Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Dogs of Wind

Sunday's Pensacola News Journal finally addresses the scandalous "depopulation" of Citizens Property wind insurance customers to unproven start-ups. We wrote about this as it was happening more than three months ago.

In a prominent article aptly titled "Citizens Shifting Risk, But To Whom?" Leslie Conn more or less fingers the real culprit behind this scandal-in-waiting: the state legislators we have been sending to Tallahassee:
Citizens Insurance's transfer of 25 percent of its policies to private firms is raising concerns that Florida homeowners could be exposed to financially shaky insurers.

The concerns arise chiefly from a Citizens program called "depopulation."

Approved by the Legislature in 1996, the program allows the state-run insurance company of last resort to offer financial incentives to private companies that agree to handle or "take out" some of Citizens' riskiest homeowners policies for at least three years.

* * *
Six of the 10 companies taking over Citizens policies this year were licensed in Florida less than a year ago. Only one of the 10 companies, Service Insurance, has earned a secure rating from A.M. Best., which is widely considered an industry leader among financial ratings firms.
As Conn reports, since the first of the year Citizens Property "has moved 242,000 of its approximately 1 million policies into the hands of smaller, Florida-based private companies." Higher-risk barrier island homeowner wind insurance policies were among the first to be transferred.

Most of the private companies to which Citizens Property has handed off its own policies are start-ups with no meaningful track record. Many, as local insurance agents like David Ratcliffe have been warning Pensacola Beach customers for some time, exist only 'on paper.' They aren't fully staffed or reliably rated, and most have no experience handling storm claims. Yet, "the state is encouraging us to do business with them," says Ratcliffe.

Pensacola Beach resident Monica Kellner is among the "depopulated" customers. She told Conn that after Hurricane Dennis -- a relatively small, abbreviated, but intense storm -- ripped off her roof, collapsed interior ceilings, and damaged house contents, dealing with her new insurance company "turned out to be a nightmare."

"I've turned Florida Peninsula in to the Department of Financial Services, and they just blow off the state," she said.

Even today the new company's self-promoting description of its claims practices speaks, tellingly, in the future tense:
"... adjusters will be extremely familiar with our policy and will be outfitted with the latest automated tools for increased efficiency and accuracy."
Yet, it seems, Florida Peninsula may not be among the worst. Conn reports that two of the new companies already have been rated by A.M. Best as financially "vulnerable," five more (including Florida Peninsula) haven't been rated at all, and two have refused altogether to meet with the insurance rating service so it could review finances, accounting practices, and risk management policies.

How on earth can the state legislature countenace, much less mandate as it does, Citizens paying multi-million dollar rewards, for such behavior?

There are other scandalous aspects to the depopulation mess. One that got a lot of ink a month ago was the conflict of interest exposed when some Citizens' staff and then-board chairman Ed London were caught planning a new start-up company of their own to nuzzle up to the Citizens feeding dish.

That was nipped in the bud, but as Conn notes in her article others have left Citizens' employ to start up new insurance companies. If they survive three years, they collect tens of millions in state subsidies. If not, they can always take the company into bankruptcy or shut down Florida operations, as 44 companies did after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

This is known in some quarters as gambling with the house's money. On the street it's called "heads they win, tails you lose."

Conflicts of interest at Citizens are getting the Florida legislature's attention. But the bigger problem is the systemic one created by legislators themselves: state law mandates that Citizens Property Insurance "depopulate" policies even to untested, unrated, inexperienced private insurance companies. Citizens is required to pay them tens of millions of dollars in bonus incentives after only three years. Then the law lets new companies surrender their policies -- as many have done -- back to Citizens. And the cycle repeats -- another go 'round of depopulation, another round of incentive payments, etc. etc.

If well-established, financially solvent companies in the private market "have no capacity left to write policies," as Citizens' press secretary Justin Glover says, then it's time for the Florida legislature to recognize that throwing tens of millions of dollars away every year to subsidize shaky new companies is no answer. We need to make a full-fledged commitment to building a competent, sound, reliable, and efficient state-owned insurance company.

In hurricane-prone Florida, that's as much a public infrastructure need as publicly-financed highways, police, and fire protection.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Adding 'A' Plus 'A'

No one outside special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's tight-lipped and discrete circle of bird-dogs really knows what the future holds in the investigation of the Bush administration's scurrilous outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. But the usually reliable Archpundit and the always insightful Billmon are putting "A" and "A" together.

It spells Karl Rove.

From the October 28, 2005 indictment of I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby:
21. On or about July 10 or July 11, 2003, LIBBY spoke to a senior official in the White House (“Official A”) who advised LIBBY of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with columnist Robert Novak in which Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. LIBBY was advised by Official A that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.
From Fitzgerald's Washington D.C. press conference, October 28, 2005:
FITZGERALD: * * * We can't talk about information not contained in the four corners of the indictment.

QUESTION: Is Karl Rove off the hook? And are there any other individuals who might be charged? You say you're not quite finished.

FITZGERALD: What I can say is the same answer I gave before: If you ask me any name, I'm not going to comment on anyone named, because we either charged someone or we don't talk about them. And don't read that answer in the context of the name you gave me.
From the Associated Press, August 27, 2003, via Archpundit:
When asked, Fitzgerald would not comment on whether "Official A" was Ryan.
From Fitzgerald's Chicago press conference, April 3, 2002, also via Archpundit:
But despite branding two of Ryan's former top aides and his campaign committee as corrupt, Fitzgerald would not say if the investigation will eventually reach Ryan. The vast majority of the corruption uncovered so far happened under his watch when he was secretary of state from 1990 until 1998. The governor has not been accused by prosecutors of any wrongdoing in the past, and Tuesday's indictments did not include him.

"I cannot answer that question," Fitzgerald said when asked about any Ryan involvement. "We cannot discuss people not charged in the indictment."
Plus, further history, December 17, 2003(free subscription required):
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was charged today in a federal racketeering indictment with conspiracy and fraud while he was governor and secretary of state.

Ryan allegedly engaged in a pattern of corruption that included performing official government acts, awarding lucrative government contracts and leases and using the State of Illinois for his own benefit, members of his family, his campaign organization and certain associates, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office.
Adding it all up is Billmon:
[Karl] Rove, er, I mean, Official A, on the other hand, is treated with studious neutrality. His paragraph in the indictment is carefully phrased to make no inference whatsoever about whether he told Novak or Novak told him that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA:
"On or about July 10 or July 11, 2003, LIBBY spoke to a senior official in the White House (“Official A”) who advised LIBBY of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with columnist Robert Novak in which Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. LIBBY was advised by Official A that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife."
In other words, someone has tried very hard to keep Official A on ice, so to speak, while roasting Libby over an open Plame/Flame. Of course, that doesn't mean Fitzgerald will indict Rove, but it's the most tangible evidence that Rove remains in deep legal doo doo.

Also, the fact that it was Libby who ferreted out the info on Plame signifies nothing. Scooter committed no crimes in asking; his contacts committed no crimes in telling. The crime was talking to the press, and based on the evidence that's come to light so far, Libby and Rove are dead even on that score. Scooter talked to Miller, Turdblossom talked to Novak, the both talked to Cooper.

The real question, then, is whether Libby passed along what he learned to Turdblossom. And that, too, is left carefully indeterminate in Scooter's indictment.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Libby Indictment (Updated)

Right here (pdf format)

Or here for an html version.

2 perjury counts, 2 false statement counts, 1 obstruction of justice count.


Exhibit A

“I fear the ACLU more than I fear al-Qaida.”
- - Dover school board member Ron Short

The idiots running the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, should be Exhibit A in the trial challenging their attempt to force Creationism into the biology class curriculum. The board members are living proof against "intelligent design."

Trouble is, it's almost as hard for Darwinian evolutionists to explain how anyone this stupid could have genes that managed to survive 130,000 years Yesterday, the case descended into farce both inside and outside the federal courtroom.

The York Daily Record's Mike Argento has the dope from the inside the courtroom:
It was surely one of the most anticipated moments in the history of federal jurisprudence, the appearance, finally, of former Dover Area School Board member Bill Buckingham at the Dover Panda Trial.

And it did not disappoint. It was, in the truest sense of the word, unbelievable.



At the onset of his stay on the witness stand, Buckingham raised his right hand and swore, or affirmed, to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Then, for the record, he stated his name.

"William Buckingham."

By the time he left the stand, six hours later, I almost expected the judge to ask him for a photo ID to make sure he was indeed William Buckingham.
It seems Buckingham was caught in a web of lies, told some new whoppers under oath, got caught again, and then blamed all the prevarications "and just plain weird memory" on his addiction to oxycontin.

Speaking of a dope, outside the courtroom another defendant school board member fighting the Age of Enlightenment, Alan Bonsell, admitted he sent a mass mailing to local voters attacking the American Civil Liberties Union "for working with a group that has defended terror suspects and has defended a group that advocates sexual relationships between men and boys." His letter went out over the names of other school board members, none of whom, it seems, were aware of it.

The ACLU was founded in 1920. It is dedicated to working "daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Our job is to conserve America's original civic values - the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."

In Bonsell's letter to Dover voters, he attacked the ACLU as a "terrible organization" that "couldn't have come to Dover and sued the district unless it got someone from within the community to sign on to the lawsuit."
Referring to some of the controversial cases in which the ACLU has been involved, Bonsell said, “I think the ACLU is a very terrible organization.”
Fellow board member Ron Short was one of those signers who hadn't read the letter, but he told the local newspaper he "absolutely" approved of it anyway.

"I fear the ACLU more than I fear al-Qaida,” he said.

Someone should tell Mr. Short that one of the 'terrible people' the ACLU is representing is Creationist sympathizer and oxycontin addict Rush Limbaugh . In fact, Mr. Short's school board ally, Bill Buckingham, may yet need the ACLU himself.

Power Play

"Bush -- apparently unaware of frustrating supply breakdowns just a few miles away -- assured South Florida that federal aid was coming."
The Miami Herald:
At a food-distribution center in Pompano Beach, the president hugged and consoled hurricane victims standing in line for barbecue served by volunteers from Tennessee. After posing for snapshots and signing autographs, Bush -- apparently unaware of frustrating supply breakdowns just a few miles away -- assured South Florida that federal aid was coming.

* * *
Broward officials said they had received just half of the water, ice and ready-to-eat meals sought from state and federal coordinators -- 76 of 153 trucks requested. Late Thursday afternoon, Broward officials bought 50 truckloads of ice and water from suppliers as far away as Texas and Virginia.
From the Ft. Myers News-Journal:
A third of all homes darkened by Wilma across South Florida had power restored, FPL said, including Miami-Dade, where 357,800 out of 956,500 affected homes were back online. In Broward, 20 percent of the homes affected by the blackout had had service restored. About the same percentage was reported in Palm Beach County.

Geisha Williams, the FPL vice president in charge of the restoration, said she thought “a great majority” of darkened homes would be back within two weeks. The utility predicts that 95 percent of darkened homes will be fixed by Nov. 15 and that all Broward and Miami-Dade homes should be back by Nov. 22, two days before Thanksgiving.
And, from the St. Petersburg Times
Even as power was restored to some, thousands of others remain in high-rises with no working elevators. "It is widespread," said Pompano Beach Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Brian Schafer.

Many of them are elderly and cannot easily get food and water, he said. Some also rely on electric wheelchairs and scooters with batteries that are running out.

Utility workers are concentrating on areas with high-rises, Schafer said. "It becomes more critical as time goes on."

Many high-rises, like the 29-story Pompano Beach Club, have working generators to keep an elevator going, but without power they have no way to pump water to their upper floors. City water pressure only gets it so far.

The Man Who Came To Dinner

Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff acknowledged this week that he's extended Michael Brown's 'contract' another thirty days. Brown, who supposedly resigned a month ago, apparently hasn't finished eating FEMA.

What lawsuit is this guy threatening Chertoff with?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

T.S. Beta

Are hurricanes God's way of teaching us Greek?

Here's T.S. Beta. No danger to the Gulf, but likely to become a hurricane before landfall in Nicaragua.

AP reports in the Bradenton Herald, that "Beta is the season's 23rd tropical storm, the most since record keeping began in 1851."

Next up: Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon.

Meirs Withdraws

The actual letter without the White House masthead, or any other, was first reprinted in the Washington Post but subsequently disappeared and an html substituted, presumably to hide the fact that it was a file copy and not on original letterhead.

Meirs WithdrawsTold To Withdraw Nomination

Edited and reformatted 11-4-05 after the Post took down the original

The Responsibility Fashion

"We did not perform to where we want to be," the governor said at a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee, adding that criticism of the federal response was misdirected. "This is our responsibility."
-- Palm Beach Post, Oct. 27, 2005
Let's give the governor the benefit of the doubt. Assume Jeb Bush meant the "royal we" when, as so many Florida newspapers are claiming today, he 'took responsibility' for the state's confused, slow, and inadequate preparations for Hurricane Wilma.

Rantings Prof nevertheless "smells a rat." He thinks Jeb's "defending FEMA to protect his brother politically."

A politician playing politics when he "takes responsibility" for something? You think?

This 'taking responsibility' thing - lots of politicians are doing it these days. Like Donald Rumsfeld, for Abu Grahib. And George Bush for ruining FEMA. And Louisiana Governor
Kathleen Blanco
for that state's Katrina mistakes. And drunk-driving Texas congressman Kevin Brady. And Koffi Annan for allowing American corporations to bribe their way into oil-for-food money. And -- well, we could go on and on.

Suddenly, it's all the fashion. But what does it really mean?

Writer-editor Doug Cooper over at Dysblog last month posted a transcript of Karl Rove's explanation to George Bush. Here's an excerpt:
GEORGE: So, what does this involve?

KARL: Well, you go out in front of the cameras, and you say: "I take full responsibility."

GEORGE: That's it? I don't have to do anything?

KARL: No, that's it.

GEORGE: That's not a lot of work.

KARL: No work at all.

GEORGE: Well, I don't like it. But if you insist...

KARL: I insist.

GEORGE: Okay. Okay. "I take full responsibility." That's how you say it?

KARL: Perfect.

GEORGE. Gotcha. (pause) Um, Karl?

KARL: Yes, George?

GEORGE: This "taking responsibility" thing. What does it actually mean?

KARL: Nothing, buddy. Nothing. Just words. I suggest you practice in front of the mirror.

Same Storm, Different Ledes

Is South Florida's water bottle half full or half empty? They report, you decide:

Broward County Sun Sentinel :
Three days after Hurricane Wilma stomped through the region, essential supplies remained scarce Wednesday, government officials apologized for the slow response, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered financial relief to individuals.
Ft. Myers News-Press:
Signs of recovery abounded Wednesday in Southwest Florida, three days after Hurricane Wilma ripped through the region and across the state.
Lakeland Ledger:
Frustration mounted on the third day of recovery from Hurricane Wilma, with the scramble for gas, water, ice and food causing long lines and traffic snarls, which prompted renewed criticism of storm planning and response.
Palm Beach Daily News:
Palm Beach showed signs of a slow recovery from Hurricane Wilma Wednesday with the restoration of water service by West Palm Beach and isolated reports of power returning, though electricity is still out throughout most of the area.
Naples News:
Taking flak for shortages of aid in Southwest Florida and elsewhere, federal officials and Gov. Jeb Bush acknowledged Wednesday there were glitches in Hurricane Wilma response efforts.
Tallahassee Democrat:
Declaring the state a "no-criticize zone" for the recovery from Hurricane Wilma, Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday that frustrated residents should blame him - not the Federal Emergency Management Agency - for shortages of ice, water and food at besieged distribution centers in southeast Florida.
St. Petersburg Times:
Complaints about the slow pace of recovery after Hurricane Wilma have exposed two problems: The state wasn't as prepared as it thought and neither were residents of South Florida.
Miami Herald:
It was another day of tedium and anxiety Wednesday for the millions still without power. Phones remained largely inoperable, and panic set in as gas stations went empty. The statewide death toll climbed to 10.
Orlando Sentinel:
Frustrated victims of Hurricane Wilma lined up again Wednesday for gas, water, ice and food, as Gov. Jeb Bush admitted that the state should have done a better job of funneling supplies to South Florida.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez called the relief process "flawed," adding that he was "frustrated, disappointed, angered" with the delivery of supplies.
Associated Press (Lara Jakes Jordan):
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday asked victims of Hurricane Wilma to have patience for relief efforts as he surveyed crumpled boats, shattered mobile homes and snaking lines of cars at fuel stations along the storm's path.
Palm Beach Post:
For residents with gaping roofs from Hurricane Wilma, officials Wednesday offered a partial fix, but less than during prior storms.

FEMA reactivated Operation Blue Roof, assigning the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews the mission of sealing storm-strafed roofs in Palm Beach County with plastic tarps. But the emergency management agency has not said whether it also will distribute self-help tarps, a key relief measure that it took in years past.
Associated Press (Erik Shelzig):
With many Floridians still struggling to find food, water, ice and gas in the wake of Hurricane Wilma, Gov. Jeb Bush took responsibility for frustrating relief delays in a state all too familiar with powerful storms.
Key News:
Waves of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach county residents began rolling into the Upper Keys on Wednesday to buy gasoline, food and other provisions in short supply after Hurricane Wilma left most of South Florida without power.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Walmart Shines Image While Slicing Benefits

"Our critics are correct in some of their observations. Specifically, our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance."
-- Walmart vice president M. Susan Chambers
Walmart Watch has received from an anonymous source and publicly released a Memo to the Board from company vice president M. Susan Chambers in which she outlines strategies for making more cuts in company employee benefit costs while trying to counter critics who say Walmart exploits its labor force.

As New York Times reporters in Bentonville, Arkansas, and New York summarize, "The theme throughout the memo was how to slow the increase in benefit costs without giving more ammunition to critics who contend that Wal-Mart's wages and benefits are dragging down those of other American workers."

Among the strategies the memo to the board suggests are --
  • Somehow discouraging more senior workers from staying with the company because, Ms. Chambers wrote, "the cost of an associate with seven years of tenure is almost 55 percent more than the cost of an associate with one year of tenure, yet there is no difference in his or her productivity;"

  • Charging employees a higher deductible;

  • Requiring employees to pay more for spouses' health insurance;

  • Cutting 401(k) contributions to 3 percent of wages from 4 percent;

  • Cutting company paid life insurance policies to a maximum of $12,000 rather than a benefit equal to the employee's annual salary;

  • Incorporating physical activity in all jobs;

  • Promoting health savings accounts, to which employees would contribute pre-tax dollars;

  • "Dissuading unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart;"

  • Encouraging small clinics to locate inside Walmart stores; and

  • Offering "limited funding" for new employees to buy private health insurance after 30 the first days, so Walamrt could make the 'powerful' public claim it "offers associates access to health insurance after they've worked with us for just 30 days."

According to the Times, Walmart employees "earn on average around $17,500 a year" ... Currently, "less than 45 percent of its workers receive company health insurance" ... and the new benefits policy being proposed could cost employees "out-of-pocket expenses of $2,500 a year or more."

In an interview with the Times, Ms. Chambers admitted that "46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart's 1.33 million United States employees were uninsured or on Medicaid."


There is no better reason than an accident of history that health insurance for most Americans is tied to their employment. Far better, and cheaper, coverage could be offered through a national single-payer health insurance plan proposed two years ago by a panel of eminent physicians and health care professionals.

Wouldn't it make more sense -- and be better for the company's image -- if Walmart took the lead in urging Congress at long last to adopt that meaningful reform of our health care system?

South Florida Mess

Abby Goodnough and Joe Treaster report from Miami for the New York Times:
South Florida was a coast-to-coast mess on Tuesday as millions of people remained without power, huge lines formed for basic supplies and drivers wove through packed, debris-strewn streets with no traffic signals.

Despite Gov. Jeb Bush's assurances that recovery from Hurricane Wilma would proceed smoothly after lessons learned from seven previous storms, the government response looked frayed. In Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, people lined up for ice and water only to learn that government deliveries of both were late.

* * *
Many busy intersections had no police officers to guide impatient drivers. Schools and most businesses remained closed as dazed multitudes wandered in search of food, gasoline and cellphone reception.

* * *
A day after Hurricane Wilma struck, leaving at least six dead, power had been restored to several hundred thousand households and businesses by Tuesday evening. But 3.1 million still had no electricity, including about 93 percent of customers in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. Eleven other counties also reported power failures, many of them widespread. Officials at Florida Power and Light said some customers might have to wait four weeks.
About midday, Allen Breed of the Associated Press was reporting:
The mayor of Miami-Dade County warned that emergency supplies were dwindling Wednesday, a new blow to victims of Hurricane Wilma who had hoped to avoid another frustrating day of long lines for food and water.

At least one distribution site in Miami-Dade was out of supplies, and the other 10 were running low with material from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mayor Carlos Alvarez said.

"We are not hoarding supplies anywhere. They have been distributed," he said. "When this inventory runs out at these different distribution centers, we do not know and FEMA cannot tell us when they will be resupplied."

* * *
There were signs of progress Wednesday in Florida: More streets were cleared of debris, a few restaurants opened and domestic flights resumed at Miami International Airport. Even trash removal returned to some areas.

Many residents, however, shared frustration over what they felt was the slow pace of aid. Trucks carrying the first wave of relief - food, ice and water - either arrived much later than local officials expected Tuesday or didn't show up at all.
One of those blogging Wilma, Pamibe from Pompano Beach, managed to get one message out after the storm, explaining, "I’m running a laptop off the car battery, since there’s no power, no battery backup, no DSL… not alot of anything except fools running up and down the roads sightseeing."

Similarly, Blog Wilma used a laptop and a dial-up connection to report, "Wow this storm was way worst then I originally thought. This is the first time my neighborhood has lost power in years, and has seen so much damage. South Florida got hit hard."

Neither has been heard from since Monday.

2,000 (Updated)

Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005:2,000.


Pensacola News Journal

Wednesday, October 26, 2005:

"News of Spears' death -- the first in Iraq from Escambia and Santa Rosa counties -- spread as the Department of Defense announced on Tuesday that the U.S. death toll in Iraq had reached 2,000.

"Although the Defense Department has not named Spears as that fatality, its official listing identifies a Sunday killing as the 2,000th death. It is the only death the Department of Defense has listed for Sunday.

"Neither of which matters much to the family or friends grieving him."
The Pensacola News Journal has more.

Reformatted 11-04-05

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

¿Habla usted español tambien, Elsie?

With all the fuss over hurricanes, Supreme Court nominees, and the probable indictments this week of high-ranking Bush administration criminals, the
"intelligent design" trial
taking place in Harrisburg, PA, is getting little attention from the mainstream media.

This is a shame. The entertainment value of watching biblical creationists scrambling to unearth some kind of probative evidence to back up their naked opinions -- which, of course, is what a court trial requires -- is a lot higher than, say, mundane photos of Judith Miller being let out of prison or Karl Rove being hauled off to one.

Almost daily some good reporting in the small town York Daily Record (home of the Dover, Pennsylvania school board) spins off into obscurity, unnoticed by most of the rest of us on Earth. Staff reporters Lauri Lebo and Michelle Starr are doing some mighty heavy lifting, trying to provide conventionally balanced 'on-the-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand that' reporting when there isn't much "on the other hand" to it. Still, the Daily Record doesn't want to offend the local Neanderthals intelligently designed bible-thumpers. That's a job better left to columnist Mike Argento, who puts the case in context three times a week in his humor column.

A running transcript of the actual trial testimony is available on Talk The defendant school board members -- or at least those who remained on the board after the smarter ones quit in disgust or embarrassment -- began the defendant side of the case last week.

It's been a tough go so far. Quite a few defense expert witnesses seem to have bailed out after it became apparent they wouldn't be allowed merely to deliver one-sided Oral Robert-style lectures to a credulous audience, but instead they'd have to endure cross-examination by card-carrying Darwinian lawyers who know something about logic, reality, proof, and the scientific method. According to blogger Panda's Thumb, the first defense witness, Michael Behe, was so thoroughly discredited that his career may have been 'terminally demolished'.

"Will all the rest of the [defendant's] scheduled experts actually show up for a big helping of what Behe had?" Panda's Thumb asks. Unhappily enough for the school board, it seems a few will. In the end, the defendants may wish they'd all stayed home.

Yesterday, Defense Witness No. 2, Steven Fuller, took the stand. He's an obscure sociology professor who teaches "philosophy of the social sciences" at Warwick College in England.

Fuller wound up testifying "at the moment, evolutionary theory is a better explanation of the biological world." His only argument seems to have been that Darwinian evolution is so broadly accepted by so many scientists that "affirmative action" is needed to keep so-called 'intelligent design' notions from being "marginalized in cult status."

"[I]ntelligent design," the York Daily Record reports he said from the witness stand, "sits on the fringe of science."

And, that was a witness for the anti-Darwinists on the school board!
Fuller told the court that one of the problems of science is with the very definition of 'scientific theory,' which is the idea of well substantiated explanations that unify a broad range of observations. He said by requiring a theory to be 'well substantiated,' it makes it almost impossible for an idea to be accepted scientifically.
Get it? The problem with science is it requires that crackpot theories be subjected to rigorous scientific testing before they are palmed off on school students. What is education coming to?

As reporters Lebo and Starr correctly point out, in proposing that so-called 'intelligent design' theory be taught in school, "Fuller was actually proposing the definition for hypothesis — an untested idea... ." Or, as columnist Mike Argento puts it less politely:
What Fuller was suggesting ... is that science won't let intelligent design in merely because it doesn't meet the requirements of a scientific theory, as far as science is concerned.

In fact, he said to call intelligent design a scientific theory, you had to change the definition of a scientific theory. The last defense witness who did that said his definition of a scientific theory included astrology.

Fuller said intelligent design is, essentially, a half-baked idea, pretty much something the intelligent design guys have whipped up without doing much in the way of producing evidence.

And that's why it should be taught to ninth-graders in Dover.
"You know," the columnist reflects, "I can come up with a lot of half-baked ideas that no one in their right mind would want to teach to kids in Dover. Let's see. How about this? Cows think in Spanish. Discuss.

Wilma Waves, Power Fails

A cool north wind kept all of Hurricane Wilma away from Pensacola Beach, except for the vigorous waves.

An estimated 3.2 million customers across Florida lost power. Among them was Derk Ortt, the News Journal's hurricane consultant. He is based in south Florida.

On the other hand, Tampa blogger Sticks of Fire survived a rainy, windy day in a city as deserted "as if it were a typical Saturday."

Would someone please rush a hot cup of coffee over to Bark Bark, Woof Woof?

Rosa Parks Dies

"There are quiet victories and struggles, great sacrifices of self, and noble acts of heroism ... done every day in nooks and corners, and in little households, and in men's and women's hearts ... ."
-- Charles Dickens, The Battle of Life

Montgomery, AL.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Talking to the Portraits

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times, still on her knees transcribing for the White House:
"[E]ven as White House officials and Republicans say that Mr. Rove is human and that the leak investigation has taken an enormous toll on his family, they also insist that everyone is focused on the work at hand, and that Mr. Rove is good at compartmentalizing his life."
David Gergen,once upon a time White House communications director:
"Bill, I was in the Nixon White House during Watergate, and we pretended that we were all about business as usual. And we had a president who was talking to the portraits. It was not business as usual, but you have to say it."

New Yorker Update

The promised New Yorker article that everyone's waiting for hasn't yet been posted in full text on the New Yorker's web site. Not yet, anyway, although sooner or later someone's going to do it, copyrighted or not.

But Washington Note has extensive excerpts -- useful for anyone who's not accustomed to reading the New Yorker's typically lengthy and absorbing feature articles. (Here's a pitch: subscribe to the New Yorker. It really is the "best magazine in the world.")

Meanwhile, you can test your memory at Paul Salanky's Return of the Bush Quiz in the often humorous "Shouts & Murmurs" department. And the world's best baseball writer, Roger Angell, has an uncharacteristically short article titled White Sox Nation in which he contemplates the central truth of baseball: most of the fun is in "getting over it."

Could this be true of politics, too?

Newsblogging Wilma

Bark Bark, Woof, Woof

Dasicourse Net (Miami)

Interstate 4 Jamming

Just My Thoughts (Miami)

Hyku (Winter Haven)

My Little Corner of the World

The Wisdom of Funky Bugs (Lakeland)

Nick (Tampa area)

Pamibe (Pompano Beach, on the Atlantic side)

Blog (Boca Raton, on the Atlantic side)

On The Third Hand (evacuated)

Reporting in the Eye

Naples News

Ft. Myers News - Message Board (strictly speaking, not a blog)

CNN's Hurricane Wilma Blog

Cat 3 Wilma Makes Landfall

Blogging from "inside" Wilma is Bark Bark, Woof, Woof.

Also, from the NHC:

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Indictment Bingo

Backup Brain has your Fitzgerald Indictment Bingo cards. Enjoy.

Wilma to Florida in 36 Hours

The 1 a.m. tropical storm discussion at the National Hurricane Center reports Hurricane Wilma has moved off the Yucatan coast line and should start racing notheastward "in the next 12-24 hrs." Landfall somewhere between the Florida Keys and Port Charlotte is projected for Monday. Current guess-timates are it will be a Catwegory 2 or 3 when it makes landfall in Florida, but will weaken quickly.

The Dangers of a Cabal

"[N]either Powell nor Armitage had or has much trust or respect for Rice, and they share with other senior Republican wisemen the conviction that Rumsfeld is quite literally mad, and Cheney a dangerous, vindictive monomaniac."

-- The Nelson Report, 20 October 2005, reprinted at Washington Note
Cenk Uygur at the Huffington Post and political reporter Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post both complained this past week that too few news outlets paid attention to the extraordinary speech by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. It was delivered to a mixed audience of policy experts, journalists, and academics at the New America Foundation, a politically independent Washington public policy institute.

Col. Wilkerson's resume is long and impressive. He has been Executive Assistant to U.S. Navy Admiral Stewart Ring, Director of the U.S. Marine War College, professor at the U.S. War College, and Chief of Staff for the U.S. State Department under former department Secretary Colin Powell. He is said to be a Republican, although he's served in every one of the last four administrations.

As Froomkin said, the speech "didn't make the front page... but it seems to me that it's a big deal when a former top administration official declares that a secret cabal led by the vice president has hijacked U.S. foreign policy, inveigled the president, condoned torture and crippled the ability of the government to respond to emergencies."

Brian Knowlton's report in Friday's The New York Times was typical of what little news coverage there was. Just like Froomkin, he focussed on those parts of Wilkerson's address which harshly criticized the Bush administration for its through-and-through incompetence:
"I would say that we have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita - and I could go on back," he said. "We haven't done very well on anything like that in a long time."

Mr. Wilkerson suggested that the dysfunction within the administration was so grave that "if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence."

Mr. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and former director of the Marine Corps War College, said that in his years in or close to government, he had seen its national security apparatus twisted in many ways. But what he saw in Mr. Bush's first term "was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberration, bastardizations" and "perturbations."

"What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues," he said.
One can understand the emphasis of the newspaper accounts. It was a week that began with a hoaxed-up terrorism scare about New York subways and ended with a number of heavyweights in the Republican Party itself, perhaps most notably David Gergen ("This is a presidency that has almost collapsed") speaking out against the Bush administration's war policy, cronyism, the Miers Supreme Court nomination, and still bumbling emergency management.

But there was much more to Wilkerson's speech than the headlines and snap quotes convey. New America Foundation has the live video. The Washington Note has the transcript. Listening to or reading the entire speech puts the truncated quotes used by the media in an enlightening historical and contemporary context.

This was no cheap political potshot, as some may assume. Col. Wilkerson is sounding the alarm for all who value American democracy. At the core of the speech, he articulates three convictions and draws some hugely important implications.

Wilkinson's three convictions:

(1) The National Security Act of 1947 was fashioned as much to guarantee popular democratic control of U.S. diplomacy and the strategic use of miltary force (to the maximum extent possible in the post-W.W.II world) as it was to reorganize intelligence gathering and analysis within the government itself;

(2) The framers of the Act were every bit as far-sighted as the revered Framers of the U.S. Constitution. They had lived through war years when national power necessarily was concentrated, as never before, in a president and a tight circle of trusted military advisors. Franklin Roosevelt was a brilliant, benign, and beloved leader. But in the future, these modern 'Framers' knew we were unlikely to be so lucky. Accordingly, they sought to ensure that "the fundamental decisions about foreign policy should not be made in secret." In fashioning the 1947 National Security Act, they --
didn’t want the secrecy, they didn’t want the concentration of power, they didn’t want the lack of transparency into principal decisions that got people killed, even though they’d been successful in arguably one of the greatest conflicts the world has seen. And so they set about trying to ensure that this wouldn’t happen again.
(3) All of this was and is threatened by the "cabal" of Cheney and Rumsfeld. Condoleeza Rice should have carried out the duties of National Security Advisor as they have evolved under the 1947 Act, to be a "balancer," to "make sure all opinions got to the president ... every dissent got to the president ... ." Instead, she "actually was a part of the problem," Wilkerson says. Instead of being a "balancer" who made sure the president knew all sides and views, "she made a decision that she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president."
And so what you had... you had this incredible process where the formal process, the statutory process, the policy coordinating committee, the deputies committee, the principal’s committee, all camouflaged – the dysfunctionality camouflaged the ... secret decision-making process.
As for implications, Wilkerson makes no bones about the fact that "America is paying the consequences."
You and I and every other citizen like us is paying the consequences, whether it is a response to Katrina that was less than adequate certainly, or whether it is the situation in Iraq, which still goes unexplained.
The army, he says, is in such "bad shape" it likely will have to be rebuilt anew. The detainee abuse problem is, he argues, another concrete example. Never before in our history have we had "presidential involvement, a secretarial involvement, a vice-presidential involvement, an attorney general involvement in [giving] our troops essentially carte blanche... ." In time, he says, we will look back and be "ashamed of what we allowed to happen."

Essentially, Wilkerson says that we've screwed things up so much in Iraq that it is a near-certainty we will have to "mobilize the nation, put 5 million men and women under arms and go back and take the Middle East within a decade. That's what we'll have to do."

There is one last implication, an undercurrent in Wilkerson's speech rather than an explicit statement. Left unchecked-and-unbalanced by Congress or another branch of government, he seems to be hinting, the Cheney-Rumsfeld secrecy cabal is undermining the very democracy that our Founding Fathers created and the authors of the 1947 National Security Act sought to ensure as our enduring legacy.

Wilkerson's message is that as a nation we can survive incompetence, secrecy, and even stupidity in our leaders. But our civil liberties, and democracy itself, cannot survive if the "checks and balances" built into the National Security decision-making system are not revived and repaired by Congress.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Welcome to Alpha House

You know the world's weather is changing dramatically when storms are given names that sound like a fraternity house.

The National Hurricane Center cordially welcomes you to Alpha House. In itself, no threat to land.

Metaphorically, it's a monument to the Animal House of hurricane years.

Bush To Bash Bush

Although some dullards and knaves now are claiming in behalf of all journalism "we were all wrong" about WMDs in Iraq, as Arianna Huffington pointed out earlier this week the truth is that a lot of journalists got it right -- and early.

Two in particular (whom Huffington inexplicably overlooks) deserve special mention: Seymour M. Hersh and George Herbert Walker Bush.

As for Hersh, he and other colleagues were writing in-depth articles for the weekly New Yorker Magazine that covered Bush's Iraq War policy earlier, more accurately, in more depth, and with truer balance than anyone else. Period.

Fortunately, their work going as far back as the year 2000 is conveniently archived on line.

Even before George W. Bush settled in at the White House, and well before 9-11, New Yorker Magazine reporters were writing that the new administration lusted for war against Iraq. They were describing how the evidence for weapons of mass destruction was weak. They were explaining how the White House Iraq Group was deliberately ignoring intelligence to the contrary. And they plumbed in depth how the WHIGs were badgering CIA analysts (and anyone else) who turned in reports that did not agree with their preconceptions.

Also well before the war began, Hersh and other contributors laid out for New Yorker readers in detail how the administtration was not planning for post-war reconstruction -- and, indeed, had fired those who were most involved in it; they reported that the administration was ignoring signs of incipient urban guerilla opposition, and how the administration was planning for a danerously low troop strength far short of what would be needed. They described how dangerous to our national interests even a quick military victory could be and how unstable a peace-gone-wrong would become for the whole of the Middle East.

Regrettably, much of what the New Yorker was reporting has come to pass. The same can be said for the warnings issued by George Bush's father, the 41st President.

The Memory Hole has preserved his early warning in the form of a Time Magazine article co-authored by George Herbert Walker Bush and Brent Scowcroft:
We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome.
Sound familiar?

What brings all of this to mind is today's advance alert by United Press International that:
The Bush administration is bracing for a powerful new attack by Brent Scowcroft, the respected national security adviser to the first President George Bush.

* * *
The article also contains some critical comments on the handling of U.S. foreign policy by the current President Bush from his father... .
Scowcroft's article appears Monday. Guess who's publishing it?

The New Yorker Magazine.

'Misleading Miller'

The Associated Press reports on New York Times' executive editor Bill Keller's email culpa to the staff:
"Judith Miller's boss says The New York Times reporter "appears to have misled the newspaper's editors about her role in the CIA leak controversy."
And she lied to "the Times' Washington bureau chief Bill Taubman." And she apparently lied to the grand jury when "the reporter told prosecutors at first that she did not believe the June meeting would have involved Plame." Which means she lied to Times' readers when she wrote about "My Four Hours Testifying In the Federal Grand Jury Room."

Miller denies it all. But can you believe her?

Firedoglake sees all of this as a sign the Times is ready to "Throw Judy From the Train." And why not? A prevaricating reporter whose editor doesn't even believe her is hard for readers to credit.

We're likely to see more Timesly knives coming out tomorrow when Public Editor Byron Calame publishes his promised 'assessment' after interviewing Miller, Keller, and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

Wilma Stalls; New Storm Brewing?

After slamming Cozumel and Isle de Mujeres, Hurricane Wilma is moving at a painfully slow pace over the Yucatan peninsula. This is very bad news for the low, flat, heavily forested limestone shelf that makes up most of the Yucatan.

But it's good news for south Florida. Early Saturday morning the NHC was saying:
It is becoming more and more definite that Hurricane Wilma will cross Florida in a hurry on Monday. The longer that Wilma remains nearly stationary... the chances become greater for a more East-Northeasterly track as indicated by some guidance.

The intensity of Wilma while crossing Florida is highly uncertain and the best estimate is that it will likely be a category one or two at landfall. Wilma's wind field will probably expand as it crosses the Florida peninsula. Therefore... the tropical storm force winds will likely cover a large area.

Based on the track forecast and the large area of tropical storm force winds associated with Wilma... a hurricane watch will likely be issued later today for portions of central and south Florida and the Florida Keys.
There is bad news brewing, however. A tropical wave in the eastern Caribbean "has become more concentrated about 200 miles south of Puerto Rico," the NHC reports. "Conditions appear to be favorable for a tropical depression to form during the next day or so as it moves West-Northwestward... ."

As of 8 a.m. EDT, the NHC reported, "This system has become better organized and has the potential to develop into a tropical cyclone within the next 24 to 36 hours."

The Music Ends

The great jazz vocalist, Shirley Horn, has died.

'Choice Select' for Maureen Dowd

"Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover 'the same thing I've always covered - threats to our country.' If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands."

-- Maureen Dowd, New York Times

The New York Times began hiding its regular opinion columnists behind a subscription-only screen called 'Times Select' a couple of weeks ago. Many think it's a strategy destined to fail in these times of unregulated, chaotic blogging. Someone at the Times, obviously, disagrees.

The argument against is that most people, to borrow from the name given one new blog Never Pay Retail. Full text copies leak onto 'the internets' faster than you can say "bootleg."

'But that's not legal' the argument for rejoins.

'Impossible to police,' comes the answer.

Today, as all days, offers a typical example. So, let's have an experiment. You, dear reader, are the subject under the microscope.

If you want to read Maureen Dowd's entertainingly snarky reminiscence about her fellow Times journalist, Judith ("Miss Run Amok") Miller, here's your choice: Pay the Times $49.95 for an annual subscription... or, chuckle over the unflattering, gossipy portrait for free at any number of blogs, like this one run by Tennesee Guerilla Woman... or this one at Oak Park Girl... or another version with preface at Cyphering... or Donkey O.D. ... or Nashville News ... etc. etc. etc. etc.

What're you going to do? Pay to read or read for free?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Special Counsel Fitzgerald's Web Site

The U.S. Justice Department has inaugurated today an official web site for the Hon. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney and Special Counsel to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Included, for now, are letters of appointment ("independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the Department"), memoranda, appellate court briefs, and court opinions related to the Grand Jury investigation of the unauthorized public disclosure of the identity and affiliation of Valerie (nee: Plame) Wilson as an undercover employee of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Welcome to Pizza Hut Fort Pickens Park

(Semi-fake photo free for the taking)

Today, the New York Times editorializes against renewed Bush administration efforts to commercialize and politicize the National Park system.

If you haven't been following the controversy, the National Parks Conservation Association has a quick summary of major areas where the Bush administration has been assaulting the U.S. National Park system by tossing out air quality standards, privatizing public parks, inviting the timber industry to build new roads and clear-cut our wild forests, encouraging minerals mining and drilling in protected wildlife habitats, allowing obnoxious off-road vehicles throughout all national parks, and starving the Park Service of public funding.

For more details, you can read the NPCA's "mid-term report." Although it covers only the first two years of the Bush administration, much of what was foreseen in those pages is now coming to pass. The Sierra Club also provides more detailed information about many of these issues.

Just two months ago, as the Times notes, Paul Hoffman -- another Bush administration crony of questionable competence who was appointed to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior -- proposed "a genuinely scandalous rewriting" of Park Service regulations "that would have destroyed the national park system." The outcry was so ferocious that the proposal was quickly withdrawn.

The latest draft to be released is only marginally better. And, warns the Times, two more initiatives are about to be released. One would allow aggressive solitation of corporate funding for national parks. The other would subject Parks Service employees to "political screening" for promotions.

Says the Times, "What we are witnessing, in essence, is an effort to ... steer [the U.S. National Park system] away from its long-term mission of preserving much-loved national treasures and make it echo the same political mind-set that turned Mr. Hoffman, a former Congressional aide to Dick Cheney... into an architect of national park policy."

Shorter John Dean

Shorter John Dean. (Yes, that John Dean):

Fitzgerald won't indict anyone unless they tried to cover-up by perjuring themselves or obstructing justice.

Citizens' Lawyer Resigns

Lots of Florida newspapers are reporting that attorney Michael Colodny suddenly "resigned" his $1 million a year contract as head counsel for Florida Citizens Property.

Joni James, with an assist from Jeff Harrington, has the essence of the story in the St. Petersburg Times, pointing out that the 'abrupt' resignation comes "amid an ongoing probe into ethical lapses and operational concerns at the state-run insurer." In a companion piece, James details how Colodny is only one in a string of high-ranking Citizens personnel to resign or disappear from the job under a cloud of ethical charges.

Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald [free registration required] points out that the resignation came a day after the Florida state legislature's Banking and Insurance Committee "grilled [Citizens] board chairman G. Bruce Douglas and general counsel Mike Colodny" during the second consecutive day of "inquiries into operations of the state-run property insurance company." The Miami reporter explains:
Citizens has been plagued recently with concerns about self-dealing and conflicts of interest among its employees, while Hurricane Wilma's imminent arrival raised fresh concerns about Citizens' financial health.

Lawmakers focused hard on the practices of Colodny, whose law firm also has represented nine insurers who did business with Citizens. They asked Douglas to explain why he asked Colodny to choose between representing those insurers and representing the board; it [sic] asked Colodny to explain why he hired one of his accountant clients to conduct an internal investigation of Citizens.
The Associated Press adds that the private company clients Colodny's law firm represented were generally "small startup insurance companies seeking to do business with Citizens."

Only Paige St. John identifies what might have been the real trigggering event. In the Ft. Myers News-Press, she adds this nugget: Colodny resigned "after he was grilled by the Senate Insurance Committee on Wednesday and then had a private meeting with its chairman Rudy Garcia." (Emphasis added)

Public legislative scoldings like we've witnessed this week make for great theater. The politicians get to bloviate for the cameras and pose as consumer advocates. Citizens' slippery Executive Director, Bob Ricker, gets to keep his job a little longer merely by crawling on the floor, licking a few boots, and promising he'll start doing a better job of running Citizens, starting any day now.

But the real work, as St. John knows, is done behind closed doors. What do you suppose Garcia said to Colodny inside that room?

Related Articles

Citizens Exec Resigns Amid Corruption Allegations

Ethics Lesson

An Independent Investigation Is Needed

Depopulated to a Dog?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

FEMA Face Feeding - Updated

(Free fake graphic)
Marty Bahamonde, the FEMA regional director who was first on the scene in New Orleans, testified today before a Senate panel that former FEMA director Michael Brown ignored his "frantic" and "regular" email messages "confirming the worst-case scenario that everyone had always talked about regarding New Orleans."

"I think there was a systematic failure at all levels of government to understand the magnitude of the situation," Bahamonde said.

One incident related to the hearing panel dramatically illustrates the rank incompetence of Brown and his aides:
[O]n Aug. 31, Bahamonde frantically e-mailed Brown to tell him that thousands of evacuees were gathering in the streets with no food or water and that "estimates are many will die within hours."

"Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical," Bahamonde wrote.

Less than three hours later, however, Brown's press secretary wrote colleagues to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening. "He needs much more that (sic) 20 or 30 minutes," wrote Brown aide Sharon Worthy.

"We now have traffic to encounter to go to and from a location of his choise (sic), followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you."

Meanwhile, before a House committee it is being reported that Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff testified "he expected that Brown would understand that the priorities were to save lives, rescue people, get them food, water, medical assistance and shelter and would 'execute those priorities in an urgent fashion.'"

Chertoff didn't exactly overwhelm anyone with his own competence. While testifying, he manifested a fundamental misunderstanding of the breadth of his own powers as Secretary of Homeland Security to handle natural disasters. Only after a law professor who happened to be present "directly approached Chertoff at the witness table" and showed him the "National Response Plan" and a 2003 Presidential Directive did Chertoff admit that "he was the principal federal official" designated to handle catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina.

Chertoff's confusion and Brown's boundless Baton Rouge appetite left Connecticut congressman Christopher Shays "very uneasy that the Department of Homeland Security is dysfunctional."


The incomparable Billmon has a bitterly funny line about all this: "Would it have killed him to order take out?"

Florida Buys Time as Wilma Slows

From Key West, the Keynoter says:
Monroe County emergency management officials have revised their call for a mandatory evacuation due to Hurricane Wilma based upon the storm slowing in the southwestern Caribbean.

The mandatory resident evacuation is now planned for Friday, not Thursday as it had been. Evacuation of tourists and non-residents began Wednesday and continues.

As of the 8 a.m. Thursday advisory from the National Hurricane Center, Wilma was 175 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, or at 18.3 north latitude, 85.2 west longitude. It was moving west-northwest at 7 mph and models continued to show a likely turn to the northeast and South Florida, likely Saturday or Sunday.
There's more.

Wilma Weakening - Slightly

Current 5-day projected path

The 11 a.m. National Hurricane Center discussion reports that Wilma has weakened slightly as it undergoes eyewall replacement but it is currently still a highly dangerous Category 4:



Wednesday, October 19, 2005

NHC's 'Emily Litella' Moment

The News Journal's Derek Ortt explains that the National Hurricane Center must have had an Emily Litella moment late Wednesday afternoon. Never mind.

The most recent confusion over forecast models "likely was a bad run," he says:
"There were no GPS dropsondes used in the initialization of the model, leading the model to guess as to what the atmosphere was doing at the initial time. Therefore, one should not make any decision based upon that model."
Back to Plan A:
The latest GFS appears more realistic in bringing the hurricane across south Florida on Sunday without stalling it over the Yucatan.

* * *
Continue to comply with all orders given by local emergency management officials.

* * *
The effects in Pensacola should be limited to high waves on the beaches.

Wilma Forecasts Scrapped - Gulf Coast on Alert

It appears those earlier forecast tracks that had Wilma making a sharp right turn to cross the southern Florida peninsula and miss the Gulf Coast are "inoperative."
The 5 pm EDT forecast discussion for Hurricane Wilma should be very worrisome for Gulf Coast residents. A lot has changed for this mercurial storm -- once again in just a few hours.

That weird earlier prediction, about noon today, that Wilma might threaten New England if it were to be steered by a low pressure front "has completely collapsed," the NHC says. And with it, the Hurricane Center's confidence in all of its previous forecats seems to have collapsed, too.

It appears those earlier forecast tracks that had Wilma making a sharp right turn to cross the southern Florida peninsula and miss the Gulf Coast are "inoperative."

The latest expert discussion points out that --
[T]his illustrates ... the extreme sensitivity of Wilma's future track to its interaction with the Great Lakes Low. Over the past couple of days... Wilma has been moving slightly to the left or South of the model guidance... and the left-most of the guidance solutions are now showing Wilma delaying or missing the connection with the low. ... If Wilma continues to move more to the left [i.e. West] than expected... substantial changes to the official forecast may have to be made down the line. [italics added]
In other words, there is now a substantially heightened chance that Northwest Florida may yet again face a catastrophic hurricane within the next several days.

Insurers Report Record Profits

Florida Consumer Network, a statewide affiliate of the Consumer Federation of America reported today that "Property/casualty insurers are on track to enjoy the third most profitable year in their history despite the negative impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on their bottom lines . . . ."

According to CFA:
The property/casualty insurance industry saw after-tax profits of $30.9 billion in the first six months of 2005, according to data recently released by the insurance industry ratemaking organization, the Insurance Services Office (ISO). “Had Hurricanes Katrina and Rita not occurred, that figure would have doubled to $61.8 billion in after-tax profits for the full year.
CFA also has estimates that hurricanes Katrina and Rita likely will require payouts for insured losses along the Gulf Coast of $ 34.4 billion. This will be reduced by corporate-rate tax savings of $26.4 billion for the industry as a whole, according to CFA.

Projecting current trends forward through the last two and a half months of the year, analyst J. Robert Hunter said after paying all hurricane claims, stockholder dividends, and taxes, the property/casualty industry as a whole will enjoy near-record profits of $34.9 billion for the entire year of 2005.

Refresher Course: The 25th Amendment

The usually reliable, although not invariably correct, Raw Story is reporting late Wednesday that ...
A second aide to Vice President Dick Cheney is cooperating with the special prosecutor's probe into the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, those close to the investigation say.

Late Monday, several sources familiar with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s probe said John Hannah, a key aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and one of the architects of the Iraq war, was cooperating with Fitzgerald after being told that he was identified by witnesses as a co-conspirator in the leak. Sources said Hannah was not given immunity, but was likely offered a “deal” in exchange for information that could result in indictments of key White House officials.
Also today, the New York Times reported that...
The special counsel in the C.I.A. leak case has told associates he has no plans to issue a final report about the results of the investigation, heightening the expectation that he intends to bring indictments, lawyers in the case and law enforcement officials said yesterday.
Separately, veteran Washington D.C. reporter Thomas M. DeFrank, co-author of James Baker's memoirs, reported for the New York Daily News that multiple White House insiders have told him Karl Rove confessed to George Bush "two years ago" that he played a role in smearing CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame in an attempt...
to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, the ex-diplomat who criticized Bush's claim that Saddam Hussen tried to buy weapons-grade uranium in Niger.

* * *
Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way," the source said.
"Sparked" by that story, U.S. News & World Report reports today ...
government officials and advisers passed around rumors that the vice president might step aside and that President Bush would elevate Secretary of State Condoleezza.
With all of this, it's time for a refresher course in --

Amendment XXV of the U.S. Constitution

* * *
Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Wilma Threatens New England?!

There's bad news about Wilma and, if you have relatives or friends in New England, some reason to fantasize about 'good' news -- in an ugly, get-off-my-back sort of way.

According the National Hurricane Center, "The five-day official forecast point has been adjusted to the left and faster than the previous advisory."

That's the bad news. It means the Gulf Coast still has no assurance that Wilma will give us a miss. More anxious waiting and watching is in store for everyone in Florida, including Northwest panhandle residents.

Some locals, however, may take bitter satisfaction in another, quite unexpected warning from the NHC. It seems that at least two (although hardly all) tropical forecast models this morning "are suggesting the possibility of a threat to New England." As the NHC explains:
"Recent runs of the GPS and NOGAPS [computerized forecast models] are suggesting the possibility of a threat to New England. In this scenario... Wilma becomes captured by a large mid- to upper-level low [which is] forecast to move into the Great Lakes region in four days."
How could this be 'good' in any way? Well, it really couldn't. Such a track likely would wreak havoc and unimaginable devastation on densely populated New England states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, etc.

But there is this: for over a year, now, with each new hurricane that enters the Gulf a lot of us have been fielding calls from our hard-headed, oh-so-practical New England friends and family. As regularly as tropical storms in Hurricane Season, they scornfully say things like, "Why on Earth would you continue living down there? C'mon! Move up here where it's safe!"

Well, it's a grim and ugly thought. But there might be a small measure of sweet pay-back if we could return those calls and say, "Hey, you guys! Why would you live up there? Move on down to Florida, where it's safe and warm the year 'round."

(We really, really don't mean this terrible thought of ours. Honest! What we're actually hoping is that the upper-level low the Hurricane Center is watching somehow sucks Wilma directly into the stratopshere, carries her harmlessly over the Great Lakes, and then drowns her like a rat in the frigid waters of Lake Superior.)

That isn't going to happen. But we can dream, can't we?

A Tale Of Two Citizens

Gannett Corporation's superb reporter, Tallahassee-based Paige St. John, reports today that state legislators are beginning to fashion "major proposals" for overhauling Florida's state-owned insurer, Citizens Property Insurance.

Due to whimsical editing, however, different versions of St. John's report can be found in different Gannett news outlets in Florida. It's like A Tale of Two Citizens -- or do we mean Two Tales of One Citizens?

To get the whole story, you have to read both newspapers.

"What to do about Citizens Property Insurance?" St. John asks. In the Ft. Myers News-Press she says, "Increasingly, the answer is to do away with much of it." For Pensacola readers, the News Journal version says the answer can be found only "in some circles."

Both newspapers include the reporter's observation that today statehouse Democrats will "put forth their proposal to get out of the business of selling hurricane policies directly to homeowners and have Florida cover insurance companies instead."
In Rep. Anne Gannon's plan, no matter where you live, storm coverage for homes under $1 million would be folded into the general policy bought from private insurers.

Companies in turn would pay into a newly created Hurricane Insurance Fund — and draw money out of it to pay hurricane claims.

For the homeowner, "it would be like conventional insurance," said Gannon, D-Delray Beach, and a co-sponsor of the Hurricane Insurance Fund idea."
What the Pensacola paper doesn't say is that Gannon's plan "mirrors similar private meetings among Florida's most powerful business lobbies." The Florida Association of Insurance Agents -- that is, a consortium of local agents who sell you insurance, not the companies who provide it -- earlier advanced a proposal "to model storm coverage after federal flood insurance, guaranteed by government but managed by private insurers and their agents."

Moreover, St. John's report includes for the benefit of Ft. Myers readers news that, "Leaders of the state's banking, building and insurance industries have been gathering for a month to discuss the fate of Citizens."

On the other hand, Pensacola readers are told what the Ft. Myers version doesn't mention:
Citizens' own executives like the idea of dismantling much of their company.

Hurricane exposure is "an uninsurable risk" in Florida, Citizens Executive Director Bob Ricker said. The state is better served if it gives up trying to convince insurers to take on a gamble that could kill a company, he said.

"I personally believe the core issue is the risk of ruin that private insurers face for the hurricane exposure. If you can address that in a facility other than Citizens, we could get rid of a majority of our policies."
Other than caprice, it's not readily apparent why two different Gannett editors felt compelled to truncate St. John's article as each did.

Paige St. John is one of the state's best investigative reporters, as shown by her sterling work over the past year exposing the insurance industry's myriad problems. (It's probably that Midwestern upbringing.) Gannett is fortunate to have her.

But instead of one good reporter and two editors, wouldn't it make more sense to pay just one editor and use the rest of the money to clone a second Paige St. John?

Is Your Printer Spying On You?

"Someone in the government has managed to have
a lot of influence in printing technology... ."
-- Seth Schoen,
Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Washington Post reports today that "nearly every major printer manufacturer" over the last ten years has secretly encoded color printers with microscopic dots that enable 'sleuths' to track any printed page back to the individual machine source.
"Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco consumer privacy group, said it had cracked the code used in a widely used line of Xerox printers, an invisible bar code of sorts that contains the serial number of the printer as well as the date and time a document was printed.

With the Xerox printers, the information appears as a pattern of yellow dots, each only a millimeter wide and visible only with a magnifying glass and a blue light. The EFF said it has identified similar coding on pages printed from nearly every major printer manufacturer, including Hewlett-Packard Co., though its team has so far cracked the codes for only one type of Xerox printer."
A spokesman for Xerox confirmed EFF's information. He told the Post the secret encoding "was part of a cooperation with government agencies, competing manufacturers and a 'consortium of banks' to defeat counterfeiting."

Consumer privacy advocates at EFF, however, counter that people under the rule of "repressive governments or those who have a legitimate need for privacy" could be threatened by the secret encoding program. One pointed out that "after months collecting samples from printers around the world" it took an intern only "about a week" to break the code.

If you own a Xerox color printer, you can go to a special section on the EFF web site to test your machine. Other consumers are being invited to help EFF as it continues to research other printers. Go to this EFF page for instructions on how to make and send to EFF a test page for free analysis.

So far as it appears, black and white printers are unaffected.