administrator Barry Evans retired a few years ago, for decades it has been stipulated that no more than 4,128 "residential units" can be built in "mixed use" and residential zones on Pensacola Beach. Over the years, thousands of builders, real estate brokers, and beach lessees invested in Pensacola Beach in no small measure because they were encouraged to rely on the implicit promises in the county's Comprehensive Plan when they built, sold, or bought residence or business leases on Pensacola Beach. A common expectation of all was that beach zoning and land use restrictions offered reasonable assurance that they wouldn't wake up some morning to find a high rise condo, or a slaughter house for that matter, going up next door.

To be sure, the maximum number of residential units on Pensacola Beach, if anything, probably is too high given increased hurricane activity and the limited number (just the one at the moment) of escape routes. Even that high number was essentially used up eight years ago when the SRIA expressly allocated all remaining residential units to the Portofino complex. The beach is full. It has reached maximum carrying capacity.

Oblivious to all of this, high rise developers have of late been seeking ways to get around the cap so they can continue building sky-high buildings. Their current strategy relies on a nonce word: 'hotel-condo.' Straight out of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:
O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
By building what some call "condo-tels", or hotels that contain within them units large enough to be occupied over the long term as residential condo units while avoiding the root word "residence" and its variants, developers hope to keep on building and building and building until the island sinks under the collective weight of high rise cement.

Until now, the only thing standing in the way was that Barry Evans' crew -- the brightest group ever to administer Escambia County -- foresaw this dodge and engineered an amendment to the county's Comprehensive Plan ten years ago that for the first time defined "hotels" in terms of maximum square footage and specified they cannot be continuously occupied by the "owner" more than two weeks a year.

What Valentino and all the commercial builders who donated so generously to his campaign for public office want to do is eviscerate that section of the Comprehensive Plan. If they succeed it will be 'bombs away' for every area of Pensacola Beach designated as a "mixed use" building zone. That includes a great many areas that beach residents and visitors think of as residential -- because that's the way they currently look to the naked eye and, after all, the beach has maxed out on residential units, right?

Caveat emptor. With county politicians like Gene Valentino in office, no property on Pensacola Beach will be safe.

Today, Valentino published a two-page "position statement" on the condo-tel issue. It can be downloaded and read by clicking here [Word format].

While Valentino is due some credit for posting any kind of position paper that can be read by the public, the commissioner's statement on this issue is, to be generous, incoherent, fact-free, and delusional. But bleeding through all the balderdash about "the creatively talented individual" and "looking at the big picture" and "neutralizing" supposed zoning "disparities... by merging many of the zoning categories together" one theme comes through loud and clear: Valentino wants to erase all zoning and Comprehensive Plan restrictions on beach development because he thinks it will generate more revenue for county government.

That's not "looking at the big picture." That's looking like a short-sighted pig.

UPDATE
County commissioners have put off until next month a decision on reviewing the "condo-tel" rules adopted last week by the SRIA.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"The Dumbest Columnist Ever"

The 'dumbest columnist ever" just may be Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, according to Robert Parry of Consortium News. He makes a strong case --
[B]eyond a talent for reprising the conventional wisdom from Washington dinner parties, it is hard to tell what justifies Cohen’s long career as a political columnist. On nearly every major development over the past couple of decades, Cohen has missed the point or gotten it dead wrong.

For example, during the Florida recount battle in 2000, Cohen cared less about whom the voters wanted in the White House than the Washington insiders' certainty that George W. Bush would be a uniter, not a divider.

“The nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse,” Cohen wrote. “That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush.”

Cohen also joined the Washington herd in the disastrous stampede for invading Iraq. After Secretary of State Colin Powell’s deceptive Iraq War speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, Cohen mocked anyone who still dared doubt that Saddam Hussein possessed hidden WMD stockpiles.

Cohen also joined the Washington herd in the disastrous stampede for invading Iraq. After Secretary of State Colin Powell’s deceptive Iraq War speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, Cohen mocked anyone who still dared doubt that Saddam Hussein possessed hidden WMD stockpiles.

“The evidence he [Powell] presented to the United Nations – some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail – had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them,” Cohen wrote. “Only a fool – or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.”

It took Cohen another three years before he recognized that his enthusiasm for the war had been misplaced.

And then Parry adds this, plus a question:
In normal work settings, incompetence – especially when it is chronic and has devastating consequences – justifies dismissal or at least demotion, maybe a desk in Storage Room B where Cohen could sit with his red stapler, but without access to a word processor.
[I]s Cohen just a clueless incompetent when he berates Fitzgerald for the “train wreck” of the Libby conviction or is this columnist really a clever guy who is very skilled at knowing how to stay on the gravy train of modern Washington journalism?
You do have to wonder what, other than presumably nice table manners, qualifies Richard Cohen for any job at a national newspaper, much less one that depends on the ability to digest facts and express reliable opinions?

Lights Out

What Glenn Greenwald says.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Ticketmaster Circus

Never run away to the circus over the Internet. Sadly, that's the lesson we draw from spending several hours trying to buy tickets to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, which opens a five-day stand in Pensacola tonight.

In cyberspace, not only is the circus coming to town but so is the Internet fraud forest popularly known known as Ticketmaster. (We say "popularly known" because as you can read below not all web sites that look like Ticketmaster are Ticketmaster.)

More likely than not, as assistant Pensacola Civic Center manager Phil Ashler confirmed to us by telephone last week, if you try to buy event tickets from Ticketmaster over the Internet it may well cost you far more than if you simply drive down to the Civic Center and buy them in person -- gas included.

Indeed, based on our own experience it might be cheaper to buy your own elephant and ride there in high style.

Contrary to most folks' experience with Internet sales, when it comes to Ticketmaster it can be more expensive to buy on-line than in person. A lot more. Broadly speaking, there are two reasons for this:
  1. Ticketmaster itself advertises a "ticket price" that has little relation to reality. If a bricks-and-mortar retailer advertised prices equally divorced from the reality of what is actually being charged, the Florida Attorney General's consumer protection division would have them in court by nightfall.
  2. Ticketmaster licenses a great many other go-between agents to sell tickets to the same event at even higher prices with even more add-ons. Most of these "go-between betweens" claim to be selling "discount" tickets or have web sites that cleverly spoof the official Ticketmaster site.
Here's a screen shot of the real Ticketmaster's "advertised price" for two common tickets offered to a web site visitor earlier today:


"$40 per ticket"? That's just to hook you in. As you start to fill out the forms, give up your personal data and credit card number, and hit the "continue" button to proceed to the next page, the price mounts. At each subsequent screen, Ticketmaster accumulates so-called "service charges," "delivery fees" and other add-ons that wind up inflating the original stated price by anywhere from 18.5% to 50% more. And that's before taxes.

Here's a screenshot of what those same two "Section 109" tickets, above, will cost before the state and county's 7.5% sales tax:


Remember, that's what the "good guys" who really are Ticketmaster are charging. There are scores of other agents who have wedged themselves in between the Ticketmaster middlemen and you who routinely receive ticket allotments from Ticketmaster, too. On the web, they do their best to make themselves look like an official Ticketmaster site or a trustworthy Internet discount ticket agent. In fact, though, most have inflated ticket prices to the same event even more -- before aping the Ticketmaster system of adding on extra charges for "service," "delivery," and even a separate charge for printing an e-ticket at home on your own printer!

Section 106 tickets, which we known to be effectively identical to the "section 109" tickets shown above, are advertised by one such typical web site for $65 apiece -- nearly 40% more:

But after filling out the forms and "continuing" to new screens, guess what? The price escalates to nose-bleed levels as mysterious and sundry service and maintenance and other synonymous charges are folded in, plus a $15 charge for "2-day delivery" (the cheapest this one makes available).


On one "middleman's middleman" web site, after a bit of searching we found this menu listing the types of add-on charges that can inflate your ticket prices to breath-taking levels:

It would be only slightly more honest if this web site added "76% per ticket - Sucker charge."

Ticketmaster has earned a terrible reputation in some quarters, as this Wikipedia article makes clear. After trying to buy circus tickets over the Internet, we see why. Although mentioned in the context of music events, the same Wikipedia observation might be said of its circus ticket pricing practices:
Ticketmaster is doing its part, like most corporations, to exploit music and ruin it for everyone with outstandingly high ticket prices and ridiculous additional charges.
"Why Ticketmaster Sucks" makes some of the same points, and adds a strongly-worded caution about the risks to your privacy when you shop on line with Ticketmaster. And E-opinions about Ticketmaster are nearly uniformly of the same view.

So what's the weary consumer to do? Here's what: shut down that 'puter, hop a ride, and run away to the Civic Center to buy your circus tickets in person.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Taking the Pledge

It wasn't that long ago that true conservatives in the U.S. believed in individual freedom, a non-obtrusive Federal Government, balanced budgets, and even -- most especially, perhaps -- the Bill of Rights.

No more. As Scott Horton notes today --
[W]e have political figures who call themselves Conservatives, but whose notions of what constitutes conservatism seem drawn from certain political movements in Europe between the wars.
Wonder which "certain political movements... between the wars" he's thinking about? Think brown shirts and swastikas. But today, right here in America, people who call themselves conservatives, from the top of the Republican Party to the lowest level of plain citizen --
think, for instance, that balanced budgets are a thing of the past and that deficit spending is the fashion of the day. They believe in big government that grows in size every year and becomes more intrusive into the lives of citizens as every day passes. Among what Thomas Jefferson called the “essential pillars of our Government,” the new “conservatives” don’t feel that any are essential, indeed, they tend to think of all of the “pillars” are quaint and obsolete.

Indeed, they have already suspended one of Jefferson’s “pillars,” habeas corpus and they’re busy working on the others. And in the area of foreign affairs, the new “conservatives” have never seen a war they didn’t want to fight, nor have they ever seen a war they would trust the uniformed professionals of the armed services to manage. This is balanced by the fact that none of them ever served in the armed forces, because they had better things to do.
At last, there is a movement of true conservatives that seeks to turn the Republican Party away from neo-fascism and bring it back to the party's more honorable roots: The American Freedom Agenda.

Led by conservative lawyer Bruce Fein, direct mail specialist Richard Viguerie, former Republican congressman Bob Barr, and American Conservative Union chairman David Keene, the AFA is trying to rescue the nation, not just the Republican Party, from the unprecedented authoritarian path being pursued by the Bush-Cheney administration.

The AFA recently announced a "10-point agenda" that almost everyone should support since it mirrors the Constitutional system of laws that has served us so well for over two hundred years. Most notably, that agenda would strengthen the Constitution’s checks and balances, prevent executive branch usurpation of legislative and judicial powers, protect personal privacy from intrusive government wiretapping and home invasions, prohibit kidnapping and torture on the mere say-so of a president, and restore the centuries old "writ of freedom" known as habeas corpus.

The thoroughly conservative AFA is now asking Republican presidential candidates to sign on to that agenda. Sad to say, G.O.P. presidential candidate Mitt Romney was the first to refuse. Consequently, the AFA has (rightly) "pronounced him unfit to serve" as president.

The American Freedom Agenda strikes us as something every candidate for president should be proud to sign onto and faithfully execute, Republican or Democrat. Every American voter should be insisting on it. Don't pledge your support to any candidate unless he (or she) does.

Into the Lion's Den

Florida's newly elected state Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, is coming to Pensacola with the "legislatively - created task force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution." Everyone's invited to give them a piece of your mind.
The meeting will be held June 13, from 2 p.m. - 8 p.m. at Hagler Auditorium, Building 2, Room 252 on the campus of Pensacola Junior College, 1000 College Blvd. in Pensacola, Fla.

The public is encouraged to attend and will be able to offer personal testimony from 2:30 p.m. - 4 p.m. as well as from 6:15 p.m. - 7:45 p.m. The Department of Financial Services will also have consumer assistance on site to help Floridians with questions regarding Citizens claims and policies.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pensacola's Sopranos Mystery

Last night the final episode of the six-year series The Sopranos aired on HBO. USA Today's Robert Bianco covered the cultural event. His report appears to have been repeated by many of mega-media Gannett Corp.'s wholly-owned children, including the Pensacola News Journal.

The Pensacola paper gave it front-page coverage, with an assist by "News Journal writer Thyrie Bland" who "contributed to this report." What did the regrettably-named Ms. Bland contribute? The grumblings of "Pensacola resident Ray Mayer, 50" who -- so we are told -- "was not impressed."
"It just ended ... very poorly," Mayer said. "It left you hanging. It left you up in the air. It was quite a let down. It just ended like it wasn't the end of the show."
So, just who is this "Ray Mayer, 50" and why should we care? A local TV critic? UWF drama coach? Budding Gulf Breeze screen writer working his way through Pensacola Junior College? One of Troy Moon's bar habitues?
Thyrie Bland's boyfriend? A Bay area mobster?

Who knows? Ms. Bland isn't saying. For all we are told, Mr. Mayer might as well be that uniquitous "anonymous source" Beltway journalists are quoting all the time when they want to look like they are superior to the rest of us. All we know for sure is this Mayer fellow was so stunned "he
had to watch the ending" twice.

It's no wonder dead tree journalism is in trouble. Adding "local flavor" like this to someone else's cookie-cutter synopsis can be outsourced to India as easily as tweaking software or running a call center.

Are You Scooter Libby?

UPDATED BELOW

Our favorite satirist, Jon Swift, has posted an emotional plea demanding judicial immunity for the rich:
What has always made America different from other countries is that every citizen has an equal opportunity to become rich or, at least, to inherit great wealth. That is the American dream. That is why most Americans oppose high taxes for the wealthy and death taxes because they know that someday they might be well off themselves.

But the tragic saga of Paris Hilton has shattered that dream. How can we possibly have faith in the American system of justice when we see that despite having access to the best lawyers money can buy, Paris Hilton can be treated so cruelly? What hope do we have for the future when we see that even if we become a wealthy celebrity, we might still be subject to the harsh vagaries of the law.

First they came for Paris Hilton and I did not speak up because I was not Paris Hilton.

Well, I am speaking up now because I am Paris Hilton!
Makes you wonder, who could be next? As America declines into a nation of laws that snares the rich and powerful as well as the poor, will we stoop so low as to hold high government officials accountable for their criminal acts, too? Someone, say, like the chief aide to the Vice-president of the United States?

Is there no one left who will speak up for the rich and powerful? Oh, wait. Thank goodness! Yes, there will always be Bob Novak and David Broder.

UPDATE I
JUNE 11 pm
Good grief! As Glenn Greenwald effectively shows, Time Magazine's Joe Klein is channeling Jon Swift. He just doesn't know it's supposed to be satire:
In a post entitled "Thoughts on Sentencing," Klein actually argues -- seriously -- that it is imperative for the public interest that Paris Hilton receive jail time because "it is exemplary: It sends the message . . .that even rich twits can't avoid the law," but: [quoting Klein]
"I have a different feeling about Libby. His "perjury"--not telling the truth about which reporters he talked to--would never be considered significant enough to reach trial, much less sentencing, much less time in stir if he weren't Dick Cheney's hatchet man. . . ."
To this, Greenwald has a sharply reasoned and well-documented response that exposes Joe Klein's article for the contemptible nonsense it is. No, more than nonsense -- Klein's article is a revolting example of the propensity of so many national journalists "to make any assertions, no matter how fact-free, in service" of Washington D.C.'s "Beltway" power-brokers.

Argues Greenwald --
There are many reasons why the political press fails to investigate and uncover real wrongdoing on the part of the government, but a leading reason is that they do not see lawbreaking as genuinely wrong or the lawbreakers as corrupt. These are their friends and colleagues -- their socioeconomic peers and, with increasing and disturbing frequency, their spouses and family memebers -- and while Important Bush Officials might be "guilty" of engaging in harmless and perfectly accepted political "hardball," they are never genuinely bad people engaged in genuinely bad acts. And they certainly do not belong in criminal courtrooms or prison.

It is so painfully revealing, though equally unsurprising, to read one of our most prestigious pundits, the Leading Liberal in Time Magazine, argue that Paris Hilton should be imprisoned as an example of the stern rule of law that prevails in our country but convicted felon Lewis Libby -- who deliberately lied under oath to the Grand Jury and as part of an FBI investigation -- should be set free. Or that George Bush's spying on Americans in violation of the criminal law is a matter of mere political controversy which Democrats ought steadfastly to avoid. There is no class of people more defensive of the prerogatives of political power than our "journalist" class, even though, in a healthy and functioning democracy, the exact opposite would be true.

Greenwald nails it. But Jon Swift is funnier.

UPDATE II

Christy Hardin Smith, a former prosecutor, has more about the Greenwald-Klein divide over at Firedog Lake.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Balad of the Vanities

Shorter Atrios, who shortens Michael Hirsh: "[T]he main reason we stay in Iraq is because of the vanities of incompetent people."

GITMO: Meeting Ourselves in History

Scott Horton published a post two days ago that is worthy of framing and hanging on the wall: "The Gavel of Liberty," he titled it. We won't say anything more except you should read it to the very end.

Bush's 'Stomach Ache'

Apparently, George W. Bush tied on "a stomach ache" while meeting privately with French president Nicolas Sarkozy last night. Afterwards, he couldn't make the press conference, so Sarkozy had to soldier on alone but Bush will be better "later in the day," spokesman Dan Bartlett assures us.

No wonder Florida's own Sinfonian calls him "Drunky McStagger."

UPDATE

Yahoo News caught a snapshot of the stomach bug:

The Man for the Job

As the president's point man on Iraq, [Lt. Gen. Douglas] Lute would be charged with helping to ensure that Iraqis can achieve those goals. But he expressed doubt about whether the Iraqis have the ability to change and whether the United States has the ability to force them to do so. "I have reservations about just how much leverage we can apply on a system that is not very capable right now," he said.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Testing Presidential Candidates

When it comes to those farcical questions being put to presidential candidates during televised debates by TV personalities masquerading as real journalists, Jon Swift makes more sense than Britt Hume and Wolf Blitzer combined:
In this week's Democratic presidential debate Wolf Blitzer asked the candidates to raise their hands if they would take out Osama Bin Laden even if innocent civilians would be killed. Asking for a show of hands is an even more economical way of quizzing candidates than limiting them to 30-second soundbites. In the future the networks might consider limiting all debates to 20 yes-or-no questions that can be answered with a show of hands, which would spare us from having to listen to them speak.
Swift also is right to caution the candidates, themselves, that they shouldn't fall for Britt Hume's trap by being too ready to imitate the macho fictional character, Jack Bauer, on the television series 24.
[I]n the disappointing finale to 24, we learned that Jack Bauer is tired of single-handedly saving America from terrorists and showed a dangerous streak of mushy compassion and self-interest. It seems he cared more about saving his girlfriend and his 16-year-old nephew this season than he did about protecting America. Sure, it would be great to have a President who was willing to torture his own brother or shoot one of his colleagues in order to prevent a terrorist attack, but I think we need to ask for a bit more from our presidential candidates.
On whom, then, should a wannabe U.S. president model himself if he wants to impress the American electorate? Jon Swift has the answer -- and a number of questions to be posed at least as intelligent as those the national news media has been asking.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Oh, My! Oman!

Why Now? has the essence of it.

UPDATE
BBC:
An unusually powerful cyclone has begun battering the coast of Oman with winds of 160mph (260 km/h) and large waves.
* * *
The most powerful part of the storm was expected to hit Oman on Thursday, before moving north across the Gulf to Iran.

Reports say Cyclone Gonu is expected to be the strongest to hit the Arabian Peninsula since records started in 1945.

While crossing the Indian Ocean on Monday it reached the equivalent of a Category Five hurricane - the highest category available.

Al Jazeera:
A powerful cyclone has hit the coast of Oman, forcing thousands to leave their homes as well as disrupting oil and gas exports.
* * *
Ahmad al-Harthi, director of the meteorology department, said: "Oman is normally affected by tropical cyclones from time to time, but this is one of the severest since the 1977 storm, bearing in mind we have records going back to 1890."

A weather service official said the cyclone could cause more damage as it was expected to sweep northwards along the heavily populated coast.

The centre of the storm is expected to hit land in southeastern Iran, possibly disrupting shipping through the Gulf.
Omanet:
Lt General Al Maamari said Gonu posed a major threat to low-lying areas as well as population centres along the coast between Ras al Hadd and Ras Madrakah. Masirah’s plains, where two-third of the Island’s roughly 7,000 residents live, are also at risk.

Masirah’s plains, where two-third of the Island’s roughly 7,000 residents live, are also at risk.

Pooty-Poot

Scott Horton has some timely and disturbing insights into the relationship between George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. And some revealing comparisons.

About "Pooty-Poot," Horton writes:
He inherited a nation brimming with the promise of freedom, and did much to put that spirit back in the box. But he brought order to the treasury. And he established the indubitable dominance of the Kremlin over the “subjects of the Federation” which previously had driven a strong centrifugal force in Russia’s body politic. Putin aimed to clean-up the house of Russia so as to lay the foundations for its re-emergence on the international stage as a great power. He saw, brilliantly, the utility of energy policy as the essential foreign policy lever by which this could be achieved. Putin will be seen in the future as a cold fish, but also as a leader who did much to restore Russia to a position of prominence in the world.
About Bush, Horton says this:
Bush has conducted a six-year demolition derby for America. He inherited a paramount power in the world, enjoying unchallenged prestige and power. And after six years, he has brought American approval in the world to its historical nadir. His experiments in the Middle East have been catastrophic failures, leading to the likely rise of a new regional hegemon: Iran. The American military is a shambles, and his own former commander in Iraq, Ricardo Sanchez, now speaks openly of “defeat.” And America’s old claim of moral superiority, what has come of that? Bush has proudly embraced the values and techniques of the institutions with which Putin is associated– and indeed, it seems that he has approved a number of techniques which are coarser, cruder still than anything the NKVD or KGB used. America’s “soul” has been dragged into the gutter. Internally, Bush has challenged the Constitution and assumed a rule as dictatorship–like Putin, in the end he finds the law to be a nuisance.
In comparison?
Bush’s soul, it turns out, is remarkably like Putin’s. The difference between them is simple: competence. Putin is unquestionably competent. And the hallmark of team Bush is their gross incompetence in virtually everything they touch.
To sum up:
We’re cruising towards another Cold War, and Bush, instead of demonstrating intelligence and concern, appears utterly clueless. This is going to be dangerous. We’ve arrived at the point at which the James Bakers and Brent Scowcrofts are indispensable – but they’ve been banished from a court in which the jester sits as king.

Citizens Seeks Time-Out

Paige St. John is reporting that Citizens Property Insurance lawyer Curtis Hutchins thinks the best way to clean up the state-owned insurance company's backlog of 3,510 unresolved hurricane claims is to change the law and time-bar them. Incredible.

Maybe Hutchins has forgotten: nearly a thousand of those pending claims are bogged down in a series of class action lawsuits that Citizens actually started when it sued a disabled Perdido Key couple
for making a claim. It's anyone's guess how much more time was lost when Citizens embarked on a secondary strategy of delaying pending claims cases while it shopped for more favorable judges.

Citizens Property habitually blames its own failings on the law, or on its customers, or on individual judges, or on Mother Nature, or on anyone else it can dream up. Never on its own incompetence, willful indifference, unethical, and even criminal behavior.

It's past time for to hold Citizens Property Insurance accountable for its own chronic mismanagement.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Word of Four Letters Dept.

First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:
Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press... ."
NY Times, June 4:
Monday... a federal appeals panel struck down the government policy that allows stations and networks to be fined if they broadcast shows containing obscene language.
* * *
The case involved findings that the networks had violated the indecency rules for comments by Cher and Nicole Richie on the Billboard Music Awards, the use of expletives by the character Andy Sipowicz on “NYPD Blue” and a comment on “The Early Show” by a contestant from CBS’s reality show “Survivor.”

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, in an official Government press release:
If we can’t restrict the use of the words “fuck” and “shit” during prime time, Hollywood will be able to say anything they want, whenever they want.
Say, what?

Wonks' Weekend Debate

We were too busy enjoying real life this past weekend to spend time watching television, so we didn't even think about sitting in on the second of eleventy-seven presidential debates to be held over the next 17 months. But Florida's own Bark Bark, Woof Woof has highlights -- if you're interested.

Digby says you might be but only if, poor soul, you're obsessed with following presidential media and money issues. Prof. Juan Cole summarizes what each of the candidates said we should do about Iraq, followed by his daily depressing news summary from that accursed corner of the globe.

Firedog Lake's Scarecrow focuses on how Hillary did. Somewhat surprisingly, that relentlessly snarky blog was impressed -- until the "ugly moment" when she "missed an opportunity to improve her own image and her party’s ability to confront terrorism" by attacking John Edwards with "the most poisonous of the Bush/Cheney talking points."

That moment may add a little fuel to the fires about to be ignited by NY Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Atta Jr. Their new book "Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton" is being published this week. Yesterday's Sunday Times Magazine leads off with an interesting and reasonably balanced 8,100 word excerpt from the book detailing Hillary's complex and evolving position on the war in Iraq.

We came away from it concluding that it is both a strength and a weakness of Hillary's mercurial and evolving positions on the war that her thinking pretty closely mirrors the mercurial and evolving positions of a majority of Americans. Almost all of you were for it before turning against it, right?

The part we like best describes how a truly grass roots organization, Code Pink, after many months of trying at last was invited to meet with Hillary in person. This was 'way back in March, 2003 when opposing the war might have made a real difference:
Suddenly, big walnut doors were thrown open and Clinton, dressed in a bright blue coat on top of a black pants suit, strode into the room. The women rose quickly from their chairs and applauded. Clinton thanked them and paid homage to the group’s trademark.

“I like pink tulips,” she said with a smile.

Clinton then addressed the obvious gap between Code Pink’s position on the war and her own. “I disagree on an aspect of those concerns,” she said. Clinton then asked if the group had a spokeswoman.

A tall woman approached the table. Medea Benjamin introduced herself and thanked Clinton for taking the time to meet with them.

Benjamin, a veteran of causes on the left, explained to Clinton that she had recently led a delegation to Baghdad. Clinton nodded but said nothing. “We know that you’re a wonderful woman,” Benjamin told the senator, “and that deep down, we really think you agree with us.”

Business being business, the Code Pink leader then cut to the chase. “There are two ways to go,” she intoned. Her group could give Clinton a pink badge of courage if she supported their position. If not, the group was prepared to give her a pink slip.

Clinton struck a conciliatory note.

“I admire your willingness to speak out on behalf of the women and children of Iraq,” she said.

When asked by one of the women why the United States took on the responsibility to disarm a country like Iraq, Clinton replied that without “U.S. leadership” there would not “be a willingness to take on very difficult problems” because of the “attitudes of many people in the world community today.” She cited her husband’s muscular foreign-policy actions, at times taken unilaterally, as a precedent for the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq. “I’m talking specifically about what had to be done in Bosnia and Kosovo, where my husband could not get a U.N. resolution to save the Kosovar Albanians” from the ethnic-cleansing policies of Slobodan Milosevic, Clinton told the women. “We had to do it alone.”

Another Code Pink member then asked Clinton if she believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein, Clinton replied, had “such a proven track record” that he could only be described as having “an obsession with weapons of mass destruction.” She then seemed to suggest, but did not explicitly say, that she had read all the secret intelligence reports on Iraq available to senators. “I ended up voting for the resolution after carefully reviewing the information and the intelligence that I had available,” she said. Clinton told the Code Pink protesters that she had also done her homework by “talking with people” she trusted.

Then Clinton turned to leave. “Sorry, guys,” she added.

But before she could make her exit, a Code Pink member told her, “I heard that you were willing to give up the life of innocent people in Iraq to find Saddam Hussein, so I just want to give you my pink slip.” The woman then tried to shove a pink undergarment in Clinton’s hand.

Clinton backed off and shot a look of fury at the woman. “I’m the senator from New York,” Clinton snapped, wagging a finger at her. “I will never put my people’s security at risk. I resent that.”
And there you have it -- a politician who is awash with familiar human strengths and weaknesses.
  • humor ("I like pink tulips");
  • honesty ("I disagree on an aspect of those concerns");
  • an instinct for conciliation ("I admire your willingness to speak out on behalf of the women and children of Iraq");
  • an instinct for dissembling ("She then seemed to suggest, but did not explicitly say, that she had read all the secret intelligence reports on Iraq available to senators.");
  • cold, sober realism ("without 'U.S. leadership' there would not 'be a willingness to take on very difficult problems' because of the 'attitudes of many people in the world community today.'");
  • knowledgeableness ("Saddam... could only be described as having 'an obsession with weapons of mass destruction'");
  • forthrightness ("'Sorry, guys,' she added");
  • anger ("Clinton backed off and shot a look of fury at the woman");
  • pettiness ("I’m the senator from New York,” Clinton snapped, wagging a finger at her... I resent that"); and
  • resolve ("I will never put my people’s security at risk").
Hard to say if Hillary did herself any good last night. Americans, or so at least three Republican candidates suppose, don't want a president imbued with human strengths and weaknesses. They think we prefer people who haven't evolved.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

T.S. Barry A Bust

Tropical Storm Barry, the second named storm of the year, weakened to a "weather maker" without tropical characteristics Saturday.
Barry made landfall in the Tampa Bay area around 10 a.m. according to Daniel Brown, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.

"The landfall in a case like this is kind of insignificant," Brown said.

Brown said some showers and thunderstorms could redevelop across the central and southern Florida peninsula and that there could be a few isolated tornadoes as the storm moves northward.

The storm's winds were forecast to weaken further as it moves north, but it is expected to bring rain all along the Atlantic seaboard, reaching South Carolina by Sunday morning and New England by Monday.
'Nuff said.

T.S. Barry: "Hello, Hurricane Season"

Not to worry, Why Not? tells us, even if you live in the "armpit of Florida." We need the rain.

The National Hurricane Center says:
THE ASSOCIATED UPPER-LEVEL FLOW IS VERY DIFLUENT... AND THUS THERE IS A CHANCE FOR A CONVECTIVE FLARE-UP NEAR THE CENTER BEFORE LANDFALL. AFTER LANDFALL...BARRY IS EXPECTED TO LOSE TROPICAL CHARACTERISTICS AS IT MOVES INTO THE WESTERLIES.
Someone at NHC needs a spell-checker:
dif·flu·ent (adj.) [dif LOO uhnt] 1. tending to flow off or away. 2. easily dissolving.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Nelson's Torture Vote

Florida's senior U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is taking a drubbing over at Firedog Lake for opposing a Senate Intelligence Committee proposal "to defund CIA torture methods." Scott Shane of the New York Times reports on last week's secret vote:
The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday questioned the continuing value of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation program for terrorism suspects, suggesting that international condemnation and the obstacles it has created to criminal prosecution may outweigh its worth in gathering information.

The committee rejected by one vote a Democratic proposal that would essentially have cut money for the program by banning harsh interrogation techniques except in dire emergencies, a committee report revealed.
* * *
But the committee stopped short of using its budget authority to shut down the program. In a closed session on May 23, two Democrats, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Dianne Feinstein of California, proposed barring spending on interrogation techniques that go beyond the Army Field Manual, which bans physical pressure or pain. Under their proposal, the only exception would have been when the president determined “that an individual has information about a specific and imminent threat.”

The amendment failed when Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, joined all the Republicans in voting no.
That seems to be the bad news. But some wonder if that judgment may be premature. Over at Bakinization, Prof. Marty Lederman's main article gives additional details about the committee's action. Democrats (including Nelson) and two Republicans did authorize a Committee Report that includes these comments:
The fiscal year 2008 intelligence authorization bill is the first passed by the Committee in which all members were briefed on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. While the program has been briefed from its outset to the Committee’s Chairman and Vice Chairman, the Administration’s decision to withhold the program’s existence from the full Committee membership for five years was unfortunate in that it unnecessarily hindered congressional oversight of the program.

Significant legal issues about the CIA detention and interrogation program remain unresolved. The Department of Justice has not produced a review of aspects of the program since the Supreme Court’s Hamdan decision and the passage into law of the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The Committee urges prompt completion of such a legal review as soon as possible, regardless of whether the program is currently being used. The Committee expects that such review will be provided to the Committee as a part of its ongoing oversight of the program.
* * *
More than five years after the decision to start the program, however, the Committee believes that consideration should be given to whether it is the best means to obtain a full and reliable intelligence debriefing of a detainee. Both Congress and the Administration must continue to evaluate whether having a separate CIA detention program that operates under different interrogation rules than those applicable to military and law enforcement officers is necessary, lawful, and in the best interests of the United States.[emphasis added]
So, a more charitable view is that Nelson has just received his first briefing about the details of the Bush administration's torture-and-rendition program from 2001 to 2005. But no one on the committee yet knows what, if any, changes have been wrought since "the passage into law of the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006."

Nelson, no doubt, will say he needs more information before voting for a bill that would essentially de-fund "harsh interrogation techniques except in dire emergencies." Or, it's theoretically possible that driven by cold, calculated logic Nelson might say that since available reports like this, this, this and, most recently, this suggest torture really doesn't work it shouldn't be funded even for "dire emergencies."

One thing Sen. Nelson won't be saying is that he voted the way he did to keep himself in the running as a viable "tough guy" on the short list of vice-presidential picks for just about every Democrat running for president in '08.

Reason and Reaction

WaPo columnist Eugene Robinson reports on the prevailing Beltway wisdom about Al Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason. Digby uses the smarmy, smug, ever-superficial Gwen Ifill as an outstanding example:
If you missed Gwen Ifill interviewing Gore about his book last night, you missed the latest in a series of obtuse, eye-rolling interviews by the high school cheerleading squad that calls itself the news media. Ifill was practically chewing gum and popping bubbles in Gore's face as she asks him about his, like, totally boring book.
As Robinson says --
One thing that should be clear to anyone who's been paying attention these past few years is that we need to go out and get ourselves the smartest president we can find. We need a brainiac president, a regular Mister or Miss Smarty-Pants. We need to elect the kid you hated in high school, the teacher's pet with perfect grades
It wouldn't hurt to have a few more like Robinson and Digby, and many fewer Gwen Ifills, in the national media, too.