SocraticGadfly: 8/20/06 - 8/27/06

August 26, 2006

Ernesto — no excuses, no alibis, no incompetence and no lies, please

Assuming that some of the computer modeling forecasts are right, both as far as storm development and storm track, Tropical Storm Ernesto could be a Category 3 hurricane by five days from now and bearing down on the city of New Orleans.

If this is so, Army Corps of Engineers work on New Orleans levees on the Mississippi River is going to get a real-life, trial-by-ordeal stress test. I suggest the White House directly oversee the Corps doing a final checklist on that work, and developing a list of what are still the weakest areas of the levees, both in repaired and unrepaired areas.

I suggest that somebody with competence (Rove himself? He’s an asshole, but he’s generally competent) sit down with top staff of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make sure it is 110 percent prepared.

Finally, and somewhat more facetiously, I suggest the White House look at everything it did during Katrina and its aftermath, and do exactly the opposite. With that simple expedient alone, BushCo would be hard-pressed to do worse than it did a year ago.

Of course, doing everything opposite would include regularly telling the truth rather than massive whoppers, finger-pointing, etc.

Bush’s centennial “vision” for National Park Service a big, fat flop

Take a look at Bush’s limp, flaccid and lifeless “call to service” for the Park Service to prepare for its centennial in 2016.

First, what’s missing from his call to arms?

No. 1, big-ticket projects. (If a light-rail system for Grand Canyon, which has been discussed for more than a decade, and not funded seriously by your administration, is the top item on the list, it and your “vision” are weak. And speaking of “not funding,”

No. 2, the money for big-ticket rehabilitation of desperate current facilities. Exactly as reported in the story:
Al Nash, spokesman for Yellowstone, said Friday he wasn't aware of any specific funding promises accompanying Bush's message. “Budgets are tight. Everybody would tell you that, whether it's Yellowstone, or any other national park or government entity,” Nash said.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington interest group that lobbies for environmental causes, criticized the absence of additional funding. “These programs, including parks, are on a flight path to get even slimmer, and the idea that they're going to throw a fiesta, rather than provide funding, isn't all that meaningful,” Ruch said.

Bush said the projects would build on 6,000 park improvements made over the past five years. He requested, and Congress agreed to spend $5 billion-plus for those projects. But his pledge to eliminate a $5 billion annual maintenance backlog remains unfulfilled.

But, those aren’t the only items missing.

No. 3, Bush made no mention of special, centennial-focused partnerships with key nonprofits. And I’m not talking Sierra Club at or near the top of the list. My top three were the National Parks Conservation Association, the Student Conservation Association and the Nature Conservancy.

No. 4, if you’re really going to talk about a vision, you have to include a discussion of the NPS’ Organic Act and how you envision implementing and realizing it in the Park Service’s second century.

In short, this was more than ”just” George W. Bush being a cheapskate about national parks. It was him showing he really doesn’t grasp the concept of what national parks are about, especially in a day and age of wilderness conservation and wildlife habitats and corridors, along with indicating he’s not going to expend any intellectual capital on the issue.

Fortunately, we’ll have at least one more president before 2016, and it’s hard to imagine one more clueless on the issue than this one.

August 25, 2006

Ned Lamont gets big blogger support; why not Jonathan Tasini?

Tasini, challenging Hillary Clinton in the New York Democratic Senate primary, is
even more deserving of support from progressive bloggers than is Lamont. Beyond Iraq, he’s got truly impressive progressive credentials on issues such as fair vs. “free” trade, gay marriage and national health care.

Meanwhile, Hillary is not, really, that much different than Joementum, above all on Iraq, but to a fair degree on other issues. Critiques of Bush on Iraq have been implicit or muted, and just about the conduct of the war, not the decision to do it.

The AP story claims otherwise, in this graf:
But unlike Lieberman, whose outspoken support for the war and perceived closeness to Bush angered many Connecticut Democrats, Clinton has been deeply critical of the administration's conduct of the war. In a televised Senate hearing earlier this month, she castigated Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for conducting a "failed policy" in Iraq and later called for his resignation.

But, Joementum has also called for Rummy to step down. Joementum has also been critical of the conduct of the war but not the decision to wage it. And, even a few Republicans have made noises about Rummy.

And, Hillary is like Joementum in other ways. Since 1993, she’s been silent on national health care. She’s been silent on gay marriage. And, I’m assuming she’s just as supportive as Bill was during his presidency on “free” trade issues such as NAFTA and the WTO.

So why isn’t Tasini getting traction? I think part of it is just what he says — he doesn’t have Lamont’s personal money, and against a candidate with Clinton’s money AND name recognition, that’s a huge hole to plug with donation money

Plus, there’s this:
Tasini, who is Jewish and lived in Israel for several years, angered many activists in New York's politically influential Jewish community earlier this month when he criticized Israel's conduct during its war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In any case, it’s hypocritical for blogs such as Kos to not promote his candidacy, let alone try to call donations his way.

August 24, 2006

Forty days and counting

Thursday was Dallas’ 40th day at or over the 100-degree mark this year.

While that’s not Phoenix, let alone Palm Springs or Death Valley, it’s not a dry heat here, either. We’re already at the ninth-hottest summer on record, going by 100-degree days; with the century mark forecast through this weekend, we’ll surely be at least No. 8 soon.

(The killer summer of 1980 stands No. 1, with 69 100-degree days; 1998 is second, with 56 days.)

Meanwhile, despite having humidity here, we haven’t had rain. North Texas is in one of its worst short-to-medium-term droughts ever. In the short term, 12 of the last 14 months, if I am estimating accurately, have been below normal, and most of them well below normal. At the same time, we’ve had the all time hottest September last year and the all-time hottest April this year.

I think some of this is cyclical; Texas had a bad drought in the 1950s, though not as much in the way of heat problems. However, might some elements of global warming be exacerbating this? Certainly.

Global warming models for the southern plains area predicts generally drier climate as longer-term warming sets in. So, you recent Sun Belt moves, you might want to get your company to transfer you back to Cincinnati or St. Louis.

Update, Aug. 25: Today was Day 41, putting us at No. 7 on the hottest summers of record. We are supposed to have one more 100-degree day Saturday, probably one on Sunday, and then cool off to near-normal (about 94) for several days. After five-six days, the future of Tropical Storm (and hurricane-to-be) Ernesto, depending on where in the Gulf it makes landfall, will have a serious impact, possibly alleviating the drought.

Of course, it could go futher east than Texas. And, if it hits Category 3, well, that could be RIP for New Orleans.

973-437-2105? Don’t answer it, but do contact the FTC

After getting multiple calls from this number, which shows up on caller ID as just the number, with no individual or company name, I was perturbed enough to wonder who this was. A Google search led to, where the answer was revealed to be … MCI.

Supposedly, it’s a computer-generated dialer, with an automated sales pitch if you pick up the phone. This is an obvious violation of the federal Do Not Call registry; that’s why you need to contact the Federal Trade Commission if you are called.

Oh, and their customer service webpage, for comments if you’re contacted, is here.

August 21, 2006

Armando corporate watch/reason 972 not to shop Wal-Mart

I deliberately set the “reason” bar at 972 because that’s the area code in suburban Dallas. And that’s where some of Wal-Mart’s anti-union thuggery in Texas broke out, according to a federal lawsuit

Bloomberg has the details.

Here’s the basics of the lawsuit allegations:
Cashiers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, asked a federal judge to order the company to stop threatening to fire Texas employees who join a lawsuit claiming unpaid wages.

Workers’ lawyers sent out notices Aug. 4 to more than 100,000 current and former Wal-Mart and Sam's Club cashiers in Texas, inviting them to join the litigation. Wal-Mart managers asked employees to turn over the notices and sign statements that they never worked off the clock as the suit claims, according to court papers. The cashiers asked U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent to order Wal-Mart to stop “improper communications” with workers. A hearing on the request is set for Aug. 23.

“Wal-Mart's conduct borderlines on criminal witness intimidation,” the cashiers said in an Aug. 15 request to Kent. It's illegal under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act “for Wal-Mart to threaten its current and former associates with adverse consequences for filing claims under this lawsuit,” workers said in the suit.

And here’s the thuggery in detail, in Lancaster, Texas, where my newspaper is. (Sadly, such things don’t often get leaked to me, even though I should appear to be liberal enough on my editorial page. And, if they’re ever leaked to the Dallas Morning News — which I doubt — they probably don’t go far from there.)

Anyhow, on to the specifics:
In (one) affidavit, filed Aug. 15, former employee Latasha Walters said a personnel representative of the Lancaster, Texas, Wal-Mart told her “if I filled out the opt-in notice and mailed it in, I would not be eligible for re-hire at that store or any Wal-Mart store.” The personnel representative “also informed me that she was having all cashiers at her store who received similar opt-in packets to bring them into the store and turn them over to her,” Walters said.

Remind me not to go to Wally-World for ANYTHING anymore.

There ARE atheists in foxholes

And they’re not staying quiet

The Mililtiary Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is making sure of that.
“It’s a denial of our contributions,” says Master Sgt. Kathleen Johnson, who founded the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and who will be deployed to Iraq this fall. “A lot of people manage to serve without having to call on a higher power.”

And do many other things, as well.

Of course, in the Raw Story piece linking to the Newsweek column, not everybody gets it.
“Agnostics, atheists and bigots suddenly lose all that when their life is on the line,” Lt. Gen. Blum said. “Something that they lived their whole life believing gets thrown out the door, and they grasp the comrade next to them, and they don't care what color their skin is, and they don't care where they pray.”

Wrong. I can speak from experience, having gotten lost in Canyonlands National Park in August in 100-degree-plus heat and running out of water. I was ready to die according to my convictions.

Despite the military later putting some heavy-duty spin on this, it’s clear where it stands. Thank doorknobs that I never completed the applications to the Point and elsewhere when I was a young and impressionable high-schooler.

August 20, 2006

CBS-11: Ads more important than news


I don’t know. At that moment, channel 11 cut to commercial. And cut the crawl.

That’s right, cut it, in the middle of a breaking news story. Apparently Master Card doesn’t have to compete with breaking news.