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On Really Padding The Résumé, Or, “Vote For Me! I Died In Viet Nam” June 27, 2010

We have already seen some impressive efforts in this campaign season to do a bit of résumé padding, particularly as it regards things military; so far Illinois’ Mark Kirk has managed to turn himself into a kind of camouflage Austin Powers, while Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal’s trying to catch up with some “Vietnam” service of his own that no one else in the theater of operations exactly knew about.

But now, in the race for Alabama Governor, we may have seen something that takes us to a whole new level of “inflation”: the Republican candidate is running an ad that not only suggests that he served in Vietnam…it seems to imply that he actually died there, and has now come back to save the State.

Which is some serious irony indeed, considering that the candidate is actually a medical doctor.

And with that, let me introduce you to the either living…or undead…Dr. Robert J. Bentley.

“I have fought for Queen and Faith like a valiant man and true;
I have done my duty as a man is bound to do;
With a joyful spirit I Sir Richard Greenville die!”
And he fell upon their decks, and he died.

–From The Revenge, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Now as regular readers know, I post far and wide, including at Left in Alabama, where our friend mooncat has been running with this story, which is how I became aware of the events we’ll be talking about today.

On Thursday, she was up with a post I particularly want you to see, and I’ll explain why in just a second, but before I do, I just wanted to acknowledge her excellent work.

So here’s the deal: the Bentley for Governor Campaign has been running an ad called “A Man’s Word”, which is one of two ads that give the impression that Bentley served in Vietnam, even though he did not serve there.

In this ad, a list of names appears about six seconds in, and remains visible for about three seconds, along with an image of a fighter aircraft and a banner that says: “Hospital Commander Vietnam War”; a reference to his three-month stint as the interim commander of the base hospital at Pope Air Force Base, in North Carolina.

Here’s the ad, for your perusal:

Now if you go and check out mooncat’s Left in Alabama posting, she’s gone to the time and trouble to do a screen grab of the “list”, along with pointing you to the second questionable ad.

It needs to be addressed further, but I’m going to ignore that other ad, for today…and that’s because, to me, the list of names, including the font, the background, and the method of writing branch of service and “conflict served” all looks just a little too much like either the panels used at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall or the design of a US military gravestone.

“If you want to use issues to define people as to where they stand on the issues, that’s fine,” Bentley said. “But you shouldn’t distort the facts.”

–Robert Bentley, to Michael Tomberlin of The Birmingham News, May 17, 2010

So if Bentley did actually die in Vietnam…could he still be elected?

As it happens, there is some precedent here. Mel Carnahan, who was dead at the time, put the whup on John Ashcroft pretty good in their 2000 Senate contest; unfortunately Missouri’s closed-minded Acting Governor Roger Wilson was not willing to let Carnahan actually serve in the office, appointing his wife instead.

Which brings us to the final question: could the undead actually serve in office?

Have you ever met my Congressman, Dave Reichert?
Steve King?
Louie Gohmert?
Michelle Bachmann?
Arizona Governor Ann Brewer?

Any one of those people could have appeared in Zombieland, and I’ll let you decide which is your favorite later.

They’re also all serving in elected positions today, suggesting the undead can in fact hold high office—and if you need an even better example, Dick Cheney has been undead at least a couple of times, which didn’t keep him from serving as the 43rd President of the United States.

And with that, we come to the “let’s wrap it up” part of the deal:

Dr. Robert J. Bentley, the Republican nominee for Governor of Alabama, is running ads that either intentionally or “accidentally” inflate his military record by making you think he served in Vietnam…or he actually died there and he’s now walking the Earth as one of the undead and a medical doctor, bringing his unique perspective on end-of-life issues to the People in the best way he knows how.

I wish I knew which it was; my efforts to obtain some sort of comment about any of this from the Bentley Campaign were unsuccessful…which is probably a good idea if you’re running ads that suggest you were in Vietnam, when you really weren’t, and you know you’ll eventually be facing some incoming fire of your own.

It’s already been a pretty hot summer in Alabama.

Let’s see if we can’t spread this story around and make it even hotter for Dr. Bentley…because if anybody deserves to be in a warm place, it’s someone who tries to take advantage of the way we feel about those who die for this country.

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At Black Tie Ceremony, Feith Passes Torch To Barton June 21, 2010

Honestly, I am absolutely sick of commercial air travel these days. Just dealing with security is bad enough, but then there’s the airlines, and…hey, all you really need to know here is that there has to be a pretty good reason for me to fly cross-country.

Well, I had one Saturday night, which is how I came to be in the Colonnade Room of the Fairmount Hotel, Washington DC with about 250 of my closest friends, in a classic shawl-collar tuxedo, attending one of the most exclusive “passing of the torch” ceremonies in recent Washington memory.

And when it was all over, Douglas Feith was a happy man.

Respect to your great place! and let the devil
Be sometime honour’d for his burning throne.

— Duke Vincentio, from William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

There are probably some of you who are thinking: “That Feith name is familiar, but why?”

You know the name because, as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, he was the guy who basically planned how the Bush Administration would run the Iraq War.

To suggest he was not exactly a genius in the job would be the charitable interpretation; General Tommy Franks is famous for referring to him as the “dumbest mother@*&#er alive”, which is the official title he’s carried ever since.

But on Saturday night, the torch was passed.

And by the time the speeches had ended, and the applause had died down, Texas’ Congressman Joe Barton was the new keeper of the sputtering flame.

This was not the outcome most observers expected.

When my invitation arrived on Monday, it looked as though BP’s Tony Hayward would be wearing the sash and carrying the scepter (for those who don’t know, the scepter is a gold-colored three foot long extension cord…and if that’s the stupidest thing you ever heard in your life, you get the idea), having basically earned himself a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in a mere 60 days.

This was going to be tough for Hayward, of course, because he was already planning to skip his Farr 52 (I’m told he calls it Bob) in the 79th “Round the Island” race, back home in the UK on the same day (and he had a good race, too, coming second to Leopard).

But before BP could really address the question of who would accept the award on his behalf, Congressman Barton pulled off an amazing feat; eclipsing Hayward’s 60 days of corporate idiocracy in a mere five minutes by actually apologizing to BP for the Obama Administration’s insistence that they don’t go through all the necessary legalities before BP actually begins paying claims for damages.

Considering how he got the title in the first place, it’s fair to say Barton’s acceptance speech began with some classic “message confusion”…

“…Where I come from what we’d do about it would be take ’em out and string ’em up…We wouldn’t go through the legalities that we have to because of our due process…”

…and then went on to include a few more pearls of wisdom:

“…If homosexuality was normal we wouldn’t any of us be here…You have to have heterosexual behavior in order to recreate the species…”

“…In January 2009, I introduced the College Football Playoff Act of 2009. This isn’t a government gridiron takeover. It simply says that the BCS can’t call a game the “national championship” unless the participants are determined by a playoff. It doesn’t dictate what kind of playoff or how many teams have to be involved—those decisions would rest with the BCS or NCAA.

The biggest complaint about my bill is that Congress shouldn’t get involved. While this doesn’t rise to the level of healthcare reform or climate change legislation, it is more important than honoring the 2,560th anniversary of the birth of Confucius—one of dozens of resolutions passed by the House in the past few months (I voted against it)…”

Luckily for me, my own prior life experience as a caterer had prepared me for the evening; I had tipped our server at the beginning of the meal, and with the amount of wine available at the table, I was already well enough along that there were no “spit takes” during Barton’s speech.

Possibly the happiest person in the room was BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. When I caught up to him over a glass of champagne he was happy to explain Hayward’s absence, although it’s clear he really isn’t a native English speaker:

“After it became obvious he wouldn’t be leaving with the award, I told him he needed to get back and replace Captain Neil; that he should handle the “Bob” himself, and I talked to him today, and he said he got all the way to second…”

At which point I just couldn’t take any more, and the interview came to an end.

And it’s at this point that I should say that while this story really didn’t happen, and that this was satire, Barton’s “acceptance speech” was actually assembled from his own very real words, found here, here, and here.

I should also say that in real life Doug Feith might have actually caught a break here; but with several months left until November, and the Republicans looking more and more “self-defeatable”, if I were Joe Barton I wouldn’t be building any expensive “shrines” for his new accoutrement, as another awards transfer ceremony could be coming up sooner than anyone thinks.

WARNING – Blatant Self-Promotion Ahead: It’s Netroots Nation time once again, and the fine folks at Freedom To Marry have chosen me as a finalist for their Blog 4 Equality contest. If I am one of the chosen, it’s off to Vegas…in July. You can vote for that Don Davis guy here, which is my “in person” name, once every 24 hours, so vote early and often. Voting ends June 25th. Thanks very much, and we now return you to your regular programming.

 

On Slicing Pies, Or, Mystery Fees Cause Retirement “Money Spill” June 19, 2010

It’s part two of our “Netroots Nation Goes To Vegas Piano Bar Extravaganza”, and in keeping with tradition that means we are again taking a story request.

This time we won’t be talking about energy security or “climate security”; instead, we’ll discuss retirement security, keeping your money for yourself instead of paying it out in “mystery fees”, and how one of the “usual suspects” is at it again.

And if all that wasn’t enough…we also have pie.

And when the Pye was open’d
The birds began to sing,
And was not this a dainty dish
To set before the King!

–Charles Lamb, writing to Miss Sarah James, April, 1829

So here’s what’s going on: about 50 million Americans have one of those 401(k) retirement plans.

The concept behind these plans is that you put money into an investment account of some sort, and the money accumulates, tax-free, until you withdraw it after you retire.

These accounts are “managed” by financial services firms, who collect fees for the service.

Lots of fees, for all kinds of services.

The problem is that not all of these fees are fully disclosed to investors. In fact, it’s legal for an investment firm to deduct some amount of money out of the mutual fund that you’ve put your money into…and not tell you how much they took.

Part of the House’s vision of financial reform legislation requires the managers of these monies to fully disclose, up front, before you invest, and on every statement afterward, what fees are being collected; an amendment before the Senate would remove this protection—and here’s where the “usual suspects” part comes in: we have this amendment thanks to our good friend…wait for it…Senator Max “I love healthcare reform—as long as those healthcare industry checks keep coming in” Baucus, he of the Senate Finance Committee.

The US Department of Labor says that you could lose as much as 28% of your money, over time, to these hidden fees, and that’s a pretty big slice out of your retirement pie.

To illustrate the point Congressman George Miller, chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor (following the requisite press conference) dispatched his minions to deliver 72% of an apple pie to each member of the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday, as you can see in this video, courtesy of Mr. Miller’s office:

What about the other 28%?

That was replaced with a big red wedge that reads “Wall Street’s Cut of Your 401(k) Pie” before the pies were boxed up…and it was actually a nice presentation, if I may say so myself.

So exactly who got the pies?

With no effort made to change the names for the protection of the innocent, here’s a list of the members of Senate Finance, along with their States and affiliations:

Max Baucus (Oy, Vey!-MT)
Jeff Bingaman (Big-Time Lobbyist Wife-NM)
Jim Bunning (Nutty-KY)
Maria Cantwell (Used to be Rich-WA)
Thomas Carper (Once Accused of Designing a Regulatory Deathstar-DE)
Kent Conrad (Countrywide VIP Home Mortgage Program Participant-ND)
John Cornyn (Compensating…-TX)
Mike Crapo (Big-Time Lobbyist Daughter-ID)
John Ensign (“Wanna Donate To My Legal Defense Fund?”-NV)
Mike Enzi (One of Those C Street Guys-WY)
Chuck Grassley (Against Healthcare Reform…Until He Was For It-IA)
Orrin Hatch (Supports Drug Testing For Unemployment Benefits-UT)
John Kerry (John Kerry Walks Into A Bar, The Horse Says “Hey: Why The Long Face?”-MA)
Jon Kyl (Wants Joe Arpaio to Enforce Immigration Law-AZ)
Blanche Lincoln (Damn Near Fired-AR)
Robert Menendez (Never Convicted-NJ)
Bill Nelson (Had His Own “Flight Suit” Moment-FL)
Pat Roberts (Is America’s Phone Tapped?-KS)
John D. Rockefeller IV (Actually Wanted a Public Option-WV)
Charles Schumer (Will Go Upstate-NY)
Olympia Snowe (Always the “Possible Republican Vote”-ME)
Debbie Stabenow (Can’t Live With ‘Em…-MI)
Ron Wyden (Geek-OR)

This is another one of those stories where getting ahold of one or more of these Senators, in the next few days, could matter quite a bit if it’s your pie that’s at stake…and even if it isn’t, why should fund managers get to charge “mystery fees” to anybody?

So get to it, now, because if you do, you may be able to afford more ice cream to go with your pie later.

WARNING – Blatant Self-Promotion Ahead: It’s Netroots Nation time once again, and the fine folks at Freedom To Marry have chosen me as a finalist for their Blog 4 Equality contest. If I am one of the chosen, it’s off to Vegas…in July. You can vote for that Don Davis guy here, which is my “in person” name, once every 24 hours, so vote early and often. Voting ends June 25th. Thanks very much, and we now return you to your regular programming.

 

On Poor Management, Or, Did You Know There Was Another Deepwater? June 16, 2010

It is by now obvious that even after we stop the gentle trickle of oil that’s currently expressing itself into the Gulf of Mexico (thank you so much, BP) we are not going to be able to get that oil out of the water for some considerable length of time–and if you think it could take years, I wouldn’t bet against you.

While BP is the legally responsible party, out on the water it will be up to the Coast Guard to manage the Federal response, and to determine that BP is running things in a way that gets the work done not only correctly and safely, but, in a world of limited resources, efficiently.

Which brings us to the obvious question: can the Coast Guard manage such a complex undertaking?

While we hope they can, you need to know that the Coast Guard has been trying to manage the replacement of their fleet of ships and aircraft for about a decade now…and the results have been so stunningly bad that you and I are now the proud owners of a small flotilla of ships that can never be used, because if they go to sea, they might literally break into pieces.

It’s an awful story, and before we’re done you’ll understand why Deepwater was already an ugly word around Headquarters, years before that oil rig blew up.

“I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news –
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

–William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance

We’re going to try to keep today’s story relatively short (we won’t succeed, I’m afraid), and that means I’ll be a bit tighter with words than I would be normally, so let’s get right to the heart of the matter:

The US Coast Guard (USCG) works its ships and aircraft too hard, with inadequate downtime; as a result an old fleet is even older than its years.

Just like an old car, you have to work harder at maintenance, but things keep breaking down, and the costs really start to add up.

It’s not entirely their fault: they have more and more to do, especially after September 11th; they’re also expected to operate farther from home, and the tours of duty are longer.

At the same time the money they get to do it all keeps going down.

This circle had to be squared.

A decision was made to begin planning for the modernization or replacement of pretty much everything USCG owns that operates out in the deep water (that’s more than 50 miles from shore), and that’s how the Deepwater program was born.

Total assets involved: roughly 90 large ships, over 100 small boats, about 250 aircraft, and not quite $25 billion dollars.

USCG was convinced that they did not have the ability to manage this sort of program on their own, and they decided to procure everything from one prime contractor, a Lockheed/Northrop Grumman partnership.

The idea was that they would tell the contractor what they wanted the finished product to be able to do (in this case, the product was a fleet of ships and aircraft that could interact as a system), and the contractor would determine how to manage the program to completion.

With the “management” part of the process out of USCG’s hands, all the Admirals would have to do was “supervise” the contractor to make sure things were on time and on budget.

They did that by creating teams that would each watch over a small portion of the bigger picture, coordinating with each other and USCG senior management.

The next step was to determine what ships and aircraft to build; today we’ll concentrate on just four elements of the system, which should be enough to make the picture clear.

–The Coast Guard owned a number of 110 foot patrol boats, and they decided to refurbish them, to provide new capabilities within a 13-foot longer hull. This required the ships to be cut apart, and then reassembled.

As it turned out, that idea sucked.

One way to interpret the results would be to say the first eight newly-delivered craft were so unseaworthy (the hulls of the “brand-new” ships were actually cracking), so full of electrical problems, and so unable to protect classified communications that they never entered service, and they will be scrapped.

Another view: for quite some time Baltimore was continuously guarded by eight Coast Guard vessels, and the city was incredibly safe—as long as none of them had to actually leave the pier or do anything.

The loss: about $100 million. USCG is trying to get the money back.

“It’s going to be difficult to counter the bad publicity we’ve had despite the best efforts of our communications team,” admitted J. Rocco Tomonelli, director of Coast Guard business development at Northrop Grumman.

–From the article Coast Guard May Face Rough Seas as it Takes Control of Deepwater, National Defense Magazine, October 2007

–USCG needed a big ship with the ability to operate as far away as the Middle East, and the National Security Cutter was it.

The job required that the vessels delivered had to be structurally sound for use in the North Pacific’s very rough seas for 30 years. The contractor was convinced the ships were sound, the Coast Guard was not, and the Navy was brought in to settle the argument.

USCG won, the taxpayer, again, lost.

An odd, but not surprising, solution was found. If USCG would just agree to not ask that the ships be so annoyingly capable, everything would be fine…so they did; this was done by assuming the ships would be at sea fewer days every year.

We now know that USCG expected some of the ships’ structural components to only last three years in actual service.

In 2006 it was reported that the first two hulls may or may not be fixable, and may have to be scrapped.

The first ship delivered, the Cutter Bertholf, was not allowed to perform any missions for almost seven months after commissioning due to its own failure to perform as expected. In October 2008 Bertholf conducted its first “shakedown” cruise and officially entered operational service.

More of these ships are being built, with fixes hopefully in place. Two are in acceptance trials; a funding request exists that would expand the fleet to five.

Our cost?
At least $650 million per ship.

–USCG planned to buy a dozen Fast Response Cutters; the contractor wanted to use newfangled composite hulls, reportedly for longer life and less maintenance.

That idea also sucked.

Officially, and I quote: “…the cutter design satisfied contract terms but did not meet Deepwater mission needs.” The resulting ships were judged to be too heavy and lacking in performance.

It is suggested that the contractor wanted to build this type of hull because they had a new composite facility available and there was money to be made. We’ll discuss that in a minute.

The plan now is to build the ships with metal hulls.
USCG is not attempting to recover the lost money on this one.

–USCG wanted Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) for the new ships. A fancy-schmancy tilt-rotor design that was already somewhat developed had to be abandoned because they couldn’t afford to produce the thing.

Current thinking is to steal something from the Navy’s UAV development program, stick a USCG radar system on it, and call it good.

The GAO and the Congressional Research Service have been looking into all this, a lot; they feel USCG has failed to properly resource the teams that are supposed to be supervising this process.

Excessive workload, transferring people in and out, failing to put team members in locations that are close to other team members, and failing to fill leadership positions were all issues noted in the reports.

The idea that the contractor would “own” the whole process, might work against USCG interests, and that USCG would be at their mercy was also noted. (Remember those fiberglass hulls?)

We’re told that teams working on the National Security Cutter tried to warn USCG senior management about the problems with the first few ships, and that they were ignored.

Total cost of all the mistakes: more than $1.5 billion.

Frankly, this is all Admiral Stuff, and the Admirals at USCG have nothing to be proud of, based on this part of the record.

USCG is now trying to turn all this around by taking over management of the program themselves, and although there is reason to believe things may be somewhat better, even that “fix” is creating problems.

For example, it’s reported that USCG is moving ahead on acquisition decisions even though they haven’t fully decided what the designs should be.

At this point, however, USCG has little choice: they can’t wait several years to train up a new crew of contract managers, then design, then build.

That’s because, right now, things are very bad for the Fleet: of the first 12 ships USCG sent to help after the earthquake in Haiti…10 broke, at various times, and that kept them from conducting rescues until they were fixed. Two of those had to return to the US for major repairs.

And here’s where the circle closes.

Admiral Thad Allen, who’s running the show on the Gulf Coast, spent the past four years as Commandant of the Coast Guard, and before that as Coast Guard Chief of Staff…which means, for good or for ill, he’s covered in Deepwater all the way up to his Cutterman Insignia.

The question now is: was he the reformer who fixed this stuff when he finally got the chance, or was he part of the problem in the first place?

I could not get the answer to this most critical question, so all I can tell you is to watch very, very, carefully—and don’t be afraid to assume the worst, until we truly do know better.

WARNING – Blatant Self-Promotion Ahead: It’s Netroots Nation time once again, and the fine folks at Freedom To Marry have chosen me as a finalist for their Blog 4 Equality contest. If I am one of the chosen, it’s off to Vegas…in July. You can vote for that Don Davis guy here, which is my “in person” name, once every 24 hours, so vote early and often. Voting ends June 25th. Thanks very much, and we now return you to your regular programming.

 

On Saving Louisiana, Or, Send Me Your Mud, Yearning To Be Free June 15, 2010

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a story I originally posted in March of 2007 that seems so important right now I’ve brought it back for your consideration.

Let’s begin today’s discussion with a quick thought experiment.

What is the single most important thing necessary to ensure the survival of the State of Louisiana?

Improved government administration?
More and better levees?
The success of the “Road Home” project?

I submit it is none of these.

The single most important factor determining the future of the State of Louisiana is mud.

That’s right, mud.

Were you aware that the entire State consists of mud? When you look at a geologic map, there is nothing to be seen but sedimentary deposits dating back to the Cambrian period.

And the mud, it is a-sinking.

Katrina took out more than 57 square miles of land in Plaquemines Parish alone. That former land is now the Gulf of Mexico.

The Army Corps of Engineers has maps of the Mississippi river from 1998. When you get to the page, click on map 141. What you see is a portion of Plaquemines Parish. (Here’s the same place on Google Maps.)

Notice almost the entire map area consists of water, canals, and marsh. There’s only two narrow strips of solid ground evident. Now let’s pull out a bit. There’s just about nothing in the image but sinking ground. Now pull out just a little bit further, and guess what-there’s New Orleans.

This was the area of Louisiana most affected by Katrina.

It’s now time for you to meet Professor Oliver A. Houck. His essay “Can We Save New Orleans?”, published in the Tulane Law Journal, will be central to the remainder of this conversation, and I would encourage you in the strongest terms to take the time to read the document.

Here are some of the issues he brings to light:

–There is no consensus on what is to be done-should the emphasis be on maximizing the amount of developable land; or should the emphasis be on maximizing opportunities for natural processes to replenish the bayous? These are two mutually exclusive goals, and Houck suggests development is winning.

–The Federal government is responsible for maintaining navigation on the Mississippi, but flood control is managed locally. As a result of this and the huge amounts of money that are spread around through levee and other water control project construction, politics has more influence on the management process than science and inter-jurisdictional coordination.

–Environmental pollution-especially fertilizer runoffs-kill the marsh grasses that hold the soil together. As a result, the process of saving Louisiana starts in South Dakota, and is therefore a national, not just a State problem.

–It is easier to calculate the cost-benefit of industrial and commercial activity than the cost-benefit of saving lives-and safety advocates have fewer lobbyists.

–Money spent now, on non-development rights, for example, will be cheaper than money spent later on reconstruction or remediation.

And the most important of all:

–It’s the constant movement of silt down the river that makes it possible for there to be a Louisiana-and America’s history of “taming” the Mississippi has nearly brought that process to a stop. The River carried 400 million tons a year of silt 150 years ago, Houck reports, and today carries only 80 million. Without that “new” land to deposit in the Delta, there is no way to offset the erosion to the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s not the only reason the State is sinking, however. Pumping drinking water from aquifers has an impact, and the expansion of the ocean caused by global warming does, too. Even the weight of the levees themselves on the soft soil is affecting the situation.

Professor Houck, being a “fix-it” kind of analyst, has offered a ten-point prescription for Louisiana recovery. Here’s the “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version”:

1) Draw the map-in other words, there needs to be a set of decisions made regarding exactly where humans will be allowed to control the land, and where the river will have its say.
2) With a new map, reconsider the projects-Houck reminds us that Katrina changed everything, and that projects already designed or underway are probably the wrong solutions to today’s problems.
3) “Free the Mississippi 400 million”-open dams upriver to allow the 400 million tons of silt to do its thing downriver.
4) Free the rivers-the logical extension of point 3. Open the levees appropriately, and let the rivers do their thing.
5) Cut the upstream fertilizers-we discussed this above-fertilizer kills grass, and that kills land. This is where parties outside Louisiana have to step up to the plate-the EPA, the Corps of Engineers, the various States, and maybe even private actors such as the Nature Conservancy.
6) Heal the marsh-if grass holds the mud in place, then grass we must grow. Professor Houck uses a farming analogy-one in which Louisianans would essentially become “land farmers”.
7) Quit making it worse-dredging and filling for canals and subdivisions is the enemy. As we said above, prevention is cheaper than mitigation.
8 ) Make room for Nature-consolidate human development within protected areas to create room for natural restoration to work.
9) Dare to think retreat-Houck advocates completely removing residential development from threatened areas, through buyouts. He makes the argument that businesses can be sustained, however.
10) Global warming is real-Professor Houck suggests denial here just makes the problem much, much worse.

We have already seen the consequences of our desire to develop every inch of shoreline, and not just in Louisiana, but all along the Gulf Coast. And we already are beginning to understand that this is truly a national problem.

But if we hope to keep South Louisiana as a functioning economy or even as an above water piece of real estate, we better start talking about national solutions that help Nature’s solutions.

 

On Setting Things Straight, Or, An Open Letter To The United Kingdom June 14, 2010

Dear The United Kingdom,

I just wanted to take a minute to say hello and to see how things have been for you lately, and to maybe bring you up to date on a bit of news from here.

Well, right off the bat, we hear you have a new Conservative Prime Minister and that his Party and Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems are in partnership, which I’m sure will be interesting; you probably heard that us Colonials are again having Tea Parties, which has also been very interesting.

I have a Godson who’s getting married this September, so we’re all talking about that, and I hear Graham Norton was even better than last year at hosting Eurovision, despite the fact that it’s…frankly, it’s Eurovision.

Oh, yeah…we also had a bit of an oil spill recently that you may have heard about—and hoo, boy; you should see how the Company that spilled the oil has been acting.

So before we go any farther I figured I’d let you know that we did get that letter from John Napier over the weekend, and to tell you the truth, we’re not really sure John understands exactly what’s going on over here.

Now it turns out that it was some company called BP that’s been out there in the Gulf of Mexico operating the oil rig that blew up, killing eleven people and leading to that uncontrollable geyser of oil that you may be hearing about, and our dear Mr. Napier worries that when we say we’re angry with BP, we’re being anti-British.

If anyone should see John, would you please let him know that nothing could be further from the truth?

I promise you, you would be hard pressed to find one single solitary American getting up this morning, seeing the live feed from the oil leak on TV, and thinking: “That BP is scandalously representing Britain, and for that I hate the British”.

I’ll tell what we are thinking, though, is that as bad as this situation is, BP’s been making it a lot worse by, time after time, being either amazingly unaware of or brazenly dishonest about what’s been going on.

Remember back in May when BP said they were capturing 5000 barrels of oil a day with their new containment procedure—while still claiming on the very same day that the total amount of the leak was 5000 barrels a day, even though anyone who could look at the image from the leak could clearly see with their own two eyes that what BP was saying could not possibly be correct?

I don’t know how far the word’s gotten out over there yet, but now even the Daily Mail (not the “Guardian”, for God’s sakes… but the “Daily Mail”) says it looks like BP guessed low on the amount that’s leaking into the Gulf by somewhere between 15,000 and 35,000 barrels a day…which, to us, looks like either incredibly bad guessing or an incredibly bad effort to deny how bad things really are.

You’ll love this, United Kingdom: BP continues to insist that there are no underwater “plumes” of oil in the Gulf, even though the people on the scene measuring them, and the US Government agency mapping them, say there are.

The BP position, as I understand it, rests on the definition of “plume”…and when you consider that Americans still make fun of Bill Clinton, to this very day, for basing his impeachment defense on what the definition of “is” is, you shouldn’t be too surprised if we treat BP precisely the same way for doing the same thing.

This isn’t the first disaster for BP in this country, either. You may not remember, but just about five years ago BP blew up a refinery in Texas, killing 15 workers, and just afterward had another major spill, this time in Alaska.

The US Government levied an astonishingly large £53 million fine against BP in 2009 for not fixing the problems that led to the 2005 refinery disaster.

That puts the five-year casualty total for BP at way too many people dead, two habitats wounded, and one refinery in critical condition.

If you think that’s bad, United Kingdom, it now looks like BP just made up the spill response plan that they would be putting in place now…if they had been telling the truth about their ability to execute the plan in the first place.

Now if you put all that together…don’t you think somebody’s ass needs to be kicked? Mr. Obama does, and we find that a refreshing change from Mr. Bush, who would have likely done a “heckuva job” himself in the same situation.

Mr. Napier wanted us to know that we’re personalizing this a bit too much; he reminds us that:

“If you compare the damage inflicted on the economies of the western world by polluted securities from the irresponsible, unchecked greed and avarice of leading USA international banks, there has not been the same personalized response in or from countries beyond the US. Perhaps a case of double standards?”

John, babe…if you think we’re lacking in “anger personalization”, perhaps you’ve never actually heard of the Tea Party? I know the Daily Mail has, and I’m surprised you missed it.

Perhaps you missed the left-leaning protesters in San Francisco that want to put the CEOs of banks in jail, or the protesters in West Virginia, of all places, or in Boston?

Perhaps you don’t think there’s a reason to take it a bit personally when someone kills a couple of dozen people or so in some sort of preventable accident or another, but over here, whether it’s a mine operator or BP, we do take it personally.

Trust me, there’s no double standard: ask almost any American and they’ll tell you they’d be equally happy to see either a Wall Street or a BP executive forced to spend several years in a really tiny jail cell with someone who has a prior record of doing disturbing things to small forest creatures.

OK, United Kingdom, now here’s a chance for you to do the Company a favor: BP announced just a couple of days ago that they have no earthly idea why their stock price might be going down.

With just the least little effort, we could fix that problem right away.

If any of you might be in London, and don’t mind making a local call for me, would you kindly ring up BP corporate headquarters at +44 (0)20 7496 4000, and when they answer, just let them know that the stock price is going down because of the oil leak and what it’s doing to the perception that BP will be as profitable in the future as they had been in the past?

I’m sure they’d be so appreciative of the assistance that they might even give you a cool BP hat or something just for helping them out—I know I would, if I were BP.

Anyway, I’m hoping this will clear up some of Mr. Napier’s questions, but before I go, I have to ask you about something:

They tell me that BP stock is a huge part of the UK’s investment portfolio; and that lots of pension funds are dependent on the stream of revenue BP dividends represent.

So dependent, in fact, that there is a great hue and cry over the possibility that BP might not be able to pay a dividend to its shareholders.

So here’s what I was wondering: in the US, if a company in which you were invested suffered a loss that might reach beyond £30 billion, it’s supposed to have a negative impact on the stockholders. It’s almost certainly going to affect any potential dividend distribution, and a company like that might find itself taken over by a stronger competitor.

Doesn’t it work that way in the UK?

I’m sorry that those folks got caught in a bad investment, and maybe the UK Government wants to extend some sort of assistance to those affected; nonetheless I can’t understand the legal logic behind the proposition that cleaning up the mess that BP caused and the payment of compensation claims based on BP’s reckless actions should have a lower priority than the distribution of income to stockholders.

To put it as simply as possible: lots of players in the UK markets were happy to accept the profits from this investment, despite the risks, and now it’s time to accept a loss. That’s how investing works; and if no one else has told you that by now, well…welcome to investing.

And while UK pensioners are worried about losing some income, American workers—thousands of them—are worried that they’ll be out of work for months, and maybe years, with no income at all, except for that provided by BP…unless they go broke and can’t pay.

So that’s what’s been going on here since I wrote you last, and I hope you do get a chance to call BP about that whole stock going down thing, so they know, and I hope you don’t think we’re in any way upset with Britain at all, ‘cause we are truly not.

British Petroleum, however, is a different story; and based on the record we feel that our anger is entirely justified…but that would have been just as true if it had been Chevron or Anadarko or any other deepwater driller—just as it was true for Exxon after the Exxon Valdez incident two decades ago.

Anyway, I have to go now, but I’ll try not to wait so long before I write again; and I hope BP is able to contain this stuff before it begins washing up on your beaches, which, believe it or not, is a distinct possibility.

As always, your friend,

fake

 

On Balanced Budgets, Or, Hey, Rand, Why Not Show Your Cards Now? June 11, 2010

Those who are regular visitors to this space know that I post stories across the country, and to do that I have to follow stories from a number of states.

Because I post at Kentucky’s Hillbilly Report, I’ve been paying particular attention to the Rand Paul campaign, and the news from the Bluegrass State (via “The Rush Limbaugh Show”) is that Paul’s planning to write his own balanced budget proposal for the Federal Government.

But there’s a catch.

He doesn’t plan on doing it until after the election.

Well, now, why in the world would a guy who’s running for office based on his really good ideas want to hold back the best one?

That’s not a bad question, and if we make the effort we can probably figure out the most likely answers.

“I cou’d be mighty foolish, and fancy my self mighty witty; Reason still keeps its throne, but it nods a little, that’s all.”

–George Farquhar, The Recruiting Officer

First things first: we’re having this conversation thanks to the Hillbilly Report story from RDemocrat that I mentioned above, and from the original source, a posting from Bluegrass Politics (“Covering Kentucky politics and government”). So…thanks, y’all.

Now let’s get to the business at hand:

Why wouldn’t Paul want to reveal his balanced budget proposal now?

–It’s possible that Paul does not have a proposal ready to go.

If that were true, it could be because right now he only has a “sort-of outline” as to how he would get there.

If that’s the case, that’s OK; just go ahead, Dr. Paul, and tell us what you have in mind so far, and we’ll start to work the numbers and begin to see if it makes sense.

It’s also possible that he made a promise to deliver this balanced budget proposal with little or no idea as to how he would actually make it work.

That’s not OK, Dr. Paul—and I’m guessing that Kentucky voters wouldn’t think it’s OK either.

–It’s possible Paul has a proposal ready to go, but the details of that proposal are not going to fly with Kentucky voters.

As we discussed in another recent conversation, you aren’t going to get to a balanced Federal budget without drastically cutting spending, drastically raising revenues, or both, especially if you want to do it immediately; it may be just too much of a political “lift” for Paul to explain exactly how he would actually do that—at least until after Election Day.

In this political environment, a candidate does not want to get caught being untrue to their “brand”, or afraid of their own ideas; it would be very much to Paul’s disadvantage if this turned out to be the correct explanation for what’s going on and Kentucky voters became aware of the situation.

And with all that in mind, here’s the thing:

I’m not trying to play “gotcha” journalism here, Dr. Paul, and I hope you don’t think I am—but it is a fact that you’re basing your entire campaign on the power of your new ideas, and that means I have to ask you why you’re not willing to explain exactly what you think a balanced budget would look like until after the election?

Imagine if I came into your clinic, and you told me you knew that the frames you were showing me would look great, and fit even better, and the lenses will make me see like an eagle—and after I’ve paid for them, and you’ve finished making them, then I can try them on?

You wouldn’t sell me a pair of glasses that way, Dr. Paul, would you?

Of course you wouldn’t…so why are you asking people to vote first, and try you on later?

It doesn’t make any sense, if you have good ideas ready to bring to the table—but it would make sense if you’re doing a “bob and weave” because you don’t want the voters to see that you either have ideas they won’t like, or no ideas at all.

You don’t want voters thinking that about you, so why don’t you clear things up and let people know, today, that you know what you’re talking about…before they begin to think maybe you don’t.