Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bright Idea

Since Warren Buffet is willing to insure all of Florida, why not let him buy it?

Oracle of Omaha Insures All of Florida

"It's Buffett the symbol that matters now, Buffett the folk hero, Buffett the communicator. * * * [T]he charismatic, reassuring, quotable prototype of the honest capitalist."
Walter Kirn, "American Everyman," Atlantic Monthly, November, 2004
Paige St. John, the ace reporter formerly with Gannett Co., is reporting in the Sarasota Herald Tribune today that Omaha financial sage Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, has agreed to insure the State of Florida against the hazard of a 2008 hurricane. The deal works like this:
[T]he state will pay $224 million to Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, in exchange for the promise to lend the state $4 billion if Florida is struck by a major hurricane this year. If the state does not need to borrow the money, then Buffett pockets the $224 million.

If a major storm hits the state, Buffett keeps the $224 million and then lends Florida $4 billion at a 6.5 percent interest rate.
Berkshire Hathaway is the parent company of multiple insurance and reinsurance divisions and companies, including National Indemnity, Berkshire Hathaway Homestate Companies, United States Liability Insurance Group, and General Re, perhaps the world's largest holding company of an entire collection of other insurance and reinsurance companies.

Readers likely are most familiar with another Berkshire-Hathaway subsidiary, Geico, the auto insurance subsidiary famously symbolized by a gecko and a caveman.

Predictably, for a state that has had trouble paying off its past hurricane debts -- not to mention getting suckered by ex-governor Jeb Bush into buying worthless derivative mortgage investments that dug us into deeper debt -- the deal is drawing mixed reviews. But not entirely along partisan lines, as St. John's sources reveal.

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum calls it "a bad deal." Republican Governor Charlie Crist and Democratic state CEO Alex Sink say it's "necessary." Florida state representative Dan Gelber, the Democrats' minority leader, "supports the Buffett deal as a way to spread the risk and prepare the state for a worst-case scenario."

Gelber, a Miami attorney, had this to say to reporter St. John:
"The problem that Florida has right now is that we have a windstorm insurance policy that really only works if there are no windstorms.
* * *
Everybody is gambling; we are gambling that we don't have a major storm," he said. "Mr. Buffett is gambling that he can make money off us by not having a major storm."
Sounds to us just like the average home owners' insurance dilemma across the state. The major difference is, Warren Buffett has shown over many years that he can be trusted. Unlike, we should add, many of the property insurance companies who've had their bad hands around our collective necks.

Married and Worried About It...

... may be a doubly good health strategy:
Israeli researchers reported at the meeting that people who tend to "ruminate"—i.e. worry—over their problems have a 30% to 40% lower prevalence of dementia than the more happy-go-lucky types. Marriage also seems to confer an advantage, probably because people in relationships remain socially engaged, which may be protective.

Your Immigration Service at Work

"Employers who hire illegal aliens jeopardize the security of our nation's borders and erode our economic vitality," says U.S. Attorney John F. Wood. He's from Missouri.

Maybe so. But if it weren't for these guys, and others like them, most of the greater Pensacola area probably would still be topped with blue plastic roofs.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Judge: Florida Gun Law 'Odd' and 'Irrational'

"There is no constitutional right to bear arms on private property against the owner’s wishes.."
Florida Retail Federation v. Attorney General of Florida, No. Dist. of Fla. Case No. :08cv179-RH/WCS (July 28, 2008)
Yesterday, U.S. Northern Florida District Judge Robert Hinkle released a 39-page ruling [pdf alert] giving his preliminary views on the constitutionality of the new Florida Guns-at-Work law. The statute, which was to go into effect July 1, was drafted by Northwest Florida's village idiot, Durrell Peaden and passed by the legislature earlier this year.

The court's decision is "preliminary" because plaintiff, the Florida Retail Association, had asked for an injunction against the law pending a full trial on the merits. Essentially, the case pits the constitutional rights of property owners -- in this case, businesses -- against the constitutional right "to bear arms."

Most media news accounts are representing the ruling as a "draw." That is simply not true. Applying familiar principles of equal protection and due process of law to the language of Peaden's guns-to-work statute, the court's ruling essentially eviscerates all parts of the statute that would have changed prior state law.

To be sure, the judge did decide that the law is "valid to the extent it compels a Florida business to allow a worker — if he or she has a permit to carry a concealed weapon — to secure a gun in a vehicle in a parking lot." But as the judge also notes, that was the state of Florida law before Peaden began sucking up to the gun lobby.

"The only change the statute makes," the opinion concludes, "is that, if a business chooses to provide parking, the business may not keep guns from being secured in a vehicle. "

The more salient part of the ruling strikes at the core of the new statute because the judge holds that --
the statute is unconstitutional to the extent it compels some businesses but not others — with no rational basis for the distinction — to allow a customer to secure a gun in a vehicle.
As the judge's opinion notes, under prior law "private property owners in Florida had the unfettered right to ban members of the general public from bringing guns onto the property. *** [T]he decision whether to ban or allow guns rested with the property owner."

That remains the case today. Peaden's new law would have changed that only insofar as it attempted to extend the privilege of packing weapons while on the employer's premises to an "employee." But in defining who is an "employee" Peaden and his fellow gun-hugging legislators used words that "do not comport with ordinary English usage nor with the terms’ commonly applied legal definitions."

Instead, Peaden's statute defines an “employee” as --
a person “who possesses a valid license issued pursuant to s. 790.06”— that is, who has a valid Florida permit to carry a concealed weapon—and who is either an employee (as the term is ordinarily used) or an independent contractor or a volunteer. § 790.251(2)(c). The statute defines “employer” as a business in any form — including, for example, a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation— or public-sector entity “that has employees.” § 790.251(2)(d) (emphasis added). Thus a business is an “employer” as defined in the statute only if it has one or more workers who have a valid Florida concealed-carry permit.
The judge adds, "In plain, unambiguous language, the statute defines an 'employee' as a person with a valid Florida concealed-carry permit." That is an "odd" definition, he says with admirable understatement, but a court is powerless to re-write the law even if it leads to "absurd" results.

The logical result of Peaden's drafting is that "a business that does not have at least one worker with a concealed-carry permit is not subject to any of these provisions." In other words -- no surprise, here -- Durrell Peaden can't read or write well enough to draft a valid law.

Legally speaking, the court's opinion is most notable for recognizing that any constitutional "right to bear arms" applies, when at all, only against unreasonable governmental regulation:
[A] private business’s banning of guns on its own property plainly is not unconstitutional; there is no constitutional right to bear arms on private property against the owner’s wishes. [emphasis added]
Politically speaking, the court also found evidence that the "real world" effect of Peaden's law is negligible.
[C]ommon sense conclusions might lead a reasonable legislator to conclude that allowing workers with concealed-carry permits to keep guns in business parking lots would have either a small net positive or small net negative effect on overall public safety.
It would "rarely make any difference at all," the court concludes.

That should concern Durrell Peaden's constituents, in this time of rising prices and unemployment alongside plunging house prices and tight credit.

"What is Peaden doing in Tallahassee,
" they may well ask, "wasting time on laws that have a 'negligible' effect while back here in the 'real world' we are suffering an economic crisis?"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Casino Beach Draws 3-Star Rating

Today, the Natural Resources Defense Council issued its 18th annual report on beach water quality, “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches.”

The report relies upon and analyzes EPA and state test results of pollution and bacterial content throughout the year at thousands of popular swimming beaches across the nation. Although nationally the news is not good, the central public swimming area at Pensacola Beach, known as Casino Beach, received a "3-star" rating, placing it among the cleanest in the nation.

For the third year in a row, there were zero weeks when water standards on Casino Beach, as tested weekly, did not meet EPA standards. This led the NRDC to award Casino Beach the three stars, out of a possible five stars.

A five star rating requires water quality monitoring more frequently than once a week -- the minimum EPA requirement -- and closing notice practices that shut beaches down after a single test while waiting for confirming second test results. None of the 308 Florida swimming beaches NRDC evaluated tests more than once a week or warns while awaiting a second test.

Nearby Quietwater Beach wasn't as clean. In 2007, on nine weeks the water quality was so poor that beach advisories had to be issued. That compares with five weeks the year before and seven in 2005.

Quietwater Beach is going backward. This Soundside beach often is preferred by families with very young children because of the comparatively quiescent surf. But the water there also is popular with boaters and wave runners, the sewer plant is not far away, and storm water runoff from nearby streets and parking lots all have been identified in the past as probable sources for elevated readings of bacteria, benzene, and other pollutants.

Last year, for the first time in the three year comparison period, swimming areas at Navarre Beach also received top "3 star" quality ratings, based on once-a-week sampling. The "1-star" beach at Bayview Park in Pensacola improved over previous years, but still had ten weeks of water quality warnings in 2007.

As the Environmental News Service reports, nationwide --
Sprawling development in coastal areas is eliminating wetlands and other natural buffers such as dunes and beach grass that would have helped filter out pollution before it reaches the beach, the report points out.

Not only are the beaches polluted, the way they are tested is also failing the American public, according to NRDC.

Beach water quality standards are more than 20 years old and rely on outdated science and monitoring methods that leave beach goers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses including gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, and respiratory ailments. For senior citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal.

The full 447-page NRDC report on all of the nation's tested beaches is here [pdf warning]. A table of "select" beaches and their ratings is here [also pdf].

Indictment to Somewhere


Ted Stevens (R-AK), the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, former Appropriations Chairman, and author of the infamous "bridge to nowhere" bill has been indicted by a grand jury on multiple corruption charges. Sources have told CBS network, "Stevens faces seven counts of false statements involving VECO, the oil services company in Alaska, and the renovations done on his home."

The indictment is the latest chapter in a long-running "political corruption probe" of powerful Alaska Republicans in service to the oil industry via bribes and extortion. Last year, federal law enforcement officials raided Steven's home after his politician-son was named as the recipient of oil company bribes.

Here's a re-cap of a CNN report from that time:

7-29-08 PM
The indictment is here [pdf warning].

Bushwacker Festival Web Blues

If you google the popular Pensacola Beach "Bushwacker Festival" you'll see more messages from frustrated folk pleading for information than information itself. It seems it has always been thus, as we've mentioned before.

One reason may be that the original festival promoter, June Gerra of Capt'n Fun, and her computer never managed to get past the Let's-Forward-This-Funny-Joke email stage in life. And she's probably too.... ah... um... frugal to pay for web help.

That doesn't strike us as especially smart if you want to keep those music-and-booze fans coming to the beach for the end of summer celebration. Judging from various internet search reports we see, many of those who like to attend the Bushwacker Festival begin searching the web for the dates and bands line-up as early as May. But they can't even find a web site for Capt'n Fun, much less one devoted to the Bushwacker festival itself.

This isn't it. It's a runner's web site. Neither is this. That's just another stupid Facebook page by some Bushwacker fan, as near as we can tell.

Why there's such neglect of internet marketing for the Bushwacker Festival when the Island Authority and Pensacola Beach chamber of commerce devote so much money to "promoting tourism" is a mystery to us, especially when the Bushwacker Festival is justly billed as a "major event" for Pensacola Beach.

As of today, there are now a couple of places you can go for this year's event. The Pensacola Beach chamber of commerce, at long last, has posted a detailed schedule for the 2008 Bushwacker Festival, although it appeared only in the past week or so.

And the Sandshaker Bar, under new management after the U.S. Marshals auctioned it off, has begun to do some promoting. They have a mostly fictitious "History of the Bushwacker." (In truth, it's basically a frozen Brandy Alexander.)

Recently, they added a cheesy graphic (left) with, sadly, little information and rotating old photos of Mari Gras revelers. Mardi Gras? What's up with that?

Here it is, just three days before the big weekend, and still the Sandshaker's web site shows no August calendar.

Jeb Bush's Legacy

Shorter Pensacola News Journal editorial: Former state governor Jeb Bush opened up Florida's mortgage doors to "bank robbers and racketeers." 10,000 of them.

It's a good bet that every one of those newly licensed "mortgage originators" agreed with Jeb that state regulation is bad, free enterprise is good.

The Miami Herald has the facts. And Lehman Brothers has Jeb Bush.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cleaning Up the Poo

When the Justice Department poo created by Albert Gonzales and Karl Rove started hitting the fan over a year ago, some lifelong Republican acquaintances of ours were puzzled. "What's wrong with hiring only lawyers who are loyal to Bush?" they asked. "It's done all the time, isn't it?"

No, it's not. Not when it comes to career attorneys. And not when it comes to firing U.S. Attorneys for political reasons and replacing them with unqualified hacks.

The Justice Department is different. Or, at least it was until George W. Bush. Today, in a joint report issued by the same Justice Department, via the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), we are told why.

For one thing, what the Bushies did to the once-respected U.S. Justice Department is against long-established federal law:
The Department’s policy on non-discrimination is contained in the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 42.1(a) of 28 C.F.R. Part 42, Subpart A, which states:
It is the policy of the Department of Justice to seek to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, political affiliation, age, or physical or mental handicap in employment within the Department and to assure equal employment opportunity for all employees and applicants for employment (emphasis added).
In addition to Department policies, the Civil Service Reform Act(CSRA) prohibits the Department from discriminating in hiring for career positions based on political affiliation. For example, the CSRA states that federal agencies must adopt hiring practices for career employees in which:
selection and advancement should be determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition which assures that all receive equal opportunity. 5 U.S.C. § 2301(b)(1).
For another, it is really dumb and really dangerous:
In one disgraceful example, Goodling refused to hire “one of the leading terrorism prosecutors in the country” because his wife was a Democrat:

He was an experienced terrorism prosecutor and had successfully prosecuted a high-profile terrorism case for which he received the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service. … The candidate’s wife was a prominent local Democrat elected official and vice-chairman of a local Democratic Party. […]

[Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) Michael] Battle, [EOUSA Deputy Director and Chief of Staff] Kelly, and EOUSA Deputy Director Nowacki all told us that Goodling refused to allow the candidate to be detailed to EOUSA solely on the basis of his wife’s political party affiliation. Battle said he was very upset that Goodling opposed the detail because of political reasons.

Goodling’s “damaging” refusal, the report notes, forced the EOUSA to “select a much more junior attorney who lacked any experience in counterterrorism issues” and was grossly unqualified for the position... .

We'll all be safer after January 20, 2009.

Republican Debt Derby

Chicago Tribune, July 28, 2008: [Breaking] "A senior administration official said Monday the federal budget deficit for this year will set a record high approaching $490 billion."

On January 20, 2001, the Bush administration took over a nation that had enjoyed "four consecutive years of budget surpluses." And within three months -- well before 9-11 -- the nation was plunged into an escalating debt.
The deficit for 2007 totaled $161.5 billion, which represented the lowest amount of red ink since an imbalance of $159 billion in 2002. The 2002 performance marked the first budget deficit after four consecutive years of budget surpluses.

That stretch of budget surpluses represented a period when the country's finances had been bolstered by a 10-year period of uninterrupted economic growth, the longest period of expansion in U.S. history.
The numbers do not even include bills for the "off-budget" $3 trillion Iraq War, as Atrios notes.

Take a look at the chart, above, showing national budget deficits as a percentage of gross national product. Every Republican administration in the last 30 years has driven the national debt skyward. Every Democratic administration has lowered it.

Now, just which party do you suppose is the irresponsible spendthrift?

Cuiling Down

The young start-up search competitor to Google, Cuil [pronounced "Cool"] crashed this morning "due to overwhelming interest."

Try Cuil yourself someday after interest has cuiled down.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bankruptcy Blues

McClatchy News Service reported earlier this week that business bankruptcies 'jumped' forty-five percent in the first six months of 2oo8.
From April through June, 15,471 U.S. businesses called it quits, according to data from Automated Access to Court Electronic Records, an Oklahoma City bankruptcy management and data company.

States that saw the biggest increase in filings were Delaware, Montana, Oregon, Maryland and Connecticut, suggesting that the economic gloom is spreading beyond large population centers.

It was the 10th straight quarter that business bankruptcy filings have increased. Nearly 29,000 companies filed in the first half of 2008.

Another 60,000 to 90,000 others probably have closed, because roughly two to three businesses fold for every one that files for bankruptcy, said Jack Williams, resident scholar at the American Bankruptcy Institute.

Florida wasn't among those with the highest increases. But it does remain in the nation's top ten for the most bankruptcies, overall.

A number of local businesses across the toll bridge in Gulf Breeze are feeling the pinch of dramatically lower income and rising expenses. Owners tell us their customers are explaining frankly that they're cutting back on purchases because of rising fuel and food prices.

On the other hand, one Pensacola businessman we know, who depends on the health of other businesses across the services-and-goods spectrum, mentioned the other day that it seems to him Pensacola businesses are weathering the recession better than those in Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach. He didn't have any numbers, it was just an impression.

The only reasons for this we can imagine are (1) even if not at record levels, summer tourism, for now at least, is cushioning the down-turn at more tourist-friendly points but not in predominantly bedroom communities like Gulf Breeze that depend heavily on locals and have less to offer out of town visitors; or (2) our Pensacola friend is mistaken.

In any event, it's looking to us as if prospects for Northwest Florida's economy over the medium term are getting grimmer.

Change, anyone?

Presidential Presumptions

"[C]able television's talking heads... spent days before [Obama's] semisecret trip to the war zone insisting that the 46-year-old prove his gravitas. They said he had to appear presidential on the world stage.

So what did Obama do? He waded in. Soldiers, diplomats and heads of state greeted him warmly, even effusively. He seemed self-assured. He nailed the now-storied basketball shot, rode alone with King Abdullah in his royal Mercedes and committed no major gaffes.

Wouldn't you know it, after all that, Obama is now taking a hiding for acting
too presidential."
Everybody and his sister has seen the video or read the transcript of Barack Obama's Berlin speech, yesterday, to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200,000. It was a good speech, maybe even a great one in the circumstances. Naturally, that inspires our fickle press to swivel 180 degrees and, in a herd, begin piling on Obama for being "presumptuous."

Necessarily, the Berlin speech was relatively short and general. Quite suitable for the occasion and manifestly thrilling for the audience.

But more revealing of the man, we think, is the one-on-one interview he gave last weekend to CBS' award winning chief foreign correspondent, Lara Logan, shortly after arriving in Afghanistan.

No 'presumptuousness' here. Just a thoughtful, well informed man who listens to the penetrating questions, weighs the considerations, and articulates the balanced judgments he has come to in his own mind.

For those Americans who have forgotten over the last seven and half years what "presidential" really looks and sounds like, this is definitely worth the viewing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Presidential Luck or Smarts?

Michael Shear has a fairly accurate rundown of the two presidential campaigns in today's WaPo, but it's all wrapped in a frivolous and stupid theme: Which candidate is having the better "luck" right now?

Obama wins this week, he says; McCain is "still waiting for his turn."

By contrast, M.J. Rosenberg at TPM surveyed much the same territory yesterday and concluded it's not luck, it's smarts.
I worked on Capitol Hill for 20 years and I can tell the difference between a staff driven politician and one who knows what he's talking about. The staff driven pol (McCain is an example) is always capable of the big blunder. He does not mix up Shiites and Sunnis because he "misspoke;" he really doesn't know the difference. Same on the economy, he studies a memo and works to assimilate it. But there is no depth.

The sad fact is that most of our politicians are like that. * * *They pander and pander, knowing that they won't get into trouble by just sucking up.

Not Obama. * * * I just talked to a friend who saw Obama in Israel. I asked him what his friends in the Israeli media are saying. "What are they saying? They are saying that he's the next President. And they think he's the smartest American politician they have seen yet."

And here's the money quote: "So what's Obama's secret? He's smart. He reads. He knows his sh*t."

Over at the right-of-center Slate Magazine, Fred Kaplan more or less comes to the same conclusion: John McCain's problem isn't bad luck; it's his "lazy thinking, conceptual confusion, [and] a mind frame clouded by clichéd abstractions."

Of course, that leaves this question unanswered: Given the results of the last few elections, what do American voters prize more in their political candidates? Luck or smarts?

Even a London bookie wouldn't give you odds on that one.

Zoo Views

Midge: “Don’s in advertising.”
Roy: “No way! Madison Avenue? What a gas!”
Midge: “We all have to serve somebody.”
Roy: “Perpetuating the lie. How do you sleep at night?”
Don: “On a bed made of money.”
-- Mad Men, season 1, episode 6
The perilous financial state of the Northwest Florida Zoo, located midway between Gulf Breeze and Navarre, is the featured subject of today's local content on the Pensacola News Journal's editorial page.

First, there is an op-ed by Ginni Lemaster, identified as a volunteer docent at the Zoo ("Don't Let the Zoo Get Away from Us"). Then, there is the paper's own editorial ("Tough Sell on Zoo Support"). Finally, there is an editorial cartoon by Andy Marlette (caption: "If the county doesn't come through, maybe we can get a federal bailout like everyone else these days.")

The editorial strikes us as the most disappointing of the three. It starts strongly enough...
No one wants to see The Zoo Northwest Florida close its gates. It is a surprisingly sophisticated operation to be found outside a large metropolitan area, a valuable tourism draw and a unique opportunity for area school children.
... but almost immediately sinks into a series of dithering cavils that boil down to the editorial's final sentence: "with governmental budgets shrinking, and tourism promotion dollars tight, it's a tough sell."

On balance, it seems the editorial board would like to support the Zoo but can't see how local governments can afford it. Yet, one answer lies in the middle of the editorial itself. In Escambia county, the editorial observes --
tourism officials are increasingly vocal about needing additional bed-tax dollars to market the area more aggressively. They are pressing that argument against the use of bed-tax revenue to support the Pensacola Civic Center, and are unlikely to see a higher priority in supporting the zoo.
Translation: Pensacola area advertising agencies who are paid, in gross, millions of tax dollars annually by city and county governments, via their local chambers of commerce and visitor centers, to "promote" Northwest Florida are competing for those public dollars against the very attractions and services that draw people to the area, entertain them while they're here, and inspire many to relocate here.

As just one example, we've seen this phenomenon on Pensacola Beach for years. Annually, as other pressing needs go unmet, the largest single budgeted expenditure of the Island Authority typically is buried in a line item which at times exceeds $600,000, masking no-bid contracts with one prominent advertising agency.

The effectiveness or efficiency of devoting such a huge number of taxpayer dollars to commercial advertising is hardly well proven. How much more questionable is it when public agencies continue spending money on promotion at the expense of worthy things to promote?

That question won't keep the ad men from sleeping at night. Nor -- dare we say it? -- the journalists whose own jobs also depend on advertising expenditures.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Razorback Writing

English must not be the official language of Arkansas. Or, if it is they've forgotten some of the words. Our best guess is that this sports columnist is writing about his recent visit to Pensacola Beach. Oddly, he never says so.

Parody Parity

Vanity Fair, August 2008 issue:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rip-Off on Pensacola Beach

Barrier Island Girl has a news exclusive this week: someone has stolen the All Terrain Vehicle used by National Park workers to monitor sea turtle nests. Our favorite resident beach photographer observes:
The loss of this ATV, worth approximately $5,000, could hardly have come at a worse time. Sea turtle hatchlings are beginning to emerge and these ATV are used to patrol our beaches to make sure each nest is attended when that happens. * * * Having to patrol on foot now could mean the loss of many hatchlings to sea birds, ghost crabs, heat, or traffic... .
The Traveling Turtle Girl, a marine biologist working to protect turtles for the Gulf Islands National Seashore, has more details of the crime:
One of our ATVs, a green 2006 Honda, was stolen from our storage POD in the Park East lot sometime Sunday afternoon/night or very early Monday morning. Since we patrol starting at about 0530, it would have been VERY early.
Theft or receipt of federal government property is a felony carrying a penalty of up to ten years in prison and a monetary fine at least twice the value of the ATV. If the storage pod was located on county owned beach land, as seems likely, the thief or thieves also could be charged with a third degree felony under state law with no possibility of parole. Anyone conspiring with another to steal or receive the stolen property faces similarly stiff penalties.

People with information about the whereabouts of the stolen vehicle or the identity of the thieves are encouraged to telephone the joint U.S. Park-Gulf Breeze police dispatch office at 1-850-916-3010.

Dolly Headed for Tex-Mex Border

NHC is reporting this morning that although rapid intensification is possible "it seems unlikely" Tropical Storm Dolly will become a "major hurricane" before making landfall somewhere near the Texas border with Mexico.

Seven hundred miles away, here on Pensacola Beach, 3 to 5 feet swells and possible rip-currents are expected as early as today. Caution for swimmers, happy times for surfers.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Geography-Challenged McCain

"War is God's way of teaching Americans geography."
-- Ambrose Bierce (attr.)

John McCain this morning warned on national television that the U.S. has a "very hard struggle" ahead of it, "particularly given the situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border.” Think Progress has the video.

For similar reasons, that Little Old Lady in Dubuque probably believes she has a comparable problem with her next door neighbors in Seattle, Washington.

The "New Green Deal"

‘The West should have a war on global warming rather than a war on terror."
-- Stephen Hawking, ITV News, Jan. 17, 2007
(quoted in "New Green Deal" at p. 16)
The New Economics Foundation, a self-proclaimed "think-and-do tank" in Great Britain, has just issued its first major report: "New Green Deal" [pdf warning]. It's a 48-page call to action and recommendations for creating in Great Britain an "economy for the 21st Century" to meet the triple threats of (1) climate change with consequent food shortages, (2) peak oil with consequent inflation, and (3) economic slowdown with the consequent credit crunch and failing financial institutions.

(If the link, above, doesn't work for you, register for free at the New Economics Foundation and you can quickly download the report.)

A year in the making, "New Green Deal" is a good read: informative, tightly reasoned, well documented, and thought-provoking. It easily could be a model for America as well as the British isles.

The report contains one alarming forecast:
new analysis suggests that from the end of July 2008 there is only 100 months, or less, to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before we hit a potential point of no return.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the bulk of the report, drawing among other examples on the past successes of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and, somewhat surprisingly, Cuba's successful response to its food, fuel, and credit shortage following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the continuing U.S. embargo against that isolated island nation, maps out a comprehensive and eminently achievable program for meeting the climate change challenge before it's too late.

Brief news accounts by European sources can't do the report full justice, but they are accurate as far as they go:
Key points in the report are that every home must generate its own power, an oil legacy fund must be set up using windfall taxes on oil and gas firms to help pay for green transformation, and carbon should be priced according to its climate impact.
* * *
Interest rates should be cut to help investment in green energy and transport infrastructure, and monolithic financial institutions should be broken up so the failure of one would not destabilize the economy, said the NEF, an independent group.
"We need a modern Green New Deal that has the scale, boldness and vision previously only seen, for example, in Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression" [NEF director Andrew Simms] added.
The report reminds us of just some of the impressive accomplishments of the New Deal from 1933 to 1941:
Roosevelt’s was a huge infrastructure programme aimed at employing four million workers. It paid for over 600,000 miles of roads, over 120,000 bridges, nearly 40,000 schools, 8,000 [public] swimming pools and over two million public toilets.

It also had a ‘green’ aspect. The Great Depression coincided with a wave of natural disasters, including the Dust Bowl and devastating floods. Roosevelt’s New Deal included the Civilian Conservation Corps, which involved millions of Americans in wilderness preservation, promotion of health through outdoor recreation and a balanced ecology.
The New Green Deal at p. 36

As for Cuba, the NEF report points to lessons drawn from the accidental, "unintended" consequences of isolating that nation to the point where it was forced to become almost entirely self-sufficient -- "the closest thing we have to a laboratory example of adaptation to peak oil" -- just as many nations will have to become self-sufficient as the world's climate changes:
Cuba’s eventual transition to a more self-sufficient food system was far from smooth. But it demonstrated that it is possible to feed a population under extreme economic stress with very little or even no fossil-fuel inputs. And, as with war time Britain, there were unexpectedly positive outcomes.

Dramatic reductions in consumption, coupled with other dietary and lifestyle changes (people walked more) altered the health of the nation. As calorie intake fell by more than one-third, the proportion of physically active adults more than doubled and obesity halved. Between 1997 and 2002, deaths attributed to diabetes fell by half, coronary heart disease by 35 per cent, strokes by 20 per cent, and all causes of death by just under one-fifth. These findings were published in 2007 in the American Journal of Epidemiology and carry a profound message about the potential benefits of reduced consumption.

The New Green Deal at p. 31
The report adds:
[I]n spite of its successes (and partly unintentional positive consequences) the Cuban approach thoroughly contradicts the model of development normally sponsored by the international financial institutions. It is highly managed, focused on meeting domestic needs rather than export-oriented, largely organic and built on the success of small farms. It is so different that it has been called the ‘anti-model’ by the World Bank, but with some startled respect. At least one analyst suggests that the Cuban experiment ‘may hold many of the keys to the future survival of civilisation’.

Even allowing for radical differences in history and geography, any politician peering into the future of energy shock, climate change, and rocky economic prospects would be a fool not to learn from how Cuba got it right.

Reading all of this, we were reminded of Barbara Tuchman's remark in her introduction to A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. In an era of "collapsing assumptions," she writes, "it is reassuring to know that the human species has lived through worse before."

If "history repeats" (or at least "rhymes") so, too, may past solutions to mankind's problems provide useful blueprints for its future salvation. The "New Green Deal" report is an encouraging start on that search for our own past successes.

Shorter Forecast - T.S. Dolly

NHC: "Interests in the Western Gulf of Mexico should monitor the progress of Dolly."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Jo Stafford (1917-2008)

"G.I." Jo Stafford, one of the great vocalists of the Jazz era, died last Wednesday at age 90, as the Times reports:
A favorite of American servicemen, Ms. Stafford earned the nickname G.I. Jo for her recordings in which her pure, nearly vibrato-less voice, with perfect intonation, conveyed steadfast devotion and reassurance with delicate understatement.

She was the vocal embodiment of every serviceman’s dream girl faithfully tending the home fires while he was overseas. First as a member of the Pied Pipers, who sang with Tommy Dorsey and accompanied the young Frank Sinatra, and later as a soloist, Ms. Stafford enjoyed a stream of hits from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s. Her biggest hit, “You Belong to Me,” in 1952, sold two million copies.***

[I]t was as a balladeer interpreting standards like “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Haunted Heart,” “All the Things You Are” and “The Nearness of You” that Ms. Stafford distilled as pure a vocal essence of romantic nostalgia as any pop singer of the 1940s and ’50s.

As the offspring of professional jazz musicians, we well remember that velvety voice frequently playing in the background around the house as we were growing up. We also remember with equal fondness her satirical recordings under the fictitious name of "Darlene Edwards."

Along with her real-life husband, band leader Paul Weston, as the fictitious piano player "Jonathan Edwards," she cracked up listeners around the world well into the '60s and '70s. What made these recordings such classics was that Jo Stafford's perfect pitch made it possible for her to consistently hit the wrong note squarely off the button, every time.

As the Times describes it, the "Edwards" duo pretended to be "an excruciatingly bad New Jersey lounge act" that launched Stafford and her husband on second careers that lasted well into the late 1970's.
While Mr. Weston played the wrong chords and fudged the rhythm, Ms. Stafford sang a half-tone sharp. Mr. Stafford won her only Grammy, for best comedy album (“Jonathan and Darlene Edwards in Paris”), in 1961. The Edwardses records, the last of which was a hilariously inept 1977 single of “Stayin’ Alive,” with their version of “I Am Woman” on the flip side, rank as classic pop spoofs alongside those of Spike Jones and Weird Al Yankovic.
A Wikipedia entry correctly recalls that for a time Stafford and her husband "denied any personal connection" with the Edwards' act. Although a lot of musicians recognized the voice behind the musical lampoon --
The ruse triggered a national sensation as the public tried to identify the brazenly off-key singer and the piano player of dubious ability. (Some guessed Margaret and Harry Truman, Time magazine noted.)
Even today one can catch an "Edwards" recording on radio, now and then. Jo Stafford's albums CDs, both serious and comedic, still are widely available. (If memory serves, there's also a Christmas track by "Darlene Edwards" somewhere out there in radio land, possibly included in a larger seasonal album by the Paul Weston Orchestra.)

Give a listen to these hilarious renditions of "I Love Paris," "Don't Get Around Much Any More" and other favorites. But first, be sure to thoroughly swallow all liquids.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Journalism in Pensacola

We confess that we have no idea who J. Earle Bowden is targeting in his latest Saturday column. Bowden, of course, is the justly revered editor-emeritus of the Pensacola News Journal whose name is honored among other places by Bowden Way, that stretch of beautiful Gulf-front road between Pensacola Beach and Opal Beach.

His latest column appears in print but not on line as of this writing. Nevertheless, you can get some idea of what's bugging him from this brief excerpt:
Some unnamed Internet bloggers cast me a museum relic, a throwback. Well, maybe. One unnamed blogger said I should be banned by the Geneva Conventions from ever writing another word. ***
Sounds a little like Mark Twain's "Journalism in Tennessee", doesn't it? No "mush-and-milk." A veritable assault on the editor himself:
I never saw a pen scrape and scratch its way so viciously, or plow through another man's verbs and adjectives so relentlessly. While he was in the midst of his work, somebody shot at him through the open window, and marred the symmetry of my ear.

"Ah," said he, "that is that scoundrel Smith, of the Moral Volcano--he was due yesterday." And he snatched a navy revolver from his belt and fired--Smith dropped, shot in the thigh. The shot spoiled Smith's aim, who was just taking a second chance and he crippled a stranger. It was me. Merely a finger shot off.
We hasten to point out that Mr. Bowden can't be thinking of us. We've had nothing but good things to say about him -- his unique syntax, puzzling neologisms, and frequently mixed metaphors notwithstanding.

J. Earle Bowden is a gentle soul and a hugely entertaining raconteur, both in person and in writing. He is justly regarded as a giant in the two worlds of Pensacola history and Florida journalism.

We suspect, though, that he doesn't know a blogger from a troll. On that shoal his latest column seems to have run aground.

Try as we might, neither we nor several Internet-savvy friends we enlisted in the cause can find any "Internet bloggers" who have had a bad word to say about Mr. Bowden. The closest we can come is a now-ancient snark -- a sideswipe, really, criticizing another PNJ columnist -- by Rick Outzen which appeared a few months ago.

Outzen is both a newspaper publisher and a blogger. We blog. None of the other Pensacola area bloggers we read have had much, if anything, to say about Bowden.

So, who got under his skin? Our best guess is that it's some trolls on the Pensacola News Journal's own message boards.

For Mr. Bowden's benefit, the Urban Dictionary helpfully explains that a "troll" is --
one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or messsage board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.
By contrast, Mr. Bowden, a "blogger" is authoritatively defined as "a person who keeps and updates a blog" or "web log." (Or, if you prefer Stephen Colbert's outdated but famous definition, "A person with a laptop, an ax to grind, and their virginity.")

With distressingly few exceptions, the PNJ's message boards, which were begun in a pathetically misguided effort to increase readership by inviting instant feedback, seem to be infected by swarms of trolls who add nothing to the body of any article they are reacting to. Far more often than not, they have nothing so valuable to say that it's worth anyone's time to read.

Virginity aside, we merely want Earle Bowden to know that it's not bloggers who are his nemesis. His target should be the trolls his own newspaper invited into the Internet Pipes.

Catchword for Careerists

Hundreds if not thousands of bloggers are meeting in Austin at the annual Netroots Nation convention, including the erstwhile Digby, the casually enigmatic Duncan Black, and the hilariously profane Rude Pundit, among lots and lots of other DFH notables.

What fun we're having comes from staying put and reading their laptop dispatches and occasional pieces in the New York Times' blogs.

Hallabaloo stand-in, dday, on Friday reported on a panel discussion about the media that included Princeton economist/New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Just before dday's laptop battery gave out, he passed along this gem from Prof. Krugman:
"It is better to be conventionally wrong than unconventionally right." The example is how nobody who was actually right about the war is allowed to comment about it, but that's also true with the housing bubble, etc. "There's something wrong with you if you actually figure this out too early." There's a narrow range of being counter-intuitive. It's acceptable, for example, to say "Bush is actually better on the environment than you think."
Krugman, of course, was one of those DFHs who was right on both issues, early and often. You might not known that because -- wouldn't ya 'know -- he isn't allowed much on TeeVee.

Once upon a time, the advice a certain type would give to someone from the next generation was "plastics." In the America we have now, that same type now can pass along the life maxim to budding journalists: It's better to be conventionally wrong than unconventionally right."

Have a great career.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Musical Warfare on Pensacola Beach

Island Authority "executive director" (nee general manager) W.A. "Buck" Lee is waging war on criminal "rowdies" who come to Pensacola Beach, the weekly Gulf Breeze News is reporting. And music is his "first weapon" of choice.

Lee has nixed contemporary rock, blues and jazz -- which apparently attract undesirable beach-goers -- and is switching the weekly "bands on the beach" concerts to "oldies, Beatles and country," the newspaper reports.

Country music? Buck's got it all wrong. Just because he's an oldie doesn't mean the rowdies don't share Buck's poor taste in music. In fact, most of the hooligans we've come across on the beach seem to prefer country music -- the fewer the chord changes, the better.

No, if he wants to drive the punks, ruffians, and roughnecks away from Pensacola Beach, what Lee needs to do is roll out the Big Guns --Mozart, Sibelius, Offenbach, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms. The composers don't have to be dead to drive villains away from the beach, either.

A fitting place to start might be with contemporary avant garde composer Phillip Glass. A few minutes of his opera "Einstein on the Beach" will send those beach brutes back over the toll bridge, screaming for mercy:

(For modernist comedian Emo Philip's weirdly appropriate dance interpretation of the same music, click here.)

If there's anyone left on the beach after that, Buck could try Glass' "Waiting for the Barbarians." It's a "harrowing" allegorical opera of a --
loyal civil servant who conscientiously runs the affairs of a tiny frontier garrison town, ignoring the threat of impending war with the "barbarians", a neighboring tribe of nomads.
Sounds just like Pensacola Beach to us.

Obama Art Index

Today's Wall Street Journal reports on the brisk market for "Obama related art work." Like the Obama book index which we mentioned over a year and a half ago, political posters, prints, paintings, and billboards -- even ragged, torn-off pieces of billboards -- about Barack Obama look like a better investment these days than the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Tellingly, the WSJ observes, "there appears to be little demand for art promoting Sen. John McCain... ."
According to statistics from eBay, only six McCain-related art items sold on the site in the past 60 days, with an average selling price of $57. That's compared with 889 Obama-related art items that have sold in the past 60 days, with an average selling price of $127.
Indeed, the market for what might be called Obama Poli-art is so brisk there's even a web site devoted exclusively to the study, analysis, pricing, and collection of the stuff.

But is it art? you may ask. Who cares? we reply. If a Campbell's Soup can is considered art, anything can qualify.

Even perhaps, an anti-McCain poster.

Insuring Against a Bank Run

Worried about the potential insolvency of Wachovia, SunTrust, Washington Mutual or some of the smaller Florida banks? Here are the rules about FDIC insurance.

The FDIC web site also has a consumer-friendly "insurance calculator" where you can check whether, and just how completely, your bank accounts are insured by FDIC. The answer you get may surprise you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Equal Cartoon Time

David Horsey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer rescues satire from the death grip of humorless "literalist" liberals:

Obama Channels Jon Stewart

Is Barack Obama channeling Jon Stewart for campaign advice? Could be.

In Los Angeles, the LA Times' "Top-of-the-Ticket" campaign column acidly observed that the Obama campaign 'blundered' last Sunday when it "sent out his communications director, Bill Burton, to denounce" this week's New Yorker cover drawing:
It was a huge PR mistake by a campaign that doesn't make many. *** It turned a mere magazine cover that the Obama campaign would rather no one see into a must-see for millions.
By Tuesday night, however, Obama himself had a better response on the Larry King show. To King's lead-off question, What do you make of it all?, the candidate replied:
"Well, I know it was the New Yorker's attempt at satire. I don't think they were entirely successful with it. But you know what? It's a cartoon, Larry, and that's why we've got the 1st Amendment.

"And I think the American people are probably spending a little more time worrying about what's happening with the banking system and the housing market, and what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, than a cartoon. So I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it."

"Smart stuff," Top-of-the-Ticket says. "Too late."

Yes, it was a bit tardy. That's probably because it takes awhile to psychically channel a comedian's mind across four time zones. Here's the excerpt from Stewart's brain waves that Obama borrowed:

Click here to see the entire segment of John Stewart's take on Cartoon-gate.

Sea Turtle Rescue

The sea turtles are back and sometimes need help. Check out Barrier Island Girl's photos of a rescue at Opal Beach.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Run on the Bank

Harbinger of things to come? One hopes not, but here's today's Los Angeles Times/KTLA-TV news report from outside a southern California branch of the IndyMac bank, now "poised to become the third-largest bank failure in American history."

"Analysts are calm," the south Florida Herald-Tribune tells us. That may be because they have the list of who's next:
Seven Florida banks -- including First Priority Bank and Freedom Bank, both of Bradenton -- received Bauer's rock-bottom rating of "zero" in the firm's first-quarter review.

Florida bank analyst Richard Bove on Monday listed some large banks -- those with at least $5 billion in assets -- that could be considered candidates for the next failure.

Seven banks topped the 5 percent "danger" ratio of non-performing assets to outstanding loans. Among them is BankUnited Financial Corp. of Coral Gables, which has offices in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties.
What to do, what to do? MSNBC and Mother Jones agree: stuff your money in a mattress.

Satire in the Cups

Don't these people get it? Americans do not take satire in their political coffee:

'No Values Voters' Looking To Support Most Evil Candidate

Swift Cover Story

You knew Jon Swift would have a thing or two to say about the satirical New Yorker cover, didn't you? Well, he did and he has:
I must say I also agree with many in the liberal blogosphere who believe that satire and most other kinds of humor should be avoided at all costs. I have long been opposed to satire, which just causes unhealthy confusion and, like fluoridated water, weakens our body politic. How can we fight an enemy that doesn't have any sense of humor at all if our media is distracting us with such esoteric and ill-advised attempts at comedy?
* * *
The next time the
New Yorker tries to run a satiric cover, they should include a label that says "Satire" in very big letters just as they label all of their advertisements. Although I am not generally in favor of solving problems with legislation, the time may have come when the government needs to mandate warning labels for satire like they do for cigarettes.
One of Jon Swift's creative readers helpfully adds in the Comments section that the next time the New Yorker dares to publish a satirical cover. the cover should be wired like a musical greeting card, only with a laugh track to make the "intention clearer."

And Swift has more... ha ha ha.

Manatee Matinee

On Sunday, just before Blue Angels 2.0, Barrier Island Girl spied a manatee off the beach. Unusual, though not unprecedented. Check out the photos on her blog.

Monday, July 14, 2008

About that Obama Cover

Blogger Bryan at Why Now? stopped by and was inspired in the Comments section to ask this question. On his own blog, he adds:
When some people are given lemons by life, they make lemonade. When the Obama campaign was given a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild, they turned it into vinegar.
Hey, Bryan! The good news is that if "Panic Bean" is from Northwest Florida, our species may not be quite as extinct as you think!

Bush Disses Dad's Drilling Ban

George W. Bush today lifted the executive order that bans drilling for oil off the Florida coast, near-shore California and the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. It was Bush's father, George Herbert Walker Bush, who imposed the executive moratorium when he was president in 1990.

The bad seed son thus continues his Oedipal assault on his father's record. It's a "token move," as the International Herald Tribune observes.

Still, as of now a congressional ban enacted in 1981 is the only thing standing between Pensacola Beach's unique white sandy beaches and a disastrous oil slick. No thanks to Jeff ("Judas") Miller, (R-Chumuckla), Northwest Florida's lame congressman.

Miller has done his best over the past four years to erase the congressional ban. Fortunately for Florida and its millions of tourists and businesses that depend on tourism, so far the mendacious Miller has been as inept at that as he is at everything else in Washington. It's what comes of being a Bush puppet.

As for whether drilling would have any effect on escalating gas prices, forget it. As Senator Bill Nelson said again today:
"The fact is, the industry should be sinking wells in areas already under lease, before demanding control of millions of new acres or destroying long-protected lands," Nelson said in a statement.

"Clearly, Americans are being gouged. But we cannot allow the administration to take advantage of the situation to give away the store before the president leaves office."

The New Yorker's Obama Cover

One of the greatest dangers facing those who passionately support a presidential candidate is not only that they may lose all sense of humor, but that they also can become blinded to unexpected opportunities that come their way. So it seems, today, with the sudden storm over The New Yorker cover which we reproduced earlier here (and to the left here).

Take Kevin Drum, for instance, Atrios, and whoever is writing today for The Playground. Each of these blogs understands that The New Yorker cover is a satire. They see, too, as Andrew Sullivan and Aziz Poonawalla do, that the joke is on the mass media more than anyone else.

As Laura Flanders told CNN, "This isn't a jab at [the Obamas]... . This is a jab at the media. ... It should be cause for our conversation to focus on the kind of fear mongering that the media and people on the right have engaged in."

Say that again... "the kind of fear mongering that the media and people on the right have engaged in."

The only unfunny thing we see in all of the ab-reactions to the cartoon cover, from the Left as well as the Right, is that for too many of them this is the only time they have so much as mentioned The New Yorker in the past seven years, much less given it air time or ink. Yet, the New Yorker has been peerless in being out in front of nearly every news medium -- print or electronic, and certainly far ahead of the chattering heads on Cable TeeVee -- in exposing with devastating regularity the many criminal and criminally negligent acts of the Bush administration; from Seymour M. Hersh's coverage of the Iraq War and the Bush administration's incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina to the miserable state to which our political culture has sunk over the past decade and James Surowiecki's keen insights into everything from the collapse of Enron to the then-"coming" oil crisis.

How can it be that the self-same chattering TeeVee heads are now cluck-clucking like high priests over a mildly satirical magazine cover that simply holds a mirror up to their very own right-wing fantasies of what constitutes 'news'? Do they not recognize the image of their own journalistic judgments staring back at them?

As Laura Flanders says, that should be the topic of the day -- for Kevin Drum, Atrios, the Obama campaign, and even the MSM. "What has the news media done," they should be asking, "that it can inspire such satire?"

Dept. of Amplification

New Yorker editor David Remick in an interview with the Huffngton Post, explains that normally he wouldn't be explaining a cover of The New Yorker. But today he does:
The fact is, it's not a satire about Obama - it's a satire about the distortions and misconceptions and prejudices about Obama.
As cited in the issue's table of contents, the title of the cover drawing by Barry Blitt is "The Politics of Fear."

Daily Heller puts up some recent New Yorker covers and then asks, "Now, class, What is satire?