Archive for 2008 August

Waiting for Gustav

As the hurricane, now listed at Category 4, spins its way north towards Louisiana, I can’t help but think of those in its path. Some bloggers are choosing to wait it out, despite the mandatory evacuation, such as Kyle LeBoeuf, who in Lafayette dared the hurricane to "bring it on!"

The taunting might be crazy, but the blogging and twittering…that’s fresh.

And if the hurricane was to look like this, which Gustav did as it passed over Jamaica, I’d want to stay too. [pic courtesy of Orville Powell]


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No One Frames an Election Better than Bill Clinton

As Barack Obama, Matt Miller (of the influential radio show Left, Right and Center), and now Frank Rich of The New York Times all agreed, a well-known Democrat gave one heck of a speech this week at the Democratic National Convention.

No one frames an election better than Bill Clinton.

Here, I think, is the crux of his case:

People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power. 


at the example the Republicans have set: American workers have given us
consistently rising productivity. They’ve worked harder and produced
more.  What did they get in return? Declining wages, less than ¼ as
many new jobs as in the previous eight years, smaller health care and
pension benefits, rising poverty and the biggest increase in income
inequality since the 1920s.  American families by the millions are
struggling with soaring health care costs and declining coverage.  I
will never forget the parents of children with autism and other severe
conditions who told me on the campaign trail that they couldn’t afford
health care and couldn’t qualify their kids for Medicaid unless they
quit work or got a divorce.  Are these the family values the
Republicans are so proud of? What about the military families pushed to
the breaking point by unprecedented multiple deployments? What about
the assault on science and the defense of torture? What about the war
on unions and the unlimited favors for the well connected?  What about
Katrina and cronyism?


America can do better than that. And Barack Obama will.


But first we have to elect him.

And here’s Bill Clinton in the media wilderness, courtesy of Cheapfilm:



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It’s No Party at the LA Times

Miguel Bustillo, a first-rate reporter and writer who came up through the ranks of the LA Times, is leaving to take a job with the Wall Street Journal. American journalism is full of LA Times ex-pats: another is  Robert Lee Hotz, was the top writer at the paper on global warming issues before he left for the WSJ. The LA Times hasn’t found a real replacement yet, as far as I can tell. The issue is covered haphazardly.

But what’s most interesting — and saddening — about this news is that Bustillo, like so many readers who happen not to live in Santa Monica or downtown L.A., can’t understand why Southern California’s best newspaper choose to give up its dominance in places like the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County. The paper was doing a superb job of covering Ventura County, both its issues, its people, and even its artists. Now we’re lucky if its issues get an occasional mention in the California section. When even the insiders can’t figure this out, you know something is terribly wrong (from Bustillo’s parting letter to his friends at the paper, via LA Observed)

I was fortunate enough to work on a lot of memorable stories. But the
one that will always resonate in my mind was the 1994 Northridge
Earthquake. I was 22 at the time, just starting out. The Valley edition
was treated like a minor league affiliate by some of the more pompous
denizens of Times Mirror Square. But on that day, the Valley newsroom
rose to that challenge like nothing I’ve seen before or since. It was
magic, and as I played my small intern’s part in the reporting that
day, I knew I had made a good career choice. That Pulitzer was richly
deserved. Some of the stringers who contributed to that coverage are
among this paper’s best reporters today.

I will never understand why the LA Times pulled back from Ventura and
the Valley. That was the biggest strategic mistake this paper ever
made. I bet anyone who worked in those places, covering local news like
I did, would agree.

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Sarah Palin: Global Warming Doubter

The newly-chosen GOP vice-presidential candidate doesn’t really believe in global warming, unlike her would-be boss John McCain,  according to a brief interview with far-right Newsmax:

What is your take on global warming and how is it affecting our country?

A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other
state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute
it to being man-made.

This is a familiar right-wing argument, often heard from the likes of Dick Cheney, but complicated by the fact that Palin all but admits that the consequences of climate change could be serious, yet appears completely uninterested in the issue. This fits with her decision to sue the Department of the Interior over their long-delayed decision to list the polar bear as an endangered species.

Yesterday I said McCain would have to swing for the fences after the Democratic convention. He obviously has done that, and maybe connected — at least with the GOP base. Too soon to say much more, I think.

Meanwhile back on earth, Palin’s claim that the polar bear is doing just fine and that climate models that predict a dramatic loss of sea ice are "unreliable" took another big hit this week, when researchers said that northern hemisphere sea ice coverage had reached a low exceeded only last year.

Personally, the trend looks pretty clear to me…don’t need a modeler to see where the ice is going.

[image from the The Cryosphere Today, via the Polar Research Group at U. of Illinois]


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STOP THE PRESSES! Rush Limbaugh Sees Environmental Problem

For perhaps the first time ever in his radio career, Rush Limbaugh has spotted an environmental problem.

He talked about how bad publicity thanks to Hurricane Gustave could hurt the image of the Republican convention on Wednesday. He asked former Republican candidate Mike Huckabee a question about it live on the air on Wednesday:

LIMBAUGH:    If this hurricane bears down on New Orleans while the Republicans are in St. Paul, I can just see Obama and Biden in New Orelans with sandbags going down, handing out bottled water. You know half the media would decamp down there…what do you think the Republican Party would do, do you think?

HUCKABEE:    I think they would call in Pat Robertson to pray it off the coast.

This hilarity brought a chuckle or two, and then some half-hearted Limbaugh shots at Fidel Castro and the media. (Available here, via TP.) It sounds like a joke that went sour.

But it’s notable because Limbaugh does freely concede that three scientific models that predict hurricanes’ likely travel path are "coalescing" around the possibility that Hurricane Gustave will hit New Orleans as a "Cat Five"

(Actually, that’s a big fat exaggeration, as the hurricane has usually been pegged at the Category Three intensity, and the location of landfall is said to be very uncertain, according to Jeff Masters’ Wunderblog.)

But it’s a striking contrast to Limbaugh’s usual knee-jerk denial around issues of science and his claims that anthropogenic global warming is "a hoax." Frequently he scoffs at the idea that some scientists not known by him might with confidence be able to predict the scope of a disaster to come. 

In this instance, when the fortunes of the Republican party are at stake, he obviously believes them.

In other news, sort of, it’s good to see mention of the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction outside a scientific conference, thanks in part to a spectacular lede from from Robert Boyd of the hard-hit McClatchey newspapers chain (here).

WASHINGTON — It was the greatest mass murder of all
time — poison everywhere! billions slain! — but the killer or killers
have never been positively identified.

Boyd explains that the National Science Foundation is spearheading a huge international study on the apparent cause of this unfortunate event, which turns out to have been a very bad case of global warming.

The end-Permian catastrophe is an extreme version of the
consequences of global warming, said Lee Kump, a geoscientist at The
Pennsylvania State University. "It reminds us that there are unexpected
consequences of CO2 buildup, and these can be quite dire, indeed."

lessons of the P-T massacre are "directly applicable to the present,"
said John Isbell, a geoscientist at the University of Wisconsin in
Milwaukee. He said the world today is in danger of exceeding a CO2
"threshold" that could set off an environmental upheaval as great as
the one 251 million years ago.

Isbell said CO2 levels in the
atmosphere at the time of the P-T catastrophe reached 1,000 to 1,500
parts per million (ppm), far higher than today’s level of 385 ppm.
(That means there are 385 carbon dioxide molecules for every 1 million
total molecules in the atmosphere.)

CO2 levels are now rising by
2 ppm a year, and that’s expected to accelerate to 3 ppm a year. If
carbon emissions aren’t reduced, some researchers fear that by the end
of the next century, the CO2 level could approach what it was during
the P-T period.

The lava eruption in Siberia that set off this cataclysmic disaster is of a scope almost impossible to comprehend, of vast landscapes covered in burning lava. The good news in the story, as near as I can tell, is that after a few hundred million years, the earth has healed the site tof his disaster in Siberia rather nicely, according to the photograph by Jon Ransom:



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Gustav and the GOP: Let’s Dance!

A plot from the National Hurricane Center (below)…Gustav could arrive in New Orleans just in time to compete with the Republican National Convention. As a Category 3 hurricane. One presumes that the city and the Republican leadership will be better prepared this time, but the news is still not good for a White House linked to disaster in the public mind…from a party which will open its national convention on Monday. With Bush. Something tells me he won’t joke about "the World’s Greatest Polluter."

Dr. Masters of Wunderblog: "Final landfall of Gustav could occur anywhere from Texas to the Florida
Panhandle. The latest GFDL model predicts landfall near New Orleans on
Sunday night as a Category 3 hurricane. The HWRF model picks
Mississippi on Monday morning, as a Category 3 hurricane. The NOGAPS
prefers the Florida Panhandle on Sunday night, and the ECMWF targets
central Louisiana on Monday morning."


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“Burn All the Fossil Fuels” Right Here, Right Now

Ted Rall gets the fundamental absurdity of John McCain’s position on drilling right (below).

Yes, we can drill more, and possibly (according to the Energy Information Administration) reduce the price of gas by three or four cents in 2028.

(To specify, if we opened ANWR to drilling, the price of oil would fall by between forty-one cents on the low end, to $1.44 on the high end…per barrel. Today oil costs $116.33 per barrel, so we’re talking cents on the dollar…at best.)

Noted geoscientist Tim Barnett once described the Bush energy policy to a meeting of fire ecologists as "Burn Up All the Fossil Fuels As Fast As We Can." Sounds like McCain likes the idea…a lot.


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True Conservativism

In a new book of essays by Gore Vidal, Jay Parini describes old-fashioned conservatism succinctly.

"…Vidal is conservative in many respects,” writes Parini. “He stands behind
individual choice, the limitation of executive power, and preservation
of the environment. Like his grandfather, he dislikes the empire. … He
would return us, if possible, to the pure republicanism of early

From my favorite new columnist, Bill Kauffman, in The American Conservative (here) .

Isn’t this what most Americans hold true?

Just wondering.

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Memo to Joe Biden: Represent!

Ezra explains the Biden pick better’n anyone else.

For progressives, this is encouraging pick. More encouraging than
Bayh, or Kaine, or even, in a way, Sebelius. More encouraging than
picks who might have been more progressive, but less pugnacious.
Elevating Biden suggests that the Obama campaign has decided to have an
argument. Not try to win on momentum and inspiration and GOTV, but to
engage, and win, an argument about which set of ideas is better for the
future of the country. And in Biden, they’ve engaged at the point of
greatest vulnerability and opportunity for Democrats: National security.

A political history of the past few years in Democratic politics is
a history of the party’s failed attempts to dance away from foreign
policy discussions. There was the Thomas Frank school of thought: Pivot
from "national security to economic insecurity." There was the George
Lakoff approach: Reframe the language. There was the Kerry approach:
"How can they be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them in
Boise?" But even if these approaches had succeeded — they didn’t —
they would still have bespoke long-term weakness in the Democratic
Party: A fundamental inability to win arguments about American foreign

A Democrat has not been elected during wartime in over 50 years. A
healthy party cannot only prosper when the world is at peace and the
waters are quiet. But seven years of Republican incompetence and
failure have generated tremendous mistrust in the conservative foreign
policy approach. Iraq was a historic blunder, Osama bin Laden is loose,
America’s international standing is dismal. There’s an opening for
Democrats to press the advantage, argue that they, in fact, have the
better record, and the sounder ideas, on national security. But they
have to actually engage the argument. They can’t hope that events will
do the work for them. Picking Biden, the Obama campaign signaled that
this is a project they want to take on, and a project they realize will
have to be engaged affirmatively and aggressively. The fact of Obama,
the fact of Iraq, it’s not enough. You need to actually win the

Now we’ll see if Biden is up to the challenge. Go Joe!

[pic from democraticflickr]


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LA Times: Not Dead Yet

The LA Times announced another round of cutbacks a week ago, and sometimes seems to be committing suicide in front of its Southern California readers…but despite all its financial woes the paper still has plenty of first-rate journalists on the beat. One of their best is Scott Gold, who yesterday wrote a story about my local burb, Santa Paula, that probably no other newspaper in the world could duplicate.

Check the headline: "In Santa Paula, a White Minority Blames the Poor for Town’s Problems."

That’s telling it like it is.

Santa Paula is a poor town, one of the poorest in SoCal, but it’s also a town riven by racial conflict, between the mostly white establishment and the mostly Latino populace. As Gold points out (here), a substantial portion of the town seems to think that the people of Santa Paula are somehow its problem — as if the folks who work the farms vanished, then the long-gone oil industry would come back.


I say no other paper could take on this subject, because no other paper in Ventura County would have the guts to defy the wealthy white folk of Santa Paula. (Not all the white people are so craven: John Nichols, an acquaintance, a photographer, a shopkeeper, and a nice guy, dares to speak truth to power in the body of the story, which is well worth reading.)

Newspaper fans, take a look at Gold’s lede. A classic.

Many people in Santa Paula, when asked what they do for a living,
respond with the name of the fruit that they pick: "Naranja." "Fresa."
Orange. Strawberry.

The fields have long defined Santa Paula, literally and culturally. In
tidy rows, they stretch 10 miles to the east and west along the floor
of the valley in Ventura County. The workers tie little pieces of foil
on some crops to scare off the birds. On sunny days, there are
thousands of reflections; it looks like they’re harvesting jewels.
n the middle is a sweet, tired town of roughly 35,000 people,
three-quarters of them Latino and more than half considered low-income
under county standards.

For several years, there has been a tide of sentiment that Santa Paula
has missed out, that it has become a dumping ground of sagging roofs
and 99-cent stores while neighbors like Moorpark and Camarillo have
prospered. And some critics — many of them members of the white
minority — have decided that the poor are the problem.

All this because the town has built decent housing for farmworkers.

Sometimes my people, white people, make me sick.

[photo by Gary Friedman of the LA Times]


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