Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bank Busted?

Last Friday, it was revealed that a locally owned bank headed by former state representative Buzz Ritchie of Pensacola entered into a consent order with the FDIC over a month ago. Gulf Coast Community Bank, which serves the western two Florida counties of Escambia and Santa Rosa, was given three months at most -- and if we're any judge of it, it will work out to a lot less than that -- to clean up its act before the FDIC closes the bank.

According to the consent order [available here in pdf format], the bank was to submit by today -- Sunday, February 28 -- a "written plan and a comprehensive budget for the remainder of calendar year 2010 covering all categories of income and expenses." The plan needed to describe what steps it proposed taking "to improve the Bank's net interest margin, increase interest income, reduce discretionary expenses, control overhead, and improve and sustain earnings of the Bank."

The bank also was ordered, among other things, to --
  • immediately "eliminate from its books, by charge-off or collection, all assets or portions of assets classified "Loss" in an FDIC "Report" (dated June 15, 2009 which remains unavailable to the general public);
  • within 30 days "charge-off... the remaining balance of any assets classified "Loss" and fifty (50%) (percent) of those classified "Doubtful;"
  • also within 30 days, "establish a comprehensive policy for determining the adequacy of the ALLL [allowance for loan and lease losses];"
  • within 45 days adopt and submit for FDIC review and comment a new "Management Plan... for the purpose of providing qualified management for the Bank -- including "all Bank officers, and in particular, the chief executive officer, chief credit officer, the chief operating officer, and staff members... [who can assure] restoration and maintenance of the Bank in a safe and sound condition;"
  • within 50 days "formulate a written plan to reduce the Bank’s risk exposure in each asset, or relationship in excess of $500,000 classified “Substandard” in the REPORT;"
  • within 60 days "achieve and maintain Tier 1 Leverage Capital Ratio of not less than eight percent (8%) of the Bank’s total assets and increase and maintain a Total Risk Based Capital Ratio of not less than twelve (12%) percent of the Bank’s Total Risk Weighted Assets;"
  • revise the bank's future loan policies;
  • and so on and so forth.
Reading between the lines, we'd guess by the time all of these requirements have been met, the bank's goose will be revealed as one thoroughly cooked carcass. And, frankly, a number of friends and neighbors who aren't bankers were predicting as much back in 2008.

That was when they saw Gulf Coast Community Bank constructing a new, fancy Gulf Breeze branch bank building in the long-abandoned former Winn-Dixie parking lot on Highway 98. No one else was building anything locally. Businesses were bailing out all over town.

"Expanding!?" our friends exclaimed in so many words. "Just as Bush is telling us the financial system is about to come crashing down around our heads? Is that bank delusional?"

Last week, CEO-for-the-moment Buzz Ritchie told the PNJ's Carlton Proctor that he's "confident he will remain head of the bank." But Ritchie didn't say for how long. As we read the "consent order" Gulf Coast Community Bank also must within 90 days hire --
"a chief executive officer with proven ability in managing a bank of comparable size and complexity and in effectively implementing lending, investment and operating policies in accordance with sound banking practices... ."
It seems to us that any executive who got the bank into this fix is unlikely to qualify for the job under the language of the consent order.

Then there's that pesky little "memorandum" item we came across on the bank's 2008 financials -- $6 million classified as "insider loans." What's with that?

We hope it all works out for everyone, especially the depositors. Really, we do. Speaking personally, however, we don't plan on letting Gulf Coast Community Bank have any of our money for longer than it takes to say "bank busted."

Sunday Wasteland

If you missed the Sunday TV Talk Show bloviating, not to worry! Bobblespeak has transcribed what they really meant.

Compositional Whimsy

Oh, those kidders in the Pensacola News Journal's composition department! In today's issue they've placed the "Special Election Notice" to fill the seat of disgraced state rep Ray Sansom on the page our local politicians are sure to read first to see if their names are mentioned: the Felony Arrest column.

Dept. of Further Amplification

2-28 am

Ah, too bad. It seems, on a later visit, the ads have changed. No matter. We have the screen shot -- and the felony arrests. The State Attorney's office doubtless will refer none of the newly arrested to a non-binding "inquest" by a county judge. They aren't Pensacola policemen whose indictment might be politically embarrassing.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Equal Justice for Some

Remember those gun shots fired at three newspaper carriers after they were chased into a field the other morning? State prosecutors in Pensacola have filed multiple "counts of felony aggravated assault" against the alleged perpetrators.

The suspects, who are presumed innocent until convicted by a jury of their peers on evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt," have been arrested. They will be duly granted a preliminary hearing or, more likely, charges will be referred to a grand jury to determine if there is probable cause to believe they committed a crime and should be formally bound over for trial.

No "excuse inquest" was requested by the State Attorney's office.

Meanwhile, a 62-year old woman has been charged with murder and arrested after allegedly stabbing her husband to death during an argument over a bill. Again, under our system she is presumed innocent until and unless convicted.

State prosecutors are expected to refer the charges to a grand jury for formal indictment. In the highly unlikely event they don't do that, she will be entitled to a preliminary hearing where she and her lawyers will be present to test the strength of the evidence presented by the State Attorney's office to determine if there is probable cause to believe she committed a crime and should be bound over for trial.

No "excuse inquest" was requested by the State Attorney's office before charging her.

A teen-aged resident of Pace was arrested Thursday by a mob of state, county, and Pensacola city officers. He has been charged with multiple counts of "possessing" child pornography. The charges were filed in cooperation between a special task force of the Florida Attorney General's office and the State Attorney's office in Santa Rosa County. The defendant "is due in court for arraignment on March 31," but the case is likely to be referred to a grand jury beforehand, to determine if there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed and the suspect should be indicted and bound over for trial.

No "excuse inquest" is planned.

Meanwhile, a Florida Highway Patrol officer testified at the second and final day of the "inquest" into the death of 17-year old Victor Steen. He claimed that it was "physically impossible" for the Pensacola police cruiser to avoid hitting him after Steen's bicycle hit a curb. Unasked was whether this was partly or wholly because the cruiser was going at an unreasonable speed, the driver was simultaneously shooting a Taser gun out the window, talking on the police radio, and trying to steer; or whether it came about because the boy was knocked from his bicycle by a Taser shot just before the cruiser ran over him.

No one representing the deceased boy was permitted to participate in this unusual 12th century proceeding where charges have not been filed against anyone after the boy's violent death. The officer driving the cruiser was not required to be present. The only evidence was what the State Attorney's office chose to offer. Accordingly, the testimony was untested by any cross-examination or alternative evidence from other experts.

PNJ reporter Kris Wernowski reports the county judge -- who was until recently a prosecutor in the same State's Attorney office, himself -- may take several weeks to issue his "verdict" stating "whether or not there exists probable cause to believe that the death was the result of a criminal act, criminal negligence, or foul play."

Whatever the county judge's decision may be, it is "merely advisory." It need not result in any arrest, charges, or grand jury proceeding. Regardless of the "inquest," the decision to file charges or present the case to a grand jury remains wholly discretionary with the State Attorney's office.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Excuse by Inquest

The long-awaited "inquest" into the tragic death of 17-year old Victor Steen got underway yesterday in a Pensacola courtroom. PNJ reporter Kris Wernowsky filed two articles.

The first article anticipated the day's events by giving some background on the unusual "inquest" procedure. ["Inquest Weighs Charges in Death of Teenager"]. The second follows up with a spare 770-word summary of the day's evidence. ["Steen Video Played in Court"]

At last glance, some 300 or more brilliant Perry Mason imitators have infected the readers' comment sections at the end of those two articles. Unlike them, we have no idea at this point whether the inquest evidence, when it is all in, will meet the legal standard of "probable cause" to believe a crime was committed and Pensacola Police patrol officer Jerrold Ard committed it.

It does seem odd, though, that the law would have a salaried county judge making that decision when there are so many on-line newspaper readers ready to do it for free, even before all the evidence has been presented. Come to that, it's likely that a mob of internet commentators would have reached a decision well before the inquest began, thus saving everyone the time and trouble of producing any evidence or providing troublesome due process for all involved.

Predictably, the public comments appended to the newspaper articles reveal an intense interest in deciding who was at fault. Most seem to see the case as a kind of "Whodunnit?" A brutal cop? A delinquent kid? Or, the Pensacola Police Department's administrative policies -- which for years have given a green light to nearly every lethal use of Taser guns and high-speed pursuits regardless of the danger to public safety, disproportionate risk of harm, or alternative opportunities to peaceably detain the suspect?

We didn't sleep in a Holiday Inn last night. Consequently, unlike the commentators hanging around the PNJ, we can't decide such grave questions in the absence of all the evidence.

We do have strong views, however, on who should be the decision-maker. As it happens, that's the one superordinate issue of public importance posed by this case insofar as the citizenry at large is concerned.

To put it starkly, the question everyone should be asking is, Why is the decision to charge, or not, being made by a county judge? County judges typically handle civil traffic, eviction, and misdemeanor cases -- not felony trials. While county judges surely are many floors higher-up than the crank commentator crowd, since when do homicide cases get evaluated for possible criminality by a single county judge instead of a grand jury?

In Pensacola, apparently the answer is: whenever someone is badly injured or dies at the hands of a cop. As Wernowsky's earlier report reveals, it's something of a local prosecutorial tradition around here:
The State Attorney's Office's policy of holding a coroner's inquest in any officer-involved incident involving a death was enacted more than 15 years ago under previous State Attorney Curtis Golden.
Does it have to be this way? Assuredly not.
Willie Meggs, state attorney in Florida's 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee, said he discontinued the use of the coroner's inquest 25 years ago when he was first elected to office.

"I adopted a policy when I got elected that I present all police shootings to the grand jury," Meggs said. "I don't think they're corruptible. They don't ask to be there. I tell them what I know, and they tell me what they think."
Why, then, does the First Judicial Circuit state's attorney routinely rely on county judges? Attorney Ben Stevenson of the A.C.L.U. explains:
If the State Attorney's Office were to present the coroner's inquest and the judge decides the death wasn't the result of a criminal act, the state attorney would have a political shield in the judge's ruling," said the ACLU's Ben Stevenson.
In other words, the decision to hold an "inquest" was a political decision, not one dictated by law or basic concepts of fairness.

To be sure, the state's attorney's office in Pensacola claims that a county judge is "preferable" to another option of "deciding on its own whether to file charges." Says Greg Marcille, acting as a spokesperson for state's attorney Bill Eddins, "the coroner's inquest was chosen as the process because it was a public proceeding and the general public and the media can see the evidence as it's unfolded."

There is a slight smidgen of truth to that; just enough to make it sound plausible. But it doesn't really explain why the "inquest policy" is used locally as it is.

Over the past three decades the terrific growth in prosecutorial discretion and its potential abuse has begun to worry a lot of judges, legal scholars, and lawyers who work within our criminal justice system. Deals are made, charges filed or dropped, and sentences bargained over like so many loafs of bread at a country market, all without much, if any, public awareness -- and with near-zero public accountability.

But the truth is, that kind of stuff goes on right now in the First District state's attorney office, just as it does elsewhere. It happens every hour, every day, in every case -- except in Pensacola when a police officer might be potentially criminally responsible.

Furthermore, if the state's attorney office chooses "on its own" to charge someone with a crime -- as Marcille hypothesizes -- under the Constitution and statutes of Florida, then a defendant is entitled to a public preliminary hearing -- where (unlike an inquest) his own lawyers can be present to test the evidence presented. Alternatively, as happens in the vast majority of cases, the prosecutor can seek an indictment by a grand jury drawn from an unbiased list of hundreds of veniremen.

Either of those proceedings, as the Tallahassee state's attorney inferentially points out, ultimately would hold the prosecutor's office far more accountable as a public servant and officer of the court than does a mere "inquest" presided over by a single county judge.

The local state's attorney custom of using the Twelfth Century "inquest" system in officer-involved cases -- and essentially none other -- is the equivalent of giving a free pass for everyone on the thin blue line, good and bad. It's not mere happenstance, as Marcille estimates, that in the Pensacola area "there have been 10 to 15 inquests, none resulting in charges against an officer."

In fact, law officers have never been charged with a crime "as a result of the coroner's inquest," he told PNJ reporter Wernowsky.

Excuse-by-inquest is a custom that was started by a former state's attorney long ago. It can be stopped -- and, in the name of equal justice for all, it should be. All it takes is a state's attorney to exercise his discretion openly by declaring it's over. Everyone from then on would be treated exactly the same. Not because police officers are invariably good or bad. Because they, too, are citizens entitled to justice without fear -- or favor.

How's Your Snapper?

Our blog neighbor Bryan at Why Now? has a straight-forward news-and-comment report on the sorry state of the Red Snapper in Gulf waters. It isn't good. The commercial fishing industry wants to make the problem go away by disappearing the fish.

Speaking of Bryan, he's fashioned a new revolving banner for his blog. We like it, especially this one:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Motive for Mayhem

A headline on the front page of the "Local" section in today's Pensacola Newsletter reads --
Gunfire on Turkey Road
News Journal delivery men dodge bullets
We know this because the front page of the "Local" section and the Classified Ads are the only parts of the "home delivery" newspaper we could find after our own delivery 'boy' once again scattered it to the four winds.

The first paragraph of Thyrie Bland's story claims "Three newspaper delivery men had to dodge bullets Wednesday morning after they were mistaken for car burglars."

Frankly, we're skeptical about the claimed motive. However, since we couldn't find page "GUNFIRE 2B" where the news article continues, we're left to suppose that the reporter soundly debunked that claim later in the story.

We're just going on personal experience, here, but it seems to us much more likely that the shooters were long-time home subscribers of the Pensacola News Journal. (Among the last of us, apparently.)

They probably were trying to get their newspaper delivery 'boys' to hand over the whole newspaper in one piece. When the delivery boys obstinately insisted on throwing random sections of the newspaper into the wind -- the better to scatter its pages all over Northwest Florida -- the subscribers, at long last, lost their patience, pulled out their guns, and tried to shoot down the flying newspaper sections.

All of this probably is what Thyrie Bland reports in the continuation part of the article on page 2B, if you can find it.

American Bayh

We may have to withdraw our prediction. It really is a new world when just about any scruffy teenager armed with a guitar and a laptop can make the most puffed-up, calculating, self-important politician the laughing stock of the nation.

While it may be a little late to beat up on Evan Bayh (Bluedog-IN) for being a disappointment to the world as well as his father, and the voices sure leave a lot to be desired, the lyrics are fairly clever in a Beavis and Butt-Head kind of way. Tin Pan Alley, eat your heart out.

(to the tune of "American Pie")
A long, long time ago . . .
I can still remember
How those Dems used to make me smile
And I thought Indiana's favorite son
Was tough enough to get it done
And maybe he could stand firm for a while.

But February made me shiver,
The news on every blog, plus twitter
Bad news on my laptop
We've lost a key Dem backstop

I sat there and I rolled my eyes
When he said he'd finally gotten wise
To the ways of Congress . . . . God, what lies!
The day that we got Bayhd.

So Bye, Bye, Mr. Evan Bayh
You're such a loser of a Hoosier
That you won't even try.
Your daddy was a hero, you're just some douchey guy
Thanks to you, progressivism could die
Thanks to you, progressivism could die . . .

Didn't you want to be VP?
Like 3 different times? 'Cuz it seems to me
Maybe that's what this is all about . . .
'Cuz you're so pissed at not being picked
You took your ball and went home, you dick!
Didn't daddy teach you not to po-ut?

Well Birch ran for prez, and he didn't win
But that was fine, it didn't affect him
He pushed the ERA
And wrote Title IX too, OK?

And in that lonely year, that gloom of night
When Reagan took the country to the right
Did Birch give up without a fight?
No! He lost, but he wouldn't have Bayhd.

So Bye, Bye, Mr. Evan Bayh
You're such a loser of a Hoosier
That you won't even try.
Your daddy was a hero, you're just some sleazy guy
Thanks to you, progressivism could die
Thanks to you, progressivism could die . . .

Now for 12 years you have warmed your seat
And I guess you couldn't stand the heat
You say this ain't how it used to be.
Well that may be true, you little wu-ssy.
Sure Congress sucks. But you're a pussy
Just like Senators Ben and Joe, you see.

And while you talk about how things aren't great
The GOP is gonna take your state.
Think flag-burning shouldn't be allowed?
Oh wouldn't your daddy be proud?

And while you're off preening, unemployed,
And someone does what you avoid
And fights a real fight, we'll all feel annoyed
That thanks to you, we all got Bayhd.

So Bye, Bye, Mr. Evan Bayh
You're such a loser of a Hoosier
That you wont even try.
Your daddy was a hero, you're just some sleazy guy
Thanks to you, progressivism could die
Thanks to you, progressivism could die . . .

As healthcare whithers on the vine,
What do you care? Just go on and whine.
But think a bit 'bout your old man . . .
His fellow progressives didn't fear strife
With what Teddy called the cause of his life
In the balance, they would shout, Yes We Can!

Birch dragged Teddy from a plane
When it crashed and burned, the liberal lion in pain
Birch Bayh saved the day
His son would'a run away!!!

And a campaign raged, and a movement grew
History called, change needed you.
But you wanted to be Hillary's number two.
And now we've all been Bayhd!

So Bye, Bye, Mr. Evan Bayh
You're such a loser of a Hoosier
That you won't even try.
Your daddy was a hero, you're just some sleazy guy
Thanks to you, progressivism could die
Thanks to you, progressivism could die . . .

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Congressional Olympics

Sometimes, the way Congress works can be as mysterious as the Olympic sport of curling. Also like curling, however, it can be great fun to watch.

Take, for example, Rep. Anthony Weiner's floor speech earlier today in the House of Representatives. First, he calls the Republican Party a "wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry."

When one of those wholly-owned subsidiaries (Rep. Dan Lungren, Republican of California) objects to the harsh language and asks that it be "taken down" -- presumably on the grounds that Mr. Weiner (D-NY) couldn't possibly have personal knowledge about who owns the Republican Party, since he's a Democrat -- Weiner amended his remarks.

"Every single Republican I have ever met in my entire life," he stated, "is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry."

Now, that's something Mr. Weiner can personally attest to. We give him a perfect 300, or whatever it is, on the Olympic grading scale.

Firedog Lake has the (helpful) play-by-play 'color commentary' to assist you in understanding this arcane sport. FDL also has the after-game interview.

You can watch for yourself the sweeping plays and sliding stones of the Congressional Take-Down sport right here:

Beach Singers

The Gulf Breeze News in this week's issue features two Pensacola Beach teenagers who've just won "the Critic's Choice Award at the District 1 Thespian Festival." Editor Lisa Newell reports that Savannah Green and Brooke Heffernan "will now take stage before approximately 4,000 people at the state event, in an honorary performance to entertain the audience prior to the competition."

The state finals will be in Tampa, April 7. Luckily, you can view an earlier version of their performance right now on YouTube:

Virtual March for Medical Reform

Join the Virtual March today! It's free, easy, and even a bit fun. Only the issue, and telling your senators how you feel about it, is deadly serious. As Digby says, "It's the only way that ordinary people are going to be part of this health care summit tomorrow."

How to Stop Funding Blackwater

Duncan Black caught this "Quote of the Day" from Tapped, the group blog of American Prospect:
The Senate is holding a hearing today where several current and former Blackwater employees will be testifying, but honestly the only way Congress would stop giving Blackwater money is if it started registering black people to vote.

Consolidation Clowning

Like almost everyone else in Escambia County, we haven't paid sufficient attention to the proposed city-county consolidation plan (available in full text here). Partly this is because, as with the new Pensacola City Charter, it looks to us like a different circus with the same clowns.

Partly, too, we confess we have absolutely no faith that local pols enjoying their perch and perqs ever could be convinced to support a significant change in the fundamentally dysfunctional system(s) of local government around here. The people who profit from the status quo will do whatever it takes to shove the idea of meaningful systemic change down a deep rat-hole.

Our indifference is not matched elsewhere. A number of people we respect, and a few we don't, have been vigorously arguing over the proposed consolidation referendum.

The News Journal editorial board says, "Give Us Our Vote."
The right to vote on consolidation was halted Monday by a lethal combination of parliamentary procedure, an absent legislator, a public meeting where the public rarely got to speak and a committee chairman who had his feelings hurt because some people thought the fix was in.

At stake here is not the question of consolidated government. At stake is the right to allow Escambia citizens to follow through, with their votes up or down, on the work of the consolidation committee.
Rick Outzen at the Independent News claims the daily newspaper "has it backwards." The struggle over government consolidation, he writes --
has not become about the details of the plan. Instead, the fight has been over whether the public should vote on the plan that no one other than the study commission got to see before it was set in stone and sent to our lawmakers.
William Reynolds, from the beautiful, rolling hills of north Escambia County, argues that Judge Ken Bell's consolidation committee -- admittedly an all-volunteer group working on a shoe-string and armed mainly with an e-mail account -- violated "the spirit of the legislative mandate" and largely ignored everyone "north of Ten Mile Road." he adds --
The entire process was rushed faster than a kid’s science project the day before it was due. Business appears to have been conducted behind through private emails.
The immediate issue, Reynolds writes, "is not about your support for or against consolidation."
Regardless of your viewpoint or ours about consolidation, today’s issue is about a plan being shoved down the throats of 300,000 by 30 people that are not representative of our population. Even consolidation supporters are against the methodology used to create the plan.
Derek Cosson's Progressive Pensacola has been spitting mad about the whole thing for some time. Among the issues he's headlined --
  • "Big Money Pro-Consolidation Campaign Coming"
  • "Pro-consolidation Presentation Misleading, Dishonest"
  • Judge Bell "Collaborated" with advocates of consolidation to raise funds for his committee
  • News Journal Editorials supporting consolidation have been "misleading, unabalnced."
  • And so on.
On the other hand, the reliably frivolous Mark O'Brien seems to agree with the PNJ editorial board even as he holds his nose. His major point being, apparently --
Escambia County is a lot like Iraq. Just as Iraq has Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, we have county people, city people and beach people, and seldom do they mesh.
There's just no accounting for the mind of an advertising man.

Pistol-Packin' Durrell Peaden, who deliberately absented himself from the local legislative delegation meeting to consider consolidation, says "there is no use." He "knew" government consolidation would never be endorsed by the incumbent legislators.

That's doubtless because the whole idea was still-born the day the state legislature mandated a study commission and refused to fund it. The Consolidation Circus was doomed from the start by the same legislators who made sure it had no resources to conduct thorough research, broadly solicit local input, engage experts to draft a modern consolidation plan, and undertake a meaningful, county-wide informational campaign.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cruel 'Health Reform'

Anyone who has been paying attention knows the only arrow in the G.O.P. quiver labeled "Republican health care reform proposals" is so-called "tort reform." What that means is barring juries from awarding more than a set maximum amount (most commonly suggested as $250,000) as pain and suffering for anyone injured by a negligent doctor or other medical service provider.

Altogether, such a "reform" might -- maybe -- reduce the average cost of a health insurance policy by one or two percent. Total. And, that assumes the insurance corporations would pass the savings on to their customers rather than their stockholders -- no sure thing.

Every time we hear someone like John Boehner (R-OH) or Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rant about capping malpractice awards, we remember a news item we saw many, many years ago. It was reported that an Army doctor in the Seattle area so badly botched the circumcision of a baby boy that a team of specialists called in as consultants concluded the only hope for the child was over the ensuing twenty years to change his sex to female.

The jury heard all the evidence, found the doctor had been grossly negligent, and awarded $5 million. Even back then, it seemed like a paltry sum to us. But it turned out, the five million wasn't even enough to cover the cost of the multiple operations for changing the baby's sex -- much less anything for pain and suffering.

The point is, every medical malpractice case is different. Every doctor's negligent act is different. The costs and consequences are different. The pain and emotional distress negligent doctors cause will affect every victim in different ways. How can any thinking, sentient being vote for a law that would, without regard to any individualized facts of future cases, arbitrarily deprive every future jury of its obligation to render 'complete justice' in awarding necessary and reasonable damages?

Or, to bring it home, how would you feel if a doctor "accidentally" lopped off your penis (or that of your son, brother, or other loved one) only to learn that, thanks to right-wing Republicans and trembling Blue Dog Democrats, the jury was prohibited from awarding sufficient damages to cover the loss?

That's not reform we can can believe in, either of the medical system or of the legal system. It's simple cruelty.

Obama Losing His Last Friend

You know the White House has botched things when it's about to lose its last friendly supporter on health care reform -- Ezra Klein. Through thin, and thinner, and thinner-yet, Ezra has supported whatever the latest iteration of health care reform legislation might be, chiefly on the "half a loaf is better than none" principle.

But that half a loaf is looking smaller and smaller even to him. Soon, it won't even be a crouton. Concludes Klein:
One other point on the public option: This has been a complete and utter failure of White House leadership. They need to give this effort their support, or they need to kill it by publicly stating their opposition. But they can't simply wait for someone else to make the decision for them, which has been their strategy until now.
* * *
This is... the worst of all worlds.

The Health Reform Sham

"[O]nce the Government is going to mandate that all citizens purchase health insurance, it is preferable to provide an option to purchase a public plan rather than forcing everyone to buy from the private health insurance industry. On both policy and political grounds, a public-option-free mandate seems disastrous for Democrats."
-- Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Feb. 23, 2010
The same Glenn Greenwald who writes for Salon, as above, also was invited by the New York Times to weigh in on President Obama's 'official' health care reform proposal, the one the White House released earlier this week for the coming televised 'retreat' with interested congressmen and senators.

In the Times piece, Greenwald is tough on Obama. But it's hard not to be:
President Obama, in introducing his own health care proposal, exposed a transparent, year-long sham. White House loyalists insisted for months that the president genuinely supported a public option, but they told progressives that there could be no public option in the final bill even though more than 50 Democratic Senators supported it and even though the public option consistently polled as being very popular with Americans.

Why not? Because, they argued, the public option lacked the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, and there was simply nothing the White House could do to change that.

But the plan President Obama unveiled does not include a public option. If he were truly in favor of it, why would he exclude it from his own plan?

It now seems obvious that White House’s claim of support for the public option was a pretense used to placate the progressive base (in fact, it seems committed to excluding the public option very likely because it would provide real competition to the health insurance industry and is thus vehemently opposed by the industry and its lobbyists).
Greenwald is just as tough on Republi-nos:
The notion that Republicans might support real health care reform is an even bigger sham. What does the G.O.P. need to do to make clear that they will never, under any circumstances, help the President enact needed legislation?

They’ve all but declared their central mission to be sabotaging Obama’s agenda, particularly on health care. Voters want to see the Democrats do something meaningful with the political power they were given; they care far less about process and “bipartisanship,” which is a preoccupation among Beltway pundits and nobody else.
So, with one insufficient idea and another which has completely checked out from any governing principle except 'Get-the-President' what's an ordinary citizen, who doesn't enjoy the public health insurance options of a congressman or a senator, to do?

Glenn says:
Given that prospects for bipartisan support for health reform is nonexistent, the only sensible course is for the White House to push for and the Senate to pass a progressive bill that voters want, not the most so-called “centrist” legislation that most pleases corporatist and lobbyist interests.

If the Democrats’ claims all year long were remotely true, then robust reform (including a public option) can easily pass the Senate with 51 votes through the reconciliation process. There is no reason for Democrats to avoid that, and every reason for them to pursue it.
Jane Hamsher, who has more character than all the congressmen and senators put together, riffs off Greenwald's criticisms with "a play in two acts:"
Progressives: We want a public option!

Democrats/WH: We agree with you totally! Unfortunately, while we have 50 votes for it, we just don’t have 60, so we can’t have it. Gosh darn that filibuster rule.
* * *
[One month later]

Progressives: Hey, great! Now that you’re going to pass the bill through reconciliation after all, you can include the public option that both you and we love, because you only need 50 votes, and you’ve said all year you have that!

Democrats/WH: No. We don’t have 50 votes for that ... .The public option only polls at 65%, so it might make our health care bill — which polls at 35% — unpopular. * * *

It really is beyond belief how timid, confused, and utterly compromised the Democrats in Congress have become when confronted by hard-core corporatist Republicans who want nothing better than to eliminate altogether Social Security, Medicare, and virtually every other federal safety net since the New Deal. If they thought they could, they'd probably like to roll up Eisenhower's Interstate highway system, too.

As Duncan Black says, the Democratic analysis of this stand-off seems to begin and end with, "Can't win, don't bother trying." And, here we thought it was the Democrats who won a landslide victory last year.

Bipartisan Irony

Headline on Huffington Post, Monday night:

Public Option Dramatically More Popular than Senate Bill – So Obama Pushes Senate Bill Without Public Option

Monday, February 22, 2010

President Obama's Health Care Proposal

The promised proposal from President Obama for overcoming the health care reform debacle was posted on the White House web site at 10 am EST, Monday. See also here.

The New York Times has the beginnings of an analysis that looks like it will be expanded as the day goes on. Huffington Post has a bit more. So, too, does TPM.

The early, very bad news: There is no public option, only a national nation-wide insurance exchange. (Hilariously, an Obama spokesperson continues to claim the president "supports" a public option. Apparently, his support is a lot like Tiger Woods' support of his marital vows. Fine to talk about, not much for actual practice.)

The mildly good news: Although Obama apparently is prepared to adopt the Republicans' proposal that insurance corporations be allowed to market their products across state boundaries (thus freeing corporate health insurers from the very small number of states that have consumer-friendly insurance regulation standards) he is proposing a new mechanism to empower federal authorities to reject "unjustified" rate increases in cross-state boundary sales.

We're not happy with Obama's grostesque mishandling of the health care reform thing. Much less do we have any respect for the Senate's incoherent mish-mash. But the longer this ugly process draws out, the more we feel ourselves slowly giving into to hunger for something -- anything, even a 'quarter of a loaf' -- to protect those too young for Medicare from the coming avalanche of corporate health insurance rate hikes.

If the Repubican nay-sayers have anything more effective to offer the average American, now would be the time. If they don't, of course, then they won't. That leaves Obama's less-than-satisfactory the only realistic game in town.

Dept. of Further Amplification
02-22 pm
The reliable Wonk Room has more details in an easy-read chart format. Very helpful. The New Republic also has a narrative run-down on the compromises and the Republican points incorporated in the new slightly revised plan.

Ezra Klein, as close as you're going to get to a liberal who's a true fan of the Senate plan, thinks now that Obama has stepped forward, at last, and put his presidential seal on a plan -- any plan -- "bipartisanship is unlikely to take root at Thursday's summit." The reason? Klein says:
According to data gathered by the political scientist Frances Lee, when the president—not this president in particular but any president—decides to take a position on an issue, the chances of a party-line vote skyrocket.
Ergo --
The more that health-care reform is associated with the president, the less likely it is that any Republican will support it.
edited with strike-out 2-22 pm

Stuck on 'Zero'

"If any single number captures the state of the American economy over the last decade, it is zero. That was the net gain in jobs between 1999 and 2009—nada, nil, zip. By painful contrast, from the 1940s through the 1990s, recessions came and went, but no decade ended without at least a 20 percent increase in the number of jobs."
-- Who Broke America's Job Machine? by Barry C. Lynn and Phillip Longman
We've been railing about this for decades to our friends. (Maybe that's why they keep hinting someone needs to know how to start a dinner table conversation.) There is no meaningful anti-trust law enforcement in the United States, anymore.

The laws are all there, still, but no one enforces them! Ronald Reagan stabbed antitrust enforcement in the heart. Clinton, indifferent, left it to die on the table. And, George W. Bush buried the corpse. Now, we're seeing the consequences in the state of the American economy.

Barry Lynn, author of the new book "Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction" is co-author of an important article making just this point in the latest edition of Washington Monthly. The title is "Who Broke America's Job Machine?"

The death of antitrust enforcement is a major part of the answer to why the nation has not been able to create a net gain of jobs in well over a decade. Here's an excerpt from the article:
[W]hile the mystery of what killed the great American jobs machine has yielded no shortage of debatable answers, one of the more compelling potential explanations has been conspicuously absent from the national conversation: monopolization. * * * In nearly every sector of our economy, far fewer firms control far greater shares of their markets than they did a generation ago.

Indeed, in the years after officials in the Reagan administration radically altered how our government enforces our anti-monopoly laws, the American economy underwent a truly revolutionary restructuring. Four great waves of mergers and acquisitions—in the mid-1980s, early ’90s, late ’90s, and between 2003 and 2007—transformed America’s industrial landscape at least as much as globalization. Over the same two decades, meanwhile, the spread of mega-retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot and agricultural behemoths like Smithfield and Tyson’s resulted in a more piecemeal approach to consolidation, through the destruction or displacement of countless independent family-owned businesses.
* * *
Evidence is growing, however, that the radical, wide-ranging consolidation of recent years has reduced job creation at both big and small firms simultaneously. At one extreme, ever more dominant Goliaths increasingly lack any real incentive to create new jobs; after all, many can increase their earnings merely by using their power to charge customers more or pay suppliers less. At the other extreme, the people who run our small enterprises enjoy fewer opportunities than in the past to grow their businesses. The Goliaths of today are so big and so adept at protecting their turf that they leave few niches open to exploit.

If you care about where the American economy is headed, and are looking for ways to improve the picture, read the rest here. And then buy the book, preferably from a small, independent bookseller.

Ray Sansom Resigns to Avoid Ethics Hearing

Northwest Florida state representative Ray Sansom (R-Ft. Walton Beach) resigned his seat at 8 pm last night rather than proceed with the state ethics hearing he had requested. As the Miami Herald explains:
The panel of Sansom's peers -- three fellow Republicans and two Democrats -- were to review over the next few days the millions of dollars he quietly steered to the college before taking an unadvertised $110,000 job with it.
Progressive Pensacola has the resignation letter. In it, the ethically-challenged former speaker of the Florida House has the nerve to add, "[T]he time will come where I will be afforded an opportunity to fully answer all questions and I anxiously await an opportunity to do so."

Whaaat? Run that by us again. The ethics hearing Sansom requested was set to start today. In Florida, there is no more forgiving forum than a state ethics hearing of a pol by the pols, where free passes are handed out even to convicted felons and a slap-on-the-wrist is considered almost unthinkable capital punishment.

And that wasn't "an opportunity" to answer the corruption charges? If you swallow that, then you also believe the $173,000 in charges (including a trip to Europe) that Sansom racked up on "a Republican Party-issued American Express card" was for the benefit of his Okaloosa County constituents. And, you probably believe that $6 million aircraft hangar Sansom ripped off taxpayers for was to be used by college students, not his developer friend Jay Odom.

Sansom still faces felony charges growing out of the scandal. And, right-wing gubernatorial candidate Marco Rubio still faces questions over all the ways he enabled Sansom to hijack public and GOP money.

Tampa has archived stories on the whole sorry mess.

Report from a Smaller Federal Government

Still thinking about Peter Goodman's provocative piece in the Times warning of prolonged bad times ahead for average Americans, we noticed Pennsylvania economist Duncan Black similarly was struck over the weekend by what passes in the popular press for analysis by Tom ("I married General Growth Properties") Friedman.

Then we happened across the article below. It's from one of the many decades in the nineteenth century when the U.S. economy was almost exactly like the "small federal government," no-federal-taxes, "every-man-for-himself" economy that today's right-wing conservatives lustily dream about. The economy had tanked back then, as it tended to do every ten or fifteen years from the nation's founding until Roosevelt's New Deal. Only the very rich had any money. The rest of the people more or less relied on barter and what they could grow themselves.

Is it possible the Capitalists and Bankers have always blamed the little guy for spending too much and not being sufficiently patriotic?

"The Editor of the Boston Manufacturer, in an article on the "Depression of Business," makes the annexed pertinent and indisputable assertions:
"The truth, unfortunately is, we have been living beyond our circumstances.The laudable economy and industrious habits of our ancestors, have been lost sight of, & we have yielded to the pleasing, but dangerous innovation of foreign luxuries, and their attendant habits. We must measure back our ground. There is no other course which we can now pursue with any hope of success. The flame must again be kindled on the alter of patriotism, and self-denial and rigid economy take the place of luxury and extravagance. The nerves of our effeminate young men must be strengthened by toil, and our females, instead of reclining on the sofa and humming over the piano, must learn to direct their attention to matters of more importance. They must shake off as unworthy the daughters of freemen, the tinsel of fashion, and the shackle of false refinement, and cherish the proud and sterling patriotism of their grandmothers."
-- Republican Star & General Advertiser (Easton, My.), July 21, 1829, p. 3

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Social Advice

People often ask us how to make conversation at dinner parties. We tell them, why bother? It's much more entertaining to read The Booman Tribune's snark on "Self-appointed cocktail party-hostess expert Sally Quinn."

'Years Without Jobs'

“American business is about maximizing shareholder value,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics. “You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.”

Articles like "Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs," by prize-winning economics reporter Peter Goodman, make one wonder -- quite seriously -- what can replace Capitalism as the true American religion. Because something has to if the current system is no longer able or willing to provide enough work for average Americans.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Constitution 2, Christian Right 0

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Casey Rogers, sitting in Pensacola, issued a 35-page opinion that prevents a self-proclaimed "Christian educators association" from challenging the year-old "consent decree" that bars them from "promoting their personal religious beliefs in public schools." The opinion should surprise no one who's been paying attention and has at least a minimal understanding of our nation's Constitution.

As we pointed out some time ago, for decades Pace High School in northern Santa Rosa County was notorious for openly promoting a particular brand of religion favored by a handful of teachers and administrators. When informal requests to cease the daily prayers being piped over loudspeakers into classrooms and other such nonsense were rejected, a few brave students and their parents filed suit. The school district fought the suit for a time, got schooled by lawyers for both sides on the constitutional mandate to separate Church and State, and gave in. It signed a consent decree and set about ensuring that the school district's promise to obey the law would be honored by its employees.

Enter the wackos. A group calling itself "Christian Educators Association International" found out about the deal and sought to "intervene" after the fact to re-litigate the issue. Apparently, it managed to sign up a handful of so-called 'educators' in Santa Rosa County -- altogether, eleven of them if you count as "educators" sermonizing secretaries, catechizing coaches, and the Proselytizing Principal of Pace.

No dice, ruled the judge. As the Pensacola News Journal reports, the judge wrote in part that --
The members' assertions of fear and self-censorship are based on a misunderstanding and an isolated reading of selected portions of the decree's definitions of 'prayer, school official and school event,' taken out of context, and further, at least as to some of the conduct the members wish to engage in, they have no arguable constitutionally protected right to engage in such conduct.
A judge has to be circumspect in her written rulings. We're free to be more candid. What the judge probably meant is that the "Christian Educators Association International" is just too stupid to get it. Simply because some school employees' own religious impulses may urge it, doesn't mean the employees have a constitutional right to abuse their public salaried positions to market some personal religion-of-the-month to students and other teachers of the public school system.

The biggest dunce of all, though, is the lawyer they hired. His name is Mathew Staver and he works for the right-wing "Liberty Counsel" law firm that ginned up the latest legal maneuver. After learning of the judicial ruling, attorney Staver apparently told a reporter for the PNJ, "I think the judge has just created nuclear war."

Whoa! Accusing a federal judge of starting a "nuclear war" certainly doesn't display what many might think of as a 'Christian' attitude. It even might be contumacious. In any event, it's certainly laughable.

We can almost hear the ACLU lawyers now: 'Bring it on, by all means, Mr. Staver. We could use the additional attorney's fee awards. And, this time no discount for you.'

Friday, February 19, 2010

Beach Booze Bust

Party animal: * * * Despite his cultural deficiencies, the Party Animal often lives quite a luxurious lifestyle. They are known to rely on their parents for protection and sustenance until, on average, they reach the age of 25 and can no longer rely on their parents' stability of mind for food and money.
At last! Someone is trying to sober up the Mardi Gras revelers on Pensacola Beach. This past weekend, county deputy sheriffs "enforced a 20-year-old ordinance banning alcohol consumption in county parking lots, and 50 deputies were on hand to issue $100 citations for offenders."

Fifty-seven citations were issued. That's only a smidgen over one per deputy, hardly a police raid. You can be sure many more violators weren't cited by the deputies.

Look, we're not prudish. And we sure don't claim teetotaler status. But it's undeniable: For many residents and beach lovers, the Mardi Gras parade on Pensacola Beach always has been high on the list of events to avoid. For us, it's right below street raves, kickboxing, and dog fights.

Our own experience, to judge by the stories of friends and neighbors, is typical. When we think of the parade, we recall little more than ugly pushing and shoving by rude drunks; watching fist fights break out in the streets; insane pickup drivers trying to squeeze their square pegs into tiny holes; and unbelievable litter, everywhere.

This week's Gulf Breeze News quotes a number of those who were cited complaining that they were "targeted" by law enforcement. That's a hoot. Of course they were targeted! They were violating a county ordinance! That they weren't the only ones violating it is hardly a defense.

A few years ago, a veteran beach deputy confided to us that on warm weather weekend evenings, they know that statistically fully 50 percent of the drivers leaving Pensacola Beach after 9 pm are legally intoxicated or high. After 11 pm, he said, it's closer to 90 percent.

Nowhere near that many are cited for DUI, of course. That would be bad for business -- never a good reason, but probably the one upper-most in the minds of certain civic leaders.

More to the point, law enforcement without discretion would require a police force ten or twenty times bigger than the county can afford or the public is willing to sustain. And, it assuredly would lead to a backlash no one wants.

But there's another thing the deputy said: most of those intoxicated drivers leaving the beach on weekend evenings are well behaved, under control, and to all appearances they're driving cautiously enough not to endanger themselves or others. Unfortunately, that couldn't be said of as many drunks at the typical Pensacola Beach Mardi Gras parade.

The exercise of reasonable discretion in law enforcement at the parade should play a large role. 'Selective enforcement' is a must. Otherwise, we'd all be up to our armpits in deputy sheriffs and bail bondsmen.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Southern Censoriousness

Northerners who move to the Deep South usually suffer abrupt culture shock. Things are different here. It takes some getting used to.

Most Yankee transplants try hard to be accepting of the differences, much as an experienced international traveler will try to respect the cultural differences he encounters when visiting, say, Morocco, or an aboriginal tribe deep in the rain forest of Brazil.

Sometimes, though, we can be too accommodating. This was brought home to us again the other day when we found ourselves in casual conversation with a pleasant, smart, highly educated woman who moved to the Pensacola area a few months ago with her husband and children. She's from a large city in the Middle West with big, brassy shoulders and, like many northerners, she isn't shy about saying directly and emphatically what's on her mind.

Somewhat weirdly, we found ourselves comparing notes over the frequency of dropped calls by Pensacola area phone service providers. She has cell service with Verizon. Her husband prefers an I-phone, which means he's stuck with AT&T.

"We also had a hard line installed at home by Bell South," she explained. "Right away, we noticed the voice quality was terrible. The line kept cutting in and out. Whole words and phrases -- completely blotted out."

She shrugged. "We didn't complain. We just figured it was some sort of a Southern thing. That they don't allow swear words, or something."

Dept. of Further Amplification
2-18 am

Hendrick Herzberg's reminiscence of a school incident that happened in 1959 while he was growing up "in a corner of Rockland County, New York" ["Free Holden Caufield!"] somehow seems pertinent. 1959 Rockland and 2010 Pensacola have a lot in common, it would appear.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mardi Gras on the Beach - 2010 Edition

This year, the annual Mardi Gras parade was squeezed in between cold fronts, on the nicest day of this long, wet, cold winter. Barrier Island Girl has the parade photos. For mainlanders, she has a Downtown Edition.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Don't Let the Opportunity Go Bayh

Atlantic Magazine editor James Fallows has launched an interesting challenge to Evan Bayh: Over the next year, use your decision not to run for reelection to act more like your own dad, Birch Bayh. What could that mean? Read it here.

Political Ethics in an Era Gone Bayh

Evan Bayh is retiring from the U.S. Senate. Good riddance, some say. That's probably premature. It's our guess you'll be seeing his name increasingly linked to that of future presidential and vice-presidential hopefuls.

Possibly as early as 2012. Two scenarios are likely. One, Bayh may be positioning himself to run against Obama, assuming the president even tries for a second term. The second is he's angling to replace Vice-President Joe Biden, who hungers after the cabinet post held by Hillary Clinton.

Sad to say, but running for president or vice-president has become a full-time job that requires years, not months. As Half-Term Governor Sarah Palin could tell you, political pollsters and advisers these days counsel ambitious politicians that it's better to be running for office than holding one.

Especially if Bayh wants to make up to the more liberal wing of his party, he needs to unshackle himself from the more conservative elements of the Indiana electorate and start edging to the left. Without that, even Obama couldn't convince a convention to substitute Bayh as his vice-president.

All of this provides us with a thin excuse to share a true-life anecdote with, perhaps, minimal relevancy. Or maybe not so irrelevant.

Many, many years ago when we were very young and frisky we happened to be visiting relatives in northern Indiana, including an uncle. We'll call him "Jim." In those years, Uncle Jim was a very big power in both the national and state Republican Party. It was no small source of embarrassment to him that his own congressional district happened to be held by a liberal Democrat, Birch Bayh, the father of Evan Bayh.

Uncle Jim had just returned from one of his frequent trips to Washington. There, so he said, he and party operatchiks were plotting how to beat Congressman Bayh in the coming election.

"I heard two rumors while I was in D.C.," he boomed in that distinctive baritone voice of his. "One of 'em is that Birch Bayh is sleeping with every congressman's wife in Washington. The other is that he's sleeping with every congressman."

Uncle Jim's deep chuckle shook the windows.

"I like 'em both," he added. "But I gotta pick which rumor to spread. It just wouldn't be ethical to spread inconsistent falsehoods at the same time."

My, how times have changed.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Crazy Like a Dead Fox

Casual readers of the Pensacola News Journal may be puzzled by today's editorial. ["It's Time to Stop Issuing Permits for Fox Penning"]

'What the heck is fox penning?' many will be muttering. That's a clue they didn't read Jennifer Hobgood's op-ed earlier last week ["Fox Penning Must Be Banned"]. Hobgood provided a spare description which one supposes the editorial writer assumed you knew.

Fox pens are --
fenced enclosures in which packs of dogs chase foxes and coyotes. The penned wildlife are often torn apart, or chased until they drop in their tracks.
An even more graphic description can be found on the web site of the Human Society of the United States:
First, the coyotes and foxes are caught by the heavy steel jaws of a leghold trap and suffer excruciating pain and terror. The trap can tear the flesh, cut tendons and ligaments, and break bones. When the animals struggle to free themselves, they aggravate their injuries. A trapped animal may chew or twist the limb caught in the trap in an effort to escape.

Later, the animal is removed from the trap and packed into a cramped cage with other injured animals. The animals are routinely sold and transported across state lines to operators of pens. Untreated for their injuries, the coyotes and foxes are released into an enclosure.

In the pens, packs of hound dogs are released to pursue the animals. Exposure to repeated, prolonged and unavoidable pursuit result in stress for the coyotes and foxes. Death is another possibility, even with the presence of escape shelters. The penned coyotes and foxes often meet a cruel end when torn apart by packs of dogs.

Who knew? But here's the thing that shocked us: it isn't just a 'southern' thing. Among a dozen states that still permit this wanton cruelty, the Humane Society lists Wisconsin, Indiana, and Iowa.

The heartland!
With, apparently, no heart. We grew up there and, to our shame, we had no idea this sort of thing goes on.

This sorry business calls to mind Mark Twain's amusing travelogue about the long stage coach trip West he took in 1861. Abraham Lincoln had appointed Twain's brother, Orion Clemens, as Secretary of Nevada Territory. Twain decided to ride along, principally to avoid the Civil War. Along the way, he encountered desert coyotes for the first time.

Twain's description was more sympathetic to this "living, breathing allegory of Want" than to most of the humans he encountered. With good reason. The coyote, Twain wrote in a passage that could just as well apply to the modern-day (but slower) fox --
is always poor, out of luck and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede. He is so spiritless and cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it. And he is so homely! -- so scrawny, and ribby, and coarse-haired, and pitiful.
* * *

But if you start a swift-footed dog after him, you will enjoy it ever so much -- especially if it is a dog that has a good opinion of himself, and has been brought up to think he knows something about speed.

The cayote will go swinging gently off on that deceitful trot of his, and every little while he will smile a fraudful smile over his shoulder that will fill that dog entirely full of encouragement and worldly ambition, and make him lay his head still lower to the ground, and stretch his neck further to the front, and pant more fiercely, and stick his tail out straighter behind, and move his furious legs with a yet wilder frenzy, and leave a broader and broader, and higher and denser cloud of desert sand smoking behind, and marking his long wake across the level plain! And all this time the dog is only a short twenty feet behind the cayote, and to save the soul of him he cannot understand why it is that he cannot get perceptibly closer; and he begins to get aggravated, and it makes him madder and madder to see how gently the cayote glides along and never pants or sweats or ceases to smile; and he grows still more and more incensed to see how shamefully he has been taken in by an entire stranger, and what an ignoble swindle that long, calm, soft-footed trot is; and next he notices that he is getting fagged, and that the cayote actually has to slacken speed a little to keep from running away from him -- and then that town-dog is mad in earnest, and he begins to strain and weep and swear, and paw the sand higher than ever, and reach for the cayote with concentrated and desperate energy.

This "spurt" finds him six feet behind the gliding enemy, and two miles from his friends. And then, in the instant that a wild new hope is lighting up his face, the cayote turns and smiles blandly upon him once more, and with a something about it which seems to say: "Well, I shall have to tear myself away from you, bub -- business is business, and it will not do for me to be fooling along this way all day" -- and forthwith there is a rushing sound, and the sudden splitting of a long crack through the atmosphere, and behold that dog is solitary and alone in the midst of a vast solitude!

It makes his head swim. He stops, and looks all around; climbs the nearest sand-mound, and gazes into the distance; shakes his head reflectively, and then, without a word, he turns and jogs along back to his train, and takes up a humble position under the hindmost wagon, and feels unspeakably mean, and looks ashamed, and hangs his tail at half-mast for a week.

And for as much as a year after that, whenever there is a great hue and cry after a cayote, that dog will merely glance in that direction without emotion, and apparently observe to himself, "I believe I do not wish any of the pie."
That was in a time when these pathetic animals, coyotes and foxes, were roaming free. Imagine today, sticking them in a fenced-in pen and siccing dogs after them.

It's a slaughter, plain and simple. Florida should outlaw it, period.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow Day Update

No snow on the beach or south of I-10. Just cold rain. But the highly reliable North reports "Snow in Atmore, Walnut Hill, Century, Flomaton, Jay, McDavid and North." And, they have the photographic evidence.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Day Guide for Pensacola Beach

Virtually every travel guide for Pensacola Beach describes our beach sand with the metaphor, "as white as sugar." Instead, now they can say "as white as snow."

It looks like a Snow Day on Pensacola Beach. With the threat of maybe an inch, maybe less, already schools are closing, grocery stores are packed, social meetings are being canceled, business meetings are being moved to Miami, workers (those who aren't enslaved, anyway) are being sent home early, and Blockbuster's shelves are running bare.

At long last, we can have a Snow Day in Northwest Florida! So what if it all turns out to be a false alarm, like last summer's Hurricane Ida?

A Snow Day is a lot like a Tropical Storm Watch, only without the rising sense of terror. Since many Panhandle residents may not be familiar with what to do or how to act during a Snow Day, we provide this guide as a public service:

Evacuation Route

The proper evacuation route is from where you are right now directly into your bedroom.

Emergency Supplies
  • Chocolate
  • Popcorn
  • A hot toddy (that's a drink)
  • Mac and cheese, optional.
  • Fluffy comforter
  • Extra pillows
Personal Safety
  • If you have kids around the house, send them out to have fun by making a snowman in the street. They'll probably be safe enough.
  • Turn off all phones. You also should change your answering message to something like, "We're stuck in a snow drift right now and can't come to the phone. Leave your name and number and we'll get back to you just as soon as Spring arrives."
  • Dress yourself warmly. Woolen PJs and warm slippers are recommended for singles. If you have a spouse or lover, your birthday suit will do.
  • Be sure to be armed with a good book, a working television screen, or a video recorder loaded with a good movie. (Triple-X films are only for those wearing birthday suits.)
  • Spread the comforter across the bed and plump up those extra pillows at the head of the bed.
  • Grab the book or the remote in one hand. With the other, lift a corner of the comforter and slide joyfully under it. (For those wearing a birthday suit, just grab the first person you see who's also wearing a birthday suit.)
  • Set your alarm clock for March 21.
  • When the storm is over, do not file an insurance claim with Florida Property Insurance. If you've done it right, you had too much fun to qualify for coverage over a few shingles or those missing kids.

The Snowman Cometh

A beach friend knows that we've been holed up lately in a research library. Warm and cozy there? No. More like chilly, drafty, and echoing with the rasping coughs and sneezes of other patrons, which now have successfully infected us, too.

The friend wanted to call to our attention Tuesday afternoon's "Special Weather Statement" from the National Weather Service:
Our friend added: "Do you believe this??? I will, but only when I see the first flake of snow on this island in the decade we've been here."

Today's daily -- which, astoundingly, we found in one piece this morning, rather than scattered all over the neighboring yards by howling winds -- follows up with this cutesy front-page headline:

The shivering fellow you see there, by the way, lives on the streets in Philadelphia, not Pensacola. However, if you were to air-brush the snow and beard away, he easily could be the guy sitting across from us in the library yesterday.

This morning's NWS forecast is a little more modest:

As the newspaper observes, snow in the northwestern panhandle of Florida is not unknown. "The last time the flurries flew in the area was Jan. 1-3, 2002."

Snow isn't foreign to Gulf Coast beach communities. We remember waking up on Pensacola beach to something that sure looked like snow two successive mornings during the bitter winter of 1995-96, after Hurricane Opal. A close relative who lived in a condo on Ft. Walton Beach in the '70s saw an inch of snow there at least once. She was told by old-timers that at least a dusting of the white stuff happened about once every six or eight years.

Predictably, a lot of ignorant right-wingers -- something we are never without here in the Redneck Riviera, whatever the temperature -- are politicizing this winter's weather to argue it refutes the science of global warming. That's on the same intellectual plane as the Pope who was so sure that the Bible and his own eyes disproved any suggestion by Galileo that the earth revolved around the sun. It wasn't until 1992 that the Church admitted, sort of, that he might have been right.

As Dr. Jeff Masters pointed out recently, if anything "extra moisture in the air" is one of the necessary consequences of a globe that has warmed "0.74°C (1.3°F) over the past 100 years." Masters adds:
It's not hard at all to get temperatures cold enough for snow in a world experiencing global warming. * * * There will still be colder than average winters in a world that is experiencing warming, with plenty of opportunities for snow. The more difficult ingredient for producing a record snowstorm is the requirement of near-record levels of moisture. Global warming theory predicts that global precipitation will increase, and that heavy precipitation events--the ones most likely to cause flash flooding--will also increase. This occurs because as the climate warms, evaporation of moisture from the oceans increases, resulting in more water vapor in the air.

According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, water vapor in the global atmosphere has increased by about 5% over the 20th century, and 4% since 1970. This extra moisture in the air will tend to produce heavier snowstorms, assuming it is cold enough to snow. Groisman et al. (2004) found a 14% increase in heavy (top 5%) and 20% increase in very heavy (top 1%) precipitation events in the U.S. over the past 100 years, though mainly in spring and summer. However, the authors did find a significant increase in winter heavy precipitation events have occurred in the Northeast U.S. This was echoed by Changnon et al. (2006), who found, "The temporal distribution of snowstorms exhibited wide fluctuations during 1901-2000, with downward 100-yr trends in the lower Midwest, South, and West Coast. Upward trends occurred in the upper Midwest, East, and Northeast, and the national trend for 1901-2000 was upward, corresponding to trends in strong cyclonic activity."
Snow in the Florida Panhandle? Now that obstructionist Republicans, gutless Democrats, and the White House have abandoned the cap-and-trade legislation, you'd better get used to it. Unregulated carbon emissions almost certainly will melt the Arctic ice cap within a generation and bring more... and more... snow to Pensacola.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Presidency of Barack Quincy Adams Obama

When one focuses on just how obstructionist the modern Republican Party has become in Congress, it's difficult to find any parallels in our history. Certainly, one that comes immediately to mind is the decade preceding the Civil War.

This was, like now, a time when political passions ran high and political compromise between contending factions was difficult. It is signaled most dramatically, perhaps, by the odious 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. This disreputable federal statute enabled anyone who claimed another person was a runaway slave to enlist the U.S. Marshals for help in seizing by force the unfortunate victim. Nothing more than the slave owners' oral word was required. No evidence was required. No bail was allowed. Anyone resisting 'return' of the purported slave was subject to criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and a ruinous fine.

Even then, however, Southern pro-slavery congressmen -- who ceaselessly worked to ensure that slavery would spread as fast as the growing nation admitted new states to the Union -- refrained from holding hostage every single presidential domestic and foreign policy initiative. They did, that is, until we approached the very edge of Civil War.

Perhaps the closest parallel to our times is the presidency of John Quincy Adams. By then the first political parties -- Federalists and Republican-Democrats -- were on the edge of extinction. Nevertheless, it was a time of intense, and then-unparalleled-- political partisanship.

The time immediately before and during the Adams' presidency was regarded as one of “horribly embroiled conditions” and “unexampled bitterness” and “strife.” Religious pastors became politicians-in-the-pulpit. The public press was highly partisan and sharply divided. Virtually every newspaper sided with one partisan faction or another, and each attacked their opposite numbers with zeal.

At the local level, thinly-veiled vituperation and name-calling in the guise of “toasts” on Independence Day and other celebratory occasions became political ammunition for each side. As one historian of the times immediately before the Adams' presidency wrote, "This rage of party continued several years, and was sometimes so violent as to be in danger of degenerating into animosity and personal hatred."

Partisans, to a degree, did disagree over some major issues. Chief among these was the War of 1812; tariffs on imported foreign goods to protect nascent industries from aggressive foreign competition; creation of the National Bank; federal financing of "internal improvements" such as roads, canals, and a postal service creation of a national bank; and (of course) slavery. To a large degree, the fault lines over these differences paralleled the dominant regional split that plagues us even today between North and South. The overwhelming sense one gets is that in the North society was liberalizing rapidly and in the South the ownership class was intent on resisting those changes at all costs.

In the midst of this political maelstorm came the presidency of John Quincy Adams. Adams, like another president we can think of, strived to bridge the partisan divide. He retained several of his predecessor's key cabinet secretaries. He took on as his vice-president John C. Calhoun, a bitter political opponent and pro-slavery conservative who quickly betrayed Adams himself. Undaunted, Adams continued to the end of his term to appeal for bipartisanship (or, more accurately, non-partisanship in the interests of the new nation).

All to no avail. Southern reactionary opposition to tariffs, federal financing of "internal improvements," the National Bank, and even the postal service managed to stop most of Adams' legislative proposals. But not all. He did enjoy some modest success in persuading Congress to enact the Tariff of 1828 and finance some, but hardly all, of the internal improvements that were essential to the nation's expansion westward.

For all of his struggles to rise above the intense partisanship of the times, Adams was personally vilified and turned out of office after one term. Most of the nation's needs were to remain unmet for another generation. And, the silent ghost left in the attic by our founding fathers -- slavery -- eventually was to emerge as the real and unbridgeable difference that led to internal civil war.

So now, today, we are seeing obstruction of government at a level unprecedented since those times. Somewhat like then, it seems that the issues of today are in themselves less important than partisanship for the sake of partisanship. Whether, as before, this means all will end badly remains to be seen.

Rachel Maddow has the scorecard:

minor edit 2-10 pm