QUOTE  The government is taking your money and mine to buy up all those risky mortgages. Do you realize what that means? It means that now, just like John McCain, we don’t know how many homes we own either. - Pissed Off Patricia of Morning Martini  QUOTE
I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat! Steve Bates,
The Yellow Doggerel Democrat
I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat!

for September 2008





New FBI Regs Remove Need For Suspicion

While you were checking MarketWatch six times a day to see whether you were broker than you were the last time you checked, something at least as serious has been going on in the arena of civil liberties. AG Mukasey has instituted new regulations for the FBI which would, as Glenn Greenwald says, "vastly increase its power to investigate and spy on American citizens, on U.S. soil, even in the absence of any suspicion that the targeted citizen is involved in any wrongdoing." (Emphasis mine.) The FBI has not had comparable powers since the Hoover era... that's director J. Edgar Hoover, not President Hoover. The regs permit the kind of investigative practices that led to COINTELPRO. In particular, they allow the FBI to investigate anyone and any organization without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. They can now trail you, tap your phone and email, track your internet usage, talk to your friends and relatives... just because they don't like your looks.

I do not want to believe this will have the obvious consequences, but considering the FBI's history, how can it not? I am seeking, in vain, an explanation of how the FBI, with this power in hand, differs from the great secret police organizations the world has seen over the past century in various totalitarian governments. "Build it and they will come"; create such a police organization with such powers and "they" ... presidential administrations, shadowy secret organizations within or associated with the government, etc., will use it. Our "right to be left alone," which the great Supreme Court Justices Louis Brandeis and William O. Douglas identified as the essence of the Fourth Amendment, is in peril, perhaps as much as it ever has been.

And all this is being done at the behest of the AG of a president with less than four months left to go in office, with no congressional oversight, and with the open approval of (no surprise here) the Washington Post. Would an Obama presidency protect us from this invasion of privacy? Who knows. But a McCain presidency would assure a continuation of the FBI's free rein to investigate anything it pleases. I suggest you vote accordingly. Guard your liberties, good people, or watch them vanish.


What A Mess - UPDATED

I don't know if this is good or bad. I have mixed feelings, and it's certainly not a straight-out partisan issue. But I do understand the term "broker" a bit better. Example of usage: "call your broker to find out if you're broker than you already were."

UPDATE 2:20pm CT: Oh, for crying out loud. Politico:


After the vote, Republicans claimed that the Democratic leadership had been warned that fewer than 60 Republicans would vote for the bill. Democrats denied the claim, saying they never would have brought the bill to the floor if they had been told there was so little Republican support.

“We delivered our votes,” Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said.

"I guess the Republican leadership is so weak John Boehner couldn't deliver 50 percent of the votes,” sneered Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) “I thought these were big boys."

Republicans said Pelosi may have lost votes with a floor speech they considered too partisan. "We could have gotten it if it were not for this partisan speech that Speaker Pelosi gave,” Boehner said.


WTF? Boehner couldn't deliver his caucus, so it's Pelosi's fault? What a laugh! What a whiner Boehner is! Has the whole freaking GOP, so renowned for its internal discipline, fallen apart?


McCain Strategist Threatens Debate Moderator

Senior strategist Nancy Pfotenhauer of the McCain campaign, appearing in a Fox News discussion (YouTube video) of this Thursday's debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, whining about the likelihood that questions will emphasize foreign policy:

I think the moderator will have some questions to answer themselves if they do go so heavily foreign policy.

Really? Palin feels so unconfident of her foreign policy skills that a campaign official has to threaten Gwen Ifill about what kind of questions will be asked? Give me a break!

(H/T TPM.)


The Soft Bigotry Of Lowered Expectations

Yes, the subject is a quote from GeeDubya's speech to the NAACP in 2000. You'll understand why I'm quoting the Shrubbery in a moment.

Back in 2006, in a post about how Bush became president in 2000, Bob Somerby wrote a post examining how Bush "won" the first debate with Al Gore. (H/T Avedon for the link.) In short, the punditry set such low expectations for Bush that when he managed to meet those meager expectations, despite the fact that everyone (including right-leaning pundits) agreed that Gore had cleaned Bush's clock, Bush was proclaimed to have "won" the debate.

I remember sitting with members of a local Democratic club after that debate, watching the ABC talking heads effectively giving the victory to Bush because he didn't do as badly as expected, and wondering for the first time whether the genuinely brilliant Al Gore might actually lose to Bush. Of course, all of it was ultimately rendered irrelevant by the blatant theft of Election 2000. But Rome wasn't demolished in a day, and the assertion that Bush "won" that debate was a precursor of the Supreme Court's ruling that Bush "won" the election. So I take such things seriously.

Now it's happening again. The LA Times's Andrew Malcolm on the Top of the Ticket blog says "Democrats" (without naming names) are setting Palin up to "win" the debate by setting such low expectations for her. Malcolm even references Al Gore in the debate mentioned above, blaming Gore for what the media talking heads clearly perpetrated.

I think this requires a major push-back. Palin is, by almost everyone's measure including that of serious conservative observers, unqualified to be president, and therefore unqualified to be vice president. "She didn't do as badly as expected" is not the same as "she displayed presidential qualifications." If you see or hear that line from anyone in the media after Thursday's debate, I want you to phone or write the TV station or the newspaper that carries the statement. We cannot allow this to happen again. The presidency carries an absolute standard for its occupant; we must not allow press or media talking heads to relativize that standard.

(Oh, and please don't spit on the exposed roots of a tall pine tree... it's already the soft, bigger tree of lowered expectorations.)


Phish Market

There are several of these floating around the 'net; I received this one from a friend today:










Important Announcement

243,112,609-1 is now the largest discovered Mersenne prime.


Bend Over

... here it comes again. We're likely to see a bailout sometime today:


Under the tentative deal being finalized, the rescue program would be overseen by a board including the treasury secretary, secretary of commerce, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission and chairman of the Federal Reserve, said Sen. Kent Conrad, R-North Dakota, who heads the Senate Budget Committee.

According to Conrad, $700 billion would be disbursed in stages, with $250 billion made available immediately. In addition, the Treasury would establish an insurance program -- with premiums paid by the industry -- to mitigate taxpayer losses. The bill would also probably include some curbs on the compensation of executives at companies that participate.

Finally, the government would get the right to receive equity stakes in the companies that sell it assets. The measure is an attempt to reduce fiscal risk to taxpayers.


(Dammit, Kent Conrad is a Democrat. Democrats have held the majority in Congress, and therefore committee chairmanships, since January 2007. Can't CNN get even the minimal facts correct?)

House GOPers are almost but not quite on board yet. And I'm still concerned that, like the PATRIOT Act, there will be some sort of funny business at the last minute.

Have we yet received full disclosure about the specifics of the problem we're solving? I haven't seen them revealed in detail anywhere. Oh, and now that we're committing as much money to this as has been spent on the entire war in Iraq to date... is everybody happy?


Saturday Signs

A bit of one-fisted humor (at least, it's one-fisted after you take a number) somewhere in Harris County Smokehouse, where we went last year with Stella's father and his wife. You may laugh, but there's plenty for a vegetarian to eat at a BBQ restaurant... I can make a good meal on beans, cornbread, cole slaw and pickles. [Added later: and potato salad, of course.] No matter; at the rate things are going, it looks as if eating out is about to become an entertainment from our past.


First Debate Goes To Obama - UPDATED

UPDATE: final CBS News poll results are now incorporated below.

CBS News has a snap poll of 500 uncommitted voters (nearly complete as I write this) showing Obama the clear winner. The numbers:

  • Obama 39%
  • (draw) 36% 37%
  • McCain 25% 24%

There's also this, from the same poll:

Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters said their opinion of Obama got better tonight. Thirty-one Thirty-two percent said their opinion of McCain got better.

(Note: this is a slight change from earlier numbers.)

The irony here is that this debate was supposed to be about John McCain's forte... national security, defense, etc. It was, sort of, but somehow, issues of the economy kept drifting back into the debate. In any case, Obama was unflappable, solid and intolerant of outright lies by McCain. I'm not sure how much is accomplished by these "debates," but to the extent that they are a part of the presidential election ritual, this was a good beginning for Obama.

UPDATE: for clarity, the above numbers refer only to uncommitted voters. A CNN poll shows viewers giving the debate to Obama, 51% to 38%, with slightly more Democrats than Republicans polled.


How's That Working Out, John?

The polls are out today, presumably America's response to McCain's stunt in which he first attempted to "suspend" his campaign and cancel or postpone tonight's debate, then showed up in Washington to disrupt attempts to fashion a bailout and recovery plan. Eric Kleefeld of TPMElectionCentral documents the numbers for you: Obama's Lead Nearly Doubles In Today's Tracking Polls. Apparently, Americans aren't as stupid as Rove and company predicted.

While you're in the neighborhood, see if you can answer Josh Marshall's question:


John McCain is saying that now that he's gotten the bailout negotiations back on track he can resume his campaign and show up tonight at the debate. But every news report I'm seeing says they were moving along smoothly until John McCain showed up and they fell apart.

Who can help me here?

My insight into the mind of John McCain is scant, but if I had to guess, I'd say that to McCain, his own power, wealth and social position are worth more than the good of the nation. For him, when the going gets tough, it's not so much "country first" as "country first overboard."


Another Brick In The Wall?

Actually, Pink Floyd notwithstanding, it's several hundred bricks out of the wall...

Ike blew out part of the wall between our apartment carports and the driveway and lawn of the social services agency next door. As far as I know, no people and no cars were harmed. This is not the first time part of that wall has come down; once before, a relatively light tap by a large pickup truck from our side brought down a segment. I suspect the wall, which is relatively new, might not be very well built in the first place.

The misery caused by Ike continues. A quarter million kids are still not back in school along the Texas Gulf Coast, about 433,000 CenterPoint Energy customers are still without power, and I can assure you from personal experience that a lot of traffic lights are still out... many that have power are nonetheless flashing red four ways. Stella's elderly father is still depending on a generator to drive his oxygen supply. Gasoline availability is variable.

That said, this is the last of my Ike pictures. Well, actually, I have one of a puddle of milk spilled in the first trash pickup after the storm; if I were Phil Gramm, I could post it and say there's no use crying over it, but fortunately for the world, I bear no resemblance to Phil Gramm.


Friday Contemplative Cat Blogging

Samantha sees sunshine on the kitties' first outing after Hurricane Ike...

(Posted early, for the usual reason.)


Embarrassing Palin Interview

Mark Kleiman shows us Sarah Palin literally (to use Kleiman's word) "blithering" about the economy in an interview with Couric. (Watch the second video in particular.) Though I would not want them to be President, there are women in the Republican Party who are at least competent to be President. Sarah Palin is, increasingly clearly, not one of them.


McCain: Dying Of Malignant Melanoma? - UPDATED

Everybody dies. Everybody who's lucky enough gets old; among those who get old, most experience health problems (Dog knows I have my share); among those, some are really unlucky and experience melanoma. Even in this day and age, that's a disease practically no one comes back from. The question here is not whether John McCain will die someday; so will we all. The question is whether he is concealing a condition of which he is dying right now.

Via Avedon, we have a post on Group News Blog by Maggie Jochild about the very real possibility that John McCain... who, if you'll recall, has severely restricted journalists' access to his 1000-page medical records... may be dying of malignant melanoma.

If John McCain's condition is indeed terminal, there are two things he owes the American people, and we have not gotten either of those things from him:

  • He should have made voters aware of the fact that he is unlikely to live out a 4-year term, and
  • He owed America a better vice presidential choice than Sarah Palin.

I wish Sen. McCain a full recovery from whatever he suffers. Serious ailments are the common lot of all of humanity who do not die violently; none of us, not the wealthiest, not the brightest, not the strongest, can wangle an exemption from that rule. But no one who knows he's dying this very moment should run for President of the United States. It's wrong. Sen. McCain should release his medical records promptly for a full, independent evaluation to be made available to the public. If electing John McCain is tantamount to electing Sarah Palin president, we deserve to know that... right now.

UPDATE: this issue is more complicated than I understood it to be. A lot depends on what stage McCain's melanoma is. The Clinical Cases Blog quotes CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta:

McCain has Stage IIA melanoma, which carries an average 10-year survival rate of 66 percent. Dermatologists say McCain’s odds are better because the odds improve the longer you go without a recurrence.

But a New York Times article says this:

The melanoma removed in 2000 was Stage IIa on a standard classification that makes Stage IV the most serious. For Stage IIa melanoma, the survival rate 10 years after diagnosis is about 65 percent. But the outlook is much better for patients like Mr. McCain, who have already survived more than seven years.

Apparently, subsequent tests have been "clean." But as long as McCain withholds his medical records, we are left to speculate about his status and his prognosis. It is disturbing that he has so severely restricted the availability of the records. If he wants to be president, the need of the public for accurate information about his status trumps his privacy rights; that is typical for a public figure.

The original post I read speculates on the likelihood that McCain's melanoma is at a more advanced, more deadly stage. Needless to say, I haven't the expertise even to hazard a guess.


Unresolved Suspension

FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver says early polling indicates McCain did not get the public reaction he hoped for by "suspending" his campaign. Not all the big-name polls are in yet, so it's not a certainty, but it looks as if Americans are none too pleased with McCain's ploy.

Big surprise, eh? A candidate who has admitted, on camera, that he doesn't have any expertise in economics puts aside his political barnstorming and goes to Washington to do what? to save the economy, of course. Harry Reid told him to stay away, because he could politicize the delicate negotiations on the bill. Well, du-uh. That's McCain's clear intention.

I believe McCain has not fathomed the depth of ordinary Americans' anger about the proposed bailout. If you saw Bush's pathetic speech last night, you noticed that, without assuming even a smidgen of blame, Bush absorbed and repeated many of the opposition's talking points as if he had invented them himself. Paulson and Bernanke had cooked up something that the ordinary member of the public, struggling to keep his or her family housed and fed, simply could not stomach. Now McCain, a self-admitted (ahem) no-accountant, has decided he must jump in, save the day, and tell Barack Obama how the entire campaign will proceed. Right.

Sorry, no, John; you don't get to do that unilaterally. Don't show up Friday for the debate, and you will have spoken volumes about yourself. It's a desperate trick, one that has even your supporters riled. Apparently a quarter century of Senate service has not taught you enough about basic politics. Go back and talk to your lobbyist cronies; maybe they can explain the public's discontent to you.

(If you don't understand the reference in the post subject, ask a musician.)


Sarah The Unready, Or Toxic Sarah?

Glenn Greenwald points us to Greg Sargent regarding the extraordinary lengths to which the McCain campaign goes to prevent Sarah Palin from answering even the simplest unscripted questions. Sargent:

What's really sobering is that the McCain campaign continues to block Palin from answering questions even though it's now resulting in reams and reams of bad press for the McCain-Palin ticket. That suggests McCain advisers know that letting her answer even the most elementary questions in an uncontrolled environment is so dangerous that it's worth weathering the current media drubbing they're taking in order to prevent it from happening at all costs.

Bloggers have suspected for a while that Palin holds truly toxic views. Does the McCain campaign's aversion to her facing informal questioning (not to mention their tightly restricting her formal interviews) prove that they know exactly that... that Palin holds views which, if expressed publicly, would lose the game for them?

If this candidate cannot be trusted to face unexpected questions on her feet, in her own words, with her own internal knowledge base and from her own political philosophy, how can she possibly be trusted with the potential to be president someday?


Another Day, Another Dollar...

... down the drain. This is today's must-read list regarding the bailout.

UPDATE 1 9/24: Bill Moyers on Kevin Phillips's book, Bad Money. (H/T terrette.)

UPDATE 2 9/24: Where there's a Will, there's a... Hey! what's this? George Will slamming John McCain for threatening to fire Chris Cox? (Aside: as I recall from the days of Richard Nixon with Archibald Cox, that would make John McCain a Cox-sacker.) Who could ever have imagined that anything would lead George Will to say this:

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

I presume that's a rhetorical question.

UPDATE 3 9/24: Not good enough, says the New York Times editorial board of Paulson's proposal.

UPDATE 4 9/24: Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) tells us how the "game" must be played. Link is to a YouTube video. (H/T MarkAdams of American Street, who also provides a text summary of Rep. Kaptur's alternative proposal.)


More Bailout Updates

This is basically a continuation of the list of recommended reading in the Me/Thee post below. I'll update this post as I find new things.

UPDATE 1 9/23: Billmon had a lot to say yesterday evening, and apparently his day job makes him an expert qualified to say it.

UPDATE 2 9/23: Robert Reich, economist at UC Berkeley and Bill Clinton's first Secretary of Labor, questions whether Paulson and Bernanke's plan would even work.

UPDATE 3 9/23: David Cay Johnston chides journalists for not exercising more skepticism. (H/T Susie Madrak.) Johnston's lede:

In covering the proposed $700 billion bailout of Wall Street don't repeat the failed lapdog practices that so damaged our reputations in the rush to war in Iraq and the adoption of the Patriot Act. Don't assume that Congress must act instantly, as so many news stories state as if it was an immutable fact. Don't assume there is a case just because officials say there is.

Right. How bad is it? what exactly is bad? and most of all... what's the rush? Johnston makes a credible argument that these basics have simply not been adequately examined by our press and media.

UPDATE 4 9/23: Kos lists clearly the questions that must be asked before the money is authorized. (H/T Fallenmonk.)

UPDATE 5 9/23: Kos points us to Chris Bowers, who says There Is No Crisis. Short version: Bowers suspects, as do I, that Bush is gaming the timing in an attempt to cause Congress to bolt into hasty, ill-considered action. Dubya's specific motivation is unclear, but the writing of the legislation obviously predates the announcement of the "crisis," and Bush did something suspiciously similar with the PATRIOT Act.


The Secret Veep

That phrase might well apply to Dick Cheney, but in the horrifying event that Sarah Palin takes office (by election or by Supreme Court fiat), she is already practicing her isolation from the press and media. Huffington Post:


ABC News reports that all of the networks are objecting to the John McCain campaign's attempt to get photographs of Sarah Palin at the U.N., but no news coverage:

There's a battle going on right now over how the networks will be allowed to cover Sarah Palin's big day of visits in NY with world leaders. Palin is scheduled to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai shortly, followed by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and then with McCain advisor, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The networks had arranged for a "pool" camera- one camera to cover the meetings, whose video would be pooled or shared with all networks. Such arrangements are standard when dealing with intimate high-level meetings between leaders and candidates. But typically, along with cameras, there is an editorial presence-- at least one print reporter, one TV reporter and one radio reporter is standard. Today, the McCain campaign had said it would allow only one editorial person inside. Now, the campaign is saying it wants only the camera inside with no editorial presence. All of the networks are objecting. Stay tuned.

P.S.: The networks have just voted to BAN any use of the photographs/video in protest.

The AP reports that CNN has pulled its TV crew from the event.


Supposedly the McCain campaign has since given in, allowing a CNN producer in along with the cameras, but in my opinion, that nowhere nearly solves a serious problem... an attitude problem, revealing an attitude no American candidate for office should be permitted to sustain.

Hiding candidate Palin from the media is completely unacceptable. Managing the information allowed to be published... e.g., photos only... is equally unacceptable. It's bad enough that the Bushists severely restrict media coverage of their myriad wars, but they can at least make an argument that military secrecy is necessary. What arguments can they make regarding Gov. Palin? Only one: that she is not ready for prime time in any sense of the phrase.


Tengrain Says It Best

Tengrain of Mock, Paper, Scissors produces one of his signature photo-comics explaining the collapse, the bailout and the likely consequences. (Dog, I wish I had Tengrain's talent...)

(H/T ellroon.)


Wall Street: 'Help For Me, None For Thee!' - 5 UPDATES


Paulson resists calls for added help in bailout

WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is resisting a Democratic push to add additional help for households to the $700 billion bailout bill.

Paulson said Sunday that because financial markets remain under severe stress there is an urgent need for Congress to act quickly without adding other measures that could slow down passage.

"We need this to be clean and to be quick," Paulson said in an interview on ABC's "This Week."


Clean and quick. Like the slaughter of cattle. Which we are, as far as they're concerned. But wait... we're not yet done with outrages in this proposal:


The Bush proposal that would dole out huge sums of money to Wall Street firms and bankers is a mere three pages in length and is vague in terms of determining which institutions would qualify or say what — if anything — taxpayers would get in return.


Here's a clue. Taxpayers will get the same thing they've reliably gotten from every Bushist action since the day he took office... nothing.

Then there's the fact that under the provisions of this bill, Paulson's actions are nonreviewable by the courts or any agency. WSJ:

The plan offered to Congress also gives the Treasury legal immunity from any lawsuits. "Decisions by the secretary pursuant to the authority are non-reviewable … and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency," the proposal says.

It's not in this particular article, but congressional GOPers are threatening to slow down the process if Dems attempt to add any kind of protection for ordinary homeowners who are being foreclosed on.

I'm certain that some version of this bailout will pass. Congress is made up of wealthy men and women; they don't want to see Wall Street forced to accept responsibility for the results of their risky practices. For the wealthiest Americans, it's hurrah for the free market, until it puts a hole in their own wallets. Can you spell "hypocrisy," children? I knew you could.

According to a New York Times piece by David M. Herszenhorn, your share of this bailout... every American man, woman and child's share... is over $2,000. I hope you've put the amount aside.

Oh, and it's a good thing you love your retirement, because you're going to have to kiss it goodbye.

UPDATE 1 9/22: read Krugman.

UPDATE 2 9/22: read Robert Kuttner's Calling Paulson's Bluff.

UPDATE 3 9/22: read Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Also here.)

UPDATE 4 9/22: most especially, read Glenn Greenwald two days ago.

UPDATE 5 9/22: Bloomberg informs us of negotiations between Democrats and the Bush administration. Some lines are being drawn, and I note the following quote:

The Treasury proposal gave Paulson ``much too much authority,'' [Barney] Frank said. ``We have restored the notion of judicial review and accountability.''

But let me remind everyone of what happened with the PATRIOT Act. Days of intense negotiation resulted in a compromise... but what was actually introduced and forcibly passed was not that compromise, but a version of the Act apparently written by the Bushists long before 9/11. That was with Republicans in control of Congress... but do you really think Steny Hoyer is incapable of doing the same? Eyes open, everyone.


Saturday Signs

This sign (source unknown) is a bit hard to read at this size, so here's the text:

"WARNING / IF YOU MUST enter these premises ILLEGALLY please / remove your dentures / our DOBERMAN finds / them hard to digest.
- The Management"


McCain: Deregulate Everything!

Via Paul Krugman's blog, here's what McCain has to say this very month about health insurance and banking deregulation:

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

Oh, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Let's have a deregulated market of health insurance products as wonderful as the deregulated financial services industry has proved to be in the past week...


Avast, Right-Wing Conspiracy!

Mateys, it be Talk Like a Pirate Day! Arrrr! Lubbers an' old salts alike, Pastafarians all, swig yer grog in praise of His Noodliness on this, the last an' holiest day of Pasta Week. May His Noodly Appendage touch ya' in the comin' year! (Or maybe it's Her Noodly Appendage; I never really grasped the notion of the FSM having gender.) Bolt yer rotini, slurp yer fettucini, twirl yer spaghettini... or PREPARE TO BE BOARDED!


Friday Wisdom-Of-The-Ages Blogging

Ms. M, one of our neighbors who is a solid Democrat, visiting Stella right after Ike's departure, meets Tabitha. Both seem to enjoy the experience:

Ms. M and Tabitha have between them a hundred years of life experience, but I think the bond is based more on the simple pleasure of creature contact than on their combined longevity.

(Posted as if on Eastern time. I need rest!)


McCain Refrain: He Plainly Can't Find Spain

Feel free to sing it if you like.

Josh Marshall has the best summary of McCain's gaffe about Spain. Marshall outlines the three ways it could have happened: McCain truly doesn't know who Zapatero is or where Spain is, McCain really meant to express belligerence toward one of America's NATO allies, and... I'd better quote this one...

Option #3: Through some mixture of confusion and inability to understand the interviewer's accent, McCain was confused about who he was talking about and decided to wing it, assuming that the person he was being asked about was some other left-wing strong man from Latin America and answering with the standard boilerplate about standing up to America's enemies.

Working by elimination of the possibilities of the first two options, Marshall concludes it must be Option #3. This is downright chilling. As Marshall observes in conclusion,

     ... But given McCain has premised his whole campaign on foreign policy experience they've clearly decided it would simply be too damaging to admit he was either a) confused, b) ignorant or c) reckless enough to spout off aggressive remarks when he didn't even know who he was being asked about.

Dog help the United States of America... no, Dog help the whole world... if this man becomes president.

Note: it appears Josh Marshall also used a similar headline just after midnight. Great minds, and all that, but I really must give credit to Josh for being as clever as I am.


Politics Again: Palin's Email

I have just two things to say about the hacking of Sarah Palin's Yahoo! email account:

  • Hacking is not merely wrong: it is against the law.
  • Conducting government business by private email is not merely wrong: it is against the law.

In a free society, all government officials... all of them... owe the citizens full transparency regarding the workings of their government. The domains in which secrecy is necessary are few; the ways in which the government can abuse secrecy are many. Sarah Palin has a legitimate grievance that her account was hacked (though I can't help wondering if she used her husband's nickname as her password), but she has no right... indeed, it is criminal behavior... to conceal the conduct of public business by dodging open records laws. Eight years of such deliberate concealment by Karl Rove and company is enough. This must end.


Eye Like Ike?

Yes, I first cracked that pun on Bryan's comment thread. So be it. Re-use, recycle, etc., especially when I'm doggerel-tired.

This post is not a chronicle of Ike's devastation of the Texas coast; that has been thoroughly done by all the news outlets and (for the weather geeks among you) by Dr. Jeff Masters's Weather Underground, far better than I could ever do. And a lot of you readers are on the South or East Coast, and have personal experience with tropical cyclones, so I don't need to tell you what it's like. Some of you even got a bit of attention from Ike. But it's been a long time since Houston had even a moderately bad hurricane (Alicia in 1983, though T.S. Allison in 2001 was quite a flooding event), so that Alicia had begun to fade from our memories. The Floridians among you have hurricanes by the dozens, literally several every year; that's more than I could bear... but it keeps you in practice. I was out of practice when Ike came to visit.

First and foremost, yes, all of us came through safe and sound, and for the most part, so did our residences. We four (Stella, Tabitha, Samantha and I) rode it out in Stella's apartment. The only regret we have in that decision is that some sort of metal object... the seal on the door?... vibrated and howled all night. We are in the same complex, the identity of which I shall reveal to you for the first time... here is the sign in front of the complex:

OK, OK; if Cheney can have an undisclosed location and doves provided... well, OK, ours is a pigeon... we can have one too. The worst damage on our grounds was a part of a relatively new brick wall blown down near the parking lot; regrettably, I never got a picture of that. No cars or people were damaged. The nearest major street was pounded a bit more: a large, old tree was uprooted, traffic signals dangled etc. Those obstacles have since been cleared, quite quickly in my opinion.

Electric power restoration is a different matter. We were lucky... extremely so... to be among the first approximately one-third of power customers to be restored. Thousands of crews from all over the region worked 24x7 (and yes, believe me, we're grateful), but well over 2 million households in Houston alone (not counting the surrounding areas) lost power, and restoration is not expected to be completed for another week. Or two. At the peak of the storm, transformers were blowing in a veritable fireworks display against the sky; they explode with a color quite different from lightning. On Sunday (or was it Monday?), late in the day, our power came on with a bang (literally), to the sound of cheers from everyone out on the sidewalks... only to go down about two minutes later. The disappointment was palpable.

As the days wore on, everyone, faced with dwindling supplies of food, gasoline and (especially) ice in the city, began to feel the depressing weight of the darkness. City dwellers are not accustomed to living in pitch-black conditions. By today, I had given up on being one of the lucky early "winners" (you talk about a "power lotto"). This afternoon, I sat in my front door, for the air and the light. I glanced toward my kitchen, which has no window. By then, all the food in my fridge and freezer had completely spoiled and I had pitched it out; the fridge door was open. At first, I thought the light visible on the fridge door was a forgotten flashlight... one grows tired and forgetful under the circumstances. Then I thought it was the sun shining in from outside through the kitchen door. Finally, I realized the most likely explanation: the fridge had come back on, which could mean only one thing. I don't think I've ever been happier in my life.

Finally (for tonight at least), the IWS (Internet Withdrawal Syndrome [™Bryan]). I had given some thought before the storm to various possibilities for staying in touch with y'all after Ike passed and inevitably killed the electricity at least, and possibly the internet connection. Eventually, I decided, since telephone service stayed up during the entire storm and afterward, to use the dial-up modem on my laptop. I haven't used that modem in two or three years, and damned if it wasn't dead when I finally tried it. I couldn't use DSL; that modem is external and requires line power. And I couldn't even use someone else's WiFi afterward, thanks to Bill Gates's Win XP SP3 driver screw-up that prevents some wireless routers (but only some brands) from talking to some laptop wireless cards. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones. Right now, the only way to connect the laptop to the Internet is to run a Cat 5 cable.

I have a couple of other pictures, but for tonight, I'll post just one:

Afterthought: beware, in the stress of shopping before or after a storm, being defrauded by trade dress violations. We found a large name-brand store open, and unthinkingly purchased about $50 worth of copper-topped D cells which, when one looks closely, are labeled HeavyCell rather than DuraCell. They work, but of course they aren't even alkalines. Beggars can't be choosers, and we had to have batteries right then, but beggars can at least in theory avoid being fraud victims.


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Ike Marches On - UPDATED

UPDATE 8 Friday about 8:30pm CT: (That last update was of course on Friday. Sorry about that.) I'm finally at Stella's, well-fed, settled in with too much stuff, and wondering if I thought of everything. Of course not! But for another few hours, the winds will be low enough that I can run back to my apartment if necessary to retrieve something. SciGuy says the storm will be worse than we hoped this afternoon. Galveston is getting hammered... drowned is more like it... already. Ike is drawing in some dry air, but it's probably too late to prevent its coming in as a Category 3, if only minimally. The NWS Graphical Forecast shows 4:00am gusts to 82 kt for Houston, about what we anticipated for speed at landfall, not when Ike reached Houston.

Still, we made our reasonable choice, and here we are. I think we'll be OK. Any place we might have gone... any place actually available to us... would have put us at risk at least as great as this. I expect we'll lose power during the night, so don't assume the worst if I don't check in right away.

UPDATE 7 Thurs. Friday about 4:20pm CT: This is the last post from the desktop computer. My apartment is secured (sort of) and I'm doing the last-minute packing to go to Stella's place in an hour or two. She has internet service comparable to mine, so I should still be able to post from there until I lose power or lose the connection.

I just watched the resident newsfool reporting from the Galveston seawall, and it looks really bad already. Why some people feel a need to be out there "reporting" when there's that much danger is beyond me. I suppose he will leave soon; the Causeway is still open and navigable. But those waves against the seawall are evidence that the storm surge will be really, really bad.

We anticipate TS force winds in a few hours (hard to believe as I glance outside; there's only a breeze) and the full force of the storm tomorrow morning.

Because we are at home, I do not anticipate having to move posting to the YDD Annex, but if I do so, I'll let you know in the comment thread linked below.

UPDATE 6 Friday about 10:00am CT: Gotta have some fun while we wait for this thing, so here is our substitute for a Friday cat post... not about one of Stella's girls, but about a firefighter who saves a cat by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It tasted "like fur," said firefighter Al Machado. The cat is a three-year-old tiger angora named Kiki. The burned house's former residents have been charged with arson.

The weather here? Cloudy-bright, some sunshine, no rain, utterly still. Houston is still Ike's target. Ike is dangerous because of its sheer size (at present it's only a Category 2, but much of the Texas coastline will be affected) and the likely storm surge. Again, the main danger at our specific location will be wind, not water. This waiting certainly is boring, but at least we have A/C and internet... after the storm, we probably won't be so comfortable.


UPDATE 5 Thurs. about 11:35pm CT: OK, we're as ready as we can be... not to say as ready as possible, just as ready as we poor weary souls can manage under the circumstances. I've gotten out of practice at this, and we're plenty tired, in part from carrying water (for whom? for us!) and removing wind chimes. Politics seems miles away at the moment, and all local political events this weekend were canceled and/or rescheduled. Now we just have to wait it out, whatever "it" turns out to be.

SciGuy tells us Ike is likely to be a Category 2 hurricane at landfall, and less even than that as it arrives in Houston. He also reminds us that the average forecast error for landfall is about 70 miles, and that the forecast location of landfall has been moving eastward gradually; a landfall further east, even by a few miles, would be good for both Galveston and Houston (yeah, I know: bad for someone else). We'll know soon enough. Thanks to all of you who have been stopping by and offering supportive thoughts.

UPDATE 4 Thurs. about 4:45pm CT: We'll be riding it out in our apartments. Fortunately, hers and mine are only one building apart, and they're sturdy enough (and elevated enough) to have been through Alicia and Allison with no flooding and little damage. Why are we staying here? Stella's employer will allow only employees designated "essential" to stay in the building during the storm; I presume it's a matter of their insurance. Stella manages research projects, which I personally consider essential, but I can see how the world can go on without them for 24 or 48 hours.

In a way, I'm relieved. Moving even our minimal stuff over there, along with two cats, would have been a challenge, and I detest being in a place I don't really belong. "Who are you, and what are you doing here?" is not my favorite question, even when I have a good answer. And while there was a time that my appearance fit well enough in an office setting, I've, um, gone native in recent years...

We'll keep things packed overnight, against the possibility that things worsen so dramatically in that short time that we are forced to make an emergency evacuation. I consider that fairly unlikely. Although the forecast does not give me hope of greater relief from Ike than I've anticipated for a couple of days now, Ike's quirkiness may have led to slightly less danger for inland areas near its path. In any case, here I am, here Stella will be in a couple of hours, and here we and the Girls will stay until Ike passes through.

Well, actually, we still have to go out on Stella's patio to take down her 147 sets of wind chimes...

UPDATE 3 Thurs. about 1:00pm CT: Galveston, Brazoria and Matagorda (and many other places) are all now under mandatory evacuation orders. The last I heard (four hours ago?), officials were still encouraging Houston residents who are not in the surge zone to shelter in place, to free up the highways for those who really have to evacuate.

We are out of the surge zone, both officially and from prior experience. Harris County Flood Control District says explicitly that the surge will not affect the bayou system's ability to drain the rainwater; the system is expected to be adequate to do so except for a couple of small bayous that are mostly in the southeast part of the county. HCFC is not typically calm about these things, so I'm taking them at their word. Wind is still thought to be the primary danger.

I still don't have official word on sheltering at Stella's workplace. But I used the extra time to go to the nearest supermarket (now that was scary!) to buy two more 24-packs of bottled water (we already had four on hand) and two gallon jugs of water for the kitties (again, there were already some on hand). Oh, and most important of all, two bags of kitty litter... if we tried to go without, the kitties would surely "go" without!

I have mixed feelings about sheltering away from home. There's no doubt Stella's workplace is a safer place to be, but these apartments are sturdy... 35 years old, no floods even in Alicia and Allison, recently maintained roof, etc. I might have unmixed feelings, though, if Ike came through as a strong Category 3 or worse. But it's still possible that Stella's employer will remove that option anyway; I'm waiting for word, meanwhile packing as if to go.

UPDATE 2 Wed. about 11:11pm CT: Despite my best hopes, the current forecast (which may change several times in the next day) shows Ike pointed for a landfall at Freeport... about the worst possible spot for Houston (not to mention Freeport!). We're investigating the possibility of "evacuating" within the city, possibly to Stella's workplace, which is a major institution in a huge building. (Many large buildings in Houston were upgraded after Alicia in 1983 to withstand stronger storms.) A lot depends on whether they will allow her to bring the cats in on an emergency basis. If we do that, I may or may not get a chance to post here before we pack up and leave. It's not impossible, depending on available net connections, that I'll be able to post on the YDD Annex from somewhere. In any case, we intend to be safe... somewhere... all four of us. I'll check in when I can.

UPDATE Wed. about 4:00pm CT: Things don't look too good here in H-town. A couple of hours ago I monitored an extended chat on Berger's blog, the second session in which readers tapped his deep knowledge of tropical weather specifically in our local context. It seems the next few days could be at least unpleasant, and possibly dangerous.

All the models have shifted somewhat to the north, and one of them (at least) points right at Houston now, or even a little bit northeast of here. Any landfall up the coast from Matagorda Bay will deliver us at least tropical storm weather, and Berger says his gut feeling is that there's about a one in three chance of Ike's coming straight here. Nobody's venturing to guess intensity with any confidence, but if Ike comes straight here, it looks as if Houston itself, which is 50 or 60 miles inland, may get 100+ mph sustained winds.

We are not in the storm surge zone, nor is flooding anticipated in our area, so high winds are our primary danger if Ike does come here. Landfall probably begins in the wee hours Friday-into-Saturday, so there is some time to observe, prepare and act, but I've heard plywood is already scarce for those who want to board up windows. No, I don't do that; I doubt the apartment owners would tolerate that sort of modification. I move valuable stuff back away from windows, and move my person into a windowless, relatively well-protected bathroom at the height of a storm.

Everyone is being advised not to evacuate unless they are either in the storm surge zone, are officially advised to evacuate (e.g., the west end of Galveston Island and several coastal areas), or have some other compelling reason. With luck, that will avoid needless clogging of the evacuation routes for people who actually have to evacuate. At present, it looks as if most of us will ride it out. I can't help wondering how much this course of action was influenced by the nightmare of the evacuation of Houston for Rita in 2005. In theory, they've worked out some of the bugs since then, but I'd be glad not to have to test that theory myself.

Stella's father and his wife live about 25 or 30 miles north of here. According to Berger's chat, people out there, in an extreme case, would see no worse than tropical storm force winds. That's one fewer thing to worry about, though the lack of emergency medical service during a storm concerns us a bit, even if it's only a tropical storm.

And that's the news from Misbegotten Bayou.

Original post:

I may be in the path, because the uncertainties are so large. But I'm going to take Eric Berger's advice from earlier this evening...

Hurricane Ike; Time to watch and be wary, not worry.

8:00 p.m. UPDATE: Ike remains a 75-mph hurricane for now, though I would expect re-intensification to begin tonight.

Some of this evening's models have shifted slightly southward, but we're not seeing the significant shifts that happened yesterday, and the highest area of risk remains from just south of Corpus Christi northward to Houston and Galveston.

At this point, however, all of the Texas coast need remain wary of Ike.



Here's a little song I stole;
I hope you learn to sing it whole:
Don't worry...
Be wary.

Well, OK; I'll try. The experts say we should know considerably more by sometime tomorrow afternoon or evening. Until then, all I can do is, um, be wary.

As of this afternoon, there was no serious talk of evacuating Houston, at least not the part inside Loop 610 where we live. Other parts of surrounding counties, and of course other parts of Texas down the coast toward Corpus Christi, are not so fortunate; buses are being positioned to assist in any necessary evacuation. A National Guard task force of 7500 troops has been formed to assist in rescue and recovery after the storm, wherever it hits.

As always, I recommend the blog of the Houston Chronicle's SciGuy, who is science editor Eric Berger. I learned a great deal about the specifics of this storm by monitoring a 1.5-hour chat session; another one takes place tomorrow at 2:00pm CT. (Note: Eric is a saint for putting up with the very, very few self-preoccupied troll-like idiots who cannot resist defacing a serious exchange. But he handles them with grace and humor, as I never could. And Berger is full of local information one could not find elsewhere without a staff of researchers, which he no doubt has.)

Political blogging will continue as events permit. If necessary, i.e., if I'm forced to blog away from home, I'll probably move things to the YDD Annex. But I'll give you notice before I do that. Please check here first.


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