Thursday, December 31, 2009

Losing Channel 3 (WEAR-TV)

The corporate criminals at Sinclair Broadcasting are once again trying to stick up Mediacom for the "privilege" of carrying Pensacola's only local channel, WEAR-TV. It's not the first time.

As before, we don't see any good guys in this titanic corporate struggle over who gets how much profit from your eyeballs. The one thing that's changed over the past two years is that Pensacola's Channel 3 actually has gotten worse. Much worse. Local news coverage -- even excluding all the fake news we've mentioned before -- has sunk to levels that would embarrass Alabanian Television. Some evenings, there are no more than 12 minutes of news -- most of it inconsequential sensationalism -- sprinkled among 18 minutes of commercials. Studio production -- camera work, continuity, scripting, and editing -- is beneath execrable.

As it happens, two local friends were complaining to us just a week or two ago that they "can't bear to watch that station anymore." If anything, Sinclair should be paying Mediacom for the privilege of reaching the 95 percent or more of cable-wired American homes in the local TV audience.

As for ABC network programming, its love affair with so-called "reality" shows makes access to ABC network programming less valuable -- not more -- as James Wolcott documents. The vacuity of Sinclair's argument with Mediacom is evident when you look at the gun they're pointing at the heads of TV viewer hostages. "If the signal goes dark," PNJ reporter Louis Cooper parrots the corporate line, "local Mediacom customers would find themselves without ... ABC network shows like 'Dancing with the Stars' and 'Lost.'

Oh. My. God. Whatever would we do without those two gems to brighten our day?

Sinclair Broadcasting, of course, incessantly points out that its broadcast signal is "free." One supposes the implicit threat there is that if Mediacom doesn't pay for it, somehow you'll have to.
And, indeed, you will. Any way this corporate fight comes out.

But there's an even more deceptive side to that argument. You're paying for Channel 3's programming now, even if you get it over the air. As humorist Jason Love has written, "They say TV is free, but we pay for it every time we hum a jingle."

Look past the next two weeks of bowl games. After all, there are other outlets to witness those events -- including radio, where the pictures are a lot better.

Frankly, Mediacom would be doing local viewers a favor by dropping WEAR-TV. Then, you can do yourself and any children who might be around the house an even bigger favor by dropping your cable subscription, too.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This Has to Stop

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is complaining that he didn't like the look on the DHS secretary's face.
* * *
That's what it's come to with today's Republican Party -- in the wake of an attempted terrorist attack, one of the first GOP responses is to blast the Homeland Security secretary for her tone and facial expressions. King wants her to be more "emotional."
Americans absolutely have to stop electing nincumpoops to high office or we will have no hope of saving our democracy.

Miller's Crossing

The feckless congressman from Northwest Florida, Jeff Miller (R-Chump), plans to hold a couple of town meetings January 8. Plainly, he wants to use the opportunity to bash the Senate's health care reform plan.

Good for him! What unanimous Republican opposition and traitorous Blue Dog filibuster-threats did was weaken the proposal to the point where even its supporters acknowledge it's barely half a loaf. Don't expect Miller to take that path, though. First, he's not smart enough. Second, he's incapable of doing anything more than reading directly off G.O.P. talking points.

On the off-chance someone does show up at a Republican meeting with Miller who actually cares about something more than partisan politics, maybe they'll ask this question:
"Okay, Mr. Congressman, you don't like the Senate or the House health care plan. A lot of people don't. But as our congressman, we send you to Washington to do something more than just say 'No.'

"Everyone knows our health care system is too expensive and in terrible shape. We spend many times more, and get worse results, than any other advanced country in the world. So what, specifically, do you propose as a solution to the problem?"

New Year's Revolution

Pensacola lawyer Mike Papantonio in his regular PNJ column comes up today with a couple of timely quotes:
Thomas Jefferson said, "I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies." Sixty-three years later, Abraham Lincoln expanded that warning.

Here is what Lincoln said: "I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me and the financial institution in the rear. Of the two, the one in the rear is the greatest enemy. "I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before in the midst of war."

Both Jefferson and Lincoln look like oracles today.

Both those presidents saw the same arrogance from bankers that President Obama saw three weeks ago when he suggested that the banking industry's caporegime should meet to discuss the conspiratorial-caliber conduct they have exhibited for decades.
Which inspires us to suggest that everyone should resolve to make this revolutionary move for the coming new year: Move Your Money.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

David Levine (1926-2009)

David Levine, fearless and talented political cartoonist for as long as we can remember, died today. He was 83. Below: a sample of his work on Henry Kissinger, who so richly deserved it.

More Levine's here.

Politicizing Terrorism

Ron Chusid:
"Just imagine the Republican response if Barack Obama or Bill Clinton had released prisoners to enter an “art therapy rehabilitation program.” This sounds almost as silly as an American president sitting and reading a children’s book while the country is under attack."
Steve Benen has more.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Health Care Reform Explained to the 'Visitor from Mars'

BILL MOYERS: So explain this to the visitor from Mars. I mean, just this week, the Washington Post and ABC News had a poll showing that the American public supports the Medicare buy-in that-
BILL MOYERS: By a margin of some 30 points-
BILL MOYERS: And yet, it went down like a lead balloon.
-- Bill Moyers Journal, Dec. 18, 2009
If you have to watch just one TeeVee debate about the "Rahm Emanuel" version of health care reform which is before the Senate this week, this is the one: Matt Taibbi versus Robert Kuttner, moderated by Bill Moyers. All three know what they're talking about... none is being paid by any corporation to share a dictated opinion... and all three are telling you the unvarnished truth.

It's a rarity to have one of those in the typical media interview these days. To have all three -- and no commercials, no shouting! -- could save our democracy. Watch it. You might get sick if you don't.


BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

Something's not right here. One year after the great collapse of our financial system, Wall Street is back on top while our politicians dither. As for health care reform, you're about to be forced to buy insurance from companies whose stock is soaring, and that's just dandy with the White House.

Truth is, our capitol's being looted, republicans are acting like the town rowdies, the sheriff is firing blanks, and powerful Democrats in Congress are in cahoots with the gang that's pulling the heist. This is not capitalism at work. It's capital. Raw money, mounds of it, buying politicians and policy as if they were futures on the hog market.

Here to talk about all this are two journalists who don't pull their punches. Robert Kuttner is an economist who helped create and now co-edits the progressive magazine THE AMERICAN PROSPECT, and the author of the book OBAMA'S CHALLENGE, among others.

Also with me is Matt Taibbi, who covers politics for ROLLING STONE magazine where he is a contributing editor. He's made a name for himself writing in a no-holds-barred, often profane, but always informative and stimulating style that gets under the skin of the powerful. His most recent article is "Obama's Big Sellout," about the President's team of economic advisers and their Wall Street connections. It's been burning up the blogosphere. Welcome to both of you.

BILL MOYERS: Let's start with some news. Some of the big insurance companies, Well Point, Cigna, United Health, all surged to a 52 week high in their share prices this week when it was clear there'd be no public option in the health care bill going through Congress right now. What does that tell you, Matt?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, I think what most people should take away from this is that the massive subsidies for health insurance companies have been preserved while it's also expanded their customer base because there's an individual mandate in the bill that's going to provide all these companies with the, you know, 25 or 30 million new people who are going to be paying for health insurance. So, it's, obviously, a huge boon to that industry. And I think Wall Street correctly read what the health care effort is all about.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Rahm Emanuel, the President's Chief of Staff, was Bill Clinton's Political Director. And Rahm Emanuel's take away from Bill Clinton's failure to get health insurance passed was 'don't get on the wrong side of the insurance companies.' So their strategy was cut a deal with the insurance companies, the drug industry going in. And the deal was, we're not going to attack your customer base, we're going to subsidize a new customer base. And that script was pre-cooked so it's not surprising that this is what comes out the other side.

BILL MOYERS: So are you saying that this, what some call a sweetheart deal between the pharmaceutical industry and the White House, done many months ago before this fight really began, was because the drug company money in the Democratic Party?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, it's two things. Part of it was we need to do whatever it takes to get a bill. Never mind whether it's a really good bill, let's get a bill passed so we can claim that we solved health insurance. Secondly, let's get the drug industry and the insurance industry either supporting us or not actively opposing us. So that there was some skirmishing around the details, but the deal going in was that the administration, drug companies, insurance companies are on the same team. Now, that's one way to get legislation, it's not a way to transform the health system. Once the White House made this deal with the insurance companies, the public option was never going to be anything more than a fig leaf. And over the summer and the fall, it got whittled down, whittled down, whittled down to almost nothing and now it's really nothing.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, and this was Howard Dean's point this week was that this individual mandate that's going to force people to become customers of private health insurance companies, the Democrats are going to end up owning that policy and it's going to be extremely unpopular and it's going to be theirs for a generation. It's going to be an albatross around the neck of this party.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Think about it, the difference between social insurance and an individual mandate is this. Social insurance everybody pays for it through their taxes, so you don't think of Social Security as a compulsory individual mandate. You think of it as a benefit, as a protection that your government provides. But an individual mandate is an order to you to go out and buy some product from some private profit-making company, that in the case of a lot of moderate income people, you can't afford to buy. And the shell game here is that the affordable policies are either very high deductibles and co-pays, so you can afford the monthly premiums but then when you get sick, you have to pay a small fortune out of pocket before the coverage kicks in. Or if the coverage is decent, the premiums are unaffordable. And so here's the government doing the bidding of the private industry coercing people to buy profit-making products that maybe they can't afford and they call it health reform.

BILL MOYERS: So explain this to the visitor from Mars. I mean, just this week, the Washington Post and ABC News had a poll showing that the American public supports the Medicare buy-in that-


BILL MOYERS: By a margin of some 30 points-


BILL MOYERS: And yet, it went down like a lead balloon.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Look, there are two ways, if you're the President of the United States sizing up a situation like this that you can try and create reform. One is to say, well, the interest groups are so powerful that the only thing I can do is I can work with them and move the ball a few yards, get some incremental reform, hope it turns into something better. The other way you can do it is to try to rally the people against the special interests and play on the fact that the insurance industry, the drug industry, are not going to win any popularity contests with the American people. And you, as the president, be the champion of the people against the special interests. That's the course that Obama's chosen not to pursue.

MATT TAIBBI: And I think, you know, a lot of what the Democrats are doing, they don't make sense if you look at it from an objective point of view, but if you look at it as a business strategy- if you look at the Democratic Party as a business, and their job is basically to raise campaign funds and to stay in power, what they do makes a lot of sense. They have a consistent strategy which involves negotiating a fine line between sentiment on the left and the interests of the industries that they're out there to protect. And they've always, kind of, taken that fork in the road and gone right down the middle of the line. And they're doing that with this health care bill and that's- it's consistent.

BILL MOYERS: If you were Republican, wouldn't you feel right now that it's going your way? I mean, the Democrats control the White House, they control Congress and the only thing they've been able to make happen this year is escalate the war in Afghanistan.

MATT TAIBBI: The Democrats are in exactly the same position that the Republicans were in once the Iraq War turned bad. All the Republicans have to do now is sit back and watch the Democrats make a disaster out of this health care effort. And they're going to gain political capital whether they're in the right or not. And I think it's a very- it's a terrible thing for the party.

BILL MOYERS: Some of your progressive readers and colleagues are going to take issue with you, of course, because there are progressive figures like John Podesta, of the Center for American Progress, Kevin Drum, and others who say, look, this bill has its real problems. It's got some real toxic qualities to it. But it's not as bad as Kuttner and Taibbi think. This is the Senate bill, it covers 30 million-plus more people, has subsidies for low-income families, spreads the risk, lowers some premium costs, creates some exchanges where people can shop for better coverage and prices. You know, don't be too hard on it.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, my co-editor, Paul Starr in the editorial in the current issue of "The Prospect" takes exactly that position. Don't be too hard on Obama, he inherited a really difficult situation and we're making incremental progress. If we could've done better we would've. Paul and I disagree about that. I mean, I think one of the challenges of a president is to transform the reality rather than just work within its parameters. I think the other problem, frankly, is that those of us who consider ourselves progressives invested so much in this remarkable figure, Barack Obama. And we read our own hopes into him. We saw him as a potentially great president. We saw this as a potentially transformative moment, I certainly did, where he could've chosen to be the kind of president Roosevelt was. And it turns out that's not who is characteralogically and that's not how he chose to play the moment.

BILL MOYERS: Yes or no. If you were a senator, would you vote for this Senate health care bill?




BILL MOYERS: Why? You just said it's designed to enhance the fortunes of the industry.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, it's so far from what I think is necessary that I don't think it's a it's a good bill. But I think if it goes down, just because of the optics of the situation and the way the Republicans have framed this as a make or break moment for President Obama, it will make it easier for the Republicans to take control of Congress in 2010. It will make Obama even more gun-shy about promoting reform. It will create even more political paralysis. It will embolden the republicans to block what this President is trying to do, some of which is good, at every turn. So I would hold my nose and vote for it.

MATT TAIBBI: My feeling on it is just looking more concretely at the health care problem, this is a bill that to me doesn't address the two biggest problems with the health care crisis. One is the inefficiency and the bureaucracy and the paperwork which it doesn't address at all. It doesn't standardize anything. The other is price, which has now fallen by the wayside because there's no going to be no public option that's going to drive down prices. So, if a health care bill that doesn't address those two problems, to me, is- and additionally is a big give-away to the insurance companies because it provides, you know- it creates this new customer base, it's something I personally couldn't vote for.

BILL MOYERS: Aren't you saying that in order to save the Democratic President and the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2012 you have to have a really rotten health insurance bill?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, when you come down to one pivotal moment where a bill is before Congress and the administration has staked the entire presidency on this bill and you're a progressive Democrat are you going to vote for it or not? Let me put it this way, if I were literally in the position that Joe Lieberman is in and it was up to me to determine whether this bill live or die, I would hold my nose and vote for it even though I have been a fierce critic of the path this administration has taken.

BILL MOYERS: But doesn't that further the dysfunction and corruption of the system that you write so often about? I mean, you said a few weeks ago that our failed health care system won't get fixed because it exists entirely within the confines of yet another failed system, the political entity known as the United States of America. You said we have a government that is not equipped to fix actual crisis. So if Bob votes for a bill that in his heart and in his mind he does not believe really helps the situation, isn't he furthering a government that can't solve the actual crisis?

MATT TAIBBI: I think so. I understand his point of view. But I my feeling is that if you vote for this bill and it passes, that's your one shot at fixing a catastrophic and completely dysfunctional health care system for the next generation maybe. And I think it's much better for the Democrats to lose on this issue and then have to regroup maybe eight years later, or six years later, and try again and do a better job the next time than to have it go through.

ROBERT KUTTNER: We're going to have to do that anyway. In other words, these fights never end. We're going to have to go back and make a fight another day. And hopefully, that won't be 20 years from now. Hopefully, it will be six years from now. I think if this bill goes down it's going to be even harder to get the kind of legislation we want because the Republicans are really going to be on the march. So, the Democrats are really between a rock and a hard place here, because if it loses, there's one set of ways the Republicans gain. If it wins, there could be another set of ways that the Republicans gain. And this is all because of the deal that our friend, Rahm Emanuel struck back in the spring of passing a bill that's a pro-industry bill that doesn't really get at the structural problems.

MATT TAIBBI: But that's the whole point. If the Democrats had used as a political strategy, we're just going to do what the vast majority of our constituents want and pass a bill that was real, that had real teeth to it, that provided real benefits and actually fixed the problems then, you know, the political benefits that the Republicans could've had after the passage of the bill would've been very limited it seems to me. They could've only gone that one direction and criticized that you know, as a, you know, a socialist give-away. They couldn't have criticized it as an industry give-away and ineffective.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Look, this is not Monday morning quarterbacking.


ROBERT KUTTNER: I mean, I was making the same criticisms that you were at the time. But now we're down to a moment of final passage. And maybe my views are very ambivalent. But I would still vote for it because I think the defeat would be absolutely crushing in terms of the way the press played it, in terms of the way it would give encouragement to the far right in this country that we can block this guy if we just fight hard enough, if we just demagogue it.

MATT TAIBBI: But couldn't that defeat turn into- that crushing defeat, couldn't that be good for the Democrats? Couldn't it teach them a lesson that, you know, maybe they have to pursue a different course in the future?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, you're younger than I am.

BILL MOYERS: Matt, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a very progressive member of Congress who's been at this table wanted a public option. He says this health care bill appears to be the legislation that the president wanted in the first place.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, I mean, I think that makes sense. Yeah, it's quite obvious that at the outset of this process, the White House didn't want, for instance, single payer even on the table, you know, when Max Baucus had his initial discussions in committee on this bill, he invited something like 43 people to give their ideas about, you know, how the bill might look in the future. And he didn't invite a single person from- who was an advocate of single payer health care. So that was never on the table. And it's quite clear that the public option was looked at more as a political obstacle for the White House as opposed to something that they really wanted. They kind of used it as something to scare the Republicans and the moderates with. And that's really all it ended up turning out to be.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, if he had wanted a public option, if he'd wanted a Medicare buy-in, he could have tried to persuade the public and the Congress.

ROBERT KUTTNER: That's what's so galling. Yeah.


ROBERT KUTTNER: I mean, if you if you roll back the tape he could've played it so differently and he could've gotten a better bill. But we are where we are.

MATT TAIBBI: I mean, that's what George Bush did when he wanted to get something unpopular passed or something that was iffy. I mean, he just took, you know, if there were any recalcitrant members, he just took him in the back room and beat him with a rubber hose until they changed their minds. I mean, he could've taken Joe Lieberman back there and said, look, if Connecticut ever wants a dime of highway money again, you're going to have to play ball on this thing. That's what the president does. I mean, the president has an enormous amount of power. The leaders, the majority leaders have an enormous amount of power. And if they want to pass something, they can do it. And especially when there's a tremendous public mandate to get something like this passed. I just- the idea that they couldn't do this was- is a fallacy.

BILL MOYERS: But members of Congress, they take the same contributions from the same insurance and real estate and drug industry. You look at the list of contributions to members of Congress- they are as saddled by obligations as the President, right?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, some are and some aren't. I mean, the House, at least, just passed a bill that's over $100 billion to extend unemployment, extend insurance benefits in the interim prevent lay-offs at the level of state and local government. Now, you have a group of Democrats, and this is the real pity of it. The Democrats are supposed to be the party of the average person. You have the so-called New Democrats who are really the party of Wall Street. And then you have the Blue Dogs who are fiscal conservatives. And if you look at what happened in Barney Frank's committee to the financial reform bill, he's a pretty good liberal, he ended up looking like a complete stooge for industry because in order to get a bill out of his own committee, he had to appease the 15 New Democrats, so-called, who were put on that committee mostly by Rahm Emanuel when he was the-

MATT TAIBBI: Sort of as a means to raise money.

ROBERT KUTTNER: As a means to raise money. So Melissa Bean, who's a two-term Democratic Congressman ends up being the power broker because she controls 15 votes on Barney Frank's committee of what she's going to allow out of committee and what she isn't.

BILL MOYERS: Why does she control 15 votes?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Because there are 15 New Dems, and this is the centrist caucus that particularly specializes in taking money from the financial industry.

BILL MOYERS: You call them centrist, don't you mean corporate Democrats? I mean-

ROBERT KUTTNER: Corporate, yes, sorry. That's too kind. They're corporate Democrats who were put on that committee because Rahm Emanuel felt that there's no better place than the House Financial Services Committee if you want to shake down Wall Street, to put it bluntly.

MATT TAIBBI: There's a great example of Melissa Bean's power was when the banks wanted to pass an amendment into the bill that would have prevented the states from making their own tougher financial regulatory rules. And Bean put through this amendment that basically said that the federal government would have purview over all these laws. And it passed. And this was the kind of thing that the banks wanted. They just go to Melissa Bean, she puts that amendment in there and it and it gets through.

BILL MOYERS: If you were Barack Obama in a city that's overrun by money, how would you try to fix it?

ROBERT KUTTNER: I would go over the heads of the special interests to the people. I think there's a lot of sullen apprehension, frustration out in the country. And I think the people are hungry for leadership. He's not doing that sufficiently.

MATT TAIBBI: It's absolutely a political winner for the president to hit Wall Street very hard and do all the things that he's supposed to be doing right now. You know, that all the things that FDR did. If he did those things, if he remade Wall Street in the way that it needs to be remade, he would do nothing but gain popularity. And I think that's the strategy he should have pursued.

BILL MOYERS: But what if by nature, that's not what he wants to do? What if, by nature, he prefers to head the establishment, than to change it?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Then he runs the risk of being a failed president. And I do have the audacity to hope that he's a smart enough, principled enough guy, that some time in his second year in office, he's going to realize that he's at a crossroads.

MATT TAIBBI: This isn't a purely political problem. This isn't just a question of how does Barack Obama get reelected. This is a serious problem. He has to put aside maybe his inclinations to think about what he can do to actually fix the country. And it's, you know, desperately in need of fixing. And so, if he's not that guy, he has to become that guy.

BILL MOYERS: You say it's a serious problem. But isn't from your own experiences, your long experience, your recent experience, isn't this the fundamental question issue of why it's not working, that there's too much money canceling out other imperatives, other needs, other possibilities?

MATT TAIBBI: This is the fundamental question. Is there a way that we can have a politician get elected without the sponsorship of special interests? Can we get somebody in the White House who's independent of the special interests that are in the way of real reform? And that's the problem. We haven't been able to have that happen. And we need to find a way to have that happen.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Right. And I think it's not accidental that the last three Democratic presidents have been at best, corporate Democrats. And one hoped because of the depth of the crisis and the disgrace of deregulation and ideology, and the practical failure of the Bush presidency, this was a moment for a clean break. The fact that even at such a moment, even with an outsider president campaigning on change we can believe in, that Barack Obama turned out to be who he has been so far, is just so revealing in terms of the structural undertow that big money represents in this country. The question is: Is he capable of making a change -- he's only been in office less than a year -- in time to redeem the moment, redeem his own promise?

BILL MOYERS: When you talk about corporate Democrats, exactly what do you mean?

ROBERT KUTTNER: I mean Democrats who are reluctant to cross swords with the corporate elite that has so much power in this country, whether it's the Wall Street elite or whether it's the health-industrial complex.

MATT TAIBBI: And I think, you know, back in the in the mid-'80s, after Walter Mondale lost, I think the Democrats made a conscious decision that they were no longer going to rely entirely on interest groups and unions to fund their campaigns, that they were going to try to close that funding gap with the Republicans. And they made a lot of concessions to the financial services industry to big corporations. And that's who they are now. I mean--

ROBERT KUTTNER: That's a little too harsh. Just the pity of it is there are probably 40 Democrats in the Senate who are not corporate Democrats. And there are probably 200 Democrats in the House who are not corporate Democrats. If we could push a little harder, we can take back our political system and have a democratically elected set of officials who are the kind of counterweight to big money that we need in order to get reform.

BILL MOYERS: So Democrats have their own obstructionists?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Yeah. You have Republican wall-to-wall obstructionism, which is partisan. And with a few exceptions, Republicans are totally in bed with big business. And you have just enough Democrats who are in bed with big business that it makes it much harder for progressive Democrats to follow the agenda that the country needs.

ROBERT KUTTNER: It just takes a lot of guts. It takes a lot of nerve. It takes a willingness to be somewhat radical.

BILL MOYERS: What you mean, radical?

ROBERT KUTTNER: I mean, confronting the elite that really has a hammerlock on politics in this country and articulating the needs of ordinary people. Now, in Washington, that's considered radical.

BILL MOYERS: I was thinking about both of you Sunday night when President Obama was on 60 MINUTES and he said...

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street.

BILL MOYERS: Then on Monday afternoon, he had this photo opportunity in which he scolded the bankers and then they took it politely and graciously, which they could've done because the Hill at that very moment was swarming with banking lobbyists making sure that what the President wants doesn't happen. I mean, what did you think as you watched him on 60 MINUTES or watched that press conference?

MATT TAIBBI: It seemed to me that it was a response to a lot of negative criticism that he's been getting in the media lately, that they are probably looking at the President's poll numbers from the last couple of weeks that have been remarkably low. And a lot of that has to do with some perceptions about his ties to Wall Street. And I think they felt a need to come out and make a strong statement against Wall Street, whether they're actually do anything is, sort of, a different question. But I think that was my impression.

ROBERT KUTTNER: I was appalled. I was just appalled because think of the timing. On Thursday and Friday of last week, the same week when the president finally gives this tough talk on "60 Minutes," a very feeble bill is working its way through the House of Representatives and crucial decisions are being made. And where is the President? I mean, there was an amendment to put some teeth back in the provision on credit default swaps and other kinds of derivatives. And that went down by a handful of votes. And to the extent that the Treasury and the White House was working that bill, at all, they were working the wrong side. There was a there was a provision to exempt foreign exchange derivatives from the teeth in the bill. That--

MATT TAIBBI: Foreign exchange derivatives are what caused the Long Term Capital Management crisis--


MATT TAIBBI: A tremendous problem.

BILL MOYERS: Ten or 12 years ago, right?


ROBERT KUTTNER: Yeah. And, Treasury was lobbying in favor of that. There was a provision in the bill to exempt small corporations, not so small, I believe at $75 million and under, from a lot of the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requiring honest accounting. Rahm Emanuel personally was lobbying in favor of that.

BILL MOYERS: So you had the Treasury and the White House chief of staff arguing on behalf of the banking industry?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Right. Right. And so here's the president two days later giving a tough speech. Why wasn't he working the phones to toughen up that bill and, you know, walk the talk?

BILL MOYERS: Get on the phone with the Chairman of the Committee and say, if you want that dam in your district, I want your vote on this.



BILL MOYERS: And that's what you mean?


BILL MOYERS: You might praise them in public, but you threaten them in private, right?

MATT TAIBBI: Exactly, yeah. They have--

BILL MOYERS: Nobody's afraid of Obama, you know. You go to Washington as you do, report from Washington. Nobody's afraid of him.


ROBERT KUTTNER: This style is rather diffident. His style is rather hands-off. He's very principled. But, if you're going to be a politician, you have to get in there and mix it up. And to the extent that his surrogates are mixing it up, when it comes to reforming Wall Street, they're mixing it up on the wrong side.

BILL MOYERS: Well, explain this to me. What is your own take on why he chose Geithner and Summers and people from Goldman Sachs and Wall Street to come and be his financial advisors, instead of choosing Stiglitz--


BILL MOYERS: Some of his advisors from the progressive wing of the Democratic system?

MATT TAIBBI: Most people that I've talked to have taken one of two positions on this. One is that Obama was naïve, that he doesn't know a whole about the financial services industry, and he felt the need to rely upon people who'd been there before, people who've had these jobs before, and you know, who have this expertise. And there's another school of thought that look, he took more money from Wall Street than any other presidential candidate in history. Goldman Sachs was his number one private campaign contributor. And if you just look at the evidence, it's just really business as usual. This is what the Democratic Party has done since the mid-'80s. They've relied heavily on the financial services industry to fund their campaigns. And it's the quid pro quo. They gave a lot of money to help these guys run, and in return, they get the big jobs, you know, in the White House.

BILL MOYERS: But here's how they repay him. This is on "The Huffington Post:" "Bank lobbyists launch call to action to crush financial reform. The American Bankers Association issued a call to action on Wednesday urging its lobbyist and member banks to make an all-out effort to crush regulatory reform in the Senate." This is how they reward his own tolerance towards them, right?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Right. And you've got to play hardball against these guys now. I do not want to leave this show with your viewers thinking this has been just a council of despair. So will you allow me to play Pollyanna for 30 seconds? Because I think this guy is nothing if not a work in progress. He's nothing if not a learner. And I think there is a chance. I don't think I would bet my life on it but I think there's a possibility that by the fall of 2010, looking down the barrel of a real election blowout, you could see him change course, if only for reasons of expediency, but hopefully for reasons of principle as well, if he feels that the public doesn't have confidence that he is delivering the kind of recovery that the public needs. This is a guy who is a very smart, complicated man. And I think don't speak too soon, for the wheel's still in spin. I don't want to totally give up.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah. I mean, obviously, it's too early to completely abandon hope that he's going to turn things around. But I think that's a belief that's not really based on evidence. If you look at the evidence of how he's behaved so far, and who he's got, you know, working in the White House, and who he's getting his money from, and how the party has behaved over the last couple of decades. You're really basically relying upon the impression that he gives as a kind, decent, warm-hearted intellectual guy. That's what the basis of that faith that there's going to be this turnaround. It's really not anything that's actually concretely happened that would give you reason to think that.

ROBERT KUTTNER: The other thing that's missing, if you compare him with Roosevelt or LBJ or Lincoln, the other thing that's missing is a social movement. In all of these great periods of transformation, you had social movements doing a complicated dance with the president, where sometimes they were working with him, sometimes they were beating up on him. That certainly describes the civil rights movement and Lyndon Johnson. It describes the abolitionists and Lincoln. It describes the labor movement and Roosevelt. Where's the movement?

BILL MOYERS: Coming down to the office this morning, the cab driver turned and said, "You see the newspaper this morning?" And he turns and hands me the NEW YORK POST. "It's Wall Good: Wall Street Earnings Soar to $49 Billion in the First Three Quarters of the Year ... Profitability has soared because revenues rose ... Wall Street bonuses for employees in the city may be as much as 40 percent higher than in 2008." What would you say to the President about this? Does he know?

ROBERT KUTTNER: I think, to some extent, the White House lives in an echo chamber. They do these public events that are intended to demonstrate that the president's listening, that he's feeling our pain. Congress gets a very bad rap. But I was invited to speak to the House Democrat caucus a couple a weeks ago. And they are furious. They can't publicly embarrass their president, but they go home on weekends and they talk to their folks and they hear the individual stories of suffering. And they feel that certainly the Treasury, to some extent the White House, just doesn't get it and the Republicans are going to end up with a narrative and the Tea Party folks, it's the far right that is on the march when ordinary people need a champion.

BILL MOYERS: So, what are people to do?

ROBERT KUTTNER: I think there are there are things that are not too complex for people to understand. If the value of your home is going down the drain because the government's not doing anything about an epidemic of foreclosures, that's the kind of thing that people can talk about across a kitchen table. They do talk about it across the kitchen table. And you need more leadership like a Marcy Kaptur or a Maria Cantwell, elected officials who get it, who have not been bought and paid for by Wall Street stirring up people and turning this into a movement.

MATT TAIBBI: And that's really where Barack Obama's failings are the biggest. This is exactly where we need a president with the communication skills that he has. I mean, he's probably the one person who could help all of America make sense of all this stuff. And he's not doing it. I mean, he's doing these photo ops, you know, earlier in the week, with a couple of bankers. It's a kabuki dance to show that he's against Wall Street. But he's not explaining to people how all this stuff works. And that's the problem.

BILL MOYERS: Are you a cynic after all your reporting this year?

MATT TAIBBI: No, not at all. I mean, I think on the contrary. I think cynicism is accepting all this as, you know, politics, as the way it is. I think we have to not accept what's going on. And that's not being cynical. That's being helpful.

BILL MOYERS: But is it naïve to think that in a country of so many clashing interests, we might get better results from the political system than we're getting right now?

ROBERT KUTTNER: I think there are periods of American history when the political system rises to the occasion. It certainly did with the civil rights movement. It certainly did in the 1930s. But there's no guarantee that it's going to come out the way it needs their come out. So I wouldn't give up on the political system. I mean, you have to keep fighting and working to rebuild democracy. Democracy is the only possible counterweight to concentrated financial power. And ideally, that takes a great president rendezvousing with a social movement. One way or another, there is going to be a social movement. Because so many people are hurting, and so many people are feeling correctly that Wall Street is getting too much and Main Street is getting too little. And if it's not a progressive social movement that articulates the frustration and the reform program, you know that the right wing is going to do it. And that, I think, is what ought to be scaring us silly.

MATT TAIBBI: We are starting to see signs of a little bit of a grassroots movement. I mean, the stuff, you know, people who are refusing to leave their homes after they've been foreclosed upon. There are little pockets of movements you know, groups that are organizing against foreclosures all across the country. And this is one small slice of the economic picture that where it's quite clear what's going on, and people can really understand the relationship that they have with the financial services industry. And I think if, you know, there it's possible to imagine a movement coalescing around something like that.

BILL MOYERS: Matt Taibbi, Robert Kuttner, thank you for being with me on the Journal.

MATT TAIBBI: Thank you.


Beach Tax Attorneys Post Ruling

Again, Judge Michael Jones has ruled on the beach tax lawsuit. The news is not good for any leaseholders except seven individuals. Jones ruled they are "exempt" from taxes on the narrowest of grounds: they won a 1987 case challenging an earlier county effort to tax beach residents.

The tax ruling has been posted here by plaintiffs' attorneys. (Scroll down and click on the case name.) They add, "Plaintiffs in this law suit can expect to hear more details on the ruling and future action in the very near future."

That's for sure. Like, when Escambia County Commissioners hit everybody up for interest.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Breaking: Pensacola Beach Residents Lose Tax Suit

Nothing's on the web at this writing, but word comes today that a 49-page ruling by Escambia Circuit Court Judge Michael Jones showed up in the mailboxes of lawyers on the case. The ruling was filed Friday.

Beach residents lost. This is not a surprise. There were omens. Still, it will be a bitter disappointment to thousands of residents (and many of their mortgage bankers) who relied on County Government promises not to tax Pensacola Beach home sites and condo units which are under 99 year leases.

We'll have more, soon. In the meantime, "Merry Christmas to you, too, Judge Jones."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pensacola Utility Director: "What, Me Worry?"

Pensacola's water utility director has gone national with his technical defense explaining why Pensacola's drinking water ranks as the worst in all of the U.S.:
“If it doesn’t violate the law, I don’t really pay much attention to it,” said Stephen Sorrell, executive director of Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, which serves Pensacola, Fla. Data show that his system has delivered water containing multiple chemicals at concentrations that research indicates are associated with health risks.
He doesn't pay attention to health risks, as long as they are 'legal'? How embarrassing! How incompetent!

NYT reporter Charles Duhigg today exposes that defense for the humbuggery it is ["That Tap Water Is Legal but May Be Unhealthy"]. "The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal."

The article is long and detailed, but it comes down to this un-surprising point: the law can't keep up with science. Neither can a utility director who "doesn't pay much attention."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Gospel Truth

When some anonymous blogger somewhere, such as Pensacola Beach, harbors the suspicion the Obama White House secretly has been undermining the public option in its own health care reform initiative, we tend to dismiss that thought as just a stray synapse of paranoia. When veteran congressmen John Conyers (D-MI), David Obey (D-WI), and Anthony Weiner (D-NY) say it, you know it has to be true.

Take it to the bank -- if you can find one that isn't hiding from its customers. No one knows the inside story in D.C. better than John Conyers. And there isn't a smarter, more thoughtful guy in all of Washington than David Obey. Unless it's Anthony Weiner.

If they said it, then it's as good as gospel.

Pensacola: "Don't Go Near the Water"

Judging from their published comments, local utility and tourist-promotion big-wigs might have some pretty snappy suggestions for promoting Pensacola as a safe place to live and visit. Just don't go near the drinking water:
  • Dale Perkins, veteran ECUA director: 'Yes, we have no enviro-liberal wacko safe water.'
  • Lois Benson, ECUA board member and former state senator: 'Safe water is our second priority.'
  • Stephen Sorrell, ECUA Executive Director: 'We have a legal defense to our bad water. Move here and learn the details.'
  • Laura Lee, Chamber of Commerce spokes-woman: 'It ain't our fault.'
  • Shawn Hamilton, Tallahassee's EPA outcast to Pensacola: 'We serve minimally legal water!'
In all fairness, Lois Benson at least is willing "to take this information and see how it can make us a better utility." And, everybody knows Dale Perkins is a genial idiot; for years people have voted for him mainly because (1) he rarely has opposition on the ballot; and (2) we want to keep him from clogging the unemployment lines.

What going on here? Our most charitable guess is selective amnesia, brought on by public officials drinking the Kool-Aid made from local tap water.
  • In 1998, a local grand jury "issued a report finding 'widespread' groundwater contamination in the county, and blaming the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and local authorities for failing to prevent or clean up the pollution."
  • In 1999, EPA release its annual Toxic Release Inventory showing Escambia County had 23 industries that released over 52 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the local environment in one year -- qualifying Escambia County as the eighteenth worst-polluted county in the entire nation.
  • In 2000, James Studnicki and Partnership for a Healthy Community released data showing that all cancer rates as well as new-born infant death rates are higher in Escambia County [pay for download] than in any other Florida county and the state as a whole. The death rate here is nearly twenty percent higher than the state average.
ECUA hasn't made matters better with its official statement in response to the latest news. Says the utility, "Our water is absolutely safe and meets every water quality standard from the environmental agencies. If the standards change, we will also meet the new requirements."

That's infuriating. What ECUA is saying, in effect, is that it can do better. It just doesn't want to. And, as long as the water quality is "legal" it won't do a damn thing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pensacola Eyewash

About that "100" score for Pensacola's dirty water, Louis Cooper for the PNJ dutifully transcribes the greenwash from local officials and academics looking for research grants. It translates to, "Buy a filter."

Buy a freakin' filter?!
And, hey, while you're at it why not build your own highway, arm your own police force, build your own electrical plant, and park your own fire engine in the drive?

But the Grand Eyewash Prize for Environmental Stupidity goes to some academic dick named Snyder at the University of West Florida. We're told he actually gets paid to work as a professor at the "UWF Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation."

"We live in an industrial society," Snyder acutely observes. "There are chemicals everywhere. There's no way we're going to avoid that."

"That? That being, what? Industrial waste leaching into the water supply of one of the least industrial locales in all of America and not being cleaned up before home delivery? Consistently scoring worse on clean water than any other community in the nation? Worse than Pittsburgh and Cleveland, for goodness' sake?

At least as Louis Cooper transcribes it, Snyder's "diagnosis" seems to be, "So what?" And his "bioremediation" is, "Live with it."

Bejeebus. There's a guy who's been drinking too much Pensacola water.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pensacola Water Flunks Nationwide Test - Big Time

On a national survey of drinking water quality in 47,667 cities and towns across America, released late today, Pensacola received a grade of 100!! Isn't that great? the local real estate agents will be saying tomorrow. Why, that's the equivalent of an A+ in every school of higher education in the country.

Not, however, on the grading scale used by the Environmental Working Group. Their "100" means Pensacola has the most polluted drinking water in the nation. The absolute worst out of nearly 50,000 cities tested.

This was no one-off, either. The local water quality problem is chronic and desperate. Between 2004 and 2009, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection conducted 74,897 tests of our drinking water. They found 45 different pollutants (compared with a nationwide average of 4 per community) and 21 chemicals (anywhere else, the average was 8) that exceed federal and state health agencies guidelines.

The excuse of the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA) doubtless will be that while Pensacola water certainly exceeds every known health limit, ECUA hasn't broken the law. At least they haven't been caught, yet.

But when a city's drinking water finishes dead last in a nationwide, multi-year water quality study in which local and state officials played a significant part, you know something is seriously, seriously wrong.

Care to drink to that? We wouldn't. Not with anything that comes out of a local tap, anyway.

Holy Joe Lieberman Flip-Flops Again

After a YouTube video surfaced today showing Holy Joe Lieberman -- just three months ago -- endorsing an expansion of Medicare which he now opposes, Sam Stein writes,"The simplest explanation for Lieberman's pirouette is that he is in the pocket of the insurance industry."

That's really all you have to know. Yes, Joe Lieberman is vain, hypocritical, and intellectually dishonest. But, he's also corrupt.

My Left Nutmeg has the latest position statement of the "Senator from Aetna."

Dept. of Amplification

12-14 pm

Jordan Fabian of The Hill is reporting that "81 percent of Democratic voters polled in a recent Research 2000 survey said they would like Lieberman to lose his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What to Do on a Rainy Sunday

You could sleep in and remain stupid but refreshed. Or, you could (at last!) understand what's been happening with our political economy by reading Matt Taibbi's superb piece about --

The president has packed his economic team with
Wall Street insiders intent on turning the bailout into
an all-out giveaway

"And there's more....!" as the hucksters like to say on late night Tee-Vee. Namely, the criticisms of Taibbi's article by Tim Fernholz. About Fernholz, it should be said that he can't plug in a keyboard for Taibbi's word processor. He authored a goofy, boring, and completely unconvincing attempt to refute Taibbi's criticisms:

Even the fact-checkers at Reuters find Fernholz' article "weaker than it looks." Fernholz' article, however, has had the welcome result of attracting even more readers to Taibbi's piece -- and giving him the opportunity for a second swipe --

Taibbi ends the present exchange with this:

It is my job to point out that many of the same people who bear direct responsibility for the financial crisis were given positions of great power in the Obama White House, and that in many important ways the Obama appointments represented a resounding reaffirmation of the status quo (I didn’t even mention the renomination of Ben Bernanke), and the exact opposite of “change.” One can argue about the extent to which this is true, but I don’t think the facts are really in question.

One cannot read all four of these articles without concluding, among other things, that the Teabagger crowd and today's Republican Party really are missing the boat. Obama is a smart guy, no question about that. But liberal? Not when it comes to economics. Outside the Beltway, he looks suspiciously like a captive of Wall Street bankers, being held for a ransom roughly equivalent to the nation's GDP.

Certainly, Bush and the G.O.P. brought this financial crisis on us, themselves, by sinking to their knees and enacting every greedy bit of Wall Street friendly legislation they could think of to spur the speculators on -- after first showering them with budget-busting tax breaks for the richest two percent of the nation. They can't blow the whistle, now, on Obama-the-Wall-Street-Enabler when they have so much guilty knowledge themselves.

But just imagine how it might have been if we still had the old Republican Party back -- the one from days of yore when it was home to such progressive voices as Ed Brooke, Jacob Javitts, Mark Hatfield, and (for awhile) Wayne Morse -- to mention just a few who would not be welcome in the G.O.P. today. Instead, the present-day Republican Party is uniformly reactionary, much smaller, and acting very stupidly.

If on this rainy day in Pensacola you'd like to take in a movie, consider this one: Matt Taibbi on Obama's Economy. You won't be any richer for it, but now you can know why.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hurricane Odds Makers On Strike

The Klotzbach-Gray team of Colorado State fortune tellers and weather bookies has issued its hurricane forecast for 2010. "For the first time, the CSU team is issuing a range for the number of forecast storms instead of a specific number. This is more in line with the forecasts that the National Hurricane Center issues."

Bottom line: even they don't believe in their "new early December forecast scheme." "We issue these forecasts to pander to satisfy the curiosity of the general public and to bring attention to our department's need for more insurance corporation donations the hurricane problem. "

If you want to waste your time and read the whole thing, click here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Senate and Sensibility

The U.S. Senate is completely dysfunctional. Only Jon Stewart can make sense of it.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Highway to Health - Senate Fight '09
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Monday, December 07, 2009

Like Medicare? Not for You, Then

Medicare for All (55 and over)!?
Senate Democrats are discussing the idea of expanding Medicare by lowering the age at which the elderly could enter the government-run insurance program, Democratic sources on the Hill tell the Huffington Post.

The proposal would lower the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 55, though an age limit of 60 has also been suggested. Crucial details -- such as the timing of the implementation of such a reform -- were not provided due to the sensitivity and ongoing nature of the deliberations. A high-ranking Democratic source off the Hill confirmed that such discussions are taking place.
Of course, as Atrios implies, this is just a strategy to shut up the "DF hippies" who think senators and congressman ought to go through life without scamming money from the drug manufacturers and health insurers. How naive that is!

So, Digby's amended statement makes sense to us. Medicare for all 55 and over --
is a terrible idea that only a centrist, moderate, corporate lackey, right wing teabagging villager could love and I will fight it with my last breath! Betrayal!
Lowering it year by year until it reaches everyone would be even worse. The reason, of course, is that if we said we liked it, Blue Dog Crooks like Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and that thorough-going idiot, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, would jerk it away immediately.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Aetna Doesn't Want You Anymore

Via Daily Kos and Suburban Guerrilla:
Aetna is already planning to kick off over 600,000 Americans who're unprofitable since they get sick and require that claims get paid, right before the health "insurance reform" plan would take effect.
* * *
If you're an Aetna customer, be careful with which claims you submit as that could raise a red flag in their investigative teams. They'll deny your claims, raise your premiums, drop your policy based on some claim of fraud, and give you the ol' administrative runaround in order to discourage you from staying on with Aetna.
As Slinkerwink says, this is why we need a true, effective public option in any health reform bill.

Be sure to kick a Blue Dog for ruining the public option. With Democrats like Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who needs Republicans?

Friday, December 04, 2009

We Have a Winner!

Famed Colorado State hurricane forecasters Dr. William Gray and Philip J. Klotzbach consider themselves "successful" in the 2009 Annual Tropical Weather Forecast Derby. They're winners!

This is very good news. By the standards they use, we must have won the Florida Lottery.

Gray and Klotzbach's first forecast for the just-ended hurricane season, issued a year ago this week, only missed the mark by 57 percent ( 4 hurricanes too many). They also cleaned up on the undercard with Named Storms (35 percent wrong)... Named Storm Days (61 percent wrong)... Hurricane Days (62 percent wrong)... Major Hurricanes (33 percent wrong)... and Major Hurricane Days (53 percent wrong).

With a record like that, it's a wonder Gray and Klotzbach didn't lose the shirt they take turns wearing by investing in General Motors, C.I.T., Chrysler, and General Growth Properties. (Oops! Maybe they did!)

In case anyone's wondering, Dr. William Gray generously shares all the credit for the team's performance this year with his understudy: "Phil is now devoting much more time to the improvement of these forecasts than I am," he writes modestly. "I am now giving more of my efforts to the global warming issue."

We know how that's going. Another "winner"!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Investment Advice

Via TPM:
[T]he next time you see CNBC star-struck by the glamorous lifestyle of some high-living master of the universe, it might be worth taking a close look at his company's finances. Because the nation's most prominent business network probably didn't.
No, no! The next time you see CNBC featuring "some high-living master of the universe," sell his company short -- and then call the cops.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pensacola Prediction

So, it seems Pensacola city voters have approved a new municipal charter authorizing a "strong mayor" system. Now, let's see if they have the brains to elect one who's intelligent and honest.

Don't count on it. We fervently wish them well, but we've seen this movie before. Voters who find themselves incapable of electing a city council majority with brains and integrity are unlikely to smarten-up and suddenly elect anything better as mayor.

Save this prediction on the front of your refrigerator: Sooner or later -- probably sooner -- a "strong mayor" elected by the people of Pensacola will be indicted on corruption charges. And, he'll go to jail, just as so many county commissioners have in the past.

Unless, that is, his criminal defense lawyer succeeds in empaneling a jury made up of the same kind of dummies that voted for him.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Rolltide Symphony in J Minor

We have a good friend who can be seen all over Pensacola this time of year, embarrassing herself by waving crimson flags and shouting, "Rolltide, Rolltide." Check out any sports bar that may be showing Alabama football. You'll be forgiven if you mistake her for a crazy tea bagger.

The other day, she sent us a film clip, seen below. Either she was trying to convey her condolences or she was rubbing salt in our wounds. Alabama is still in the hunt for a national college football championship while the Iowa Hawkeyes aren't.

It's as if our friend were saying, "Sure, Alabama is No. 1. But Iowa can do something, too. Looky here, the Hawkeyes are a winner in farm machinery music!"

If she were sneering as she said it, then she was rubbing in the salt. The film our friend sent purports to show an --
incredible machine ... built as a collaborative effort between the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa. Amazingly, 97% of the machine's components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft Iowa , yes farm equipment.

It is now on display in the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall at the University and is already slated to be donated to the Smithsonian.
The problem is, the entire story -- and the machine -- is a hoax.
  • There is no "Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory" at the University of Iowa.
  • There is no "Sharon Wick School of Engineering."
  • There is no "Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall" in Iowa City, or anywhere else for that matter.
  • John Deere Co. has nothing to do with any of them.
  • The machine is not on its way to the Smithsonian Museum.
  • The reason is, as the Smithsonian patiently explains,"The Institution cannot accept a donation of something that doesn't exist."
As it happens, there is a Bancroft, Iowa (pop. 808). In case you're wondering, it's just twelve miles due west of Titonka (pop. 574). Even people in Iowa don't know these towns exist.

As for the University of Alabama, we'll put the U. of I's Bill LaRue Jones up against Alabama's Nick Saban any ol' time.

Charlie Crist's Options

The Republican Governor of Florida is in deep political trouble. He's the latest target of the tea bagger crazies. Or, as the Urban Dictionary now has it, he's being scozzafavaed.

According to recent polling, right-winger Mario Rubio is on track to defeat Charlie Crist in next year's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate nomination. The really bad news for Crist is, "The crazier the Republican, the better Rubio does." And, Florida has a lot of crazy Republicans.

Steve Benen surveys Crist's options:
  • Crist can try to out-crazy Rubio, but that would put him somewhere to right of Attila the Hun.
  • Once he loses the primary, he could do a Lieberman and run as an Independent, possibly tying the major party candidates.
  • He could change parties and become a Democrat, in which case poll data analysis show he probably would win.
Adam Smith, the fortuitously-named political reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, has an even more outlandish suggestion: Crist could discover some lofty principle he actually believes in. Then, he'd stand for something other than his own political advancement.

Novel idea, eh?

The Wait of Evidence in Pensacola

A man with a criminal record who is a serial liar is arrested for a bar heist that went so bad a patron was shot and killed. The man then tells Escambia County sheriff's deputies the trigger man actually was a black man with the supposed nickname "Black By Day." He claims he doesn't know his supposed accomplice's real name.

So, Escambia County deputies arrest a black man, now known to be entirely innocent of any crime --
on the word of Brandon Davis, 20, who admitted robbing the bar in the 3900 block of Fairfiield Drive on Oct. 23. Davis also told officers that Gilchrist was with him and fired the fatal shot that knocked Jared Ortiz, 25, from a bar stool.
The innocent man arrested happens to have a similar-sounding nickname, "Day Day." That's the only so-called evidence linking him to the crime. A bar full of employees and patrons, and no one else could corroborate the innocent black man's involvement. Yet, he is charged with murder and sits in jail awaiting trial. In the meantime, what does the sheriff's investigators do? Nothing. Nothing!

Why? Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ted Roy explains: "I don't know if you watch a lot of TV, but in real life, other evidence does come forward all the time."

Arrest first, wait for the evidence to walk in your door later? Wasn't there a revolution fought over that kind of conduct?

The only evidence that finally came forward? The original crook recanted his "his allegation that Gilchrist was involved... ." There being no other evidence against him, Gilcrist was finally released.

Think about that for a moment. The cops rely on one man's word and arrest someone, then sit around wolfing down donuts and waiting while drawing their salaries as 'homicide detectives.' But for the rare happenstance that the crook finally 'fessed up, an innocent man almost assuredly would have been tried, convicted, and executed in Florida.

We don't watch much TV, so we can't be sure what Sgt. Ted Roy is referring to. Does he mean to imply that in Pensacola, the sheriff's deputies don't look for fingerprints from the gun or gunpowder residue on the suspect? They can't bother to interview victims in the bar?

Now, in all fairness the PNJ may not have the whole story. After all, the absence of evidence in itself is evidence. And, it may be the product of some kind of investigation, even if after-the-fact. Nor are we persuaded by some of the boo-birds who infect the PNJ message boards that this is all the fault of the current sheriff. After all, he inherited a deputy force that doubtless has some lousy, hard-to-fire detectives along with some good ones.

But, doesn't the law require probable cause before arrest? Or, in Escambia County is it the case that to know his race is to know enough?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beach Life List

Today's edition of the Pensacola Newsletter editorializes by asking the question, How different should beach life be? Curiously, the editorial wimps out on offering an answer.

What the newspaper is talking about is the latest scam by real estate gamblers to try to recoup their underwater investments: McMansion "houses" built in single-family residential neighborhoods to function like party hotels so they can host raucous beach bashes 24/7. Today, it's large wedding parties. Tomorrow, the editorial points out it could be "weekend flea markets," dining for the masses al fresca, or porch concerts by electrified rock bands.

That's not helpful. It just gives the speculators more ideas. To sentient human beings, suggesting that Pensacola Beach might become home to trashy flea markets and ear-splitting rock concerts sounds like a nightmare. To the repulsive mercenaries trying to game the zoning laws, the newspaper's short list of horribles will sound like great ideas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Using Too Much Health Insurance

If those pesky blogs would just stop reporting on lazy, good-for- nothing people like this kid who want to use too much health insurance, Blue Cross could make more money. It's a "non-profit," after all.

The latest House Republican Plan would fix all this by making it possible for health insurance companies just like this one to sell their crappy policies everywhere across state lines without worrying over whether some states have more consumer-friendly laws.

Obama in China

James Fallows translates for us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Marriage Mill Beach

"Pensacola Beach needs an identity to make it stick out from the pack of destination resorts dotting the Northern Gulf Coast from Gulf Shores to Destin."

Who needs a consultant and workshops to come up with an "identity" for Pensacola Beach when there are quick-buck real estate artists, developers, stock brokers, and rental agents ready to turn the beach into "Marriage-Mill Party Town?" We have no doubt that a majority of the real estate gamblers on the beach privately thinks gay marriage is immoral and irreligious and all of that. But if it makes them a buck, they'd probably vote for a county ordinance allowing people to marry animals on Pensacola Beach every hour of the day ... and night.

Dept. of Amplification
11-15 pm

You can follow the issue through the Gulf Breeze News. They not only scooped the PNJ early last week, they didn't send a "fashion magazine" writer to cover it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lonesome Road to Ft. Pickens

As tame as Tropical Storm Ida was as it came ashore over Mobile, it's no surprise that the road to Ft. Pickens is closed once again. "About 80 percent of Fort Pickens Road between the entrance station and ranger station is covered with 500,000 to 750,000 cubic yards of sand," chief Park Ranger Clayton Jordan told the PNJ.
The closure of Fort Pickens Road marks the fourth time since the road reopened in May that it has been closed for weather-related reasons, Jordan said. The road was washed out by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. It was rebuilt but then destroyed by Tropical Storm Arlene and hurricanes Cindy and Dennis in 2005.
In fact, there is a saltwater and sand overwash of a stretch of road nearly a half-mile long during just about every rain storm and many high tides. We happened to be visiting the fort a week or so before Ida. It was about two weeks after a seasonal rain storm not much worse than Ida. Evidence of overwash was visible all along that portion of the road.

What's happening, as Barrier Island Girl helped us point out last May, is that the western end of Santa Rosa Island is gradually breaking off. It's a slow process, to be sure. Mother Nature is in no hurry. But it's as inevitable as the division of East Ship and West Ship islands.

So, enjoy Fort Pickens when and as you can. Your grandchildren will have to boat there, for sure.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Charlie Crist's Coast-to-Coast Charter

After chasing the wind-blown pages of our daily Pensacola Newsletter all over the neighborhood this morning, because once again it's lighter than air, we wound up with some sort of sports half-page, a few classified ads, and the front page. That's it. Here's hoping the fishes enjoy the Local News and Editorial sections, if there are any.

What we're left with is just enough to know that the PNJ is linking Governor Crist to an accused big-time drug dealer, Pedro "Pete" Benevides. Kris Wernowksy reports that Benevides is a Brazilian-born Orlando multi-millionaire currently residing in a jail cell in Pensacola. (See his federal mug shot, left).

The governor's connection is through Benevides' "Skyview Aviation," a charter jet company. Last year it "ferried Gov. Charlie Crist to a climate-change conference hosted by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Beverly Hills."

Apparently, Charlie rode in style. It was a $60,000 per round-trip style of flying, free of charge.

What kind of airplane ride this side of low earth orbit costs $60,000? Regular people can catch a roundtrip from Tallahassee to L.A. for under $400. Coast-to-coast charters cost around $6,000 to $10,000. So, what could possibly justify a price like sixty grand?

"It's like driving a Bentley," a Skyview spokesman told Wernowsky. "Fourteen seats with a bed in the back, plasma TVs. ... It's a nice plane. Real nice."

Somehow, we think that "real nice" remark needed italics for emphasis, so we added them. It looks to us like someone is sending a signal to someone else. What could it be? The cabin meals came with a side dish of white powder? The in-flight movie was being filmed as everyone partied?

The charter ride was so nice, apparently, that "the company received other requests from the Governor's Office to fly the governor." But Florida state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer is eagerly telling the press, these days, that Skyview turned the governor down when he begged for a repeat.

We'll soon see about that. We're guessing Skyview's reservation requests, flight book, and other files soon will be revealed. If Benevides didn't have a cabin-cam recording everything that went on, he deserves to go to jail. He's too stupid to be bribing politicians.