Sunday, January 31, 2010

Technology Will Out

It's been a busy week on the technology front. Apple introduced the I-Pad, "a slim, 1.5-pound 'tablet' computer [which] will be linked to Apple Inc.'s first e-book store when it goes on sale in a few months."

Meanwhile,'s e-book reader, Kindle, took a hit from McMillan Books, which "pulled" its e-books at Amazon because the on-line e-book seller wouldn't help the publishing giant gouge readers by hiking the price, essentially, by 50 percent from $10 to $15 for each e-book. In retaliation, threw McMillan's hard-bound and paperbacks out the metaphorical window, according to financially- and artistically-interested bystanders Charles Stross and Tobias Buckell.

Thanks to this corporate spat among greedy new technology innovators, tens of thousands of e-books are at present unavailable to anyone. See what wonders the computer age has brought us?

It's a dead certainty other high tech companies soon will be entering the competitive waters, too. But here's the thing: none of the "e-book readers" will be compatible with one another. What that means, of course, is that in the not-too-distant future all of you e-book readers either will be unable to read three-quarters or more of the titles you want, or you'll have to get used to hauling around in a trunk about fifteen pounds of expensive high-tech gizmos wherever you go.

This seems an apt time to dredge up that old, familiar piece by "Anonymous" that's been around the web just about as long as the Kindle. Enjoy:

Exciting New Technology to Ease Life of Readers

Announcing the new Bio-Optical Organized Knowledge-device (BOOK). The BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: No wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use even a child can operate it. Just lift its cover!

Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere -- even sitting in an armchair by the fire -- yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc. Here's how it works...

Each BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. These pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet, doubling the information density and cutting costs in half. Experts are divided on the prospects for further increases in information density; for now BOOKs with more information simply use more pages. This makes them thicker and harder to carry, and has drawn some criticism from the mobile computing crowd.

Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet. The BOOK may be taken up at any time and used by merely opening it. The BOOK never crashes and never needs rebooting, though like other display devices it can become unusable if dropped overboard. The "browse" feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an "index" feature, which pinpoints the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.

An optional "BOOKmark" accessory allows you to open the BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session -- even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus, a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers. Conversely, numerous BOOKmarks can be used in a single BOOK if the user wants to store numerous views at once. The number is limited only by the number of pages in the BOOK.

You can also make personal notes next to BOOK text entries with an optional programming tool, the Portable Erasable Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Stylus (PENCILS).

Portable, durable, and affordable, the BOOK is being hailed as the entertainment wave of the future. The BOOK's appeal seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform. Look for a flood of new titles soon.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Gray Lady Blushes

David Yamada of Universal Hub caught a small fry in the clash of headlines offered by the Boston Globe and the New York Times about President Obama's hour and a half personal appearance at the Republican congressional retreat yesterday. The news event was the same. The news article was the same. It was written by the same two people. The two papers are owned by the same corporation.Yet, as Yamada points out, the headlines are "vastly different."

Forget the ridiculous clashing headlines of the same New York Times and Globe reports. It's the full news report itself, written by Peter Baker and Carl Hulse, that is unbelievably insipid, incompetent, and biased. They have presented a completely false sense of the nature of yesterday's extraordinary meeting between Obama and all of the Republicans in Congress. The proof is in the videotape.

As James Fallows says, "It's the most interesting thing you can watch today." The full videotape is available here. The transcript is here. Various slices of the Q. and A. are here ... and almost everywhere else on the web -- except Fox News, of course.

Thankfully, historians will have the actual videotapes and transcripts to rely upon, rather than Baker and Hulse's deeply misleading account.

First, the lede was inexcusably deceptive. A lede is supposed to give the reader an accurate -- not necessarily a "fair and balanced" -- summary of the news event. Their lede ("President Obama denied he was a Bolshevik, the Republicans denied they were obstructionists and both sides denied they were to blame for the toxic atmosphere... .") sounds more like typical, discreditable "politics-as-horse race" clap-trap.

Second, they completely wimp out on the historic nature of the event, a shameful thing for "the newspaper of record." What Baker and Hulse write ("The encounter at a Baltimore hotel was unlike ... very many other presidencies") is proof they didn't understand, and therefore could not truthfully report on, the context of this event. It wasn't "unlike... many other presidencies." It was utterly unique. Such a direct, unscripted, confrontation between a sitting president and the entire minority party of Congress has NEVER been televised, or a transcript issued, to the public in all of our nation's history. Not ever. Period.

Have Baker and Hulse not even read Richard Neustadt's "Presidential Power," the bible of executive-congressional relations? That, and every other similar book and article on the subject of how presidents and congress relate to one another, negotiate, attempt persuasion, bargain, and exercise their constitutional powers instantly went out of date yesterday.

Third, the Baker and Hulse report on its face was heavily biased. It supplies precisely the undeserved gloss Republicans might have wished for. Exhibit A: "Just to make the point that they have been more than the party of no, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio... handed [Obama]a booklet called “Better Solutions” compiling a variety of Republican ideas that they said the president had ignored or resisted over the last year."

Do they mention this was the same 27-page full-color handout ginned up in January, referencing every single bill introduced by any G.O.P congressman -- most during the BUSH years -- which the Republican sponsors were never serious enough to bring to the floor of the House when they had a majority? No. Are Hulse and Baker even-handed enough to quote Obama's reply that he'd read their "stuff" and needed more from experts to suggest it would work? No.

Fourth, Baker and Hulse mention only in summary that "Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas challenged him on the spending plan he will unveil next week." This, of course, is the episode that's getting the widest play elsewhere -- for reasons anyone depending on the New York Times report wouldn't know: because it reveals Hansarling's scripted 'question' to be nothing more than a partisan recital of past and projected budget numbers that have no relationship to reality. Or, as Obama replied (and Hulse and Baker ignore), Hansarling offered nothing but "an example of how it's very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we're going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign." Hansarling had his facts completely wrong. Obama called him on it.

As readers of this blog will know, we are not particularly an Obama partisan. We disagree with many of his policies and legislative tactics. For present purposes, however, an even larger concern is intellectual honesty and factual accuracy in journalism.

Yesterday's meeting between Obama and his Republican congressional critics was a completely unprecedented event and the Baker and Hulse report blew it, big time. The Gray Lady should be blushing with shame.

Here's one excerpt that everyone's talking about:

Teacher of the Year

Edward Pate, 42, has been named "Teacher of the Year" for Santa Rosa County. He's a former New York City gallery owner, a law school graduate, and now advanced English and literature teacher at the highly estimable Gulf Breeze High School.

Those are merely his stats. If you met Edward, you'd also appreciate just how smart, organized, dedicated, and extremely hard-working he is. We feel privileged to have met him. His students (and their parents) are most fortunate to have him. There is none finer.

Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa County School Board continues to stall on contract negotiations with Edward and his teaching colleagues throughout the district. It really is demented how topsy-turvy our priorities have become in modern America. We pay barely a living wage to public school teachers, to whom we entrust our children, for god's sake, and their very futures! We turn our kids over to them for the vast majority of each waking workday and pay them a pittance, while showering multi-million dollar bonuses on corporate thieves and Wall Street bankers whose entire raison d'etre is to take us for as much money as they can.

Yes, yes. But all that Florida lottery money supposedly is dedicated to improving education in Florida. Except it doesn't. Instead, it has supplanted state education funding and actually made things worse.

Tell you what. Let's make a minor change in the law to reflect where our priorities should be. Turn the lottery profits over to the banking industry, Wall Street CEOs, and the K-Street lobbying industry and let them spend it as they like. After all, they're gamblers at heart. In exchange, they have to turn over to our schools the tens of billions of dollars squandered on bonuses every year and the trillions of dollars in government subsidies and corporate welfare received annually from the taxpayers.

After that, every now and then when -- and if -- we find a banker or a CEO who is unusually dedicated to the public good, we can have a little recognition ceremony and give him a plaque or something. That would only be fair, right?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Teabagging Peacock

Paul Krugman, Pulitizer-Prize winning Economist tells it like it is:
If health reform fails, you can forget about any serious effort to rein in rising Medicare costs. And even if it succeeds, many politicians will have learned a hard lesson: you don’t get any credit for doing the fiscally responsible thing. It’s better, for the sake of your career, to just pretend that you’re fiscally responsible — that is, to be a deficit peacock.

So we’re paralyzed in the face of mass unemployment and out-of-control health care costs. Don’t blame Mr. Obama. There’s only so much one man can do, even if he sits in the White House. Blame our political culture instead, a culture that rewards hypocrisy and irresponsibility rather than serious efforts to solve America’s problems. And blame the filibuster, under which 41 senators can make the country ungovernable, if they choose — and they have so chosen.

I’m sorry to say this, but the state of the union — not the speech, but the thing itself — isn’t looking very good.

Jeff Miller (R-Hyprocrisy), Northwest Florida's inept and ineffectual congressman spreads his feathers and struts ridiculously today in the op-ed pages of the daily newspaper, declaring he's opposed to his own party's incumbent governor, Charlie Crist. Instead, he supports a batshit-insane teabagger (Mario Rubio) for U.S. Senate.

Miller is a hypocritical peacock, to be sure. In Congress, he voted for every single What-Me-Worry? unfunded budget-busting plan, tax cut, and corporate give-away proposed by the Bush administration. Chalk up record multi-trillion dollar deficit increases to Jeff Miller. He then opposed Obama's economic stimulus plan because it was too big (not, as nearly all economists recognize, too small) and he opposed health reform.

Gazillions in debt to fund the rich, Wall Street banks, and corporations. Not a cent to rescue the economy for middle America. That's what lies beneath Jeff Miller's teabagging peacock feathers.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Maschochists and the State of the Union Show

There has always been something very weird about State of the Union speeches in our time. A sitting president who, inevitably, has many enemies as well as friends in government assembles both groups in one large room. He then proceeds to orally whip his enemies in front of his friends and national television, and to suck up to his friends while snarling about his enemies right in their face. His friends applaud wildly. His enemies visibly suffer and scowl for the cameras; yet, now and then, the enemies also rise and applaud the president while being sure to maintain facial expressions that convey their contempt.

It's a very sado-masochistic scene. Not just for the congress-persons, every one of whom thinks he or she should be the one up there on the podium, dressed in leather and wielding a whip. It also must be tortuous for the president -- and his spouse.

As the president looks out and around the great hall of Congress no doubt he sees congressmen, senators, and supreme court justices he knows to be sniveling idiots, political cowards, shameless liars, sociopaths, crooks, and hateful proto-fascist monsters. And he has to smile at them. For the cameras. For us, the viewers.

It's but one more way illustrating how television is bringing ruin to America. The 'TV timeout' cripples football. The 'designated hitter rule' awkwardly alters baseball. So-called 'reality shows' that are anything but real distort reality in an era when even irrefutable scientific facts are disputed. And, then there is Fox News -- 'nuff said.

But ask yourself this: if all the swells on the Tee-Vee screen last night are masochists willingly submitting to pain in this grotesque prime time special, who do suppose are the sadists who like to watch?

The State of the Union address has become our equivalent of a Roman Coliseum show, pitting a courageous gladiator against the ignorant, vicious lions for the entertainment of the masses. That's us. The president acts courageous and at times magnanimous; the tortured metaphorically bleed on camera for our enjoyment. Last night, the only new wrinkle was that a right-wing Supreme Court justice joined in the unseemly fun.

As in ancient Rome, nothing much will change. Today, the lions will be back to being dumb beasts just hoping to make the president their next meal, and the president will be back to plotting how to rid himself of those meddlesome masochistic beasts.

It remains only for commercial television to insist that the President of the United States take a few commercials breaks every few minutes during the State of the Union Address. Then the show will be complete.

SOTU - Transcript

Here's a blue transcript of the State of the Union speech you might have enjoyed seeing. The beginning:
Obama walks in, wearing a Nobel prize and carrying an iPad
Pelosi: and heeeeeere’s Baraaaaaaaaaack!
Obama: Thank you very much.
Greetings, Madam Speaker, Joe, Senators, House members, all Congresspersons - you goddamm worthless m**ther fu**ers!

There's more....

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union Question

The villagers are all offering slices of conventional wisdom about what Obama should and shouldn't say in tonight's State of the Union address. Exhibit A: George Packer misses substance altogether, again, with his suggestion that Obama "must say something memorable." Anything memorable, apparently. Big help, there.

At times like today, it's best to turn to someone who isn't anchored in the group-think sump of Washington D.C. politics. Brown University professor and author James A. Morone and is one such. In today's L.A. Times he raises the central question Obama must answer: "Do the Democrats stand for anything?"
Parties prosper when they connect their passions and their principles to their policies. Remembering that could save healthcare reform -- and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Forgetting it makes the majorities irrelevant, even if they manage to hang on to them.
In fairness, it's a question for all the House and Senate members, as well as for Obama, regardless of party: What, exactly, do you stand for, people? Are the Republicans capable of nothing but "no," blatant lies, and willful obstructionism? Are Democrats really so feckless as to let tens of thousands of Americans in need of health care die every year just to curry favor with the insurance industry or (understandably) confused constituents back home?

As the professor writes, Lyndon Johnson offered this encomium to Harry Truman when signing the first Medicare bill: "Many men can make proposals, [and] many men can draft laws. . . . But few have the courage to stake reputation . . . and the effort of a lifetime upon a cause."

Tonight, we want to see just how many elected officials in the hall -- from President Obama on down to the lowliest senator and congressman (think of Jeff Miller) -- stand for something concrete and have the courage to stake their reputations on it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Exception to the Rule

Rule: Because of the filibuster rule, you need a super-majority of at least 60 votes even to bring any bill or nomination issue to the floor of the U.S. Senate to be considered because -- don't laugh, now -- it's the "world's greatest deliberative body."

Exception to the rule: Unless that bill is something or someone Wall Street wants. In which case, a bare majority of 50 is enough.

Economic Forecast: Freezing Economy Ahead

You thought the last two weeks were cold? Wait until you feel the effects of Obama's "spending freeze."
  • "Appalling on every level," writes Pulitzer Prize winning economist Paul Krugman.
  • It's "another win" for Wall Street, says economist and former Labor secretary Robert Reich.
  • "Dingbat Kabuki" theater, pronounces economist Brad deLong. And that's the kindest thing he has to say about it. "Barack Herbert Hoover Obama" is the worst.
  • "Pretty disappointing," is the mildest judgment U. of Oregon economist Mark Thoma can muster. He adds:
    The long-term budget problem is due to primarily one thing, rising health care costs. Everything else is dwarfed by that problem. If we solve the health care cost problem, the rest is easy. If we don't solve it the rest won't matter. This was an opportunity for Obama to explain the importance of health care reform and how it relates to the long-term debt problem.* * * Instead we get cheap political tricks that are likely to backfire."
Rachel Maddow -- no slouch, herself, as a Rhodes Scholar who authored a Ph.D. dissertation on health care in British and American prisons -- confronts White House flack Jared Bernstein to ask why Obama is aping Herbert Hoover's strategy "for making the Depression Great."

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Shrinking Democratic Majority

Preachers will tell you that god works in mysterious ways. Maybe so, but we've detected a pattern: she usually gathers up 92 year old senators before younger politicians. Elections have consequences. So, too, does age.

If some kind of meaningful health reform bill is to survive fake filibusters and pass Congress in the lifetimes of those who are reading this, the Democrats in both houses of Congress had better get on the ball. Tell them that yourself.

Rendell's Advice

This is novel. The governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, calls on congressional Democrats to "fight for something" that would help real people, not corporations. As we've said, ourselves: Risk it. Make them filibuster.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rich Advice

Frank Rich, NYT:
If the tea party right and populist left agree on anything, it’s that big bailed-out banks have and will get away with murder while we pay the bill on credit cards — with ever-rising fees. Politically, no other issue counts.
Rich's conclusion: Obama needs to "reboot" -- and fast.

The New High Priests

In 2004, Canadian law professor Joel Bakan published a path-breaking book for general readers on the history, purposes, triumphs, and pathology of The Corporation. The book was quickly reprised as an entertaining and informative 8-hour documentary which is now available for free in 15 parts on YouTube and as a download at several web sites, including here. The well-documented book and the riveting documentary film have won over twenty-four international prizes.

As one analyst says, corporations have become the "new high priests and reigning oligarchs" of our political system. This week's 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision effectively confirms it.

If you want to know how and why bloodless corporations have become "persons" and wormed their way into the U.S. Constitution, read the book and see the documentary.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The United Corporations of America

"Why the—matter is simple enough. A Congressional appropriation costs money. ... a high moral Congressman or Senator here and there — the high moral ones cost more, because they give tone to a measure; then a lot of small-fry country members who won't vote for anything whatever without pay — say twenty at $500 apiece, is $10,000; a lot of dinners to members — say $10,000 altogether; lot of jimcracks for Congressmen's wives and children—those go a long way — you can't sped too much money in that line — well, those things cost... in a lump, say $10,000.

"Perhaps the biggest thing we've done in the advertising line was to get an officer of the U. S. government, of perfectly Himmalayan official altitude, to write up our little internal improvement for a religious paper of enormous circulation — I tell you that makes our bonds go handsomely among the pious poor. * * * Give me a religious paper to advertise in, every time; and if you'll just look at their advertising pages, you'll observe that other people think a good deal as I do—especially people who have got little financial schemes to make everybody rich with."

-- Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age (1873)
Yesterday's 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision in United Citizens v. Federal Election Commission was a blatantly political act that severely undermines the integrity of the Supreme Court itself; first, by the anomalous manner in which the court majority rendered its opinion, and second, by the radical and thorough re-writing it has given virtually the entire U.S. Constitution.

Not only that but, as senior Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens writes in dissent, the majority decision also "threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation." By green-lighting unlimited corporate and, now, unregulated corporate spending to influence elections, the majority decision endangers our very democracy.

"We the people..." now effectively reads "We, the corporations..."

As the New York Times editorialized this morning, five right-wing "justices overreached and seized on a case" presented by both sides as involving only a narrow issue. It then "rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed," broadened the issue to encompass all corporate financing of federal and state elections, and then overruled a century of precedents which had allowed reasonable regulation to prevent the corrosive and corrupting influence of corporations in political campaigns.

As Justice John Paul Stevens points out in dissent, it was the five right-wing justices themselves who "manufactured" the issue of whether federal and state election regulations were "facially unconstitutional." While the case was still young, the corporate party told the trial court it had "expressly abandoned" any broader constitutional challenge. Yet, the Supreme Court majority on its own elected to address that issue anyway, well after the opportunity to make a record on the issue had passed.

Beyond this suspiciously unusual procedure, at the core of the Court's majority opinion are two breathtaking propositions: (1) there is no reason to suppose corporate money spent in behalf of political candidates will distort political campaigns or corrupt politicians; and (2) in any event corporations are "persons" and therefore should enjoy complete freedom to speak, publish, advertise, and promote their views in all federal, state, and local elections just as human people do.

If anyone on this earth can read that first proposition without snorting coffee all over the table, he must be one of the five justices who wrote it. As for the second proposition, as Dahlia Lithwick puts it, the Court has just turned "a corporation into a real live boy." This, from five self-proclaimed "strict construction" justices who claimed to advocate "judicial restraint." It is beyond parody.

What's more, as one corporate shill excitedly mentioned on the radio yesterday, corporate "persons" won't have to buy every one of the politicians. All it will take is one or two billion dollars poured into a couple of Senate and House races, here and there, or a few city council or county commissioner races. Then, whenever a corporate "person" needs a little piece of legislation enacted, all it has to do is send a paid lobbyist -- they're real people, too, you know -- to have a friendly little chat with the rest of the congressmen about how they could be next.

As Justice Stevens writes:
The majority’s unwillingness to distinguish between corporations and humans ... blinds it to the possibility that corporations’ “war chests” and their special “advantages” in the legal realm... may translate into special advantages in the market for legislation.
Truly, we are living in a Gilded Age again. Your "high moral Congressman or Senator" and "small-fry country" politician at every level of government is back on sale. You can't afford them, but the "real persons" named Exxon-Mobile, Walmart, Goldman Sachs, and AT&T can.

Anthropology Update on Pensacola

Innumerable studies have established that in many ways Pensacola is much more a cultural extension of Alabama than of Florida. As anthropologists are fond of saying, "The farther south you go in Florida, the more northerly it becomes."

Hence, extensive field investigations long ago revealed that the natives of the "Redneck Riviera" worship a strange, excessively sugary form of donut known as "Krispy Kreme" and a type of coffee best characterized as "watery." The higher, more civilized order of such viands are unknown to the indigenous peoples of Pensacola.

No longer. Today, a Dunkin' Donuts shop opens in Pensacola. It is located within a stone's throw of another cultural institution largely foreign to the experience of the primitive tribes in this area -- a bookstore.

Scientists are uncertain if this experiment to bring life-enhancing blessings of an advanced civilization to the unfortunates of Pensacola will be successful. An earlier missionary effort to convert the natives disappeared without a trace over a decade ago. Cannibalism has not been discounted.


The PNJ today editorially applauds the state's attorney's criminal investigation of Escambia county commissioners. Along the way, it unintentionally reveals the depths to which public expectations about Escambia county government have sunk.

Speaking of the investigation's eventual denouement the editorial states, "If nothing else it would be bracing for county residents to get a clearer understanding if something is wrong down there, or if it is simply political incompetence."

So, finding mere 'political incompetence' among Escambia County commissioners would not be evidence of 'something wrong down there'? Nope. That's just standard operating procedure.

The Second Year Begins

If you have time to read only one political blog entry today, make it this one by former White House speech writer, and now editor, Hendrick Herzberg: "One Year: Beware of Sudden Downdrafts." We don't always agree with Herzberg, but we always pay attention to his keen insights. A small taste:
That Obama let the “outside game” part of the health-care drama get away from him, so focussed was he on the “inside game” of trying to force the legislative elephant through the Congressional keyhole, can no longer be denied. He and his team can also be faulted for the political (and perhaps substantive) inattention that has allowed the right to profit handsomely from the economic disaster that their policies, not Obama’s, brought about.

Whether yesterday’s upset in Massachusetts turns out to be a catastrophe or merely a setback now depends largely on the grown-upness, or lack of it, of liberals in the House of Representatives. I don’t see any way out of the darkness right now other than for the House to tighten its stomach muscles, pass the Senate version of the health-care bill A.S.A.P., and move on to jobs and the economy. The Senate health-care bill, however inferior to the House version, is vastly superior to the status quo. The only alternative I can discern is no bill at all—a political, substantive, and humanitarian failure that would reverberate for a generation.

There's more, including a wonderfully succinct summary of President Obama's considerable accomplishments in just twelve months, given what Herzberg accurately terms the "systemic grotesqueries like the filibuster... ."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Call the Filibuster Bluff

"By requiring actual 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' filibustering, as was for nearly a century the long-established tradition, you can be sure senators would think long and hard before exposing their obstructionist tactics to the gaze of all of America."
Lots and lots of folk are weighing in on what last night's Massachusetts special election means, including us. As many or more already have moved on to wonder what, if anything, the Obama administration can do after losing its supposed filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate. After all, we can't allow deliberate obstructionism to paralyze our government for the next three years.

First, it needs to be acknowledged that Democrats never had a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority. They had 58 nominal Democrats. Now they have 57.

The other two senators, Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, officially are "independents" who merely caucus with Democrats. One (Sanders) votes like a Democrat much of the time. The other (Lieberman) votes like a Republican, at best, and even more reliably like a member of the Likud Party.

Second, let's not forget that the 58-40-2 high-water mark for Democrats in the Senate has existed for only eight months. It first occurred last April when Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched parties. And, now it's back to where it was after the 2008 presidential election: 57-41-2.

There is emerging, too, some evidence that yesterday's Massachusetts victory of a Republican candidate for Senate was less due to Svott Brown's party affiliation than to a coalescence of local and idiosyncratic factors. These include Brown's consistent refusal to identify himself as a Republican on the campaign trail and in TV ads. As an astonished London Telegraph reporter puts it, "Senator-elect Brown won without uttering the word Republican."

It also includes a post-election survey by Research 2000 that suggests Brown's victory was assured by an appreciable number of liberal Democratic voters who either stayed home or voted for Brown because they want Obama to be "bolder," they wanted a "public option" in the health care bill, and they think the Senate's compromise bill "doesn't go far enough."

So, what should the Obama administration do? Retreating like so many Blue Dogs is what the MSM and Republicans expect. And, that is just the opposite of what needs to be done.

As veteran political reporter William Greider writes today, Obama should be charging ahead. But to do that, he "has to change himself:"
First, he has to clear out the cobwebs of his hopeful aspirations and take on the fight. To do so, he also has to clear away a lot of the people around him. If Rahm Emmauel was the chief strategist, the guy who made the private deals and told the senators what they could accept, he failed big-time and should be replaced. Find a new manager whose thinking was not shaped by cynical triangulation in the Clinton era.
Second, he needs to re-make his economic team, starting with Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner:
Both speak for the administration on the economy. Can you imagine finding anyone less convincing? Both are active advocates of the Wall Street status quo, neither has any feel for what's happening in the country. The bean counters led the president into the trap he now faces. Permissive bailouts created flush financial giants that sit on their profits and ignore the public need for lending. Dump the bean counters now.
After that, Grider proposed, "Obama can promise to govern nose-to-nose against the political forces blocking everything he attempts. He may not prevail, he concedes. But he is going to throw himself at them and he asks the people to join him in the fight."

Greider offers a few other suggestions that meet the current challenges facing the administration, but the one that most intrigues us is perhaps the simplest proposal of all. It's eminently do-able. It would aid good government and transparency. It will redound, over time, to the benefit of both parties, equally. And, it also well may be the most effective political tactic for present-day Democrats.

Greider's proposals is: "If Republicans want to filibuster, make them filibuster." [emphasis added]

Whatever one may think about spiraling health care costs, Wall Street banker greed, the economy, jobs, Afghanistan, etc. etc. the 'gentleman's agreement' reached by senators of both parties over the last two decades -- to the effect that a mere threat to filibuster is enough to scuttle legislative proposals and presidential appointments unless 60 Senators vote to override it -- must stop now. It's undemocratic, subject to frequent abuse as we have seen in the last year, and leads to sclerotic government at all levels.
The solution to the present conundrum is to go back to the old procedures. Force those filibustering senators to pay the price of their filibuster. It would require the Senator who initiates the filibuster to have the commitment of other Senators to take and hold the floor—to endure for whatever time they can. There will no longer be a free filibuster that the modern system allows.
The only people who would be inconvenienced by a return to traditional Senate filibuster rules are the senators, themselves. They'd rather be out raising money for themselves. Makes you want to weep for them, doesn't it?

By requiring actual "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" filibustering, as was for nearly a century the long-established tradition, you can be sure senators would think long and hard before exposing their obstructionist tactics to the gaze of all of America.

Moreover, as Lewis Eigen points out, if Republicans still insisted on filibustering as part of their current "Just say No" strategy, "at least citizens would see their Senators fighting for their principles and legislation instead of their campaign donations."

Valentino Under Criminal Investigation

Escambia County Supervisor Gene Valentino is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the state's attorney's office in connection with the attempted bid-rigging incident.
Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille said Tuesday that prosecutors also will examine the commission's botched rebidding of a $1.7 million drainage project involving Roads Inc.
Exhibit A is likely to be Valentino's big mouth, which still has a foot in it.

A Lesson for Obama from the Cradle of Puritanism

"Republican "just-say-no-to-anything-Obama-wants" obstructionism in Washington has paid handsome political dividends.... But Obama himself has to shoulder some of the blame."
It's a mistake to read last night's Massachusetts special election results to fill the senatorial seat of the late Ted Kennedy as a referendum on health care reform. As Michael Cooper points out in the New York Times:
Massachusetts already has near-universal health coverage, thanks to a law passed when Mitt Romney, a Republican, was governor. Thus Massachusetts is one of the few states where the benefits promised by the national bill were expected to have little effect on how many of its citizens got coverage, making it an unlikely place for a referendum on the health care bill.
It's also wrong to assume the election signals Americans are again in love with Republicans. Martha Coakley, by all accounts, ran a terrible campaign. She hid at home for months while her opponent was out campaigning. When she finally bestirred herself to meet some voters, she was awkward in public, distant, and even unfriendly.

Furthermore, special elections are notorious for comparatively low turnout that distorts the result. News reports suggest turnout in Massachusetts was something like two million two hundred thousand, or nearly a million votes less than the presidential election a year ago. Lower voter turnout was most pronounced in Boston itself, normally a stronghold for Democrats.

It's also true, as E.J. Dionne writes, that the incumbent governor of Massachusetts is unpopular for reasons that have no national significance. This, too, played a role in the election.

All of which isn't to say that yesterday's special election shouldn't be a big disappointment for Obama partisans. It definitely is. As Dan Wasserman's editorial cartoon for the Boston Globe (above) illustrates, Republican "just-say-no-to-anything-Obama-wants" obstructionism in Washington has paid handsome political dividends.

But Obama himself has to shoulder a large share of the blame. When it became crystal clear last Spring that his call for "bipartsianship" was falling on deaf G.O.P. ears in Congress, he inexplicably continued to play an inside-the-beltway game with Congress rather than taking the obstructionists head-on and going to the people, as Roosevelt did so successfully in 1934-36 and Truman repeated in 1948 when he ran against a "do-nothing Congress."

FDR, in particular, established a template for presidential leadership that Obama could have used to good effect, but hasn't -- yet. As Robert Barosage notes, "Polls suggest voters are disappointed that Obama has been unable to get more things done rather than that he's done too much."
Unlike Republicans, Obama actually believes in bipartisanship, to a fault. Yet the most bipartisan of his policies -- the Wall Street bailout which in policy and personnel is virtually indistinguishable from the Bush administration -- is by far the least popular. Democrats are in trouble, but moving to a mythical "center," focusing on deficit reduction, abandoning health care won't help.
[emphasis added]
If there is a lesson for Democrats across the nation to take away from the Massachusetts special election, it is that Obama is perceived by voters as playing the Beltway Game far too much. Over the summer months he (and Rahm Emanuel) enabled -- indeed, probably engineered -- watering down of health care reform until even his progressive supporters can't stomach it. He has been late to support the proposed Consumer Protection Financial Agency; tepid in reining in Wall Street greed; tardy, again, in proposing to tax "too big to fail" banks; and, as economist Paul Krugman warned a year ago, much too timid in proposing stimulus spending large enough to put Americans back to work.

Katrina vanden Heuvel argues today that Obama appears too much like the leader of a cautious "managerial and technocratic party:"
There is a generalized anti-establishment anger at loose in this country, reinforced by a White House team that has delivered for Wall Street but not enough for hurting communities. It is an anger also fueled by often savage right-wing anti-government attacks.
Superficially, her point may look like a partisan one: Democrats need to act more "populist" because it will be more popular. But behind the politics, vanden Heuvel makes sound policy suggestions that Obama would ignore at his peril:
[J]ettison those on the White House economic team whose slow, timid response to the crisis of unemployment and to Wall Street's obscene excesses helped create the conditions for the Tea Party's inchoate right-wing populism.

Leadership on pro-democracy reforms are also desperately needed to end the corruption of our politics and to stanch the corporate money flooding and deforming our democracy. Connect the dots for people: explain how needed reforms are gutted when both parties succumb to the pervasive corruption of our money politics. If the GOP's obstructionism has a silver lining, it is in exposing how an anti-democratic, super-majority filibuster has essentially made our system dysfunctional. There is fertile ground on which to rally people in a transpartisan political reform movement.
* * *
Get tough, get bold, kiss "post-partisanship" goodbye and fight hard for jobs and a just economy of shared prosperity. And put yourself squarely back on the side of working people.

The only thing Democrats "have to fear," vanden Heuvel adds echoing FDR, "is caution itself."

Massachusetts pollster Celinda Lake would agree. She told Huffington Post, "The feeling among voters is that Washington prioritizes Wall Street over Main Street."
Lake pointed to polling released by the Economic Policy Institute showing that 65 percent of Americans thought the stimulus served banks interests, 56 percent thought it served corporations and only ten percent that it benefited them. "That is a formula for failure for the Democrats.
Never mind the history that it was the Bush administration and a Republican majority that spent money like drunken sailors and converted a budget surplus into a $5.6 trillion deficit. Americans hate history.

Never mind the irony that it is the Republican Party that since the Gilded Age has been the Party of Wall Street. Americans have short memories and only a primitive sense of irony.

Never mind the fact that it is a unanimous Republican congressional delegation that wants to scale back the economic recovery program and eliminate job programs altogether. Americans don't pay attention to facts.

The people are spitting mad and they don't care who gets wet from the spray. And that's why the cradle of Puritanism elected a nude male model as the next senator from Massachusetts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Valentino's Lament - Unedited Version

This just gets more and more humiliating for Pensacola. Today, county commissioner Eugene Valentino weighs in on the op-ed page to offer his excuses for being such a thorough-going idiot. ["Gene Valentino: What Was Said and What Happened"]

The whole piece is as transparent as an interview with Charles Manson. You can read the words and sense the circumlocutions but, bad for him, you also can clearly see what he really means.

What he says: "First, let me apologize to my constituents and citizens of Escambia County for the confusion related to the issues associated with the recent bid."

What he really means: Boy, am I pissed. I got caught by the f**king newspaper rigging a bid."

What he says: "I can assure you that I have never intentionally misstated or acted illegally on this or any other issue.

What he really means: Sure, I broke the law, but I never intended to get caught.

What he says: "As to the question of, 'Did I solicit campaign contributions while in my office or on county property?' The answer is no."

What he really means: Dammit, the scandal was exposed before I could collect the dough.

What he says: "Mr. Rawson and Mr. Weaver asked for an appointment, which I was happy to schedule, as I would for any citizen."

What he really means: ... any citizen, that is, who slips me loads of money for a little help in grabbing county bids. The rest of you bozos will get an appointment, too, in about thirty years when I'm in a nursing home.

What he says: "I was not aware in advance of the purpose of their visit."

What he really means: I wasn't sure exactly how much they were going to pay."

What he says: "During the conversation I indicated that I would seek their support, but stated that we'd discuss this matter at a separate time and place."

What he really means: I made it plain they'd have to pay, but I gave them some time to come up with the dough.

What he says: "'Did I discuss the rebid on the Maplewood Drainage Project?' The answer is yes. Sort of."

What he really means: Hooh-boy! Of course I discussed the project, you morons. That's why they were going to pay me the big bucks.

What he says: "I was not aware that Roads Inc. was in a bid process and had a problem. When Mr. Rawson and Mr. Weaver came into my office we made 'small talk' and then they got to the meat of their concern. That was the first time I became aware that they wished to discuss a pending bid and their alleged $100,000 mistake."

What he really means: I thought the bid was already fixed. When they told me it wasn't, they only offered me a 'small' amount to take care of things.

What he says: "When I became aware that their true purpose for meeting with me was to discuss a bid in progress, I told them I could not discuss this any further, to protect bid protocol. I told them I would bring their concerns to staff. We ended on that note."

What he really means: I told them with a wink, 'Okay, I'll fix it with staff.'

What he says: "I then consulted with staff. They informed me that there was in fact a 'breach in the process of the bid and that the process was flawed.'"

What he really means: Those assholes on the staff refused to cooperate.

What he says: "It was my responsibility to bring this notion forward to protect 'due process.'"

What he really means: I have no clue where the phrase "due process" can be found. Some county regulation, maybe. What I do know is, contractors pay me their due and I finagle the process.

What he says: "If I sounded as though I was waffling at any time in my conversation with the News Journal reporter on this matter, over a month later when rushing to a meeting, it was an error on my part and I apologize."

What he really means: That bastard reporter, Jamie Paige, caught me lying on tape and with a witness. Boy, was I stupid.

What he says: "Again, I wish to apologize for any appearance of wrongdoing."

What he really means: I'm really, really sorry I got caught. It will happen again as long as you keep voting for me.

Dept. of Further Amplification
Jan. 19 p.m.

Rick Outzen of the Independent News repeats the well-known chronology of events and concludes:
Either Valentino made a deal with Roads to rebid the contract in exchange for campaign support or Valentino made the motion because he thought it [would] win support of Roads and other local contractors later. If the first possibility is true, the[n] Valentino broke the law… but that is a big “if.” If the second possibility is true, then Valentino’s political strategy backfired as local contractors rallied behind Gulf Equipment and the sealed bid process.
If the first is true, Valentino is a crook who should go to jail. If the second is true, he is a shameless sycophant who should go to perdition.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Swimming Lessons for Your Child

Swimming kids from Pensacola Beach, Gulf Breeze, Pensacola, and all over the southeast spent the last three days competing in the GPAC Winter Swim Meet. A fine time was had by all, even the parents, guardians, and friends who came to watch and cheer. "GPAC" is a confederation of several Pensacola area local swim teams for kids as young as post-toddler age through high school.

This gives us a chance to share a personal view on the tremendous benefits of swimming lessons and competitive swimming for kids of all ages. We highly recommend it.

Drowning deaths are a leading cause of death and injury in Florida. Lessons for young children are imperative, especially for those living in Florida and other locales where backyard pools, beach, and lake swimming opportunities are everywhere.

As for competitive swimming, after almost three years overseeing one child's daily swimming lessons and watching that of other kids from 1 to 18, we can't say enough. It's not only necessary to encourage your child to learn to swim safely, but it's also a fantastic way to enrich their lives, keep them healthy, and teach them good manners and discipline. Especially while watching and conversing with the older kids, we've been amazed at how much more polite, well-grounded, and mature they seem to be than the average high schooler.

We can't emphasize this enough: encourage your children, grandchildren, and other little ones to go beyond beginning lessons and start working out with a team. At The Club in Gulf Breeze, which has an inside pool as well as a full-sized Olympic pool, adolescents as young as four can join a "blue" or "white" team which practices under a trained coach's eye three to five days a week. The price is surprisingly low and the pay-offs are huge.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sending a True Blue Message

What's a liberal to do?

Shorter Digby: Two ways. (1) Cast a protest vote for a third party candidate, and enable "the other side," which is "batshit insane." Or, (2) Send messages to the Democratic party... through the unsatisfying and often thankless process of primary challenges.
It's hard to find challengers and it's no wonder. It's expensive, time consuming and after all your hard work you will probably lose. It takes real commitment and a desire to not only win a seat in congress but do it by way of unseating an incumbent of your own party with whom you disagree, an act which is guaranteed to make you an odd man out among the party hierarchy. But if you win, it can send shockwaves through the system.

And guess what? We are in the most favorable year for primary challenges in recent memory. The insane teabaggers aren't going to allow any rational Republicans to run and the anti-uncumbent fever is going to be as high as it's been since 1994. The Democratic base has an energetic activist faction, the netroots can raise money and there is a burning desire to show the party establishment that they cannot take liberals for granted. It's a perfect environment for successful primary challenges.
Act Blue began, today, a new web page where you can support real Democrats running, in most cases, against fake Democrats. Send a message, and make it count.

When sane, moderate Republicans -- if there are any left -- begin a similar effort, we'll give them equal blog time.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Republican Party To Marry Wall Street Bankers

Republican Party chairman Michael Steele, G.O.P. congressmen, and Massachusetts' Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown yesterday pledged to marry Wall Street bankers.

"Oooh, they're so big they can't fail," Republican spokesmen said.

The happy coupling expects to horde for themselves $117 billion in bailout money owed to U.S. taxpayers and then honeymoon in Washington, D.C.

Valentino's Lie

What happens when an aide to a county commissioner agrees with an intrepid newspaper reporter that his county commissioner boss is a bald-faced liar who breaks campaign laws and then tries to cover it up? Dean Kirschner, who cannot tell a lie -- but who knows a liar when he works for one like Gene Valentino -- is about to find out.

Escambia County Report Card

PNJ columnist Reginald Dogan sums up the current crop of Escambia County commissioners in language ordinarily reserved for cynics like us:
Let’s start with Commissioner Gene Valentino, a bombastic blowhard who talks so much, most of the time he doesn’t even know what he’s talking about. He always seems on the edge of legality.

His ethics came under fire after he pleaded no contest last year to a noncriminal violation of Florida’s public records law for failing to immediately turn over e-mails about a proposed bingo casino on Perdido Key. He makes back-room deals in smoky rooms. He makes former County Administrator George Touart, who is challenging Valentino’s District 2 seat, look like an angelic choir boy.

Commissioner Grover Robinson IV has the backbone of an ameoba. They apparently share a brain, too.

Commissioner Kevin White’s IQ is lower than whale poop. If it gets any lower, we’ll have to start watering him (thanks Molly Ivin, RIP).

Commissioner Wilson Robertson’s campaign slogan promised to bring sanity back to the commission.

If this is what he calls insanity, the inmates indeed are running the asylum.
The much more staid editorial board agrees:
With multiple commissioners admitting they don't understand the county's bid process, there's no rhetorical overkill in saying they don't know what they are doing.

The commissioners' excuses — larded with shotgun blasts of blame at a host of targets — ring increasingly hollow about the events that led to a rebid of a contract after one of the losers said he could beat the low bid — after he got a look at it.
* * *
... there's a problem at the courthouse.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Inspiring Haitian Story

Prophetically, last month two good friends sent us a Christmas present: Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World." Accompanying the gift was a note urging us to read it because it was "the most inspiring book we've ever read."

It was an unexpected, odd gift from these friends of ours. She Who Must Be Obeyed decided to read it to see what our friends meant. She was halfway through the book when the earthquake struck Haiti.

Normally, She Who Must Be Obeyed is hard to impress. Working, as she does, with all manner of people in the legal system she's also rather cynical about "inspirational stories." But she has become very enthusiastic about Dr. Farmer's story. It is, she says, every bit as inspiring as our friends promised:
At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant, world-class Robin Hood. Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life's calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer -- brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti — blasts through convention to get results.

Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that "the only real nation is humanity." He enlists the help of the Gates Foundation, George Soros, the U.N.'s World Health Organization, and others in his quest to cure the world. At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope, and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb "Beyond mountains there are mountains": as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

"Mountains Beyond Mountains unfolds with the force of a gathering revelation," says Annie Dillard, and Jonathan Harr says, "[Farmer] wants to change the world. Certainly this luminous and powerful book will change the way you see it."
The New Yorker has a free excerpt from Kidder's July 10, 2000, 17-page magazine article which was expanded for the book. It would be timely to buy the book here, here, or here and read it after you make a donation to Haitian relief.

Short Course on Haiti's History

Breezy references to Haiti's deplorable history of slavery and the horrors of Papa Doc Duvallier explain only partially the miserable state of that country, even before the earthquake. Historian Alex von Tunzelmann updates the record and fingers -- wouldn't you know it? -- too-big-to-fail banks as the modern culprit:
"The long and the short of it is that Haiti was paying reparations to France from 1825 until 1947," says Von Tunzelmann. "To come up with the money, it took out huge loans from American, German and French banks, at exorbitant rates of interest. By 1900, Haiti was spending about 80% of its national budget on loan repayments. It ­completely wrecked their economy. By the time the original reparations and interest were paid off, the place was basically destitute and trapped in a ­spiral of debt. Plus, a succession of leaders had more or less given up on trying to resolve Haiti's problems, and started looting it instead."
Historically speaking, the U.S. has a lot to answer for, too:
It was race that kept the United States and Haiti apart in the early years despite their common battle against colonial masters. Southerners feared the former slave republic at a time when slavery was going strong in the United States.

After the Civil War ended slavery in the United States, relations still were compromised by economic issues as the emerging U.S. sought markets and military bases. Haiti went through its own internal crises.

It was Woodrow Wilson who in 1915 sent U.S. Marines to Haiti after the president there was killed by an angry crowd. Troops stayed until 1934 helping to train the new military. From the late 1950s, the military, led by two generations of the Duvaliers, ran the impoverished country as a personal fiefdom. Its refugees fled the dictatorship and from economic want to often die en route to the United States.


The Nation's start-of-the-year issue has a number of insightful, provocative articles on where we've been and what's ahead. Among them --
  • Historian Eric Foner ["The Professional"] explains why Obama shouldn't be compared to Bush. That's too easy. He should be measured against FDR, and the comparison isn't flattering.
  • Editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel and Robert Borosage ["Change Won't Come Easy"] examine why the "reform proposals that emerge from the administration often fall short not only of the hopes of progressives but of the objectives the president himself defines and the change the country needs."
  • Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders makes the case that to have a successful presidency, Obama needs to abandon his fruitless efforts at bipartisanship ["Blueprint for Dems"].
  • Christopher Hayes, in a brilliant essay ["System Failure"] gives a name to what lies at the heart of our current troubles and then outlines the Sisyphean task ahead.

Here are some excerpts from Hayes:

The central and unique paradox of our politics at this moment, however, is that our institutions are so broken, the government so sclerotic and dysfunctional, that in almost all cases, from financial bailouts to health insurance mandates, the easiest means of addressing the first set of problems is to take steps that exacerbate the second.
* * *
There's a word for a governing philosophy that fuses the power of government and large corporations as a means of providing services and keeping the wheels of industry greased, and it's a word that has begun to pop up among critics of everything from the TARP bailout to healthcare to cap and trade: corporatism. Since corporatism often merges the worst parts of Big Government and Big Business, it's an ideal target for both the left and right. The ultimate corporatist moment, the bailout, was initially voted down in the House by an odd-bedfellows coalition of Progressive Caucus members and right-wingers.

In the wake of the healthcare sausage-making, writers from Tim Carney on the right (author of the provocative Obamanomics) and Glenn Greenwald on the left have attacked the bill as the latest incarnation of corporatism, a system they see as the true enemy. There is even some talk among activists of a grand left-right populist coalition coming together to depose the entrenched interests that hold sway in Washington.
* * *
I don't think that coalition is going to emerge in any meaningful form. The right's anger is born largely of identity-based alienation, a fear of socialism (whatever that means nowadays) and an age-old Bircher suspicion that "they" are trying to screw "us." Even in its most sophisticated forms, such as in Carney's Obamanomics, the basic right-wing argument against corporatism embraces a kind of fatalism about government that assumes it will always devolve into a rat's nest of rent seekers and cronies and therefore should be kept as small as possible.
* * *
[T]he corporatism on display in Washington is itself a symptom of a broader social illness that I noted above, a democracy that is pitched precariously on the tipping point of oligarchy. In an oligarchy, the only way to get change is to convince the oligarchs that it is in their interest--and increasingly, that's the only kind of change we can get.
* * *
What the country needs more than higher growth and lower unemployment, greater income equality, a new energy economy and drastically reduced carbon emissions is a redistribution of power, a society-wide epidemic of re-democratization. The crucial moments of American reform and progress have achieved this: from the direct election of senators to the National Labor Relations Act, from the breakup of the trusts to the end of Jim Crow.
* * *
So in this new year, while the White House focuses on playing within the existing rules, it's our job as citizens and activists to press constantly for changes to those rules: public financing, an end to the filibuster, the breakup of the banks, legalization for undocumented workers and the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, to name just a few of the measures that would alter the balance of power and expand the frontiers of the possible.

coding correction 1-15 am

Obama and the Bankers

The inimitable Matt Taibbi who, if he isn't the best journalist in the universe certainly is the most entertaining one, should be allowed to speak for himself:
"[F]rom where I sit this wouldn’t be happening if Blankfein and people like him hadn’t put Obama on the spot politically by babbling to reporters about how they’re doing “God’s work” and that sort of thing. Instead of acting contrite, these guys asked us all to take a big bite of blow-me sandwich. How’s that working out now, fellas?"

Read it all here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Steve Benen:
For all the complaining from the Tea Party crowd, there's an odd disconnect. These folks applauded a Republican president who increased the deficit and increased the size of government, but they literally take to the streets to denounce a Democratic president who has cut taxes, cut spending, and makes sure his proposals are paid for. Why throw a fit over the more fiscally responsible president?

Bid Done Did

The Escambia County commissioners reversed themselves and "voted unanimously this morning to rescind their earlier action to rebid" the drainage contract. To his credit, Grover Robinson finally "admitted he didn’t understand the sealed bid process... ."

While ignorance is hardly admirable in a county commissioner, it is preferable to a venal spirit. Speaking of which, to deepen his own disgrace Commissioner Gene Valentino "agreed to rescind the rebid but refused to take responsibility for what other commissioners said was an error on their part." He continues to invent ways of blaming everyone else but himself.

Robinson's Smoke Screen

"Some will understand this to mean that Grover Robinson is as good as for sale; he's open for business, to be lobbied by county contractors before or after the bids are unsealed."
After nearly a decade of Tom Banjanin's incompetent, deceitful representation of Escambia County District 4, when he first ran for office Grover Robinson seemed like a breath of fresh air to many voters on Pensacola Beach and the mainland. Now, that air is quickly turning sour.

Faced with a raging firestorm of criticism from voters across the political spectrum over his vote to "re-bid" a sealed bid on a $1.9 million drainage project when a politically-connected local contractor didn't win, Robinson has penned a ham-handed op-ed piece in his own defense that's printed in today's daily newspaper.

Instead of quieting criticism, the article only raises more questions -- and deepen doubts about Mr Robinson's judgment, honesty, and candor.

When a politician -- or anyone else, for that matter -- is revealed to have made a mistake, he is confronted with a basic choice: admit you were wrong, apologize, and do what is possible to repair the damage; or obfuscate, muddle the issue, and buy for time, while hoping all will be forgotten and soon enough you'll be free to proceed as planned.

Grover has chosen door Number 2. Right out of the box, he clouds the issue by introducing a suspiciously anonymous "citizen" informant:
In early December, a citizen told me, "Your bid department is about to cost the county thousands of dollars with the selection of an outside firm." * * * I investigated and determined that while our staff did nothing to create a problem, a problem had appeared.
Now, though he doesn't exactly say so, we have to assume that this purported December exchange had something to do with sealed bids for the drainage project that lie at the heart of the matter. Otherwise, it would be irrelevant. So, who was this "citizen?" Commissioner Robinson isn't saying.

Obviously, it had to be someone who knew the details of the once-sealed bids. If it was a county employee -- say, someone inside the "bid department" -- presumably Robinson would have said so. Consequently, we're left to conclude it must have been someone outside the county's employment rolls; but someone who was interested in, and intimately informed about, how the comparative bids stacked up. Someone, say, like one of the disappointed bidders.

If Robinson's "citizen" was, in fact, a bidder or his representatives, then the commissioner is trying to pull the wool over our eyes with this "citizen" crap. If he wasn't, then Robinson should be explaining why he went to all the trouble to 'investigate' the claim. County commissioners, after all, are elected to be policy-setters, not department managers, day-to-day work supervisors, or gumshoes.

In any event, even Robinson admits his "citizen" informant was wrong. "Our staff," he writes, "did nothing wrong... ." But then he adds in the politically passive voice, "a problem had appeared."

Oh, yes? A problem? And what "problem" was that? Robinson isn't saying. Instead, he hastily changes the case to some hypothetical scenario involving the ubiquitous "you," a new house being built, an architectural firm, "bids" of some kind which you solicit, and the possibility of saving "$100,000."

The only hypothetical fact relevant to the issue at hand is the money. It just happens to be precisely the same amount the disappointed bidder on the county drainage project claims was a 'mistake' in its sealed bid, submitted (unlike any homeowner building a new house) under fixed rules requiring absolute secrecy and no favoritism.

The fact that Robinson's imagined scenario involves an identical amount of money only enhances the suspicion that his "citizen" informant was, in fact, the same bidder who now claims he made a "$100,000 mistake" in his sealed bid. What that portends is at least as troubling as Robinson's vote to "re-bid" the project. It virtually amounts to a confession that he was having ex parte conversations with one of the competing bidders before the commissioners took up the agenda matter in the ordinary course of their scheduled meetings.

Some will understand this to mean that Grover Robinson is as good as for sale; he's open for business, to be lobbied by county contractors before or after the bids are unsealed.

To be sure, some ten paragraphs and 577 words into his phony mea culpa, Mr. Robinson does admit that all the criticism he's received has opened his eyes. "In retrospect," he says, "I gave too much credence to the cost-saving measure, which has not materialized as much as I originally believed."

But then he gets it wrong again. "The better decision would have been to table it for further discussion," Robinson says. "That would have been allowed the public to come forward with discussion."

No, no, and no. There is a reason the county has sealed bid policies, Mr Robinson. "Public discussion" is fine when the issue comes up in regular order, but it's not to be used as an excuse to postpone and then evade the sealed-bid procedures. Those procedures exist to insulate bid-letting decisions from creepy, avaricious politicians and the contractors and developers who buy their votes.

The only correct decision now is to affirm the award of the contract to the lowest qualified bidder. No "tabling" to another time, or "postponement" for more discussion in hopes public anger subsides, is warranted.

In retrospect, as Mr. Robinson might say, he would have been better off being completely candid in his op-ed article. Even a confession that he is stupid and didn't understand the sealed bid rules would have been preferable -- and more forgivable -- than the deeply deceitful smoke screen he is trying to create now.

Party Crews Curbed at Pensacola Beach

The SRIA yesterday approved new rules regulating "weddings, parties or gatherings of 35 people or more on Pensacola Beach." Application forms will have to be signed by the party sponsors as well as the leaseholder:
That application restricts parking for the event, and limits music to no later than 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
* * *
Violating the terms of the application could lead to something as minor as having vehicles towed or as punitive as putting the leaseholder in default of his or her lease agreement.
The new ordinance is aimed at a nascent but growing "party crew" business that's been wrecking the beach experience and depriving many residents and tourist families of sleep for days and nights on end.

As we mentioned earlier, it seems to have begun in response to tough economic times. Real estate gamblers who suddenly found themselves underwater on their mortgages, or just plain Greedy Gertas, converted or built "McMansion houses in single-family residential neighborhoods to function like party hotels so they could host raucous beach bashes 24/7."

Fulltime beach residents hosting parties in their own homes are intended to be exempt from the regs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rethinking the Beach Core Plan

To its credit, the SRIA committee that met via teleconference yesterday ended by directing the EDSA consultants to come up with a fourth "beach plan" option for the commercial core that doesn't involve a multi-million dollar parking ramp.

The only sour note is the slight hint that political accommodation, rather than genuine conviction, may be behind the move. Kimberly Blair reports for the PNJ that one committee member worries that a parking garage needs to be politically marketed:
"That is going to be the most politically charged issue. Many people won't have it. The (Escambia County) board of commission has to sell it to its constituency."
Let's hope the rest of the committee is more interested in good planning rather than politics. If the suggestion to explore other options is taken seriously and EDSA applies some of the creativity it displayed in the first draft of illustrations to re-think greener, more walkable, beach-friendly, and bike-friendly options, it could lead to re-making Pensacola Beach as a stand-out among beach communities.

We've said it before: "As the most impressive and successful city make-overs demonstrate -- the skywalks of Minneapolis and Des Moines, the light rail systems of Portland and Morgantown, and the walker-friendly shopping and entertainment areas of Seaside, Florida, and Seattle -- parking ramps shouldn't be at the core of the plan." That's as true for smaller beach communities as it is for city cores.

Whatever you may think of Seaside's overdone aesthetics, there's no denying that the town is a popular destination for tourists. As Kathleen LaFrank argued persuasively in an essay some years ago, resort towns generally attract visitors precisely because they aren't like the stressful daily life of our commuter culture, filled as it is with crowded streets and highways, creeping cars, and repellent, elevated parking caves:
Resorts are defined by their contrasts with daily life, their oppositions in climate, pace, activity, and obligation, the opportunities for new experiences and the temporary relaxation of norms.

LaFrank, "Seaside, Florida: The New Town: The Old Ways,"
6 Shaping Communities, 111, 113 (1997).
EDSA plainly has the people, tools, and know-how to come up with something that would really distinguish Pensacola Beach from every other car-choked beach town this side of Seaside. If the planning committee comes up with a truly sensible, attractive plan, the politics will take care of itself.

P.S. And, how about it, SRIA? Can you please post past and future EDSA committee reports and drawings on your web site for the public to mull over?

Pensacola Jewel Thieves

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands:
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
Othello, Act III, Sc. 3
Four of five Escambia county commissioners have stolen the jewel of Pensacola's soul -- again. To be sure, that jewel has never been particularly secure. Only a few months ago, the last of another set of corrupt Escambia county officials was released from prison and placed on probation, following what was (until now) the latest in a long and sorry saga of corrupt county government in Pensacola. Now, it's plain we have a new set of thieves.

Today, Jamie Paige follows up on the bid-rigging scandal with some choice quotes. ["Bidding Process 'Ruined,' Mclaughlin Says."] On one side is county administrator Bob McLaughlin, a man of integrity whose contract was not renewed by the same commissioners who are now stealing the county's good name:
"We have an ordinance in place and it was not followed, and the perception now is that anybody could walk the halls and get something," McLaughlin said. "It just ruined the integrity of the sealed bid system. It's broken."
On the other side are the bid-riggers: Gene Valentino, Grover Robinson IV, Wilson Robertson, and Kevin White. Now that the light of day is shining on their actions, Kevin White -- to his credit -- admits he made a "mistake" in voting to re-bid the project.

But Robertson is saying nothing, Grover Robinson still offers the risible excuse that he voted to corrupt the bidding system in order to save taxpayer money, and Gene Valentino is defiantly unrepentant. Like a randy husband caught naked by his faithful wife in the embrace of a loose woman, Valentino has the gall to blame Bob McLaughlin for blowing the whistle on him!

The PNJ editorial board comes down hard -- though perhaps not hard enough -- on all of them. Adopting the stern tone of a parent speaking to an errant child, the editorial concludes:
It needs to stop here. Commissioners have already embarrassed themselves, but they can still restore some shred of the county's reputation by reversing their decision to rebid the contract, and honoring the integrity the process is supposed to guarantee.
Although we agree the decision should be reversed immediately and the county should offer the legitimate low-bidder a modicum of compensation for any added expense the commissioners have caused it to incur, we're dubious that this particular set of commissioners will ever be able to "restore" the county's reputation.

For one thing, right now the county is recruiting for a new county administrator to take McLaughlin's place. It was going to be an uphill struggle to begin with, since the 'personality' reason these commissioners offered for not renewing McLaughlin's contract was patently ridiculous from the start. Now, how deep will the county have to scratch in the barrel of candidates to find someone willing to be a toady to these good-name snatchers?

Any administrator hired by a commissioner board as bad as this one risks not only losing his professional reputation and good name, he or she could be put in jeopardy of going to jail at any time -- right alongside commissioners like the current crowd, who appear to be completely oblivious to the rule of law.

Saving taxpayer money were you, Grover Robinson? "'Tis something, nothing; 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands." But what have you done with the county's good name?