Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Photos

News reports suggest the Mumbai terrorist attacks at last have come to an end. U.S. TV cable news, relying on edited feeds mostly from Indian and British television sources, offered nearly 24 x 7 coverage of a sort.

Still, as it seems to us, the gravity of the incident and the horrific extent of the tragedy is most dramatically presented by 35 or more still pictures collected from numerous sources by the Boston Globe's "Big Picture" photo-news blog.

Sometimes, one still picture is worth a thousand chattering cable news networks:

Mumbai Massacre Motive

Of course. It would be about organized religion. It almost always is, both here and there:
In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.
Less convincing is Suketa Mehta's argument that "the best answer to the terrorists is to ... make even more money... ." Isn't that what Osama bin Laden has a lot of?

Friday, November 28, 2008

American Ethos

What accounts for this fall of American civilization?


Bush Pardons Turkey

In Thanksgiving Tradition, Bush Pardons Turkey

Executive Punishment

George Packer of The New Yorker has a good idea that won't go anywhere:
In private life, extreme indebtedness, bankruptcy, the ruin of those close to you, and dependence on the government dole are generally thought to be causes for anguish, self-denial, and a degree of shame. But if you’re a financial executive with an exalted title, a big enough salary, a deep enough debt, and a vast enough handout, these same disasters entitle you to go on living and feeling about yourself much as you did before. You even have a right to think that the taxpayers owe it to you—that it’s for their own good, not yours. You don’t have to explain yourself; you certainly don’t have to apologize.

I would like to see these malefactors of great wealth apologize to the country. I would like to see them organize their own press conference in a lineup on Wall Street and, in the manner of disgraced Japanese officials, bow low to the pavement, express contrition, and beg their countrymen’s forgiveness. Such a scene would go some way toward cleansing the smell of the financial crisis.

In Japan, humiliated executives resign -- when they don't commit suicide. In Switzerland, Packer informs us, the bad bankers were shamed into forgoing twety-seven million dollars in salary and compensation.

But here, in the U.S., Packer says the best we can hope for is that "like the parents of two-year-olds, the next Congress should summon them to Washington and publicly punish these executives who... "see morality as something external to themselves, as that which the big people say they must do."

It's not enough, if you ask us, but it's a start.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jeff Miller: Weightless in Washington

After six years of voting for every budget-busting tax cut for the wealthy Bush proposed, the most expensive and disastrous war in history, and all the federal corporate welfare give-aways he could find, Northwest Florida's ineffectual congressman Jeff Miller (R-Chucklehead) tells the PNJ he opposes having the federal government play any role in rescuing the economy. Herbert Hoover could do no worse.

No help for banks, none for the auto industry, none for home owners, none for the unemployed.
Miller, who voted against the bailout plan, said he doesn't support government rescues of Wall Street — or automakers, for that matter. The government also should stay out of various mortgage modification programs now being hammered out throughout the country.

Presumably, too, Miller opposes help for college students seeking loans and small businesses needing credit lines... opposes federal help for cities "to help pay for infrastructure improvements, pensions and short-term borrowing"... won't help Navy families struggling with burdensome mortgages and no prospect of selling their homes when ordered to transfer... and backs Pentagon-run credit unions who are feeling the crunch as they raise their account charges, and tighten lending rules. Military veterans hit especially hard by the credit crisis are on their own, as far as Miller is concerned.

Wedded to a discredited ideology of free market greed capitalism, Jeff Miller offers nothing to any of his constituents. Luckily, he also has no influence -- and knows it:
Miller said his opinion carries little weight.

"It's all up to Democrats. They are the ones in charge of the committees," he said. "Chairman Frank will have to be the decider on that as to what they put forward."
Which raises the question, why are we paying Miller $165,200 a year to sit in Washington D.C. and do nothing?

Ft. Pickens Road to Reopen April '09

The Pensacola Newsletter is reporting that the new deadline for rebuilding the road to Ft. Pickens is "early April" 2009. The road was torn up by Hurricane Ivan (2004) and portions still remain under three feet of sand.

In the meantime, there is a shuttle on weekends (call 698-7492) and two water taxis (Blue Marlin Water Taxi, 723-4907 and Key Sailing, 932-5520).

Some sections of the Ft. Pickens complex will remain closed to the public as road reconstruction proceeds, for safety reasons. For up-to-date information call the U.S. Park Service's Gulf Islands National eashore Information Center at 850-934-2600.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bailout Costs

If you are in a mood for schedenfreud, which we aren't particularly today, you might think from the current issue of The New Yorker that poor Ben Bernanke had it coming to him.

Or, that it's only justice that he would just happen to be the chairman of the Federal Reserve when the housing bubble collapsed, taking down Wall Street's house of cards.

Or, that Abudantia, the Roman goddess of money, has a wicked sense of humor:
The other event that changed Bernanke’s career occurred in the summer of 1999, at the height of the Internet stock boom, when he and Gertler were invited to present a paper at an annual policy conference organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The topic of the conference—which takes place at a resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming—was New Challenges for Monetary Policy.

Then, as now, there was vigorous debate among economists about whether central banks should raise interest rates to counter speculative bubbles. By increasing the cost of borrowing, the Fed, at least in theory, can restrain speculative activity and prevent the prices of assets such as stocks and real estate from rising excessively.

Bernanke and Gertler argued that the Fed should ignore bubbles and stick to its traditional policy of controlling inflation. If a bubble inflated and burst of its own accord, they said, the Fed could always bring down rates to alleviate damage to the broader economy. To support their case, they presented a series of computer simulations, which appeared to show that a policy of targeting inflation stabilized the economy more effectively than one that targeted bubbles.

The presentation got a mixed reception. Henry Kaufman, a well-known Wall Street economist, said that it would be irresponsible for the Fed to ignore rampant speculation. Rudi Dornbusch, an M.I.T. professor (who has since died), pointed out that Bernanke and Gertler had overlooked the possibility that credit could dry up after a bubble burst, and that such a development could have serious effects on the economy.

But Greenspan was more supportive. “He didn’t say anything during the session,” Gertler recalled. “But after it was over he walked by and said, as quietly as he could, ‘You know, I agree with you.’ That had us in seventh heaven.”
* * *
Bernanke hadn’t said much about regulation before being nominated as the Fed chairman. Once in office, he generally adhered to Greenspan’s laissez-faire approach. In May, 2006, he rejected calls for direct regulation of hedge funds, saying that such a move would “stifle innovation.”

The following month, in a speech on bank supervision, he expressed support for allowing banks, rather than government officials, to determine how much risk they could take on, using complicated mathematical models of their own devising—a policy that had been in place for a number of years. “The ongoing work on this framework has already led large, complex banking organizations to improve their systems for identifying, measuring, and managing their risks,” Bernanke said.

It is now evident that self-regulation failed. By extending mortgages to unqualified lenders and accumulating large inventories of subprime securities, banks and other financial institutions took on enormous risks, often without realizing it. Their mathematical models failed to alert them to potential perils.

Regulators—including successive Fed chairmen—failed, too. “That was largely Greenspan, but Bernanke clearly shared an ideology of taking a hands-off approach,” Stephen Roach, of Morgan Stanley Asia, said. “In retrospect, it is unconscionable that the Fed didn’t really care about regulation, or didn’t show any interest in it.”

The thing is, as John Cassidy also reports, Bernanke at least listened to his critics -- and eventually came to agree with them. Too late, perhaps, but reality eventually did prevail. Bernanke jettisoned the conservative ideology that didn't work and became as much a socialist, in effect, as the circumstances required.

It's been an expensive lesson, however. Bloomberg News estimates $7.76 trillion already has been spent or committed by the FED and Department of Treasury:
The money that’s been pledged is equivalent to $24,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. It’s nine times what the U.S. has spent so far on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Congressional Budget Office figures. It could pay off more than half the country’s mortgages.
And, you know as well as we do that it isn't over yet.

Citi Field?

Naming the Mets new stadium Citi Field is a slap in the taxpayers' face. Twice slapped, in fact. Better it be named Taxpayers' Field....

Or Marx Field, after Karl Marx. Marx did work for a New York newspaper, after all. And, unlike Citigroup, he paid his own way.

Off the Wagon

You'd be drinking again, too, if the last eight years of your life had been such a failure.

Pisco Sour
2 oz. pisco brandy
1 oz lime juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1/2 egg white
dash Angostura bitters

Shake hard with ice. Strain into a Champagne Flute or low ball glass. Use the bitters as a aromatic garnish to the top of the finished drink.

Citigroup Didn't Sleep...

... just as promised in those national advertisements.

Instead, it stayed awake "in tense, round-the-clock negotiations that stretched until almost midnight on Sunday" to get its hands deep into the taxpayers' pockets:
Under the agreement, Citigroup and regulators will back up to $306 billion of largely residential and commercial real estate loans and certain other assets, which will remain on the bank’s balance sheet. Citigroup will shoulder losses on the first $29 billion of that portfolio.

Any remaining losses will be split between Citigroup and the government, with the bank absorbing 10 percent and the government absorbing 90 percent. The Treasury Department will use its bailout fund to assume up to $5 billion of losses. If necessary, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will bear the next $10 billion of losses. Beyond that, the Federal Reserve will guarantee any additional losses.

In exchange, Citigroup will issue $7 billion of preferred stock to government regulators. In addition, the government is buying $20 billion of preferred stock in Citigroup. The preferred shares will pay an 8 percent dividend and will slightly erode the value of shares held by investors.
Riddle us this: if the CEOs of these failing banks deserve tens upon tens of millions of dollars in annual compensation and bonuses, how big a bonus do the taxpayers deserve for saving their sorry asses?

11-24 am
We thought it was a terrible deal. Now, it seems Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman agrees: "This bailout is an outrage: a lousy deal for the taxpayers, no accountability for management, and just to make things perfect, quite possibly inadequate, so that Citi will be back for more."

In the waning days of the Bush administration, Wall Street is robbing the nation's treasury. It's that simple.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What? There's No Free Lunch?

Citibank's imminent rescue will cost the American taxpayer dearly. So will the executive bonuses that Citigroup still, after all of this, plans to pay -- just as soon as they lay off another fifty-three thousand lower-level workers.

Funny how this "bailout" is working out, isn't it? Bad managers for lousy corporations walk away with tens upon tens of millions while the average Joe and Jane who work there in the trenches get shoved out the door with pink slips.

Below is a quote showing how others see our problem... from the decided advantage of Australia, where the Citigroup's full-page promotional ads have not yet begun to run in the daily newspapers and ex-Goldman Sachs executives feel they can speak freely.

There is no free lunch:
The problems of Citibank mean that even if it is saved – and I am sure it will be – it will further contract the amount of credit available to keep American business and consumers active. In the process, it will increase the likelihood of the triggering of trillions of dollars of liabilities in synthetic CDO’s.

All the US politicians are talking about bigger and bigger spending to overcome their problems. The next problem comes when the rest of the world, led by China and Japan, tells the Americans that there is not enough money in the world to fund these rescues, so Americans will have to increase taxes. At a recent Reuters Global Finance Summit, former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead said America's problems will take years to solve and will burn trillions of dollars.

Whitehead points out that at this stage the only proposals on the table involve increasing the US deficit.

Whitehead said: "Before I go to sleep at night, I wonder if tomorrow is the day Moody's and S&P will announce a downgrade of US government bonds.

"The public is not prepared to increase taxes. Both parties were for reducing taxes, reducing income to government, and both parties favoured a number of new programs, all very costly and all done by the government."

Whitehead said that he is concerned that no lawmakers are against these new spending programs, yet none will stand up and call for higher taxes.

“'I just want to get people thinking about this, and to realise this is a road to disaster,” he said.
It will be a disaster if the Bush Treasury Department hands over more tens of billions of our increasingly shaky money to Citigroup and then lets the Citigroup board of directors and executives stay in place while running the show as if nothing had happened.

We say, treat Citigroup no better and no worse than General Motors. Let 'em go bankrupt or fork over the reins of ownership and control to Uncle Sam. Period. The public -- that is, present and future taxpayers -- deserve a lot more for their money than self-serving promotional ads and a worthless promise from a corporate liar to pay it all back some day.

Citigroup: Always Awake to Take Your Money

Via Atrios and the New York Times, we learn that the Citigroup banking conglomerate, which already has gobbled up $25 billion of your tax dollars and now wants more, has begun running expensive full-page self-promotional ads in newspaper across the nation. Here's the Times' explanation (boldface ours):
In a series of ads set to run in major metropolitan markets on Sunday, Citi plans to tell its customers that its business is fundamentally sound. It acknowledges that “our financial markets have been tested in unprecedented ways,” but argued that it has the diversity and experience to pull through. It throws out a few numbers, in particular 100 (the number of countries it’s in) and 200 (its years of experience and the number of its customers).

The ad concludes: “That’s why now, more than ever, you can feel confident that Citi never sleeps.”

In case you were wondering, the CEO of that "sound" banking mega-corporation, Charles O. Prince, altogether last year took home $25,520,621 in salary, bonuses (for doing such a great job, don'cha know) and stock options.

Here's the ad they doubtless want you to pay for, too:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obama, the YouTube President

We worked for a while, a long long time ago, in the less-than real atmosphere of Washington D.C. The endless Vietnam-Cambodia-Laotian War was still on, Yuppies continued cavorting in the streets, thousands of draftees were hunkered down in Canada, FBI undercover ops (the guys with the shiny leather shoes) repeatedly were registering for college classes so they could spy on kids with suspected liberal leanings, and grieving Midwestern farm mothers frequently were taking out full page newspaper ads in political protest. The country was near revolt.

Then, as now, it was remarkable in D.C. how you could just sense, without reading about it or being told, that the president was out of town. Something in the way people walked slower or talked more easily or held their heads a little higher, we suppose. Less work got done, more play got played. The rest of the nation might have been on the edge, but in D.C. the clouds parted, the sun shown a little brighter, and the air breathed a little cleaner.

We're far from the Village now and circumstances have changed dramatically. But the nation is still at war, the FBI is still spying on us, and the Bush Recession has everyone at the edge once again. Now, however, it's the whole world that senses the president is out of town.

Bush has checked out of planet Earth, even when he's in Peru. And Obama isn't able to sign in yet.

More than any lame duck president we can think of, including Nixon for his last night in the White House after that humiliating resignation on TV, Bush has become worse than irrelevant. He's like the smelly old uncle who overstayed his invitation and now won't come down out of the guest room.

After a few ill-conceived morning press statements, each of which drove the stock market deeper into the red, Bush has pretty much remained holed up in the White House, playing presidential library games and planning what surely will be the broadest, most egregious stay-out-jail pardon in human history.

Under the 20th Amendment, the Obama administration cannot be born until January 20, 2009. The president-in-waiting has no choice. He must wait. The best that can be done in the meantime is a "YouTube Presidency."

Here's today's "radio" address:

Barack Obama Elementary

Bush isn't gone yet and schools are being named after Barack Obama.

Hanging Out with Our Friends

Glenn Greenwald, on news of the annual International Press Freedom Awards:
So, to recap the award winners: we have a reporter persecuted by the Ugandan Government; another imprisoned by the Castro regime; a journalist-defending lawyer who faced down the intimidation and threats of Robert Mugabe; two journalists who work at great risk of being attacked by the Taliban; and one who was arrested by the U.S. military and then imprisoned for two years without any charges or due process of any kind by the United States Government. As happens so frequently now, that is the company we keep.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Carney Talk

Duncan Black likes to call the stock market a "dog track." These days, it's more like a carnival worker's skin joint -- the kind that loads lead in the bottom of one of those milk bottles or hides a steel beam inside the 4x4 where customers are invited to try driving a nail straight into it with a single blow.

Just remember: you can't win in a skin joint. That's what feeds the carneys.

Mall Mauled

General Growth Properties, owner of 16 Florida shopping malls (along with dozens of others around the nation) was for decades considered the apotheosis of a conservative, steadily- growing, safe investment. Today, it's reported they have hired a bankruptcy lawyer. Take a look at the five-year stock price chart. No surprise, really. Looks a lot like they fell off the same cliff as retail sales.

You're Getting Mail

Pensacola Beach residents are getting mail from their tax lawsuit lawyers. Although fully briefed and argued to the trial court in early May, no decision has yet been made on the last remaining legal challenge against Escambia County's effort to impose ad valorem taxes on island residential leaseholds.

One could conclude from this week's mail that the lawyers expect a ruling any day, now. The letter asks for a modest $75 per parcel additional contribution from client-members of the 2004 lawsuit suit.

A copy is not yet on the tax lawsuit web site. But here's a portion of the rationale:
There have been some appellate decisions in favor of the taxing authorities, but Judge Jones could still rule in our favor. If he does, we need to defend the appeal from the other side. In each of the other cases, the trial judge has ruled for taxation and the appeal court has used only one word to express its decision: "Affirmed." Such a decision is not considered legal precedent that Judge Jones would be required to follow. If he rules against us, there are facts in our case and legal arguments available to us tha were not present in those other cases. We remain optimistic that the ulimate outcome here will be favorable.
To be sure, it seems a little like a bad lawyer's joke to get billed for an appeal whose time has not yet arrived. But they're absolutely right: that was the deal you signed up for and regardless who wins there will be an appeal.

If you signed up and paid your initial $200 per leasehold parcel, you're in for a pound. May as well be in for a penny more, don't you think?

Dept. of Pensacola Beach Blog Precedents

Judicial End Run
Sept. 19, 2008
Portofino: Killing the Golden Goose
Aug. 25, 2008
Double Your Taxes, Double Your Pain
Aug. 15, 2008
Injustice Repeated
Aug. 10, 2008
Dark Secrets on Pensacola Beach
Aug. 7, 2008
Reporter Bests Florida Appeals Court
Aug. 6, 2008
The Beach Meet: Dueling Reviews
June 18, 2008
Beach Tax Lawsuits Explained
May 13, 2008
Deceit Beach: Reply to a Critic
May 10, 2008
Pensacola and Navarre Beach - Back Then
May 9, 2008
Must-Have Pensacola Beach Book
May 7, 2008
Beach Deeds, Taxes, and Stare Decisis
May 3, 2008
Island Deeds for Taxes Resolution
April 28, 2008
Beach Lawsuit Tanked
October 23, 2007
For Whom Bell Tolls: Portofino Taxes
April 3, 2007
Judge: Beach Businesses Subject to Taxation
November 28, 2006
Tax Suit Memory Jogger
May 9, 2006
Island Parable
March 12, 2006
An Airline
Mar. 3, 2006
Hey Y'all
Feb. 19, 2006
Beach Tax Update
February 12, 2005
Beach Tax Settlement In The Wind?
Feb. 6, 2006
Court Rejects Beach Tax Appeal
February 3, 2006
For Sale: Beach Evidence!
January 27, 2006
Navarre Beach Tax Ruling
June 18, 2005
Beach Tax Update
Feb. 12, 2005
Tax Update
January 26, 2005
Beach Leaseholders' Lawsuit Filed
Dec. 21, 2004
Bell vs. Bryan I (1987)
Nov. 19, 2004
Beach Tax Litigation
Nov. 10, 2004

Confidence Game

So, we learn from the minutes of last month's Federal Reserve Board meeting that the central bankers, more or less by a majority vote, project bad times for the economy through mid-2009:
Participants’ growth projections had a central tendency of -0.2 to 1.1 percent for 2009, 2.3 to 3.2 percent for 2010, and 2.8 to 3.6 percent for 2011, as most participants expected that the near-term weakness in economic activity would continue into next year and that the subsequent recovery would be relatively gradual.
You can take that to the bank .... oops... the trash can. If the FED is telling us mid-2009, you ought to be hunkering down for a whole lot longer than that. Remember, the Treasury Department is spending nearly a trillion dollars just to build your "confidence."

What's a little press release added to that?

Dept. of Amplification
11-20 am
Dean Baker reminds us that economic forecasters just like the FED guys, above, are the ones "who somehow managed to overlook the massive housing bubble." Be wary of bankers and economists selling confidence games.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Whee! Free Money!

Bloomberg News: "The U.S. Federal Reserve will probably cut interest rates to zero percent over the next two months to staunch deflation, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. * * * The central bank will hold rates at zero for the rest of 2009 to prevent prices from spiraling down as companies cut jobs and banks reduce lending, stifling spending, Feroli said."

A Funny from Maine

Bill in Portland, Maine: "Results: Testing the 'Lieberman Effect' "

Mission Accomplished - Again

Did you like the "Free Fraud Zone" in Baghdad where the Bush administration handed out criminally over-priced, bid-free contracts to the likes of Halliburton, awarded new contracts to proven frauds, and lost over $9 billion -- we mean, just lost it? Well, then, you're just going to love the "New Trough" for Wall Street that the Bush administration is filling with your money.

Award-winning reporter and author Naomi Klein is all over it:
See if any of this sounds familiar: As soon as the bailout was announced, it became clear that Treasury officials would hire outsiders to perform their jobs for them — at a profit. Private companies wanting to help manage the bailout were given just two days to apply for massive, multiyear contracts. Since it was such a mad rush — after all, the entire economy was about to implode — there was no time for an open bidding process. Nor was there time to draft rigorous rules to make sure that those applying don't have serious conflicts of interest. Instead, applicants were asked to disclose their conflicts and to explain — and this is not a joke — their "philosophy in fulfilling your duty to the Treasury and the U.S. taxpayer in light of your proprietary interests and those of other clients." In other words, an open invitation to bullshit about how much they love their country and how they can be trusted to regulate themselves.
You know the rest... the same Wall Street geniuses who sliced-and-diced mortgages into unrecognizable goo and then re-packaged the detritus into derivative contracts, and the same genius banks that bought those derivatives without a clue what they were worth, are now being handed the keys to Fort Knox -- no strings attached.

"It didn't have to be this way," Klein explains, as our British cousins well know:
Five days before Paulson struck his deal with the banks, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown negotiated a similar bailout — only he extracted meaningful guarantees for taxpayers: voting rights at the banks, seats on their boards, 12 percent in annual dividend payments to the government, a suspension of dividend payments to shareholders, restrictions on executive bonuses, and a legal requirement that the banks lend money to homeowners and small businesses.

In sharp contrast, this is what U.S. taxpayers received: no controlling interest, no voting rights, no seats on the bank boards and just five percent in dividend payouts to the government, while shareholders continue to collect billions in dividends every quarter. What's more, golden parachutes and bonuses already promised by the banks will still be paid out to executives — all before taxpayers are paid back.

How much more of the public's money can the Bush administration squander? January 20 can't come fast enough.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Senate Dems Cave to Lieberman - Again

Reuters is reporting that Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says his fellow Democrats have voted in secret to allow Holy Joe Lieberman to remain chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, a post he used over the last two years to hide contractor failures, incompetence, and thievery by Bush administration cronies.

It was a political, clubby decision, not a good government decision. As TPM observes:
Reid and his fellow Senators have made the political decision to leave Lieberman in a job that he was a disaster at, rather than make the good governmental decision to remove him for the good of the country.
They'll be sorry. Lieberman can't be trusted.

Moreover, Blue Dog renegades like Florida's Bill Nelson now know the Senate leadership can't properly parent them. Go ahead, kids. Do your worst. There won't be any consequences.

Dept. of Amplification
11-18 am

Jane Hamsher reminds us that for delinquents like Lieberman there's still work to be done.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Joe Lieberman Whitewash

How odd. Judging from Joe Lieberman's official U.S. Senate web site, he hasn't given a speech or written an op-ed newspaper article in all of calendar 2008. Click on any month --

"None found for this time period."

The man doesn't even have the strength of his own convictions betrayals.

Dept. of Amplification
11-18 am

Thankfully, Think Progress has rescued the record of the Senator from Sanctimony, cataloging all his speeches, writings, and other betrayals over the past year -- and a little more. No doubt, Lieberman's official senatorial web site will be soon be restored to show what he did and said in 2008.

Dept. of Even Further Amplification
11-18 am

The thing is, Joe Lieberman's word is no good.

Dept. of Even More Amplification
11-18 am

And, he misused his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee to cover-up FEMA incompetence and criminality.

Dept. of Conclusions
11-18 am

Buck Lee's Wet Dream

"The evil at the core of the plan now endorsed by the News Journal isn't necessarily in the doubling of the bridge toll or the notion of 'improving' the commercial core. It's in the retrograde, unimaginative, fiscally irresponsible and environmentally destructive purpose to which Buck Lee wants to put the added revenue."
Among all those Gannett Publishing Corp. layoffs, apparently one of the victims was the Pensacola News Journal's editorial brain. Once firmly in favor of -- indeed, a community leader in advocating -- sound, ecologically sensible management of Pensacola Beach, the newspaper's reduced circumstances on Sunday has brought it to this sad point:

Earlier this year we opposed a Santa Rosa Island Authority proposal to raise the Bob Sikes Bridge toll to $2 because we didn't think beach-goers should shoulder the burden of paying for beach improvements.
Improving and expanding the commercial core of Pensacola Beach could become an economic stimulus that attracts more people and generates much-needed revenue for merchants and the county.
Bear in mind that the 'improvement' and 'expanding' being discussed here is the plan to build three new parking ramps on Pensacola Beach.

Once upon a time the Pensacola News Journal as a community institution recognized that doubling the Bob Sikes bridge toll so the Island Authority could fund Buck Lee's multi-million dollar parking ramp wet dream makes no sense. There are any number of reasons why. Here are just half a dozen of them:
  • It solves a parking problem that doesn't exist 360 days of the year. People who think otherwise are mostly mainlanders who come out to the beach only on the remaining 5 days a year.
  • Buck Lee's plan will throw gobs of public money onto a fragile barrier island that should be retreating from, not hardening against, the constantly-shifting shoreline.
  • Doubling the bridge toll would come at a time when retail businesses, local governments, and families alike are facing a prolonged recession that's likely to become worse than anything since the Great Depression.
  • As past history shows, while higher beach bridge tolls may not discourage new visitors in the first instance, once they've been clipped for tolls every single time they leave and reenter the beach for short trips into town, sufficient numbers of them do not care to repeat the experience.
  • The idea is, in a word, an oily one when we should be looking for more innovative ways of moving people on and off the beach.
  • Even if the toll hike idea weathers the economic storms facing us now, it will add tens of millions of dollars to a beach infrastructure that eventually -- it's 100% guaranteed -- will be damaged or destroyed by hurricanes and lead to renewed, desperate pleas for federal FEMA money to reimburse us for our own foolishness.
For added measure, consider that the parking lot plan is essentially an isolated one, proposing to solve a problem that supposedly affects only Pensacola Beach. Precisely to avoid the often unintended consequences of such ad hoc city planning, the News Journal in past months and years has thumped the tub loudly (and persuasively) for city-county consolidation and stronger regional planning.

Yet, no municipal planning idea says "go it alone" and "status quo" more clearly than building more parking ramps. As the last major study of the needs of Pensacola Beach observed, before leaping into development ideas like this it's wiser and more efficient to first envision what the future of a community should look like:
Once a community has a vision, it can then work together to develop a master plan to achieve this vision. The articulated vision serves as ‘where’ the community wants to be in the future and the master plan provides the action steps and implementation plan to get there
While a select few fans of continuing our addiction to Middle Eastern oil always manage to get sycophantic Pensacola think tanks like the Haas Center and the Whitman Center to include "more parking" in their long lists of recommendations, no one -- not even the think tanks themselves -- ever has come up with hard data to justify building more temporary housing for automobiles as a solution to the 'most pressing' needs on Pensacola Beach.

The evil at the core of the plan now endorsed by the News Journal isn't necessarily in the doubling of the bridge toll or the notion of 'improving' the commercial core. It's in the retrograde, unimaginative, fiscally irresponsible and environmentally destructive purpose to which Buck Lee wants to put the added revenue.

The public need for more beach parking is, at best, ephemeral. Even if one accepts that "improvements" and "expanding" of the commercial core are worthy projects, Lee's plan has it exactly backwards. As the most impressive and successful city make-overs demonstrate -- the skywalks of Minneapolis and Des Moines, the light rail systems of Portland and Morgantown, and the walker-friendly shopping and entertainment areas of Seaside and Seattle -- parking ramps shouldn't be at the core of the plan. If at all needed, they should be tolerated as a mere afterthought.

Traffic studies already prove conclusively that the handful of days on Pensacola Beach when parking is a problem are the days when nearby mainlanders come out in unusually high numbers. Those are times, too, when the neighboring towns of Gulf Breeze and Pensacola as well as all of Highway 98 suffer high volume traffic. Solving the so-called beach parking problem really means biting into the broader problem of Pensacola-Gulf Breeze area transportation challenges.

Wouldn't it make more sense if everyone went back to the drawing board and re-thought the whole issue of travel to, from, and around the commercial core of Pensacola Beach, in and through Gulf Breeze, and across the increasingly burdened 3-mile bridge? What better time to consider a futuristic, Twenty-First Century solution than now, as a new national administration comes into office committed to "change" and dedicated to developing within a decade alternatives, like mass transit, to our dependency on foreign oil?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

George Will Goes to School

George Will is not a historian. Now Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman shows us that Will is not an economist, either.

So what, exactly, is it that George Will does that's so special he should hold a permanent chair on the Sunday talking-hairdo shows?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No Thanks to the Puritans

It has started out as a blustery day in Pensacola, quite possibly making today's Blue Angels season-ending finale trickier than usual, and it would have been tricky enough with the missing No. 4 slot plane pilot grounded for "an inappropriate relationship" with a female colleague.

Sex guilt. One gift of the Puritans we can't be thankful for.

Meanwhile, in downtown Pensacola "Join the Impact" will hold a rally today just after noon. They're protesting the new amendment to the Florida state constitution approved by voters on election day. An absolutely superfluous amendment. An amendment that, at its best, practically repeats existing state law. An amendment, in short, whose sole purpose is to rub salt in open wounds and glorify the torturers.

As for the rally, it's part of the national coordinated "Join the Impact" protest against local and state laws that discriminate against same-sex couples who want to get married and, for that matter, opposite-sex couples who don't.

Sex guilt, again.

To be fair there's better reason to discipline heterosexual members of the Blue Angels team who violate anti-fraternization rules than there is to punish ordinary citizens who just want a little happiness in this life in the privacy of their home. The planes fly within inches of each other over hundreds of thousands of onlookers; one supposes the Blue Angels don't want pilots getting too emotional when they see a rival for love sidling up to them at 700 mph.

But what reason could there possibly be for Florida voters to have approved Amendment No. 2 or California voters Proposition 8? None but the Puritan legacy of fear, bigotry and the age-old impulse to punish others because it is so self-affirming. As Leonard Pitts writes, intolerance is a "seductive thing."
[I]t can be to resist the serpent whisper that says it's OK to ridicule and marginalize those people over there because they look funny, or talk funny, worship funny or love funny.
Intolerance makes a certain kind of human feel better. Never more so than when he or she suffers from sex guilt.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Banking on It

Calculated Risk reports that Hartford Financial Group, which until now was chiefly an insurance company, "has applied to convert to savings-and-loan status." It also plans to buy Federal Trust Corp., a Florida bank, for $10 million.

The business plan here is to remake Hartford into a bank so it can nuzzle up to the Treasury Department's trough for "$1.4 to $3.4 billion" in bank bailout money. Better hurry. The "mayors of Philadelphia, Phoenix and Atlanta" are elbowing in line, too.

Normally, of course, no sane business, city, or individual would want to enter an industry as troubled as American banking seems to be. But thanks to Treasury Secretary Paulson's constantly-changing bailout scheme, pretty soon every business is gonna dress like a bank so it can get its snout in the taxpayers' trough.

Which raises an intriguing question. If, as Atrios teases, "we're all bank holding companies now" then who is left to be the customer?

Economic Cliff

A couple of months ago, we quoted a Pensacola area retailer who remarked that business "fell off a cliff" starting in April. A number of others have told us the same thing.

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released early projections on retail sales in October and the blog Calculated Risk supplies a graph. Now you actually can see that "cliff" the retailer was talking about:

What To Do With Lieberman?

We're with Rachel on this one. To be sure, Joe Lieberman is no longer a progressive. But the core problem really is that Lieberman's word is worthless. Sooner or later he betrays everyone who places their trust in him:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

All the Fun Fit to Print

The fake New York Times is now on the web. If you print it out, do you suppose it will become a collector's item?


Dept. of Amplification
11-14 pm

According to Pacifica Riptide, the spoof New York Times is the product of a whole collection of groups including the Anti-Advertising Agency ... CODEPINK ... United for Peace and Justice ... Not An Alternative, May First/People Link ... Improv Everywhere ... Evil Twin Booking ... Cultures of Resistance and ... the inimitable The Yes Men.

Pardon Me

Think you've seen all the damage to America George W. Bush can do? Remember the wisdom of Yogi Berra: "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Constitutionally, neither Congress nor the courts can prevent President Bush from signing such a pardon. It would, however, be the first preemptive pardon in U.S. history for war crimes. And because of his own possible criminal role in approving the torture program, Bush effectively would be granting a self-pardon -- something Nixon seriously considered but no president has ever done. As he ponders his historical legacy, Bush might just decide that this is a pardon better left unsigned.
Worst. President. Ever.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sarah Palin Still Matters

We don't find ourselves agreeing with a lot of what Andrew Sullivan writes, but on this he's absolutely right. Sarah Palin is a demonstrably stupid, incurious, incompetent individual. And she lost.

But she still matters. Think of her as the canary in the coal mine of our electoral democracy:
The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history. That the press felt required to maintain a facade of normalcy for two months -- and not to declare the whole thing a farce from start to finish -- is a sign of their total loss of nerve. That the Palin absurdity should follow the two-term presidency of another individual utterly out of his depth in national government is particularly troubling. 46 percent of Americans voted for the possibility of this blank slate as president because she somehow echoed their own sense of religious or cultural "identity".
We know a number of people around town -- many of them smart and capable, some not so much -- who deliberately cast a vote to make Sarah Palin the vice president of the United States. This, even though nary a one of them -- not one! -- would have tolerated having her assigned to tutor their own elementary school child or grandchild.

Sarah Palin -- or, more precisely, the phenomenon of the millions who voted for her -- matters even now. And, it will continue to matter because, as Sullivan says, "Until we figure out how this happened, we will not be able to prevent it from happening again. And we have to find a way to prevent this from recurring."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Second Look

This would be good.
Attorneys for seven Panama City juvenile boot camp guards and a nurse acquitted by local jurors in the beating death of a 14-year-old detainee say a new Obama administration might increase chances of a federal indictment against the eight.
Panama City juries have a lot in common with the juries in 1964 Mississippi.


AP News Service, Nov. 8:
Gov. Sarah Palin denounced anonymous criticisms leveled at her by former John McCain aides as lies, including allegations that Republican lawyers were traveling to Alaska to reclaim her high-priced wardrobe and that she didn't know Africa was a continent.

"Those accounts are not true," the former Republican vice presidential candidate said in her first public comments on the matter since the election Tuesday.
* * *
She scoffed at reports that the RNC was sending lawyers to take back clothes from her home.

"It's not happening. Nobody's told me that they're coming to my house to look through closets, to look through anything. The belly of the plane that had clothes in it, and those clothes being packed up and sent back by staffers, perhaps that's what they're talking about, but these aren't attorneys."

AP news service, Nov. 11:

Palin's father, Chuck Heath, said his daughter spent the day Saturday trying to figure out what belongs to the RNC.

"She was just frantically ... trying to sort stuff out," Heath said. "That's the problem, you know, the kids lose underwear, and everything has to be accounted for.

Any day, now, we expect to be hearing about an 18 1/2 minus panties gap. It will be claimed that it's the fault of Rosemary Woods the kids -- Bristol, Willow, Piper, or Trig.

Banker's Holiday

Eschaton is going to be a bank! Just like everyone else who wants a cut of that dough.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Arts Weekend Press Coverage

In our book, the Greater Gulf Coast Arts Festival is the most enjoyable, relaxing, civilized multi-day outdoor event of the year in Pensacola. It's a complex event, too, yet so well managed that it comes off, year after year, without a visible misstep.

There's something for nearly everyone -- wet art ... crafts... jewelry... live music from classical to jazz to big band to zydeco to you- name- it ... around-the-clock stage performances on two outdoor stages... artist demonstrations ... an always-engaging children's art exhibition from local schools... a very inventive and well run children's activity area... a terrific food court... and even, of late, beer, wine and booze booths.

At the center of things is a juried art and crafts show. Generally, the art is good and the crafts are top-flight. Some 226 or so artists this year have their creations on display. (In another good move, the very capable folk who run GGCAF provide links to the artists' web sites here.)

A couple of hundred thousand visitors apparently agree with us. So, it's puzzling that the PNJ would devote barely 255 words to the event in today's Sunday dead tree edition. We've seen the paper give triple that amount of attention to a one hour bathtub race at Quietwater Beach.

On-line, the news coverage is equally disappointing. Sean Dugas, who's apparently been hired to bridge the gap for the News Journal between newsprint and video, seems like a guy we'd enjoy spending an evening with over beer and brats.

But one crummy 3 1/2 minute video with bad audio of interviews with an uninvited squatter sketch artist, a painter, a glass artist, and a motorcycle -- plus an abrupt cut-off?

And no interview with Isabel María Sola Márquez, the featured guest artist from Seville, Spain? What's with that? All we've seen about her in the PNJ is this single paragraph in Friday's Weekender insert:

This year's edition, in conjunction with the 450th anniversary of Pensacola's settlement, is marked by the festival's International Invited Artist, Isabel Maria Sola Marquez from Seville, Spain. Marquez plays guitar, organ, writes poetry and paints smoky, illuminated images of city streets and dramatic figures.

To be fair, the Weekender on Friday did an okay job of promoting the rest of the festival in advance, as in past years. In addition to mentioning Ms. Sola Márquez, Mike Roberts offered a respectable overview of some of the local artists participating.

That same opening day of the festival, Maegen Outzen also weighed in with a personal run-down of some her favorite stage performers. And a useful calendar of events was included.

Still, isn't it news when a guest artist comes all the way from Spain to Pensacola to help celebrate the 450th anniversary of Tristan de Luna's ill-fated attempt to colonize Pensacola? You'd think someone would have been assigned to interview her.

And how much more work would it take for Sean Dugas to give us a video survey of all the performance events -- music and dance among them -- that are practically made for sound-and-video? Someone at the PNJ was asleep at the switch on this one.

But there's still time. Today is the last day of the art festival. Grab that Márquez interview!

And, Sean, let's get a little more creative with the video thing, okay?

turtle price correction 11-9 pm

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Gone Arting

We've gone arting. Pensacola blogger Brenda says the coast -- the Greater Gulf Coast, that is -- is clear.

Here's a taste of stuff we might catch ....

Friday, November 07, 2008

Pensacola's Palin Crush

Rebekah Allen of the PNJ has a profile today in the PNJ not so much about Sarah Palin but about all the Pensacola right wingers who have a political crush on her.

It's a pity that she writes it straight. There's so much in what locals said to her that is hilarious.
"She wasn't afraid to say that she believes in God and goes to church," said the Rev. Bob Meldrim, executive pastor of Marcus Pointe Baptist Church. "She walks the walk, she doesn't just talk the talk. She has clearly chosen the biblical route."
Yeah. We see that all the time -- people afraid to say they go to church. You've probably seen them, too, cowering alongside the biblical highway, shaking with fear that someone might find out.

But top prize goes to Joceyln Evans, who is identified as an "assistant political science professor at the University of West Florida." She told reporter Allen that media "coverage of Palin's candidacy demonstrated subtle prejudices toward women."

We've put the good professor's gem in boldface, below:
"They make a big deal about her wardrobe," Evans said. "But there's not a lot of looking into how much the male candidates spent on their clothes. She's a woman, so she's a shopper, but the other candidates look pretty well dressed, too, if you ask me."
Isn't there something -- well... um -- stereotypically sexist about that? If we were in college, we'd want Prof. Evans to be giving out grades. Her equation is as simple as it is chauvanistic, in the modern transmutation of that word:

Woman = Shopper

With thick-headed acolytes like the good Rev. Meldrim and Prof. Evens behind her all the way, Palin is sure to carry two or three counties in the nation, in the highly unlikely event she ever runs for national office again.

corrected 11-06 pm

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Post-Election Cleanup

From a note we made while working the phones on Election Day for Obama:
Elderly woman in Pensacola: "Let's hope things settle down after today and we can watch what we want on T.V."

Divorcing Sarah

The knives have come out for Sarah Palin; not an unexpected development. Losing campaigns usually disband amidst bitter recriminations, finger-pointing, blame assignment, and all the rest.

As Steve Benen says, "It's hard not to watch this trainwreck play out." Especially so when it's so hilarious.

Among the many, the Los Angeles Times has the most complete blow-by-blow of what resembles a stormy marriage now dissolving in acrimony.
  • Palin didn't know Africa was a continent -- she thought it was a country.
  • She couldn't name all the countries in North America.
  • In addition to $150,000 in new clothes for Palin, it seems someone is getting the credit card bill for $20,000 to $40,000 in new threads for Palin's husband, Todd, and the kids -- including for "thousands of dollars in shoes."
  • Top McCain foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann was fired for dissing the staff. No, he wasn't fired at all, Scheunemann shoots back from his desk at McCain campaign headquarters.
Elisabeth Bumiller of the other coast's Times has more:
  • McCain and Palin had a "difficult relationship;"
  • the vice-presidential candidate was "wobbly and tongue-tied" in news interviews because she didn't prepare;
  • she was inexcusably clueless when Audette and Trudel put one over on her;
  • etc. etc., blah blah blah.
Newsweek is reporting, and Newsday repeats, that Palin's wardrobe was "way more than $150,000." Which leads to our favorite Palin rumor -- that "Republican National Committee lawyers were likely to go to Alaska to conduct an inventory and try to account for all that was spent."

Just remember -- it's all a side show. As we have predicted, bigger powers than leaky McCain campaign staffers and the press will be bringing Sarah Palin down -- hard -- before she ever thinks of running for national office again.

Bush to Invade Pensacola Beach - Please!

In the reduced world of the Pensacola News Journal, as revealed on-line today, Pensacola Beach has its own mayor. Would that this were so.

In point of fact, Pensacola Beach residents have no vote on any mayor. We are ruled by distant county commissioners and their five political appointees, most of whom don't live on the beach and several of whom openly despise beach residents as a class.

All past efforts to bring true democracy to Pensacola Beach by letting it have self-rule through incorporating as a free-standing, democratically-run municipality have been undercut and turned back by hostile county commissioners in league with greedy developers.

Can we please get George Bush to invade Pensacola Beach and bring us democracy before he leaves office?

Voter Turnout Dissed

Bryan at Why Now? argues that voter turn-out was hardly something to be proud of. "I want to know what is wrong with the 40% of the country who couldn’t be bothered," he grumps.

He also points out that Florida voter turn-out as a percentage of total registered voters was "not as good as 2004." Take a look at the numbers and let him know what you'd do to improve things.

Dept. of Amplification
11-06 am

McClatchy News has some added numbers:
[O]nly about 62.5 percent of eligible voters — lower than in 1960 and 1964 — cast ballots. Absentee and mail-in ballots may increase the number and top 1964 but not, experts say, the high-water mark of 63.8 percent set by the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon contest.
Turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds increased by 6 percent over 2004, said the youth-registration movement Rock the Vote, using McDonald's data. That's 4 million more young voters than in 2004.

"Yesterday, more young people voted than in any election since 18-year-olds won the right to vote in 1972," said Heather Smith, the executive director of Rock the Vote.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Book Index - Update

That rare Barack Obama "true first edition" which we mentioned the day before the election? The one someone by the name of Denise Meyers from Louisville, Kentucky, was selling for $8,499?

She wants $14,000 for it now.

We told you to buy, didn't we. Compare screen shots:

First Edition for Sale - November 3, 2008
(click the image)

First Edition For Sale - November 5, 2008
(click the image)

Two Large Losers - Election '08

In this morning after the '08 presidential election, with a number of close races in various states still undecided and detailed precinct by precinct data not yet available for Northwest Florida counties, we can be sure of only some things. One of them is that there were two large losers on the national scene yesterday, in addition to John McCain.

George W. Bush

The biggest loser of all in the 2008 general election was George W. Bush, not McCain, as the late night spontaneous demonstration outside the White House attests. Andrew Gumbel, who covered the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, likens it to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall:
They streamed down the hill from Adams Morgan, down 16th St and along Pennsylvania Avenue to converge on the edge of Lafayette Park. They sang songs, beat on drums, waved life-size cardboard replicas of Obama, hugged, kissed, high-fived and alternated chants of "Yes we can!" with "No more Bush!" For blocks around, cars lined up along the improbably jammed downtown streets echoed the rhythm of those chants with volley after volley of three short toots of their horns.

This wasn't an organized celebration like the gathering in Chicago's Grant Park. It didn't involve buses and organizers and legal protection volunteers, like the vast protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle nine years ago, or the mass demonstrations on the eve of the Iraq war. It was something altogether more unusual in American public life: a spontaneous political gathering of thousands of ecstatic, peaceful revelers who decided to make their feelings known before the most powerful political office on the planet. It was a celebration, for sure, but it was also some kind of deeper statement: that the people had been living under some sort of perversion of democracy for a long time but now felt emboldened to claim it back for themselves.

The "Worst. President. Ever." will be leaving office in richly deserved humiliation.

Sarah Palin

Beyond that, we'd have to say Sarah Palin is the second-sorriest loser. Not because she was a big drag on the McCain ticket -- although that's true, too -- but because she's now facing a certain war unto political death from large and very powerful elements within her own Republican party. It will take awhile, but you can color her done-for.

McCain bears some personal responsibility for that. He plucked the poor woman out of obscurity, so far as 49 of the 50 states are concerned, well before she was ready. He did it to excite, or at least appease, the wacko religious right of the party. In the process, however, he affronted nearly every powerful Republican in and out of office or who holds the party's purse strings.

Of course, Palin herself could have said "No." But she didn't. If she was as capable as some G.O.P. spinners were claiming on the Tee-Vee, she would have known she wasn't ready.

The spinners were lying, of course. You could see it in their eyes every time one of them went on the Tee-Vee to defend McCain's pick: 'This idiot was chosen over me?' they were saying to themselves, 'and now here I am lying about her like this, in front of everyone? What will my mother say?'

If, as they say in baseball, Palin been allowed to "round out" in the minor leagues a little longer, one could have imagined her, perhaps, making a successful run for national office four, or eight, or even twelve years from now; that is to say, after she'd had a chance to learn a little something about foreign affairs, domestic affairs, economics, history, and law. And, just as importantly from a political point of view, after she'd had a chance to bury those ethics charges, fix her squirrley income tax returns, and burn those mysterious medical records in obscurity -- as thoroughly as George W. Bush disappeared records of his cocaine possession probation in Texas and the Air National Guard AWOL records.

As it is, in effect, McCain let her blow out her throwing arm before she was mature enough to pitch and smart enough to hide her embarrassing past. Now, she's been left standing alone on the Republican mound with nothing left to throw.

Sarah Palin is now as vulnerable as Spiro Agnew was on the eve of the Nixon impeachment. Her political fate is sealed.