Saturday, June 28, 2008

Riding the "Channel Cat"

It was a beautiful sunny day in the Quad Cities this morning. I took my family to ride the water taxi, the "Channel Cat." . Although the Mississippi has dropped below flood stage here in the Quad Cities it is still very high and there is still a great deal of water flowing. Here is a picture I took of the normally tame river. Click on the picture to see it full sized.

The Army Corps of Engineers has still not opened the locks for barge traffic so we pretty much had the river to ourselves.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Minority Vote for Obama

Imagine African-Americans, who voted 88% Democratic in 2004, voting 95% for Obama in November. Imagine Hispanics, of whom 60% voted for John Kerry in 2004, voting more than 80% Democratic in 2008. Further imagine Asians, 65% Democratic in 2004, also voting more than 80% for Obama.

It looks like it could happen, especially if the racist attacks continue.

Robert Novak, in yesterday's Washington Post said this of Colin Powel:

His tenuous 13-year relationship with the Republican Party, following his retirement from the Army, has ended. The national security adviser for Ronald Reagan left the present administration bitter about being ushered out of the State Department a year earlier than he wanted. As an African American, friends say, Powell is sensitive to racial attacks on Obama and especially on Obama's wife, Michelle.

Polls show that among Hispanics, traditionally wary of African-Americans and being too closely aligned with the Democratic Party, Obama leads McCain by more than 20 points. Geraldine Ferraro's comments about the advantages Obama enjoyed by being a minority particularly galvanized Latinos, who saw that same line of attack working equally well against a Hispanic candidate. This is a typical reaction to Ferraro's comments on a Latino blog:

…the whole implication that Obama is the front runner because he's not white really gets to the essence of her racism and stupidity. I don't think that Obama is the token minority candidate. He could not be leading in the delegate count and popular vote if he were such. And doesn't Ferraro remember Alan Keys? He's black, and he has run for president a couple times. The country wasn't caught up in "the concept" of Alan Keys. And what's with this whole "concept"? Can we not fathom having a president who isn't a WASP?

I wonder if she would have said something similar if Bill Richardson had achieved the success that Barack Obama is having. You could just as easily swap out Obama's name for Bill Richardson's in the above statement and have something as equally offensive

McCain's options for reaching out to minorities to counter these trends are limited by his need to try to hold onto the Republican party base which is already very wary of him and noticeably non-energized about his candidacy.

Remember that in 2000 and 2004 the country was pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Think what taking 10% or 15% of the minority vote away from the Republicans and giving it to the Democrats does to that balance.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Legalized Gambling is not the root of all evil

Barb Ickes has a column in today's Quad-City Times talking about how Earl Beasley and his wife, Julie, spent some of the money they embezzled from the Quad City Times. Unlike many other recent embezzlement cases in the Quad Cities they did not spend the money they stole on the river-boat casinos. They bought stuff (a lot of stuff) and took trips to Disney World.

So we have to assume that even if we had never legalized river-boat gambling this particular crime would still have occurred. It is important to keep things in perspective.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Exploiting your dislike of arrogance

ABC News is reporting Karl Rove's latest advice to fellow Republicans on how to attack Barack Obama

ABC News' Christianne Klein reports that at a breakfast with Republican insiders at the Capitol Hill Club this morning, former White House senior aide Karl Rove referred to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, as "coolly arrogant."

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy," Rove said, per Christianne Klein. "He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by." Read the entire article.

I think this quote epitomizes the Bush Administration's attitude toward truth. Karl Rove is not claiming that Barack Obama actually has ever even been at a country club with a beautiful date (presumably other than his wife) holding a martini and making snide comments. It makes no difference to Karl Rove that of all the current male U.S. Senators Barack Obama is among the least likely to have ever been seen doing that. He has no interest in the reality of who or what Barack Obama is. He is talking about mental images and emotions that can be successfully implanted in listener's minds by the use of carefully chosen phrases, exploiting their insecurities and fears.

Charles Gibson of ABC referred last week to a political campaign as a "level playing field of ideas and personality." The assumption is that the voters make their choice based on the actual ideas, policy proposal and personalities of the candidates. In Karl Rove's world the reality of the candidate's ideas and personality have been replaced with marketing slogans and images created by professional, highly paid consultants.

When you hear Barack Obama being referred to as arrogant and elitist it is not just Obama who is being unfairly attacked. They are attacking you -- your emotions and susceptibility to manipulation. How arrogant is that?

Who would benefit from a terrorist attack?

Ellen Beth has a disturbing report on how some Republican leaders seem to be calling for another terrorist attack on America.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

100 Years In Iraq

Why do John McCain and his supporters insist that he is being quoted out of context in a misleading and deceitful way whenever anyone mentions that he said that as far as he was concerned we could be in Iraq for "100 years?" See here, here and here. They claim that the "misquoters" are implying that John McCain wants 100 years of Americans fighting and dying in Iraq when, in fact, he had made it clear that he imagined the vast majority of that 100 years to be a non-fighting presence without any American casualties – as we have had for over 50 years in Korea and Germany. But John McCain and his supporters often claim that this false and deceitful implication has been made even if someone merely says "John McCain wants us in Iraq for 100 years." Where do they see in that sentence an implication of war, fighting and dying? Does it all depend on the definition of "in?"

Well, I think I have it figured out. The only way it makes any sense is if John McCain can't believe that anyone would have any objection or concern about us having a military presence in Iraq if no Americans were being killed or wounded. Therefore if an opponent says that "John McCain wants us in Iraq for 100 years" as an reason not to support John McCain and people hear it as a telling point against him then, in John McCain's eyes, they must all be thinking of 100 years of American casualties. Why else would they think that 100 years in Iraq was undesirable? The more effective an argument that turns out to be against him, the more John McCain sees a false and deceitful implication that others cannot see.

If any John McCain supporters are reading this they probably expect me to now explain why it would be bad for America to have a long-term military presence in Iraq, even if the American troops are not doing any fighting. But I don't think I will bother. Polls show that a solid majority of Americans want us out of Iraq and see any proposal for a prolonged military presence in Iraq as a bad thing. The debate is over, most Americans have made up their minds and further argument will have little effect. So if you share John McCain's beliefs about American military involvement in Iraq then you, like John McCain, will continue to see things that most Americans do not see – such as implications of war, fighting and dying hidden within the tiny word "in."

Friday, June 20, 2008

“Is it basically fair?”

The ABC's "World News" this evening I heard Charles Gibson talk about Barack Obama receiving a lot of criticism for his decision to opt out of the public financing system and then Charles asked George Stepanopolis the following question:

George, I've heard a lot of political analysis today about his decision, but let me ask you a question about basic fairness. People in this country like to believe that people play on a level playing field and that a campaign will be about ideas and personality. If you start with that much more money, is it basically fair?

Coming from someone in the main-stream media doesn't that strike you as an incredibly dishonest question? More money will allow Barack Obama to get his message directly to the public by means of paid advertisements, bypassing the incredibly biased filter that is the main-stream media. I am not surprised they are not happy about that but it takes a lot of chutzpah on their part to suggest that it is unfair.

The main-stream media works very hard to influence public opinion to the benefit of their corporate owners by their power to frame the debate and, even more importantly, their power to prevent ideas from even being presented. For example, I know that for a large percentage of the American public the War in Iraq is the most important issue in deciding with candidate to support for president. And yet in the thousands of hours of pundits endlessly discussing the various candidates the main-stream media has presented in this campaign almost never is the War in Iraq mentioned as a reason why voters might pick one candidate over another. In exactly the same way that Geico endlessly repeats in their advertisements "Geico can save you money on your insurance" hoping to bypass your conscious filters to implant the idea in your head, the main-stream media is trying to convince you that the War In Iraq is NOT the basis by which people are deciding who to support.

Another example of the main-stream news unleveling the playing field of ideas, several weeks ago the New York Times reported that the military recruited and paid more than 75 retired military officers to portray Iraq as an urgent threat and continues to pay many of them generate favorable coverage this Administration's wartime performance. Many of these paid agents appeared in the main-stream media, presented as presumably unbiased experts on military matters. This is obviously a very important story, one you would expect to be presented, especially by the networks who unknowingly presented these propagandists to an unsuspecting public. As of yet there has been no mention of this story on the networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN or Fox. Is that "basically fair?"

So where is this supposed level playing field of ideas that all of Barack Obama's money, mainly raised as small internet contributions from hundreds of thousands of donors (and none from lobbyists) is going to destroy?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Flooding on the Bike Trail in Moline

In response to numerous requests (well, one actually) from readers of this blog who do not live in the Quad Cities wanting to know how bad the flooding is here I am posting a couple of pictures I took this afternoon on the bike path along the Mississippi River in Moline.

Above is the foot bridge to Sylvan Island. (Click on the picture to see it full-sized.) The experts tells us that the Mississippi is cresting this afternoon, so this is as high as the river is going to get. That is a good thing because, as you can see, if the river went any higher we would be cut off from the park on Sylvan Island.

As you can see in the picture below, some sections of the bike trail are flooded.

The flood here is not nearly as bad as in Cedar Rapids or Iowa City. Unlike the Iowa River in Iowa City and the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids neither the Mississippi nor the Rock rivers are setting any records this year -- 1993 and 1965 were worse.

A couple of people I know live in the Quad Cities and work in West Liberty, Iowa which is normally about 45 minutes away. But West Liberty is on the other side of the Cedar River and every single bridge over the Cedar River from north of Cedar Rapids to where the Cedar River joins the Mississippi south of Muscatine is closed due to flooding. That means it is impossible to get from here to West Liberty (or any other place on the other side of the Cedar River) by car without going hundreds of miles out of your way, down through Missouri or up through Minnesota. I suppose you could get there by airplane.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Gangsters in judge’s robes

It should not be surprising to anyone that the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the right of habeas corpus for people held by the government of the United States. After all, this is a right English-speaking people have cherished since 1305. It is enshrined in the Constitution, which states that the right of habeas corpus can only be suspended in times of insurrection and rebellion -- a very high standard that no one could think our current military activities in Afghanistan and Iraq meet. No, the surprising thing is that 4 justices dissented.

The Supreme Court rebuked the Bush administration yesterday for a third time for its handling of the rights of terrorism detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, saying those in custody there have a constitutional right to challenge their captivity in federal courts.

By a 5-4 vote that brought strongly worded and remorseful dissents from the court's conservative justices, the majority held that an alternative procedure designed by the administration and Congress was inadequate to ensure that the detainees, some of whom have been imprisoned for six years without a hearing, receive their day in court.

Justice Antonin Scalia took the unusual step of summarizing his dissent from the bench, calling the court's decision a "self-invited ... incursion into military affairs," and was even stronger in a written dissent in which he was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. "America is at war with radical Islamists," Scalia wrote, adding that the decision "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

Read entire article

When I first read Justice Scalia's warning that granting the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay the right to challenge their detention in federal court would "almost certainly" cost American lives I was baffled. What could he possibly mean? He is not an expert on Muslim or Arab psychology, history or culture or on religious extremism. He has no special knowledge or expertise in these matters. He did not refer to any testimony by experts to justify his conclusions. In fact all the experts on such matters that I have heard say that by treating people harshly and unfairly we are motivating other, previously peaceful, people to become anti-American terrorists. The expert opinion is that holding prisoners indefinitely without trial at Guantánamo Bay makes us less safe by inflaming anti-American passions in the Middle East. See samples of such opinion here, here and here.

No, Justice Scalia's opinion is not based on any facts or expert opinion, but must arise out his understanding of how the world works. The only way his opinion makes sense is if he sees the world the same way as does the Corleone family in "The Godfather." In the book and movie the Godfather's family accepts his murders, even of family members, as necessary to keep the family safe by being strong. In the Mafia world-view being ruthless and violent is being strong and a reluctance to be violent is weakness – and weakness results in being killed by the strong.

I doubt that 4/9 of the population of the United States sees the world this way, but apparently 4/9 of our Supreme Court does. How did such a situation arise?

Friday, June 13, 2008

They thought it would never flood

The Cedar River had not flooded in the great flood of 1964. It had not flooded in 1993. The people of Cedar Rapids thought it would never flood. It's flooding now. Interstate 80, the great east-west route from New York City to San Francisco is closed where it crosses the Cedar River about 20 miles east of Iowa City. All that traffic, the trucks, buses and other traffic is being detoured over 100 miles out of its way on U.S. Hwys 61, 20 which are not designed for that volume of traffic. All the highways between the Quad Cities and Muscatine and Iowa City and points west are flooded and closed. How long will they be closed? The rivers that are flooding have not even crested yet.

If your house is not flooded, if you have electricity, if you can get to your job and everywhere else you need to go by your normal routes, then you have a lot to be thankful for.

We are living in interesting times. Rivers we assumed would never flood are flooding. What are some other things you have always assumed will never fail -- the U.S. dollar, our banking system, our ability to grow food, the freedoms guaranteed us in our Constitution?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How to sabotage a business or organization

Do you have anti-American saboteurs in your workplace? According to a number of websites the following instructions came from a 1944 CIA manual on how to sabotage a business. Have you encountered anyone who seems to be following these instructions?
  1. Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  2. Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of per­sonal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
  3. When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and considera­tion.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.
  4. Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  5. Haggle over precise wordings of com­munications, minutes, resolutions.
  6. Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  7. Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reason­able” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  8. Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the juris­diction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.
When I have encountered people doing those things I was always baffled by their behavior. Now that I have this information I will know how to categorize their behavior. Forewarned is forearmed.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention

Reuters reports from London:

President George W Bush admitted on Wednesday that his tough rhetoric had given the world the impression was a "guy really anxious for war" and said he now wished he had used a different tone on the global stage

In an interview with The Times, Bush said his main aim in the seven months before his presidency ends was to leave his successor a diplomatic framework for tackling Iran.

Bush voiced regret at divisions in the international community created by the war in Iraq, adding: "I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric."

He admitted that his use of phrases such as "bring them on" and "dead or alive" had "indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace."

Read entire article.

Gee, ya think? But George, I think your actions gave them that impression also. After all you preemptively invaded and are occupying a country that posed no threat to the United States. I don't think a reputation as a "man of peace" was in the cards no matter how you explained it.

When I first read this article I was excited that Bush might be starting to admit that he had made some mistakes – a crack in the certainty of his own righteousness. But after reading it several times and thinking about it I don't think these are true regrets. I think he is just trying to tell the Europeans what they want to hear. Words, after all, are easier to withdraw than troops.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Judge O’Shea’s Bold Leadership on Energy

The Moline Dispatch this morning ran a column by retired judge John Donald O'Shea of Moline.

How would you like to live in a 900-square-foot mud hut of a standardized design approved by the United Nations? Drive a two-door subcompact car with specifications approved by the European Union? Subsist on a diet of fish and rice "OKed" by the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh? Be required to keep your thermostat at 60 degrees during the winter, and 85 degrees during the summer, to please the people of Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia?

On May 19, Barack Obama told voters in Oregon, "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say 'OK.' That's not leadership. That's not going to happen."

Okay, so what is "leadership?" Is leadership moving into mud huts because the people of Sudan live in a mud huts? Is "leadership" driving a 1952 Chevrolet like the people of Cuba? Is it eating mud cookies because there are starving people in Africa who eat salted mud to fend off starvation? If North Koreans are willing to work for a dollar a day, should American labor "lead" by agreeing to have their wages cut to a dollar a day?

Read entire article.

I think that is wonderful! I hope we hear a great deal more from Judge O'Shea and other McCain supporters with views such as this between now and November.

Everyone knows that because of global warming, the rising price of oil and many other factors Americans are going to have to change the way they live, drive and consume energy. There is no alternative – we must decrease our consumption of fossil fuels. The necessary changes to our lives here in America need not involve a great deal of hardship and suffering with the proper planning, attitude and leadership.

What sort of leadership do John McCain and the Republicans offer on this issue? Readers of Judge O'Shea's column could easily conclude that all they have to offer are fear-mongering, prejudice and xenophobia

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Foggy Morning on Sylvan Slough

Foggy Morning on Sylvan Slough, originally uploaded by dvdbarrett.

I just bought a new camera, hoping to be able to take pictures in conditions in which my old camera was useless. One of my goals was to be able to take pictures outdoors in dim light. This morning was cloudy and foggy. Here is what Sylvan Slough looked like at 7a.m. this morning.